Vecna Trilogy refers to three adventure modules for 2nd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, loosely connected by their central antagonist, the eponymous Vecna, whose schemes threaten the worlds of Greyhawk, Ravenloft and Planescape.
The name Vecna is nearly as old as D&D itself. At first, it would appear merely as a mention in Eldritch Wizardry, one of the supplementary books for the original edition of the game, a name of a powerful lich who has perished but left behind him two powerful artifacts. Hand and Eye of Vecna could grant the user immense power, as long as they were willing to sacrifice their corresponding body parts.
With the dawn of the Second Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the story has been expanded. In the world of Greyhawk name Vecna is shrouded in legend and whispered in fear. Vecna was a lich who created his own evil empire and sought not only to conquer the whole world but to ascend to godhood. He was, however, betrayed and destroyed by his right-hand, the vampire Kas. His artifacts were all that was left of him and without them, he cannot return to the material world. Vecna could be an evil influence, trying to corrupt wearers of his artifacts, but had not made an appearance in any of the official d&d supplements.
That changed in 1990 with the publication of a high-level adventure Vecna Lives! by David "Zeb" Cook. In it the party was desperately trying to first stop Vecna's, who had been elevated to a demigod status, return and, failing that, to find a way to defeat him. The adventure's intended ending is Vecna being banished from Greyhawk to an unknown world.
In 1998 a sequel, written by Monte Cook (no relation), has been published under the title Vecna Reborn!. In it turns out Vecna has been trapped in Ravenloft, becoming a Darklord with his own domain. Or rather half of it, the other half being ruled by Kas, the two's punishment being to always be at war with one another but never able to gain an upper hand as neither can cross to the other's half. But Vecna schemes still and the party has to prevent him from escaping.
In 2000 Wizards of the Coast, having acquired rights to Dungeons & Dragons, has published the final adventure for its 2nd edition, written by Bruce R. Cordell and Steve Miller - Die Vecna Die!. An adventure spanning worlds of Greyhawk, Ravenloft and Planescape in which Vecna's ambitions threaten the entire Multiverse. His new plan is not to just escape Ravenloft but to achieve the power of a greater god, take over Sigil and reshape the whole existence in his image.
Vecna Trilogy provides examples of:
- Action Prologue: Vecna Lives! start with a battle between player-controlled Circle of Eighth wizards and avatar of Vecna. It will be a long time since something equally epic happens in the adventure proper, as it is more horror/investigation.
- Action Survivor: Even the high-level party in Vecna Lives! and Die Vecna Die! is helplessly outclassed most of the time, while the party in Vecna Reborn! is better off avoiding dangers altogether and opting for stealth.
- All Your Powers Combined: Vecna's plan to escape Ravenloft is to absorb the powers of Iuz and become a greater god, making him too powerful for the Dark Powers to contain him.
- Always a Bigger Fish: It is this philosophy that allows Vecna to escape Ravenloft - he reasons Dark Powers cannot be strong enough to contain a Greater God and once he becomes one he can just brute force his way out.
- An Arm and a Leg: Using the Hand of Vecna requires one to cut his own hand and insert the artifact in its place.
- Antagonist Title: All 3 modules are named after the main villain.
- Arch-Enemy: Kas and Vecna are this to each other, to the point Dark Powers decided the best way to mess with them would be to ensure they will always battle but never directly, so that their conflict will be eternal.
- Artifact of Doom: Both the Hand and the Eye of Vecna are powerful artifacts, but their power comes at a price in two steps. First, you need to actually remove your own hand or eye and then every time you use their powers there is a possibility Vecna will push you towards evil or just hijacks your body.
- Sword of Kas, a magic sentient sword of evil, plays an important role in all 3 adventures. Ironically the fake versions could be considered more dangerous, as Iuz found the hard way.
- Die Vecna, Die! introduced a total of twelve minor parts of Vecna
- A Taste of Power: Vecna Lives! opens with the players, whose own characters are at an early stage of higher levels, assuming control of endgame level wizards from the Circle of Eighth, who try to stop the avatar of Vecna.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Vecna Lives! has an alternate ending in case the party fails to stop the titular villain. Some would argue Die Vecna Die! had him win in the end, due to the fact it caused a shift to 3rd Edition of D&D - an edition in which full casters, like Vecna himself, reigned supreme over everything else, at least mechanically.
- Beyond the Impossible: Vecna manages this in the final adventure by escaping the Demiplane of Dread. Doing so had never been accomplished before, and never happened again.
- Big Bad: Vecna, obviously.
- Big Bad Wannabe: Iuz thinks he's using obscure magicks to ascend to godhood. He is actually being manipulated by Vecna, the true Big Bad of the story.
- Body Horror: As mentioned all over this article, to use Hand and Eye of Vecna one has to mutilate themselves.
