Rutskarn’s GMinations: The Lich

By Rutskarn
on Jun 21, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

I know I said no posts from me this week, but I stole some time to write this. Regular posts still resuming Sunday.

EDIT: Sorry to drop a bunch of replies then bounce, but I’ll be out again until Sunday. I’ll read everyone else then.

There’s no greater moment in a roleplaying game than when players are surprised by something that makes complete sense–especially if the surprising part is that it makes complete sense. Players who aren’t totally bloody-minded are normally willing to politely ignore monsters with asinine ecologies, cities with no obvious food source, or magic items tailor-made for adventures, so when you reveal that the ecology does make sense, that the city’s food source is weird and unexpected but totally logical, or reveal the magic item’s quaint intended usage, the result is something between respect and relief and amusement that things were thought through after all. Every time players discover that some part of their fantastical world is more logical and organized than they’d given it credit for, their faith in the quality of the GMing, strength of the worldbuilding, and reach of the GM’s imagination surge forward. They’re more inclined to think themselves about how the game fits together–they’re more inclined to think about what NPCs would do, about how the gameworld will react, than plan in mechanical and metagame terms. It’s an all-around Martha Stewart Good Thing.

This companion series to my GMinars is all about those moments. I’ll take features of a standard fantasy roleplaying setting that players expect, and don’t expect a lot of logic out of, and I’ll examine interesting or uncommon logical reinterpretations.

This week we’re going to talk about one of my favorite antagonists–the Lich.

Intro to Ick

In most games, liches are wizards who’ve used some kind of dark endgame magic to stick a piece of their souls into inanimate objects called “phylacteries”. From then on they become immortal, shriveled-yet-powerful corpses with enhanced physical toughness, innate abilities, and (usually) increased spellcasting aptitude. Even if the lich’s physical body is destroyed, it always reappears at the location of the phlyactery after a certain amount of time has passed. So why do wizards do this again? Some do it to become hard cases or cheat death, reasonably enough, but the reason that’s made it into the cultural consciousness–and that’s all too frequently forgotten or overlooked–is that becoming a lich is supposed to be some stepping stone to becoming more magically gifted. Which begs the question: what does becoming a shriveled (albeit magically-enhanced) corpse have to do with becoming a more powerful mage?

It Isn’t Easy Being Unclean

On the one hand, the lich’s gross corpsebody has some physical boons that make resting unnecessary, defending against assassination easier, and fighting pissants less spell-consuming. On the other hand, while these abilities unquestionably make liches more powerful, they mostly don’t make them better wizards. Some new abilities do, but there’s no end of magic items and spells that have similar effects and are cheaper, easier to make, and less morally imperiling than a lich’s phylactery is. If the main reason to go lichy is to get more magically powerful, nobody would become a lich until they’d already gathered a complete set of items with mage’s or archmagi‘s or intellect in the name. So how many liches in modules or campaigns have done that? If it’s all about the bonuses, why have so few liches bothered to acquire as many easy bonuses as possible before flogging their immortal souls?

The longevity and toughness that comes with a phylactery is nice, but they’re less attractive when they come with an item and physical transformation that make you a target for every righteous warrior alive. At some point in the process of gaining power conventionally (through stealing, killing, and resource accumulation, all classic tactics for liches in fantasy stories), somebody’s going to notice an always-evil escapee from the Monstrous Manual wandering around getting dangerously mighty. Disguise spells will delay Team Good’s realization, but sooner or later the very lichy advantages that made your transformation worthwhile will inevitably blow your cover. That will be the day you regret your progress as the universe Mario Karts you, hard.

There’s no two ways about it: if you’re famous, dangerous, exposed, and obviously evil, you’re asking for some reasonably self-interested party or parties to throw you a beatdown. Cabals of enemies will start forming pacts and calling in favors and using charges on magic items and mobilizing their armies and calling up their Gods in real short order–and if you want to win, you’re going to have to fight on their terms. That means a lot of admin, salaries, and paperwork and not a whole lot of time doing sample problems in the ol’ spellbook. And the Axis of Good will get you sooner or later–you’re too dangerous to let alone. You can hide your phylactery under a thousand tons of rubble and a hundred anti-scrying wards and all it’s going to do is eventually force some do-goody wizard to waste a blue chip spell like Wish. A moral victory, but not any kind of reassuring one.

Obviously there’s a thousand ways you can make a lich a credible antagonist without seriously examining their role in your campaign. My argument here isn’t that liches don’t make sense–it’s more that as a concept in a vacuum they can certainly make more sense than most give them credit for. So let’s take the mechanics and circumstances with a lich and try a different interpretation. How is a lich well suited to gaining power? What is the way of the lich toward magical domination? What’s the key advantage of self-lichification?

To put it in the most roundabout way possible: not starving.

Doing Science and Not Still Alive

Let’s say you’re a hunter-gatherer.

You spend a little time hunting animals and eating foraged food. You don’t have to work that hard–it’s actually pretty easy stuff. Sometimes food gets a little scarcer, but no big deal–all you have to do is pick up your stuff and head for the nearest grazing pasture. Leaves a lot of time for personal errands and interpretive dance classes and all sorts of other stuff not keyed to day-to-day survival.

Except there’s a problem. You like beer, or your garden got out of hand, or insert historically obscure reason here–doesn’t matter, you’re farming now. It’s farming time. And now, for the sake of argument and simplification, we’ve gone medieval.

Farming takes a lot of time. You need constant effort to produce barely enough food for everybody producing food. Sometimes you can’t even make that much. Everybody who’s in this society who’s not making food all the time needs to seriously justify their continued existence, because resources are tight and the fields can always use another strong back.

Eventually the society gets bigger, gets a bit more stable, and some of the food budget gets spent on maintaining specialists and dedicated craftspersons. Let’s have an aristocrat, because this system either needs or invariably produces some kind of authority figure. Priests–they’ll learn to read and write, they’ll review records and define the character of a society and give moral instruction. The occasional soldier will keep everyone else safe. Finally, now that things are going really well, let’s get some playwrights and pamphleteers and artists in there too.

But the underlying threat of hunger, even starvation in a bad winter, hangs over the whole system. Grain stores let the society embark on nonessential pursuits, but everything that happens needs to be pretty immediately useful or desirable to someone, or else it’s going to have to have a very good reason to be around. People who weren’t landed or doing work essential to society would have to do quite a bit of work to make ends meet.

So what does a scientist of this period–someone looking to spend their lives expanding the horizons of knowledge–look like? A few unusually dedicated (to the point of probably not being entirely objective) individuals either endowed by a rich patron or independently wealthy themselves, all poking around in small and clannish communities with reasonably limited resources. In other words, it looks like screwing around. Good, honest, hard science requires huge amounts of data-gathering–it takes thousands of tedious mind-numbing and perversely even-handed experiments to really shake up our understanding of any practical field, from rocketry to medicine to cosmetics. Accomplishing that with a medieval economy is practically inconceivable.

Now let’s go one step further and look at a standard medieval fantasy setting–and magical science. What does it take, really, to attain a level of magical power that’s never been attained before?

Imagine you’re a high-level wizard. You’ve got all the most powerful spells ever devised and you’re interested in getting even more powerful. Only question is, how could you possibly accomplish that in your lifetime?

First of all, you’re incredibly rare. Progress was easier with the lower spell levels–those required less intelligence and experience to attain, meaning there was more people spending more time creating more powerful spells. But now you’re at the top of a very tall pyramid. You have very few peers, and in fact there’s only a few other people in the world who understand a fraction of what you do. And every day you spend without casting your biggest, baddest spells in some practical context, you are–at absolute best–leaving huge amounts of money on the table. At worst, you’re suffering great evils and deprivations that you could be fighting to continue to exist.

Imagine if the sum total of medicine in the world plummeted every time scientists wanted to test new ones. The science team might not care, but doctors and stockholders certainly would.

But let’s say that doesn’t matter to you. Let’s say you don’t care about the opportunity cost–you just want to do magic science. So every day you wake up, you get your breakfast, you set up your experiment, you cast your most powerful spell in a few experimental contexts–and, uh, you’re done. No more spellcasting today. You need to rest and that is both time-consuming and really going to mess with your sleep schedule. And also there are no lab assistants in the world of appropriate skill to help you. And you’re probably already of advanced age and not getting any younger. And now that you’ve dipped into your spells-per-day you’re vulnerable to an assassin who’d be happy to put your spellbook back into the economy for you.

I put it to you that this is the best reason for a high-level wizard to become a lich. Stretching the boundaries of magic requires science that a standard fantasy world, or standard human physiology, is very ill-equipped to support. Liches get to be one-person science teams. They’ve transcended the need to eat or sleep, for one thing. They’ll never get older, never die–probably don’t much notice time passing. If anyone is going to be content walled up in some secret lab, patiently performing an hour of experiments and eight hours of spell recovery in an unceasing, little-varying pattern, it’s going to be them.

Of course, said liches are also going to need test subjects, resources, possibly even labor. They don’t exist in a vacuum–they still stand to perpetrate evil–but reasonably speaking it’d all be incidental to progress. And while the liches might reluctantly administrate all this, their real role is (in my own strictly personal interpretation) going to be patiently, implacably wearing holes in the floor of a very secret lab with no entrances or exits.

When I think of liches and their role in the world, I don’t think of Thulsa Doom, or Voldemort, or Kel’Thuzad. I think of an amoral Deep Thought.

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From the Archives:

  1. Majikkani_Hand says:

    “But what do they eat?”

    I have to say, this is by far the most convincing explanation I’ve seen for liches. My gut feeling was also something like “getting rid of physical distractions (food, hygiene, sleep, etc.) and also buying time” but I hadn’t put together quite as completely what it could mean for those physical distractions that so much of the society is peasant-based and agrarian–I just figured “well, they blow a spell or three on basic life maintenance and keep on trucking.”

    I do think that always seemed to be the real merit of being a lich when I used to read the manuals cover-to-cover, though–the isolation from daily needs and ability to focus on whatever you want to. Shame about the whole “only the insanely evil need apply” bit.

    (Also, I’m loving “not a whole lot of time doing sample problems in the ol’ spellbook.”)

    • Except that in the fantasy worlds where liches exist, the way to get more powerful is to go questing, not sit in a lab studying. If you’re going to examine the in-world purpose of becoming a lich, you *also* need to reconcile it with the general “leveling up” physics of the universe.

      Magic ain’t science, natch.

      • Also you don’t need to become a lich to accomplish the “no food or sleep or aging” angle, either–you can build yourself a golem body, for instance. And for lab assistance there’s always Simulacrum and Clone. And more golems.

        You only have to have 11 caster levels to create a phylactery–that doesn’t make you Mr. Superwizard. You don’t actually even have to be a wizard, just have the Craft Wondrous Items feat and a heap of cash (120k gold).

        So, using this rule, your lich isn’t likely to be Super Megawizard Stretching the Boundaries of Magic. They’re likely to be a wealthy mid-level wizard who:

        a.) found themselves getting old while on the outs with the gods (if you don’t worship any particular deity in most D&D cosmologies, something REALLY nasty happens to you when you die) so they decided to give that whole “death” thing a miss.
        b.) had a vitally important task to finish that would take longer than their lifespan (like guarding the Tomb that Must Never Be Opened)

        Also, you don’t have to be evil to become a lich. The good ones are just called “archlich” instead.

        • Tom says:

          Ooo, I’m intrigued – what does happen to the godless dead in the DnD universe?

          • Awetugiw says:

            It differs per campaign setting. In the Forgotten Realms setting (one of the more commonly used ones), it works like this:

            Everyone must follow a deity. Once you die, you go to the afterlife of that deity (passing through the realm of the dead on the way there, I believe). Depending on the god in question this may be more or less pleasant, but it does not work in the “divine retribution” way; you are not rewarded/punished for being good/evil in life, you are judged by how well you fulfilled the god’s wishes. If you followed an evil deity, you could be punished for being too good in life.

            If you did not follow any deity (or you were not faithful enough), you are stuck in the realm of the dead. Worse, your soul is then used as construction material for the Wall of the Damned, a kind of city wall for the city of the dead. While stuck in the wall, you slowly disintegrate and get absorbed into the wall.

            Additionally, in the Forgotten Realms resurrection spells always require the intervention of your deity (which essentially petitions the god of death to have you restored to life). So the godless cannot be resurrected, which is a significant disadvantage in a setting where death and resurrection are quite common.

            IIRC other campaign setting have somewhat similar systems.

            • Tizzy says:

              I’d never heard of this system before. I suppose the setting can make it work, but I really hate it and find it counter-intuitive.

              In a setting with many gods, it is hard to imagine why commoners would dedicate themselves to a single deity. I mean, where would you even start your choice? And I don’t think that historically polytheistic cultures worked that way, so it’s not very intuitive. (Of course, having gods provably exerting their powers all the time would have a tremendous impact on people. OOTS had some really good writing about this.)

