Fixing "Don't Say Vecna"

Motivation and problem statement: WotC's 20th level Vecna adventure (Free Level 20 D&D Adventure: Face Off Against Vecna in an Epic Battle in 'Don’t Say Vecna!') is kind of terrible, but I want to use it anyway as an onboarding ramp to teach D&D players how to play Dungeon Fantasy, not least because I can give them the WotC version after the adventure so they can compare their experience to how things would have turned out in 5E's ruleset.

One of the biggest problems with the module though has nothing to do with rule system and everything to do with roleplaying. The adventure doesn't really have any hooks! It spends a small amount of design energy on explaining the backstory of three NPC scholars in the adventure, and essentially zero energy on reasons why the PCs should care about getting involved.

Every time I've tried to find a way to run it for my regular players, I've instantly hit a roadblock: I can't even imagine what reason I can give the players for why they should go in to the obviously dangerous, maybe haunted tower, beyond "it's there." Even if I start them in medias res inside the tower, the sensible thing for them to do is to leave. I need a hook!

I think I've got one now though. Two opposing hooks actually, with a twist.

Prereq: one or more 250+ point dungeon delvers (i.e. starting characters are okay since beating Vecna is not a mandatory goal)

Scenario hooks: a scary patron a la Scrogo or Lady Aimara (Dungeon Fantasy Companion 2) has learned that a trio of wizard hermits have a lead on a powerful magical artifact, an undead prosthetic hand fashioned from the remains of a great archmage of ancient memory whose name shall not be spoken. Aimara or Scrogo wants the PCs to find the wizards, trick them out of the info or pay for it ($50,000 are provided; PCs can keep whatever is unspent as a reward), and bring back the wizardhand artifact, in exchange for favors and rewards. (If pressed, another $50K would not be too much to promise.) The employer issues a threat though: do not even THINK about keeping the wizardhand for yourselves, or you will have the rest of your lives to regret the betrayal.

Before the delvers depart however, another secretive offer is made by a rival organization such as the Veiled Alliance or the Justice Underground: "please, please, do NOT give the wizardhand to anyone, especially [Aimara or Scrogo]. Destroy it, and you'll be recompensed in any way we can, with knowledge or favors or backup when you need it."

In any case, when the player characters reach the wizard tower, things are not as peaceful and scholarly as they were led to expect. In fact, the area around the tower is crackling with dangerous magical energies, no one is answering the door, and the atmosphere gives you the major creeps. It turns out that someone else is also interested in the hermit wizards' research about where to find the Hand...

Notes

The actual adventure can pretty much be played straight, but this way players, Vecna, and the hermit wizards all have clear motivations for what they're doing, or not doing as the case may be. (If the players turn round and skedaddle immediately, at least the GM knows what to do next: have the PCs arrested, disarmed, and perhaps imprisoned by an angry patron, but new allies also smuggle in weapons and/or try to help them break out of prison! And the patron still wants the Hand and may still want the players to get it.)

Parleying with Vecna should be the main focus of actually meeting him. Not just a fight, because frankly Vecna doesn't even particularly care if you kill his body, although that will certainly get you added to his Naughty list for when the time comes.

Stabbing him the eye sockets should get you an annoyed "stop that and listen closely."

Incidentally, Deathtouch for 6d as suggested in DF Monsters for liches is a fairly weak move. Instead, Vecna's goto move will be to find the most dangerous fighter in the party (Half-ogre Swashbuckler or whatever) and crush his mind like a beer can with Charm-25, and then have him start cutting down the others.
 

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The adventure doesn't really have any hooks! It spends a small amount of design energy on explaining the backstory of three NPC scholars in the adventure, and essentially zero energy on reasons why the PCs should care about getting involved.
Per the adventure's character creation section:
"The characters are seasoned adventurers researching the disappearance of Cientia Tower. They should have an interest in uncovering the secrets found in the wizard tower. For example, they may have a connection to one of the missing scholars or be burdened by fleeting visions of horror."

If this is being run as its own campaign then players should be designing characters inclined to pursue this particular adventure. And really, players know in a one shot that you accept the hook given and pursue it, because if you don't there is no game and it doesn't really matter if your character who only exists for this particular outing lives or dies. That's presumably why the authors made minimal effort to provide motivation.

Obviously if you are folding it into some sort of ongoing campaign it becomes very different. I would recommend making an established NPC whom the party is invested in or a character from someone's character backstory into one of the lost scholars. Alternatively have the MacGuffin for some other quest they are on be in the tower.
 

If this is being run as its own campaign then players should be designing characters inclined to pursue this particular adventure. And really, players know in a one shot that you accept the hook given and pursue it, because if you don't there is no game and it doesn't really matter if your character who only exists for this particular outing lives or dies. That's presumably why the authors made minimal effort to provide motivation.
It's a roleplaying game though, or at least is supposed to be one. "Why are you still here?" needs to have an in-character answer.

Asking players to accept the hook of "find info about the Hand and retrieve it for me... Or Else" is less of a stretch than asking them to accept the hook "go play in a murderous murdering murderhouse because plot." I wouldn't feel comfortable asking my players to do the latter. It's too difficult to roleplay.
 

One of the biggest problems with the module though has nothing to do with rule system and everything to do with roleplaying. The adventure doesn't really have any hooks! It spends a small amount of design energy on explaining the backstory of three NPC scholars in the adventure, and essentially zero energy on reasons why the PCs should care about getting involved.

Who needs a hook? Frankly, regardless of setting or system, I very rarely use the hook as presented. The hook is what binds a scenario to your campaign, and should be constructed with the specific players in mind.

And every GM should be willing to lie.

Need a gadget? Its in the tower! Missing loved one? In the tower! Ominous portents and sooths? Point to the tower!

And you'll have at least one PC who would sell his granny to cannibals if the price is right, so guess what's in the tower? Treasure! Lots of Treasure! Diamonds as big as your fist!

Vecna is a forward-thinker, a motivated go-getter. In his long lifetime, he's made lots of enemies, and are the sort who will happily point adventuring types towards the Big V just for harassment's sake, or on the off-chance they'll get lucky. They'll arrange for dreams, portents, onmens, and interesting NPCs to pont thev Pcs towards the Tower.

The PCs are 20th level, so in their career of self-improvement via semi-random violence, they'll have left a trail of foiled enemies and bitter next-of-kin in their wake, any of whom would be more than happy to spread rumors and forged tomes that suggest that the PCs are being targeted by...the ones in The Tower!

Hooks are just manipulation to bend your players to the campaign. You know what your players want, so let their desires lead them where you want them to go, without their realizing they're being led.
 

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