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According to the instakill effect of a vorpal sword (emphasis mine):

A creature is immune to this effect if it is immune to slashing damage, doesn't have or need a head, has legendary actions, or the DM decides that the creature is too big for its head to be cut off with this weapon.

However, the statblock of Vecna the Archlich from Eve of Ruin doesn't have legendary actions, only legendary resistance. Obviously, most DMs would say it doesn't work, but purely RAW, would Vecna just die on a nat. 20? Or would the fact that he's undead make him not die from losing his head?

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2 Answers 2

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RAW - Possibly, RAI - Probably not

As you have already discovered, RAW the Statblock does not fit any of the criteria for being immune to the Vorpal Sword's decapitation effect. The only argument that could be made is that he doesn't need his head. I personally don't know enough about this particular bad guy to answer this with a definitive yes or no, however I can tell you why it is probably not the designer's intention for you to be able to kill Vecna like that:

Legendary Actions have been phased out in the most recent books

In earlier Books like the Monster Manual and even relatively recent releases like Fizban's Treasury of Dragons "Big Bad Boss Monsters" have been equipped with Legendary Actions to balance their action economy. However if we look at the most recent books, such as Glory of the Giants or the Eve of Ruin you are mentioning, we can discover that the developers are no longer giving any creatures Legendary Actions, opting to use Bonus Action and Reactions as alternatives.

It is safe to assume, that Vecna, being an iconic and highly dangerous boss creature, who also has Legendary Resistances, would have come equipped with Legendary Actions, had this change in design philosophy not occured and would have thus been immune to the Vorpal Sword's instakill RAW.

We will get an answer in the new DMG

There will be a new DMG released at the end of this year, whose purpose, among other things, is to update the current book to how the game has changed in the 10 years that have passed since the old book's release. This will most likely include an updated list of all the Magic Items from the old book.

We will have to wait and see, if and how they rephrase the Vorpal Sword to be in-line with their current design philosophies. Some examples include:

  1. They remove the restriction for Legendary Actions, as those aren't used anymore. The Vorpal Sword can now kill any and all creatures with its special effect.
  2. They leave the wording unchanged. This will make it that creatures from the old MM with legendary actions are still immune, but none of the newer monsters are.
  3. They add a different restriction that will give us a similar effect. Perhaps something like: "A creature is immune to this effect if it is has a CR of 18 or higher" or "A creature is immune to this effect if it is has Legendary Resistances".

My personal prediction would be possibility no. 3, but this is mere speculation. As I said we will have to wait for the Core Rules books to catch up with the design of the current sumplement books, if we want to know for sure.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with the first two parts, the last one is not true: we already know the answer. It will be a different system, hence with different interactions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented May 23 at 20:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage The new books will be backwards compatible with older monsters, such as Vecna, and they will actually work better with them than the old books, as the design principles used in the newer ones will be way closer to the ones used in such recent monsters. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 23 at 20:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I vaguely remember that something like that is written in the latest UA documents. But the fact is that the last paragraph does not concern the 5th edition. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented May 24 at 6:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage The new version will still be "5th edition". It is being referred to as either "5th edition (2024)" or "Revised 5th edition". \$\endgroup\$
    – Adeptus
    Commented May 24 at 8:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Yeah, it's a revision after 10 years, that is still backwards compatible and is officially being called not a new edition, even though it will include many changes. We will have to wait and see, if there will be an official new name for this revision, other than "2024 5E" and also if we are going to be having a new Tag for this on this Site and what it will be called (this has already been discussed on Meta). \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 24 at 9:50
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Technically, he would have his head cut on a 20.

There are 4 circumstances under which a creature has not their head severed by the Vorpal sword:

  • immune to slashing damage
  • they do not have an head
  • they have legendary actions
  • the DM decides that the head is too big.

Since Vecna is a medium Undead, his head should be... medium size, so the last one is a little bit of stretch from DM. He has no legendary actions: then the 3rd point does not apply. He has an head: the second point does not work either.

He is immune to slashing damage from non magical attacks: is it equivalent to be immune to slashing damage? Actually, there are monsters that are immune to slashing damage (see for example the Black Pudding), both from magical and non magical attacks, hence Vecna could have his head cut off by a lucky strike dealt with the Vorpal Sword.

Does he die with his head severed or does he survive?

Well, Vecna is one of the most powerful entities of DnD: as a DM, there are infinite and plausible justifications for letting Vecna be immune from Vorpal's effect or for letting him survive with his head severed.

As a DM and as a player, my DnD experience would be quite pauperized if the big, final and epic fight with the all-powerful Lich ends with just one lucky1 strike, even with a legendary item. As a DM, I would advice against letting the Vorpal Sword work against Vecna, and as a player I would completely agree with the DM ruling in this way.


1 Just with advantage, the chance to get a 20 on the roll are almost doubled.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelRichardson Completely agree. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented May 23 at 14:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...and if you did succeed, you'd be left with the Head of Vecna to deal with. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Commented May 23 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden I’ve been told that there is a canonical statement somewhere that Vecna is aware of the “head of Vecna” gag, and thinks it’s hilarious. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented May 23 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Vecna is a god as well as a lich. Both of those are notoriously difficult to kill permanently. Even if Vecna “needs” his head, losing it will be a temporary inconvenience at worst. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented May 23 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan No, there is no mention of its phylactery, at leas on the stat block. If you look at it, or at the Elditch Lich block, you'll see that they do not have the "classical" spellcasting ability, with spell slots and the like, but a small list of spell that they can cast at will (cantrips/low levels) or once/twice per day (more powerful ones). It seems to me that all the monsters are going to be very "flat", regarding mechanics and actions, to make life easier for the players. I do not like where it is going, actually, with the new version of DnD... \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented May 23 at 15:44

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