Sunday, February 14, 2021

Greyhawk Lore: All About the Eye of Vecna

Greetings seekers of Greyhawk secrets! Today I am about to impart some forbidden lore on you. Warning to all, before you read on ***there is spoilers in this post***. Spoilers from multiple editions no less! 
The vile topic of this post is the Eye of Vecna. What got me on this subject is the rumor that the upcoming D&D movie will feature this classic artifact. Over the many editions and authors of D&D, the Eye (and Hand) have seen many changes in powers and even appearance. With that in mind, I am anxious to see what an Eye of Vecna ends up like on the big screen. Fingers crossed. Until then, let's examine the long history of this grisly optical artifact. Final note, this is not an exhaustive list of the Eye's appearances and versions, only Vecna knows the entire truth. Good luck readers!

OD&D: Eldritch Wizardry (1976)

"It is also said, but not in the hearing of strangers, that when the mighty lich, Vecna, finally met his doom, that one of his eyes survived along with his hand. The eye may or may not have originally belonged to Vecna, as it is said to glitter much in the same manner as the eye of a feline. If the eye is pressed in the empty socket of a human’s head, it grafts itself to the head of the user and gives him remarkable powers!" 
"Once placed, the eye cannot be removed, and it turns the user unalterably chaotic...THE EFFECTS OF THE EYE ON THE USER MAY NOT BE ALTERED IN ANY MANNER, EVEN BY WISHES." 

    The mighty lich! He isn't quite arch-lich status in the beginning. Like all artifacts, their powers can be randomized, but the suggested powers of the original Eye are, user immune to disease, clairaudience, water breathing, and paralyzation 3/day. The suggested primary power of the Eye is one Wish per week (hence the disclaimer above). However, using this power causes a nasty side effect:

"There is an increasing chance that the power confined in the object will break free, take over the wielder of the item by destroying this individual’s soul, and then (masquerading as the person) kill all of the hirelings and associates of the person. The chance should range from 1% to 4%, cumulative, per use of the item."

    The side effect is definitely what I expect from a Vecna item. Unless I'm reading EW wrong, the suggested powers are too random for my liking. Why not clairaudience for instance? Water Breathing? Eh, moving on to the next edition, and the book that got me hooked into D&D the most...

1E: Dungeon Masters Guide (1979)

Seldom is the name of Vecna spoken except in hushed voice, and never within hearing of strangers, for legends say that the phantom of this once supreme lich still roams the Material Plane. It is certain that when Vecna finally met his doom, one eye and hand survived. The Eye of Vecna is said to glow in the same manner as that of a feral creature. It appears to be an agate until it is placed in an empty eye socket of a living character. Once pressed in, it instantly and irrevocably grafts itself to the head, and it cannot be removed or harmed without slaying the character. The alignment of the character immediately becomes neutral evil and may never change. The Eye bestows both infravision and ultravision to its host, and gives the following additional powers/effects:

    Vecna is now supreme lich! This one is interesting because the eye could be disguised among a hoard of gems. I can imagine one-eyed adventurers desperately pressing every gem they find to their eye sockets in the off chance they found this item. Also interesting to note the original Eye turns the PC chaotic, this time we have NE. Nasty either way. How about powers?

 2 minor benign powers, 2 major benign powers, 1 prime power and 1 major malevolent effect.

'The minor or major powers may be used without fear of harm, but use of the primary power, causes a malevolent effect upon the host character."

    There is no suggested powers in 1E, but looking at the charts, Wish is still an option but this time 1/day! All the malevolent side effects are nasty. All 34 of them. The Eye of Vecna is still a raw object with scant lore in this era, let's see what is going on in the next edition now.

