I'm vaguely familiar with the RPG anecdote the Head of Vecna. Is there more to this tale? Why is this story important to RPG culture?

Note: In Comments on this question (now deleted but available on Meta as part of this question), I mentioned the Head of Vecna (along with a few others) as an RPG touchstone, but when I told what I knew of the Head of Vecna story (which was about as much as the summary on the Wikipedia page) to my son, a budding yet enthusiastic gamer, I didn't have many details to flesh out the tale nor was I entirely clear on the story's influence or ultimate point.


3 Answers 3


The tale of the Head of Vecna is considered a touchstone cautionary tale to players about taking everything you hear in-game as gospel truth, and is an excellent example of Players using the promise of Untold Power to destroy each other. It's also considered a great example of how greedy players can be when it comes to powerful artifacts, and how crazy/dumb they can be in the pursuit of the power offered. And, finally, it's a great example of how self-destructive players can be. Sometimes you don't have to rig up traps and monsters and everything else...just give em enough rope, and they may take care of the rest.

The original source of where people have seen this story comes from Steve Jackson's Website, about 2/3 of the way down the page underneath the heading An Important Safety Tip! There's a more readable copy of the same found here: http://www.blindpanic.com/humor/vecna.htm

These are the most complete accounts of the story known. Mark Steuer, the DM who allowed this to happen, is the one who shared the story in the first place, and there has not been a more detailed explanation released since.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not just the level of greed. It's that the greed drove them to do things without pausing for even a moment to think about the implications. If you chop your head off, you're obviously dead, and slapping the head of vecna on your corpse won't fix that. The head is where the "you" is. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Apr 26, 2017 at 19:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden: You say that but obviously dead in a setting where resurrection is a thing then obviously dead and permanently dead are not the same thing. Also does D&D say that the head is where the "you" is? MAny people historically have thought it was the heart and I'm not sure anybody has ever said a person's soul is in their head... So yeah, from a certain point of view it was stupid but I see no reason why a D&D setting couldn't have a magical artifact along these lines. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris
    Apr 27, 2017 at 8:46

So why the Head of Vecna?

Well, if you are familiar with the aesop / Morality Play of the Head of Vecna, I am guessing your question then is why specifically did the opposing group choose the Head of Vecna as their lure for their con? And why on Oerth would a band of adventurers chop off their head to get it?

Well there is a reason for that.

In the old Greyhawk campaign world there was an ancient lich who became a God (of secrets) named Vecna.

From his Wikipedia entry:

Originally from the World of Greyhawk campaign setting, Vecna was described as a powerful wizard who became a lich. He was eventually destroyed, and his left hand and left eye were the only parts of his body to survive. Even after he achieved godhood — being a member of the third edition's default pantheon of D&D gods (the pantheon of Oerth)—he is still described as missing both his left eye and left hand. Vecna's holy symbol is an eye in the palm of a left hand.

What is important to note is the bit about his hand and eye. They were left behind (by Kas - who ended up in Ravenloft via the plane of Ash), after he was destroyed and were imbued with "great power". So much that they became artifacts. This goes all the way back to the Eldritch Wizardry book, so this is "in game" Lore from the very beginning of D&D.

And if you were to find them and wield them, you had to lop off your hand or pluck out your eye. (BTW: You nasty, Vecna with your dirty raisin-eye in other people's bleeding eye sockets.)

So surely the players of these adventuring groups searching for this Head of Vecna were well aware of these actual (as in "actually part of the fictional campaign world" actual) artifacts - The Hand and Eye. And that is what made the lure of the Head of Vecna such a perfect con.

Because if the eye is powerful, then the whole head has to be bonkers powerful, right?

And of course you would have to lop off your head to wield the Head of Vecna. That's how the other bits O' Vecna work, right! (No, not Moander, Vecna)

From that hilarity ensues.

All that said, I wouldn't be so sure that I would not make the same series of errors only to end up in the same place. It can happen - especially if one never goes back and questions one's assumptions vigorously and regularly. And really - who does that in real life, let alone in a D&D game.


As the other answer have explained the Vecna body pieces are really powerfull artifacts that greedy players can past the limits to get their hands on. One of their drawbacks is that you need to remove the respective part (eye or hand in the original artifacts) of your body to attach the new one.

For me, the first time I heard about this was in KODT.

In Knights of the Dinner Table #5 there is story "Agent of Evil" where the group stumble on the "Hand of Vectra" after half the group chop their hands trying to get it the story ends up with Brian saying "I have heard rumours about the Head of Vectra, we should investigate" or something in those lines.

The fact that a group of players could even think in removing their heads to attach the Vecna (or Vectra in Garweeze Wurld) is just hilarious.

The story also made it to the first episode to the Kickstarted KODT Live Action Series

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey, welcome to the site! That's a great catch that KotDT referenced this story, and this anecdote is a really good example of how the Head left its mark on RPG culture. Unfortunately, it looks like you ran into a couple of problems here: KotDT isn't the original source, and you don't really discuss the "why is it important" part of the question. I'm upvoting to help you get enough rep to visit the chat, in case you want to discuss. Hope to see you around! \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Apr 28, 2017 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @fectin I will update the answer to add why I think its important. Need to check KODT #5 to confirm if the source is the same as SJ forum. In my case and a lot of other people I know back in Spain we heard the story from KODT and that is why it is important for my on the RPG culture ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Juan
    Apr 28, 2017 at 21:35

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