Lich

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Liches (from Leiche, German for "corpse") are spellcasters, typically necromancers who have mastered their self proclaimed 'art' to cross the line between life and death, becoming undead creatures of immense mystical power. After decades of research, practice, gathering of rare-materials, spell components and forbidden dark-lore, a Lich to-be performs a ritual that extracts the soul/'life force' from it's body and places it in a phylactery. This object, often in narrative is usually an ornament of value to the Lich in it's past life, barring that- it's usually appearance-wise on par with the like of a reliquary, a small sealed box with bindings on it with varied iconography, sometimes with an item inside. This transformation process in tabletop tradition is left vague but given implication it is an evil act- though many sources have gone on to explain and detail the likes of such a transformation.

After culminating the ritual with the caster's death and sometimes a brief period of inactivity following reanimation- the Lich comes to be. The Lich sports the unique benefits that the undead are privy to, and should the lich's physical body ever be destroyed, It will reform at the phylactery- though in older works- this has been limited to the concept of possessing actively present corpses to return to unlife, and this is possible so long as the phylactery remains intact. This makes liches nice persistent foes for a DM to throw at an adventuring party. Other benefits of lichdom include the ability to (un)live without eating or sleeping, giving the lich that much more time to 'get things done', though in some cases there is a type of maintenance that must be performed by the Lich for it to retain its hold on the world of the living, and in addition the Phylactery offers protection against various magics and effects that could be used to harm the soul.

The ritual/ceremony for becoming a lich (and many other applications of necromancy) tend to involve sacrificing innocents, trafficking with evil outsiders, using a freshly cut out heart of a sentient being, desecrating holy ground to perform the 'art', abusing the souls of the dead, worshiping evil gods, and generally being a bigger dickhead version of Prometheus in the grand cosmic scale- often with all of these examples playing into one another, so it's a given that in various mediums liches are generally of evil alignment, especially certain since the proceeds to this state of being also accommodate the fact that turning into an undead creature tends to erase mortal trappings and turns its subject into something more akin to an unfeeling uncaring machine.

But- a person who neither eats nor sleeps, dies or fatigues can certainly do a lot of good seeing as it is part of a fantasy genre where magic benefits others. Liches with all time in the world, continuously developing magic in a state of pure academia, taking the arcane to heights unreachable in measurable generations. Depending on the setting, it may be possible to become a lich without doing anything irredeemably evil (or even mean-spirited) for the good of all. And even in some settings where Lichdom is in the general standing of- if the local citizens hear of it, an army is raised to combat it- because it is that much of a social taboo, there do exist good variants of this Undead creature.

To note- Phylactery use does not explicitly mean or make a Lich- a Lich- as this is fiction and at the most strained view of the concept, a Lich is fundamentally an undead/undead-like spellcaster who has extended their lifespan via unnatural means. Extended from this, unnatural may constitute unholiness or otherwise, something about the being that clearly earns it its name, due to it being a walking withered corpse missing its eyes, in place, unnatural glowing pinpoint lights in the eyesockets presenting to an onlooker clear negative visual stimuli.

Liches in Dungeons and Dragons[edit]

A rare example of a female lich.

Liches have always been a staple of Dungeons and Dragons, following through the tabletop system and its settings and editions continuously up to the 5th edition as a part of the lore as deities, adversaries, characters in novels, and more with later editions featured as playable options for players seeking means to retire his/her characters ingame- through OD&D-AD&D to 2e, and 3.5, liches have followed a progressive evolution in form, functionality and inclusion, peaking at 3.5 before 4e came in and returned the state of this creature to its older rules and regulations in the first edition, as an evil undead creature that maintains its imperfect immortality through the consumption of souls.

Back in 2e D&D, liches came in multiple types depending on what kind of magic was used to create them. Your common lich was a former wizard, with separate stats in other splats for clerical, bardic and psionic liches.

Liches in Pathfinder[edit]

Like most 3.5 OGL monsters, Liches are relatively unchanged in Pathfinder except for system wide changes, but they have some minor tweaks in a few areas. The one change to the template itself is that lich no longer have d12 HD for everything and instead, like all undead in Pathfinder, they can now use their Charisma score instead of their non-existent Constitution to determine bonus hit points per level. With a Charisma of 14 before transformation, this works out to the same, with a Sorcerer, Bard or Oracle entry being even bulkier. In the PC's favor is that lich are no longer immune to polymorph effects except their own.