- Cosmic Retcon: Die Vecna Die! serves as an explanation for the transition from 2nd to 3rd Edition of d&d by having all changes be a result of Vecna messing with time and reality.Even with Vecna's removal, his time in the crux effected change in superspace. Though the Lady of Pain attempts to heal the damage, the turmoil spawned by Vecna's time in Sigil cannot be entirely erased. Some Outer Planes drift off and are forever lost, others collide and merge, while at least one Inner Plane runs "aground" on a distant world of the Prime. Moreover, the very nature of the Prime Material Plane itself is altered. Half-worlds like those attached to Tovag Baragu multiply a millionfold, taking on parallel realism in what was before a unified Prime Material Plane. The concept of alternate dimensions rears its metaphorical head, but doesn't yet solidify, and perhaps it never will. New realms, both near and far, are revealed and realms never previously imagined make themselves known. Entities long thought lost emerge once more, while other creatures, both great and small, are inexplicably eradicated. Some common spells begin to work differently. The changes do not occur immediately but instead are revealed during the subsequent months. However, one thing remains clear: Nothing will ever be the same again.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: How much are Circle of Eighth outclassed against the avatar of Vecna? The DM is instructed to just each turn declare one of them to die, No Saving Throw.
- Dead Man's Switch: Normally Lady of Pain would not be kind for anyone trying to throw his weight around in Sigil or a god even as much as trying to enter it. Vecna ensured that if she destroys or mazes him, it will cause far worse damage.
- Defeating the Undefeatable: Vecna is the only Darklord to ever escape Ravenloft, even Lord Soth was merely released by the Dark Powers once they grew bored of him. Vecna is also the only god to ever set a foot in Sigil and not have Lady of Pain destroy him.
- Enemy Mine: In Vecna Lives! it is possible to gain the aid of both Kas and Iuz against Vecna.
- Establishing Character Moment: Vecna Lives! opens with an in-universe historical record describing one of Vecna's acts of petty cruelty, just to make it clear what kind of monster we're dealing here with.
- Evil vs. Evil: Kas and Iuz can aid the party against Vecna in Vecna Lives!. By the time of Vecna Reborn! both Vecna and Kas are each ruling his own domain of Ravenloft and each openly trying to destroy the other. The first part of Vecna's plan in Die Vecna Die! is to steal Iuz's power for himself.
- Eye Scream: The Eye of Vecna has one condition to work - you need to gouge your own eye and insert it in your empty eye socket.
- Imaginary Friend: Vecna acquires one in Die Vecna Die! in form of the Serpent. It may be an actual entity that is a true mastermind of his multiverse-threatening plan...or just proof of how insane the lich is.
- Karma Houdini: Not only does Vecna end without any major punishment for nearly destroying the Multiverse, he even gets to be a god on both Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms.
- Killer Game Master: Vecna Lives! early on dedicates few paragraphs to underline this adventure requires Dungeon Master to get over any fear of killing player characters.
- The Man Behind the Man: It is implied the Serpent is not just Vecna's imaginary friend but an old god who told him how to escape Ravenloft, protect himself from Lady of Pain, and threaten the entire multiverse.
- Multiversal Conqueror: Vecna's final plan is to reshape the entire Multiverse in his image.
- Near-Villain Victory: Vecna almost wins the final adventure, but is defeated at the very last moment in Die, Vecna, Die! Even then, he survives and is in a far better place than he was before.
- The Old Gods: What both Lady of Pain and the Serpent, Vecna's imaginary friend, are implied to be.
- Our Liches Are Different: Vecna is rumored to be one of the first if not the first lich.
- Physical God: Vecna, once he returns to physical form and assumes the title of a demigod. He then goes further up the divine rank.
- Precursor Heroes: Vecna Lives! is intended for a party of a higher level (12 to 15) than Vecna Reborn! (5 to 7) and Die Vecna Die! (10 to 12), meaning that player characters who have beaten him there are likely this to the party that faces him in the sequels. At least unless the DM throws time travel or Level Drain at them.
- Predecessor Villain: Vecna himself is this for demi-lich Acererak, his student who would later create the infamous Tomb of Horrors.
- Rogues Gallery Transplant: Probably the most famous example in d&d, as Vecna managed to jump from an iconic Greyhawk villain to one of the most iconic villains in the game as a whole, leaving his mark on both Ravenloft and Planescape and causing an in-universe move to 3rd Edition, in which he was part of a standard pantheon, allowing him to be a threat on Forgotten Realms and any other world it was used for.
- Schmuck Bait: A very popular was inspired by Eye and Hand of Vecna - Head of Vecna. By the time of Die Vecna, Die! it has made it into the official game. In the module just like on games that used it prior, it's just a normal skull. The trick is to convince a power-hungry player of its immense power and watch them make their character cut their own head.
- Shout-Out: Vecna's own name is a Significant Anagram of Jack Vance, whose magic system d&d has been using since its conception. His Hand and Eye are based on similar artifacts that appear in works of Michael Moorcock
- The Starscream: Kas, whose betrayal is the main reason why Vecna is in need of a roundabout way to come back to life. By the time of Vecna Reborn! the two are bitter enemies.
- Summon Bigger Fish: The best way to deal with Vecna in Vecna Lives! is to call for Iuz to battle him. Which is ironic considering Iuz being on the other end of this trope in The Temple of Elemental Evil.
- The Worf Effect: Vecna lives! starts with Circle of Eighth, some of the most powerful magic-users of Greyhawk, being slaughtered by an avatar of Vecna. Die Vecna Die! has Iuz, a powerful and evil god in his own right, being outwitted and absorbed by Vecna, after which both the Dark Powers and Lady of Pain are rendered powerless to stop the lich from escaping Ravenloft and installing himself in Sigil.