We’re getting closer to the premiere of Stranger Things season 4! We know that the new season, debuting May 27, brings a new Big Bad from the Upside Down to Hawkins. And, following the footsteps of the Demogorgon who stalked our young heroes in the first season, this creature shares a name with a classic villain from Dungeons & Dragons: Vecna.
The Whispered One. The Undying King. The Lord of the Rotted Tower. (That last one really brings to mind the Upside Down, doesn’t it?) Vecna goes by many names. The archmage turned lich turned lesser god is not someone you want to face, even with an adventuring party at your side. What’s the history of the Vecna, the lich lord in D&D, and what might it mean for the heroes of Stranger Things?
The History of Vecna in Dungeons & Dragons Lore
Vecna has been terrorizing D&D parties since the first edition of the game and has appeared in every edition since. Well, more accurately, his body parts have. The Eye of Vecna and the Hand of Vecna are the only artifacts—unique magic items—that have been in each edition’s Dungeon Master’s Guide. To wield these cursed but powerful objects, the character must sacrifice their own hand or eye and replace it with Vecna’s withered body part. Respect.
After his appearance in the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, the lich lord went on to star in his very own AD&D modules in the 1990s in the Greyhawk campaign setting: Vecna Lives!, Vecna Reborn, and Die Vecna Die! (You can still buy, read, and play these second edition adventures thanks to the Dungeon Masters Guild.)
In the current fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the Hand and Eye of Vecna again appear in the Dungeon Masters’ Guide as wondrous items, along with a few details about their erstwhile owner:
Orcus, the demon prince of undeath, taught Vecna a ritual that would allow him to live on as a lich. Beyond death, he became the greatest of all liches. Even though his body gradually withered and decayed, Vecna continued to expand his evil dominion. So formidable and hideous was his temper that his subjects feared to speak his name…
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount expands more on the lich lord’s dominion as a lesser god. He’s the god of necromancy and undeath in the official Critical Role adventure setting. At the end of Critical Role’s first campaign, the renowned Vox Machina defeated the Whispered One, although his hand and eye ere taken in a twist of betrayal.
The Vecna of Stranger Things 4
So, what could this all foreshadow for the creature named Vecna in Stranger Things? While Vecna of the Upside Down might not necessarily a god, he definitely has the air of undeath around him. Stranger Things’ Vecna, like the rest of the Upside Down, is shadowy and… gooey. Rather than a skeletal, ethereal lich like his namesake, this Vecna appears solid and subterranean, covered in soggy plant and organic matter. He’s also unquestionably human-shaped, unlike the monstrous creatures that have attacked the heroes of Hawkins thus far. (Vecna was almost completely created using practical effects rather than CGI.)
Vecna is related to the new Stranger Things 4 character played by Robert Englund, Victor Creel, although details are scarce. Creel’s story is “pivotal” to Hawkins and its inhabitants, co-creator Ross Duffer said in an Entertainment Weekly interview. And when Will and friends finally encounter this big bad, chances are it will be on his home turf. “[We] spend more time in the Upside Down than any other season. It’s not even close,” Duffer told IGN.
Additionally, IGN notes that Vecna is “a sentient villain that they [the Duffer Brothers] call their version of a Pennywise, Pinhead, or Freddy Krueger.” Of course, the aforementioned Victor Creel is played by Robert Englund who also played Freddy Krueger, making the comparison especially interesting.
Executive producer Shawn Levy also shares with the publication, “Season 4 required a villain unlike any before. And it needed to be more than a creature, more than an evil cloud of particulate. It needed to be a humanoid villain with more depth, more dimension, and far more evil. That’s what Vecna is.”
So, is the Stranger Things version of Vecna undead? Was he once human, like Vecna of D&D, until he was twisted into a monster? Stranger Things season 4 asks these questions and more and seems poised to deliver some big answers. Find out May 27 when the new season premieres on Netflix.
Kelly Knox is a pop culture and entertainment writer in the Seattle area. Her next book, Be More Obi-Wan, says “hello there” in July 2022. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk Star Wars, pop culture, and bad dad jokes.