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The Head of Vecna

By Shamus
on Wednesday Jan 30, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games


The Head of Vecna is apparently a classic gaming story that I’ve somehow managed to miss. I don’t understand how they kept out-of-character information from each other so flawlessly, but the result is brilliant.

Almost as funny as the classic Gazebo Battle.

Comments (42)

  1. empty_other says:

    Yes, the two most famous D&D funny-stories on the net. Almost laughed my head of my neck when i first heard it.

  2. Izzy says:

    Both the stories (the Gazebo and the Head of Vecna) were chronicled/retold in the Knights of the Dinner Table comic books. When I have time, I’ll locate the issues…

  3. Davesnot says:

    Now that’s a good story.. I love DMing a group that all you need to do is give is smidgin of a hint of something and they’re off.. Bulls in a china shop… wheeeeee…

    A lot like my 5-year-old… hmmm… there’s probably a correlation betwee 5-year-olds and gamers… but someone else can go hunt for that gem.

    The head was a new story for me.. I’d heard of the Gazebo.. I avoid Gazebos.. Gazebeese?.. Gazebice?? I avoid them.. nasty things…

  4. Sivi says:

    Hmm….at least he avoided the grassy knoll. I’ve contended with them more than once, they’re quite hard to bring down.

    As for the stories, two of the best I’ve ever heard.

  5. Cadamar says:

    Listen. And understand. That Gazebo is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

  6. Arson55 says:

    Yeah, the head of Vecna is a new one on me too. I heard of the Gazebo incident awhile back.

  7. Strangeite says:

    I have never read the Head of Vecna story before, but I have had many a battle with that damn Gazebo. It is a heartless and souless creature that has killed most of my characters over the years.

  8. Mike says:

    hahahahaha…. I hadn’t heard either one of those, so they gave me a good laugh….

    The biggest problem I had with the Gazebo story was…. “Since when can Paladins use bows???”

  9. Namfoodle says:

    The Gazebo one is a classic, I think Shamus was the first place I saw it linked. And I know I’ve heard the Head of Vecna one before too, don’t remember where.

    PvP can be pretty amusing if no one gets their feelings hurt (too much).

  10. Arson55 says:

    Why couldn’t a paladin use a bow? They’re proficient with them. And, for as long as I’ve been playing, there isn’t any rule against it.

  11. mark says:

    Logically, i cant see a problem with a bow wielding paladin either… Even if it was against the standard rules, i’m sure its not too far to stretch to allowing it as a house rule…

  12. pdwalker says:


    The Head of Vecna story is the better of the two.

  13. Mieke says:

    Let’s not forget the nice “Gazebo” card in Munchkin, referring to this incident.

  14. Dan says:

    Head of Vecna. Wow. I can’t believe I’d never heard it before. I think I perforated a segment of my intestine.

    From laughter, I mean.

  15. Davesnot says:

    bowless Paladin.. there-in lies the problem many gamers have with D&D.. they see a rule (I don’t know if there is one against bows and Paladins).. and then are stuck to it like super-glue..

    DM.. you see a bow

    Paladin: Akk!! the mystery of that strange bent wood.. if only I could understand its ways..

    DM.. uh.. you can use it..

    Paladin:.. no!! that’s what they expect me to do..

    DM.. uh.. how are you gonna kill that deer that your group is counting on you to bring back to camp so they can eat..

    Paladin.. yes.. a tough situation.. certainly my Holy sword is too important.. but killing from afar seems against my.. uh.. (DM: idiom, sir?).. yes.. against my idiom.. (DM: idiot more like it).. yes.. I shall kill the deer with my hands.

    DM:.. fine.. are you laying your hands on the deer..

    Paladin.. I suppose I must if I am to kill it..

    DM:.. fine.. you heal the deer.. .. which you snuck up on like a common theif and tried to strangle like a common thug… trust me.. the bow is much more appropriate.

