Critical Role did a lot of heavy lifting in getting Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) introduced to mainstream audiences, but let’s be real, most people still want to watch television instead of listening to nerds playing make-believe (we do, but not most people). Good thing D&D has been around for a long time and has more than enough decades under its belt to have raised a lot of writers and artists.
Enter Stranger Things, the Netflix hit show that made Dungeons & Dragons more mainstream than ever (or at least, before Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and Baldur’s Gate 3 were released). If you’ve been wondering who the heck Vecna in Stranger Things is, buckle up because this is a long story.
Vecna entered the mainstream with Stranger Things
The fourth season of Netflix’s Stranger Things introduces a character named Vecna, conjuring a nightmarish being reminiscent of Freddy Krueger crossed with an eldritch horror. This Vecna being invaded the minds of individuals who have endured immense trauma, sacrificing them for his selfish ends. While this interpretation is indeed terrifying, it diverges significantly from the true essence of Vecna in Dungeons & Dragons lore.
Venca’s Dungeons & Dragons Origins
Vecna did not emerge as an all-powerful evil deity of secrets and death. His story begins in the city of Fleeth, located on the eastern continent of Oerik, where he was born as a normal human. Raised by his mother, who practiced the forbidden arts of magic, Vecna’s life took a tragic turn when his mother was executed for her supposed “witchcraft.” Driven by anger and fear, Vecna fled the city, harboring a deep-seated thirst for vengeance against those who had taken his mother’s life.
The accounts of Vecna’s subsequent journey differ. Some suggest that he trained under Mok’slyk the Serpent, an entity embodying magic, possibly due to Vecna’s connection to the Ancient Brethren, a mysterious group to which Mok’slyk belonged. Others assert that Vecna, driven by a fear of mortality, sought the guidance of the Demon Lord Orcus to unlock the secrets of undeath. Regardless of the path he took, Vecna returned a millennium later, a changed being, ready to exact his revenge.
The Rise of Vecna the Arch Lich
Vecna reappeared in Fleeth as a lich, accompanied by a formidable army of the undead that laid waste to the city. During this devastating assault, Vecna sustained grievous injuries, particularly to his left side, thanks to a group of courageous clerics. His survival was owed to the intervention of Acererak, a half-demon who orchestrated the attack with ulterior motives. Acererak’s deceit, hidden behind a facade of rescue, sowed the seeds of paranoia in Vecna’s mind.
Protective of his newfound powers and knowledge, Vecna became increasingly secretive, guarding his secrets with unwavering resolve. His insatiable lust for secrecy, coupled with his ever-expanding power, led many to perceive Vecna as something akin to a god.
The Birth of the Occluded Empire
Vecna’s fanatic followers laid the foundation for the Occluded Empire, a widespread cult that sprouted across Oerik. These sects extended Vecna’s influence far and wide, with minimal direct involvement from the lich himself. Over time, Vecna’s dominion expanded across the northwest, encroaching upon the Azure Sea. It seemed inevitable that he would ultimately conquer Oerik entirely had it not been for an unexpected betrayal.
Betrayal came from within Vecna’s inner circle, as his most trusted lieutenant, a vampire named Kas the Bloody-Handed, turned against him. The reasons behind Kas’s treachery remain enigmatic, but some speculate that his own sword, crafted by Vecna himself, seduced him with the promise of usurping Vecna’s power. Whatever the cause, all that remained of Vecna after the cataclysmic confrontation was his left arm and eye, transformed into magical artifacts of immense potency.
Vecna’s Return and Ascension
Vecna, like any resilient lich, did not remain “dead” for long. As a spirit, he continued to spread his influence, corrupting those with fragile wills. Over centuries, Vecna amassed a legion of devoted followers, ascending to the status of a demigod of magic and secrets. However, demigodhood did not quench his thirst for power. Vecna coveted the status of a true deity.
The newly minted demigod made multiple attempts to ascend to full godhood, with one effort resulting in his banishment to a demi-plane. Yet, even within the confines of Cavitius, Vecna plotted and schemed, formulating a grand plan that would shape his destiny.
Vecna’s Godhood, the Grand Design, and the Adventurers
Vecna, now a genuine deity, cast his sights on Sigil, the epicenter of the multiverse. His newfound power allowed him to breach Sigil’s defenses, sending shockwaves throughout the multiverse.
So what the heck is Sigil, and why does anybody care? Sigil, a.k.a The City of Doors, occupies a central position at the heart of a Great Wheel (think D&D cosmology, in this game, realms are interconnected places in different planes), making it a nexus through which one can access various planes and dimensions. Its ruler is the Lady of Pain, a mysterious goddess who rules over Sigil with an iron fist.
At this point in history, Vecna posed the single greatest threat to existence because his getting access to Sigil meant he could gain a portion of the power the Lady of Pain had. However, as fate would have it, a ragtag group of adventurers, aided by the Lady of Pain, confronted Vecna. Despite his immense power, the godly lich met his match at the hands of these heroes. After the fight, Vecna barely clung to the status of a lesser deity.
Vecna’s Enduring Schemes
Vecna’s defeat did not spell his ultimate demise. Reduced in power, he roamed the realms, plotting his next schemes to regain his lost might. Even in his diminished state, Vecna remained a formidable force, a testament to the enduring allure of his character within the tapestry of Dungeons & Dragons lore.