(This post features a rewritten excerpt from Larloch’s Lexicon of Lichdom)
Knowing D&D-players, the question “could I become a lich?” will invariably come up at some point. The instinctual answer may be “eh… I don’t know?” or “of course not! Are you insane?”, but it doesn’t have to be that way. While becoming a lich certainly shouldn’t be easy, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be possible – after all, if you can become a vampire or werewolf, then why not a lich?
In this post, we’ll take a look at how a player character can become a lich in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.
“Can a player character become a lich?”
It is a simple yes or no question, but the answer isn’t as straightforward. The fifth edition sourcebooks indicate that it is possible – some official adventures, like Curse of Strahd, and official magic items, like the Book of Vile Darkness, even give vague directions for a character that wants to achieve lichdom. But these official sources don’t provide descriptions of the necessary steps, nor do they offer mechanical aid for player characters that seek to become liches.
Below we will describe the Ritual of Lichdom, a sinister, multi-step ritual with steep costs that a player character can undergo to become a lich. The ritual is inspired by information given in the current or previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons (see our previous blog post for more information about the lich in D&D)
We’ll also provide the first of four Lich Feats which a player character can take – or receive freely from the DM – when attaining lichdom.
The Ritual of Lichdom
The most common way to become a lich is through the ritual of lichdom. The secret to performing this dark ritual is well-guarded, and the ritual can only be performed by a spellcaster who can cast spells of 4th level or higher. When the character has learned how to perform the ritual, the character must then craft a phylactery and brew a potion of transformation before it can finalize its transformation to a lich by killing itself under the light of a full moon.
Learning the Ritual of Lichdom
Before the character can begin the ritual of lichdom, they must first learn exactly how it is performed, which is far from common knowledge. Many churches and good-aligned factions seek to destroy any record of the ritual to prevent ambitious spellcasters from attaining it, while evil liches enviously guard the secret of the ritual.
Even so, it is not impossible to find information about the ritual. Characters may learn about the ritual…
- .. from the Book of Vile Darkness (DMG pg. 222)
- .. from notes pilfered from an evil wizard’s lair
- .. as a reward for helping a powerful mage
- .. through communion with Orcus or a similar deity
- .. by spending downtime doing research (XgtE pg. 132)
- .. by casting the spell legend lore on a lich or phylactery
Crafting a Phylactery
A phylactery is a legendary magic item that has an interior space – such as an amulet, a ring, a small box, or a small coffin – into which arcane sigils are inscribed in silver. The phylactery binds the lich’s soul to the mortal world, and prevents it from passing on to the afterlife.
Crafting a phylactery is a difficult and complex task, which takes 10 days and requires valuable gems, metals and spell reagents worth 50,000 gp or more.
Brewing a Potion of Transformation
The potion of transformation is a vile, magic potion that both serves as the means of the future lich’s demise and the bond that links the lich’s soul to the phylactery.
Brewing the potion of transformation takes 3 days. The potion is brewed from the heart of a humanoid infant, 1 quart of blood from a vampire, 5 doses of wyvern poison, 3 doses of purple worm poison, and 2 doses of midnight tears, making the total cost of the potion 15,000 gp. These ingredients only make a very lethal potion, however – to finalize the potion of transformation, it must first be infused with the blood of a sacrificed, sentient creature during the final stage of the ritual of lichdom.
Performing the Ritual
When the aspiring lich has prepared both its phylactery and a potion of transformation, it can perform the ritual of lichdom during a full moon. The 1-hour-ritual involves the weaving of powerful, necromantic magic, obscure phrases and – sometimes, but not always – dark prayers to evil entities such as Orcus or Vecna, and can only be undertaken by a spellcaster who can cast 4th level spells.
The ritual culminates with the sacrifice – willing or not – of a sentient creature with an Intelligence score of 7 or higher, whose soul is consumed by the phylactery (making resurrection impossible). The blood of this creature is then mixed with the potion of transformation, and ingested by the aspiring lich at exactly midnight.
If the ritual was performed correctly, the character dies instantly upon consuming the potion of transformation, but its soul becomes absorbed by the phylactery instead of leaving the mortal world. Shortly after, the character’s physical body reanimates as an undead lich. Though its mortal vessel is now soulless – its soul remains contained in the phylactery – the lich character retains its personality and sentience in its undead form.