              Also, it makes priests less special. In a polytheistic society, the guy who devotes himself to a single deity stands out, is probably a bit of a weirdo. I like clerics to be truly exceptional, beyond: oh, he really knows the book well, and his god gives him spells.

              Again, I think a setting can make the whole everyone has a single god concept work, but it wouldn’t me my go-to option when making my own setting.

              • Awetugiw says:

                It’s not so much that every person only worships one god. You give prayers and donation to many gods and temples; before traveling by ship most people will give a sacrifice to at least one of the gods of the sea, for example.

                In addition to the general worship of many gods, however, everyone in the Forgotten Realms is also supposed to have a patron deity.

                This also applies to the priests in this setting, by the way. A priest of one god will pay respect to many other deities as well, it’s just that they dedicate their life to the single god that they follow.

                I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on historical polytheistic societies, but it is my understanding that this is not too far from how a lot of them worked. You respect most (or all) gods, in connection with their domain. But with some gods you have a stronger connection than others.

                EDIT for clarification: I’m not trying to suggest that all or most polytheistic societies did the FR thing, where everyone has a patron deity. Maybe they did, maybe not, I don’t know. Probably the FR situation is more comparable to priests of a single god in polytheistic societies: you clearly follow one god, but you also respect the other gods.

                • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                  Agreed. In the Greek Pantheon, the patron god of the elves gets no respect. Some people think its unfair to hold that against him but the truth is, he was really lazy and that’s why there aren’t any elves.

                  • Historically in most pagan religions “worship” was roughly synonymous with “bribe the gods to leave you alone and/or give you something you want”. Most pagan deities are essentially celestial bullies who must be propitiated or they’ll wreck your shit. FR in particular is an entirely different animal–there’s a reciprocal relationship going on there.

                    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                      Its funny you mention that because FR has a goddess of misfortune Beshaba the sister of the goddess of luck Tymora.

                      My priest’s prayer to her always ended “and please be more of a jerk to our enemies than you are to us.” I didn’t realize that was at all close to how it was handled back in the day.

              • shpelley says:

                Along with what @Awetugiw said, the Deities of Forgotten Realms are Powered By Prayer if I’m not mistaken. Thus they have incentive to “strongly suggest” that everyone have a Patron Deity that they dedicate their mortal life to. This is further enforced by Ao, a non-worshipped Deity who is basically in charge of all of the other Deities. From a Wiki:

                “In addition, unlike the other gods under him, Lord Ao had no need for worshipers whatsoever, whereas those “normal” gods who did not receive the worship of mortals could “die” from lack of worship. Ao initiated this after the Time of Troubles in order to enforce his will that the gods act as guardians of the Balance rather than kings of mortals.”

                So basically everyone is forced to be a salesdeity, peddling their brand so they don’t die.

                • The Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer epic expansion actually goes into this in a LOT of detail. The Wall of the Damned is actually maintained by the God of Death. It’s not a natural phenomenon–it was created and maintained specifically to scare mortals into worshipping SOMEONE.

                  FR has numerous other oddities, like how gods get their “portfolios”. Evil deities are constantly trying to kill off other gods and absorb their portfolios. During the Time of Troubles Ao basically forced the gods (except, I think, Helm, who guarded the gates to keep the other gods out) to take on mortal form. In consequence a bunch of them got whacked and replaced–that’s how Cyric became a god. He replaced Bane and part of Bhaal and I think also one other god he assassinated (you can run across him in the Baldur’s Gate 2 expansion).

                  • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                    That explanation (the first paragraph) has a lot in common with a certain other game written by the same people. Just saying.

                    Somebody over there really likes to riff on religion.

                    • djw says:

                      Interest in religious themes probably factored into Obsidian’s choice of topic, but the Wall of the Faithless pre-dates Mask of the Betrayer by several years, and it was not created by Obsidian Entertainment.

                      After a quick google I found a reference to it in a Forgotten Realms sourcebook published in 2003 (4 years before MotB), and some forum threads claim that it goes back to the 90’s, at least. It was probably created by Ed Greenwood, the guy that created Forgotten Realms, but I was unable to find a specific citation to that effect.

                    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                      I’m more thinking about the cause of the Wall. Their explanation of it fits Obsidian’s preferred angles of exploration of the topic.

                    • djw says:

                      My point is that Obsidian did not have that much creative control over the wall. They did not create it, or decide why it was there. I *think* that was Ed Greenwood, but I am not 100% sure. Regardless, the notion that atheists suffer eternal agony in the wall was built into the structure of Forgotten Realms long before Obsidian began to write Mask of the Betrayer.

                      Obsidian did write several extremely interesting characters who were motivated or affected by the wall in various way (most notably Kaelyn the Dove, who had a single minded passion for destroying the wall).

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    The third one was myrkul.Also fun thing is that those three that cyric killed replaced the old god of death just because he was bored and he decided to give it to them.

                    But my favorite story about gods of faerun involves cyrinishad,a magical book that turns anyone who reads it into a devout follower of cyric.And once it was complete,cyric read it.Which is why he is now the mad god.Though I guess this means that cyric can never really die,since he is his biggest worshiper.

          • IFS says:

            In Eberron everyone shares the same afterlife, and it kinda sucks. The plane of Dollurh is basically an endless grey void inhabited by the shades of the recently dead who slowly lose their memories and fade away. Various religions in the setting claim that by following them your soul will go somewhere else after fading, or that eventually their worship will cause Dollurh to change into a paradise, but due to the nature of deities and religion in Eberron there is no proof one way or the other for any of this.

      • GloatingSwine says:

        Going out and questing is the way to gain levels, not the way to discover new frontiers of magic that no-one has ever conceived of before.

      • Collin Pearce says:

        Maybe. Depends on the storyteller. For example, most of RA Salvatore’s characters spend their first several levels at the academy before they attempt adventuring. Cadderley was unusual because he had no choice but to start as a zero-level cleric… because he had the help of two mid-level fighters, druid and a monk.

        Questing is for the irresponsibly impatient adventurer.

        Toril also highlights the magical research angle too, with the Hosttowers of Luskan, the Harpell estate and the entire city of Silverymoon. In the Forgotten Realms, magic is a branch of science.

      • Rutskarn says:

        That’s a reasonable interpretation, but my thought–and this should have made it into the essay–is that while gaining levels is based on killing things, the actual frontiers of magic are not becoming buffer, they’re making new spells and possibly even new spell levels–all of which actually do require skill checks/Gygax’s patented “figure it out DM” and time.

        • Yeah, but you *get skill points by leveling*. There is literally no game system of any kind for “sit around pondering/doing research and get skills”. If you want to make a new epic spell (which there are rules for in the Epic Handbook) you need an epic feat free, which you can only get by leveling. And there’s a reason why the Hosttower of the Arcane and Thay are always making a nuisance of themselves with the neighbors.

          My personal preference is always to treat the mechanical rules of the game as the “physics” of the game as much as possible, so if you gain levels by adventuring and there are no real rules for how magical research works, you get more powerful by *practicing* (and trying new things), not by *studying*. And a good thing, too, because who wants to play in a party where every wizard is whining all the time about being taken away from their research?

          And keep in mind wizards are not the only arcane spellcasters. Sorcerers and bards can create new spells too, and they’re not much inclined to study.

          I once came up with the theory that the difference between a Sorcerer and a Wizard is that Sorcerers can “feel” what they’re doing with magic–a sense that is given to them by their bloodline. Wizards can’t feel what they’re doing, so they have no choice but to rely on formulae to achieve the same effect. It’s a bit like someone who has no sense of smell or taste trying to cook. You have to follow a recipe because you can’t make adjustments on the fly. Now imagine that you’re trying to come up with a NEW dish–but you can’t smell or taste the food to know when you’ve gotten the proportions right. So you have to feed it to your family over and over and over and ask them “too much rosemary? Not enough salt?” and make adjustments until you have it exactly right. Which also works with the “get more spells by leveling” of the actual game.

          • Of course, if you go this route, you then have the question of “so why don’t Sorcerers know more spells than wizards, then?” I figure you have a couple of options at least:

            1.) Magic is unruly and difficult. Even if you can “feel out” what’s happening, if you’re trying something new you’re likely to produce a uselessly minor effect, basically the equivalent of a Cantrip. To really line up your power behind the effect and get a “real spell” out of it, you have to do it a lot of times.

            2.) Sorcerers are dilletante personalities. They figure out a few things and then stick with them.

            3.) They DO “know” more spells than wizards, but because they don’t “prepare” spells the same way they can’t pull it off in combat–they need to sit still and meditate for a long time to get spells that aren’t on their “known” list to work. So the “known” list isn’t “every spell I can perform” but rather “every spell I can perform under pressure”.

            4.) a given Sorcerer’s bloodline only gives them an affinity for certain types of magic (likely, as anyone making a sorcerer is liable to stick with spells that work well with that bloodline).

            And I’m sure any creative person could come up with more options.

            • Ninety-Three says:

              There’s an answer to that question supported by the rules of the game: Wizards know more spells because they can copy written ones. Five pages of meticulous spell formulae mean that wizards have a formal language that doesn’t just record how to cast a fireball, it lets them share the idea with their fellows. Sorcerers, with their intuition-based casting, would have a much harder time teaching another sorcerer Fireball. “You just kinda go like this and think ‘fwoosh!'”

              • So basically every sorc has to figure out how to cast a spell from base principles.

                Even when you’re trying to create a new spell, having the habit of meticulous notes, minute adjustments, and a wealth of “X does Y” knowledge will help you out more than having to figure it out from scratch every single time.

              • Mel says:

                I don’t think that’s quite it. A wizard being able to purchase or find new spells means they potentially have access to more spells, but it doesn’t let them have more memorized at the same time.

                As far as access to spells goes–a level 20 sorcerer will know 43 spells (9 level 0, 34 that are levels 1-9). A level 20 wizard who only acquired spells through the “two free spells per level” method, will have access to 41-45[1] level 1-9 spells, plus “all level 0 wizard spells”–19 in the PHB, but there could be more if you’re using a splatbook. So there’s a bit of an advantage because a wizard automatically gets all the cantrips as part of their training, while a sorcerer only gets some of them to start with and continues spending some of their “new spell” learning on them through level 10. And as far as gaining spells outside of that goes–well, a wizard can buy or find or create an arbitrarily large number of new spells; they could find a whole new spellbook with all new spells and be able to use it (as long as they can pass the spellcraft check). A lich (or an elf), a thousand years old, might have hundreds of spells that they created, without even necessarily needing to be an absurdly high level. And they don’t have to give any existing spells up to get them.

                A sorcerer, on the other hand, can only get spells outside of the automatic ones by forgetting a spell they already knew.

                So the sorcerer’s real inherent disadvantage is that in order to have access to a spell at all, they have to keep it inside their head permanently, and there’s a more or less hard limit[2] on how many they can do that with. A wizard’s advantage isn’t so much being able to trade spells with other wizards (though that is an advantage! just a somewhat separate one), as it is being able to write spells down for themselves. Or I guess not so much write them down as… store them? (I say that because it takes special, expensive materials to copy a spell down, and, if they’re copying from a scroll the spell vanishes from the scroll (so it’s not so much copying as transferring) and if they’re “copying” from a spell they have memorized, it vanishes from their head as if they’d cast it.)

                If you compare the numbers of spells wizards and sorcerers can actually have in their head at one time, it’s a slightly different story. That level 20 sorcerer has those 43 spells (and they can cast all of them in one day, and around half of them twice), and their wizard counterpart can have ~40-48[3] spells in their head at once. The wizard still has an advantage here, though, because the sorcerer’s spell slots are weighted a bit more towards the lower-level spells.

                It’s like sorcerers have more RAM but wizards can have large external hard drives.

                [1]Because to start with they get an extra level 1 spell for each point of INT bonus, and that would generally range from 0 to 4.
                [2]Though there is an epic feat, Spell Knowledge which lets you learn two new spells and can be taken multiple times. It looks like, for a sorcerer, that would actually increase the number of spells they know.
                [3]Because of the bonus spells per day. Though it could be slightly more if they’ve increased their INT by ways other than just the free ability point every fourth level. And you probably wouldn’t have a level 20 wizard with only 10 or 11 int, but it’s technically possible.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            If you’re thinking about video games, generally yes you’re right its killing for XP.

            But in tabletop games, you can get XP through roleplay, problem solving, solving puzzles, negotiating, bypassing combat, or anything else where the DM feels like the player did something to earn XP.

            So we could say that the lich is coming up with innovative ways to explore and test the limits of magic, then formulate new stuff. And if you really wanted to be a stickler about it, you could say that the lich occasionally goes and field tests their new spells. Maybe their plots have them working towards goals but primarily it serves the end of allowing them to test their magical research.

            Also wizards do start out with 1st level spells in spite of having no XP. If 20 years in a tower can get you 0th and 1st level spells then 300 years can probably gain you some levels too.

            This is true even of video game RPGs. Mages almost always start with some magic and a lot of rpgs do support non combat ways of getting XP (earning money, completing quests, finding new areas, roleplaying)

          • Majikkani_Hand says:

            I’d like to point out that there *is* a game mechanic for “sit around and research new SPELLS,” though.

