Conjuring Dungeon & Dragons’ Vecna to life in Dead by Daylight

Behaviour Interactive has brought many iconic horror icons to Dead by Daylight, allowing players to play as or outwit them in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Most recently, the team worked with Wizards of the Coast to stimulate the iconic Vecna from his crypts in Dungeons & Dragons to the fog, where this powerful Lich hunts down victims on behalf of the Entity. 

The collaboration between Dead by Daylight and Dungeons & Dragons empowers players with the chance to play as Vecna, the first magically empowered Killer. We spoke with Senior Creative Director Dave Richard and Principal Game Designer Janick Neveu from Behaviour Interactive to discuss how the team brought this collaboration to life.

Vecna in Dead by Daylight
Vecna in all his undead glory before hunting down Survivors. Image via Behaviour Interactive.

“There were a few rules [Behaviour Interactive] wanted to follow for the whole Dungeons & Dragons chapter,” Richard explained, detailing the work Behaviour. “The first one was really nailing the juxtaposition of a fantasy world and the dark, horrific world of Dead by Daylight. How could we use all the elements we expect out of Dungeons & Dragons and translate them into something more grounded, horrific, and visceral? The second was bringing the chaotic aspect of a D&D game.”

Translating an open-ended tabletop fantasy game into a cat-and-mouse horror game is a complicated challenge. Almost anything can happen in Dungeons & Dragons if the players or the dungeon master controlling the story imagines it. Player agency is key, and the Behaviour team did their best to integrate this level of control by having Survivors face off against Vecna through elements from a classic Dungeons & Dragons game. 

Behavior approached this by providing a pivotal mechanic to the Survivors: lootable chests with magical items. Rather than giving everything to the Killer, the Survivors can unlock various unique items exclusively when battling against Vecna, but these bonuses are left to the fate of rolling 20-side dice. These dice rolls are iconic to Dungeons & Dragons, and the team wanted players to feel like they were building up a range of magical items to face off against an equally powerful magical Killer. For Neveu and his team, this was an impactful way players could connect with their characters and tackle a powerful Killer like Vecna, but it was important these tools didn’t overpower him.

Vecna looking to the side and holding his hand up clenched in a fist in Dead by Daylight.
Vecna unleashing his power against unsuspecting Survivors. Image via Behaviour Interactive

“We tried to think about how we could make this progress feel like playing in a Dungeons & Dragons game,” Neveu said. The chests are the appropriate augmentation for a Dead by Daylight match and serve as a chaotic element for Survivors to battle against, as much as they’re trying to avoid Vecna. “We tried to be very careful with these effects. The bracers protect you against the projectile. They don’t make you invincible to these powers, but they give you an edge.”

Players need every edge they can get when facing off against a Killer, especially one like Vecna. In Dungeons & Dragons, he’s a villain who has achieved godhood and is an arcane master with a wealth of spells he can unleash. While the entity dulls Vecna’s powers modestly to keep him in check within the fog, selecting the correct spells fit the setting and the core pillar of tapping into the grounded aesthetic of Dead by Daylight.

Rather than focus on the dazzling spells of fireball or lightning bolt, the team looked at the darker spells available to Vecna. The team picked out ones that fit him by going through his stat block well before the official announcement and selecting the best choices that celebrated the character and made him unique to Dead by Daylight. Although there are only four choices in the final release, Vecna originally started with 10 spells.

Vecna unleashing magic against Survivors in Dead by Daylight.
Vecna using Flight of the Damned against Survivors. Image via Behaviour Interactive.

Neveu discussed how the team’s initial gameplay of Vecna gave him up to 10 spells to use against Survivors. The choice, however, was cut down to six, then four, as too many options could overwhelm the player, and some of these spells served the same purpose. For example, the team gave Vecna invisibility, but it had a similar effect for players who used Fly, which was a way to close the distance to a Survivor.

“When you have too many choices, it’s not enough for players to act,” Neveu explained. “We really tried to shrink down, and we had to focus on the four of them and make them as valuable as possible.” It’s a quality-over-quantity approach, and some Dungeons & Dragons players who typically play spellcasters may appreciate this, since their sheet can become overloaded with spells as they gradually level up when playing a Sorcerer, Warlock, or a Wizard.

