Vecna

Greyhawk Deity
Vecna
Vecna00.jpg
Vecna, the Whispered One, as depicted on the cover of Open Grave (2009).
Title(s) The Arch-Lich, the Chained God, the Maimed God, Master of the Spider Throne, the Whispered One, the Dying King, the Lord of the Rotted Tower, the Undying King
Home Plane Prime Material Plane (originally Oerth)
Power Level Lesser
Gender Male
Class(es) Wizard
Alignment Neutral Evil
Portfolio Destructive and Evil Secrets, Magic, Hidden Knowledge, Intrigue
Domains Evil, Knowledge, Madness, Magic, Planning, Tyranny
Alias(es)
Superior none

Vecna, once a powerful human wizard who became a lich, is the god of Destructive and Evil Secrets, Magic, Hidden Knowledge, and Intrigue. Notably, Vecna is missing both his left eye and left hand. Vecna's holy symbol is an eye in the palm of a left hand.

Contents

Description

Vecna is usually depicted as a powerful lich missing his left hand and eye. Sometimes he is depicted with withered, mummified flesh; other times he is depicted as a being of bare bone, with not a trace of skin remaining.

Relationships

Vecna has few allies, and countless enemies. His greatest, and perhaps only true ally is the mysterious entity known as the Serpent. The famed cambion lich Acererak once served Vecna, but the current status of their relationship is unknown. Among Vecna's staunchest foes are Kas, Iuz, and the Circle of Eight. The Lady of Pain once opposed him indirectly, through a party of adventurers.

Vecna is opposed by the Old Faith and the Silent Ones.

Among Vecna's most notable servants are Gusten the Blood-Fiend, Sir Loran, and the death knight calling himself Kas the Bloody-Handed.

Realm

Vecna has many secret strongholds in far-off regions of the Prime Material Plane. There, the souls of those who worshipped the Whispered One in life continue to serve him in death.

For a millennium or more, Vecna kept a prison in the Quasielemental Plane of Ash known as Citadel Cavitius. It was there that Kas and others who displeased the Maimed God were incarcerated.

Dogma

Vecna and his faithful believe in the power of secrets and their ultimate ability to destroy anyone, no matter how powerful. Vecna hopes one day to destroy every other deity in existence, leaving himself the sole ruler of creation.

Another tenet of Vecna's faith is the doctrine of a secret evil within every being, no matter how virtuous. This seed of evil, Vecna teaches, can and should be exploited by those able to identify it.

Vecna's followers never reveal all that they know.

Scriptures

Being a secretive cult, there are no real collections of Vecnan teachings. However, copies of the Book of Vile Darkness are highly prized by the cult for Vecna's role in that work's development, as are copies of the Tome of the Stilled Tongue.

Although not actually penned by him, The Book of Keeping (a book of yugoloth summoning) is heavily linked with the cult of Vecna, as the cultists have the only known copies that are free of the intentional errors introduced into the book by the fiends that wrote the volume as a trap for would-be summoners.

Worshipers

A priestess of Vecna, as depicted in Dragon #348 (2006). Art by Andrew Hou.

Vecna's cult is very secretive, and cells have been uncovered, at various points in history, in Diamond Lake, Greyhawk, Saltmarsh, and Verbobonc. Temples to Vecna have also been reported in the Pomarj town of Highport and Erelhei-Cinlu, the debased city at the heart of the Vault of the Drow.

Clergy

Clerics of Vecna often don't realize which god they're serving when they're first initiated. Many are deluded into believing they belong to an obscure sect of Boccob or Wee Jas. The truth is not revealed to them until they show their willingness to do anything in the pursuit of knowledge and power.

Hierarchy

Each position in Vecna's cult is named for a certain body part. At the top is Vecna himself, followed by the Voice of Vecna, which can only be filled by Vecna's manifestation.

Next is the Heart of Vecna, the high priest of the cult. The last known Heart of Vecna was Diraq Malcinex of Ket, who was slain by adventurers in 581 CY.

Immediately below the Heart of Vecna are two bizarre monsters known as the Hand and the Eye. The Eye of Vecna creature appears as a slender humanoid with an eyeball for a head, whereas the Hand of Vecna appears as a stocky humanoid with a huge left hand where its head should be.

Individual congregations are known as Organs. Each Organ is led by a Thought of Vecna. Lesser priests are known as Memories of Vecna.

Lay members of the cult consist of the Teeth, Fingers, Blood, and Spawn of Vecna. The Teeth of Vecna are made up of wizards, and specialize in arcane spellcasting and crafting magical items for the cult. The Fingers of Vecna consist mainly of thieves, who engage in various forms of subterfuge. The Blood of Vecna are mainly warriors charged with protection and enforcement of the cult and its goals. The Spawn of Vecna are the lowest in the cult hierarchy, and consist of the common people who honor the Lich Lord.

Other Vecnan organizations

Other Vecnan organizations are known to exist outside of the mainstream cult, and some may have similar or identical names. Relations between these groups and the mainstream cult may vary. Known examples are the Eyes of Vecna (a cult of undeath consisting mainly of rogues), the Fingers of Vecna (Vecna's personal guard), and the Ebon Triad (a heretical cult seeking to merge Vecna, Hextor, and Erythnul into a single entity).