Fluff wise they are also near identical with one major change: The ritual to become a Lich is unique to every individual and must be researched but is pretty much always evil. Since D&D was incredibly vague on this subject, even beyond OGL, other than that it was absolutely something that made you Evil aligned this doesn't change much. One consequence of this is that people can become part lich by accident as shown by one Oracle curse.

Liches in Warcraft and World of Warcraft[edit]

While Liches existed before the Third War, the most notable and possibly the first Lich of the setting is the Lich King, created by the demon Kil'jaeden after merging the tortured soul of the former Warchief and shaman Ner'zhul into a set of armor and the runeblade Frostmourne, then encasing it inside a magical ice-crystal.

Other Liches, like Kel'thuzad, are usually former necromancers who impressed the Lich King in some way to be resurrected as giant, magic skeletons rather than some sword fodder zombie that can cast spells. Kel'thuzad, for instance, was resurrected by Arthas for his magical know-how as well as his part in killing the majority of the largest human nation for undead soldiers; Arthas was only able to resurrect a soul like Kel's after invading the elven nation of Quel'thalas and using the magical waters of their Sunwell (with a bit help from the demon Tichondrius). After this, they both go on to create more liches, both from orcs and humans, but how is rather unclear. A few bits of information states that one has to commit suicide, and the involvement of a higher being (Lich King or Kel'thuzad for example) is necessary for their ascension.

It should also be noted that the first sapient undead of the setting were the Death Knights created by Gul'dan, which shared a similar process of creation with the mainstray lich. The soul of an orc warlock was sealed within a gem, and that gem was then placed on the body of a slain human knight. The process was fueled by the sacrifice of a few dozen orc necrolytes.

It is also possible to become a Lich independent of the Lich King, as shown with two existing Liches in Warcraft, one being Gunther Arcanus, a forsaken that you can meet who keeps to himself, and the other a part of the canonized quest to obtain Ashbringer, who became a Lich post mortem using a quite brilliant method that you should check out.

Liches are seen as evil by both the Horde and the Alliance.

Liches in Mythology[edit]

Russian mythology brings us Koschei the deathless, an archetypal lich with a rather original way of storing his phylactery. Koschei's soul (or the moment of his death, depending on who you ask) is hidden in a needle, which is hidden in an egg, which is hidden in a hare, which is hidden in a duck; all of this in a locked chest buried under a tree on the Russian equivalent of Atlantis. Aside from his original fusion of magical, culinary, and geographic defenses, he also differs from most liches in that he kidnaps princesses instead of studying magic all the time like a fucking nerd. Is the namesake for Kostchtchie.

Liches in the Elder Scrolls[edit]

Liches & their Variants[edit]

Basic Lich[edit]

3.5's Lich and his Phylactery

The common lich we all come to know through the Monster Manual. Said to be made by committing an evil act left up to the GM- but in later publications throughout each edition is always given actual detail that is either looked over in later publications- or used, causing additional and sometimes conflicting fluff- and said fluff evolved through the first edition until 3.5, before 4e & 5e took a step back to 1e. Is only possible for non humanoids to become this lich through patronage to Orcus, Demon Prince/Lord of the Undead- bar certain races who have a variant of their own. There is also a rule in savage species which says this lich can be good, at the expense of no longer having a fear aura, and needing to go through a ritual of alignment to retain it's original alignment or making a will save prior to transformation to avoid moving towards the alignment of the average Lich- though given what happens as a part of the ritual/transformation becoming evil is almost unavoidable.

Archlich[edit]

Archmage 1st, lich 2nd, introduced in Spelljammer, having lessened spellcasting capacity depending on edition, later becoming a Epic Destiny in 4e, the archlich is the mentor of mages past it's twilight years, moving on to higher levels of knowledge, cheating death, and the hungry evils of the lower planes that would seek to claim it's soul. Nothing is stopping the zealous from trying to purge their 'oh so benevolent' not-evil asses, mind you. Well, clerics can't turn them, though it's not like immunity isn't mistaken for resistance- oops. As the answer to the question of "/tg/! /tg/! can there be good liches?" they're pretty rare, often out the way retirees of the intrigues of mortal planes. Despite this, in the face of threat from higher undead controllers, the archlich is kind of a downgrade from a regular evil lich, as they can't obtain the goodies a lich would obtain in Van Richten's Guide to the Lich, and demilichdom is out of the question too. They still get to cast spells as a generalist & specialist- technically. Another thing that doesn't work in the favor of these would-be good guys is the fact that the term 'Arch-Lich' is often used to describe incredibly powerful liches, Vecna, Acererak & Demios have all been referred to as such. Tough break.

