Greyhawk Adventures: Vecna Lives! (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (Originally TSR)
Page Count: 98
Release Date: 05/21/2013 (Originally January 1991)
Get it Here: DNDClassics.com
Unlike most AD&D gamers of my generation, I wasn’t that into Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance. I preferred Ravenloft and Greyhawk (and later, Planescape). Greyhawk just had so many characters that captured my imagination. Iuz the Evil. The one eyed, one handed lich Vecna. The Circle of Eight. The vampire Kas. Mordenkainen. So on and so forth. Here now was an adventure that not only had the players encounter all of these legends of D&D lore, but for a short while, let you PLAY as some of them. How cool is that?
Vecna Lives! is a huge adventure for many reasons. The first is that for the first time, Vecna himself is given form and concept. Before this adventure, he was just a nebulous concept with no real information about him given save for the little write-ups about the artifacts that bear his name. It’s also the death of the Circle of Eight, which is somewhat amusing because the Circle of Eight was also a vaguely defined group until right before this adventure was written and then Venca comes and kills them all. I can’t overestimate what a “HOLY CRAP!” moment that was for anyone who read or played Vecna Lives! back in the day. Here you are getting to play as the Circle of Eight in the prologue and then Vecna destroys them in only a few rounds. It doesn’t matter what the players try and do, the adventure has an answer and counter for any action they take. It is short, brutal and highlights the power and horror that is Vecna better than anything else I can imagine. Unlike most adventures where there is obvious “Dungeon Master VS. PCs” issues going on, only the prologue is written in this manner and because it’s not the actual characters made by the players getting snuffed out in such a cruel and horrific fashion, it’s unlikely to cause any sore feelings. It’s simply there to stun and shock players, set the tone for the rest of the adventure and make them realize that there is a VERY GOOD CHANCE their own beloved PCs might not make it through the adventure, even at the high level they are at.
Vecna Lives! is for six to eight characters between levels 12 and 15. That’s pretty high for a published adventure and should be a red flag as to what awaits them, if the prologue didn’t already do that. Players will be literally traversing the entire world of Greyhawk rather than stick to a single dungeon, city or location. This is a world-spanning epic, one of the first ever released by TSR for a Dungeons & Dragons setting, and the impact of what occurs within these pages would not only shape Greyhawk but eventually Ravenloft, Planescape and even the core default game of third edition. This adventure is also arguably the most lethal one ever released for Second Edition and possible since the original S-Series like Tomb of Horrors for First Edition. Make no mistake about it – Vecna Lives! is a harsh cruel adventure determined to put some PCs in the ground, and that sense of fear players will have of losing their precious characters is exactly the mood this thing needs to strike to be effective. The text strongly encourages the DM to run this like a horror film and I empathically agree with that decision.
After all that is said and done, PCs end up with a second set of pregens (unless PCs WANT to risk their beloved characters), meet with Mordenkainen himself and set out to solve the mystery of how Venca returned, WHO Vecna is, what his plans are and finally, how to stop him. The adventure will take players to the Great Library of Greyhawk, multiple temples, various cities and other planes of reality, all while dealing with cultists of this now demi-god lich. There are a lot of twists and turns with the ultimate one when Vecna is…killed by VECNA? WHA-ZUH? It’s a great reveal that will have players stunned and if anything, even more afraid of what awaits them. I love all the plot twists and reveals in this thing. Another great moment is when the lich offers any of the players the chance to join him and be his second in command by killing the rest of the party. It’s always fun to see if someone does.
The adventure culminates in a literal battle of the gods. Either the lesser god Vecna’s machinations are foiled for the time being or he becomes the sole Greater God of Greyhawk, thus changing the landscape of everything forever. Of course, the canon response is that Vecna loses, but more often than not, when this adventure is played, it’s the PCs that tend to go down in flames. Regardless of how things turn out, this adventure really turned Greyhawk on its head and for those that encountered it back in the day, it still sticks in their memory even after hundreds of adventures have blurred away. I know I will probably never get the initial prologue of Vecna Lives! out of my skull and I’ve used that effect in several homebrew adventures of my own for other systems. It’s too good NOT to crib.
Vecna Lives! is one of my favorite adventures from Second Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and I’m ecstatic that it’s been made available on DNDClassics.com. Even if you never play the adventure, you should go out of your way to read/download/borrow it just to see what an incredible example of storytelling and adventure writing it is. It’s too bad Greyhawk was eclipsed by basically every other campaign setting TSR had out for 2e at the time, because a lot of gamers missed out on this amazing experience. Now if only we could get the OTHER Vecna adventures for digital distribution, I’d be a very happy man indeed.