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When we first meet four of Stranger Things' protagonists in the second scene of the series premiere, they're playing Dungeons & Dragons. And, well, they're really into it. The actors behind those characters can get into D&D too, as it turns out, as evidenced by a two-hour one-shot session that Netflix streamed on YouTube on Friday. But while the adventuring party battling a Demogorgon in Will the Wise's dungeon were in it for action, the actors were in it for fun.
David Harbour (Chief Jim Hopper), Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), and Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler) banded together for the session, "Lost Odyssey: Toy Time for Ten-Towns," which was run by D&D's Principal Story Designer, Chris Perkins.
Set in the far north setting of Ten Towns, the same locale where the recent D&D adventure module Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden takes place, the session saw the foursome off to investigate why there might not be any presents for the holidays for the second time in a row.
"I know in this world it's not called ‘Christmas,'" says Harbour's character, a human sorcerer named Kenny Kaboom. "But we've gotta save Christmas."
Kenny's joined by Sylvester the Wise (Wolfhard), a half-elf paladin who is gunning for the group's unofficial leadership position; Jinx (Dyer), a high elf rogue with trust issues; and Meryl Stroop (Matarazzo), a half-elf ranger whose sworn mission is to kill the yeti who murdered his family.
There's no wrong way to play D&D. While actual play series like Critical Role have made intense, narrative and roleplay-driven campaigns popular, it's also still a game that can be played for fun. The Stranger Things characters (especially Will, who gets pretty into his DMing duties in Season 3) might prefer the former, but the actors opted for a sillier hang.
"Alight, I think either of these things could be funny," Wolfhard says at one point, mulling over his tactical options.
D&D players will recognize many of the hallmarks of a classic, low stakes adventure. There's the player whose character wants to seduce everybody (Wolfhard's paladin), dark and gloomy backstories that don't necessarily translate to the way a character is actually played at the table (Harbour's sorcerer), and some fighting that verges on "murder-hoboing" — DM slang for when players go off the rails looking for battle.
And, naturally, at first-time D&D player Dyer's suggestion, they split the party, an infamous trope that's led to the deaths of countless characters. ("Very Stranger Things-esque," notes Matarazzo.
In other words, it's a fun, casual game of D&D. And yet, even as everybody is joking and having a good time, there are still earnest moments in the way that only roleplaying games can really create. At one point during the quest, the party comes face-to-face with the yeti that killed Meryl Stroop's family. The beast is toothless because he ate too much candy, and even though he's a monster, Perkins makes him somewhat sympathetic. Three of the players at the table are seriously considering sparing the creature. Matarazzo, though, is too deep into character to hear any of that.
"It's my life's mission!" he says, incredulously. "I can move on completely after I finish this. I will continue the mission, but I can't, in good conscience, move on after my entire family was slaughtered!"
"Lost Odyssey: Toy Time for Ten-Towns," is not what one would call "high level" D&D play. And it's not Stranger Things Season 4, as much as it's nice to see part of the gang back together. It's just two hours of people playing a fun little game of D&D, with all the things you'd expect from that — and all of the surprises a veteran D&D player might come to love to expect.
"That was so fun," Matarazzo says at the end of the session. "It turned so violent for a second!"