    Paladin.. fine.. I take the bow and aim at the deer’s eye.

    DM: .. right.. an eye shot.. a nice.. slow .. painful death.. (sigh) .. why did I let a Paladin in the group.

    Come on people.. they are more a set of guidelines (arrrrg).

  16. Verithrax says:

    I’ve contended with both gazebos and grassy gnolls in my D&D game… I must admit, I’ve read both of these stories in KoDT. (I waste it with my crossbow! :D)

  17. Mike says:

    I remember the “Head of Vectra” story in KotDT a few years back. What that one was missing was the stupid druid who fell for it first. I love these stories.

  18. Andrew says:

    Shamus, did you know that the guy who first recorded the Dread Gazebo story, Richard Aronson, was also noteworthy for his work in the olden days of computer gaming?

    Aronson was a programmer at Sierra On-Line and worked on a lot of their adventure games (and, consequently, was tapped as a voice actor for the CD version of King’s Quest V, playing the forever-infamous role of Cedric the owl).

  19. mneme says:

    I think the idea with the Head of Vecna story is that the two groups were, in fact, two separate groups, run in the same campaign world by the same GM — but on different days. So while the Druid falling for the story was probably the player not paying much attention, the other firewalling was pretty easy.

  20. Adam says:

    I think you have given me an idea for running a game. Tanks alot.

    p.s. The Head of Vecna is just priceless

    p.s.s. woot a natural 20. I vorpal the Gazebo

  21. Ellimystic says:

    I think my favorite D&D story is “doomsday mage“, from Jay Barnson.

    Head of Vecna and Gazebo are both stories about the players messing up, but I’ve had a few doomsday mage moments myself as a DM, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone =P

  22. James says:

    About 3 or 4 years ago, our DM set this on us. An ECL 17 party TPK’d by a dead head which was supposed to have ‘nondetection’ cast on it. Priceless

  23. Davesnot says:

    I like the doomsday mages!… just goes to show you.. if you design anything that relys on one specific thing.. you’re in trouble.

  24. Nazgul says:

    I’d heard the Head of Vecna story a few years ago, but not The Gazebo… Both made me LOL.

  25. roxysteve says:

    Convergent evolution again.

    I pulled a similar (though much less deadly stunt) in our very first attempt to create D&D from a rather poor description in a game enthusiasts mag – You couldn’t at that time get the actual thing in the UK and the game itself was only about four months old as far as the US buying public was concerned so our copy was still months in the future and an ocean away.

    Our game had multiple groups running through the same dungeon, sometimes during the same session (we were all avid Diplomacy players and used to breaking off every so often for a strategy discussion in the kitchen so it worked rather well, considering), and the chance to mess with the other team’s head was too good to miss. We left them an old boot with a note to the effect that we had found “The Boots of Armageddon”, didn’t know what they did but in the spirit of comradely friendship were leaving one for them. They spent game weeks using that boot in a variety of impressively inventive ways. As far as I know, they never cottoned on.

    Back then, resurrection was almost impossible to come by anyway. It would not have occured to us to try this way better Head of Vecna jape as a result. Kudos to the japers, and a hearty HAHAHA at the headless wonders. The lack of thinking-it-through-ness involved in the story is staggering. Even given the two eyes giveaway, whose brain did they imagine would be making the command descisions if this idiot scheme worked?


  26. James Blair says:

    To be fair, Group 1 rectified the “two eyes” problem before Group 2 was on the scene. Only the Druid was being Way Too Stupid. Group 2 was merely Too Stupid (with regards to the “Whose Head Is It Anyway?” problem if the Head DID work).

  27. Smith says:

    Thos are classics. I’ll have to remember grassy gnolls for use in my game — though I’ve had my players encounter wight wolves before.