In summary, the ritual of lichdom is as follows:
- The character must be able to cast spells of 4th level or higher and know the ritual of lichdom.
- The character spends 10 days and 50,000 gp crafting a phylactery.
- The character spends 3 days and 15,000 gp brewing a potion of transformation.
- The character performs a 1-hour-ritual under a full moon, during which it sacrifices a sentient creature with an Intelligence score of 7 or higher and ingests the potion of transformation at exactly midnight, killing itself and becoming a lich.
Being a Lich
We discuss how to balance and handle a lich player character in great depth in Larloch’s Lexicon of Lichdom. Below are some of the highlights, including the first of four Lich Feats, which can be used to grant the fledgling lich their first taste of the lich’s many powerful traits and abilities.
By following the optional rules for feats described in the Player’s Handbook, a Lich Feat can be taken when a character would gain an ASI (Ability Score Improvement). This means that gaining a portion of the lich’s power always comes at the expense of taking another feat or increasing the character’s ability score. In addition, each of the four Lich Feats must be taken in order, and have requirements that must be fulfilled, including actually becoming a lich, something that can be done only with DM approval and will often be very costly.
Requiring the player character to become a lich through a costly ritual and by spending ASIs to take Lich Feats means that the lich character is better balanced relative to the rest of the party. That the character attains their powers gradually is also a cool way to introduce a sense of progression to the character’s journey as a lich.
Drawbacks of Lichdom
While lichdom has plenty advantages, there’s also a few drawbacks that help balance the lich’s powers.
First off, while being undead protects the lich from several spells and features, there’s also many spells and abilities that work extra well against the undead. Spells like protection from evil and good and dispel evil and good are very effective against undead, and there are several items that deal additional damage to the undead.
Magical Healing. Many spells, items and abilities that make creatures regain hit points can’t affect undead creatures. That this isn’t consistent across the board seems to be an oversight – the spell cure wounds states clearly that undead creatures aren’t effected, while aura of vitality doesn’t, for example. The DM would be well within their right to rule that the lich character can only regain hit points by resting, or through necromantic spells such as vampiric touch or enervation.
Destruction. It can be argued that an undead creature is destroyed as soon as it is reduced to 0 hit points. While living creatures can make death saving throws and come back into the fight, an undead creature doesn’t teether on the brink of consciousness – it is either destroyed or it isn’t. And, since a lich’s soul is tethered to its phylactery and not its mortal body, a destroyed lich can’t be revived with magic such as revivify or raise dead, but must instead wait 1d10 days before it is brought back to life near its phylactery.
Summary. If the DM implements all of the above drawbacks, a lich character may find that while they are practically immortal, the risk to their immediate well-being in a fight is maybe even greater than that of their fellow adventurers, who can be revived or healed instantly. This may not completely counterbalance the lich’s many advantages, but it does serve to make a lich player character more balanced overall.
A character’s transformation into a lich can drastically impact their personality. Whether these changes in personality are instantaneous or happen gradually is up to the DM and the lich character. The tables of traits, ideals, bonds and flaws below can be used as inspiration for any changes in a lich character’s personality.
A Lich in the Party
Besides its obvious practical advantages and disadvantages, being an undead creature can also create a variety of social challenges, due to the generally poor reputation that most undead creatures have.
Having an undead creature in the party may cause issues for other characters, such as a pious paladin or dogmatic druid taking offense to the character’s new form. To avoid these issues, it is recommended that the topic of lichdom be discussed with all players before a character is transformed into one, to ensure that any differences between characters can be handled amicably.
An undead creature may also have a negative effect on the party’s reputation in the wider society. This of course depends on the DM and the game’s world, but it seems likely that at least some of the party’s associates may take offense to an undead creature. To avoid this, the lich character can use spells like gentle repose or various forms of illusion and transmutation magic to hide its true form, but there’s no guarantee that such measures will always work. The DM should carefully weigh the potential social drawbacks of lichdom before allowing character to become a lich. If a lich character can’t function in the party or the world, the DM probably shouldn’t allow a player character to become one.
For more information and discussion about lich player characters, check out Larloch’s Lexicon of Lichdom. There’s a ton of other stuff in the book as well, including more than a dozen new legendary liches and nine new items for liches and would-be-lich-killers – we will post another blog post in the coming days showcasing some of them. Subscribe to the mailing list and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to be notified when we post new content!
J. A. Valeur