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A lich (pronounced: /lɪlitch[7][8]), sometimes called a lichnee,[9] was an almost universally evil form of undead spellcaster of great power, usually a wizard, but also possibly a sorcerer, warlock, or cleric.[2][4][5][10] Liches were feared by mortal beings for their malign magic, their intelligence, and their willingness to embrace undeath for a chance to live forever—or rather, to endure forever.[4][11] Lichdom was arguably the most powerful known form of undeath.[5]

Perhaps you can now understand why one lifetime is not nearly enough.

Description[]

Liches were generally gaunt and skeletal with withered flesh stretched tight across horribly visible bones, but they could vary greatly in appearance depending on their age and level of decay. If their eyes had been destroyed, lost, or rotted away, bright pinpoints of crimson light burned in their empty sockets.[1][4][5][6] Some maintained a hint of their old hair or beards.[13] Liches often did not have lips or the necessary organs to produce natural speech, but they had the ability to project speech from their mouths magically, moving the jaw (if present) to aid the illusion.[14] As their bodies continued to degrade over the centuries, a lich might eventually become a demilich.[1][5]

Some liches dressed in rich and regal finery and jewelry, others wore the clothes or uniforms of former occupations or allegiances, while many appeared to be nothing more than lepers as their clothes had rotted away.[1][4][5][6]

Personality[]

Undead Outlook and Psychology by Steve Prescott

A lich grows bored after eons of study.

Those spellcasters who sought immortality through lichdom tended not to do so merely for fear of death,[15] but to buy themselves limitless time to pursue their own ambitious goals. Thus, they discarded any mortal connections in favor of a solitary existence, generally to pursue magical power and knowledge.[5][16]

The hallmark of a lich was that it had tethered its soul to the Prime Material plane,[1][17] and as a result, most liches retained much of the personality and even emotions that they had in life, at least at first. However, countless years of undeath caused memories to fade and the mind to twist.[18] Eventually, a lich lost all shreds of its humanity.[15]

The state of existing as a lich was not a pleasant one,[11] and a lich was able to maintain its existence only through sheer force of will. However, over time this willpower warped into an obsessive drive to become more and more powerful.[5] Many soon appeared borderline insane in their hunger to acquire arcane secrets.[2][4] This fixation would often lead a lich to outright forget about its former life, and most liches reached a point at which they abandoned their real names in preference for ominous titles and pseudonyms. Perhaps because of this effort to bury their old identities, it was said that speaking a lich's true name could confer power over it[5] and reminders of its past life were a good way to get its attention.[1]

Liches were often proud and arrogant,[19] demanding the subservience of all those around them.[20] Many were also cold and scheming.[1][2] They cared only for their own affairs and usually paid little heed to the living unless their own activities were disrupted or some major event caught their attention. Contrary to popular belief, most did not have explicitly evil goals. Technically, a lich might ascribe to any alignment, however because they were so completely detached from any sense of mortal morality, the living could generally not understand their actions as anything but pure evil.[5] Even so, some liches were known to be amicable and willing to exchange words rather than spells with mortals, or even to offer advice or training.[21] In very rare instances, truly good liches arose,[5] which included those who had a more noble purpose for seeking lichdom as well as those who had lichdom forced upon them.[22]

Activities[]

My plan will sleep... Do you not understand that while our enemies are mortal, I am not?

Liches were avid collectors of arcane secrets and tools, including magic items, potions, spell scrolls, spellbooks, staves, and wands.[1][4] They used these items extensively, and would design devious traps meant to ensnare adventurers in order to add their victims' magic items to their own collection.[10]

Whatever its goals were, a lich pursued them patiently and single-mindedly,[1] usually relying on its cunning, its magic, and legions of lesser undead (which it would animate personally).[5] Because a lich had eternal longevity, it often used this time to form schemes that took decades or even centuries to develop,[4] sometimes preferring to outlive its foes instead of confronting them. As such, most liches lived in secluded areas of Toril, where they were content with furthering whatever research or plots they had in motion.[16]

Abilities[]

The average lich was a very powerful arcane spellcaster. They could memorize and cast spells as they had in life, and required the use of spell components and spellbooks just as a living caster did.[5] A notable exception to this rule was that some liches were able to permanently commit some spells to memory, allowing them to be cast even without material components.[10] Owing to the great depths of time they had to research and practice their magic, it was not uncommon for a lich to wield potent unique spells of their own devising.[5]

