Dungeons & Dragons Online

A complete guide to lichdom in 5th edition.

Requirements: Any humanoid creature of evil alignment that can cast 9th-level wizard spells.

You need to perform the following tasks:

  • Craft a phylactery and imbue it with the power to contain the beneficiary's soul
  • Concoct a potion of transformation that turns the beneficiary into a lich

Construction of the phylactery takes 10 days. Concocting the potion takes 3 days. The two items can't be crafted concurrently. When the beneficiary drinks the potion, he or she instantly transforms into a lich under the Dungeon Master’s control, altering the lich’s prepared spells as desired. Found within >! Curse of Strahd !<.

Personally if a player manages to get to 17th level and works incredibly hard to discover the secrets of lichdom I would allow the player to play a lich removing legendary resistances and legendary actions. Player lich template can be found down below. You could allow them to spend downtime to create a liar if that is something they desire.

The Phylactery

The phylactery cost 1,500gp per level of the character. Phylactery preparation is similar to the Imprisonment Spell. The phylactery must be a non magical inorganic container of high quality craftsmanship. A phylactery is traditionally an amulet in the shape of a small box, but it can take the form of any item possessing an interior space into which arcane sigils of naming, binding, immortality, and dark magic are scribed in silver. In older editions the most common form of a phylactery would be that of a sealed metal box containing strips of parchment bearing magical phrases. The phylactery can exist in other forms as well, though it must either contain or bear the arcane inscriptions used to bind the soul forevermore.

The phylactery is resilient beyond measure and nigh impervious to destruction. Destroying a phylactery is no easy task and during the process of crafting you must specify a specific condition such as a ritual, item, or weapon that can bring about it’s destruction. An example from >! Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage !< details that it is possible to learn of a phylacteries destruction by casting Legend Lore on the phylactery, >! “Destroying the lich's phylactery requires that it be struck by eight disintegrate spells at the same time. A legend lore spell cast on the box provides the following insight: "Seek out eight magi who possess the power of disintegration and bring them to common purpose. Their combined force can destroy the phylactery." Other reliable divination spells provide similar advice.” !<. It may very well be possible for someone to learn of the process to become a lich from a plethora of Legend Lore castings on a phylactery.

Phylactery Examples from the Libris Mortis:

Sample Phylacteries

  1. A hollow silver sphere hanging from a silver chain and containing strips of inscribed parchment
  2. A gold ring bearing arcane inscriptions on the inside of the band
  3. A hollow gold sphere containing strips of inscribed parchment, set atop a darkwood staff
  4. An ivory box bearing arcane sigils across all six sides
  5. A sealed clay jar containing strips of inscribed parchment
  6. A crystal cube with magical phrases carved on all six sides
  7. A hollow platinum circlet containing tiny strips of inscribed parchment rolled tightly inside
  8. A gold-plated skull with magical phrases engraved upon the teeth
  9. An iron flask containing strips of inscribed parchment
  10. A flawless diamond bearing tiny magical inscriptions, set into a golden crown

Potion Ingredients

  • Arsenic (2 drops of the purest distillate)
  • Belladonna (1 drop of the purest distillate)
  • Blood (1 quart of blood from a dead unicorn yearling or dead pegasus foal, killed by wyvern venom)
  • Blood (1 quart from a dead humanoid slain by a phase spider
  • Blood (1 quart from a vampire or vampire spawn)
  • Heart (the intact heart of a humanoid killed by poisoning, a mixture of arsenic and belladonna must be used)
  • Reproductive glands (from seven giant moths, dead for less than 10 days, ground together)
  • Venom (1 pint or more, drawn from a phase spider less than 30 days prior)
  • Venom (1 pint or more, drawn from a wyvern less than 60 days prior)
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The potion must be consumed under the light of a full moon and the soul of the person who’s heart is used in the potion is sacrificed to the phylactery either upon creation of the phylactery or before consuming the potion of transformation.

Archlich/Good Lich Altered Ingredients

  • Tears of a Celestial (#3)
  • Blood of a Dragon (#4)
  • Anointment of the phylactery in the caster’s blood replaces ingredient (#5)

Lichdom Notes

  • The magic which enables a lich’s rejuvenation trait is similar in function to True Resurrection, however, since the lich has no soul it’s body begins the natural process of decay every time it's body is reformed. Interestingly, the cost of a lich’s phylactery following the AD&D rules at a minimum of 17th level would cost 25,500gp which is 500gp more than the cost of the material component needed for True Resurrection. Therefore I can conclude that a lich’s phylactery must cost at a minimum of 25,000gp if the DM prefers a standard monetary value for the cost of a phylactery.
  • Soul sacrifices to prevent deterioration into a demilich appear to be based off of the Ritual of Sustenance from within Van Richten’s Guide to the Lich where the lich undergoes the ritual approximately once each century. The usage of the word century is coincidentally used as one of the parameters for Resurrection. Therefore, based on my inferences, I would rule that a lich requires a soul sacrifice once every century with a maximum lifespan without a soul sacrifice being 200 years (True Resurrection). If the lich hasn’t successfully consumed a soul within it’s phylactery within a century the lich will slowly deteriorate into a demilich losing their sanity, hp, and ability to cast their highest level spells every decade until they fully deteriorate into a demilich once 200 years are up. This deterioration can be removed completely with two castings of Greater Restoration. The first casting can restore the lich’s memory and prepared spells, the second casting can restore the lich’s hp but once a lich becomes a demilich only by imprisoning a soul within its phylactery can you restore its power and memory.
  • A lich doesn’t sleep but requires a short meditative trance in order to be able to re-impress upon their minds the magical words and energies that compose spells. Liches remain fully conscious and aware of their surroundings even when in their trance like state. This light meditative trance would account for the many descriptions of liches as being “brooding” and “lost in arcane thought.”
  • The body of a lich is controlled through magic. This is often the reason liches move in inhuman movements gliding faintly above the ground or appearing to walk naturally. Their voices are projected magically and any visual movements of speaking are mere illusions or mimicry of speech. When their eyes rot away, a light burns within their empty sockets. These magical eyes are what gives them truesight. The common color of the lights within the lich’s sockets are red (for the common evil lich), purple, and blue.
  • It is unclear whether a lich knows the location of their phylactery. In >! Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden !<, the demilich >! Iriolarthas !< cannot find his phylactery and a Chris Perkins sage advice mentions that “Demiliches don’t have the Rejuvenation trait that liches do (they’re no longer tethered to their phylacteries)”. Although it's clear that a demilich cannot reform from it’s phylactery and is unaware of its location, it is not clear if a lich is always aware of it’s phylacteries location but it is stated that a lich can obviously reform from its phylactery regardless of plane or distance as long as the phylactery isn’t located within a anti-magic zone.
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Notes on the Archlich/Good Lich Variant

