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"The Head of Vecna" is a humorous game tale about a party of Dungeons & Dragons player characters who are lured into a trap by a fake magic item (the eponymous Head of Vecna). Believing that they will get vast magical power if they replace their own head with the Head of Vecna, and without thinking through the consequences of their actions, several party members decapitate themselves and die.

The first record of the tale is from 6 December 1996 entry of the Daily Illuminator news column on the Steve Jackson Games website. Bob Apthorpe, who ran the Daily Illuminator at the time, posted a tale that had been submitted by a GM called Mark Steuer.[1] The tale very quickly became popular, even being referred to in the 1999 computer role-playing game Planescape: Torment (based on the Planescape campaign setting).

The tale of The Head of Vecna[]

The context of the tale is that the GM, Mark Steuer, was running a split campaign with two separate groups of players in the same game world. The groups were adversarial, and the Head was a plot by Group One to defeat Group Two.

The Head of Vecna was inspired by the Hand and Eye of Vecna, two famous and incredibly powerful magic artefacts in D&D that were the actual body parts of the lich Vecna. In the game, if a character removed their own hand or eye and replaced it with the Hand or Eye of Vecna, they would gain some of Vecna's magical power. The concept of the Head of Vecna, therefore, was seeded by Group One in the game world as an artefact that could grant even greater magical power if a character cut off their own head and replaced it with the Head of Vecna.

Group One then obtained the head of a recently deceased corpse and placed it behind some weak traps to enhance the deception.

The first victim was a member of Group One, a druid who hadn't been informed of the plan and summoned vicious apes to rip off his own head. After this, the surviving members of Group One realised that they had forgotten to remove one of the fake Head's eyes as they reset the trap for Group Two.

Eventually, Group Two learned of the magic Head and sought it out. When they found it, they fought among themselves who would have the privilege of having their head cut off. The magician was selected, but the Head didn't take and the magician died. Rationalising the failure as their own fault (because they hadn't been fast enough), they then killed a second PC before realising that the Head was a fake.[1]

Legacy and references[]

The story of the Head of Vecna was very popular after its first appearance in 1996, and quickly led to several references.

In February 1997, the story "Agent of Evil!!" in Knights of the Dinner Table issue #5 featured the adventurers discovering the Hand of Vectra and vying for the opportunity to cut their own hands off. There is a more direct reference at the end, when one of the characters say that they have also heard of the Head of Vectra, and suggests they go looking for it. (The "Agent of Evil!!" story was republished in Knights of the Dinner Table Illustrated No. 2 in the year 2000.)

The 1999 official D&D computer RPG Planescape: Torment included a character called Morte, a floating skull, who can mention the Head of Vecna in passing in random dialogue with the succubus Fall-from-Grace. When Fall-from-Grace asks Morte what he is, he cheekily responds "Me? I'm the Head of Vecna." However, at other times when she asks Morte what happened to his body, he says more wearily "It's a long story involving the Head of Vecna. I don't want to talk about it." Given what is later revealed of Morte's backstory, these are not considered canon within the game. (The actual Eye of Vecna also appears in the game as an optional magic item for the main character, the Nameless One.)

The Head of Vecna, again a fake magic item, is mentioned in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition campaign module Die Vecna Die! from 2000, alongside other legitimate Fragments of Vecna.

D&D 3.5's Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (December 2006) included a subtle nod to the Head of Vecna. In this book, the Pillar of Geryon will cut off a hand placed inside it and replace it with one that deals extra damage. There are lore checks associated with the Pillar which encourage the GM to tell players that they might get more power if they put their heads into the Pillar instead. A lore check result of over 25, however, will reveal that doing so will just kill you.

Wizards of the Coast revealed a short adventure called The Head of Vecna for April Fools' Day 2007. In this adventure, the head was originally a fake head that was later empowered by the actual god Vecna mostly for the fun of it. PCs can track down the head, only to discover that there are 6 different heads, and furthermore that while they impart some magical power, they are all poisoned chalices. One will simply kill its owner, and the others will damage a character's ability scores until removed.[2]

In 2011, the video game RuneScape added an object called the Vecna skull.

In 2013, writer David M. Ewalt cited familiarity with The Head of Vecna as an example characteristic of an avid role-playing gamer in his book Of Dice and Men.[3]

References[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Bob Apthorpe and Mark Steuer (1996-12-06). Daily Illuminator December 1996. Steve Jackson Games. Retrieved 2020-08-07.
  2. Robert Wiese (2007-04-01). The Head of Vecna: A D&D Adventure for Characters Levels 1–12. Wizards of the Coast Archive. Retrieved 2020-08-07.
  3. David M. Ewalt (2013). Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It: 1. Scribner. ISBN 978-1-4516-4052-6
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