Stranger Things is a show steeped in Dungeons & Dragons lore. So much so that rabid fans of the fantasy role-playing game often spot easter eggs planted specifically for them in each season. You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to understand the basic gist of things like The Upside Down and Demogorgons — the show does a good enough job of explaining them while setting up the bigger storylines centered around Hawkins — but that kind of knowledge definitely helps, especially when it comes to sussing out the show’s next big bad.
After making use of Demogorgons, Demodogs, and Mindflayers, Stranger Things needed a new villain. One that felt even more terrifying. One that could raise hell in Hawkins, literally. And, if you happen to be a long-time D&D player, you know Vecna definitely fits that bill. Let’s break down who this mind-melting terrorist is and why he’s got it out for our favorite group of cosplaying weirdos.
To understand why Vecna is so frightening we first need to dig into some Dungeons & Dragons lore about a group of undead spellcasters called liches. Once mages, these typically evil beings have found a twisted way to secure their immortality through necromancy, storing their souls in something called a phylactery — an object like an amulet or a rune-covered box that holds some kind of meaning for the lich. It’s basically D&D’s version of a Horcrux and destroying it is the only way to guarantee a Lich won’t reform once killed. Liches have some spine-chilling abilities too. They’re practically immune to disease and decay, terribly difficult to kill, and often wield an unequaled mastery of sorcery thanks to their extremely long lifespans and their ability to retain their memories and personalities in death.
Vecna is hailed as one of the greatest villains in D&D history, appearing in the earliest versions of the game as a god-lich that you simply didn’t mess around with. A student of magic and powerful wizard in his own right, Vecna became a lich, then a god who was motivated by an all-consuming need for power and a personal quest for vengeance. He destroyed entire cities to get both as few of his enemies posed any real threat to his unlimited magical abilities. He’s described as a desiccated corpse missing his left hand and eye — two artifacts that become powerful tools for those willing to cut off body parts to harness them.
Vecna In Stranger Things
Now, it’s likely some (if not all) of Vecna’s D&D backstory is going to get scrapped when it comes to his role in season four. The Duffer Brothers seem to like tease random monsters and storylines from the popular role-playing game without completely co-opting characters and plot points so while their version of Vecna borrows the same name and possibly similar abilities, he’s not a carbon copy of the D&D villain.
That being said, the show is really leaning into the horror element of the character as he operates in the shadow world of The Upside Down. Demonic possession, paralyzing hallucinations, and an army of undead humans to protect him. That all fits the bill of what we know about this creep. He’s certainly a smarter, more calculating bad guy than the Stranger Things characters have faced before, and he seems to be selective of his victims in a way that’s particularly unnerving. Still, there has to be a way to destroy him and, if we’re borrowing from the character’s D&D origins for it, that might mean there’s an object Vecna’s storing his soul in that the kids need to be on the lookout for.
Whoever this version of Vecna is, he’s the most formidable villain the show has introduced so far and that should terrify all of us.
Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ returns on May 27.