The big finale of Stranger Things season 4 is here, and we’re sure you’re just as excited as us to jump back into the Upside Down and watch the drama unfold as the Hawkins gang take on Vecna. The Netflix series has introduced us to some brilliant villains over the years, but we decided to dig a little deeper into the Stranger Things monsters and explore how Dungeons and Dragons helped to inspire them.
We have loved the latest visit to Hawkins so far, and our Stranger Things season 4 review praised the way the sci-fi series has gone “bigger, bolder, and more brutal than ever before.” In particular, the way that Stranger Things season 4 ramps up the horror elements in the show has been so impressive, and integral to making this new chapter so effective. A lot of that is down to the way the TV series has introduced new monsters to its roster of nemeses.
So, if you’re curious how The Duffer Brothers came up with the idea for Vecna, the Mind Flayer, and the Demogorgons, wonder no more, because we’ve studied the lore of Dungeons and Dragons to provide the answers. Beware, there may be some spoilers ahead!
These creepy-looking things were the first bad guys to arrive in Hawkins way back in season 1 – remember when the gang didn’t know quite how good they had it? As scary as the Demogorgon looked and how dangerous it was, they were just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to visitors from the Upside Down.
When you look at the Demogorgon’s roots in the Dungeons and Dragons world, this all starts to make sense. Despite being a demon lord, the Demogorgon is a lesser deity from the Abyss, and is referred to as the Prince of Demons. And we all know a Prince isn’t quite top dog, don’t we?
Nevertheless, the Demogorgon is still an incredibly formidable foe in the Forgotten Realms and very few could actually defeat him. Within the game, Demogorgons possess abilities strongly linked to magic and spellcasting, but are just as capable of inflicting physical damage, mainly with its whip-like tail and deadly tentacles.
In relation to the depiction of the Demogorgon in Stranger Things, there are many similarities. Those tentacles for a start, are used to drain the life energy from its victims, just as we see happen to the likes of Barb and Will Byers. In terms of appearance though, there is one key difference – the Demogorgons in Dungeons and Dragons have two heads!
The Mind Flayer
As we climb up the hierarchy of the Stranger Things monsters, we next take a look at the Mind Flayer, a beast which is ultimately the dominant force in the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the entity responsible for controlling the Demogorgons, as well as the tendrils it sends to capture its prey, and of course, the Flayed, the human victims the Mind Flayer possesses.
First introduced towards the end of Stranger Things season 2, the Mind Flayer is revealed to be the cause of the plague of monsters and murders spreading throughout Hawkins. The Mind Flayer then ramps this up as we head into season 3, taking over the body of citizens like Billy Hargrove and making them do its evil bidding.
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In Dungeons and Dragons, the Mind Flayer is incredibly powerful, feared by all living creatures on many worlds across the multiverse, due to their heightened psionic abilities. The Mind Flayer resides in the Underdark and looks to expand its kingdom by controlling the minds of other sentient beings and using them as slaves.
The Mind Flayer actually consumes the victim’s brain as it controls them, which is pretty gross! Speaking of brains, the Mind Flayer is an entirely conscious and malicious being, with a very considered and sinister thought process. As opposed to the Demogorgons who acted purely on instinct, the Mind Flayer is a cold and calculated killer.
Curiously, in terms of physicality, the Mind Flayer of the Dungeons and Dragons world is a stark contrast to the one The Duffer Brothers envisioned for the show. While the Stranger Things monster is a truly gargantuan beast, in the game, the Mind Flayer takes on more of a distorted humanoid form.
And now, for the main attraction! Vecna was introduced to Stranger Things season 4 and has instantly taken on the mantle of the ultimate big bad. Vecna combines the intelligence and malevolence of the Mind Flayer, with the physicality and brutality of the Demogorgon.
As Stranger Things season 4 part 2 approaches, we could yet see Vecna rack up the highest death count of any villain in the show so far. While the influences of classic horror movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street are clear to see, the foundation of Vecna comes from, you guessed it, Dungeons and Dragons!
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In the vast lore of Dungeons and Dragons, Vecna was a once human King, who ascended to Godhood. This ties in pretty nicely to the origins of Vecna in Stranger Things, who was once the primary test subject of Hawkins lab, the immensely powerful 001. When he was banished to the Upside Down by Eleven and took on the form of Vecna, he became more powerful than ever before.
In fact, Vecna is arguably the most faithful interpretation The Duffer Brothers have brought to life so far. Just like he does in the TV series, the Vecna of Dungeons and Dragons uses secrets against his victims, to manipulate them and bring about their demise. Similarly, Vecna can alter reality in the game and can paralyse his victims at will.
Perhaps most fascinating is Vecna’s relationship with Eleven, and their roles as the hero and villain of the story. In Dungeons and Dragons, Vecna himself says “Evil is one of two forces in the cosmos, an agency locked in eternal struggle against its antithesis. Only good and evil exist. And not even a hair’s width of space separates them.”
As we anticipate the next great battle between Vecna and Eleven, it’s fitting that we explore the connection between good and evil. Let’s not forget it was Eleven who ultimately created this monster, and she herself has regularly doubted her own role as the hero in this story. It seems it was written in the Dungeons and Dragons rulebook that these two would have such a symbiotic relationship.
We hope this study of the Stranger Things monsters and their roots in the Dungeons and Dragons world was useful, reader. If you want to learn more about other monsters, you might find our breakdown of the true story of Freddy Krueger to your tastes.