Liches also possessed several unique abilities, such as being able to manifest coldfire; weaken, terrorize, or even kill the living with a touch; drive the living into unconsciousness with just the sound of their voice; and cause fear, pain, or death with a simple glare.[1][24] Even merely looking upon a lich could compel the weak-willed to flee in terror.[4][5]

As powerful undead beings, liches were potent necromancers and wielded great power over life and death: they were able to disrupt the life forces of those nearby[1] and were highly effective at animating the dead,[5] so it was little surprise that they often commanded small armies of lesser undead.[20] Even good liches relied on undead servants and wielded great influence over the undead.[22]

Some liches could also regenerate,[2] but more importantly, it was impossible to kill a lich permanently without also destroying its phylactery, a special item or trinket that contained their life essence.[4][5] As long as this phylactery was unharmed, the lich was immortal: if slain, its mind and spirit would leave its corpse and flee to the phylactery, and if the lich's old body was destroyed—such as with a disintegrate spell—a new body would manifest next to the phylactery within a tenday.[1][25] This spiritual form of a lich divorced from a physical body was known as a lichnee, and it sought to reunite with and possess its body in order to resume its unlife. A lichnee was completely invulnerable and impervious to any attempts to harm it as it fled to its phylactery. It could also temporarily inhabit another corpse, which produced a wight-like creature that could only cast whatever spells the lich already had memorized.[25] In this form, the lichnee maintained its wits but was limited to the physical capabilities of the corpse, which were quite less than its true form.[26] The lichnee would thus unerringly seek out its real body as if following a locate object spell. Within seven days of ingesting any piece of its true body, this wightish form would metamorphize into a full lich body.[25] Possessing another body in this way was much more difficult if the lichnee was of a more goodly or lawful disposition.[27]

Combat[]

Never, never hope to defeat a lich with a raise dead spell.
— Ransair of Silverymoon[28]

Liches were most dangerous in combat when they had time to prepare their spells and contingencies,[29] and they usually sought to pit their enemies against lesser minions and traps before they themselves ever engaged. Before a battle, they would cloak themselves in defensive spells and summon allies. Once a battle began, they opened with their most powerful and wide reaching spells, hoping to slay or ensnare as many foes as possible. They were highly intelligent combatants, and thus adept at quickly adapting their tactics to a chaotic battlefield.[30]

Liches preferred to avoid fighting in melee, instead leaving that to their minions or allies.[2][30] Nevertheless, they were quite dangerous if engaged in close quarters.[5] They were highly resilient, and their animating magics also made them very difficult to injure (and borderline impossible to injure without magic).[6] Spells that sought to charm, put to sleep, enfeeble, polymorph, or inflict madness or instant death largely did not work against a lich.[5][6] They were further unaffected by things like poison or disease, were difficult to turn, and could not be affected by electricity or extreme cold;[1][4][5][6] in fact, they radiated cold and darkness, and their touch was deadly and paralyzingly cold.[1][5] A lich's bare hands could strike with magical, necrotizing power.[4]

A lich was largely unperturbed by light or by radiant energy that might disrupt lesser undead,[31] although it could be destroyed and rendered unable to reform as anything but a demilich if exposed to the symbol of life glyph.[32] Older, more withered liches were also particularly susceptible to fire.[33] However, because a lich could not be conventionally killed, it often fought with little concern or fear for its own safety as long as it was confident that its phylactery was safe.[2] For this reason, liches took great care in protecting their phylactery from harm, employing decoys, traps, and other defenses.[4] When put in a situation wherein it did fear for its own safety, a lich was quick to teleport away.[10]

Society[]

Generic lich

A spell-weaving lich.

