Thursday, 14 November 2019

History of Oerth, Part 3: Of Vecna

And now, back to the history of the Ur-Flan. You can’t talk about the Ur-Flan without delving deeply into Vecna.

Vecna is very much a figure of mystery. He dates back to a time of near-prehistory in Greyhawk, before the migrations, before the wars between Suel and Baklunish, perhaps even before the ascendancy of the Suloise Empire itself. He is a figure more of legend than fact and, like all legends, there are embellishments, exaggerations, distortions, contradictions, and confusions attached to his name. [WGA4 Vecna Lives]

-1746 to -1711 CY             Vecna is said to have been born as a member of the Untouchable caste in the Flan city of Fleeth, in the Sheldomar Valley. He was initially trained by his mother, Mazell, in the arts of witchcraft before she was executed by the government of Fleeth for the crime of practicing unsanctioned magic, forbidden to the Untouchables. Vecna was devastated. He was enraged. He had nothing but the love of his mother and they had taken that away from him for harmless tinkering. Vowing revenge, Vecna eventually assumed a mastery of the dark arts achieved by no mortal before or since. Some say this achievement was due to direct tutelage by Mok'slyk the Serpent (I’m going on a limb and suggest that Mok’slyk might have been a Yuan-ti priest-magi), believed to be the personification of arcane magic itself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. He ran away. Or tried to. Young and inexperienced, he was easily apprehended. He was deemed harmless, but the government of Fleeth understood that young rage can become future vendetta, so they sold him to a caravan of settlers setting out for the North who needed hostages for the Glitter King. And he was used for just that.

And Vecna was accepted as such, even though the Ur-Flan supposed deception of sending Untouchables in the place of their own was well known by the Grey Elven King Galitholian Glitterhelm. But Galithonian took no steps to let that be known; he didn’t want the hostages as a shield against any future aggression of the Ur-Flan, he never expected that they’d ever be much of a threat to his People; he wanted the children to mould them, to teach them, to guide the Flan back onto the Path of Light.

Vecna impressed the king with his intelligence so much that the king took it upon himself to teach the young Flan, himself, in the arts of court and language and diplomacy, and when Galithonian discovered that the boy was already versed in the Art, he was both surprised and pleased. He saw, in his hubris, the vehicle in which his scheme could find its end. He took Vecna aside and trained him further in it.

Vecna as an apt pupil. He excelled in everything. So pleased was Galithonian, that he allowed Vecna to read as widely as he wished. And he did. Left unsupervised, he discovered an ancient Seul book entitled "The Fate of Tilorop" in the libraries, a book the elves had kept as a warning to themselves of how Men (and indeed, Elves) could be swayed by the Darkness. They kept it as a reminded of their own folly in how widely they had taught Men in Magic. And the result. Had Galithonian had read it. But it was old and dusty, and Galithonian was sure in his own wisdom and saw no need to consult such things. Vecna read that book, and was reminded of his rage and desire for revenge. And within it, he came to know of the rage and power of Tharizdun. And unbeknownst to Galithonian, Vecna was seduced.

Venca was given leave to return to his homeland, where he challenged the High Chieftain and kills him. He erected his Black Tower, and beneath it, his Dark Cathedral. He began gathering in the surrounding tribes by pitting one against the other, and then coming to their aid, each in turn. He taught them hate and a lust for power and conquest, and in time, they too saw the goodness in such things.

In his time, Vecna was considered the mightiest of all wizards, unsurpassed in his knowledge of all the arcane arts. From the loneliest chamber of a black tower, he ruled over a now-forgotten nation. Some say his realm was beyond the great mountains to the west. Another theory holds his tower once rose from the very depths of the Nyr Dyv. A few writers even go so far as to claim Vecna’s dominion extended over another plane and that he was ultimately destroyed by a revolt of the greater powers that dwelled there! [WGA4 Vecna Lives]

But Vecna found the spark of youth leaving him. That would not do, he thought, and he undertook arduous researches into the nature of life itself in his hidden temple.  404 to 440 FT

With time, like all things human (although some tales claim he was half-elven. Vecna grew old and neared death. The black oblivion caused no terror in hi, only anger and rage. He was determined not to die and in his conceit came to believe that immortality was not merely possible, but was is right. He began a search for the ultimate power needed to overcome the Greater Power, Death. [WGA4 Vecna Lives]

c.-1710 to -1683 CY             Vecna succeeded in becoming a lich. And having subverted his people, he gathered in a humanoid host to increase his holdings. He struck north first, expanding into the Barrens.

