"With this hand, I shall tear Zariel's head from her shoulders and rule Avernus with my queen at my side."
Arkhan the Cruel[1]

The Hand and Eye of Vecna are two of the most infamous artifacts in Dungeons & Dragons.

Appearance[edit | edit source]

The Hand of Vecna is a withered, blackened, mummified human hand. It is usually described as a left hand, with long, claw-like nails. It is cold to the touch.

The Eye of Vecna is a preserved human eye, variously encountered as a bloodshot human eye, or a hard, shrivelled red or black clump. When placed in an empty human eye socket, it becomes a golden eye with a slit pupil like that of a cat, and glows red or green in the darkness.

Properties[edit | edit source]

Activation[edit | edit source]

In all cases, the Hand and Eye must replace a missing hand or eye, whereupon it immediately binds to the user and becomes a functioning body part. Removing them afterward is difficult or impossible, and usually involves the wielder's death.

Powers[edit | edit source]

The Hand and Eye of Vecna have appeared several times over the centuries, and the powers they see fit to grant each bearer vary considerably.

The Eye grants its user superior sight, including the ability to see through illusions, see through solid objects, see in complete darkness, and even see their own future.

The Hand grants superhuman strength. Its deadly touch freezes creatures, and has the even greater power to instantly slay a creature or drain its life force with necromancy. By means of various hand gestures, its user can cast a variety of deadly arcane spells.

Possessing both artifacts has been achieved by perhaps no more than two or three individuals in all of history, so their full array of powers in combination are barely known. These individuals displayed additional powers including the ability to detect magic, resist magic, and summon powerful fiends.

It is said that even Vecna, God of Secrets, is unable to determine the location of his Hand and Eye. Vecna's cult dedicate considerable time and energy into finding them. Those who possess one of his relics have been shown to be immune to Vecna's divine power.[2]

Drawbacks[edit | edit source]

The Hand and Eye of Vecna possess a terrible curse. Gradually, they turn the user toward evil. Over time, the user begins to exhibit Vecna's personality, and many possessors began to believe that they were Vecna himself. Some believe the spirit of Vecna possesses the wielders of his relics, but it is certain that over time it corrupts them completely.

Like many powerful artifacts, others who see the Hand or Eye begin to covet it, making them risky to possess. The Eye of Vecna also shows its bearer terrible visions. Possessing both artifacts corrupts the wielder to an even greater extent.

Finally, the powers of the Hand and Eye always fail their wielder at the moment of their doom.

Destruction[edit | edit source]

As an artifact, the Hand and Eye of Vecna cannot be permanently destroyed by normal means.

Rumoured ways to destroy the Eye include roasting in the flames of the oldest red dragon in Oerth[3], encasing it in the volcanic glass of the Hellfurnaces and shattering it against the edge of space,[4] or wearing the eye and hurling oneself into the Rift of Pyradon[5].

It is said that the Hand can be destroyed by having one who has never experienced fear carry it to the Positive Material Plane and manually crush it into powder,[3] willingly fixing it to the purest person in the Free City of Greyhawk, fixing it to most corrupt person in the Free City of Greyhawk,[3] severing it with a sword of a dead god,[5] or having it digested by the tarrasque[6]

Rumoured ways to destroy both at once include casting them into the Golden Forge at the heart of Oerth's sun,[3] permanently destroying Vecna himself,[7] sending the spirit of all of Vecna's victims to rest,[7] or having both worn by the the purest person in Blackmoor,[8] or if a creature wielding both artifacts is slain by the Sword of Kas.[9]

Related items[edit | edit source]

Other artifacts of Vecna[edit | edit source]

While the Hand and Eye are undoubtably the most potent of Vecna's relics, other mummified parts of his body or possessions exist, including his other eye and several fingers of his right hand.[10] These lesser parts gained their power after Vecna's ascension to divinity.[10]

Most of Vecna's original body is long lost, but surviving parts with magical efficacy include the scalp of Vecna, first digit of Vecna, second digit of Vecna, third Digit of Vecna, last digit of Vecna, right eye of Vecna, molar of Vecna, incisors of Vecna, foot of Vecna, heart of Vecna, and skin of Vecna.[10][11]

Lesser items[edit | edit source]

The bracers of Vecna are a pair of cursed arm bracers crafted by Vecna himself.[12]

False artifacts of Vecna[edit | edit source]

A false head of Vecna was constructed and once held by cult the Vecna. It resulted in the deaths of numerous adventurers.[13]

The Vecnan cultist Pacanan once possessed a false hand of Vecna. A false sword of Kas also existed, which causes its wielder to believe he is Kas.[14]

History[edit | edit source]

Creation[edit | edit source]

The Hand and Eye of Vecna were all that remained of the arch-lich Vecna after his betrayal at the hands of his trusted vampire lieutanant, Kas the Bloody-Handed. Using a sword crafted by Vecna himself, Kas manage to cut off Vecna's left hand and left eye before in turn being destroyed.

