RPG Evolution - True Tales from Stranger Things: Satanism, Strategy & Clubs

The hit Netflix series about the 80s-themed tale of extradimensional entities and the kids who battle them features Dungeons & Dragons prominently. And a lot of it is inspired by what actually happened. There's a lot of things Stranger Things got right, but one of them that doesn't match my experience is the Hellfire Club.


What's the Hellfire Club?​

The Stranger Things wiki explains:
The Hawkins High "Hellfire Club" was an official D&D club at Hawkins High School headed by Eddie Munson. Members Dustin, Mike and Lucas are also members of another D&D party.
More specifically:
The Hellfire Club seems to operate the bottom of the Hawkins High food chain, due to the unique misfortunes experienced in the town due to the Upside Down and the tabloid media fear of Satanic/demonic worship among teenagers. As implied by Eddie, members are typically scouted out if they are "lost sheep" or outsiders. Eddie also implied membership came with a degree of protection, but demanded loyalty to campaign nights. Members of club both create and wear white raglan shirts with black long sleeves, finished with the Hellfire Club name and logo on the center. Hellfire Club is hosted in a drama/theatre room, as evidenced by the stage lights, curtains and props seen around them during game night.
There were lots of clubs like this at the time, but not at my high school. Why? Because of the Satanic Panic.

The Satanic Panic​

During the 80s, Dungeons & Dragons was grouped in with a lot of other teenage activities (like music) as promoting Satanism, withcraft, suicide, and murder. D&D's deadly reputation was exacerbated by the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III, which was fictionalized by Rona Jaffe in a made-for-TV movie, Mazes and Monsters (featuring Tom Hanks). Patricia Pulling, an anti-occult campaigner, established Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (BADD) to eliminate D&D and disseminated material touting the dangers to schools and police. For critics, they didn't have to look far for evidence. There were plenty of demons, scantily-clad monsters that looked like human women, and even the name had sinister tones of torture (dungeons) and Satanic invocations (dragons).

The Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games (CAR-PGA, I'm now Committee Chair) was formed specifically to combat misinformation campaigns led by Pulling and her adherents. But while that was happening in the battlefield of public opinion, kids like myself were still playing D&D despite all the media outcry.

This all added up to tension between gamers and their parents, in which various authority figures declared D&D evil, and then it was up to whoever was in charge to determine if it was worth the risk to let kids play. Some parents watched a few games and realized it was harmless fun; others threw away their kids gaming material. And still others simply relabeled the game as something else.

Strategy & Tactics​

When the Satanic Panic was in full swing, my gaming group had swelled to over ten members. At one point we reached 12, which I found nearly impossible to manage at once as dungeon master. But it didn't matter because we all had a good time, rotating games at different players' houses. With that many kids, it was impossible not to hear us play. My parents were always thrilled that we were at home, socializing, and laughing. No kid ever got pulled out due to any concerns over the game.

But school was a different story. There was no D&D club. When we tried to join the only role-playing game club, we learned why it was called Strategy & Tactics: the school couldn't reference D&D in the title, even though that's what most people played anyway. And if you did play, you couldn't admit that you were playing, because D&D was a good way to get the club shut down.

Although the Satanic Panic eventually comes home to roost in Hawkins, it has a surprisingly stable footing at the high school: Customized shirts? Access to the theater room? An official club at all? We could never have imagined such a thing!

It didn't matter. We showed up to one session of Strategy & Tactics and realized were were much better off playing with our existing group. And that's what we did.

Stranger Things definitely got one archetype right that was in my circle of friends, in the character of Eddie. More on him in the next installment.

Your Turn: Were there official D&D clubs at your school in the 80s?

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Space Jam Confirmed
I think it's a unrealistic that the school would allow a club called "Hellfire". They might have gotten away with a "role playing" club, or "gaming" club, or "fantasy" club. But actually naming it "Hellfire"? In Indiana? Not gonna happen, regardless of the Satanic Panic.

But this is also the kind of school where Eddie is allowed to stroll across top of a table in the cafeteria and shout out character exposition to the entire lunch room with no action from any teachers. So they've set up some clear expectations for "willing suspension of disbelief".