  • The archlich sacrifices the majority of their soul when they transform into a good lich. An archlich swears an oath to protect a certain cause, loved being, or place. Unlike the lich, if an archlich’s phylactery is ever destroyed, the archlich’s soul is utterly destroyed, whereupon nothing short of divine intervention can restore it to life. The magical oath an archlich swears functions similarly to the oath a paladin would swear, providing them magical power out of sheer belief and force of will. Both lich and archlich variants are fueled by negative energy.
  • Archliches are very rare. I personally believe that an archlich can succumb to moral degradation and as a result the enchantments that fuel their phylactery will fail, requiring them to consume souls to further their existence. Archliches do not deteriorate into demiliches so long as they are not evil. It’s up to the DM if an archlich can find redemption but if it has consumed souls then it would have to atone for its actions by restoring those souls to existence through divine intervention due to the moral severity of utterly destroying another’s soul. I like to visualize the Lich/Archlich trope as being the wizard version of the Paladin/Death Knight dichotomy.
  • The candidate for archlichdom cannot utilize evil methods to attain the ingredients and materials to become an archlich. If the candidate is already evil and attempts the transformation into an archlich they will instead become a lich.
  • The term “Archlich” in 5e appears to now refer to liches who rule over other liches: Vecna, Acererak, Larloch, etc… The reference to a Forgotten Realms archlich within 5e can be found within >! Princes of the Apocalypse !< and his stats are exactly the same as a lich except he has Time Stop prepared instead of Power Word Kill. The formerly titled archlich is instead referred to as a “lich” therefore it is possible to assume that formerly titled archliches in D&D lore are now just considered the rare variant “good lich”.

The Lich Template

Lichdom. Your spellcasting ability and racial features remain what they were in life.

Arcane Meditation. Liches do not sleep. Instead they lightly meditate, remaining conscious, for 4 hours. Once 4 hours of uninterrupted meditation is met, they gain the benefits of a long rest.

Arcane Mind. You gain plus 1 bonus to ability checks and saving throws. Subtract 1 point from your spell attack bonus and add 1 point to your spell save DC.

Armor of Undeath. You have natural armor of AC 17.

Undead Nature. A lich doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep.

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Resilient Form. You gain proficiency in Constitution saving throws. Your hit dice per wizard level becomes 1d8. Reroll your entire wizard level in hp (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per wizard level after first. Your first level hp starts at 8 + your Constitution modifier instead of 6 + your Constitution modifier.

Damage Resistances Cold, Lightning, Necrotic

Damage Immunities Poison; Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks.

Condition Immunities Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Paralyzed, Poisoned

Senses Truesight 120 ft

Rejuvenation. If it has a phylactery, a destroyed lich gains a new body in 1d10 days, regaining all its hit points and becoming active again. The new body appears within 5 feet of the phylactery.

Turn Resistance. The lich has advantage on saving throws against any effect that turns undead.

Paralyzing Touch: Melee Spell Attack, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 10 (3d6) cold damage. The target must succeed on a DC 18 Constitution saving throw or be Paralyzed for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

Variant Lich Abilities

Some lich’s possess variant abilities. One recurring ability from older editions which can be found in 5e is the ability to create an illusory living version of the lich. It is unclear exactly how some liches attain this power but it is important to inform people that it exists. The lich >! Valindra Shadowmantle !< in >! Tomb of Annihilation !< has the special “Mask” ability. Other liches such as Azalin Rex have been known to use this power as well.

Mask. As a bonus Action, you can mask your shriveled flesh and appear to be a living version of yourself. This magical Illusion lasts until you end it as a bonus action or until you use your Frightening Gaze. The effect also ends if you drop to 30hp or fewer, or if dispel magic is cast on you.

Sources

  • Curse of Strahd by Wizards RPG Team. 5e.
  • Encyclopedia Magica vol. 1 by Doug Stewart. AD&D 2e.
  • Encyclopedia Magica vol. 3 by Doug Stewart. AD&D 2e.
  • Libris Mortis by Andy Collins and Bruce R. Cordell. 3e.
  • Lost Ships by Ed Greenwood. AD&D 2e.
  • Monster Compendium: Monsters of Faerun by James Wyatt and Ryan Heinsoo. 3e.
  • Monster Manual by Wizards RPG Team. 5e.
  • Princes of the Apocalypse by Wizards RPG Team. 5e
  • Tomb of Annihilation by Wizards RPG Team. 5e.
  • Van RIchten’s Guide to the Lich by Eric Haddock. AD&D 2e.
  • Waterdeep-Dungeon of the Mad Mage by Wizards RPG Team. 5e.

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