This story of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign gone horrible wrong is not new but it is so funny, I can’t resist the urge to share it.
Vecna was a wizard who discovered the secrets of immortality by becoming a lich and later a god. Important to the story is that he left behind two artifacts, his left hand and his eye. These were items of power but to use them, you had to attach them to your body. To use the Hand of Vecna, you had to chop off your left hand and place it on the stump, whereupon it would automatically graft itself to your arm. Similarly, the eye would be placed into an empty eye socket to give the user magical powers of sight.
The Game Master was Mark Steuer, who wrote up this account of his players in a small games press magazine. It has since become a D&D legend and is often used as a rite of passage for new D&D players (see the adventure based on this encounter, below).
Here is a transcript of Mark Steuer’s account of the game:
Many years ago (back when we all were still playing D&D™), I ran a game where I pitted two groups against each other. Several members of Group One came up with the idea of luring Group Two into a trap.
You remember the Hand of Vecna and the Eye of Vecna that were artifacts in the old D&D world where if you cut off your hand (or your eye) and replaced it with the Hand of Vecna (or the Eye) you’d get new awesome powers?
Well, Group One thought up The Head of Vecna. Group One spread rumors all over the countryside (even paying Bards to spread the word about this artifact rumored to exist nearby). They even went so far as to get a real head and place it under some weak traps to help with the illusion.
Unfortunately, they forgot to let ALL the members of their group in on the secret plan. A Druid in Group One heard about this new artifact and went off in search of it himself (I believe to help prove himself to the party members).
Well, after much trial and tribulation, he found it; deactivated (or set off) all the traps; and took his “prize” off into the woods for examination. He discovered that it did not radiate magic (a well known trait of artifacts) and smiled gleefully.
I wasn’t really worried since he was alone and I knew that there was no way he could CUT HIS OWN HEAD OFF. Alas I was mistaken as the Druid promptly summoned some carnivorous apes and instructed them to use his own scimitar and cut his head off (and of course quickly replacing it with the Head of Vecna).
Some time later, Group One decided to find the Druid and to check on the trap. They found the headless body (and the two heads) and realized that they had erred in their plan (besides laughing at the character who had played the Druid). The Head of Vecna still had BOTH eyes!
They corrected this mistake and reset their traps and the Head for its real intended victims. Group Two, by this time, had heard of the powerful artifact and decided that it bore investigating since, if true, they could use it to destroy Group One.
After much trial and tribulation, they found the resting place of The Head of Vecna! The were particularly impressed with the cunning traps surrounding the site (one almost missed his save against the weakest poison known to man). They recovered the Head and made off to a safe area. Group Two actually CAME TO BLOWS (several rounds of fighting) against each other arguing over WHO WOULD GET THEIR HEAD CUT OFF!
Several greedy players had to be hurt and restrained before it was decided who would be the recipient of the great powers bestowed by the Head. The magician was selected and one of them promptly cut his head off. As the player was lifting The Head of Vecna to place it on its new body, another argument broke out and they spent several minutes shouting and yelling. Then, finally, they put the Head onto the character.
Well, of course, the Head simply fell off the lifeless body. All members of Group Two began yelling and screaming at each other (and at me) and then, on their own, decided that they had let too much time pass between cutting off the head of a hopeful recipient and put the Head of Vecna onto the body. SO THEY DID IT AGAIN!… (killing yet another player-character).
In closing, it should be said that I never even cracked a smile as all this was going on. After the second PC was slaughtered, I had to give in (my side was hurting)…and Group Two blamed ME for all of that…
So let that be a warning to you – don’t let your head get cut off unless you really know what you’re doing.
The Head of Vecna has since taken on a life of its own (pun intended) and even been made into its own D&D Adventure :
The Head of Vecna is a short (as befits the stature of the head) scenario for characters of levels 1-12, since you never can tell who you can trick into cutting off their own head. You might want a Monster Manual handy for the big fight (of course there’s a big fight!). But that’s all you’ll really need, unless you’re a neophyte dungeon master (in which case, I have this head you might be interested in…).
Thanks to Mark Steuer, for the inspiration for this adventure; please note, the history of the head of Vecna has been altered from Mark’s original tale.