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Greyhawk creature
A lich, as depicted in the original Monster Manual (1977). Art by David Trampier.
Alignment Any evil
Type Undead
First appearance Greyhawk

The lich is an undead creature; a spellcaster who seeks to defy death by magical means.


A lich converts itself into a skeletal creature by means of necromancy, storing its soul in a magical receptacle called a phylactery. In some sources the method of becoming a lich is referred to as the Ritual of Endless Night. The lich creation process is often described as requiring the creation and consumption of a deadly potion which is to be drunk on a full moon; although the exact details of the potion are described differently in various sources, the creation of the potion almost universally entails acts of utter evil, such as using as an ingredient the blood of an infant slain by the potential lich's own hand, or other, similarly vile components. The potion invariably kills the drinker but if the process is successful it rises again some days later as a lich. Occasionally, this metamorphosis occurs by accident as a result of life-prolonging magic.

Unlike most other forms of undead creatures, the lich retains all of the memories, personality, and abilities that it possessed in life — but it has a virtual eternity to hone its skills and inevitably becomes very powerful. Like other powerful forms of undead (such as a vampire or mummy), a lich has unnatural powers owing to its state. For example, it can put mortals in a paralyzed state of hibernation with a touch, making them seem dead to others, and can, through its typically powerful magical spells, summon other lesser undead to protect it. Liches can radiate an aura of horror which can send weak-willed would-be foes to flight. The lich is capable of sustaining tremendous physical damage, and is immune to disease, poison, fatigue and other effects that affect only the living. However, despite all its undead "gifts," a lich's most valuable resources are its vast intellect, its supreme mastery of sorcery and limitless time to research, plot and scheme.

Vecna, the most infamous of liches.

Since a lich's soul is mystically tied to its phylactery, destroying its body will not kill it. Rather, its soul will return to the phylactery, and its body will be recreated by the power keeping it immortal. Thus the only way to permanently destroy a lich is to destroy the phylactery as well. Therefore, the lich will generally be extremely protective of the priceless item. The phylactery, which can be of virtually any form (the default form is a metal box filled with rune-covered papers, but it usually appears as a valuable amulet or gemstone), will often be hidden in a secret place and protected by powerful spells, charms, monsters and/or other servants; the phylactery itself is usually of magical nature, meaning its destruction will generally be no easier than attaining it.


Liches can dwell in nearly any environment, but they tend to choose isolated or hidden locations, such as ruins.

Typical physical characteristics

Liches often appear as skeletal beings, though this can vary with the amount of time a lich has been dead.


Depending on the method of becoming a lich, a lich can be of any alignment, retaining whatever alignment it had in life.

Liches are mostly evil but there are references to good liches.

The reasons for good beings to become liches are limited but most of them come down to unfulfilled quests in life, guardianship over ancient evil, and the oversight of future generations.

The process for becoming a good lich is more difficult to discover, and in many campaign settings does not exist at all. In general, the process of becoming a lich has very evil requirements possibly making it hard for good people to their good alignments. Lich02.jpg

Variant liches

Acererak as a demilich.


If a lich exists long enough, it may reach a point where it feels it cannot learn any more in its present state and seeks other avenues to attain knowledge. The lich's interest turns away from the physical realm, and its soul voluntarily leaves its undead form and phylactery, using astral projection to travel across other planes of existence. The magics preserving the lich's body against the ravages of time weaken, usually causing the body to gradually deteriorate until only a skull or even a single skeletal hand remains; this advanced form of lich is known as a demilich. Despite its ruined body, a demilich is far from powerless; if disturbed, the skull will levitate and suck the souls from nearby living creatures. The most notable demilich is Acererak, found in the classic adventure Tomb of Horrors.

Don Turnbull of White Dwarf magazine said of the demilich in the Tomb of Horrors: "what is demi- about this creature of enormous powers, apart from the fact that only his skull remains, is arguable: the skull, in combination with the special arrangements which have been made to guard it, exhibits terrifying powers, and the 'rumour' which players will hear at the start, to the effect that this being possesses powers which make him well-nigh undefeatable, is well founded!"

Non-human liches

Other races also have their own special versions of the lich, which are not necessarily evil; for example, an elf might become a baelnorn (often elves who take upon themselves the duty of overseeing and/or protecting their house), or an illithid might become an illithilich, also known as an alhoon. A dragon can also become a dracolich. Dracoliches are greatly feared, for they are far more powerful than ordinary liches. A dracolich that became a demilich would be an extremely powerful monster, even by dragon standards. Lichfiends are evil outsiders that achieve lichdom.

Good liches

Liches are typically evil, power-hungry arcane or divine spell casters who have, as noted, cheated death by turning themselves into undead. However, good liches are presented in Monster Compendium: Monsters of Faerûn, a supplementary rule book for the D&D 3.0 rules. Good liches differ from evil liches in that they have sought undeath for a noble cause, to protect a place, a loved one, or to pursue an important quest. Becoming a lich is an arduous task and can never be forced upon an individual.