2E: Vecna Lives! (1990)

    This is the module that finally brings Vecna (arch-lich!) firmly within the World of Greyhawk setting. In it a long deceased villain named Halmadar (who is but a quasi-lich) possesses both the Eye and Hand. The Circle of Eight go digging around and regret it immediately, and thereby change the Flanaess forever. Among the vast lore we learn is that Vecna is a Flannae despot from pre-migrations who destroys the town of Fleeth. We learn of texts with history on Vecna and his items like the Chronicle of Secret Times. The PCs also discover his cult runs around the Greyhawk region and eventually that the avatar of Vecna himself is looking for the items. Trouble abounds in this module, let's look at the Eye specifically:

"The Eye of Vecna appears to be nothing more than a small withered pebble or clot. It radiates a powerful aura of magic, if this is checked for. No indication of the type of magic can be discerned. The Eye is thoroughly and irredeemably evil, but it does not radiate evil.
The Eye of Vecna can be used only after it is set in the empty eye-socket of a humanoid creature. Once this happens, the Eye can be commanded to function. Once placed, the Eye cannot be removed by magical means. The great danger of the Eye is that it will eventually dominate its owner, first forcing its victim to obey the Eye's will and finally convincing the person that he is Vecna."

    Well now the PCs will be sifting through pebbles not just gems! I like that the immediate long term effect is the user comes to believe he is Vecna. This is important in the module. Since this is a full adventure the Eye has defined powers:

"Constant Abilities: True Seeing. Foresight.
Invoked Abilities: Clairvoyance-at will, Eyebite- 3/day, Glassee-3/day, Domination-1/day, Vision-1/week."

    Now this is more like it. The powers are thematic of an evil, magical eye. I notice there is no more Wish spell. That would be adventure breaking. But the given powers available still make a user quite the headache for a DM. How about drawbacks?

"Each time one of the invoked powers of either artifact is used, the character must roll a successful saving throw vs. resist domination. Even elves and half-elves are subject to this attack...If the domination is successful, the artifact assumes control of the player character....The artifacts have the following goals:
Acquire more magical power...magical spells and devices, even if they are useless to the character. 
Acquire temporal power. A dominated character will seek to establish his own empire.
Revenge on Kas...This includes any and all descendants of Kas, and the sword of Kas.
Return of Vecna. The artifacts know Vecna lives and can be returned.
Destruction of Good. If nothing else..."

    The Eye is bad enough, can you imagine one PC with both? Campaign wrecking! I like the revenge on Kas and his descendants. Hm, that's a subplot I never considered before...Things get worse for the user of the Eye.

"Each time domination is broken, Wisdom is decreased by 2 permanently. Once at Wisdom 3, the artifact exerts complete control. No further escape possible. The victims personality and habits becomes like Vecna. "The dominated character engages in intense scholarly research, avoids sunlight, devises and sets in motion the most arcane cruelties in the name of magical science, and actively seeks out and destroys any potential threat or competition to his own power. The character denies he is anyone other than Vecna, although the artifacts continue in their efforts to restore their true master.""

    Brutal. This is One Ring-Tolkien grade artifact evil here. Speaking of which, can the Eye be destroyed? There is a few suggested means of destroying it:

"The Eye can only be destroyed in the heart of the Sea of Dust. where it must be roasted in the scorching flames of the oldest red dragon in all of Oerth. 

Both artifacts can be destroyed if they are shattered on the Golden Forge at the Heart of the Sun. 

The Eye must be encased in volcanic glass from the Hellfurnaces and then shattered against the crystal sphere that en­closes all of Greyhawk space (see the SPELLJAMMER boxed set for details)."

    Those are all epic. The Golden Forge sounds especially hard to reach. One more thing on Vecna Lives! There is a cultist/creature called the "Eye of Vecna" in this! Check out some of my notes on this creature:

Eye of Vecna
A unique creature that only answers to the Heart of Vecna. If it is killed, another can be created. 7' tall, once a human, but transformed. Its head has been replaced by a giant eyeball. Slender. Wears green robes trimmed in red with golden eyes embroidered on the hem. In public it wears gray hooded robes.
Main purpose is information gathering. Normally uses a two-handed sword or two dirks. Cannot be surprised.  Gaze attack. Feeds on souls. Failed save sucks out soul, but not devoured until the body is destroyed. If slain, the souls return to their bodies if preserved. The Eye gains access to all the victims memories.
The Eye is stripped of its humanity. Limited precognitive ability. Finishes sentences of others. Surrounds itself with mirrors and fascinated by reflections. Clairvoyance, Detect magic, Find traps at will. Detects all illusions.
Psychic tracker. Once it has seen a being either in person or through scrying, it can sense its aura over long distances. The more magical the farther away.