            • Not really. There are guidelines in the DMG for how much time it should take and how much it should cost, but that’s it.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                From ad&d 2nd edition dmg:

                Table 34:
                Spells cast to overcome foes or problems 50 XP/spell level
                Spells successfully researched 500 XP/spell level
                Making potion or scroll XP value
                Making permanent magical item XP value

                So yes,there is a mechanic that awards xp for sitting around researching spells.And thats just for doing that,disregarding the awards for roleplaying and achieving characters goals.

                There are also similar awards for priests who further their gods influence and for thieves who steal stuff.So you dont need to adventure in order to gain xp and loot,its just that that is a faster way.

        • Felblood says:

          Okay, free DMing advice:

          Don’t even bother to pretend that your high level NPCs gained their levels by fighting trash mobs for XP, turning in quests and overcoming dungeon obstacles. That BS is for PCs and their companions only.

          When the quest calls for the players to visit a powerful wizard/sage/librarian in his flying castle/lab/library to get information on where to find the artifact of doom, it is not necessary to act like this guy spent his entire life fighting dragons instead of reading books, doing research and charging people for information.

          You can have NPCs who gained their abilities through battlefield experience, and it’s a good idea to assume a lot of the wealth and powerful NPCs got where they are using gold they found at the bottom of a haunted tomb. However, it is 100% okay to have high level priests who spent their entire life in a hermitage or whatever. They can both be interesting story or character hooks to make interacting with the NPC more flavorful.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        IMHO, the reason that killing stuff gives XP to magic types is literal experience. They’ve learned something about how to use their spells to accomplish the task, under duress that manifests the Samuel Johnson Phenomenon: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Eventually they need time to codify and extract principles from what they’ve learned, and that’s what dings the level.

        Hypothetically, pure study can do that as well. Monastery learning for example, for cleric types, academic teaching for magic sorts, sparring and tourney training for fighters, etc, but since there’s no Johnson at work, it’s slow, and since basically few organization can afford to have ALL its members completely dedicated to study and prayer, drill and experimentation (after all, they gotta eat which means someone cooks, there’s dorms to clean, rent to pay, trade goods to craft for income, etc), so that kind of learning is SLOW. A few dozen XP a day, maybe low hundreds on good day. Heroing is so much faster, but comes with risk, and is largely self-funding as long as you can keep your distractions to a minimum.

        But lichdom means that you DO have time. You find your secret place to build a laboratory, arrange a network of intermediaries to supply new needs, tuck yourself away where you’re unlikely to be interrupted, and once you remove the need for pesky human distractions like sleep or food or aging or death, well then there peace enough to work, and even if the work is slow and levels are a long time between, progress will get made and someday the grimoire will be finished and the whole world will know your name.

        As for the stuff around? The artifacts of power that exist as cast offs and rubbish in the lab? Well, the people that come around and interrupt the work simply don’t know what they are. They’re unidentifiable because they’ve never been seen before, and odds are they don’t work they way one would hope either. So for this metaphor to work, there’s a lot crap that may as well be cursed, and might not even be recognizable. Similarly the defenses a lich is likely to marshal may not resemble anything in the Players’ Handbook either. Spells that are too powerful, have unknown effects or “impossible” outcomes, might be unable to be avoided by reliable standby methods, or can be cast faster or more repeatedly than any known wizard can muster.

      • djw says:

        *Leveling up* is a highly addictive gameplay mechanic. I think that it appears in so many games *because* it is so much fun (for some people at least) to gain experience and get stronger.

        However, that does not mean that you have to build it into the actual structure of the game world (although you can if you want to). Scientists are good scientists because they spend all their time doing science. If a scientist becomes a PC then you could have them gain levels in some science related class, but that would be a concession to game play, not the way things really work…

        • Every gameplay aspect you exempt from integration into the main game makes the gameplay more arbitrary and harder for the players to use creatively, because they can never be sure what’s just an abstraction and what’s “real”.

          • djw says:

            Sure, but *levels* are already arbitrary and unrealistic. If you want to connect your gameplay mechanic to the world in a semi-realistic way then D&D is a bad starting point.

            Something in the D100 venue (like Call of Cthulu or Runequest) where you have skills that go up when you use them might work better for that, although even there its an unrealistic abstraction of “practice makes perfect”.

            Now, from a “lets do what is fun” perspective there is a lot to be said for the simplicity of a level mechanic. I’m not trying to say that D&D levels should be tossed out the window, I just don’t think that they lend themselves to verisimilitude, and if that is what you want then you may need to give a nod and a wink when your players level up.

            • I didn’t say “realistic”. I said “integrated”. “Magic should work like science” is an attempt at realism. “The rules in some sense describe what happens in the game world” is integration. They aren’t the same thing. If your PC’s have to go out and kill dragons and fight demigods to make it to level 20 it’s disintegrated if Joe Schmoe can accomplish the same feat by reading books and attending classes and be just as combat effective (or more, because he had time to research some really weird stuff).

              White Wolf games always piss me off because they are all MASSIVELY disintegrated. (Exalted was so bad that even on repeated tries my group was unable to figure out how spellcasting was supposed to work.) If you play those games at all you’ll be constantly coming across stuff NPC’s do that sounds amazing and cool and has absolutely no rules for it, leading you to ask “so . . . the players can’t do this?” The stuff the rules describe and the stuff that happens in their stupidiotic angstworld bear no relation to each other. You could memorize the entire rulebook and have no clue what you can and can’t attempt to do in the world.

              D&D is fairly good when it comes to integration–mostly. Mutants and Masterminds is still better but it’s mechanically very time-consuming to put characters together. In M&M, for instance, your “level” is just a cap on your stats. You don’t really gain levels–you get points for doing stuff that you can spend on raising your abilities. The GM tells you when it’s time to change power level–if at all. Leveling up doesn’t mean “pick a bunch of new abilities”–it means “the maximum level to which you can raise your abilities is now higher”.

              • djw says:

                I think White Wolf suffers from bad editing.

                In any case, my original comment was specifically aimed at the notion that a scientist needs to “go questing” to become a good scientist. That seems like nonsense to me.

                If you really want to integrate the abilities of a stay at home researcher into the campaign world you can simply give XP points for boring day to day activities. Just specify that it takes decades to gain a level that way. Your centuries old lich will have plenty of time to gain those levels, but PCs will still have to raid dungeons to gain levels on a time scale that is proportional to their attention span.

      • Brandon says:

        Older editions of D&D included optional experience rules for doing things other than killing and looting. You could actually gain experience by researching or accomplishing other goals. If you think about it, research is a kind of intellectual quest. Further, custom spell development takes lots of time, and that’s part of advancing the science of magic, making new spells. Once you hit a particular level, leveling-up isn’t what counts. Developing a new epic level spell, though? One that’s not in circulation? Something to accomplish what nobody has ever done before, or on a particular scale? That’s gonna take lots of time, even without leveling up. And it’s definitely going to feel like an achievement.

      • Artyom says:

        I really don’t like when someone in fantasy world acknowledges existense of EXP.
        It’s supposed to be an abstraction – to illustrate how heroes become stronger with each defeated foe – not a worldbuilding detail.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          That really depends on the world itself.You can totally make a world where exp is a real thing,like in undertale.

        • Tam O'Connor says:

          Or Knights of the Old Republic 2, which tried to deconstruct everything it got its hands on, not just Star Wars.

        • Tektotherriggen says:

          I like the idea that XP, levels etc. were created by a conclave of Gods. Any God could just turn all their favourite clerics into mini-gods, and cause no end of fuss. But strictly restricting what abilities a cleric has, and how quickly they can acquire them, allows the world some semblance of stability.

          Other professions – fighters, wizards and the like – don’t really have XP and levels, but know about how it works for clerics. By analogy, it has become a very convenient way for them to boast about their abilities over a few pints, or find a trainer suitable for their skill level. It would be like grades when learning a musical instrument, or belt colours in martial arts.

  2. Jakale says:

    This reminds me a little of some of the stories I’ve read where people use necromancy for positive purposes. A town where the military conscripts are all villagers who signed on to be raised for the local standing zombie army, for instance, or the paleontologist who can raise a magically reinforced skeleton.

    I would wonder, for this particular case, if said liches are interested in sharing their discoveries or hit a point where they merely exist to continue to research just for their own satisfaction.

    • Awetugiw says:

      In the “as written” version* of D&D liches and most other undead, they are inherently evil. For skeletons and zombies, no real reason is provided why they are evil, for liches it is stated that the ritual to become one requires an (unspecified) act of unspeakable evil.

      There is considerable debate about what it means for skeletons/zombies/liches to be inherently evil. Maybe you are tormenting the souls of the people you raised as skeletons/zombies. Maybe the magic involved in creating them is corrupting, and people who use it (almost) always fall to evil regardless of their intentions.

      As for liches, it could be that the only reason for them being evil is the “unspeakably evil” act committed in becoming one. In that case, you would expect good liches to be uncommon (since only evil people would be willing to become a lich) but not unheard of, since the lich could try to atone for its past misdeeds; redemption is almost always possible in D&D.

      On the other hand, it could also be the case that, apart from the evil required to become a lich, simply being a lich messes with your mind in a way that makes you more likely to be evil. In that case, they will almost certainly just do research for their own benefit.

      *As a GM or campaign designer you can, of course, create very different versions that share some but not all characteristics of the D&D version.

      • Arrow says:

        Perhaps it’s the inherent nature of undeath that will eventually turn all it’s victims to evil. Certainly some undead must perform evil acts to continue to exist. Vampires sustain their undeath with the blood of the living; nightly assaults and (possibly) murder make remaining good or even neutral all but impossible. But what about non thinking undead like skeletons?
        These being are now powered by entropy, the force of decay, perhaps extended exposure to an undead will slowly drain the life away from an environment. People get sickly, soil no longer can support crops, etc. What if undeath is like radiation, slowing and invisibly poisoning the world around it? So it’s not about morality but the promotion of life over death, by engaging in necromancy one fosters the uncontrolled growth of entropy and chaos which is apposed by most good aligned deities. It could even be subtler, perhaps undeath fosters negative emotions and/or stifles positive ones for those around it’s taint. That could influence others to commit evil acts, making the undead evil by proxy.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The new versions are more lenient when it comes to good undead.There are good liches,good necromancers,good ghosts,etc.

      • Tizzy says:

        DnD has always struggled by turning good and evil from moral concepts into objective realities. It’s a component of your alignment, it can be detected, there are whole concept planes for them… So you could always solve this by saying: the energy that animates them is itself evil. But it’s not really solving anything..

        I can’t help but note that, when DnD took off in the 80’s and slew of imitators came out, most of them stay well away from this idea, even while they were shamelessly aping about everything else. But objective good and evil is so baked into the system that they never got rid of it of even downplayed it in subsequent editions, never mind how awkward it all is.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          DnD has always struggled by turning good and evil from moral concepts into objective realities.

          No,it works fine with its objective good and objective bad.Its only when people try to apply real world logic onto it that there is a problem.In a world with objective evil,killing babies of an evil race is a good thing.Its only when you go “but,they are babies,babies cant be evil” when you break the system,because thats not how it is supposed to work.

          • Tizzy says:

            That’s what I mean by struggle: players don’t always get it, and it prevents the game systems from being quite as all-purpose as they could be. I think you can build perfectly serviceable worlds based on these concepts, but where I see the game struggling is in how the concepts are awkwardly placed, besr developed within a setting, but too deeply ingrained in the system itself to be cleanly separated.

            Again, I think that’s why DnD’s imitators mostly stayed away from alignment and related notions.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              I think players would get it better if their dms would always tell them “No this goes against good deitys code,so its definitely evil”.

              • Viktor says:

                Yeah, but you’re dealing with modern players. There’s likely going to be at least one person in your group who regularly has to deal with severe discrepancies between what a god says is good and what is clearly morally right. Having a god in your campaign setting who commands evil acts and is considered good will likely cause issues for those players, which hurts your game.

              • Majikkani_Hand says:

                That’s a way to make it internally consistent, but it’s pretty unsatisfying to actually play, at least in my experience. Also, “good” can sometimes get conflated with stuff that should be value-neutral, like modesty, and that can be kind of icky when you start handing it down as a set-in-stone ruling.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  It can be satisfying to play.Also liberating as well.You dont have to worry about what your ALIGNMENT cleric would do in this situation,you just follow the rules set by your deity.

                  And there are neutral gods as well.Plenty of them.So you are covered in that respect as well.

      • krellen says:

        The argument stems from planar metaphysics, I believe. All undead are powered by the Negative Energy plane – a realm of “anti-life”, so to speak. Even the mindless corpses that are skeletons and zombies are powered by this spark of “anti-life”, and D&D, at its most fundamental level, defines Goodness as a respect for life. Anti-life is the antithesis of that, and the antithesis of Good is Evil.

