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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.

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.

hellfireclub.jpg

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

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
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.
The coasts may think we're flyover country, but punk rock's been around the midwest since the mid-1970s. And, yes, that includes Indiana.
 

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Quode

First Post
This is humerus to say the least. At the time RPGs were well represented in the community, not just DnD. There was no panic, there was a tragedy of two young men that commit suicide and DnD was said to be of blame. From college campuses to conventions to clubs DnD ands other games were played. Stores like Toys are Us sold the game with no issues. The so-called panic was over reported yet under influenced. In fact, the panic spurred sales of DnD. With no internet at the time there was no central way to spread the so-called story. Some churches did try to ban the game for youths and some parents grew concerned but not on a national scale. The whole thing is more myth these days then fact. What is overlooked is the sheer number of DnD groups in colleges born of the early adopters of DnD in the 70s like me. We played both war games and DnD and other RPGs on the late 70s in high school with no issues. When I joined the navy in the 80s DnD was super popular and over the 6 years I was in I found gamers everywhere.
Not once did encounter the so-called panic in my hobby, it just was not a panic, just a blip and forgotten. We forget in stranger things Eddie is also a pusher, a drug dealer, regardless of him running DnD the character prays on the needy, drug dealers are a blight. Also, on the show he’s pursued do to the fact a young woman he is selling drugs to dies tragically. This is not the satanic panic, till that time the gamers were tolerated till Eddie ran.

This link might help. Michael A. Stackpole: The Pulling Report (rpgstudies.net)
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
The coasts may think we're flyover country, but punk rock's been around the midwest since the mid-1970s. And, yes, that includes Indiana.

Ramones and Clash, sure. The show has him listening to stuff like The Smiths before The Smiths had an album out on a major record label. He'd practically have to be a college radio DJ to have any of their stuff.

Stuff like Television, the Undertones, Joy Division - I mean, it existed, but it strains credulity that he would have it.
 

Having seen unsigned bands' demo tapes cross all the way from west to east coast, you can't underestimate the ability of cassette culture to transfer music all over the world in the pre-streaming era. If my crummy teenage goth band can get fan mail from Spain, I've no doubt that people could be listening to The Clash and Joy Division in Nowhere, Indiana.

And that's not to mention the individual scenes and local bands that would've existed even back then.

The coasts may think we're flyover country, but punk rock's been around the midwest since the mid-1970s. And, yes, that includes Indiana.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
Ramones and Clash, sure. The show has him listening to stuff like The Smiths before The Smiths had an album out on a major record label. He'd practically have to be a college radio DJ to have any of their stuff.

Stuff like Television, the Undertones, Joy Division - I mean, it existed, but it strains credulity that he would have it.
It does not strain credulity. Joy Division was set to play 4 dates in the midwest back in 1980 before Ian Curtis committed suicide. The Smiths might be a bit anachronistic in 1983, but Indiana had a notable punk and new wave scene that could easily have gotten the music. And if all it took was a modest drive to Indianapolis, West Lafayette, or Bloomington, I'm sure getting access to an independent record company and a 'zine or two in a state university town wouldn't have been any harder there than it was for kids where I grew up outside of Madison, WI.

The midwest may not be as cosmopolitan as the coasts but we weren't exactly isolated in the 1980s either.
 

This is humerus to say the least. At the time RPGs were well represented in the community, not just DnD. There was no panic, there was a tragedy of two young men that commit suicide and DnD was said to be of blame. From college campuses to conventions to clubs DnD ands other games were played. Stores like Toys are Us sold the game with no issues. The so-called panic was over reported yet under influenced. In fact, the panic spurred sales of DnD. With no internet at the time there was no central way to spread the so-called story. Some churches did try to ban the game for youths and some parents grew concerned but not on a national scale. The whole thing is more myth these days then fact. What is overlooked is the sheer number of DnD groups in colleges born of the early adopters of DnD in the 70s like me. We played both war games and DnD and other RPGs on the late 70s in high school with no issues. When I joined the navy in the 80s DnD was super popular and over the 6 years I was in I found gamers everywhere.
Not once did encounter the so-called panic in my hobby, it just was not a panic, just a blip and forgotten. We forget in stranger things Eddie is also a pusher, a drug dealer, regardless of him running DnD the character prays on the needy, drug dealers are a blight. Also, on the show he’s pursued do to the fact a young woman he is selling drugs to dies tragically. This is not the satanic panic, till that time the gamers were tolerated till Eddie ran.