  28. Attorney At Chaos says:

    Yeah, an oldie but a goodie. But to be fair, if the players were properly suspicious of the starting situation in MANY games they simply would never get off the ground. There just isn’t enough playing time to check everything out, so you go by an unwritten rule that either everything is on the up-and-up or else there will be a time when you realize that your employer is the real big bad and can then go after him. D&D is more or less cooperative storytelling with some random dice rolls thrown in for succeed/fail excitement.

    My own DMing experience along those lines involved a scam. Some bards were hired to spread tales of “The Luckiest Guy in the World” coming to the PCs home city (where they owned a major stake in a casino). A few actors set up lethal-looking attempts to assassinate the guy, which he avoided though what appeared to onlookers to be blind luck (instead of carefully rehearsed acts). The players were absolutely convinced that (A) he was essentially the Avatar of the Goddess of Luck, and (B) he was going to attempt to Break The Bank at their casino.

    Based on what they were told, they were right to worry. No one mentioned the least intention of using DETECT LIE on the bards spreading the tales or anything similar. Instead, they spent literally HOURS of real time coming up with a way to avoid backruptcy. They wound up doing a complete makeover on their casino, introducing the brand new (to that world) concept of pari-mutual betting. Instead of players going up against the house in games like roulette (risking backruptcy) it was now players in a very inventive obstacle course racing each other. Odds were set by how much money was bet on the various contestants, with the house taking a percentage of the action but not risking any money of its own.

    The players had a marvelous time working this all up, and I just ran with it. “The Luckiest Man in the World” did not win the race – but his apparently unlucky crash (before they all reached the unpleasant part of the course) landed him in the lap of a gorgeous woman who decided to take him home with her. He was seen leaving her home the next morning. He headed downtown for the lottery drawing, produced the winning ticket, and headed out of town to great fanfare.

    The whole thing adventure was supposed to revolve around the crooked lottery scheme, how this guy was set up to appear so lucky that no one would question it when he won the lottery. There were clues waiting for them if they did the least amount of checking – but they took it absolutely as presented to them. They saw a problem, they had a fine time working out a solution, there was a lot of wonderful roleplaying and all the players felt they had (with hard work) “won” the game.

    If I ever told them about the real setup with the faked luck and the crooked lottery scheme, all it would have done is spoiled the great memories of that game. So what if it wasn’t the adventure that I had originally planned?

    But what this game really taught ME is just how vulnerable players are to this type of manipulation. There just isn’t TIME to be properly suspicious of everything, so the players have to trust that the DM will work with them no matter which choice they make. You can’t do a background check on every party member when assembling a new party. Some things just have to be taken on faith, with the proviso that the DM will not deliberately screw you.

    In the HEAD OF VECNA, however, that unspoken agreement didn’t exist because you had two parties of PCs going at each other. But the “game reflexes” of the players probably were still set on “The DM won’t deliberately screw us.”

    Many published modules have “True Rumors” and “False Rumors” sections. The Players I’ve gamed with almost never try to thoroughly doublecheck those rumors. They search for information and then they go with what they’ve found. So I’ve pretty much given up on the False Rumors stuff unless that is the whole point of the episode.

    Those players didn’t want to be cautious, double-check everything beancounters. They wanted to be Heroes. They were going to decide on a course of action as a Hero would do, not the way an insurance salesman or a computer programmer might do. Robert Heinlein put in a nice scene in GLORY ROAD, making reference to the old story. Our hero is searching for a lady, and tracks her down to a house. He meets a person who tells him something like “Down the corridor, she’s through the door.” Seeing two doors, he asks “Which door?” “Ah, The Lady or The Tiger. A real Hero would know.” So he snorts, goes down and opens the same door referred to in that story.

    RAH got the right of it. A real hero in TLoTT would trust absolutely that his love would have told him to take the door that saved his life. No hesitation, just go.

    My players wanted to be Heroes. So any trick, any false rumor, anything along those lines was almost CERTAIN to catch them. So I (as DM) only put in such things if having them get caught by it was part of the story that they were intended to get through (and ultimately prevail).

