L is for “Lich”

LLiches were mostly unknown outside Dungeons & Dragons until we discovered what a horcrux was during Harry Potter’s sixth book. Voldemort, tha main antagonist, is a dark wizard who separates his soul from his body using magic, and then imbues these soul fragments into various objects, creatures, and people. He is thereafter unkillable until said vessels are destroyed, making him and his horcruxes very similar to the concept of a lich and its phylactery. In D&D, a lich is an undead creature, often the result of a transformation, as a powerful magician skilled in necromancy or a king striving for eternal life using spells or rituals to bind his intellect and soul to his phylactery and thereby achieving a form of immortality. Most liches are depicted as being clearly cadaverous, bodies desiccated or completely skeletal. Unlike most undead creatures, a lich retains independent thought and is usually at least as intelligent as it was prior to its transformation. The first apparition of a lich in the D&D game was in the Greyhak booklet, written by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz in 1976.

Physical description

Liches look generally gaunt and skeletal with withered flesh stretched tight across horribly visible bones, but could vary greatly in appearance depending on their age and access to illusion magic. Some appeared as skeletons dressed in regal finery, yet others might appear to be nothing more than lepers. Bright pinpoints of crimson light burned in the empty sockets of those whose eyes had been destroyed or otherwise lost or were so old they had simply rotted away. Liches often don’t have lips or the necessary organs to produce natural speech, but they have the ability to project speech from their mouths magically, moving the jaw (if present) to aid the illusion they are actually speaking.

Chromatic Lantern
“Chromatic Lantern”, by Yeong-Hao Han

The Lich’s Phylactery

The process of achieving lichdom requires the spellcaster to construct a powerful magical artifact in which to store its life essence. As long as this object is unharmed, the lich is in fact immortal and is able to reassemble from it if ever vanquished. It is usual for this reason to heavly protect this artifact using traps. I’ve discussed in a previous article some details about the phylacteries.

In Eberron

Proably the most well known/unknown lich in the world of Eberron is Erandis Vol, usually known as Lady Vol or “The Lich Queen”. She is the last heir of the House of Vol, the elven bloodline that bore the Mark of Death. Born to an elven mother and a dragon father, Erandis was the hope of many to end the war between the dragons and elves. She is believed dead by most, but was brought back as a lich and is secretly the leader of both the Blood of Vol and the Emerald Claw. Even if she is the only person who bears the Mark of Death, she cannot use its powers because she’s not alive.

She was given stats in 4E, representing her current state. If she achieves her apotheosis, becoming the Queen of Death, her powers will rival those of gods and bring about an apocalypse for the elves and dragons.

In your campaign

Use a lich as the ultimate challenge after a megadungeon, or use its phylactery as the reason your players broke into one. I always find illogical to protect treasure with traps, unless the person who keeps them has a way to avoid them; this doesn’t apply to phylacteries, as liches never have to reach them again and probably are not modest enough to think they can be beaten down. Always remember liches are smart: yours should have a getaway plan always in place just in the rare occurrence something gets dangerous.

One Comment Add yours

  1. I have to admit that I have never played the Eberron campaign setting or any non-video D&D game – except the Lord of the Rings card game. I used to play the Sword Coast RPGs though so remember liches from there, I think. Plus in games from the Might & Magic series and in Perfect World.

    [My A to Z post was https://rolandclarke.com/2018/04/13/l-is-for-lotro/ – origin of video games is my theme.]

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