        Because of this spark, the mindless undead are driven, when uncontrolled, to seek out and destroy life. Intelligent undead have the same urge, but being intelligent can control the urge – most, however, don’t, some because their existence is predicated on destroying life, some through sheer malice, and some simply because they consider life an insignificant obstacle to their other goals.

        • IFS says:

          Depending on the edition many undead also have powers that are inherently destructive or damaging to life around them, often that they can’t shut off. Wights and ghouls can be intelligent but they drain levels and inflict paralysis at a touch respectively, I’d have to check but I believe Liches often have a sort of cold/paralyzing touch. This is typically attributed to them being animated/powered by negative energy (good aligned versions of undead in 3.5 at least are powered by positive energy).

          You could justify becoming something unnatural and innately harmful to nature and life around you for the greater good but that probably wears on you. Besides which losing your biological functions like sleep and hunger probably have some detrimental psychological effects. It’d be pretty easy to develop resentment for people indulging in pleasures like good food or sex which you can no longer have.

  3. Ninety-Three says:

    I disagree with your assessment. You haven’t made a good case for why lichdom is especially valuable to a wizard.

    Food/sleep are mere convenience factors: food is trivialized by various magic items, and you don’t need to actually sleep to prep spells, just spend eight hours staring at a wall. There are easier ways to avoid old age than lichdom: within the PHB alone you have Reincarnating every few decades, Polymorph Any Object into something unaging, becoming a vampire, and probably a few more methods I don’t remember. The only irreplacable feature of lichdom is the free respawns off your phylactery. And is that really a high priority for a scientist?

    Phylactery respawns are powerful and unique, so you can always argue that they’re worthwhile for personal defense, but then you’re back to the problem stated in the intro:

    while these abilities unquestionably make liches more powerful, they mostly don’t make them better wizards.

    Granting that there are many ways to defeat aging, how does being a lich make you a better scientist? You laid out a bunch of miscellaneous positives, but they’re all either attainable by less drastic means, or not mission-critical, at best tenth on your self-empowerment To Do list. To repeat the question you asked, what’s the key advantage of self-lichification?

    • modus0 says:

      Reincarnating requires you to either devote a Contingency spell to ensuring it goes off when you die, or have someone else willing to cast it for you (it also doesn’t work if you die of old age); Polymorph Any Object would almost certainly end up with a duration lower than “Permanent” (Human to Marionette lasts only @ 3 hours); and turning into a Vampire doesn’t remove the need to eat or sleep, just changes them (and the need to eat turns into a potential liability, as people will notice your victims).

      Think about how much money you spend on food each month, how much time you spend preparing it, and how much time you spend expelling waste from your body. What if you could eliminate all that, and spend that time and money elsewhere?

      How about never getting ill again, or suffering from aches and pains because you pushed your body further than you should (or just slept wrong)?

      Also note, that unlike other intelligent undead, the lich doesn’t have any serious downsides beyond “looks like a desiccated corpse”. No weakness to holy symbols, fire, or sunlight and no need to feed on blood. And their appearance can be disguised with rather simple ilusions, for when you need to interact with Commoners.

      Sure, it’s not perfect, and not an option at all for Good-aligned wizards, but it does seem like the best of the available choices.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Reincarnating requires you to either devote a Contingency spell to ensuring it goes off when you die, or have someone else willing to cast it for you (it also doesn’t work if you die of old age);

        At age 60, Charm or Dominate the Reincarnate caster to ensure loyalty, then slit your throat and wake up in a new young body. Easy.

        Polymorph Any Object would almost certainly end up with a duration lower than “Permanent” (Human to Marionette lasts only @ 3 hours)

        Same size, same kingdom, same class. PAO into a medium-sized unaging mammal, done. Heck, same class, same size, related, PAO into something unaging for two days and just burn an 8th-level slot every once in a while to refresh it.

        Think about how much money you spend on food each month, how much time you spend preparing it, and how much time you spend expelling waste from your body. What if you could eliminate all that, and spend that time and money elsewhere?

        There are uncountably many magic items that will cast Create Food and Water for you. At this point we’re just getting into “general-purpose convenience factors”. Everyone would like to not bother eating or sleeping or getting sick. It has no special application for magical scientists, and magical scientists are in no greater needer of convenience factors than anyone else. So I don’t see the argument that one becomes a lich for science.

        • Rutskarn says:

          Well, it lends itself to magical experimentation because you have to be a mage and because liches in particular want to become more magically powerful.

          I’m really just focusing on building up the central lore of the monster. If they were supposed to be cobblers who wanted to make better shoes, I would argue that it lets them spend long periods of sunless tractless hours obsessing over the angle of a high-top.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            I get that, it just feels weird that you acknowledge that there’s a universe of Archmagi’s and Intellect items out there to acquire, that being a lich attracts all sorts of undue attention, and yet you’re making the argument “One becomes a lich for the convenience factors”.

            Granting all your assumptions about how being a lich is convenient to a scientist, all it is is convenient. Becoming a lich doesn’t let you perform twice as much science, or do previously impossible experiments, or make you any better at hiding in a secret lab. It just means you get to skip lunch, your neck doesn’t get sore and the constant meditation to regain spell slots isn’t as boring. That’s nice, certainly, but becoming a lich to achieve that is pretty damn drastic.

            Now, “I tarnished my immortal soul because I wanted an extra hour in the day and was sick of my nose itching” does work as characterization for a certain type of scientist, but it feels a bit too Cave Johnson wacky for most settings.

            • IFS says:

              More than an extra hour, not needing to sleep frees up plenty of time even if you occasionally have to meditate for eight to get spells back. Some magical research might not involve much casting so you can keep at that for days before needing to refresh yourself. Such research could involve say reading the entire contents of a library or two, or just observing some rare phenomena for days on end. You’d never be interrupted by the need for sleep, hunger, or other bodily functions. As Krellen pointed out below you are free to take on more risky experiments because death is now an inconvenience. In fact there are places like the Negative energy plane or the bottom of the ocean you can now explore much more safely if you desire to. Finally there is the fact that not having to worry about age means you can safely pursue research for decades or even centuries and not have to worry about leaving it unfinished or in the hands of your (comparitively incompetent) apprentices.

              As for those items of the Archmagi and other intellect boosting items someone has to make them, and if you aren’t able to find them secondhand that someone will have to be you. Considering that making magic items costs experience, which for non-adventurers can come quite slowly, making even one of those items could set you back quite a ways particularly if you’re already up there in years. Becoming a Lich might have a similar cost to it in slowing their progression but it also comes with the advantage of time, all the time in the world even.

              I don’t really see Liches necessarily being characterized as wacky scientists, rather I’d see them being incredibly driven scientists or perhaps desperate. Likely quite egotistical as well, after all they are geniuses willing to take an ‘ends justify the means’ approach to overcoming mortality. There are dozens of ways you could spin that, if you wanted to go Cave Johnson wacky you could (that would make for a highly amusing dungeon no doubt), but you could also have them be an old man running out of time and options, or a scientist shunned by their peers for dangerous and risky experiments, or a visionary who is convinced that if he just had enough time he could lead the world to a more enlightened path.

            • GloatingSwine says:

              On the other hand, those magical experiments that take three times the normal whateveryouare lifespan? You get to see how those turn out now.

              A Lich is the kind of magical scientist who is willing to stitch together a bunch of corpse parts and shove a lightning bolt through the result to see what happens, not the sensible kind.

            • Majikkani_Hand says:

              It’s not 100% about just the needs themselves being fulfilled, either–it’s about removing the need to even think about them. No internal timers going off for food or sleep or waste evacuation, no need to shift positions, no cramps, no irritating sensations of any kind, essentially no physical distractions at all–how many times have you lost a thought because of (as you mentioned) an itch? It’s happened to me more than once, and some of those thoughts were important. It’s extreme, but there have definitely been times I would have taken somebody up if they’d offered me lichdom, and if you offered it to me today I’d still think about it seriously. Convenience is actually pretty damn attractive from where I’m standing; it’s all about your priorities.

              I’m not saying there are no better solutions available within the ruleset, because of course there are, but if this is the one you’ve heard of, and know the magic to pull off (maybe you’re a necromancer), this isn’t a terrible solution.

        • modus0 says:

          At age 60, Charm or Dominate the Reincarnate caster to ensure loyalty, then slit your throat and wake up in a new young body. Easy.

          Valid, though not fool-proof. And doesn’t work on someone who has made themselves immune to mind-affecting effects. Though I will admit that it’s probably less dangerous than the process to become a lich, which might just kill you.

          PAO into something unaging for two days and just burn an 8th-level slot every once in a while to refresh it.

          Which burns an 8th-level spell slot, something that isn’t an issue for a lich.

          There are uncountably many magic items that will cast Create Food and Water for you.

          Such items can be disenchanted, or rendered inert inside an Antimagic field. They also don’t remove the need to eat, drink, or defecate. Well, the Ring of Sustenance does, but you have to wear it for a week with no benefit first, and if you take it off (say, because you need a different set of rings for something), then you’re back to needing food and water for a week.

    • Warrax the Chaos Warrior says:

      Think of how paranoid extremely powerful, amoral people can be. Stalin is a good example, Saddam Hussein, the Kims in North Korea, any number of dictators really. Organized crime bosses fit the profile too.

      In a fantasy setting, I’ve always thought of lichdom (or other kinds of free willed undead) as the ultimate paranoid overreaction of an amoral and successfully ambitious spell user (or whatever).

      People like that make enemies to the point of always having to look over their shoulders, and will constantly be jumping at shadows. You just know the assassins are coming for you, and now you’re more ready to handle them. You can’t be backstabbed or poisoned and you never have to let your guard down by actually closing your eyes and sleeping 1/3 of your day away. Stalin would have drank a potion that gave him that in a heartbeat.

      • Erik says:

        Based on that interpretation, liches are always evil not because becoming one is an evil act and causes you to become “Evil”, but because only someone who is already evil would ever consider doing it. It’s really not something that happens by accident, after all.

        • modus0 says:

          A bit of Column B, a bit of Column A.

          Part of the ritual to become a lich requires killing a Unicorn, and is presented as a “If you weren’t Evil before, you are now!” thing, so it’s very rare that someone who wasn’t already evil would go through with it. And then there’s the whole bit that (at least in 3.5) undead are evil aligned, meaning that once you rise as a lich, you’re automatically evil.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        And that’s a working interpretation of liches, but it’s not the case Rutskarn made. Rutskarn tried to cast them as scientists, not dictators.

        • Rutskarn says:

          I like his idea, though! I’m glad he shared it, because that’s another cool way to spin it. It’s also more parsimonious than my own in terms of assumptions, honestly.

        • modus0 says:

          Then go with Mengele, Kavorkian (a bit of a stretch), or any other rather amoral scientist who tries to justify their research with the claim of “But it’s improving our understanding of X!”

          Imagine that evil mages (more so than good mages) are often paranoid about good-aligned individuals discovering that they are researching spells about spreading plagues and coming to end them and their research. Or that they’re afraid that a rival might be doing something similar, and the possibility exists that the rival might try killing the mage to get access to that research.

    • You’re right about magic making eating or drinking or sleeping trivial, but how many items make these things irrelevant?

      In Rutskarn’s model for mage-science, you spend a ton of time being bored. Bopping around your tower, getting chilly, idly grabbing a snack, bundling up in some blankets, trimming your nose-hairs, filling and emptying chamber-pots. But a Lich can just let one hour roll into the next, one day into the next, months, years, decades… especially since most liches are described as being very different in their psychologies on a physiological level, it makes a lot of sense to me that ONLY a lich can attain this kind of monomaniacal focus, to the complete loss of awareness about time and the outside world.

      • Tizzy says:

        on the other hand, a lich cannot enjoy coffee any more. that’s a big no-no for most of the scientists I know.

        • krellen says:

          I bet most of those scientists “enjoy” the coffee because the caffeine buzz allows them to skimp on sleep, not because they “enjoy” coffee as a thing. Being a lich could be likened to a permanent caffeine high.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        But a Lich can just let one hour roll into the next, one day into the next, months, years, decades

        Can they though? The rulebook never says they can. You’re just making that up, based on no particular evidence.

        • Matt Downie says:

          Liches in adventures tend to be hanging out in weird dark holes. They never seem to go down to the inn to play cards, or anything a normal person would do if they were bored. This suggests they have very different ideas about what’s a good time compared to regular humans. Whether this is because they’re a lich, or whether they became a lich because they were a bit weird in the first place, is debatable.

        • modus0 says:

          Ever been doing something like reading, or playing a video game, and suddenly realize that more time has passed than you expected/intended? You go so engrossed in and focused on what you were doing, “in the zone”, that everything else became unimportant.

          Often, something like fatigue, a full bladder, empty stomach, or other obligation was what pulled you out of that hyper-focused state.

          Given the lack of biological functions for a lich, I can easily see them getting into something and when they finish/get pulled away by something, they find that years or decades have gone by, not that it would really matter when aging is no longer an issue.