    Yes, there is also a "Hand of Vecna" creature. But that's for another day. Moving on...

2E: Book of Artifacts (1993)

"The Eye of Vecna is little more than a shriveled clot or a small pebble, blood red in color. Like the Hand, it must be affixed to the owner's body (in an empty eye socket) before it can be used. Once in place, it changes appearance to that of a golden, slitted eye, much like a cat's."

    What is up with Vecna's eyes? In all three versions so far he has a cat's eye. Is he even human? Let's see what history is presented. The Book of Artifacts, while generic AD&D, is still chock full of lore on the Eye and Hand. For instance...the Eye was instrumental in the extermination of the house of Hyeric, once the ruling dynasty in Nyrond. The book also makes reference to events in VL! and drops important place names like Tovag Baragu and the Dry Steppes. Let's look at powers:

"The Eye and Hand can function separately or together. Both share the same curse, which is intensified if both items are possessed.
The Eye of Vecna
Constant. The user gains the abilities of a true seeing spell.
Invoked. The user can cast eyebite (3/day) and domination (1/day) spells.
Random. 3 from Divination. (for example divination, contact other plane, foresight)
Resonating. When joined...the user gains 6 random abilities (2 Detection, 2 Protections, 2 Abjurations, and 70% Magic Resistance.)"

    The base powers seem to be comparable to those from VL! however BoA goes back to previous editions in using random ability charts for variety. The resonating powers are new to the Eye and it's incentive for a player to get both items. Devious! Of course there is side-effects and ways to destroy the eye in this book:

"Curse. As these were once the living tissue of Vecna. Every use requires a saving throw vs spell to avoid artifact domination. The artifacts' goals is to gain more magical power, establish an empire, destroy the Sword of Kas, and summon Vecna to Oerth."

"Suggested Means of Destruction
Vecna the demigod must be permanently and irrevocably destroyed. 
It must be cast into the heart of Oerth's sun. 
Every shade of Vecna's victims must be sent to a peaceful rest."

    That last one sounds ridiculously harder than killing Vecna or casting the Eye into the sun (Liga in Greyspace lingo). 2E is not done with Vecna and his Eye by a long shot though.

2E: Vecna Reborn (1998)

    This Ravenloft adventure is the sequel to VL! Written by Monte Cook, he punts by referring DMs to other 2E products for details on the Hand and Eye of Vecna. Sneaky!

2E: Die Vecna Die! (2000)

"The Eye of Vecna appears to be a black, uncut gem. It radiates powerful, unidentifiable magic. No indication of what type of magic this is can be discerned by any means. To be used, the Eye must be pushed into the empty eye socket of a humanoid being, living or undead, of any type. It immediately grafts itself in place and starts glowing with a red, sinister light. Once so inserted, the Eye cannot be removed through magical means or by anyone but its user, who must gouge it out with his bare hands. (Alternatively, the power of a god can free the wearer.) As soon as the Eye is placed in the user, it begins to assert its influence, possibly causing the user to believe that he or she is actually Vecna, reborn in living form."

    2nd edition really rode Vecna hard. This time the Eye appears as a black gem, but I like the sinister glow when its used. Quite a change there. In this finale to the Vecna trilogy, the Eye powers don't exactly line up with previous modules or books, but its close...

The Eye possesses several powers. The constant powers reveal themselves when any situation arises in which they would have an effect... 
Constant: true seeing and foresight.
 Invoked Abilities: The following spell-like effects can be cast with but a thought by the wearer of the Eye. No verbal or material components are necessary, only the gaze and the will of the user. Clairvoyance, at will. Eyebite, 3/day. Domination, l/week. Vision, l/week."

    There is also more resonating properties here and elaborate 2E rules on the curse of wearing the Eye and making saving throws until you ultimately believe that you are Vecna and will go as far to kill the actual Vecna because he is an imposter (a perfect set-up for this combat heavy mod). destroying the Eye in this book? It's quite similar to VL! but a new suggestion in DVD! is hilariously specific:

"The Eye and Hand must be willingly accepted and worn by the purest person in the distant land of Blackmoor, in the northern Flanaess of Oerth."