This link might help. Michael A. Stackpole: The Pulling Report (rpgstudies.net)
sounds like we are both 70's-80's kids. 2nd edition D&D all references of demon and devil were removed . more than a blip. tsr removed many references and it was until late 90's that this came back by WOTC

2002 was when mature content was introduced into the game


i grew up in in northeast america and the perception of D&D that stranger things shows is somewhat realistic to me. Now not so much


however im starting to see the pendulum go back to that direction
artwork that was say semi nude or provocative such as the 1st edition marilith has changed since i was a kid. the frank frazetta artwork that i had posters of dont really exist anymore
tpk was more of a thing than that it is now.
monsters and spells in many cases are toned down . strahd was much more deadly when i was young . same with ghouls and giant spiders etc. there were lots of dungeons that just werent finished by me and my friends due to difficulty
seeing it many video game franchises-look at dragon age throughout its history
 

This is humerus to say the least. At the time RPGs were well represented in the community, not just DnD. There was no panic, there was a tragedy of two young men that commit suicide and DnD was said to be of blame. From college campuses to conventions to clubs DnD ands other games were played. Stores like Toys are Us sold the game with no issues. The so-called panic was over reported yet under influenced. In fact, the panic spurred sales of DnD. With no internet at the time there was no central way to spread the so-called story. Some churches did try to ban the game for youths and some parents grew concerned but not on a national scale. The whole thing is more myth these days then fact. What is overlooked is the sheer number of DnD groups in colleges born of the early adopters of DnD in the 70s like me. We played both war games and DnD and other RPGs on the late 70s in high school with no issues. When I joined the navy in the 80s DnD was super popular and over the 6 years I was in I found gamers everywhere.
Not once did encounter the so-called panic in my hobby, it just was not a panic, just a blip and forgotten. We forget in stranger things Eddie is also a pusher, a drug dealer, regardless of him running DnD the character prays on the needy, drug dealers are a blight. Also, on the show he’s pursued do to the fact a young woman he is selling drugs to dies tragically. This is not the satanic panic, till that time the gamers were tolerated till Eddie ran.

This link might help. Michael A. Stackpole: The Pulling Report (rpgstudies.net)
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.
There in West Virginia, one of our D&D regulars was the son of Baptist minister. One time, he invited us to play over at his home (a trailer up on one of the mountainsides). They were welcoming and friendly, yet his dad would pop in and watch us play for stretches, checking it out.

I guess we passed the test, since our friend continued to play with us for years.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
There in West Virginia, one of our D&D regulars was the son of Baptist minister. One time, he invited us to play over at his home (a trailer up on one of the mountainsides). They were welcoming and friendly, yet his dad would pop in and watch us play for stretches, checking it out.

I guess we passed the test, since our friend continued to play with us for years.
Cool! My very first intro to the D&D game books was in Oklahoma, from the son of a Lutheran minister, who in turn was apparently the one to assure my own parents that D&D was not "dangerous." That was the experience that really kicked of my interest in D&D as a game, rather than just a fantasy cartoon and CYA book setting.
 

Shiroiken

Legend
Nothing in High School, and I actually got in trouble multiple times for bringing my D&D books. In college, however, we had an official club. Technically this could access funds from the student council, but we were satisfied with a shared room to store our stuff and access to the administration xerox machine.
 

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