Vecna shields his presence from the Elves by use of magic. He studies "The Fate of Tilrop" and was driven by an insatiable lust to live as long as the elves. His established towns on the model of the Gray Elves, and began to experiment with his Ur-Flanae for the "Ultimate Solution to Death." Several undead are created. [OJ1] 441-468 FT

c.-1669 to -1566 CY         Vecna’s great and terrible Occluded Empire of the Whispered One expanded, stretching across the Flannaes from Perrenland across the plains to the extent of the Barrens, and across the Nyr Dyv, as far south as the Wooly Bay. He vowed to destroy the elven kingdoms as they acted to restrain his reign of terror. 482 to 585FT

He knew that someday the Elves would rise against him, and he knew of their power, and he also knew of the power of the Ur-Flan magi, so he prepared himself. Not only did he gather in new and greater magics, he forged a sword from the stuff of stars, one he knew to be the match of his tutor’s, the Glitter King’s. 469 FT

As a sign of Kas’s authority (and to protect his lieutenant from the intrigues of others), Vecna forged the sword of Kas, a magical weapon like none ever known. ale-spinners say its iron was taken from the heart of a frozen star and forged in flames stolen from the sun. Though dull and unadorned, it shimmered with evil. Its edge could bite any metal and its blade never dulled. When Kas wielded it, no man could withstand him

 Fashioned by Vecna’s hand, the sword was evil, even when compared to its creator. It whispered to Kas in secret voices, feeding the warrior’s pride and vanity. “You are greater now than your master,” it said. “You are the true ruler of all his lands.” Slowly it seduced him, urging him to usurp Vecna’s throne and send the arch-lich to death forever. And gradually Kas came to believe its words. [WGA4 Vecna Lives]

Vecna’s prediction proved true. Galitholian raised a host to suppress him. Vecna met them and drove them from the field. 482-576 FT

Celene fielded an army to assist Galitholian. But Vecna foresaw their coming and was prepared. He called upon Tharizdun and unleashed a burning that created the Bright Desert. Celene retreated. 580 FT

With Galitholian in his mountains and Celene in full retreat, Vecna lay siege to the city of Fleeth with an army of arcane spellcasters and undead. Legend has it that Vecna was nearly slain in this battle by clerics channeling the power of Pholtus, the god of light. The clerics unleashed a great burst of light, which hit Vecna primarily on his left side. Vecna was rescued and brought to safety by one of his wizard generals, a cambion named Acererak, who would one day himself become a mighty demilich.

Vecna eventually recovered. On the verge of conquering Fleeth, certain citizens of the city came before him to beg for mercy. They offered up the entire city and her wealth if only Vecna would spare the lives of her citizens. When Vecna was not satisfied, the officials offered their own lives. Vecna gave one of their number, Artau and his family, over to his lieutenant, Kas, who spent the entire day torturing and murdering them before the other officials. Still unsatisfied, Vecna slaughtered all within the city, and had their heads stacked before the officials, with those of their family members prominent. Vecna then granted his mercy, granting the officials leave to depart, and promising them his protection for the rest of their lives. 585 FT

