Does that title joke show my age?
You can tell that this is a boss monster when the stats come before the lore. And when the stats take up an entire god damn page. And when the lore takes up another full damn page.
Hoo boy. This is gonna be a big one.
Lore: Corruption of Magic
Some great wizards embrace undeath in an effort to continue their research and further their powers, concocting plans that take decades or even centuries to be completed. Their thirst for knowledge has reduced their empathy to nothing and drove them to utter insanity.
Becoming a lich is far from easy. Any wizard seeking lichdom must make bargains with fiends, evil gods, or any other evil being. Some seek Orcus, Demon Prince of Undeath. Whoever they turn to, they must be prepared to swear an oath of fealty to them. Afterwards, they create a phylactery, an amulet in the shape of a small box, to trap their soul, then drink a vile poison to transform them into their immortal undead forms.
In order to sustain themselves, a lich must occasionally feed souls to their phylactery to preserve the magic keeping them alive. To do so, it will imprison one person within the box with the imprisonment spell. Only a 9th-level dispel magic spell can set the victim free. Should they be trapped within, they’ll die within 24 hours, with no hope of rescue beyond divine intervention. Should the lich fail to keep this up consistently, they’ll eventually devolve into a demilich.
When a lich dies, their will and mind will vanish, leaving only the corpse behind. Within days, a new body forms near the phylactery. Should the box be destroyed, the lich will die forever. Thus, the lich keeps it well-hidden. Though destroying the phylactery requires extremely powerful magic, a ritual, or a specialized item.
Every few centuries, the lich’s hunger for power and knowledge retract enough for it to take interest in the rest of the world, usually when something reminds it of its former life. Aside from that, they interact only with those who uphold their lairs and focus exclusively on expanding their magical collections. Most even abandon their old names, preferring to adopt a title instead.
There is plenty to work with in that lore. Perhaps the party gradually learns about a powerful wizard over the course of their adventure, only to learn that they have become a lich under a different name. Or maybe a valued NPC is kidnapped to be fed to a lich to sustain it and they need to save it. Hell, maybe you’re doing an evil campaign and your party is trying to make a lich! Whatever you choose, this guy will make for a great boss, be it a final big-bad or just the end to a quest line.
Design: Zombo Wizard
For all that lore, they sure didn’t get creative with the design.
This is a perfectly fine design. It at least looks more menacing than just a zombie in robes. Its robes look cool, the gems in its head help it stand out, and its exposed ribs (that’s what his chest looks like, at least) make it pretty grotesque. It kinda looks like how I imagined Voldemort to look when I read the Harry Potter books as a kid.
Still, you won’t find much joy in describing this guy to your players. It’s a fine looking monster, but it doesn’t have any truly stand out feature. It’s an effective look, but not an especially creative one.
Stats: The Ultimate Dark Wizard
Christ. This ain’t just a boss, this is a big boss!
It isn’t the bulkiest beast of the lot. It has a high AC, but its HP isn’t all that impressive for a boss. Although that HP pool is bolstered by its resistances to cold, lightning, and necrotic damage and its immunity to poison and nonmagical melee damage. To top that off, it is immune to charm, exhaustion, fright, paralysis, and poison.
Killing it is even harder than that. It has three Legendary Resistances, which allows it to automatically succeed any saving throw. With Turn Resistance, it is immune to all effects that turn undead. And with Rejuvenation, it can regain its body after 1d10 days post death, so long as it has a phylactery. Fail to destroy that, and the lich will remain immortal.
Action wise, it doesn’t have much. In fact, it only has one move: Paralyzing Touch. This does a small amount of damage, and it leaves the victim paralyzed if they fail a DC 18 Con save. On its own, it isn’t a dangerous move.
But when put in tandem with its spell list? That’s a different story.
- Cantrips (at will): mage hand, prestidigitation, ray of frost
- 1st level (4 slots): detect magic, magic missile, shield, thunderwave
- 2nd level (3 slots): detect thoughts, invisibility, Melf’s acid arrow, mirror image
- 3rd level (3 slots): animate dead, counterspell, dispel magic, fireball
- 4th level (3 slots): blight, dimension door
- 5th level (3 slots): cloudkill, scrying
- 6th level (1 slot): disintegrate, globe of invulnerability
- 7th level (1 slot): finger of death, plane shift
- 8th level (1 slot): dominate monster, power word stun
- 9th level (1 slot): power word kill
On top of all that, it has Legendary Actions. These allow it to cast a cantrip or use Paralyzing Touch (which costs 2 actions). Or it could use Frightening Gaze (another one that costs 2 actions), which frightens one creature it can see within ten feet of it, should it fail its saving throw. And, at the cost of all three Legendary Actions, it can use Disrupt Life, which deals a monstrous amount of damage to any non-undead creatures that fail a save within 20 feet of the lich.
Finally, it has the Lair Actions. One allows the lich to regain a spell slot. Another tethers the monster to a player, splitting whatever damage it takes between the two. The last allows it to summon evil spirits that can deal a monstrous 52(15d6) necrotic damage on a failed saving throw.
All of this combines to make one of the most varied and deadly boss fights you could offer your players. Between his shit ton of spells and abilities to regain them, highly dangerous lair actions, and his pension for status ailments, the lich is an easy pick for any DM seeking to truly challenge their players and their limits.
This is a really strong boss monster. It has some incredible lore and stats. The only real weakness is in its design. Aside from that, it’s a great entry!
With all that in mind, let’s place the Lich on the Best of the Bestiary!
- Death Tyrant
- Dragon Turtle
- Green Dragons
- Red Dragons
- Blue Dragons
- Black Dragons
- White Dragons
- Silver Dragons
- Sea Hag
- Bronze Dragons
- Brass Dragons
- Copper Dragons
- Gold Dragons
- Gibbering Mouther
- Intellect Devourer
- Death Knight
- Bone Devil
- Faerie Dragon
- Lich <——————————–
- Night Hag
- Green Hag
- Hook Horror
- Storm Giant
- Hill Giant
- Cloud Giant
- Drow (all four of ’em)
- Shadow Demon
- Fire Giant
- Animated Armor
- Ghoul and Ghast
- Pit Fiend
- Chain Devil
- Bearded Devil
- Barbed Devil
- Spined Devil
- Ice Devil
- Horned Devil
- Shadow Dragon
- Gnolls (all three)
- Frost Giant
- Clay Golem
- Displacer Beast
- Carrion Crawler
- Invisible Stalker
- Rug of Smothering
- Bugbear Chief
- Flesh Golem
- Vine Blight
- Twig Blight
- Needle Blight
- Gas Spore
- Fire Elemental
- Water Elemental
- Air Elemental
- Stone Giant
- Deep Gnome
- Dinosaurs (All six of them)
- Iron Golem
- Stone Golem
- Earth Elemental
- Galeb Duhr
- Helmed Horror
- Flying Sword
- Crawling Claw
- Violet Fungus
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