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Tabletop Game / Vecna Trilogy

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The Whispered One himself

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. The 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 the 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 (who had been elevated to a demigod status) from returning 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:

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     All three 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Archmage: Vecna was this in life but has long since surpassed it. The Circle of Eight are all this but it means little.
  • 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.
  • Ascended Extra: Vecna went from being some backstory justifying the Hand and Eye of Vecna to a full-blown archvillain.
  • Big Bad: Vecna, obviously.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Vecna was ultimately undone by Kas's betrayal at the height of his power.
  • Body Horror: As mentioned all over this article, to use Hand and Eye of Vecna one has to mutilate themselves.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Vecna actually revels in his Dark Lord persona and doesn't hide his evil. How evil is he? Citadel Cavitius is an enormous skull shaped castle.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: All three books basically establish that the player characters, no matter how epic, are always bugs on windshields for Vecna.
  • Cult No matter where Vecna is, he has a bunch of fanatical followers willing to do his bidding.
  • Deal with the Devil: Vecna became the first lich by making a pact with Orcus. Vecna later gets out of Ravenloft and screws with the Multiverse by his deal with the Serpent (implied to be Asmodeus.))
  • The Dragon: Kas is one of these, serving as Vecna's chief enforcer.
  • Dramatic Irony: Vecna's citadel in Ravenloft is actually his magical prison that he sentenced his opponents to a Fate Worse than Death in.
  • Evil Is Petty: Vecna once had all of the people of a city executed except for the officials because the latter begged for the former's lives.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Vecna, obviously, is very evil and a sorcerer.
  • Evil Versus 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Vecna's got a wicked sense of humor. His avatar in "Vecna Lives!" is funny, but it's all an act to keep the heroes from guessing who he really is.
  • Handicapped Badass: As befitting someone with the title of "The Maimed God," Vecna. While depicted as down a hand and eye, even his disguised avatar is missing a limb.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Vecna's biggest enemy is Kas and Kas's sword. Notable because Kas became an undead horror and the sword caapble of destroying him because Vecna gave him that power as well as the sword.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Vecna is a Lich God and is the worst elements of both.
  • 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.
  • 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. There's considerable evidence it's Satan himself, Asmodeus.
  • 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 is a demigod that is able to be interacted, which makes him not unique but still very uncommon.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Vecna used to be one of these back in the day but lost it when Kas betrayed him. He becomes this again in Cavitus but considers it a major step down from where he was.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wise Serpent: According to some legends, the lich-god Vecna received some of his magical mastery from an entity called the Serpent, which has been speculated to be a godlike embodiment of Magic itself or even something Above the Gods. However, its nature (and existence) remain unconfirmed.

     Vecna Lives 
  • 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.
  • Cargo Cult: A village of gnomes has created one around the Sword of Kas that they believe is an artifact of a Big Good and not the Artifact of Doom it is.
  • 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. It's not even Vecna but one of the many imposters that managed to get hold of his hand and eye.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The Circle of Eight receives their write-ups solely so the players can play them as they're killed.
  • Enemy Mine: In Vecna Lives! it is possible to gain the aid of both Kas and Iuz against Vecna.
  • The Extremist Was Right: The local kingdom comes down on cults with torture, arrests, and summary executions. Which is entirely justified by the fact that both the Cult of Iuz, Vecna, and the Temple of Elemental Evil are operating in the area.
  • Evil Plan: Vecna plans to ascend himself to greater godhood by bringing back his long-destroyed kingdom and its millions of followers through a time portal.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Vecna hates his "Imposter", Kas, and Iuz. Iuz and Kas hate Vecna too.
  • 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.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Vecna sentences his enemies to dwell inside the Demiplane of Ash in a magical castle where they eventually become undead that never need to feed. They just...exist.
  • Hidden Depths: A bit of a reversal of that but Vecna actually has his avatar be a tiny peg-legged riverboat captain who mocks people. The fact this is how Vecna spends his time says some very strange things about him.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: A rare non-video game example, Vecna cannot be beaten by the Circle of Eight and will eventually kill them all. Notable because the players will be playing the Circle of Eight.
  • 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. This is Metaphorically True as the only place where the player characters have no chance is the opening where they're playing the Hero of Another Story.
  • 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. And is tricked into this in Die, Vecna, Die!
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The PCs will find Kas inside Vecna's prison of Cavitius on the Elemental Plane of Ash. If they give him back his sword, he uses its secret teleportation power to get away and forgets about them.
  • 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.

