D&D: An Adventurer’s Guide to Vecna
The dread lich who became a one-eyed, one-handed god of secrets, magic, and evil. Betrayal and power pave the way for the one and only Vecna.
When it comes to the fearsome villains of D&D’s multiverse, there are some big names. Big names with lots of power. Your fiends and infernals like Demogorgon and Orcus. Asmodeus. Even your Lord Soths and your Strahds. But no name is nearly as infamous as that of Vecna. Vecna the Maimed Lord. The Arch-Lich. Master of the Spider Throne, the Undying King. One of the few villains to stay from Oerth throughout D&D’s cosmology. Even the antagonist of Critical Role’s Vox Machina.
Who is this dreaded figure?
Vecna – The Mortal
As far as you might expect for a god of secrets and lies, Vecna’s early life is clouded in mystery. Legends and contradictions abound about the mortal he was. Most accounts agree that he was a human wizard hailing from Oerth. But at one point, Vecna began to fear his own mortality. The inevitable end that pursued him.
Some say he felt the fear from the death of his mother, and that this loss drove him through despairing quests for unspeakable power. Others say that Orcus taught him personally how to achieve undeath, learning secrets at the Demon Prince’s side.
Still others say that Vecna experimented upon hundreds of mortals to devise a way to devour power and energy from the various planes of existence. This energy would empower Vecna like no others. Still more believe that a mysterious being known as “the Serpent” taught him. But whatever stories you believe, the fact is clear.
Vecna sacrificed his body to become a lich. And he never looked back. Most of his history begins after his fell transformation.
A Lich Among Liches
As is their want, liches seek power. And Vecna was no different. His early history brought him into conflict with clerics of Pelor. A promising apprentice, Acererak, once saved his life — or manipulated his way into Vecna’s good graces to learn dark secrets. And Vecnaa reacted as you might expect any lich to. He drove out his apprentice and sought out ever more power.
Thus did Vecna attract followers who venerated the lich. In these early days, Vecna conquered a swath of the northwestern territories of Oerth. He ruled a dynasty known as the Occulded Empire. Here Vecna elevated a trusted lieutenant, Kas. Kas was a fallen paladin who used Vecna’s gifts to become a vampire. Vecna even bestowed a powerful Sword to his follower to demonstrate his authority.
Though evil is as insidious as it is corrupting. And Vecna’s evil will manifested in the sword and tempted Kas. Succumbing to temptation, the fallen paladin decided to kill and usurp his master. On one fateful eve, as Vecna was attempting a ritual to achieve apotheosis, Kas attacked.
The vampire knight struck at Vecna, cutting off his hand and plunging his sword into his master’s eye. In the explosion that followed, all that remained were the left hand and eye of Vecna.
For a time, Vecna existed as a corrupt spirit lingering in the races of his eponymous artifacts. His consciousness might be scattered and separated, but through the influence of his hand and eye alone, the Master of the Spider Throne managed to become a demigod.
As a demigod on the rise, he created Skull Lords and faced off with dread powers, but even as he sought the godhood he so richly craved, he was drawn into the Domains of Dread by the Dark Powers that lurk in Ravenloft.
There did the archlich dwell in a Domain of Dread known as the Burning Peaks. But he could not stay sated. He devised a plot that spanned centuries, using the death of a demigod to try and invade Sigil. To this day, Vecna is the only divine power known to have breach the City of Doors. A lesson quickly and painfully learned as the Lady of Pain expelled Vecna from her domain. She separated him from his divine essence, but the lord of liches was resilient. And though he could not ever enter Sigil again (nor any other god) he did manage to become a lesser deity in the process.
Now he remains an unknown figure moving in secrets and shadows. His cult of followers practice profane rites and necromancy. And they serve as the many eyes for their dread lord.
Vecna In D&D Editions
Vecna doesn’t show up in First Edition, but his hand and eye do. Despite these relics being mentioned in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Vecna is regarded as a myth. At worst, 1E describes him as a long since destroyed lich who’s only dangerous to those who dare to use the power of his hand or eye. But in a fantasy setting, nothing ever has to be truly dead.
First Edition expanded the lore of Vecna with the 1990 adventure Vecna Lives! He appears a few more times throughout 2E, but the final adventure published in the edition was 2000’s adventure Die Vecna Die! Making Venca perhaps one of the most influential foes of Second Edition. He’s now a little more than a mythical dead lich, elevated to the roll of demigod. But seemingly impossible to kill as defeating him sends him to the realm of Ravenloft where he can come back for many more 2E adventures to come.
Still a godlike figure, Vecna is a 3E member of the ‘core pantheon.’ His alignment also shifts from Lawful Evil to Neutral Evil. He was once a king who then became a lich and is now the ruler of the unknown and secrets. His powers are fairly standard for the undead with a wounding unholy touch and the ability to paralyze his enemies with a tap. But he’ll also crate magic items and can use secret and arcane knowledge to his advantage.
Also known as The Mained One, The Whispered One, and Master of the Spider Throne, there are definitely a lot of weird and specific aspects of this character that Stranger Things seemed to have pulled from. Still the god of secrets, Vecna targets one victim at a time and aims to isolate and decimate them. But he has no domain of his own. Instead, Vecna prowls the planes in search of secrets and his lost hand and eye. He can also deal out necrotic damage and use it to heal undead creatures and, presumably, himself.
Vecna seems like a monster that’s difficult but, with higher level characters, not remotely impossible to defeat. High level spells and heaps of necrotic damage would be a cornerstone of this battle. At some point in his past Vecna’s personal guard, Kas, betrayed him, cutting off his hand and taking his eye. The 5E statblock we’re meant to play off of is supposed to represent Vecna intact without his hand and eye stolen. This raises questions for how a present-day Vecna would look in a battle, but that may just be up to the DM.
What will Vecna do next? It’s already being carried out, a plan centuries in the making, all we can do is wait to see what he unveils