Friday, February 18, 2022


 AD&D Lich

The Lich is one of the quintessential Big Bads of fantasy literature and ttrpgs alike. Fictionally, they tend to appear more as 'immortal wizard' than 'immortal skeleton wizard' but whatever, Voldemort is basically a lich, Koschei is basically a lich. Official D&D has more liches than you can shake a stick at.

Liches have AC as plate +3, and a oddly worded immunity to mundane attacks from beings of under 6HD, though this is fairly pointless as creatures of 5HD or under flee in fear with no save anyway. They may touch enemies for 1d10 cold damage+ a save or paralysis effect. Their laundry list of undead immunities is somewhat expanded- Charm, Sleep, enfeeblement, polymorph, cold, electricity, insanity, and death spells/symbols.

Apart from some text describing that they are indeed converted magic-users, no provision for their spell lists is given. Using the spell lists for monster abilities largely misses the point of a monster manual in my mind, for a monster that says "oh just have a bunch of rarely seen high level spells memorized, thoughtfully put together, and used to terrible optimization" doesn't help me much.

Liches are fine villains. I seem to recall reading that while the dragon is the active tyrant of greed, the despot king, the earth-ravaging billionaire, the lich is the soul-crushing villainy of a hidebound and restrictive society. It has a head start in terms of power, influence, and knowledge, so it's nearly impossible to catch up. It turns people who would be your allies into your enemies via the power of necromancy or enchantment (a metaphor for cultural hegemony). It can kill you, but you can't really kill it, it just comes back if it loses a fight, just as killing a single leader doesn't end a country. The quest to find and destroy the phylactery is symbolic of the work required to break a system. You can sorta reason with a Lich, but ultimately it's just the preserved bad takes of some dead guy so you know it's always going to cycle back to the same old awfulness, sooner or later. And it is usually a guy, isn't it? Go figure.

They might also be symbolic of the inability to accept death turned ruinous and destructive, but I digress. While fine as a crafted villain, as far as an entry in a monster manual goes they just kinda suck because you can't actually open up the monster manual and use one, you gotta create a huge spell list, think of strategies to use it, maybe some magic items, probably spend the monetary parts of the treasure on a base or mercenaries or something, or it'll fall flat and just be a spooky skeleton.

Sunset Realm Lich

An old photobash of the Green Necromancer
The defining characteristic of a lich is that their soul is anchored to an item that regenerates a body for them to inhabit, one way or another. But... It's not even that hard to come back from the dead in this setting, so Liches are not necessarily all that impressive, honestly. They're more just... disturbing. They had such conviction in an idea that they bound themselves to the world in a way that they'd come back no matter what, heedless of how everything they knew would crumble away in time, all to pursue something. This conviction is usually deeply uncompelling to people 50 years, a hundred years, a thousand years later, and so liches end up doing their mad schemes in forgotten ruins alone or with hanger-ons at best. Sensible people who come back as undead join the city council as Necropolis Representative, or become a child of M'shesh to return as undead in exchange for pacifism and cult membership, or sign up for the Skeleton War. But not liches, oh no. They have to come back on their own terms, their own power, independent of anything else. It's a form of vanity, in a way.

The most notable Lich in the sunset realms is Magister Verdurus, aka the Green Necromancer. Born in the City of Bells to a noble family, he travelled the world learning magic as his hobby until his money dried up, came home to find out that elvish politicking had usurped his family's claim. He threw a fit and tried to kill everyone involved with dread sorcery, was defeated after leaving a combination grey-goo/zombie plague biohazard known as the Blight, tried to ruin another country to gain political power to come back for round 2, and ended up going mad with forbidden knowledge and seeking 'true' immortality via memorability, perhaps as a cope for his original desired noble position no longer existing. His apprentices, having learned enough for their own goals and recognizing megalomania when they saw it, abandoned him, leaving only his omnicidal cult, which was eventually defeated. He would return several more times, ironically becoming less of a threat each time as the world moved on without him and he lost the thread of how things worked. Being a manifestation of a player setting suggestion, he was always doomed to descend down this road of evil and madness to suit that player's whims, so one can't be too hard on him. He is a plague on the city of Oroboro that resurrects every so often as cackling villain, and believes himself to be the one who will end the last sun and bring about the Age of the Dead, where no life exists and even the planet itself is considered dead, and his death cult thinks this is the age where they can finally live as glorious undead kings of the world. One can sort of see what that world looks like in the M'shesh controlled Fault (5th age onwards) and no one is all too impressed, and so most everyone wishes he'd just try to do something with his unlife over there instead of trying to ruin everything for everyone over here in Oroboro for the 15th time.

The contents of the Green Necromancer's Spellbook in the reign of Samuel Goffnagoff were as follows

1-Floating Disc, Shield, Read Languages
For saving Telekinesis slot, general defense, and general info-gathering

 2-Levitate, Web, Locate Object
For saving your flight slot, capturing people nonlethally, and finding macguffins

3- Flight, Darkvision, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Blight Curse (A useless spell with the blight contained, otherwise basically infecting someone with a zombie plague)
While 'fly high and rain damage from above' isn't rocket science, it is pretty effective.

4-Ice Storm, Massmorph- Elemental AoE coverage, and a good 'ambush someone with camouflaged undead' spell.

