Why ‘Stranger Things’ Is Based on Dungeons and Dragons, a Game the Duffer Brothers Aren’t ‘Particularly Great’ at Playing

Stranger Things is based on Dungeons and Dragons lore, so it’s surprising Matt and Ross Duffer aren’t “particularly great” players. Here’s why the Duffer Brothers reference D&D in Stranger Things despite their minimal ability to play the fantasy game. 

Matt and Ross Duffer, creators of 'Stranger Things,' once said they aren't 'particularly good' at Dungeons and Dragons
Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer | Matt Winkelmeyer/FilmMagic

Dungeons and Dragons foreshadows the story in ‘Stranger Things’ 

In the first episode of season 1, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) rolls to cast a fireball at the Demogorgon, but the d20 he rolls falls off the table. The game ends abruptly when Mrs. Wheeler (Cara Buono) calls down to Mike (Finn Wolfhard) in the basement, but Will confides in him that he only rolled a 7, which wasn’t enough to cast his spell. 

All of this foreshadows Will being taken to the Upside Down by the Demogorgon — a trend that continues in every season of Stranger Things. Whatever happens in the character’s Dungeons and Dragons gameplay foreshadows what’s going to happen to them in reality. For example, in one game,the party has to end a campaign early leaving loose ends like a”lost knight,” “proud princess,” and “weird flowers in the cave.”

These mentions foreshadow season 2 events: Hopper Is the lost knight, Max is the proud princess, and the weird flowers are the demo dogs (via Stranger Things Fandom). Then there’s the Mind Flayer and of course Vecna, the big bad in season 4 of Stranger Things, which come from Dungeons and Dragons lore.

Matt and Ross Duffer grew up playing a different fantasy game 

The Duffer Brothers were born in 1984 — a year after Stranger Things Season 1 takes place — but they’re ’80s babies with a penchant for fantasy games. Growing up, they played Magic: The Gathering more than Dungeons and Dragons. 

“We were like, ‘S***, the kids in the show can’t be playing Magic: The Gathering; it hasn’t been invented yet,'” Matt told Rolling Stone in 2016. The collectible card game was released in August 1993. However, Dungeons and Dragons was still a thing in the Duffer household. 

 “My brother and I played D&D,” Matt added. “We just weren’t particularly great at it.”

The Duffer Brothers relied on classic ’80s movies to influence ‘Stranger Things’ 

“We have vague memories of the ’80s,” Ross added. “But we were still pre-Internet and pre–cell phone for most of our childhood.”

Being part of the last generation who experienced going out with friends without a cell phone shines through in the Netflix series, where Mike, Will, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) communicate with walkie-talkies. More than that, Ross said the VHS tapes of classic ’80s films they grew up watching inspire Stranger Things.

“That was our point of reference for what it was like in the late ’70s and early ’80s,” he said. That tracks, considering they weren’t even born when the first season is set.

‘Stranger Things’ cast plays D&D together 

The Brothers Duffer might not be that big into the role-playing game, but the cast of Stranger Things played together before. David Harbour, Natalia Dyer, Matarazzo, and Wolfhard went live on YouTube to play in 2020. 

More recently, as part of Netflix’s Geeked Week 2022, Joseph Quinn and the rest of Stranger Things’ Hellfire Club — Matarazzo, Wolfhard, and Priah Ferguson (Erica Sinclair) — played Dungeons and Dragons. This was Quinn’s first time playing the game, which is a bit ironic considering his role as the Hellfire Club’s leader. “Yeah, never played it,” Quinn admitted to Netflix

Watch Stranger Things on Netflix. 

RELATED: ‘Stranger Things’ Season 5: Everything the Duffer Brothers Have Said So Far