“The morning after the Feast of Himar, certain citizens of Fleeth came out of the town and entreated upon the besiegers to speak with Lord Vecna, the Whispered One, in his spidered pavilion. They told him they were ready to place the city and all their possessions at his discretion, provided their lives were spared. The Whispered One replied that he could not agree to such terns, nor indeed to any others, and that he would see the heads of all Fleeth stacked before him.
“Hearing his terrible utterance on their fate, these same burghers beseeched him to mercy, offering themselves if he would spare the good people of Fleeth. Perhaps the Whispered One was amused, for he ordered them to place one of their number, his family and slaves into Lord Vecna’s hands.
“Lots were taken and an upright burgher, Goodman Artau, called his family from within the walls. ‘Join me, for the Great Lord has granted us safety to leave this land,’ he told his wife, seeking to ease her mind. Reassured by his gentle words, she and her children passed through the gate to join her husband. Pleased, the Whispered One gave them all over to Kas the Hateful.
“For a day, the burghers watched Goodman Artau and his family die at the hands of Kas. When at last it was done, the burghers pleaded to take their leave, certain their city had been saved. But the Whispered One turned to his barons and spoke to them. ‘My lords,’ he said, ‘the people of this city are ready to surrender it at my discretion, on condition that their lives are spared. However, I will not make peace with them on these terms, nor any others, except with your consent.’
“‘Our sagacious master,’ replied the barons, ‘we advise, and even beg you, to accept the terms they offer.’ But the Whispered One did not listen. That very day the mangonels and war-wizards were set up outside the walls. The assault went on for about five hours and then the wizened lord broke the walls of Fleeth with a wave of his hand.
“By the dawn, the heads of citizens were stacked before the burgers. Their own wives and children stared at them foremost. This was the humor of Vecna, and as his final cruelty, he allowed these burghers to depart in peace and guaranteed their safety for the remainders of their sorrowful lives.”
-from The Chronicle of Secret Times by Uhas of Neheli [WGA4 Vecna Lives]

c.-1566 to -1150 CY         Vecna’s Flan Empire reached its fullness, spanning the continent. 586 to 01 FT

Tzunk, High Wizard Priests of the Isles of Woe discover the Codex of Infinite Planes. During the nation's height, the High Wizard-Priest had used the powers of the Codex to conquer the surrounding realms, and even other planes, but the same forces that brought so much power also brought much destruction and woe. It is said that at one point, the danger presented by the dominion of the Isles of Woe became so great that the sleeping hero Krovis emerged from his tomb to do battle. 

Tzunk sets out to conquer the City of Brass. He was no match for an army of four million efreet. He was bested in battle and brought to the efreeti sultan in chains. His body was cut into a hundred parts; the portions scattered to the winds, burned in fire, dissolved in acidic waters, and buried below the earth. And yet the power of the Codex would not let him die.

In the northern wastes beyond the Barrens, there is said to be a tomb holding Tzunk's hands. Constructs with arcane powers guard it, and the tomb itself is filled with magical and mundane traps, secret portals, passages, and mazes. If uncovered from their burial place, legends say the hands will animate themselves, serving their rescuer as divinatory tools but slowly dominating their user in order to seek out the other parts of Tzunk's indestructible, scattered body. 

-1547 CY              Vecna knew he would never be secure in his Empire so long as the Elves stood against him. He took the war to them. The first elven city fell, marking the beginning of the 400 Year War. 604 FT

-1230 CY              Vecna had destroyed all but five of the Elven Cities in the Griff Mountains. Despite valiant attempts by Celene and the Highfolk, no aid reached Galitholian. 921 FT

Galitholian Glitterhelm
-1163 to -1169 GY            Galitholian marched out to meet Veca. They faced one another, their armies arrayed behind them. Gallitholian demanded single combat between them. Vecna agreed, revealing his black sword forged of stars, and Galitholian was afraid. He was right to be, for it was on that day that Galitholian’s spirit died. 988-994 FT

-1156 CY              Vecna, pleased by Kas’ cruelty and skill, elevated Kas to be his chief lieutenant, and blessed him with Tharizdun’s kiss, turning Kas into a vampire of great power. He then gifted Kas his fabled sword. 995 FT

-1154 CY              The City of Summer Stars finally fell, but Vecna’s armies were broken on its walls. 997 FT