    • Arrow says:

      It’s not just removing hunger and never tiring, it’s the removal of all the limitations of life. A lich can stand perfectly still hunched over an experiment, carefully holding a vial and pouring a single drop of liquid (which emits very toxic vapors) once exactly every three hours and 6 minutes. A lich never grows feeble or forgets, they will never feel boredom, they are never distracted, they never lose focus. They are no longer at the whims of their emotions, never too depressed to work or get angry and lose their composure. And I would imagine not having biological functions or a soul probably aids in spell casting quite a bit.

      Life is a special thing in D&D, normal magic can’t restore it; it requires the divine to interfere. That suggests life is very complicated system but in some way must be partially magical. As it is far easier to imbue an object with magic than a living creature the process of life must interfere or have some sort of effect on the fabric of magic. Removing one’s soul not only removes the physical limitation of life but it’s distracting and interference with magic, allowing spells to be cast more purely, without the various adjustments needed to compensate channeling magic through a living vessel. No need to time your casting with your pulse, no need to add protection from the magical backlash of various spells, no need of somatic components to be broken up into stanzas since lichs don’t need to breath in order to speak. A lich’s spells will be beautiful, elegant, and efficient. Their magic circles will be unbelievably intricate, only possible due to their unflinching hand. People don’t turn into lichs to add an extra d6 to their fireballs, they are devoting their existence to the art of magic. The results might not always be tangible but it’s the understanding that drives the lich. An 18th level wizard may cast spells, but a lich shapes the world. It may not have a noticeably effect as far as the barbarians is concerned but other spell-casters will feel like crude novices in the lich’s presence.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        A lich never … forgets, they will never feel boredom, they are never distracted, they never lose focus. They are no longer at the whims of their emotions, never too depressed to work or get angry and lose their composure. And I would imagine not having biological functions or a soul probably aids in spell casting quite a bit.

        You’re imagining that. The rulebook never says it, or even implies it in flavour text. Some of that stuff, like aiding spell-casting, is major enough that it would clearly be mentioned if it were present. There are quite a few examples of enraged liches.

        I can argue that you become a lich in order to play football if I’m allowed to invent that many things about how lichdom works.

        • Rutskarn says:

          You could, but books don’t really mention liches playing football. They do mention liches attempting to gain more magical power.

          I’d like to point out that we are at no points contradicting anything that’s commonly written about liches. We’re making a judgment call based on a few evidences about the monster which we apparently feel are reasonable, and when you’re running a game, that’s not only fine–that’s necessary to escape the thin wafers of flavor text the published materials offer.

          So far we’re disagreeing primarily ON those little additive bits. That’s totally okay, but I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere debating it.

    • Rodyle says:

      /tg/ had a few nice copypastas on liches. I can try to find them and upload them into an album if you guys are interested.

    • krellen says:

      Free respawns allows the lich’s experiments to have far fewer safety protocols, which could easily be a great boon to their research.

  4. Malimar says:

    Since this post is about liches, I am obligated to mention a thing that came up in my setting’s backhistory and which fills me with joy whenever I think about it:

    Kade and Rana the lich-queens, a pair of necromancers who so loved each other that they somehow made each other into their phylacteries. If one was defeated, the other just contingent teleported away, and 1d10 days later they were both on their feet again.

    It proved too difficult to kill them both at once, and the world was only spared their depredations when they got bored of their home world and hopped a spelljammer to go exploring the multiverse. They’re still out there somewhere.

  5. Syal says:

    I think you’re misreading it. Becoming a lich is “a stepping stone to greater magical power”, in that it’s a frat prank that high-level wizards pull on each other at mage school.

    “Dude, check out this magic stone, you stare at it and it gives you +5 INT for a week!”

    “Really? I’ve got to see this.”

    Not! In your face old man, you just got phylacterized!

    Explains why they’re all evil too.

    • SharpeRifle says:

      Hmmmm now I have an idea for an evil mastermind who tricks a wizard into becoming a lich like creature so he can set the heroes on him as a distraction….

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    In most games, liches are wizards who’ve used some kind of dark endgame magic to stick a piece of their souls into inanimate objects called “phylacteries”.

    Is that something like a horcrux?Why give it such a silly,mundane name as phylactery?

    • Joe Informatico says:

      It’s an archaic word for “amulet”, or if you go back to the ancient Greek, “protection”. And Gary Gygax–or more correctly the pulp science fiction and fantasy that inspired him–was all about that oldschool diction.

      (The small boxes containing verses from scripture some observant Jews wear strapped to their head and arm are also called “phylacteries”, but their proper name is Tefilin.)

    • James Porter says:

      If we are being honest, I would love for liches to just call them Horcruxes. I get where phylactery came from, but its a cumbersome and awkward word, and I feel Horcrux is a far more straightforward phrase

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Leaves a lot of time for personal errands and interpretive dance classes and all sorts of other stuff not keyed to day-to-day survival.

    Umm,what?Even if,and thats a big IF,you are just feeding yourself and not providing for a whole tribe(which you have to do,because otherwise you will become the hunted),this still takes a LOT time.Sure,you could forage for berries a bit,and gather enough in a couple of hours to feed yourself for a day or two.When they are ripe.But what are you going to do in the winter?Hunter-gatherer tribes arent really that well known for their refrigeration.

    So hunting gets to be more primary to you then gathering.However hunting is even worse,because while you can reliably find food all year round,its a LOT tougher to actually get it.Your prey will either be fast or dangerously armed.Thats why the old men used to hunt a single animal for days,either running it to exhaustion,or poking it then tracking it until it finally bleeds to death.And even if you use stuff like traps,you still have to regularly check on those to ward off other predators from getting to your prey first,and to reset and refill those traps that didnt work as expected.

    Hunter-gatherer tribes had waaaaaay less free time than farming tribes.Which is why farming is the one that enabled those that arent directly producing food to flourish.

    • Zock says:

      Actually Ruts’ kind-a got it right…
      ref. Refs from here

    • Micamo says:

      Actually, even in extreme environments like the kalahari desert, the average hunter-gatherer only has to work about 20 hours a week to get all the food they need. The real advantage of farming is that it allows for much greater population densities.

    • Rutskarn says:

      Based on my research, I’d tend to disagree.

      Farming, particularly medieval farming, is anything but leisurely activity. There’s little meat in a medieval diet compared to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, meaning calories come from grains and cereals that must be actively tended to to flourish. Even what meat there IS, for those of status, must be constantly fed, nursed and enclosed when sick, tracked down when escaped, led to breed, tended to during births…

      And of course there’s always houses to build, benches to craft, complex tools to repair, trees to coppice, fences to mend, clothes to make, firewood to chop, vermin to chase, wars to fight in…all of that on top of the absolutely backbreaking work of bringing in a harvest that won’t end in half the village starving during a particularly bad winter.

      • krellen says:

        I believe the actual fact is that hunter-gatherers spend less individual time seeking food, but a larger portion (nearly 100%) of their populace is devoted to doing so. When you switch to agriculture, your farmers do a lot more work, but – in times of plenty, anyway – it’s a lot easier to support a population of people that aren’t (primarily) farmers. It’s just a way to concentrate the workload (to a point now that modern societies have less than 2% devoted to producing food.)

        • Blackbird71 says:

          Modern societies, yes, but we’re talking medieval societies here, and farming was not always as efficient as it is now. There have been a lot of improvements in agricultural science and developments in technology that make that 2% number possible.

          I don’t have any medieval figures handy, but as recently as the 18th century, it took ten farmers to support themselves plus one more person of a non-farming profession. So, your village has a blacksmith? That’s ten farmers to support him. A tailor? That’s another ten farmers, and so on. That’s nearly 91% of your population dedicated to food production. And depending on which medieval period fantasy game realm is closest to, the percentage would be even higher than our 18th century.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Stretching the boundaries of magic requires science that a standard fantasy world, or standard human physiology, is very ill-equipped to support.

    Well,to be fair,the science of a standard fantasy medieval world is not that well thought out.If you stop and think about a medieval world with magic in it,youll soon realize that it would look vastly different than the feudal world we had here on earth.Wizards wouldnt be mostly holed up in their labs doing obscure stuff,theyd mostly be erecting walls from thin air,repairing houses,watering greenhouse fields(which they established in the first place),curing all kinds of diseases and injuries,….and most importantly,getting stinking rich from every single person paying them to do all of that.The most common item wouldnt be a ring of +1 armor,but rather a ring of create food,or a hammer of easy stone repair,or necklace of bone mending,or something mundane like that.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      They already are different. D&D and a lot of other Standard Medieval European Fantasy settings already gleefully mix together weapon-sets and technologies and cultural institutions that in reality existed centuries apart, and then have those mashup cultures persist for hundreds of years without real technological or social change. And the whole thing’s still going to be informed by a late 20th/early 21st century mindset, because the real medieval mindset is quite alien to most modern people. Trying to accurately represent it can be extremely off-putting.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        They’re different in that they’re a cultural mishmash, but they’re not actually informed by the existence of magic, like a plausible world would be. Armies still march like medieval armies, even though a level 5 wizard should be cooped up all day scribing fireball scrolls that would cheaply enable a level 1 character to kill soldiers by the dozen. Large military boats exist even though it would be trivial for an L5 wizard, or anyone with UMD and a few potions and scrolls, to take one down (Invisibility + Fly + Fireball-metamagiced-to-sonic-damage). There’s not a single character in the settings of D&D who has thought to exploit the massive ways in which medieval-Euorope-ish is vulnerable to magic.

    • Tizzy says:

      I’ve been thinking along the same lines, and, for a long time, I’ve been wanting to find a setting that does these ideas justice. any suggestions?

      • Rutskarn says:

        The easiest hack is to choke back magic levels. If magic items are rare or stuck in dungeons and wizards are one-in-a-thousand and smart enough to keep to themselves, they needn’t have a blanket effect on societal development.

        And even if you do have a low-level priest who can make feasts and water, you don’t want to rely on him. If he’s run over by a cart you’re right back to worrying about your next meal unless you’re working on a harvest.

        Maybe some community somewhere’s got a Horn of Plenty, but what they haven’t got is the biggest army in the world–so they keep it to themselves.

        • krellen says:

          This is the way most D&D settings are intended to be. If you look at comparative prices – a bushel of wheat is maybe 10 copper, a simple non-magical sword is more like 1000, a simple magical sword is 200,000 – you start to see how rare magic items and magic is supposed to be.

          PC adventurers are weirdo rockstars that live in a world of gold pieces whereas the rest of the world lives in a world of copper.

          • djw says:

            That is mostly because the authors pulled numbers out of their asses to make stuff PC’s want expensive. In a real economy I’m sure the prices would be very different.

            • Ninety-Three says:

              The most concise example of this is the fact that a ten foot ladder costs less than a ten foot pole.

              Break a ladder in in half down the middle, take off the rungs, and sell the resulting pair of ten foot poles at a profit, infinite money!

            • krellen says:

              It’s a rough check, and surely some items are priced poorly, but I’m not sure you’re really correct.

              A brief search turned up this thread that suggests a sword, at the time (15th century), would have cost the equivalent of $10,000 – a cheap car, roughly.

              If you look at the prices of other things – an inn meal, a mug of ale, various miscellaneous daily goods and services that would be in the realm of commoners – they are all priced in copper, and in a number of coppers that roughly equates to sensible costs if you think of 1 copper as 1 US Dollar. $3 for a beer at the inn. $5-$10 for a meal. $50 for a bed for the night. “Stuff PCs want” is expensive, because they’re in an expensive line of work. Being a murderhobo isn’t cheap. If it was, everyone would do it.

              • djw says:

                Well, I agree that the stuff murder hobo’s want is likely to be expensive. I also can’t really blame game designers for just making prices up, since modeling an ancient economy is probably pretty hard.

                That said, I think that a sword was a luxury item and a status symbol, and that must drive the price up relative to its actual utility in a fight. A better check on prices for items that a peasant would actually use would be the price of a spear.

            • JAB says:

              At least in first edition, you gained experience from treasure as well as killing monsters. And monsters gave much less exp in first than in third, while you needed the same amount or more to go up a level. So…

      • IFS says:

        Try looking at Eberron, its a setting where magic is very much treated as a science. It features things like Sharn, a city of skyscrapers supported by levitation and reinforcement magic, and great floating fortresses that saw use in the Last War. It even expanded on the concept by adding the NPC class Magewright which is sort of a wizard focused purely on utility spells as well as the PC class Artificer which is all about magic items. It’s a really cool setting on the whole and well worth looking into.

        Also while it gets a tragically small amount of attention in the published materials Eberron features the nation of Droaam which consists largely of monstrous races and feeds its populace through use of troll grist mills that take advantage of trolls regenerative capabilities to supply endless quantities of troll sausage.

      • Rafael says:

        There’s an excellent book that explores the D&D rules under a rational lens, it’s called The Two Year Emperor, by David K. Storrs. It’s very good.

        Link to the Amazon page: The Two Year Emperor

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    When I think of liches,I think of xykon.So you do it because it looks cool*.

