Dungeons and Dragons Liches
Fear the Lich and why they are dangerous.

Eternal life. It is a lofty goal, one sought by many. Few, however, possess the ability to achieve it, and fewer still are willing, desperate, or mad enough to pay the price. Those few who do may, through various roads, attain lichdom.

Liches hold an almost-legendary status in common myth, like dragons, as beings so far outside the average experience that they may as well not exist, so small are the chances of ever encountering one. While stories of eternal monarchs ruling as gods on earth may have their roots in the occasional lich who takes an interest in human affairs, they could just as likely be spun from the propaganda of some forgotten empire. Destroying a phylactery (or something resembling a phylactery in all but name) is a common quest for heroes of legend though, rather than the blood and ritual scrolls of reality, said item might contain the creature’s still-beating heart, or something similarly fanciful.

Liches are, invariably, powerful magic users who, through foul craft, have prevented their souls from passing to the afterlife by use of phylacteries. Most liches were learned and studious in life, coming upon the necessary rituals through decades of study and experimentation, but this is not the only path. Other liches may have been influential cultists, wielding the power of evil gods or even demon lords. Though it is more common for such people to be consumed, or at least controlled, by their master in death, some are able to strike bargains or twist their allotted power to lichdom. Rarer still are blight liches, who manage to pervert the magic of nature itself into fuelling their unlife. The multifaceted deities of nature seem united in their hatred for undeath, and it takes a singularly powerful individual to so confound them.

The rituals themselves vary in detail, much as the different practitioners of magic differ in the details of their craft. Most commonly, the would-be lich spends years on preparatory rites, gradually embalming their own body in a similar manner to mummification, while also regularly performing rituals (or continually performing one enormous ritual of many stages – reports differ), binding a portion of their soul to the mortal realm within a phylactery, an object used as a vessel to store and protect the soul fragment. The preparations culminate in the imbibing of a magical poison while also sacrificing a living soul. It is believed that the lich’s partial soul and that of the sacrifice, passing on at the same moment, allows the portion the lich has tethered to remain unnoticed by the higher powers.

The nature of the sacrifice seems almost a matter of personal taste. For some, it is a simple means to an end, using whatever being can be procured most expediently. Others view the sacrifice as an integral part of the ritual, forever tying the two souls together, and will only bestow this dubious honor on a person of importance, whether it be a faithful servant, or a hated rival. The patron of a profane lich might require their sacrifice be a loved one, as a test of faith, while blight liches might ensure their sacrifice’s blood is drunk by the thirsting roots of a twisted tree.

A phylactery commonly takes the form of a large locket or small chest, though any container will serve the purpose if properly prepared along with the lich’s preparation of its own body. At the very least, the phylactery must contain some of the lich’s blood, though small scrolls of binding and warding (sometimes written in said blood) are common as well. This preparation makes a phylactery more durable than appearances might suggest, and it takes powerful magic to truly destroy one. Only the most confident or foolhardy lich wears or displays their phylactery openly; most keep them sealed away separately, commonly behind several layers of traps, within a remote location, or even a bespoke pocket-dimension.

Doubtless, most liches would make their phylacteries truly inaccessible were it not for the need to keep them fuelled with fresh souls. The fragment of the lich contained within the phylactery constantly feels the pull of the ethereal, the inexorable call towards death, which all bodiless souls experience as the proper way of things. Sacrificed souls bolster the phylactery, forming a cage from which escape is impossible.

Without a supply of souls to sustain it, a lich will begin to deteriorate both physically and mentally, losing what limited grip it had on sanity to begin with as its soul fragment begins to bleed into the afterlife. However, as the physical shell weakens, the magic holding it together begins to exude, increasing the lich’s potency, though diminishing their fine control over it. Some liches intentionally delay the necessary sacrifices in order to maintain this heightened power as long as possible. A soul will fuel the phylactery for roughly the duration of the individual’s remaining lifespan, so the soul of a young elf would be of far greater value than that of, for example, an elderly human.

Liches tend toward self-importance and grandiosity. Secure in the knowledge that they shall remain in this form for eternity, and keen to ensure that eternity is spent in comfort, most liches construct grand domiciles for themselves either before commencing their transformation ritual, or over the course of centuries afterwards. While unable to enjoy many of the luxuries of their surroundings in the traditional sense, the very knowledge that they are surrounded by finery, moldering and cobwebbed as it may be, brings something close to joy.

Dependent on their aims, liches may also be found in more utilitarian environments. If, for example, a lich was bent on controlling a settlement in secret, it may reside in the local crypts (potentially expanding and connecting disparate tombs into a city spanning network). Regardless, a lich’s lair is likely to be unwelcoming to the living. Apart from the occasional sacrifice to be made to the phylactery, most liches have no interest in dealing with the living or being disturbed by would-be heroes interrupting their work by attempting to slay them, and have no need to come and go themselves, so making their home inaccessible with traps and hazards is of no consequence to them. Even the décor, being chosen by an insane undead, is unnerving and off-putting to the living, tending towards the macabre and the profane.

Liches retain much of their former personality and interests, though there tend to be some commonalities. Most liches share a penchant for grandiosity and selfishness, though where this is simply true of the sort of individual who would seek lichdom, or a change brought about by the transformation is difficult to say. The extreme focus exhibited by liches does seem to be a part of their condition; a complete disregard for anything which does not pertain to their study or ambitions.

A universal trait shared by all liches is an all-consuming arrogance, a belief that they are a supreme and exemplary being. After all, a lich will have killed at least one person in order to extend their lifespan; older liches may have killed thousands and seen the price worth paying. Not all believe themselves on the path to godhood, but it is certainly not unheard of for such megalomaniacal ambitions to manifest.

Some liches may appear civil, and a very rare few even seem to enjoy company (after centuries of solitude, any novelty must be a boon). There are few beings a lich would deem as an equal, however, and it would take an uncommonly powerful spellcaster to earn anything approaching respect. The best most mortals can hope for is to be treated as a useful servant, as a lich’s respect is generally coupled with jealousy, paranoia, and plotting, and those not deemed useful are simply fuel for the phylactery. All liches are, understandably, paranoid about their only real weakness – their phylactery, and contingencies to protect themselves in the event it is discovered occupy a not-insubstantial part of their time. A lich’s arrogance in its schemes will usually enable them to project a front of haughty detachment but, should their phylactery be directly and unequivocally threatened, they will quickly lose any façade of civility or composure.

Note About Liches

Liches are rarely caught unawares, given that they rarely leave their lairs, and said lairs are invariably designed in such a way as to give them warning, should there be any intrusion. Most liches have had decades, or centuries, to plan contingencies for multiple situations, including having an escape route – preferably one which also destroys any interlopers and the chance of their work falling into the wrong hands, such as bringing down the entire structure on top of their heads.

Clever and ruthless, liches will capitalize on any opportunity granted to them, fighting with no sense of honor or mercy – if their defenses are so compromised that they are physically attacked, it is vital that none live to tell the tale. While neutralizing the threat is a lich’s priority, they will take victims alive if the opportunity presents itself. This is far from an act of clemency; having a stock of fresh souls, ready to be sacrificed to the phylactery when the time is right, is a matter of simple practicality.

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