Artifacts and relics

The Hand and Eye of Vecna, as depicted on the cover of Vecna Lives! (1990).

A number of artifacts, relics, and other magical items are associated with Vecna.

Hand and Eye of Vecna

See main articles: Hand of Vecna and Eye of Vecna.

Vecna's left hand and eye of his original "mortal" lich form, which have never been replaced in his later more powerful incarnations, are now high-valued and very dangerous magical artifacts. To use the powers of the Hand of Vecna or the Eye of Vecna one is required to remove one's own corresponding body part and affix Vecna's in its place.

Sword of Kas

Vecna created the Sword of Kas for his greatest servant, which contains a "portion of his consciousness."

This interpretation is relatively recent. As per the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide, Vecna only procured this most powerful sword for his chief lieutenant. Similarly, depending on edition and source, its appearance has varied, from a short sword to a wavy bladed two hander. However, it is undoubtable that the Sword is inextricably tied to Vecna's relics.

Other artifacts and relics

A number of Vecna's other body parts are presented as minor artifacts in Die Vecna Die!, including the First Digit (right thumb), Second Digit (right index finger), Third Digit (right middle finger), Last Digit (right pinky finger), Incisors (a pair of inapproprietly named fang-like canines), Molar, Scalp, Skin, Heart, Foot (left), and Right Eye. These artifacts are collectively known as the Fragments of Vecna.

The Compendium Maleficarum is a book of spells, doctrines, and secrets crafted entirely from bone (even the pages) and penned in blood, that is on par with the Fragments of Vecna.

The Tome of Shared Secrets is an illustrated bestiary of relic status, with the ability to impart knowledge of dark and evil creatures at the cost of a portion the user's life force.

The Rod of the Whispered One, while not nearly so powerful as the Sword of Kas, is another item Vecna crafted to connect himself with his highest lieutenants.

Head of Vecna

The Head of Vecna was a hoax that one adventuring party played on another in a campaign run by dungeon master Mark Steuer. One of the groups tricked the other into going on a quest for the Head of Vecna, a hoax artifact that was supposedly similar to his Hand and Eye, but was simply an ordinary severed head. The hoax takes advantage of the fact that the Eye and Hand require a person to remove their own eye or hand and replace it with the artifact to function. The characters involved in the story reasoned that they needed to decapitate themselves to gain the powers of the Head of Vecna, and several of the group actually fought to determine whose head should be cut off. After the third character died, the joke was revealed.

A full account of the story can be read here.

Bizarrely enough, the Head of Vecna makes a canonical appearance in Die Vecna Die!.

Other magic items

A number of other magic items of non-artifact status are associated with Vecna, including:

  • The Pearl of Secrets: An intelligent, black pearl of power that claims to have been created by Vecna himself. (A&EG3E.142)

History

Vecna, as depicted by Wayne Reynolds on the cover of Dragon #348 (2006).

Vecna was born as a human, centuries ago as a member of the untouchable caste in the Flan city of Fleeth on Oerth. He was initially trained by his mother, Mazell, in the arts of magic, before she was executed by the government of Fleeth for practicing witchcraft. Vowing revenge, Vecna eventually assumed a mastery of the dark arts achieved by no mortal before or since. Some say this achievement was due to direct tutelage by Mok'slyk the Serpent, believed to be the personification of arcane magic itself.

At some point during his long life and unlife, Vecna undertook arduous researches into the nature of life itself in a hidden temple buried in the mines near what is now Diamond Lake; the site of this laboratory is now known as the Dark Cathedral.

Some nine hundred years after his birth, Vecna, now a lich and ruler of the Occluded Empire of Vecna, a great and terrible empire (in the Sheldomar Valley, centered near the modern-day Rushmoors) of the Flanaess, laid siege to the city of Fleeth with an army of arcane spellcasters and undead (VHotR). Legend has it that Vecna was nearly slain in this battle by clerics channeling the power of Pholtus, the god of light. The clerics unleashed a great burst of light, which hit Vecna primarily on his left side. Vecna was rescued and brought to safety by one of his wizard generals, a cambion named Acererak (who would one day himself become a mighty demilich).

Vecna eventually recovered. On the verge of conquering Fleeth, certain citizens of the city came before him to beg for mercy. They offered up the entire city and her wealth if only Vecna would spare the lives of her citizens. When Vecna was not satisfied, the officials offered their own lives. Vecna gave one of their number, Artau, and his family, over to his lieutenant, Kas, who spent the entire day torturing and murdering them before the other officials. Still unsatisfied, Vecna slaughtered all within the city, and had their heads stacked before the officials, with those of their family members prominent. Vecna then granted his mercy, granting the officials leave to depart, and promising them his protection for the rest of their lives.

At his empire's height, Vecna was betrayed and destroyed by his most trusted lieutenant, a human vampire called Kas the Bloody-Handed, using a magical sword that Vecna himself had crafted for him, now known as the Sword of Kas. Only his left hand and his eye survived the battle, perhaps because of the previous events in Fleeth.