It’s also a unique way for the Behaviour team to focus on primarily using utility spells rather than damaging ones. Those types of spells spoke to Richard, as the team quickly identified how they wanted to give Vecna creative, utility spells. “The fun that comes from playing a Wizard in D&D is not the basic, damaging spell,” Richard detailed with an experienced grin. “It’s using the spells with utility effect in scenarios you did not expect. Mage hand, for me, was that best level zero spell you can use at any time in marvelous ways in gameplay scenarios. Adding it as a part of an ultra-powerful Wizard as Vecna made more sense than a death word spell.”

The spells themselves, graphically, also reflect the horror factor of Dead by Daylight. They drip with the gruesome, stomach-churning mechanics as the other Killers featured in the game’s horror-filled roster, and for Richard, it was difficult to admit it was time to bring magic to the game. Internally, Richard didn’t want to permit proper magic in the game for a Killer or a Survivor.

Vecna shrouded in darkness in Dead by Daylight
Prepare to be hunted by Vecna, and dodging the many spells at this disposal. Image via Behaviour Interactive

“It’s an inside joke,” Richard admitted. “For years, I’ve told the team, ‘No magic, magic is taboo, we don’t do magic.’ Of course, going with D&D, we had to. I had to correct that way of saying no magic.”

Richard still holds to that rule but has now switched it up to no “flashy” magic. He believes there’s a way to do supernatural magic in a horror setting that keeps true to that genre without going down that path. Those were also a large inspiration for Vecna’s spells.

Bringing Vecna to life also had to come from his appearance, and using a voice that had to resonate with the Dead by Daylight community. The team received an early look at Vecna’s appearance from Wizards of the Coast, and the team worked well to bring an undead Lich to life. Still, the voice had to fit this Dungeons & Dragons collaboration perfectly. There was no choice when it came down to it, as bringing Matthew Mercer on for the role felt like the correct puzzle piece for the team. Mercer has been the notable dungeon master behind the popular Critical Role series and has done many other voice roles throughout video games.

Much like the Dungeons & Dragons collaboration, the process happened organically for the team. “At some point, we had the question, ‘Hey, who’s going to voice Vecna?’ It has to be Matt Mercer, of course,” Richard said. “It makes so much sense for the Dungeons & Dragons community. He’s really the voice of Vecna already, having voiced them in his campaign so often.”

Vecna's empowered armor in Dead by Daylight
Vecna has a wide arsenal available to him. Image via Behaviour Interactive

The arrival of Vecna to Dead by Daylight is a great opportunity for the development team to push their boundaries and further explore how they can bring unique horror takes to their game. Behaviour Interactive continues to flip the expectations of their player base, and the Dungeons & Dragons collaboration gave the team a chance for a unique approach that I’m excited to see them expand on in future chapters, with adding chests, items, and magic-based abilities for a Killer.

Neveu was initially hesitant about the Dungeons & Dragons collaboration and how it could fit into this horror game. But it all came down to the dedication of the team and their focus on bringing it to life that made it all click.

“I’m an old-school Dungeons and Dragons fan,” Neveu shared, sitting in front of his Mortal Kombat 2 and custom-built arcade cabinet. “Not so much the past few years because I have kids, and board games are more my time. I still buy new books and keep up to date with the new rules. But I wasn’t sold on D&D, and how it would fit. ‘How was it going to work? What’s the connection between the horror?’ It was a big challenge in itself, and we made it work. I’m really happy about this.”

It has never been a better time to be a Dungeons & Dragons fan or a player, and the same goes for Dead by Daylight. Horror is alive and well within the gaming community, and bridging a gap between these two franchises meant a lot to those who enjoy playing the game and the ones who developed it. It feels fitting how one of the greatest Dungeons & Dragons villains, Vecna, could unite everyone as he goes out to conquer all realities in his latest adventure, Vecna Eve of Ruin. The Dead by Daylight team had a great time with this Chapter, and it shows and offers teases on what the team might cook up for the next Chapter, especially as they tackle Castlevania as one of their next projects.

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