    One extra feature for fun. In the adventure there is a reliquary to the "other eye of Vecna" (the right one evidently). Let's see how the next edition fares...

3.0, 3.5E: Dungeon Masters Guide (2000-2002)

"The arch-lich Vecna may have been the most powerful wizard ever to have lived. He may also have been the most evil. Apparently risen now to deityhood, he left behind relics embodying remnants of his power-the mummified remains of his hand and his eye."

"Powers of the Eye...the bearer of the Eye loses 2 points of Charisma...It grants the host continuous darkvision and true seeing. Three times per day each, the host can use the spells eyebite and domination. Once per day...destruction and unhallow."

"Powers with Both Artifacts...The host gains +2 Strength and +2 to Intelligence, but takes a -2 penalty to Wisdom, upon summon monster IX once per day."

    No real new lore added here. There is some token resonating effects, and in this edition the Eye is more offensive in nature, while still being thematic with vision abilities. Also, there is no divination anymore interestingly. Learning secrets is kind of Vecna's thing. This edition gives no specific places to destroy the Eye in this DMG, though the generic artifact destruction quests include immersion in a Fountain of Light in Heironeous' Hall. Piece of cake right? This edition is a let down after all the 2E material it had to draw on.

3.5E: Libris Mortis (2004)

This undead splat book does not have new info on the Eye itself (as all you need is the DMG), but it does present a new cult faction, the aptly named Eyes of Vecna!

"Though the members of this order claim it was founded by the lich Vecna before his ascension to godhood, this declaration seems apocryphal. Regardless of the truth, members of this order venerate the deity of secrets as their divine patron. Their aim is to keep knowledge out of the hands of those undeserving to have it. At the lowest levels, this takes the form of the theft (or destruction) of books and scrolls from personal libraries, but can include kidnapping and murder if necessary."

"To join the Eyes of Vecna, one must prove one’s worth by stealing or destroying an item of forbidden knowledge (such as a rare tome). Characters of evil alignment are strongly preferred, since the Eyes of Vecna must never place the well being of others before the group’s own nefarious goals." 

I love this group. They are directly competing with other knowledge hoarding factions like the Silent Ones of Keoland and the Seekers of the Arcane (and renegades like Eli Tomorast). One more fun eye related thing from Libris Mortis to perhaps confuse your players:

"Mummified Eye: This hard, round orb fits into a humanoid creature’s empty eye socket and looks much like a normal eye at first glance, but it has a distinctly dry appearance and does not move in the socket. The grafted creature can use the eyebite spell as a 12th-level caster once per day."

Core Beliefs: Vecna, Dragon #348 (2006)

This article was written by Sean K. Reynolds and Samuel Weiss. Admittedly there is no new information on the Eye itself here, but there is a 3.5E update for the "Eye" creature from Vecna Lives! and this issue, owing to its authors, is probably the best single source for Vecna lore, cult secrets and more. Check it out if you haven't already.

The Library of Last Resort, Dungeon #132 (2006)

Going in hand with Core Beliefs, this module was part of the Age of Worms adventure path during 3.5E. The Vecna cult lore in this episode is considerable. Among the convoluted plot of the AP, a high-powered cultist of Vecna seeks the Eye of Vecna. Spoiler, there is no new specific information on the artifact here.  

4E: Dungeon Masters Guide (2008)

"...The Eye is appropriate for paragon-level characters..."

"The Eye of Vecna (Paragon Level)
One of two relics left behind by Vecna before he ascended to god-hood, the Eye of Vecna is a red, embalmed orb that pulses as if alive, but remains icy cold to the touch. It retains a remnant of Vecna’s mortal power—a power with a singular devotion to evil."

    This is a simplified history and description of the Eye, this time red colored. The pulsing, cold is certainly a nice new touch. 4E is not a system I was familiar with, but this DMG goes into extensive detail on the Eye's powers and in game play...

"Body Slot: Head
Property: You gain a +1 item bonus to Arcana, Insight, and Perception checks.
Property: The Eye grants you darkvision.
Property: When using an attack power granted by the Eye, you can use your highest mental ability score (Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma) for the attack, regardless of the normal ability score noted for the power.
Power (At-Will): You can use eyebite (warlock 1).
Power (Encounter): You can use mire the mind (warlock 7).
Power (Daily): You can use eye of the warlock (warlock 16)." 

