What we learned from 2,588 D&D and Stranger Things fans
Here at Merchoid, we wanted to find out whether the incredible popularity of Stranger Things’ Hellfire Club had encouraged any new faces into the real-world D&D scene. So, we asked 2,588 people to see what they could tell us.
While we were at it, we thought we’d find out how people are feeling about the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie, too. Turns out, almost 10% of our respondents had no idea there even was a new D&D movie coming out!
Of the people we spoke to, 57% were fans of both franchises, 4% weren’t fans of either, and the remainder were a split of those who were only interested in D&D (30%) or Stranger Things (9%). So what do we know?
- Fans who love both franchises are the most keen to see the new D&D movie, with 80% planning to watch it compared to 68% of D&D fans and 48% of fans of Stranger Things
- Fans of both were also the most optimistic about its release, with more in this group expecting it to be great than in any other!
- Nearly 1 in 10 Stranger Things fans want to start playing tabletop D&D as a result of watching the show, and others are already playing
But, that’s not the full picture…
Fans are divided over the upcoming release
The new film, "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," is the first big-screen adaptation of the game in over a decade. With an all star cast, including Chris Pine and Hugh Grant, it has the potential to be a surprise box office hit.
Despite a positive media reception around the film’s release, fans' actual expectations are divided. Our survey revealed an even 50/50 split between respondents who had high expectations of “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” and those who had no or low expectations at all.
The other 50% expect the new D&D film to be “great”, “good” or ”okay”
Michelle Kelly, e-commerce manager here at Merchoid, thinks this could be due to Hollywood’s poor track record at adapting the source material. “The 2000 Dungeons & Dragons film provided a stacked cast of talented actors, but thanks to a poor script and lacklustre effects, the film was poorly received by critics and audiences, with two following straight-to-TV adaptations also failing to impress.”
Fans were also quick to criticise the presence of an Owlbear in the movie’s trailer. The hashtag #OwlbearGate trended on social media as fans debated the accuracy of Druids shapeshifting into Owlbears in the game, and whether the movie would be true to the source material.
However, it’s worth noting that half of our respondents are optimistic about the movie, and excited about the push towards making Dungeons and Dragons more of a mainstream brand. The current version of the game, known as 5e, has made D&D easily accessible to new and old players alike. And fans have even pressured publisher Wizards of The Coast to scrap its plans to make the Open Gaming License more restrictive, ensuring continued freedom for third-party D&D products.
If Hellfire Club hasn’t inspired people, what has?
The impact of Stranger Things on popular culture is undeniable. As one of the most-watched shows in Netflix history, season four’s debut led to a surge in demand for Hellfire Club t-shirts and sent Kate Bush to the top of the charts for the first time in a decade. However, the question remains - has the show really inspired a new generation of Dungeons & Dragons players?
- Almost 1 in 10 Stranger Things fans say they now want to play tabletop D&D as a result of watching the show and 1 in 20 have already started playing
- Among all survey respondents who have never played tabletop D&D, 17% told us they want to start playing either partly or entirely because of Stranger Things
But, the Hellfire Club definitely isn’t the only motivator.
- 55% of those who don’t play yet said that they would like to play tabletop D&D in future, but not because of Stranger Things
- Numerous Podcasts, YouTube series, Twitch series and other TV shows were cited as the inspiration motivating some of our survey-takers to pick up dice and get rolling
“The D&D players we spoke to had a wide variety of responses on what got them into the game.” Michelle says. “Some cited the TV show ‘The Big Bang Theory’, while others mentioned the popular Youtube and Twitch series ‘Critical Role’, or the podcast ‘Not another DnD Podcast’.”
Some fans also credited the D&D after-school clubs of the 1980s as their starting point - a trend that has seen a resurgence in recent years. Among answers from self-proclaimed D&D fans we found that 30% have been playing the tabletop game for decades, while a further 33% have been playing for between 1 and 10 years and 10% have played for less than a year for reasons other than Stranger Things.
“The Dungeons and Dragons fandom has been described as a community, a subculture and even a cult at some points in its history.” Michelle goes on to say. “Whatever you call it, it’s obvious that it’s worlds apart from more mainstream tabletop games in terms of the social element that comes with participation.
“We had some respondents tell us that they got into tabletop D&D through school clubs in the 1980s, and others saying that their children are getting into D&D now via the exact same route. The community can definitely thank the likes of Critical Role for helping to spread the word, but there’s nothing quite like a real-world invite for getting new players into the game.”
It's also worth noting that, whilst 31% of Stranger Things fans said that they have no plans of playing tabletop D&D, 40% of them still plan to watch the upcoming film. Even though the Netflix hit may not have motivated all of its viewers to play, it has put the franchise in the spotlight for those who were not previously exposed to it.
The most popular D&D roles, and where to begin
The world of Dungeons & Dragons is vast and may feel a little intimidating to new players. We asked our surveyed players which role or class they opt for to see which are the most common choices, and we can now reveal that the five most popular D&D picks are:
- Dungeon Master (39%)
- Rogue (32%)
- Ranger (23%)
- Wizard (22%)
- Paladin (21%)
Dungeon Master tops the charts, with 39% of players saying that they prefer to play as DM either instead of or as well as other gameplay roles. With Dungeon Masters taking on the roles of story teller, game designer, and referee, many players enjoy controlling the game narrative whilst being part of the adventure.
The results revealed that the most popular character class was Rogue (32%) - which focuses on stealth and trickery, followed by Ranger (23%), which uses a combination of magic and martial arts. Wizard (22%), a purely magic-based class, was third most popular, and the melee class Paladin (21%) came next.
The Rogue class is particularly appealing to new players as it is impactful at lower levels and offers ample growth opportunities. On the other hand, magical classes like Wizard take time to develop as players progress in the game, and are considered a better choice for more seasoned players.
Online Resources for New Players
For new players or those seeking inspiration for their next campaign, there are a range of helpful resources available online that offer insights, advice, and plenty of entertaining takes on real-world gameplay. Here are a few to get you started:
- Critical Role (YouTube series)
- Girls Who Don’t D&D (Podcast)
- Not Another DnD (Podcast)
- Deathsave (Blog)
Whether you’re all about D&D or only have eyes for Stranger Things, the good news is that here at Merchoid we’ve been stocking up on the very best in official merch from both franchises for you to enjoy. Take a look through the latest Dungeons and Dragons merch here, or hop on over to our Stranger Things collection here.