Contains spoilers for “Stranger Things” Season 4 Episode 9
For fans of the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, it was clear right from the very first episode of Stranger Things that the popular game was going to be heavily referenced. The campaign the boys play pits them against a creature known as the Demogorgon, a two-headed demon prince with whip-like appendages and a strong, muscular physique that makes its home in the Abyss. When it became clear that Dungeons & Dragons would serve as inspiration for the Upside-Down demons they would face in Hawkins, it was obvious the boys were prepared for a fight.
In Seasons 2 and 3 of Stranger Things, Upside Down’s main antagonist is referred to as Mind Flayer, a name also taken directly from Dungeons & Dragons. Although the Demogorgon is a unique villain in the game, Mind Flayers are actually a race of extraplanar humanoid abominations also known as illithids. These creatures feed on brains with their grasping tentacles that sprout from the lower half of their heads, and they reproduce through a process called ceremorphosis, in which a Ghost Flayer tadpole is inserted into someone’s head, usually through the nose or the Ear (via Tabletop Joab). . The tadpole then consumes the victim’s brain, changing its body into that of an illithid.
Stranger Things’ newest villain, Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), is also directly inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons enemy of the same name, which could allude to some unforeseen consequences for the next season. But how?
Vecna has multiple ways of revival in Dungeons & Dragons
Vecna aka One aka Henry Creel terrorizes the town of Hawkins with his ability to see into a person’s mind and use their dark memories to kill them in incredibly gruesome ways. Every time Vecna kills someone, a rift is created between this world and the head. Vecna believes that human existence is utterly meaningless, and he murders without a shred of remorse or sadness, often asking his victims before the moment of their death to “join him”.
Vecna in Dungeons & Dragons follows a similar path, in the sense that he started out as a mortal mage before undergoing a process to transform into a Lich (via Dump Stat), an undead being that moves with magical means created immortal. Vecna’s ambitions lead him to attempt ascension into deity – because conquering death is not enough – and he is considered a minor deity.
Vecna is often defeated but always returns
In the Dungeons & Dragons storyline, Vecna is far more than just a simple corpse, terrifying as it may be. His power and legend attract many followers, including his right-hand man Kas. However, Kas eventually betrays him, culminating in a disastrous fight in which Vecna loses both a hand and an eye before the rest of his physical body is destroyed.
Both body parts become legendary artifacts that grant tremendous abilities, but Vecna wasn’t actually defeated. His soul survives the ordeal, and after several years he returns and attempts to conquer the city of Sigil, an extraplanar city at the center of the Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, in order to take control of the multiverse. However, he is defeated by a group of adventurers. This drains some of his power, but he’s still alive.
Considering Vecna’s status as a recurring villain in Dungeons & Dragons, his Stranger Things namesake might have some of that resilience as well. Viewers have already seen Henry Creel seemingly destroyed at the molecular level, but he survived and recovered within Upside Down. Could this mean that we’ll see the villain return even after the events of Season 4? Maybe if it’s modeled after its Dungeons & Dragons counterpart.