    Okay then! I'm not sure what mire of the mind and eye of the warlock do, but it sounds perfect for Vecna's artifact. How about some item goals?

"Goals of the Eye of Vecna

Be reunited with the Hand of Vecna.
Spread the worship of Vecna across the world.
Wrest secrets from those who keep them, then use those secrets as weapons of betrayal.
Be installed in a powerful living vessel, preferably a powerful wielder of arcane magic."

    That's pretty standard. Now what's wild is 4E's concordance rules for artifacts. It's a scale that goes up to 20. The more evil deeds a PC does with the Eye the more powers the Eye will provide. If you don't please the Eye the score goes down and bad things happen. If the PC falls to zero points or less, then the item "moves on" and well, it's over. I am digging this system and wish that 5E had adopted it.

5E: Dungeon Masters Guide (2014)

"Seldom is the name of Vecna spoken except in a hushed voice. Vecna was, in his time, one of the mightiest of all wizards. Through dark magic and conquest, he forged a terrible empire. For all his power, Vecna couldn't escape his own mortality...Orcus, the demon prince of undeath, taught Vecna a ritual that would allow him to live on a a lich. Beyond death he became the greatest of all liches...So formidable and hideous was his temper that his subjects feared to speak his name. He was the Whispered One, the Master of the Spider Throne, the Undying King, and the Lord of the Rotted Tower."

    5E provides an excellent backstory, built upon many editions and years of Greyhawk lore. There is more to it, but I'm moving on to the description of the Eye:

"The eye looks like a bloodshot organ torn free from the socket...To attune the eye, you must gouge out your own eye and press the artifact into the empty socket. The eye grafts itself to your head and remains there until you die. Once in place, the eye transforms into a golden eye with a slit for a pupil, much like that of a cat. If the eye is ever removed, you die."

    This version harkens back to earlier ones with the slit-eye. I dig how before its inserted it looks like a regular eye (organ) possibly with veins attached. Now onto the powers...

"Properties of the Eye. Your alignment changes to neutral evil, and you gain the following benefits:

You have truesight.
You can see as if you were wearing a ring of X-ray vision.
The eye has 8 charges...cast one of the following spells from it: of madness...disintegrate...dominate monster...or eyebite."

    X-ray vision is a new one. Disintegrate too, mind you all these powers use multiple charges. There is resonating powers with the Hand in this edition, among them the return of the Wish spell, though only once every 30 days. Any side effects? Oh yes...

"Each time you cast a spell from the eye, there is a 5 percent chance that Vecna tears your soul from your body, devours it, and then takes control of the body like a puppet. If that happens, you become and NPC..."

    Well that's certainly standard for the Eye, though it's pretty underwhelming to make it a 5% crap shoot every time, unlike 4E's roleplay version of descending into Vecna's control. Destruction means? 5E punts on this one in my opinion, by saying both Hand and Eye must be attached and the user slain by the Sword of Kas. Extreme, but in the context of a module like Vecna Lives, too easy! 

    That's all I got! I'd say it's enough too. I hope DMs find some inspiration in this list, or in the least had a good nostalgic ride through the editions. If this article should later vanish mysterious, well, I blame the Eyes of Vecna.


Ancientgamer said...

Wow. Bravo Mike, lots of research here. Thank you.

Dick McGee said...

For all the bile some folks spew about 4E being all crunch, no fluff, it did have some very flavorful mechanics, the artifact concordance thing being one of them. FWIW, in 4E eyebite was the basic "cantrip" at-will attack spell, kind of a single-target Magic Missile effect. Mire the Mind was a once per battle damage & debuff spell, and Eye of the Warlock was a once per day utility spell that let you see through the eyes of another creature without them knowing you were doing so.

Mike Bridges said...

McGee: Thanks for clarifying that for me! Yeah the more I play 5E I realize 4E crunch wasn't all bad. It was probably all in the presentation I guess? Weird to see eyebite as a cantrip. Eye of the Warlock sounds fun, especially in the context of the Eye of Vecna! Thanks again sir!