    *Not really the reason he did it,but whatever,It still is cool.

  10. ehlijen says:

    The phylactery thing is supposed to mostly work because of secrecy. Lichification is an ancient evil secret, and its value is inversely proportional to the number of good heroes who know about it.
    If the Lich in a given story is the only Lich anywhere, the odds of anyone even knowing it has a weakness/respawn ability, let alone how it works, are slim to none. So the heroes arrive, kick down the door, smite and leave thinking they’ve won. Then the lich respawns and gets back to work, confident that no one even knows he’s not dead.

    DnD doesn’t really work like that, but Liches, or at least the phylactery as an immortality trick, makes a lot more sense both for the lich and as an interesting story element if the heroes must discover its existence and then find it.

  11. Adalore says:

    If that is a thing that happens with any regularity I would love to see “The researcher lich superfancyname has revealed himself and provided his research notes to the academy” perhaps even having the writing of the lich not be current so it takes academic work to even figure out what was learned.(Like language differences and just research note style.)

    But that also goes with how I would prefer to have regional special versions of spells for like wizard schools so there are things valid to the setting like running to all of the arcane academies to learn their specific spells.
    (Not much of a difference, but a player that traveled the ingame world that has a d8 fireball instead of d6 would be able to say “I HAVE THIS FANCY THING”)

  12. Stormcaller says:

    In my games i usually make lichdom a contingency ritual for evil beings. So you do your phylactery but don’t actually become a lich until you die. This means no-one knows that you’ve done it, and you can:
    a) get revenge on the SOB who killed you
    b) finish the projects and stuff
    c) take more risks :)

    This way i’d say >70% of casters who are over level 12 (and evil) have this backup.

  13. Zaxares says:

    You actually have it the other way around, Rutskarn. Hunter-Gatherer societies actually tend to devote a lot more time to gathering food, largely because it typically involves moving around a lot to avoid exhausting a food supply (think “following the herds”. You may be able to get a kill one day, and if it’s big enough, live off it for a few days, but if you sat around after that kill, by the time you need food again the herd’s long since moved on, and you have to hustle to catch up) and because of the unreliability of actually getting a successful hunt (it’s probably different for human hunts, but in the animal kingdom, successful predators tend to have about a 50% success ratio, and that’s the VERY successful hunters. For most predators, they can go for a few days before they finally manage to get a kill. Now imagine those sorts of success rates when you have a hungry family to feed, and you can see why you’d probably end up spending a large portion of your time every day hunting food).

    Agriculture involves no less work, but it provided a much more stable food supply than hunting and gathering could guarantee. Over time, as societies became more experienced and adept in agriculture, along with improvements in tools and technology, they then started to produce greater surpluses, which then allowed for differentiation in training and the rise of specialised roles.

    With regards to the lich, there are actually a myriad number of reasons why one would choose undeath:

    1. A fear of death, a very common and understandable motivation, but particularly so for evil mages. If all you have to look forward to in the afterlife is an eternity of torment, why wouldn’t you seek a way to escape death and thus your rightful spiritual punishment?

    2. A yearning for ever-greater magic. For the classic “I wish to know ALL magic!” mage, there simply isn’t enough years in their lifetime (even for elven mages) to learn all the magic they wish to learn, let alone any future advances in magic that might arrive in the future. For a real world comparison, imagine that you are the biggest, most diehard fan of Star Wars/X-Men/Avengers. How do you feel knowing that one day you will die and thus you will never, ever, get to see what happens to your greatest passion in the future? Now what if you were offered a way to somehow preserve your consciousness so you would live forever, to see everything through to the end? If you can understand the appeal of that, then you have understood the appeal of the transformation to lichdom that these mages feel.

    3. Age threatens to take away your ability to practice magic. Magic (in D&D anyway) is typically described as being a very exacting art, requiring very precise gestures or incantations to accomplish. Now imagine what you, a powerful mage in the prime of your life, must feel like when the first symptoms of old age start to appear. Your back and knees starts to ache, so all those hours of standing still in a magical circle are no longer possible. Perhaps you develop a quaver in your voice, or are afflicted by a trembling palsy, and these constantly interfere with your ability to perform magic. Curative magic cannot help you; these are natural effects of aging and thus cannot be corrected. The only way out is to transform yourself into a being for whom these concerns are no longer are issue; a lich.

    4. More rarely, a mage (or sometimes a priest) chooses to undergo the lich transformation in order to better serve a liege, kingdom, or their deity.

    I’m certain there are probably far more reasons why any one mage might choose to undergo the transformation too. These are just some of the most common ones I can think of off the top of my head.

    • Tizzy says:

      DnD always bothers me with how its tenets are so counter to anything resembling real life. Yes, I know, it’s called fantasy for a reason. But seriously, a setting where magic can cure diseases, raise you from the dead, but can’t do anything about the symptoms of aging? Fighting aging is worth billions in our own world! Did the mages in DnD-verse just give up? Do the gods have this weird hang-up where they’re ok with curing blindness but not with hip replacement?

      • Matt Downie says:

        Depending on edition, the druidic Reincarnation spell brings you back in a new body, curing all aging effects.

      • Corsair says:

        My understanding has been that healing magic generally amplifies the body’s own healing processes, and no matter how long you rest after a certain age your body just will not heal your messed up back. It’s why, among other things, healers are still needed. A cleric can close up your wound, but what happens if your leg is broken? They just heal that you’ll never walk right again, you’ve got to have it set properly first.

        Aging kills you because your body starts making increasingly ineffective repairs as the DNA the healing processes work off become more and more degraded. If we assume that D&D still works by those same processes, first Wizards would need to figure out that’s the problem before they can fix it.

        • Zaxares says:

          That’s been my understanding too. Healing magic essentially just supercharges your own body’s healing processes, but without a proper healer/doctor’s knowledge, that magical healing might leave ugly scars, poorly set bones, or organs that don’t work as well as they did before. Which is why many Clerics still end up taking the Heal skill, so that they know how to best apply their magic for the most optimal result.

          Mel’s comment below this also touches on the “every soul has a finite time allotted to it” concept. Similar to the story of the Fates from Greek mythology, it seems that all mortals have an allotted lifespan, and once this time is up, they will die. No magic will bring them back. (Which makes sense, because otherwise you’d just have super-wealthy adventurers or nobles just paying Clerics to cast Resurrection on them every time they died of old age.)

          What’s more, for most people who die, they don’t WANT to come back. Their souls have gone on to, for them, an afterlife that resonates most strongly with their alignment in life. It is a literal paradise (except for evil folk), so why would they want to come back to a mortal world that’s filled with toil and suffering?

      • Mel says:

        Interestingly, monks and druids both have a “timeless body” class feature at high levels. It means they don’t get (further) penalties for aging–which I assume translates to not having to deal with arthritis, etc.–and can’t be magically aged, but they do still die of old age “when [their] time is up”.

        Taken at face value, this seems to mean they’re essentially dying of nothing–I mean, the effects of old age are what kills you, normally–so I wonder if, in D&D terms, people only have a certain amount of life in their souls, and running out of that is what kills you if nothing else does. It would be in keeping with the “can’t bring back someone who died of old age” limitation that all the ways to raise people from the dead have.

        (I also wonder if it means the clock isn’t really reset for someone who’s Reincarnated. Sure, your new body is specifically a young adult’s–maybe even a young adult of a species with a much longer natural lifespan than you originally had–but does that necessarily mean you get extra life? The (edition 3.5) spell description doesn’t say either way–and, oddly, also doesn’t say that physical penalties for aging are undone, although logically it seems like they should be.)

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well,you could technically use a wish to become immortal and young forever.The problem is the gods.Specifically,the gods of dead,who will not like you not dying.Also,magic available to mortals is not all powerful,because the goddess of magic does not want to give that ind of power to mortals ever again.

    • Corsair says:

      Fearing death isn’t just for evil mages, too. Consider our own world. Imagine if the problems we have faced could be considered by Newton or Einstein. Now put that into the context of a Pre-Printing Press world, where the death of a mind could very often mean the death of all that mind’s knowledge. You’re one of the most powerful Wizards -ever-, and you’re facing your own death. You have learned so much, you have so much knowledge, and once you die that knowledge will be gone, there simply is not enough time to record it or teach it.

      But you do know of magic that could give you more time – all the time in the world. All for the low, low price of your conscience and your soul.

      You’ve done so much for the world with your magic, and there’s so much more you could do if you just had more time. You’re willing to shoulder the price you have to pay for it, what other moral choice is there?

    • Rutskarn says:

      Studies among the !Kung have shown that they spend about twenty hours a week working, the rest on leisure activity. That’s been blown up into all manner of doubtless over-excited theories and papers that I’m nevertheless happy to stand with.

      As for grain stores, while they did over TIME get bigger, for surpluses were pretty thin to nonexistent-oh-god-we’re-starving-en-masse for a large part of history–including parts D&D is sometimes ostensibly set in, depending on which author/designer/GM/artist was on call that day.

      I mean, D&D’s actual economy is obviously pretty murky. Take what I say as one interpretation of a pretty common interpretation of the world.

      • Zaxares says:

        I’ve never heard of this “!Kung”. I’ll need to look into them. :)

        As for overall food supply, I think that’s more a case of us looking at different periods in history when populations were either growing or had peaked. Usually, it’s a case of “food is in abundance; MULTIPLY!” until it reaches a point of “OK, the population is so big now that we’re struggling to feed everyone with the available land and technology we have”, which leaves the overall population dangerously vulnerable to things like droughts and famines. So both our cases are true, but at different points in history.

        Also, in D&D we have Clerics with Create Food and Water spells, and Druids with Plant/Animal Growth. I’d imagine that widespread droughts and famines are not as much of an issue as they are in the regular world (assuming, of course, that this is the typical magic-rich D&D world. A custom world with low magic would be a very different story); if they DO occur, it’s more likely due to “we have displeased the Goddess of the Sea and she is withholding the monsoon from us!” or “evil cultists loyal to the God of Plagues have brought down a curse upon our fields!”, in which case adventurers are dispatched to solve the issue. ;)

    • LCF says:

      “With regards to the lich”
      Those are very good points in favour of Lichdom.

      I’d like to add that Ruts’ point of view is centred on D&D, but we may very well have our fantasy world work differently:
      1) Necromancy is a kind of magic just like the others. You have the “monster” vibe because of all the death aspects, but it is not inherently evil. A walking skelleton reminds you of your mortality, a walking skelleton tilling your field and harvesting your grain helps you survive and live better. Two undead armies duking it out make for a bloodless war, and you don’t feel the loss of your conscripts on your economy as you would without. Also, undead mecanical calculators. In this context, becoming a lich is merely a magical transformation, not a grandiloquent “I’m tainting my immortal soul forrrreverrrr, because I’m soooo eviiiiiil!”.
      2) What if the process of Lichefaction actually makes you more magically powerful? Say it infuses you with magical energy, wich lower the difficulty of certain magic-related actions, or gives you a steady influx of mana, or makes clear some previously-impossible ideas or anything of that kind, in addition to not stopping to exist and keep getting XP for centuries and millenia.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        You have the “monster” vibe because of all the death aspects, but it is not inherently evil.

        No,animating dead is an evil act in the early d&ds,before all the “positive spirits” thing.Sure there are some spells in the school of necromancy that dont basically faly someones soul,but most of them involve something like that.

        • Zaxares says:

          It’s really quite vague; while D&D lore is unequivocal in stating that “animating the dead is an evil act”, it doesn’t fully explain why. My personal explanation in my games is as follows:

          When you create an undead being, what you are actually doing is pulling the unfortunate creature’s soul back from the afterlife and trapping them in their corpse. (In the case of incorporeal undead like ghosts and wraiths, it’s the same deal, except that they’re not bound to a physical corpse. They are still trapped in the mortal world, however.) So not only are you denying the dead spirit their proper afterlife, but depending upon your interpretation, you may also be subjecting the dead to incredible agony as they feel their body rotting away. Even once the decay process is finished, you still have a spirit that’s now trapped in a body that can no longer feel, no longer smell, no longer hear, and no longer see. You’d go mad living in an existence where you have almost no input from the world. All you can sense is the presence of life, and you either madly try to claim it for yourself in an attempt to recapture what you’ve lost, or you resent it bitterly for what you can no longer have and attempt to destroy it.

          Liches are unique among undead in that they are one of the very few undead that actively seek out their undead status. Thus, their hellish existence is one of their own making. However, depending on which sourcebook you use (I use Van Richten’s Guide to the Lich), becoming a lich requires you to remove the heart from a sentient and conscious being (I think the victim must be from the same race as you, but it’s not a hard and fast rule) for use in an arcane ceremony. Since most beings are naturally unwilling to give up their hearts, this almost certainly means that the prospective lich had to brutally murder an unwilling victim to become what they are.

          Perhaps some liches might try to justify it by only taking the heart of, say, a convicted murderer or some other evil person, but murder is still murder, and ultimately the lich is doing this for selfish reasons, which is why the act of becoming a lich is always an evil act.