Points of Legacy from the War with the Elves
Darnakurian's Doom
At the heart of what is now the Coldwood, a great and majestic elven city once stood. Crafted from living woods, marble, silver, and even ice, the City of the Summer Stars was home to perhaps 2,000 gray elves. They were an introverted, studious, mystical people, and they sought no dominion outside their homelands. The spells and lore known to them is virtually beyond comprehension in the Flanaess now. By a wave of her hand, Queen Sharafere could make winds ripple through all the endless miles of the great forest, and summon unicorns, treants, and the beasts and birds of the forest to her glittering palace. 
The City of the Summer Stars received emissaries from the Ur-Flannae. Those necromancers and wizards spoke honeyed words, but Sharafere saw the lust for magical power in their hearts and sent them away. In their rage and desire to possess the magic of the elves, the Ur-Flannae brought their own magic to assault the city. Fire and acid rained down from the skies. Fiends stalked the forests. Bulettes, xorn, and other monsters erupted from the very earth to strike at the foundations of the city. Sharafere knew the city could hold against this assault, but the forest around was screaming its agony at the defoliation and slaughter which covered thousands of square miles. The undead and monsters of the invaders seemed countless in number; the elves slew thousands and still the Ur-Flannae mounted wave after wave of attack. Sharafere's eldest son, Darnakurian, could take no more. A peerless enchanter, he called on many sources of power, even across the planes. From corners of the void dark voices came to him, seducing him with the promise of supreme power—power which could destroy the Ur-Flannae and save the city and the forest. Darnakurian grew gaunt and sleepless, barely ceasing his work to memorize more spells he needed in his race against time. Finally, he crafted the appalling sword the elves named Hunger. Marching to the throne room, he presented it in triumph to his mother as the instrument by which the elves could triumph and banish their evil foes. Sharafere was appalled. The weapon's evil was apparent to her, hidden beneath the waves of magical power which emanated from it. She ordered him to destroy the malign sword, at which Darnakurian was aghast. Driven half-mad with bitter anger at what was happening to the forest and frustration at the thought that his endless work was valueless in his mother's eyes, he raised the sword and slew her in the Palace of the Heavens. Looking down at her body, the enormity of his crime came over him and the elf-prince was plunged into madness, his mind broken. He fled into the forest and came upon a conclave of necromancers. Then his doom came upon him in earnest. Darnakurian slew thousands in a matter of hours. The circle of destruction his sword emanated cut a great swathe of horrific deaths before him as he charged the Ur-Flannae and drove them in terror from the forest. Finally, the elf-prince took himself back to the city. So weak was he by now that the sword controlled him utterly, and it drove him to slay his own people in the hundreds. Every gray elf alive in the City of Summer Stars either fled, never to return, or perished in that single day. [Ivid]

The Sentinels
At the heart of the Coldwood the old City of the Summer Stars has simply disappeared. The magic of the elves has faded, and the city with it. Some say that its ruins can be found within the Fading Grounds, but the portal to it within the Coldwood is unknown. All of the city is gone from Oerth—save Darnakurian's own keep. The elves named this Bitterness, a word with a more intense double meaning than in the Common tongue. It refers both to the dreadful tragedy of the prince, and also to the intensely bitter chill which gives the Coldwood its name. The Coldwood generally has temperatures below zero, but within five miles of Bitterness the temperature is virtually unbearable, all vegetation is frozen into stark, leafless forms—killed by the black permafrost which covers everything here.
No living man has ever entered Bitterness. Within it, Darnakurian's form is still alive—in some sense. A powerful temporal stasis spell, crafted by the last of the great gray elf wizards before they fled the city, imprisons him inside. He still holds Hunger on his lap as he sits frozen, staring out blindly into the great marbled hall of his home. No living man (or other sentient creature) is going to get anywhere near Bitterness if the guardians who prowl the margins of the Coldwood have their way. These gray elves are known as the Sentinels. [Ivid]

-1151 CY              Vecna was weakened by the energies he expended during his attack on The City of Summer Stars. At his empire's height, Vecna was betrayed and destroyed by his most trusted lieutenant, a human vampire called Kas the Bloody-Handed, using a magical sword that Vecna himself had crafted for him, now known as the Sword of Kas. Only his left hand and his eye survived the battle, perhaps because of the previous events in Fleeth.