Liches rarely left the privacy of their lairs, although some would travel to places of arcane learning and masquerade as a living spellcaster eager to learn about new theories and research.[34] However, in general a lich kept only the company of whatever creatures helped to secure its lair,[1] over whom they demanded total mastery.[20] This most commonly included constructs—notably flesh golems[1][11]—or lesser undead—notably animated corpses,[1][5] flameskulls, and wraiths[2]—but liches occasionally also worked alongside demons, devils,[1][20] cultists of Orcus,[35] or other intelligent undead such as vampires.[4] On occasion, they might also make copies of themselves (known as false liches) to defend their lairs.[36] Liches were also sometimes drawn to atropals,[37][38] but they rarely if ever served a more powerful master if they could avoid it.[20] They were known to use nightmares as steeds.[39]

Liches were not able to sire children.[10]

Creation[]

Liches could not come about by any "natural" or spontaneous means,[16] and transforming into one required an individual to make a very purposeful and evil decision to pursue the ancient and terrible rituals that would make them into a lich.[1][2][4] There was more than one way to become a lich,[40] but as a rule all methods were secret and complex rites than involved the costly and complex crafting of a phylactery[1][4] and the brewing and drinking of a toxic mixture made with the blood of an innocent,[1][5] known as a lichnee potion.[41] Acquiring the knowledge of one of these rituals often required making deals with dark gods or fiends—notably Orcus—who demanded service or fealty in exchange for the secrets.[1][2] A full ritual was also said to have been detailed in a rare tome known as The Eleven Baneful Gates.[42] Only a living individual could successfully complete the transformation into a lich.[26]

Rituals[]

One version of the transformation ritual required augmenting the lichnee potion with a series of spells—animate dead, cone of cold, feign death, permanency, and wraithform—before imbibing it during a full moon in the presence of the completed phylactery. If and only if the phylactery and potion were perfect did the individual die and instantly become a lich, else they were simply dead and left impossible to revive or resurrect.[5]

A more forgiving version of the ritual allowed the potion and phylactery to be prepared separately and over an indefinite span of time, however dying at any point in the process before it was completed required the whole process to be restarted (although the prospective lich could be revived by an accomplice). This manner of achieving lichdom caused the individual to undergo a traumatic transformation directly from being alive into being a lichnee.[43]

Yet another version of the ritual apparently did not involve a lichnee potion, but instead relied on calling upon Orcus himself to bless the caster with lichdom. This ritual slew the caster and raised them as a lich if successful, however this lich was beholden to Orcus, who had the ability to instantly destroy the phylactery of such a lich if he desired.[2]

It was said that the process and requirements for a divine spellcaster to become a lich was yet a different process, however it was overall very similar to the methods used by arcane spellcasters.[27]

There was yet another, entirely different process that spellcasters of more noble intentions underwent in order to become an archlich.[44]

In some cases, a flawed ritual might produce a lich with weakened or incomplete powers,[45] or alternatively a mage with too little strength to seal their own soul into a phylactery might inadvertently become a boneclaw rather than a lich.[46] Creatures with a strong innate resistance to magic were said to be unable to achieve true lichdom due to many components of the ritual failing to properly take effect.[47][48]

Maintenance[]

Even once the process of transformation was completed, a lich had to continue to enact special conjurations and enchantments to sustain their undead form,[6] such as by casting Nulathoe's ninemen on their phylactery once every 777 days[10] and by continuing to feed their phylactery with souls via the imprisonment spell. Failure to do so would cause them to slowly fall apart.[1] Some liches were also known to consume larvae to aid with the maintenance of their undead form.[10] Without great care, a lich's magic would slowly fail over time, and it would generally lose both its sanity and its body after around 900 years of lichdom. Only very careful preservation or a transformation into a demilich might avert this fate.[10]

A lich could only have one phylactery,[49] but if it was destroyed, the lich could attempt to create a new one.[2] If the lich was destroyed with no phylactery to which it could return, it was truly dead.[1][4][5]

Dooms[]

Liches made their lairs in well-fortified keeps and crypts,[5] usually hidden within the wilderness or deep inside twisting labyrinths.[6] Sometimes these were places that they favored in life while other times they were purpose built to trap or kill intruders.[1] Many, including alhoon and baelnorn, ruled small domains in the Underdark of Faerûn, which they often called "dooms" as a prideful promise to any who might intrude upon them. Such dooms never appeared on any maps, yet they were functionally governed by their lich overlord. Dooms often were located in abandoned dwarf or gnome caverns, provided that the old delves were large enough for the lich to conveniently move through and were free of any traps that the lich thought might harm it. Most dooms contained hiding places for magic items and involved a twisting labyrinth of tunnels and chambers.[19] Within its own lair, a lich had even greater necromantic powers, able to lash out at enemies with negative energy or conjure the ghosts of former victims.[1]

Uses[]

The ground-up bones of a lich were used as a material component in the casting of certain necromantic spells, namely soul scour[50] and chill touch, the latter of which was said to allow the caster to wield the same deathly cold hands as a lich.[51]

Types of Liches[]

Lich

A banelich and an alhoon.

