How Dungeons & Dragons Designed Vecna in a Post-Stranger Things World

How Dungeons & Dragons Designed Vecna in a Post-Stranger Things World

There have been many things in recent years that have helped Dungeons & Dragons transform into a global pop culture force—including the pandemic’s necessity for remote social forms of play, the rise of actual play into its own entertainment boom, and Baldur’s Gate 3. But few perhaps match the boost that Stranger Things gave D&D, and that it gave part of its lore in particular: Vecna.

Introduced as the major antagonist of Stranger Things’ fourth season, and now a vital figure once again as the series prepares for its fifth and final season, Vecna is now a D&D figure hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people—people who’ve perhaps never played a TTRPG in their life—are familiar with. Vecna has Funko pops (it should be also said that D&D has Funko pops, but that’s just because everything has Funko pops at this point). He’s on T-shirts you can buy at Target. He has a West End stage show.

But that’s a version of Vecna. The Vecna that’s actually part of D&D history—and is now helping to spearhead its 50th anniversary celebrations in the major new adventure, Eve of Ruin—has rarely actually been a major player, up until Stranger Things uplifted him along the way. “The first mention of Vecna is all the way back to 1976, in a little piece that was written by Brian Bloom, and he mentions the Hand and the Eye of Vecna as artifacts—and there’s only one line about Vecna himself,” senior D&D designer Amanda Hamon recently told press at an event for Eve of Ruin’s impending launch. “It says he’s a lich of great power, who can only affect people who have put on his hand and his eye. And there was no further information about Vecna. And Gary Gygax very famously said, ‘I have no idea what Brian is talking about.’ He didn’t know anything about Vecna. But then the legend just built from there.”

Vecna of course grew in power in the years since that brief mention—becoming a god in the Greyhawk setting—but he never really rose to infamy like other D&D villains until Stranger Things made him ascendant. Wizards has capitalized on this—just before season four dropped, it released the Vecna Dossier, which gave him new lore and an updated design, new rules for a major encounter with the Archlich, and more—but now that Vecna is stepping in the limelight at the heart of D&D’s anniversary celebrations, an interesting question lingered: most people who know Vecna know what Vecna looks like in Stranger Things. So how does D&D make Vecna its own thing again?

“Getting to just kind of, like, look at what we had with this take on Vecna [in Stranger Things] and saying ‘okay, let’s like really celebrate what makes this one unique, and what makes our Vecna scary’” was a major opportunity for the team behind Eve of Ruin, according to D&D graphic designer Trystan Falcone. It turns out the answer to making D&D’s version stand out was Vecna’s bars of golden armor, amplifying his skeletal nature.

“He’s a skeletal creature. You know, if you saw him without the armor, without knowing who he is in a dungeon—you think ‘[He’s] not a big deal.’ But everything around him and the lore around him—just look at him! He is so menacing looking,” Falcone continued. “I think getting to just really dive into what makes Vecna [who he is] at this point in time—which amounted to, let’s be clear, being just horrifying—was a delight.”

“My introduction to Vecna was in 3.5—just my DM dropping little nuggets. So, a while ago, but not not as far as it could have been,” they added. “One of the things I just really enjoy is that a lot of D&D kind of happens. You’re not looking directly at the artificial player at the table, you know, it’s just kind of happening in your imagination.” You can hear and see D&D’s newly imagined version of Vecna in action below in the new trailer for Eve of Ruin—where, in a fun twist of fate, he’s voiced by none other than Neil Newbon, now famously known as the voice of Baldur’s Gate 3‘s vampiric rogue, Astarion:

The Vecna players encounter in the climax of Eve of Ruin will be similar to the rules laid out for him in the Vecna Dossier, but with a few tweaks to give him the status of a 20th-level adventure-ending villain. “That is a ACR 26 stack block. It’s pretty beefy block,” Hamon clarified. “There are a few little things that are different, that are modernized, really, for the current version of the rules that we’re using—but it is largely going to be very similar to the Vecna Dossier. That block will absolutely be relevant, because of course, there’s a big showdown at the end of the book—but that encounter is much larger, a more sweeping encounter, than just teleporting in and fighting back now and then, and seeing what happens. There’s a whole journey that has to happen, even after the characters to figure out where all of this is happening, and where they have to go [before they fight Vecna].”

In the end—and even as Stranger Things fans wait to see exactly what’s cooking with him in season five—Eve of Ruin is meant to feel like D&D finally putting Vecna on a villainous pedestal worthy of his cultural reputation. “It was fun to see him kind of go from that and see how the idea of Vecna as this ever-present, all-living, ultimately evil lich—you know, the presence that he’s taken up within pop culture—has been really fascinating,” Hamon concluded. “We hope it’s a really fun that people are able to now play throughout a story in which he is sort of comes to fruition as a villain.”

Vecna: Eve of Ruin will release Tuesday, May 21, and is available to pre-order starting today—which includes immediate digital access to the one-shot Nest of the Eldritch Eye, early access to Eve of Ruin on D&D Beyond on May 7, and more.