        • LCF says:

          “In D&D”
          Possibly. But my undeads are not bound to that vision. Remember, ” our fantasy world work differently”. I do like D&D, but I am not compelled by it. It’s not the only Medieval-Fantasy setting.

          “pulling the unfortunate creature’s soul back from the afterlife and trapping them in their corpse”
          Hey, what about just taking a corpse and puppetting with our own will? No soul involved. What about creating a sub-spirit with no sense of self, only able to accomplish basic actions? Still no soul, no evil, but a very obedient magical robot.

          “becoming a lich requires you to remove the heart from a sentient and conscious being”
          In the Real World, some buddhist monks, really pious ones, take to self-mummification. It’s a long and taxing treatment, starting with a cure of bitter herbs and ending in death, inside a grotto. Add actual supernatural, actual magic, and here you are, fantasy lich without violence.

          We can start with other ideas than those from Mediterranean Antiquity or the Middle-Ages. Remember, this is fantasy, we can imagine whatever we want. ^^

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Hey, what about just taking a corpse and puppetting with our own will? No soul involved. What about creating a sub-spirit with no sense of self, only able to accomplish basic actions? Still no soul, no evil, but a very obedient magical robot.

            Thats a golem.Golems are similar to undead,but they are less autonomous.Also,you cant heal a golem,but you can heal undead(technically harm them).And yes,there are flesh golems,made from corpses.

            • LCF says:

              Sorry, I’ll rephrase:
              I do not envision magic in a fantasy setting through the D&D point of view. I have different starting points. Necromancy need not being “Evil”.

          • Zaxares says:

            Technically, using telekinetic magic or something similar to just animate a corpse wouldn’t be evil inasmuch as casting the spell Animate Object isn’t evil, although depending upon the rules of your game world that may still count as “desecrating a corpse”, which is still evil.

            Golems are typically animated by binding an elemental spirit to the construct, which is often also unwilling (hence why Flesh and Clay Golems have a chance to go berzerk and attack you). Strictly speaking, creating golems isn’t exactly a good act either.

            The only hard rule we’re working with here is WotC’s claim that “creating undead is an evil act”. Of course, you’re free to toss this out the window and create your own rules for your custom campaign. :) Nothing in the books says you HAVE to follow its rules for your own game. Indeed, Eberron broke one of the most long-standing rules for clerics by allowing priests of any alignment to worship any deity, regardless of the deity’s actual alignment.

  14. Lachlan the Mad says:

    Here is a silly story about liches, and a really weird thing about 4th Edition D&D:

    1. I once played a “haunted house” session of D&D, where it turned out that the haunting was caused by a noble who had been attempting to make himself into a lich. One of the players was incredibly upset about this, because the rituals that the old noble had been using bore very little resemblance to the way that they are depicted in the rules. The Dungeon Master had to repeatedly remind this player that no, the rituals to create a lich are not common knowledge.

    2. In 4th edition D&D, it’s entirely possible to become a cyborg lich using a couple of canon splat books. That isn’t the weird thing. The weird thing is that you do it using a freaking support class. (For those of you who actually care, you start as an Artificer [Eberron Player’s Guide], take the Self-Forged Paragon Path [Eberron Player’s Guide] and then the Archlich Epic Destiny [Arcane Power]).

    • Rutskarn says:

      1. Ha! That’s great.

      2. Whenever I see more than one splatbook in a sentence, my bowels tense.

      • Lachlan the Mad says:

        4th ed is basically all splatbooks and no core :/

      • JAB says:

        That’s because 3rd+ edition tries to be balanced, and slowly lets in power creep. As opposed to our 1st edition Monty Hall campaign, which ended around the time we had a 18th level wizard/high level monk lich, with Queen Elyssia’s Nightingale, with the side effect of immune to metal. With a couple other magic items, about the only thing he could be affected by was magical wooden weapons.

        • Malimar says:

          On the contrary! I dunno about 4th or 5th, but 3.5e gets more balanced the more splatbooks you allow. Hardly anything outside of Core is as powerful as Core-only druids, clerics, and wizards or as weak as Core-only monks and fighters. Splatbooks don’t offer any spells more powerful than Polymorph, Shapechange, Gate, or Wish, nor any items more powerful than Candles of Invocation, nor any feats more powerful than Natural Spell, nor many races more powerful than human, and so on. Aside from Pun-Pun, all the most broken tricks can be accomplished in a Core-only game. Contrariwise, there are some options in splatbooks that can bring mundanes almost up to par, especially very late 3.5e things like Tome of Battle. Over the lifetime of 3.5e, the designers gradually got better at designing for the system, which makes sense if you think about it.

          If a DM wants balance in 3.5e, they’d do better to ban Core and allow only splatbooks.

  15. Mersadeon says:

    I remember, in my very first campaign (with a badly fitting, self-made setting) I had a lich my players killed. They never actually got into his backstory, which made that all the harder.

    He had started out in a time where any weapon not made from straight up wood was basically the new hotness. Probably the first person to ever figure out the whole lich thing, he did it specifically so that he could be freed from age and need of food and all those things, so that he could study in his almost prehistoric “lab”.

    But soon he got obsessed. “What if my phylactery breaks?” So slowly, his studies shifted towards making materials magically immune to other materials and basically got into an arms-race with the world. His phylactery was immune to stone, later on to metals and most magic – but at some point he realized he just couldn’t keep up, no matter how well he was doing. So he figured he would take the only option left: fade into obscurity, don’t give them a reason to come looking for you. He took a little hut inside a cliffside far away from everyone and just did his science thing.

    Unfortunately, the world changes even if you’re immortal and uncaring: by the time the campaign started, a small orc village had settled relatively close to him. They quickly figured out that he kills anything entering his lair, so they let him be, but cultists sent out by an evil god heard the stories and decided he had exactly the kind of artifact they needed. They perished, but the trail of corpses lured my group into the lair.

    (In the end, the clue was that his phylactery wasn’t immune to “creative” solutions: a glass jar immune to stone, metal and magic can still be broken by wrapping cloth around it and twisting it to exert pressure, for example.)

  16. Steve C says:

    Going to have to disagree with most of this article Rutskarn. Food and sleep are trivially easy to overcome with magic available to PC adventurers. For a mage considering lichdom- forgettaboutit.

    The reason why liches become liches is because of permanency. By that I mean the old magic item fabrication rules from AD&D that require spells like the 8th lvl spell permanency. Spells that require permanent stat losses and other drawbacks for the caster.

    A mage that knows permanency can cast it every day. Or even multiple times per day. The problem is it drains one point of constitution per cast. Even if a mage had the best constitution possible, they’d be dead-dead in under 3 weeks if they tried that. Being dead-dead puts a serious crimp in magical studies. That is not the only spell that has severe costs either. Other spells age the caster, others permanently cost hit points, others have a high likelihood of blowing up in the caster’s face and basically lobotomizing them. There are all these cool spells a mage can learn and yet cannot risk casting.

    Lichdom is created by the frustration of having access to all this magical power and an inability to use it. There are ways around each of the drawbacks. Each one is A Big Deal™ and all together they are A Very Big Deal™. Lichdom is a one stop shop to avoiding the majority of those drawbacks. A lich can cast permanency every day for a hundred years with no ill effects. That’s why mages become liches.

    • Rutskarn says:

      You’re absolutely right about permanency. I had the idea for this post a few months ago, when creating a lich antagonist, and that was one of the light bulbs that went off that apparently didn’t stay on long enough to make this essay. Permanency is a great point that I should have covered.

      However, I will say in defense of my primary argument (which does not contradict, and is not contradicted by, how awesome infinite Permanencies are) that I don’t think a Ring of Sustenance would have quite as dramatic an effect on a person’s ability to lose track of time and transcend petty concerns as losing one’s Constitution score. That basically means you’re losing every physical system that degrades, aches, twinges, swells, rumbles–makes you mortal.

      If I was going to argue that anything in D&D besides Godhood could allow for singleminded focus on research, it’d be losing one’s Constitution.

      • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

        I was walking through hot muggy weather dealing with skin irritation and eye strain and needing to do some stuff earlier with your blog post in my head thinking about how even when I feel good, having a living body is so distracting.

        I’m so going to be one of the first people to put my brain in a robot body if and when that becomes an option.

        It reminds me of the conversation you have with your brain at the end of Old World Blues. I was just sitting there at my keyboard nodding my head and thinking “he’s right, that would be so much better, it would be wrong to put him back in my body.” Or when HK-47 says “how you deal with all that sloshing about, I’ll never know.” And I always answer “come to think of it, neither do I.”

        I think I might have a little more trouble tuning out raw input than most people do though.

    • Rutskarn says:

      I mean, that was SORT OF my intention, but his point’s totally reasonable.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        You done and broken the comments,Buttskarn!

        • Supah Ewok says:

          Sigh. My fault, actually. Asked for my comment to be deleted when I thought another of Rutskarn’s comments had ninja’d it, only for Rutskarn to comment before Shamus went through with it.

          My comment was in reply to Steve C, something like, “I think that Rutskarn was going for something edition agnostic, as your point isn’t valid at all for 4e and only slightly for 5e.”

          • Steve C says:

            Oh I know it’s no longer strictly true. My point is that is the early books is where the concept of a lich came from. The old rules shaped the ecology of the monster. Change the rules and that old paradigm remains the same regardless of new rules.

  17. Rutskarn says:

    FYI, I won’t be able to read any more comments until Sunday, but I will read them then. Until then, everyone remember to be nice to each other, ya heard?

  18. Hector says:

    I don’t mind coming up with monstrous ecological niches (or quasi-social ones, in this case), but I’m pretty sure this one is Not New. As in, some of the oldest Liches went down this route for exactly this reason: Larloch is a major background character in Forgotten Realms right back to its earliest days, and this is essentially his character description. He’s a half-mad researcher who sits in his Tower O’Evil and, while his minions occasional kidnap some test subjects he doesn’t really bother anyone who doesn’t bother him.

    There’s an edition change which messes some of this up. In more recent editions, Lichdom is relatively easy to come by, but not especially interesting or worthwhile on the whole. Before 3rd edition, though it was extremely powerful and has few drawbacks, but required a lot of magical knowledge and some pretty dark deeds to accomplish, plus longevity was harder. In 3rd edition, the level adjustment makes it less valuable.

  19. Cybron says:

    I think “avoiding death” is all the reason you really need. In fact, avoiding death tied back into the “gain magic power” motivation. If you die, you are no longer gaining power.

    Frankly I’ve never thought of gaining magic power as a motivation for lichdom but more of a “what now?” sort of deal. You’re immortal, what are you going to do for the rest of forever? Well, you were a spellcaster before. Might as well keep at it, right? You’re also evil because liches are evil, so a selfish motivation makes sense.

  20. Giancarlo says:

    Orochimaru is a better snake wizard lich. His entire character is “seeks immortality so he can have enough time to do all the magic ninja science in the world”.
    Reminder that Orochimaru is now truly immortal and got away with everything.

    • James Porter says:

      Ive been telling people for a while that Naruto isn’t a show about ninjas, but about wizards! Its all there, the hand signs, material component, summons, ect.

  21. Hal says:

    Ignoring the D&D/Pathfinder rules for a bit, I often figured the advantages of Lichdom to be two-fold:

    1. Ageless existence to pursue magical studies and crafting. (Explicated in the article.)

    2. Transforming the body to avoid the limitations of a mortal form.

    On that second point, a few people have touched on the idea of avoiding the ravages of age and the natural vagaries of the human form, like muscle fatigue, inability to maintain perfect form, breathing, etc. I’d also consider it to be a magical transcendence, too.

    A common theme in fantasy stories is that the human/mortal form is ultimately limiting to the acquisition of magical power. That fleshy meatbag can only contain, or channel, so much raw arcane energy before it simply flies apart at the seams.

    In my reckoning, one of the advantages of lichdom was surpassing those limitations. That unholy form would be much more resilient to the phenomenal cosmic power the lich was attempting to wield, and even if there was a mistake made, the phylactery would permit the lich to reform and try again.

    I wonder if Shamus considered any of this stuff when he wrote up Mordan for his D&D campaign.

  22. Gilfareth says:

    I wonder if you could carry this further to a society with enough spare resources and extended farmland to support schools or groups of academics, the kind of place where likeminded arcane scholars can gather and develop the frontiers of magic and scientific study together. If a society like that suffers some continuous (or repeated, consistent) food shortage(s) and you have a fair number of mid-to-high level wizards with their material budgets eventually barely able to pay for the food to keep them going, you might see a majority of them decide to cut the middleman and avoid this and future quality-of-life issues by taking it upon themselves to all (arch)lichify together.

    Might even make a nice setpiece for a town; generations later, your players come in and there’s people and positive energy skeletons walking around in the same market like it ain’t no thing. Or they keep illusions up outside the college/tower/academy, so when you get there yourself you see a bunch of studious skeletons reading books and practicing spells.