It’s also really, really unlikely that the new wave and punk music Jonathan Byers listens to in season 1 would have reached a midwestern high school kid in 1983. Maybe if he had a friend in a coastal college who was sending him a ton of tapes.

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At the time, in 1980 there was no rpg club at my school. We had a science club and we did Estes miniature rockets mostly.

Another school had a strategy & tactics club. That is where I met other D&D players but we played at a friend's home instead because of convenience of the location.

I only met one player who couldn't play D&D because his parents were very religious. We played Traveller or Gamma World instead.

wicked cool

we had 1 at a private school in i believe 88. there wasnt a lot of interest and i didnt think it last long

the D&D panic was a real thing and i still think it exists today. id be really curious if there are certain states that its not as popular as other states and if thats a factor at all

I remember that demons and devils were written out of the game? was this 83-84? They stepped selling the old books related to them. i wasnt dm then so i cant recall


CR 1/8
No D&D club at any of my schools in the mid-to-late 1980s. I didn't even really have a stable D&D group, so much a group of friends who occasionally played D&D. In high school, I was vaguely aware of another group who apparently actively played, but they were stoners and headbangers-- nice guys, but not my "clique."
Tbh, the idea of a D&D "club" didn't even register in my tiny lizard brain until I went to college and met people who had gaming clubs at their schools.
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No D&D club at Matoaka High School, West Virginia. Late 80s—early 90s. Very few clubs in general.

The choir teacher (bless her heart) did a presentation at a school assembly about anti-Christian satanism in rock music and backwards messages on records.

My mom, who was a teacher at the school, called the principal to the carpet for that. (Fusion of religion and state.) A courageous memory of her.

I actually started a D&D club in school. Despite having the support of two teachers, the rest came down hard on us and it didn't last more than a few months before getting shut down.

My wife was showing me some pictures from her yearbook and her school (in a very small town) had photos for a school club called "The Gaming Guild." Looking at it, you can bet that they played a bunch of D&D.


Our school club even did a 24 hour charity DND marathon in the October break, using the school premises. It was pretty cool because the school was founded in 1549 and the old buildings had many “memories” which made for a creepy gaming atmosphere.
Having ended up as a school principal myself, it’s something that could never happen nowadays, but our head let us in 1980. ( probably helped that I played in the rugby team and was also dating his daughter at the time!)


In California, 1980-1984, There wasn't a club in the elementary school where I first learned D&D, and we mostly played during lunch or the PE period (when we could get out of the flag football games). For a while, couldn't have dice though, because it was considered gambling. The local high school (NMCHS) did have some sort of gaming club (I can't remember the name, but I think it was specifically D&D), and we could freely use dice in public. No shirts or such, and there were dues you had to pay to use the classroom during the lunch hour. I think they also met after class, but if they did, I never went to them as I wouldn't have had transportation home. A lot of other classmates thought of us as nerds and would give use a hard time in that regard, but very rarely would it be anything directed at the D&D game. In those cases, it was "that geek game" at that.

When I moved to Mississippi ('86), if you even mentioned starting a D&D club, you'd get a half-hour lecture on the evils of the games before you even got turned down. Attempting to play the game at school would get you detention, expulsion if you persisted (had that happen to one of my friends). Burning D&D books was done at a nearby church, and any bookstore carrying D&D product got harassed and/or boycotted. Nobody would dare wear D&D related paraphernalia, or have gaming materials visible publicly. Admitting you played to new acquaintances was right out, I had a couple friends who'd played for years before I discovered that fact.

Things weren't much different at college, though I knew of several folks who played D&D at the dorms (they just didn't play IN the dorms).

By about '95 it finally started to change. I was shocked when my son was allowed & encouraged (i.e., fostered by a teacher) to start a D&D group when he hit High School - about 2015.

Our school club even did a 24 hour charity DND marathon in the October break, using the school premises. It was pretty cool because the school was founded in 1549 and the old buildings had many “memories” which made for a creepy gaming atmosphere.
What county was this?
Having ended up as a school principal myself, it’s something that could never happen nowadays,
Why not?

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