'Good' Lich[edit]

Found in the Libris Mortis, this Lich is immune to turning due to it's good nature, and can turn Undead as a cleric of a level equal to it's hit die. Essentially an anti-lich with the same motivations as say, a Baelnorm or Archlich

Baelnorn[edit]

A good-aligned elf lich, created willingly from an elf who wants to be undead only to guard something very important or who wants to stick around beyond death to keep watch over their family, or is made so by their racial deity. Despite being of good alignment, they're just another reason to hate elves, and they often act as Elven Mossad, covering up the usual cosmic elf fuckup that tends to bite everyone else in the ass in whatever setting they're based in.

Boneclaw[edit]

In fifth edition, boneclaws are the result of a failed attempt to become a lich. If the soul fails to go into the phylactery, it instead binds to a random evil humanoid, whom the boneclaw becomes enslaved to. The boneclaw is permanently destroyed only when the humanoid it is bonded with dies or stops being evil. This connection is a complete 5e retcon; boneclaws first appeared as a fairly generic-fluffed undead mook in the Monster Manual 3 for 3rd edition, and were refluffed an undead construct created by hags, using the assembled carcasses of ogres and trapping the spirit of a slain oni in it for brains/motivation, in 4e's MM1.

Death Knight[edit]

Essentially the gish version of a lich, an undead warrior-wizard. Originally just the next step up from the skeleton warrior by gaining some increased HD and spell-like abilities, they got more lich-like in 4th edition, complete with their chosen weapons doubling as their phylacteries. In 5th, a Death Knight is what happens when an evil paladin dies. Every time they die, they come back again until they atone for their sins. Which is completely optional.

Deathless[edit]

A race of goodly lich-like undead created in 3rd edition for the Eberron setting. They're fueled by Positive Energy rather than Negative Energy and are basically "reverse liches".

Demilich/Demi-Lich[edit]

A lich who derped around for so long that his body is just a flying bit of skeleton (usually a skull) full of soul gems. Despite their small size, they're much nastier than a normal lich; their spellcasting is even stronger, they have oodles of opportunities to cast Soul Trap and bone you, and they like to fly juuuust out of players' easy reach. They are also immune to most spells and magical effects, except for a few holy-powered ones and one derpy second-level spell called shatter that screws them something fierce by blowing out their soul gems. Their lore's flipflopped between editions, going from the next step in lichly evolution to a weakened form caused when a lich either gets too bored with existence (Pathfinder), or fails to eat enough souls. Fifth edition goes both ways, stating that most liches eventually become demiliches after failing to devour enough souls for their phylacteries, but that some like the infamous Acererak prepare for this by fitting their skulls with gems that devour souls while their spirits cruise through different planes of existence in search of greater knowledge.

Dracolich[edit]

Lichified dragons, mostly associated with the crazy Cult of the Dragon from Forgotten Realms who want to create dracoliches to rule the world. They still have phylacteries, but need to possess a dragon's physical remains to come back rather than just regenerating.

Drow[edit]

Drow and Driders got their own lichly variants back in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, due to that ruleset not being able to handle slapping templates on existing creatures.

Dry Lich[edit]

Basically a mummy lich, and the ultimate result of the "walker in the waste" prestige class. Can't be good aligned, but doesn't have to be evil aligned either. They also get some cute Con-draining and desiccating attacks liches don't, and five phylacteries in the form of canoptic jars containing their organs, all on top of getting the template for free as part of their advancement, in addition to acquiring a planar touchstone that provides them with regenerative capabilities.

Fireliches[edit]

They come from the Spelljammer setting and are what happens when an idiot wizard undergoing the lich transition ritual casts a fire spell in the Phlogiston... which is, essentially, an entire dimension full of flammable gas. The result is a cursed undead who basically exists as a giant free-floating sapient fireball with a skull in its center. Said skull is perpetually screaming in pain, as their existence is one of endless burning torment from the fire engulfing their very soul. They have the bad habit of crashing into spelljammers like sapient missiles in a futile attempt to end their tortured unlife.

Grey Shivers[edit]

Spiders that take up residence inside the skulls of destroyed liches, and absorb fragments of the lich's soul, turning them into sapient, spell-casting monsters. Whilst still being little spiders hiding inside skulls.