     Vecna Reborn 
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Kas is theoretically this despite being a fascist dictator and vampire. Just because Vecna is that bad.
  • All for Nothing: The players, even if successful, do not prevent the events of Die Vecna Die and only delay Vecna's release for a short while.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Soldiers of Tovag have a black sword on a red background symbol as well as run a eugenicist military dictatorship.
  • Bedlam House: The Madhouse in Tovag is one of these and it's oddly one of the nicer places in the region.
  • Body Horror: A pregnant woman is cursed with a Rosemary's Baby-esque situation with Vecna's essence entering her body.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The Dark Powers of Ravenloft actually may have bitten off more than they can chew with Vecna.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The PCs may be subjected to this for the crime of being foreigners.
  • The Dictatorship: Oddly enough, not Vecna's land (which is more like Hell), but Tovag. Kas is a brutal military dictator who abuses his subjects horribly but leaves them alive.
  • Evil Uncle: Marit's uncle is the high priest of Vecna in Tovag who wants to rebirth his god through her.
  • Genre Refugee: Vecna is a Sauron-esque overlord (an undead god basically) with his kingdom of the undead in the Gothic horror filled Demiplane of Dread.
  • Mordor: Cavitus is an undead ridden hellhole that is wholly alien and monstrous.
  • Mystical Pregnancy: Marit is carrying a child infected with Vecna's essence.
  • The Necrocracy: Cavitus is a land that is literally ruled by the dead and mostly populated by the undead.
  • Not Worth Killing: If Vecna successfully reincarnates himself, he doesn't bother killing the PCs. They are beneath his notice. He does eradicate Kas with a wave of his hand, though.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Effectively for any Gothic Horror Ravenloft campaign. The PCs find themselves in a land closer to some layers of the Nine Hells than Dracula or Frankenstein.
  • Religion of Evil: Not Vecna's, though that certainly qualifies, but the Temple of the Penetants that is wholly an opiate of the masses run by State Security.
  • Reincarnation: Effectively, Vecna's plan for escaping the Demiplane of Dread is to reincarnate himself in an unborn child outside of his domain.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Vecna knows that Kas is beneath his notice and only there to draw his ire but he just can't help himself.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Vecna is imprisoned inside the Demiplane of Dread and, like Azalin and Strahd, working to escape. However, he is magnitudes more powerful than both of them as a legendary archmage turned demigod.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: The people of Tovag throw themselves at Vecna's armies in hopes of keeping him contained but Vecna doesn't have any interest in Cavitius because he knows it's an illusion and his freedom won't be impeded by any mortal force of arms.
  • State Security: Tovag has a particularly brutal one of these. How brutal? Reading is banned.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The biggest threat in the Police State of Tovag is the fact they don't speak the language and are strangers. If they can't communicate with the Daggers (the name of State Security) they're screwed.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: If Kas finds out the PCs prevented Vecna's reincarnation, he will interrogate them harshly and then forget about it.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Vecna plans to be reborn in the body of a newborn he possesses.
  • Younger Than They Look: The people of Tovag age at twice the normal rate to become soldiers for Kas's regime faster. However, none of them are old enough to have lived a single generation since the entire Burning Peaks Cluster was made a couple of years ago.

     Die Vecna Die 
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Vecna's heard of the Head of Vecna joke, and thinks it's hilarious.
  • 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.
  • Artifact of Doom: Die Vecna, Die! introduced a total of twelve minor parts of Vecna
  • Ascended Meme: The Head of Vecna appears in the trilogy.
  • 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.
    • More directly, Vecna ascended to become one of the primary deities of D&D. While he didn't take Sigil as he'd hoped, he essentially achieved or advanced all his other goals.
  • 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 until 5th Edition 20 years later.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 first Darklord to ever escape Ravenloft, even Lord Soth was merely released by the Dark Powers once they grew bored of him. Only one other Darklord has succeeded since. Vecna is also the only god to ever set a foot in Sigil and not have Lady of Pain destroy him.
  • 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.
  • Multiversal Conqueror: Vecna's final plan is to reshape the entire Multiverse in his image.
  • My Rules Are Not Your Rules: Vecna pretty much breaks every sacred rule of D&D's settings in his rampage across the Multiverse.
  • 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.
  • Physical God: Vecna, once he returns to physical form and assumes the title of a demigod. He then goes further up the divine rank.
  • 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.
  • The Worf Effect: 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.