II’m an 8th level shadow elf bard and I can’t help but get in trouble. If you asked my party they’d say I’m worse than Dandelion the witcher. During our last campaign, as we were being chased by a pack of wolves through the forest, I decided to put on my wolf onesie and try to convince them that I could be their Alpha, again j I had to be saved by the paladins. There’s nothing like it J&D for a sense of escape, and coming from a shitty town in the stockbroking belt of south east england, i know why the duffer brothers did J&D such an integral part of stranger things series.
Tabletop RPGs have a depth that video games and television can only aspire to, anything can happen. There’s enough heartache and heartbreak, frustration and confusion every Monday night in my house to put game of thrones to shame. There are very few other things in life in which I have such an emotional investment. So I was not surprised that J&D was a focal point at the start of the latest series, which sees the introduction of The Hellfire Club and Dungeon Master is Eddie Munson. We see a montage of the Hellfire club fighting a Lich King intercut with Lucas winning the state basketball championship and the comparison is totally valid.
Dungeons & Dragons has been around since 1974 but has never been so popular. In a post-lockdown world, hanging out with your friends can be a great activity, but how easy is it for those who want to join a campaign to get involved? My first experience with J&D was on a gnat-infested Scottish family holiday in 1986 where my dad ran a week-long campaign from Middle-earth roleplaying gamewhich lost its license in 1999, but was recently reorganized by Free League Publishing as The one ring, and I’ve been playing ever since. Fast forward 35 years and watching the D20 roll on the small screen is only part of the Dungeons & Dragons resurgence, where you’ll see bands playing every week in every gaming cafe in the UK.
I’ve been playing RPGs for 36 years but it’s never too late to start, in fact it’s much easier to convince your friends to get involved now that they’ve seen J&D on stranger things. During the 90s, all the goths I knew were playing Vampire: The Masqueradebut the scene in stranger things where Dustin and Mike are trying to find a willing participant for the Hellfire Club when Lucas gives up rings true, as up until 5 years ago no one seemed interested. The cultural shift to alternative-as-cool now means you’ll probably have enough friends interested in seeing what’s going on to start your own Hellfire Club from scratch. You’re better off investing in the Starter Set, which includes an essential rules manual, an introductory adventure, five pre-made character sheets (they save you a lot of time and calculations), and a set of dice. Role-playing can be serious stuff, but before you take your Shadow Elf Bard on an adventure, you’ll want to discuss with your party how your characters might interact while the Dungeon Master sets the scene.
It is important to set the right tone for your campaign, and Dungeons & Dragons can be played focusing on how you like to interact as a group. Storytelling is always the foundation of a campaign, but there are plenty of options for adding innovation and intrigue, such as solving puzzles while exploring magical new worlds. Winning or losing is not a goal in this game as you bond by collaborating towards shared goals and adventures. J&D breaks down the self-imposed boundaries of everyday life and can counter the hostility of the real world. J&D can do wonders for your mental health, no waiting around for an NHS referral and cheaper than a private therapist, it’s a great way to build confidence and tackle anxiety.
Your most confident friend or family member will usually volunteer to take on the role of narrator and guide, called the Dungeon Master. An experienced DM can transport you and make your campaign a reality and an ever-evolving ecosystem. But initially it is much easier for them to lead a pre-existing adventure and there is even a stranger things D&D starter kit, so you can build your own adventure in Hawkins and venture into the Upside Down. Be sure to bring your own dice, pen, paper, and blueprint to defeat the Demogorgon.
The anthologies and pre-written storybooks that Wizards Of The Coast publishes every two months are becoming more inclusive and accessible – the next one comes out in late June and is called The Radiant Citadel. It includes 13 stand-alone adventures that will take your party through the mists of the Ethereal Plane to a crossroads of wonder and adventure. It will be the first book written entirely by people of color and promises a very different take on classic adventures, with the writers drawing inspiration from their connections to various real-world cultures and mythologies.
There’s Something For Everyone in Level 1 Adventure Salty Legacy, which is inspired by the Thai heritage of writer Surena Marie. You might end up fighting jumbo shrimp, entering cooking competitions, and/or participating in a showdown to eat spicy pepper. For more seasoned players a level 11 adventure, The shadow of the sunlets your party play as peacekeepers for the mighty angel Atash or choose to join the resistance, in a land inspired by ancient Persia.
As you become more confident as a group, you’ll be ready to create your own adventure. Core rulebooks are the only books you really need to create a complete game. Dungeons & Dragons experience from scratch. The Player’s Handbook is a hardcover tome full of stunning illustrations, maps, and references for in-depth spells and abilities. These should always be readily available on your table, along with the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual, so your Dungeon Master can quickly summon a Kobold’s stats mid-adventure.
There are many other books to flesh out your experience with items and enemies, such as Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Volo’s Guide to Monsterswhich expand players’ gear and introduce additional enemies and monsters as your adventure progresses.
Not sure how many books you can fit in your backpack? Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t have to be an analog experience, there’s a digital toolkit from D&D Beyond. This mobile app puts character creation and spelling stats at your fingertips, so you can start creating characters with more personalized relationships, motivations, and temperaments.
If you haven’t signed up for Hawkins High, don’t worry, there are plenty of gaming cafes across the country that host dedicated weekly events. J&D events you can attend run by DMs with fully formed campaigns that they hope you will be a part of.
In Dungeons & Dragons, creative thinking is applauded, and players will often find a way to interact with an adventure that the Dungeon Master may not have considered. Not all adventures need fighting monsters: a friend had a memorable campaign where the band formed a band – The Metal Kegs – who will play a wicked set at local taverns for room and board. RPGs often have their own subcultures and there are plenty of independent RPG publishers if you don’t like High Fantasy of the Forgotten Realms. Young punk rock loner Lucy would have loved Exalted Funeral’s online store, which is full of RPGs that cover everything from Black Metal to Mork Borg to Hate Your Dead End Job.
There’s something about D&D that fosters integrity and even the most laid-back group, after a few sessions, can have an immersive and entertaining campaign and engrossing hobby for life. But for now, Forbidden Realms will have to wait while I spend Jubilee weekend binging the latest episodes of stranger things and drink every time the subtitles say squelch.
I did not catch up stranger things just now? Check out our Season 4 Part 1 review here.