  23. Benjamin Hilton says:

    This makes me want to run a scenario where the Lich isn’t evil. Maybe the party hears some rumors about a lich, or better yet gets suspicious of a guy hiring them because they never see his face. Watch them spend an entire session trying to get proof and confront the lich, only to find out that he really does just care about research and has never hurt a soul. Meanwhile the real villain has been running around doing who knows what unmolested.

    Bonus points if the real villain left the initial clue that set the party on that path. A villain that manages to trick you is one thing, but a villain that lets your own pre-conceived notions hamstring you is way cooler.

  24. djw says:

    I never really liked the ruling that liches are always evil. I can see where vampires and ghouls tend towards evil, since they sustain their unlife by hurting or killing humans, but liches have no need to do that.

    If you *need* your liches to be evil, I think a more interesting way to explain that is to note that they lose their connection with humanity when they no longer have the same wants and needs as a human. Sex drive? Gone. Food drive? Gone. Depending upon the nature of the magic and the nature of souls in your campaign, many of the other characteristics that we naturally associate with humans may also be gone.

    So, liches are not strictly speaking evil; rather they are alien. The end result may indeed be evil, but it does not have to be.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Supposedly, Liches are all evil because the ritual to become one is so evil that only a truly Evil character would do it. What if it was for the greater good, or what if they had a change of heart? Yeah, D&D’s “Objective good and evil” thing never handled nuance well.

      I think you can get to a much more interesting place just by declaring “To become a Lich, you have to throw a thousand adorable kittens into a volcano” or the like, something that keeps most Good characters away from lichdom, but don’t make it an absolute rule that liches are evil, just allow the restriction to naturally select the evil as liches.

      • IFS says:

        Eberron allows for good Liches (and other undead), and even has a society that reveres its ancestors who have been preserved as Deathless (a positive energy powered version of undead) who are quite similar to Liches. That said Eberron stands in contrast to a lot of D&D materials in its making alignment more murky to allow for more grey morality.

        The idea of one having a change of heart reminds me of one of the prestige classes in 3.5, the Evangelist (found in the Complete Divine splatbook). Their core ability is that they can evangelize and convert sentient beings, even ones immune to mind affecting spells (like a Lich) to their religion and essentially charm them. The effect isn’t permanent but has a fairly long duration and the book states that you can talk with the person affected and attempt to make their conversion genuine if you wish. I’d imagine a being as ancient as a Lich might be could tend to be rather set in its ways though, and a younger Lich had to have had a great deal of certainty about its chosen path to become a Lich in the first place.

    • Steve C says:

      Liches are not always evil. From page 222 of the 2nd ed Monstrous Manual:

      Although the lich has no interest in good or evil as we understand it, the creature will do whatever it must to further its own causes. Since it feels that the living are of little importance, the lich is often viewed as evil by those who encounter it. In rare cases, liches of a most unusual nature can be found which are of any alignment.

      • djw says:

        Interesting. I may have a 1rst edition monster manual laying around somewhere. I am curious whether they had that language in the lich entry back then. If I find it in a reasonably short time I will report back.

  25. Brandon says:

    This post gets me thinking about the distinction between wizards and clerics and druids, and I hate that D&D splits them out. If you go back to pulp fiction and look at stuff like Rogues in the House, by Howard, the character of the Red Priest is really a wizard. In fact, most pre-D&D magic wielders fit more comfortably in the mage/wizard class than anything else.

    And if you take that attitude, there may actually be a lot of priests in your world who are not clerics, but rather mages. Instead of spreading actual divine teaching like real clerics, they create false religions to false gods, and their “divine” power is really just their wizard spells well-masked. For these folks, lichdom might be like attaining godhood. They build their faith and spread their ideas and crave more and more power and magic and influence.

  26. Tever says:

    Friend of mine has an idea for a bard lich. Became a lich so he could keep writing music because he honestly thinks he’s doing the world a favor. He has a small army of zombies to guard his layer and “hire” the local townspeople to maintain this giant, dramatic organ that he plays on.

    When you enter the dungeon, you’re under a semi-permanent debuff because bard magic. The acoustics of the layer are such that you can hear the lich playing loud and clear no matter where you are. He’s become so twisted that his work is barely recognizable as music. And when you finally reach the boss room, it’s basically an auditorium. There’s rows of seats between you and him, and they’re filled with the bodies of people who were forced to sit there and listen until they starved to death. He never even noticed they had died.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Does the lich also wear a mask and is named erik?

    • IFS says:

      One of the 3.5 Splatbooks, Libris Mortis, had a number of example Liches all statted out for use and one of them was in fact a halfling bard. It was helped somewhat by that book also adding some new feats/songs/spells for bards relating to the undead. I think the story they were given was that they acted as a cook and storyteller for children at some castle, both as a convenient place to hide and so they had a convenient shield in the form of the children.

  27. Noumenon72 says:

    Goodman Games’ Castle Whiterock has a hidden, sealed library level whose librarian is a diviner-turned-loremaster-turned-lich. He has undead librarians called libractus and has the hobby of looking into three crystal balls at once and recording history as it happens.

  28. RCN says:

    Here’s two examples from the current campaign I am DMing. Not to brag, my players appreciate my capacity to make a complex world where actions have consequences and make sense, and that sometimes things happen without their direct intervention (and ignored adventure hooks still take place, only usually resolved by another group or grow into something else)

    One thing I should really make a point, first, is that Tormenta, the setting I am using, is a Brazilian-made D&D setting where certain things are different from the usual D&D setting. For instance, there are a handful of realms that are NOT evil, but, for one reason or another Necromancy isn’t forbidden or have a bad reputation (one of the most famous heroes of the setting is a necromancer, in fact). One example is Wynlla, a magocratic realm where weird magical phenomena existed before the mages settled in (and is, in fact, the reason wizards settled in in the first place). There having simple undeads at your disposal is not against the law, you only need some permissions and the bodies have to be legal, and are seem as a source of labor much more accessible than golems. Likewise, Liches are not necessarily evil and the setting accepts Liches that are non-evil. One of the most powerful “heroes” in the setting is a Dracolich (he fought head on “The Paladin of Arton”, once a paladin, he was corrupted by the god of treachery into rebelling against the gods in a ploy to recover his godhood). And the setting’s “Hogwarts” analogue has a Lich as the headmaster of Necromancy.

    That said, I have two liches with two very different motives to have become Liches. The first is part of an adventurer party that predates my PC’s party some 20 years and have since long retired, they are the source of some adventuring hooks, mentors and at times the party’s patrons. That party had one Cleric who worshipped Tannah-Toh, the goddess of Knowledge, and a Necromancer. The Cleric, Jahrred, is the one who became a Lich.

    Thing is, of the group Jahrred was always the one more accepting of the fate of becoming a Lich for a few reasons. One was that so he could accumulate knowledge long after he would have died naturally. Other was because he also wanted to forestal death because some of his adventures and findings led him to discover some alarming things about his goddess and dogma, stemmed from the fact that it is more or less impossible to directly contact the priests of said goddess after their death, even though in this setting it is “common knowledge” where these priests would go (it is taught as an universal dogma by all the churches, including Tannah-Toh, whose clerics more or less function as an universal and socialized education system, which also helps to raise the education level of the whole setting above the usual Medieval one, and it is pretty much confirmed by powerful wizards. Each Greater God has their own plane as a destiny for the afterlife of mortals). You can contact them with “speak with the dead” and resurrect them fine, they are just no found in Tannah-Toh’s plane, or anywhere else.

    Jahrred’s own conclusion to the evidence he gathered was that the priests of his Goddess didn’t really get an afterlife, but were instead absorbed by the Helladarion, a powerful artifact and repository of knowledge that also doubles as Tannah-Toh’s High Priest and highest religious authority of her dogma in the mortal world. This comes from the fact that the Helladarion, specifically by the setting’s rules and story, has the accumulated knowledge of every priest of Tanna-Toh who died in the past, and when a priest is resurrected the Helladarion loses the knowledge of that particular priest.

    Another reason is that his party had a “sixth ranger”. One member was a female monk called Yun Di. When the party finally got rid of a previous version of an evil artifact the current PC party is trying to get rid of, they had to sacrifice the body and soul of a powerful soul. Jahrred was in love with Yun Di because she was the only woman in the entire world who understood him and didn’t find him off-putting (I should probably point this out, Jahrred had 5 Charisma before turning into a lich, in fact each party member of this group of veterans have a jarring weakness in their stats to make them more colorful). She also loved him and, instead of abiding to the group’s leader decision to choose the sacrifice by random chance (the Necromancer guy, Ryan), she hurled herself into the ritual and sacrificed herself so that there was no chance of Jahrred being the sacrifice.

    Ever since, Jahrred had broken inside. He decided to become a Lich, ultimately, not to avoid the fate of being absorbed by the Helladarion or his original plan to accumulate knowledge. He did so because he could not live with himself knowing that his mutual love for Yun Di led her to the ultimate sacrifice. And also because he didn’t have the courage to do the same sacrifice first in order to spare her. He was an emotional wreck incapable of functioning either as a powerful priest for his faith, as a friend for his allies, as a useful member of society or anything else. He became a lich in order to get rid of his emotions and, in fact, just so he could go back to living. His low charisma score also meant he was simply completely unprepared to deal with such a societal challenge as dealing with the loss of a loved one. It was either that, or toil away into nothingness when he could be doing something for his faith or society in general (he had a strong civic duty).

    The other Lich is Agnevit. She was a female sorceress who now owns a magical ring store in the setting’s flying city (there’s a flying city that is governed by one of the setting’s archmages and is the most important trading hub in the entire world… and a few worlds over. It is called Vectora). She was a protégée of post-lichedom Jahrred for her talent in ring-making and her extreme charisma, that led her to be a powerful player in Vectora’s political scene. Even as a Lich, Jahrred’s charisma is abysmal, even with the help of magical items, so she was an important ally to him in the city, where he set-up shop after Lichedom. At one of her expeditions for raw materials for her rings, though, she got infected with the coral-plague, a setting-specific plague that is extremely resistant to divine cure and is basically a death sentence with no resurrection (the plague comes back with the victim, even if the body is completely rebuilt). After months of toiling away and begging Jahrred to save her, he eventually settled and taught her how to become a Lich in order for her to cheat the plague and him to keep his political ally. She was happy for surviving, but soon became upset with her undead appearance (my PC’s party first interaction with her was finding a way to get her a non-illusory beautiful body again).

    Well, these are the two justifications for Lichedom I introduced in my campaign. Avoiding emotional turmoil and avoiding a magical terminal disease.

  29. kdansky says:

    I find it fascinating that we’re talking about roleplaying and game-mastering, and yet we’re always stuck with D&D. There are literally thousands of systems and tens of thousands of settings, and yet here we are, explaining Gygax logic.

    I’ve played a lot of RPGs in my life, and I can safely say that D&D was one of the worst ones, because the rules are a crapshot (how much depends on edition), the world makes no sense (because the rules made none), the theme is all over the place and top top it off: It’s just kinda boring because it lacks character and thematic cohesion. When you could play Eclipse Phase (if you want theme), Better Angels (if you want conflicted characters), Burning Wheel (if you want grit) or Exalted (if you want demi god drama), and many other brilliant more games why would you ever want to play a first level d&d fighter is beyond me. Sure you can have fun with the fighter, but D&D isn’t helping with that, you’re just succeeding despite of it.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Part of why we’re talking about D&D is that it’s probably the best-known system, but Rutskarn (at least I’m pretty sure it was Rutskarn) made an interesting case for D&D on the podcast a while back. To be clear, what follows is a positive opinion.

      D&D is a game that only works because of the bullshit. 100% of its redeeming qualities are the bullshit, its petty little minutia things. If you want adventure-combat, if you want roleplaying, if you want dungeon-crawling, you could find a dozen systems way better than D&D. The one thing it has going for it is that it consistently maintains a giant quantity of cruft, of complications, of hundreds of little magic items that do specific things, hundreds of monsters that do specific things…

      D&D is the only system I’ve ever seen that defines what a wizard can and cannot do. In every other system, the answer to “Can a wizard do X?”, for every string X is always “I dunno, probably”. Now that I’m praising that, I find it hard to describe exactly why I appreciate that aspect of it, but it’s part of D&D that I find valuable and unique.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      D&D may be a bad system,but the fact is that it introduced plenty of original things that practically every other system has mimicked or improved on.Spell levels,for example.And monsters like illithid.

      • RCN says:

        Also, D&D is simply the most popular system that basically EVERYONE who plays RPG will be sort-of familiar with the rules. It doesn’t matter if Rutskarn does an article about a system that is 100% better than D&D in combat, spell casting, roleplaying and everything else. He might as well be speaking greek to us because only 0,1% of role-players will be familiar with it, and roleplaying in general is already a niche subject.

        D&D is simply the most convenient one to talk about, and it achieved this merit simply by being the first and, miraculously, surviving to this day.

        Botton line is: D&D is the universal language when it comes to RPG rules just like English has become the universal language of the internet.

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