In time, the story of Vecna became legend, and a cult formed to worship him. The Hand and Eye of Vecna became sacred relics to those followers, imbued somehow with a fragment of the powerful arch-wizard's magic. They have appeared numerous times over the years, most notably influencing the history of their world of origin, Oerth.

Early history[edit | edit source]

The Hand first appeared 136 years after the destruction of Vecna, during the Insurrection of the Yaheetes. It disappeared after the clan's leader Paddin the Vain was overthrown.[15]

The Hand was discovered by a fisherman named Gisel during the reign of Hamoch of Tyrus. Gisel who kept it for several decades until he was murdered by his own brother. It was in turn stolen from the brother by an outlaw named Mace, who overthrew the ruler of Tyrus and ruled for a hundred years before being assassinated by a Yemishite agent.[15]

According to The Chronicle of Secret Times, an ancient book written in the Suloise language, the Hand and Eye once briefly fell into the possession of the Neheli, a Suloise family who once came into conflict with Vecna himself and later settled in what is now Keoland in the western Flanaess. That book documented several effects of the artifacts.[16]

Later history[edit | edit source]

The Eye of Vecna was used in the extermination of House Hyeric, the former ruling dynasty of the kingdom of Nyrond.[7] The Eye appears less frequently than the Hand in the the history of Oerth.

According to The Dragon-Scale Tome, the Gnomelord of Blemu was the next known possessor of one of the artifacts.[16]

The Hand later came into possession of the Paladin-King of Miro. He was unable to remove the Hand, which ultimately corrupted him and led to his own destruction.[15]

Between 420 and 455 CY, the warlord Halmadar the Cruel came into possession of both the Hand and Eye, only the second known person to ever achieve this.[4] His reign of terror only came to an end when he was drugged and buried alive in the Kron Hills.[17]

Recent history[edit | edit source]

Around the year 1358 DR by the calendar of Faerûn, the Hand of Vecna was held in the City of the Liches in the Realm of Orcus.[18]

In 581 CY, Halmadar the Cruel escaped his tomb. Vecna himself destroyed Halmadar and attempted to recover his Hand and Eye, but his plans were foiled by adventurers, and the artifacts were lost for a time.

Around the year 585 CY, both the Hand and Eye fell into the hands of the cult of Vecna in the world of Oerth. They were later cast through the dimensional portal at Tovag Baragu and lost to some unknown outer plane.[7]

In 594 CY, a cultist of Vecna named Pacanan acquired the Hand of Vecna. Between 594 and 595 CY, he also acquired the Eye of Vecna, perhaps only the third or fourth person ever to do so.

In 596 CY, the Hand of Vecna appeared in the possession of Darl Quethos, a powerful cleric of Vecna. Quethos used the Hand to establish himself as leader of the Vecnan sect Disciples of Darkness after exposing the previous leader's counterfeit Hand and Eye of Vecna as a fraud.[19]

That same year, both the Hand and Eye were reportedly in the possession of Morgan Ironwolf, a human adventurer of legendary stature and prodigous collector of artifacts.[20] A rumour subsequently placed the Hand in the city of Alhaster, where it disappeared after being used against the Wormgod Kyuss.[21]

At one point, the demilich Acererak stole the Eye of Vecna, replacing one of his eye gems with it. The eye granted him insight into the near future, exceptional perception and the ability to strike opponents with deadly energy.[22]

The Hand of Vecna was wielded by Arkan the Cruel, servant of Tiamat.[23]

The current location of the Hand and Eye are unknown. The cult of Vecna make recovery of the relics a priority, storing them in secret lairs guarded by their most potent defenses and strongest members. Nevertheless, adventurers occasionally manage to locate and secure the artifacts.[24]

In other worlds[edit | edit source]

Eberron[edit | edit source]

In the world of Eberron, the Hand of Vecna belonged to a Qabalrin necromancer, the first humanoid lich of Eberron.[25].