Alhoon
An alhoon was an illithid lich.[24]
Archlich
While the overwhelming majority of liches were evil, an archlich was a spellcaster who sought undeath to pursue noble goals, and chose to do so by pursuing a somewhat different form of lichdom.[22]
Banelich
Clerics of Bane transformed into undead servants by the God of Tyranny. As baneliches grew older, their powers increased as well, until they were as powerful as any other lich.[22]
Baelnorn
An elven archlich was called a baelnorn. They did not use phylacteries as their undeath was gifted to them by the Seldarine. Elven liches become undead to become backbones of their family. They were sources of magic, wise council, and guardianship.[22]
Demilich
This advanced form was achieved either after a lich had persisted for a long time and their body withered away[1][5] or when when a lich felt it could not learn any more in its base state and sought other avenues to attain knowledge, for example by using astral projection to travel to other planes of existence.[52]
Dracolich - Fred Hooper

A dracolich.

Dracolich
A dracolich was a dragon who had achieved lichdom. The process required to do this was discovered by Sammaster, former Chosen of Mystra.[53]
Lich lord
A lich was dubbed a "lich lord" if they managed to achieve an advanced form of lichdom through their own power and machinations (as opposed to it occurring from the passage of time or the intervention of others).[9]
Pseudo-lich
A relatively short-lived undead that resulted when a wizard's soul refused to leave their body upon their death.[10]

History[]

The death ward spell was said to have been originally invented by liches.[54]

During the 14th century DR, tombs containing magic items might be warded against thieving liches with hands of harrowing.[55]

Prior to the Time of Troubles, it was said that a lich would weaken each time it was slain and sent back to its phylactery. This meant that it was possible to destroy a lich permanently by destroying it repeatedly, which would eventually result in its spirit being banished to the lower planes as its phylactery crumbled.[10]

In the Year of the Banner, 1368 DR, the lich Velsharoon ascended to become a god whose portfolio encompassed liches.[56][57]

As of the late 14th century DR, liches among the Red Wizards were highly active in Thayan politics, and took care to disguise their undead state in public with illusions and by taking more care than the usual lich to preserve their bodies.[58] Places thought to be haunted by liches at this time included the Battle of Bones,[59] Castle Spulzeer,[60] the Crypt of the Wondermakers,[61] Myth Rhynn,[62] and the Smoking Mountains.[63]

During the events of the Death Curse in the late 15th century DR, liches were unable to recharge their phylacteries because the souls of their victims were snatched away by the Soulmonger before they could imprison them. This caused concern among the liches of Toril, especially among the Thayans.[64]

Notable Liches[]

Individuals[]

Organizations[]

Rumors & Legends[]

The only necromancer said to have been able to bind liches to her will was Tashara of the Seven Skulls.[96]

Following the Spellplague, it was said that Orcus had the ability to reform a destroyed lich even without its phylactery, albeit as a highly unstable vestige that would crumble at the slightest injury.[2]

Appendix[]

Appearances[]

Adventures
The Throne of BloodstoneIcewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
Referenced only
Hellgate KeepDead in ThayTomb of Annihilation
Novels
Azure BondsRed MagicCrown of FireThe SummoningPromise of the Witch-KingThe Pirate KingHaunted Lands (UncleanUndeadUnholy)The Neverwinter Saga (Gauntlgrym, Neverwinter, Charon's Claw)The Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin
Referenced only
Tymora's Luck
Short Stories
"If Ever They Happened Upon My Lair"
Comics
Liches in Love
Film & Television
Honor Among Thieves
Video Games
Descent to UndermountainIcewind Dale (game)Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of AmnPool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth DrannorNeverwinter Nights: Infinite DungeonsSword Coast LegendsBaldur's Gate: Siege of DragonspearTales from Candlekeep: Tomb of AnnihilationNeverwinter Nights: Darkness over DaggerfordBaldur's Gate III
Referenced only
Baldur's Gate
Board Games
Dungeon Command: Curse of Undeath
Card Games
AD&D Trading Cards

External Links[]

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following links do not necessarily represent the views of the editors of this wiki, nor does any lore presented necessarily adhere to established canon.

Gallery[]

References[]

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