The AD&D Spelljammer accessory Lost Ships also introduced the good archlich, which is able to memorize spells through intuitive nature and does not need spellbooks.

Aside from the alignment, there is little difference between good liches and evil liches. They have much the same abilities and characteristics, although a few have additional abilities. Good liches, for example do not exude the aura of fear evil liches do and clerics (i.e. priests) interact with them differently.

The fourth edition book Arcane Power included the epic destiny Archlich, which is intended for good, lawful good, or unaligned heroes.

Other variant liches

Other variant liches exist. Baneliches, extremely powerful priests of the Forgotten Realms deity Bane, grow in power every 100 years of their continued existence. Dry liches are desert-dwelling liches, the end result of the Walker in the Wastes prestige class. Psiliches are powerful users of psionic powers, who have used non-magical means to achieve this state of undeath. The Suel Imperium also had its own form of liches, the Suel lich — powerful wizards who learned the secrets of transferring their souls from one body to the next — at the cost of the bodies burning out in brief periods.

Notable liches

Mellifleur, God of Lichdom.

Liches are among the most powerful undead creatures. Notable liches revalent to the Greyhawk setting include:


A handful of gods were liches before becoming deities; these gods include:

Non-divine liches

Vlaakith CLVII, lich-queen of the Githyanki.

Publication history

Azalin Rex, Lord of Darkon.

The lich was one of the earliest creatures introduced in the D&D game.

Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1976)

The lich was introduced to the game in its first supplement, Greyhawk (1975). It is described as a skeletal monster that was formerly either a magic-user or a cleric in life. The lich was further developed in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976).

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977-1988)

The lich appears in the first edition Monster Manual (1977) where it is described as having been created with the use of powerful and arcane magic, formerly ultra powerful magic-users now non-human and non-living.

Len Lakofka's article "Blueprint For a Lich," in Dragon #26 (1979), describes a formula for transforming a spellcaster into a lich.

Another form of lich, the demilich, was introduced in Tomb of Horrors (1978) and later appeared in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1982), and then in the Monster Manual II (1983).

Dungeons & Dragons (1977-1999)

This edition of the D&D game included its own version of the lich, in the Dungeons & Dragons Master Rules (1985), in the "Master DM's Book". It was also later featured in the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991).

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989-1999)

Dragotha, the Undead Dragon.

The lich and the demilich appear first in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989), and are reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993).

The Spelljammer campaign setting accessory Lost Ships (1990) introduced the archlich, which also later appeared in the Monstrous Manual. The master lich appeared in Legend of Spelljammer (1991).

The psionic lich for the Ravenloft campaign setting first appeared in Dragon #174 (October 1991), and then appeared in Van Richten's Guide to the Lich (1993), Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (1994), Monstrous Compendium Annual One (1994), and Van Richten's Monster Hunter's Compendium (1999). Several other lich variants were also introduced in the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III, including the defiler lich and demi-defiler lich, the drow lich (and the drow demilich, the drider lich, the drow priestess lich, and the drow wizard lich), and the elemental lich and demi-elemental lich.

The baelnorn, an elven lich of good alignment, was introduced in The Ruins of Myth Drannor (1993), and then appeared in Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume One (1994), and Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves (1998). The banelich, a version of the lich created by the god Bane in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, first appear in the Ruins of Zhentil Keep boxed set (in the Monstrous Compendium booklet) in 1995, and then appears in the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Three (1996).

The Suel lich for the Greyhawk campaign setting was introduced in Polyhedron #101 (November 1994), and then appeared in Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Two (1995).

The inheritor lich for the Red Steel campaign setting first appeared in Red Steel Savage Baronies (1995), and then in the Savage Coast Monstrous Compendium (1996).

Thessalar, creator of the thessalmonster.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 edition (2000-2002)

The lich appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2000) as a template.

The banelich, as well as the Good-aligned liches, the archlich and the baelnorn, appeared in Monsters of Faerun (2000).

The demilich appeared again in the Epic Level Handbook (2002).

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition (2003-2007)

The lich appears in the revised Monster Manual for this edition (2003).

The good lich and the lichfiend appeared in Libris Mortis (2004). The lichfiend also appeared in Dungeon #116 (November 2004), as part of the Shackled City adventure path.

The dry lich was introduced in Sandstorm (2005).

The Suel lich returned in the "Campaign Classics" feature in Dragon #339 (January 2006).

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008-)

The lich appears in the Monster Manual (2008) for this edition. The lich also appears as a template in the Dungeon Masters Guide.

Rules in 4th edition allow a player to opt to become an arch-lich via an epic destiny found in Arcane Power.


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  • -----. Tomb of Horrors. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1978.
  • Haddock, Eric. Van Richten's Guide to the Lich . Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1993.
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  • Sargent, Carl. Iuz the Evil. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1993.
  • -----. Ivid the Undying. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, unpublished. Available online: [1]
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External links