    Sure, no storyline ever survives contact with the players. They needed to be smuggled into a closed town, and I designed 7 separate and distinct ways for them to do it. They tried ways 8, 9 and 10. I adapted. I’m supposed to make sure the players have fun. Give them challenges, certainly. Have them fail from time to time, of course. But deliberately screw them, no.

    But if your “game reflexes” are firmly set in that type of game, playing a cut-throat “Team A vs Team B” game (with the DM as simple referee) can get you things like THE HEAD OF VECNA. It’s an entirely different paradigm.

    Still, just a LITTLE bit of common sense helps a lot.

  29. Rebecca says:

    That doomsday mage thing is priceless!

  30. Hal says:

    Ah, sounds like sneaky villain stuff. Me, I’ve come to enjoy either Exploding Runes or vials filled with disease or poison with inhalation application.

    Players: “Okay, we throw the vial in the hole.”

    Me: “You throw it, eh? Fortitude saving throws for all!”

    Players: “Did we say throw? What we meant was, ‘carefully laid down.'”

  31. NobleBear says:

    Vecna was funny stuff, thanks for sharing it, Shamus.

    It sounds like classic power-gaming, no real RP, just go for all the uber you can grab.

  32. gottasing says:

    Oh sure, that’s a good story. But can it top the story of Flapjack the Mage?


  33. Craig says:

    “Ah, sounds like sneaky villain stuff. Me, I've come to enjoy either Exploding Runes or vials filled with disease or poison with inhalation application.

    Players: “Okay, we throw the vial in the hole.”

    Me: “You throw it, eh? Fortitude saving throws for all!”

    Players: “Did we say throw? What we meant was, “˜carefully laid down.'”

    That just reminded me of one time our DM put a room of potions into a dungeon without really considering the consequences. The room was owned by a powerful mage, so we couldn’t just take everything, but this didn’t stop us from using them inappropriately anyway. My character (a halfling barbarian) got in fights frequently with another. While the mage was in another room. One of us threw something at the other, and it went into the room of potions, setting off a random assortment of spell affects. After about two seconds of thought, my character was immediately thrown into the room, his body shattering bottles and setting off fire, lightning, healing, rain, animal summoning, etc, and finally a dispel magic, which was all randomly rolled, by the way. I don’t care if this is how potions work or not, it was awesome.

  34. Ah, the old 1st edition classic stories of the gazebo and the Head of Vecna…
    In fact, you may be amused to know that, as has already been mentioned earlier, there is a Gazebo munchin card (go here for the animated .gif official Munchkin Gazebo icon! http://www.sjgames.com/munchkin/game/icons.html ), but, did you know that a Head of Vecna module was actually made for D&D?
    Go here for all it’s glory!!!!

  35. Divra says:

    It just goes to show, there ain’t no school like the old school…

  36. Dragonbane says:

    Stolen and reposted for posterity. I was quite familiar with The Gazebo but hadn’t actually seen Head of Vecna before, thanks for that! And thanks also to Ellimystic for sharing the Doomsday Mage. Classic.

  37. Nixorbo says:

    The Head of Vecna just made my day. Bravo.

  38. M says:

    I can’t believe nobody has mentioned this yet:
    “Look out! It’s a flying buttress!”

  39. Face says:

    I don’t know about the date of the Vecna story, but it’s straight out of Knights of the Dinner Table.

  40. Actually, Face, The Head of Vecna, and the Gazebo, were around long before KotDT existed, and the KotDT issues that reference them were inspired by the stories…
    And did a damned fine job of it, I must say!
    I MUST!!!!!

  41. Luna says:

    The head of Vecna is a great story. If you are a role player you probably know about the eye and hand a Vecna. Eric and the dread Gazebo is good to. the good thing about Eric and the dread gazebo is that you can tell it to your non role playing friends and they will still get it. But you can not do this with The head of Vecna. I am addicted to DnD and Amber and if you are (or just like it) you are probably one of the smart people in the world!

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