5-Animate Dead, Cloudkill, Telekinesis. Telekinesis to do heavy lifting if the minions were gone or for air transport, animate dead because no lich without it can be respected, and cloudkill to get intact corpses for animate dead.

6-Death Of 100 Pits- Reverses gravity off and off in 10' cube forever. 1d6 fall damage each round. Hard to escape without assistance.This was the signature spell, powerful in its own way, needlessly cruel, leaves a lasting impression as the corpse bounces forever, able to create dungeon power sources.

7-Reaper's Haste- Take one action whenever an enemy takes an action. Age 1 year each time. Drawback less penalizing for the immortal. A general 'action economy compensator' spell.

8-Mind Blank-Gotta have this as a defensive option I guess

 9-Forbidden Moon Gate- Opens a gate and draws forth a Moon, bringing the chaos of the Moonlands to the Daylands. A broad spectrum doomsday threat spell. Was ripped out and cast as a scroll so is mostly lost to time.

So the Green Necromancer was basically air support for undead ground troops.

The two apprentices mentioned were Felgraft, who focused on the 'evocation blasty casty' side of Verdurus spellbook and disappeared into the Bowels of the Earth in search of treasure, leaving only Felgraft's Flames as his legacy, a green fireball that comes from the ground up and only burns the living. His spell list was Sleep, Fly, Felgrafts Flames, Dimension Door, and the players rescued him from being walled up in a dungeon sauna once. He had a bodyguard, Loran, hired for purely mercenary goals.

The other was Veiled Kirasu, a very short woman who had a tower in a lake that sought to drill deep into the earth as well but was abandoned due to darkspawn monsters coming up the mineshaft. Her legacy was longer lived, as she continued magical research after parting ways from Verdurus and was the elder student- Spell list was
1- Floating Disc, Shield, Read Langages
2- Levitate, Web, Locate Object
3-Flight, Protection From Normal Missiles
4- Ice Storm, Massmorph
5- Animate Dead, Cloudkill
And she waged a brief war against the hill giants of what is now Fort Fortenfort, before returning to her true goal of defeating the dragon of Mantlehearth that killed her family. She became Necroqueen of Mantlehearth and ruled the island for a time, though necromancy gone wrong led to her losing her necromantic minions to undead whale siren song.

His soul anchor is a black sword, granted to him by a being from Beyond to lead him down the role prescribed by player-suggested campaign suggestion. Like most such things, it can be destroyed only in one way- by the flame of the 7th sun (son?) though it will destroy that in turn, at least according to prophecy. For the most part tho, the black sword is just a +1 longsword that deals its damage as level drain and raises undead from those it kills, eventually resurrecting the Necromancer with enough life force drained. He does not particularly hide the sword, instead letting whatever adventurer find it continue to use it and letting it fall where it may.

His cult uses simple tactics- find a ghul, let it make more ghuls, focus fire unparalyzed targets with Magic Missiles taught to all the novice necromancers. The Blight can be used to infect populations or corrupt wilderness in a scorched earth zombie apocalypse way, and though it answers only to Verdurus, there is also the Red Queen, an extra-invincible stone golem which can grow a body for every soul exposed to its gas, constantly regenerate and mutate those bodies with gas to adapt to what killed them (the life it gives is oft considered a fate worse than death mind you), and control those bodies if need be. He has a few wicked Ifrit that would like to see humanity exterminated as well, bound in Fassulia and forgotten, but sometimes unearthed to seek to further his goals.
His efforts, and that of his cult, are a large part of why Oroboro and Fassulia feud, as Fassulia, ravaged by his efforts, sees him as an Oroboron problem, while Oroboro sees it as a collective calamity they are not responsible for. Politics!

Here's a Lungfungus Dungeon I reskinned into an old lair of the Green Necromancer, an ancient ifrit-operated ghoul-plague missile silo that was never fired, and over the years has been invaded by plant creatures, sickle-clawed giant lizards, bandits, and at some point, a dragon-cult of Arrkohn (another player suggestion)

You gotta click on 'open in a new window' to get a readable version I am sure.

 But all this took a long time to come up with- the Green Necromancer was created to fit the setting suggestion of the Blight and Blight Necromancers a  player called Shin came up with back when Oroboro was created from player suggestions. But Verdurus had three campaigns total to make appearances in, have dungeons created to serve as his old hideouts, have connections drawn between factions, develop counter-measures against threats he faced. Three campaigns is a lot to ask to grant a lich narrative weight, and that's why casually introduced liches are a bit rough to run on the fly-without time to develop their presence, they're just a skeleton with hastily rolled up spells the GM doesn't have time to consider the long-term implications of.

Liches are good- just not as a monster manual entry.


  1. "It can kill you, but you can't really kill it, it just comes back if it loses a fight"

    Interestingly, this was not a thing in a core rulebook until the 2nd edition monstrous manual. Nor was the phylactery a particularly magical item, just a bit of flavor text that got developed into a game mechanic, post-Gygax, in Dragon magazine and then in later editions.

    I did a deep dive on the history of the lich's phylactery here:

    1. That's very interesting, the phylactery is mentioned but the ability to return if it is not destroyed is indeed absent.

  2. Koshei is THE lich. Phylactery and everything.