Vecna did not stay gone forever, and returned to Oerth as a demigod of magic and secrets. In 581 CY, his cult helped set events in motion that would have granted him the power of a greater god, but the plan was ultimately foiled. In 586 CY, Vecna ended up imprisoned in the demiplane of Ravenloft, but broke free in 591, emerging with the power of a greater god after absorbing the power of Iuz. Vecna then entered the city of Sigil, where he came perilously close to rearranging all existence to his whims. When Vecna was ejected from Sigil by a party of adventurers, Iuz was freed and Vecna returned to Oerth greatly reduced in power, though still a lesser god.

Writings

At some point in his history, Vecna penned a tome known as Ordinary Necromancy, as well as another work named Vecna's Ineffable Variorum. He is also rumored to have made significant additions to the Book of Vile Darkness. The Nethertome of Trask is ascribed to him, though this provenance is considered highly dubious.

Another literary relic of Vecna is the Tome of the Stilled Tongue, a spellbook that contains instructions for mental exercises that increase the potency of the practitioner's spellcasting. Five copies are known to exist, each with the severed tongue of a treacherous Vecna cultist nailed to the cover.

Creative origins

Vecna was created by Brian Blume for the original D&D supplement Eldritch Wizardry in 1976. The name Vecna is an anagram of the surname of Jack Vance, the fantasy author whose "fire-and-forget" magic system is the default magic system used in Dungeons & Dragons.

Publishing history

Vecna is first mentioned in the Eldritch Wizardry (1976) supplement for the original Dungeons & Dragons game. His first mention in an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons product was in 1979's Dungeon Master's Guide. During this time, Vecna was regarded only as a long-destroyed legendary lich of great power, able to threaten player characters only through the presence of his two existing artifacts, the Hand and Eye of Vecna. However, with the release of the adventure Vecna Lives! in 1990, it was revealed that Vecna was now a demigod, and the chief antagonist of the module. At the end of the adventure, presuming the players defeat Vecna, he is transported to the Ravenloft campaign setting. Two more Vecna-centered modules followed, 1998's Vecna Reborn, set in Ravenloft, and 2000's Die Vecna Die!, which spanned the Greyhawk, Ravenloft, and Planescape settings. A constant theme in all three of these adventures is Vecna's never-ending quest for power, ending, should he succeed, with Vecna as the only greater deity in existence. After Die Vecna Die! it seems he is partially successful, as his first Third Edition appearance, the Player's Handbook (2000), lists Vecna as a lesser deity. Some fans of the game have also speculated that the events of Die Vecna Die! serve as an in-game explanation of the changes from Second to Third Edition[1][2][3], just as Fate of Istus did the same for the transition from First to Second Edition.

Third Edition further raised Vecna's profile in the game, making him a member of the game's "core pantheon." It is interesting to note that Vecna's alignment was changed from Lawful Evil to Neutral Evil in Third Edition, and no in-game explanation has surfaced.

Vecna in other media

  • The Robe of Vecna appears as a powerful Mage-only suit of armour in the computer role-playing game Baldur's Gate II, as well as in Neverwinter Nights.
  • In the 1999 CRPG Planescape: Torment, Fall-From-Grace (a puritan succubus) asks Morte (a disembodied floating skull) "What are you?", to which Morte replies "Me? I'm the head of Vecna." A similar conversation between the two involves Morte saying "It's a long story involving the head of Vecna. I don't want to talk about it." Grace responds with an amused "That was you?" Also in the same game, the Eye of Vecna is a rare item dropped by greater glabrezu.
  • In Slash'EM, the Hand of Vecna is a very useful artifact, gained after killing Vecna himself in the Chaotic Quest.
  • In the roguelike game Angband, Vecna makes an appearance as one of the most powerful unique monsters in the game.
  • Vecna, as well as his lieutenant Kas, appear in a Nodwick strip published in Dragon magazine that parodied the Vecna series of modules.

Gallery

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Bibliography

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  • Cook, David. Book of Artifacts. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1993.
  • -----. Dungeon Master's Guide. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1989.
  • -----. Vecna Lives!. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1990.
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  • -----. Dungeon Master's Guide Core Rulebook II v.3.5. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2000.
  • Gygax, Gary. Dungeon Master's Guide. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1979.
  • Haley, Jason H. "The Allure of Evil." Dragon #361. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2007. Available online: [5]
  • Hart, Ken. "History Check: Kas and Vecna." Dragon #402. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2011.
  • Heard, Bruce. "Spells Between the Covers." Dragon #82. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1984.
  • Miller, Steve. "The Secret Library of Vecna." Dragon #272. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2000.
  • Mullin, Robert S. "Arcane Lore: Greyhawk Grimoires II." Dragon #241. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1997.
  • -----. "Campaign Classics: Three Greyhawk Grimoires." Dragon #225. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1996.
  • Noonan, David. Complete Divine. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2004.
  • -----. Monster Manual V. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2007.
  • Tweet, Johnathan, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams. Player's Handbook. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2000.
  • -----. Player's Handbook Core Rulebook I v.3.5. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2003.
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