            At last, emboldened by the sword’s sweet voice, Kas struck at his lord. No man saw the battle, but with its end Vecna’s dark tower crumbled into dust, leaving only the sword and a pile of ash. The body of Kas was never found. Of Vecna, all that remained were his lifeless Hand and Eye. [WGA4 Vecna Lives]   

Sword of Kas:  There is recorded this additional information regarding the lich, Vecna: "When Vecna grew in power he appointed a most evil and ruthless lieutenant to serve as his bodyguard and right hand. This henchman was the lord, Kas, and for him Vecna found a weapon of potency, a long and thin flatchet of dull gray metal; a sword of unsurpassed hardness with sharp point, keen edges, and magical properties. For a long, long time Kas faithfully served the lich, but as his power grew, so did his hubris, for his Sword was constantly urging him on, saying that Kas was now greater than Vecna himself, and with the might of the Sword to aid and direct him, Kas could rule in Vecna’s stead. Legend says that the destruction of Vecna was by Kas and his Sword, but at the same time Vecna wrought his rebellious lieutenant’s doom, and the world was made brighter thereby."
            Although the powers and effects of the Sword are only hinted at, there can be little doubt that Kas became the most renowned swordsman of his age because of it.

Eye of Vecna:   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 rooms the Material Plane. It is certain that when Vecna finally met his doom, one eye and one 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. DMG 1e
           The Hand of Vecna: The arch-lich Vecna supposedly imbued both his hand (left) and his eye with wondrous and horrible powers enabling them to persist long after his other remains mouldered away into dust. Tales say that the Hand appears to be a mummified extremity, a blackened and shriveled hand, possibly from a burned body. If the wrist portion is pressed against the stump of a forearm, i.t will instantly graft itself to the limb and become a functioning member with [great] strength in its grip. The Hand will eventually turn the alignment of the host character to neutral evil as explained hereafter.
            The host [...] may use any minor power without fear, but as soon as a major power of the Hand is used, he or she awakes a spirit of great evil. When a primary power is used, the host will instantly become neutral evil - very evil. The Hand can be severed from the host at any time before its powers are used…, but [with each] use [it becomes] less likely [until] there is no possibility of [ever] removing the Hand […]. DMG 1e.

Vecna did not stay gone forever, and returned to Oerth as a demigod of magic and secrets. But that is a story for another day. 1000_FT

One must always give credit where credit is due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable. Thanks to Steven Wilson for his GREYCHRONDEX and to Keith Horsfield for his “Chronological History of Eastern Oerik.”
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

Primary sources for this history were the DMG 1e, The World of Greyhawk Folio, and The World of Greyhawk Gold Box, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, Ivid the Undying, the Oerth Journal, and Ivid, the Undying (Sargent, Carl, WotC {TSR}, 1995 as noted.

The Art:
Dream by baxiaart
Reflections-before-the-battle by candra
The Hand and Eye of Vecna, by Daniel Frazier, Book of Artifacts, 1993

All art is solely owned by the artists.
All material presented within this blog is owned and copyrighted by WotC.
The use of this material is not intended to challenge the rights of WotC.
This document is presented solely for the personal use of those individuals who game within the Greyhawk Setting.

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
2023 Greyhawk Adventures Hardback, 1988
2138 Book of Artifacts, 1993
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9309 WGA4, Vecna Lives, 1990
11662 Die Vecna Die! 2000
11742 Gazetteer, 2000
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, 2000
OJ Oerth Journal, #1, #11
Shadis 50, August 1998
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda 
Greychrondex, Wilson, Steven B.
The map of Anna B. Meyer


  1. Awesome! And timely to read since Vecna has been on my mind a lot recently. (I'm not a cultist)

  2. Wow, you are really "knowledging" us up on some of the most mysterious figures I've come across. First Tharizdun, then Vecna and Kas (plus a whole cast of characters and dead lands I hadn't heard of). Thank you for your research. It is adding a lot of dimension and ideas to my Greyhawk setting!