Publication history[edit | edit source]

Original Dungeons & Dragons[edit | edit source]

The Hand and Eye of Vecna first appeared in Eldritch Wizardry (1976). It is described as blackened, as if it has been burned, and the sole remains of an evil lich of great power who imbued his hand with power to survive even if he was destroyed.

The hand can be removed, but each time a primary power is used, there is a cumulative 10% chance that he hand cannot be removed. The eye cannot be removed. Additionally, the user suffers a drawback when using the primary power of either item.

The effects of artifacts in this book are chosen by the Dungeon Master. Different powers are invoked by ten of the sixteen possible combinations of four extended fingers, and one by touch.

AD&D 1st edition[edit | edit source]

The Hand and Eye of Vecna appear in the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979). The Hand is described as blackened and mummified, while the Eye resembles an agate until it is used, whereupon it glows as a feral creature. Wearing the Eye, or using a primary power of the Hand, turns the character Neutral Evil.

The Hand grants its user 18/00 Strength. The Hand and Eye's other abilities are chosen by the DM.

AD&D 2nd edition[edit | edit source]

Dungeon Master's Guide[edit | edit source]

The Hand of Vecna appears in the 2nd edition Dungeon Master's Guide (1989).[15] According to its description, legends spoken in hushed tones say that Vecna still roams the world. This varies from earlier lore, where the Hand was well-established but the Eye was spoken of in hushed tones, speculated to be mythical, and of dubious veracity.

It grants its user 19 Strength, and gradually corrupts its user to evil. The user eventually comes to believe that they are Vecna. It cannot be removed without being chopped off. All who see the Hand covet it. It forsees the user's doom, and its powers will fail at that moment - a change from its OD&D suggested power, in which it is the owner who always sees a preminition of danger.

Its other powers are chosen by the DM, but suggested powers include a broad set of offensive arcane spells.

Book of Artifacts[edit | edit source]

In the Book of Artifacts (1993), which details both artifacts, the Hand is described as a claw-like left hand, while the Eye resembles a red clot which transforms into a golden slitted eye, reminiscent of its feline glow described in earlier editions. The Hand grants 19 Strength, immunity to Magic Missile, instant death touch and various powers chosen randomly by DM, while the Eye now grants True Seeing and various minor abilities.

The artifacts attempt to control the wearer to follow Vecna's will to summon him, now described as a demigod, to Oerth. This book introduces the idea that possessing both artifacts grants additional powers.[7]

Vecna Lives![edit | edit source]

In the adventure module WGA4 Vecna Lives! (1990), the Eye is described as granting constant True Seeing and Foresight, with various minor powers, while the Hand grants the abilities described in Book of Artifacts and additionally describes sixteen hand gestures which invoke individual arcane spell effects.[4]

Possessing both artifacts now grants several great powers, including magic resistance and the permanent ability to Detect Magic. Using an invoked (non-constant) power on either artifact risks the artifact taking over the character, in which case the artifacts follow Vecna's agenda to raise an empire again, gain revenge on Kas, and return to Oerth. The user begins to act like Vecna and even believe that they are him.[4]

Die Vecna Die![edit | edit source]

The adventure module Die Vecna Die! (2000) described the Eye as resembling a a black uncut gem, and glowing red. It is otherwise similar to the rules in Vecna Lives![8]

D&D 3rd edition[edit | edit source]

The Hand and Eye of Vecna appear in the D&D 3e Dungeon Master's Guide (2000), in which they are described as unique major artifacts.

Wearing the Hand permanently reduces the wearer's Dexterity by 2, while the Eye reduces Charisma by 2. Once attached, they cannot be removed without killing the wearer. The wearer is pulled toward an evil alignment even if they don't use the item's powers.

The Hand grants a cold touch and ability score drain, while the eye grants True Seeing and darkvision. Possessing both allows the bearer to summon powerful fiends.

D&D 4th edition[edit | edit source]

The Hand and Eye of Vecna appear in the D&D 4e Dungeon Master's Guide (2008), where they are intelligent artifacts. They prefer arcane spellcasters, and the two artifacts seek to be re-united in one wielder. They reward the user for betraying a close friend, but penalize them for slaying undead. They are jealous of more powerful arcane spellcasters than their owner.

