Time for another instalment of my creature feature. This article will focus on that eternal villain the Lich. The Lich is a supremely powerful creature with a whopping CR of 21 (22 if in their lair). Unlike many of them monsters I will review this undead fiend is not something you should just drop into an adventure. Battling a Lich could well be the focus of a long running campaign. Players need not only to hunt down and slay them, but also track down and destroy the creature soul in its Phylactery. Anything less would result in the Lich returning to unlife to exact its revenge.
The Long Game.
For this article I will summarize two ways I would use a Lich as the antagonist of a long running campaign. Both will set the players against this most powerful of foes over many adventures. But the twists and turns of the story will be very different.
In what I will call the ‘Classic Approach’ the players will set out to rid the lands of a Lich who has tormented the lands for generations. I will call this Lich ‘The Shadow King’. A century ago the lands were embroiled in a bitter civil war. Brother fought brother and the lands ran red with blood. In the end one side gained the upper hand and drove out the Great Wizard King.
But they took pity on their defeated foe and placed him under house arrest. For a time he lived in seclusion, hidden away in what was once his grand palace. But he was not idle. Driven to greater madness by the humiliation of defeat he courted dark powers. These forces gave him the very key to eternal life, transforming him into and undead Lich. On the very day that the new King was to be crowned the Shadow King swept into the capital with a horde of undead at his back. He crushed all resistance and turned the city into a dark parody of its once proud glory. Only the dead now dwell there.
Some raised armys and marched on the Shadow Kings capital. They never returned and only swelled the ranks of his army of the dead. In time he brought the rest of the land to heel. Those that remained were forced to live under his dark yoke. All resistance was met with swift and deadly force. Since that time the land has festered under a dark cloud of the Shadow Kings will. Secret police and spies keep him well informed and the populace in line. Deep in his city of the dead he sees all and know all.
Enter the Players.
This is where the players enter the story. The arc of this campaign would take players from 1st level all the way to 15th. At the start of the tale they enter the lands as strangers, low level adventures new to this grim land. Levels one to five would be spent fighting agents of the Shadow King at the very edge of his domain. Players will take on his secret police and foster friendships with the local resistance. By the time they reach 5th level word of their exploits have started to reach the Shadow Kings ear and he will be dispatching greater servants to deal with them.
As the players grow in power from 6th to 10th level they will have to take the fight up a notch. Rather than small actions in remote places they will enter the cities under the Shadow Kings rule. This will entail taking on the more powerful both living and undead minions in place there to control them. This should culminate with a city-wide revolt with the players at its head. At this stage they will have become leading figures in the resistance and can attempt to ferment large scale revolts against the Shadow King. Because of the now large scale of their defiance the players have attracted the notice of the Lich and he will be taking a personal interest in them from this point.
Big Trouble in City of the Dead.
Finally as the players move up from 11th to 15th level they will go head to head with the Shadow King himself. In this the last leg of their quest they must seek out his hidden Phylactery and then head into the very lair of their foe. Because he never leaves his fortress the hero’s must enter and travel through the dreaded City of the Dead and slip into the Lich’s castle to finally face him in battle. Both afore mentioned adventures should be a fight for their very lives. The Phylactery will be well guarded and hidden. Even to find the location will require a great adventure and many deadly hazards. By the time they reach the City of the Dead they will be around 15th and even at that level the Shadow King will be a fearsome opponent.
Lich Version Two.
In this my second suggested story arc leading to a confrontation with the Lich I will take a somewhat different approach.
At 1st level the players will befriend an aged Wizard. He will send them out on quests for components he requires. This Wizard (I shall call him Brim) will tell them that he is working on a spell to aid the crops of the local villages after he has passed. Between 1st and 5th the players will undertake a number of quests for Brim gathering various odd items.
During these quests a group of rogues known as the Vigil will appear and oppose them. The Vigil will turn up at the end of some quest demanding they surrender the items. Or they will be found mid adventure trying to get there before the players do. These rogues should be tight lipped on why they are opposing the players.
As the players turn 5th level they will have completed the final mission for Brim. He will then retreat to his tower to enact the ritual that will forever keep the villagers crops alive. At this point the players will be forced to defend the tower from a strong force sent by the Vigils. The fight should be bitter and as the last of them is slain or flees only then should the truth be revealed.
Dark energies swirl around the tower as nature itself seems to have gone mad. The tower itself is blasted by bolts of dark force and the very walls seem to burn. Pushed back to a distance the players can only watch as from its ruins a changed Brim emerges. The once old and frail wizard is now a creature of darkness. His skin pulled taunt, his body bones wreathed in ragged robes and with flames where his eyes used to be. He has become a Lich!
If the players try to confront Brim at this time he will sweep them aside and vanish into thin air. He will not try to kill them as he still holds them in great affection. In time this will fade as the last vestige of his humanity becomes only a faint memory. He will however declare that Brim is no more, but a shadow of the past. He is now Brimstone.
The Truth shall…. make you Wanted.
With the truth now revealed the players will realize they were helping Brim to become a Lich all the time. They were used in a most terrible fashion. Between 5th and 10th level the players will have a great deal to do. They must make peace with the Vigils who knew all along that Brim was trying to cheat death. Furthermore, they will need the aid of the Vigils to track down where Brim went after the tower burned down.
During this time they will often be following in the wake of Brimstones destruction as he carves a swath through the surrounding lands. Each dark deed a cross for the players to bear. In some instances, the players will be faced with good folk who want them to pay for bringing this evil upon them. How they deal with this should be interesting and will depend on the alignment of the group.
Liches Get Stitches.
they will finally get a lead to where Brimstone is headed as they reach 10th level A tip from the Vigils leads them to a remote school of magic. It was here that he learned his craft and it is here that he plans to set up his new home. But to get there they must cross a number of lands where they are now wanted dead or alive for the crime of creating a Lich. Hunted and alone our hero’s must make the journey to face the evil they helped unleash.
In some places they will be forced to fight, others they will be held and put on trial. Only the truth and a vow to hunt the fiend to the ends of the earth can save they from the block or worse. As the lonely adventures reach 15th they will finally be within reach of the school of magic, and redemption.
Old School Lich.
Since they last met Brim now Brimstone has been busy. He has gathered undead as his servants and settled into his new home. The once proud school of magic is now a haunted place where the raised corpses of its former students and teachers roam. The place should feel like a dark parody of a school with Ghost teachers demanding silence in class and deadly pranks from semi sentient undead students. Other more lethal monsters should be lurking in the darkness. The halls and rooms should slowly grind the players down before facing Brimstone in the headmasters office.
Being new to Lichdom Brimstone has not yet taken pains to hide his Phylactery well. At the early point of this campaign the wizard Brim should refer to an item that he holds dear. This could be an urn with his late wife’s ashes in or a particular piece of jewellery he always liked. Whatever you pick this should be on display in during the final battle. If the players are smart they will recall this and destroy the item thus ending Brimstone forever. If not then he shall rise again to exact his revenge.
I will discuss how combat with such a powerful foe as a Lich might work in my next post. My post on Intelligence may also be of interest to those wishing to use a Lich as the campaign villain. As always I hope you enjoyed this article and I hope to bring you many more in the future.