Illithiliches[edit]

Sometimes synonymous with Alhoons. These are Mind Flayer liches, and the inevitable result of any illithid that chooses to abandon the Elder Brain, as they're all terrified of the idea of ceasing to exist after death. 5e distinguishes them from alhoons, with illithiliches being the much-more-powerful and dangerous version and alhoons being illithids who were not powerful enough to become illithiliches and so took an alternative method of becoming undead to escape death.

Inheritor Liches[edit]

Hailing from the Red Steel setting, they are what happens when one of the local Inheritors turns into a lich.

Master Liches[edit]

Another Spelljammer creation, they were turned into liches by pacts with Demon Princes or Arch-Devils, but then betrayed their master and fled into Wildspace to avoid paying their debt. The big difference is that they don't have a phylactery, but have a fairly potent regeneration ability.

Power Liches[edit]

In the world of Might and Magic, they were the long skirted bone dudes, who were the only shooters of the Necropolis town. And they were such badass shooters. They appeared in Might and magic 7 as well.

Scroll Mummy (Grisgol)[edit]

A construct created by destroying a lich's body and then trapping its phylactery inside of a construct made out of broken magic items and pieces of magic scrolls. The lich will reform in a few days if the Scroll Mummy is destroyed.

Suel Liches[edit]

Originally from Greyhawk, they are a sort of lich-wraith hybrid; in their natural state, they're immaterial beings of pure Negative Energy, the twisted souls of wizards slain by the Rain of Colorless Fire, so they possess living hosts to interact with the world around them. But, said body decays at a rapid pace, until eventually it crumbles into nothing and they gotta grab a new one.

Vassalich[edit]

A lesser form of lich introduced in the Ravenloft setting - mages who couldn't get the mojo to transform themselves, so they sold themselves as slaves to existing liches and became weaker knock-offs. They can turn into real liches, in time, but it's not easy as their masters keep a tight grip on them.

Notable Liches, famous and named[edit]

  • Acererak: Demilich cambion creator of the infamous Tomb of Horrors/Tomb of Annihilation. Apprentice to Vecna who attempted to subvert the will of the plane of negative energy to subsequently control all undead planeswide, failed and became a vestige.
  • Erandis d'Vol: Probably better known as Lady Vol or The Lich Queen (to us at least. Not a lot of people know about her in her setting). She is an NPC in Eberron and is the leader of both the Blood of Vol and the Emerald Claw.
  • Gharnef: The secondary main antagonist in the first Fire Emblem games, made Immortal through the use of his dark tome, Imhullu
  • Kel'Thuzad: disgraced mage of the Kirin Tor turned necromancer and Archlich of the Undead Scourge, and final boss in both versions of Naxxramas from Warcraft and World of Warcraft.
  • Koschei: A character from Slavic folklore who is much older than the concept of a lich but matches the description of one. His phylactery is a needle inside an egg inside a duck inside a hare inside a chest under a tree on a mythical teleporting island. Good luck finding it.
  • The Lich: An absolutely terrifying villain from the goofy world of Adventure Time. Is the personification of a nuclear bomb who seeks the extinction of all life.
  • Larloch: The ancient and powerful Netherese Sorcerer-King of the Forgotten Realms setting, who resides in the Warlock's Crypt within the Troll Hills.
  • Mannimarco, King of Worms: Acclaimed as a the first lich, Sload hero, god, and pioneer of modern necromancy, this High elf necromancer turned terrifying immortal with a globe-spanning influence is a leading narrative force in the world of the elder scrolls as the founding focus of the world-spanning mages guild and is the general prime argument against necromancy in the setting
  • Momonga/Ainz Ooal Gown: Villain protagonist of the Web/Light Novel- Anime & Manga Overlord. A Jap salaryman living in a post failed /pol/ uprising cyberpunk dystopia who got trapped in the body of his MMO Character and sent to another world with all of his minions and belongings, his minions gaining personalities based on their Bio information present in the game, often conflicting with fluff their levels, classes and races were published with- is kind of a merge with Larloch and Ssazz Tam if played by a clueless social shut-in
  • Nagash: First Lich, creator of vampires and the all around evil-badass of Warhammer Fantasy
  • Szass Tam: Zulkir of Thay, lich and a dead-ringer for Ming the Merciless in life, this fellow is the master of Valindra Shadowmantle, the titular Lichess villain of Neverwinter online, Szass tam is the ruler of an entire country, governed by other Zulkirs, featuring an economy of slavery, unique specialist spellcasters, and a standing undead army in search of world domination through any means necessary, namely through use of embassies in other countries to undermine and subvert them, and is the only person in Forgotten Realms to meet with Larloch and strike a working relationship with him. Usually gets into fights with the Harpers and adventurers.
  • Vlaakith CLVII: Lich-queen of the Githyanki, secretly eats the souls of anyone over level 15 in her kingdom as to not be overthrown.
  • Vecna: Lich who became a god and almost came close to rule the DnD Multiverse, as he bypassed the Lady of Pain's wards of preventing gods to enter Sigil. His divine presence in Sigil was enough for the multiverse to start breaking down.
  • Voldemort: Villain of Harry Potter. Although he is never called a lich, he is barely human because of how he split his soul into pieces which are placed in seven objects to keep him alive.
  • Xykon: The Big Bad Evil Guy of the webcomic Order of the Stick, or at least thinks he is. Is an epic level sorcerer planning to take control of a god killing monster. A charming psychopath who misses being able to drink bad coffee.