The Eye grants its wearer darkvision, improved knowledge of magic and superior insight. It shows its wearer terrible visions. The Hand is described as an icy cold left hand, and grants various offensive powers as well as superior ability at climbing.

When the Hand and Eye feel they have achieved their objective, the host's body crumbles to dust. Vecna gains all the host's knowledge, and one day will send the Hand and Eye back out into the world.

D&D 5th edition[edit | edit source]

The Eye and Hand of Vecna appear in the D&D 5e Dungeon Master's Guide (2014), where they are described with lore.

The Eye grants truesight and x-ray vision. It has several spell abilities similar to its appearance in earlier editions, but each time one is used, there is a 5% chance that Vecna eats the user's soul and takes control of the character.

The Hand grants 20 Strength and deals a severe amount of cold damage. It also grants spell abilities, but each time one is used, the hand attempts to coerce the user into committing an evil act.

In the rare event that someone acquires both, the user is immune to disease and poison, gains premonition of danger, can turn a creature's skeleton into jelly with a touch, and can cast Wish once every month.

Creative origins[edit | edit source]

In an ENWorld Q&A thread, Gary Gygax credits Brian Blume as the inventor of both the Hand and Eye of Vecna.

The name Vecna is an anagram of Vance, a reference to Jack Vance, a fantasy author whose works inspired the original Dungeons & Dragons. D&D's traditional Vancian magic system is named after that author and was inspired by how magic works in his Dying Earth series.

The Hand and Eye were likely inspired by Michael Moorcock's Corum series, in which the protagonist loses his left hand and left eye and replaces them with powerful magical artifacts: the six-fingered Hand of Kwll, and the Eye of Rhynn.[26][27]

Reception and influence[edit | edit source]

In the Dungeon Master's Guide 2 (4e) (2009), p.196, an inn called the Hand of Vecna was described as a location in Sigil. Despite the name, there was no obvious connection to the artifact.

The Eye of Vecna was included in the code for the computer game Planescape: Torment, but was not available in the final release.[28][29][30]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus (2019), p.149.
  2. Die Vecna Die! (2000), p.3.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 WGA4 Vecna Lives! (1990), p.p.69-72.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 WGA4 Vecna Lives! (1990), p.69-72.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dungeon Master's Guide (4e) (2008), p.164.
  6. History Check: The Tarrasque, Dragon #418 (Dec 2012), p.8.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Book of Artifacts (1993), p.35.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Die Vecna Die! (2000), p.159.
  9. Dungeon Master's Guide (5e) (2014), p.224.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Die Vecna Die! (2000), p.25.
  11. Die Vecna Die! (2000), p.40.
  12. The City of Greyhawk, Folk, Feuds, and Factions (1989), p.80.
  13. Die Vecna Die! (2000), p.35.
  14. Die Vecna Die! (2000), p.109.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Dungeon Master Guide (2e revised) (1995), p.124.
  16. 16.0 16.1 WGA4 Vecna Lives! (1990), p.22.
  17. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (2000), p.104.
  18. H4 The Throne of Bloodstone (1988), p.53.
  19. The Library of Last Resort, Dungeon #132 (Mar 2006), p.79-83.
  20. Dragon #342 (Apr 2006), p.62.
  21. Dungeon #135 (Jun 2006), p.55.
  22. Tomb of Horrors (4e) (2010), p.154.
  23. Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus (2019), p.111.
  24. Dungeon Master's Guide II (3e) (2005), p.281.
  25. Web enhancement, Dungeon #132 (Mar 2006).
  26. Vecna & Running Epic Bad Guys (Running the Game #50), Matt Colville
  27. Dragon #371 (Jan 2009), p.62.
  28. Planescape: Torment/Items (The Cutting Room Floor). Retrieved 2020-09-10.
  29. Planescape: Torment Mods (Sorcerer's Place). Retrieved 2020-09-10.
  30. "It is said to have been behind the sundering of the Conclave of Tyssis-on-the-Sea, which led to the three-cycle war that poisoned the seas of Malhatai and left the oceanic world barren of life. On the ashen Plane of Ghalentir, it possessed the gentle father of Sasaran, a babe with the potential to lead his suffering people from their shadowed lands to the Gates of Paradise... had not the eye droven Sasaran's father to murder his son as he lay sleeping in his crib. All these kingdoms, all of these futures, the Eye of Vecna laid waste." - The Eye of Vecna, Planescape: Torment.
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