Friday, February 23, 2018

The Head of Vecna (An Apocryphal Tale)

I've played a lot of games with a lot of different people. One fellow I played with told me the story of the Head of Vecna, though whether he had truly been the originator of this idea, or he'd simply run his groups through it as a way to test someone else's theory, I cannot say. However, the tale is worth the telling, I feel, so I thought I'd take this week to share this little apocryphal story with all my fine readers out there.

Don't try this one at home... or do, if you're really feeling it.

How This Nonsense All Began

The story begins with the DM running two separate groups whose parties' actions are both happening in the same world. While they aren't at the the table and interacting with each other, the deeds done by one party will have affected the world by the time the next group gets together. So if one party decides to wipe out the bandits in a forest, there's no bounty for the other group to collect. And it's safer to travel the highway.

You get the idea.

Well, there was a story being circulated to both groups of a cavern with an item of great power inside. So, of course, one group gets there first. They slay the monsters, trip the traps, and after defeating the guardian find a horde of swag. Gold, jewels, magic swords, shiny armor, stuff like that. But, as they're packing up to leave, one of them has a devious idea. What if they disposed of the bodies, reset the traps, and then played a trick on anyone else who might come that way.

Wouldn't that be funny?

The Head of Vecna

So, after making the necessary skill checks to put everything back the way it was, the party cuts the head off of one of the human foes they fought. They age and tan it using magic, and then affix an illusion to it to make it seem like it's brimming with necromantic power. Then they carefully make their way out, and go down to the local pub to start spreading tales about what they heard was actually sitting in the heart of that mountain stronghold.

Magic tomes? Nope, didn't see any. We did see this other thing, though...
What did they claim was waiting in the stronghold? Well, you've read the title, so you probably guessed it was the mythical Head of Vecna!

Quick history lesson for those who don't know. In earlier editions of Dungeons and Dragons, Vecna was a powerful spellcaster who became a lich. He was eventually destroyed, but for his left hand and left eye. Vecna was made a god in later editions of the game, but his left hand and left eye remained preserved as powerful relics. In order to gain their powers, though, you had to put out your eye, or cut off your hand, and replace it with the lich lord's body parts.

I'm sure you see where this is going.

So the other group, hearing tales of the supposed head of this evil undead god, wanted to kick in the door, and take its power for themselves. They didn't find any monsters, but all the traps seemed to be in working order. So they disabled what they could, and tanked what they couldn't, until they reached the head. As soon as the party had it in their grasp, the wizard (who was, of course, a necromancer) told the fighter to cut off his head, and to press the stump of the Head of Vecna to his neck before he finished dying. The fighter raised his greatsword, brought it down, and took off the wizard's head in a single swing. He pressed the Head of Vecna to the stump of his neck, but nothing happens.

That didn't deter the rest of the group, though.

The cleric wanted to go next, figuring that it must take a divine spellcaster rather than an arcane one. So the fighter brought his sword down again, but the results were pretty much the same. Despite going 0 for 2, the rogue wanted to give it a try. He figured that a high enough Use Magic Device check before the grafting would get the job done. So snicker-snack, and then there were three headless bodies in the bowels of this fortress.

The fighter had no desire to take on the powers of some lich god, and he really didn't want to take the risk that if he managed to cut off his own head that it wouldn't work a fourth time. So he wiped his sword clean, took what little loot had been left behind, stripped his compatriots' bodies, and got the hell out of there.

Once, Twice, Three Times A Killer

There was no saying if the group in question kept meeting after that trick, and the subsequent evil party not doing any of the research to realize that this whole thing was a hoax. However, I highly doubt that second group was willing to come back after they reached into the cookie jar, only to find a guillotine.

That's all for this week's installment of Table Talk. Hopefully you got a laugh out of it. If you've heard this story before, feel free to leave the who, where, and when in the comments! If you'd like more content from me, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel I contribute to, Dungeon Keeper Radio. If you want to keep up on all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support Improved Initiative, all you have to do is head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, there's some sweet gaming swag that will come your way as a thank you for your help.


  1. I'd like to say this whole story seems like a hoax, but I've known players who would cut their heads off for a shot at Cosmic Power.

    Detect Magic, Dispel Magic, Identify, Knowledge (Any and all), and Spellcraft are your best friends if you ever hear about something like this item.

    What a senseless waste of human life.

    1. I've been in games where (if it had really been the head of Vecna) it would have worked.

  2. actually this is a real event, and there is more to it

  3. Wasn't the party Druid the first to die? Because he wasn't really a part of the group and fell for the weak poison trap and the head being buried in the ground?