Monstergirls[edit]

The MGE's take on the lich-as-monstergirl.
LamiaMonstergirl.pngThis article or section is about Monstergirls (or a monster that is frequently depicted as a Monstergirl), something that /tg/ widely considers to be the purest form of awesome. Expect PROMOTIONS! and /d/elight in equal measure, often with drawfaggotry or writefaggotry to match.

Whilst being one of the two most famous free-willed undead - the other being the vampire, unlike their fellow "willful dead", liches are almost never seen in a sexified light. This probably has to do with the fact that, whilst the vampire has both obvious monster traits and a long history of being presented in a darkly eroticized light anyway, a lich is hard to define as anything more than an undead wizard. Not helping is that whilst even non-monstergirl vampires are traditionally portrayed as sexy, voluptuous women with red eyes and elongated canines clad in gothic dresses that flatter their figures, the traditional depiction of a lich is... a skeleton clad in moldering ragged robes. Worse yet, liches are usually depicted as being indifferent to their physical form - even Osterneth, one of the few named female liches of D&D, has her vanity end at plating her bones in bronze and studding them with gemstones.

This, then, presents a would-be monstergirl maker with quite the dilemma: how to actually make a female lich look sexy? Preferably without going the copout of either "they look just like sexy living women, but that's an illusion to disguise that they're skeletons" or "they just look like sexy living women and their lichdom manifests in their powers". Many ultimately go with routes similar to the Flesh Golem or Zombie, relying on a "sexy preserved corpse" or "artifical" theme for the lich's body, representing how the lich's physical form is a shell that it can wear and discard as it likes.

In the Monster Girl Encyclopedia, the lich is presented as just a dead-eyed human woman with corpse-grey skin and an ominous-yet-sexy "wizardly" robe. They are described as being, essentially, pervy female nerds who turned themselves into undead so they could better study and master the diffuse array of perverse applications of magic in their world.

That being said, the titular Magical Girls from Puella Magi Madoka Magica are sometimes jokingly referred to as liches outside of the show. But there are some non trivial differences between them and D&D liches. For example if a D&D lich were to have his phylactery destroyed he would be fine until personally destroyed (and would fail to regenerate as a lich with a functional phylactery would). Magical girls from Madoka Magica on the other hand die instantly if their soul gem is destroyed. Also it seems that Magical Girls do continue to age (as humans do), despite Sayaka's claims of zombie-hood.

See Also[edit]

  • Death Knight, the surprisingly badass fighter version of a Lich.
  • Drew the Lich, a Quest where /tg/ played a lich.
  • The Millennial King, a story and setting inspired by /tg/ speculating on what a good necromancer would be like. To make a long story short: he becomes a lich and leads his kingdom to an era of prosperity with a skeleton-powered industrial revolution.
  • Deep Rot, a skeletal supercomputer constructed by a mad lich.
  • Dreadnought, which, when a Librarian is entombed within, is basically a mecha-lich.
  • Heucuva, the lamer Cleric version of a Lich.
  • Nagash, everyone's favourite Warhammer lich.
  • The Bank of Liches, what happens when a bunch of liches decide to pool their phylacteries in a safe and secure location.
  • Vecna, a god that is a lich.