Metal of the Day is actually metal.
Today’s topic is about liches. You know, those fun undead guys who performed some ritual and damned themselves to eternal unlife in search of a goal. Probably to learn the truths of the multiverse, or to get revenge. For starers here’s how Wikipedia defines a lich.
“In fantasy fiction, a lich (/ˈlɪtʃ/; cognate to Dutch lijk, German Leiche, Norse lík and Swedish lik all meaning “corpse”) is a type of undead creature. Often such a creature is the result of a transformation, as a powerful magician or king striving for eternal life uses spells or rituals to bind his intellect to his phylactery and thereby achieve a form of immortality. Liches are depicted as being clearly cadaverous, bodies desiccated or completely skeletal. Liches are often depicted as holding power over hordes of lesser undead creatures, using them as soldiers and servants.”
It’s a decent definition, hitting all the familiar tropes we are familiar with as consumers of fantasy fiction. My favorite thing as a Game-Master is the ability to take familiar tropes and add twists or additions to them to make them my own, or remixing if you are trying to be hip. So with that said here’s some facts about my particular brand of liches.
Liches get Stitches
#1 – Liches don’t always appear as weird ugly corpses with fabulous robes.
Any living thing that has sentience has the capacity to be a lich, either through intelligent study of the lost arts of necromancy, or an unhappy arcane accident. I enjoy the idea of the more unusual races attaining lichdom, making throwaway foes like goblins into a fearsome terror. Also I envision them having them be able to control all of their internal body functions by will alone, they could appear as human as any of us providing they expended their magical resources to do so.
#2 – Liches can be of any alignment, even good.
I never really enjoyed the prescriptive interpretation of alignment so liches can be anything. They have all kinds of motives, and their “alignment” reflects their intentions and philosophy. Perhaps the lich has noble reasons for needing immortality. Or if they did not intend to become a lich, they seek a method to reverse it instead. They might even serve as local sages and seen as a force of wisdom and guidance for the community, like a baelnorn from the Greyhawk DnD setting. Despite this they -did- or are a weird undead wizard, so at -best- their outlook is of pragmatism.
#3 – Anything can be a phylactery.
If we’re sticking with the idea that liches must have a phylactery, then we don’t need to have it be just a precious gem, nor must we have it be hidden in a trope-filled place. Liches are cunning, hyper-intelligent and are immortal (as far as old age goes.) As such they’d probably hide their precious phylacteries right underneath the noses of the PC’s, in a public place or in the royal crown of the King.
#4 – Liches are Timeless and probably have strange powers.
Liches can’t die from normal means, so a viable strategy for killing troublemakers is just let Time do it for them. As such when liches make their presence known or meddle in affairs directly it means their issue is more systemic or with a group of individuals and not one in particular.
They also probably have weird ways in sustaining themselves outside of the origination of them becoming a lich, or some funky behavior that makes them more interesting as a villain or NPC. I always subscribed to the idea that magic is magical and isn’t exact science.
So let’s make a Lich.
I’m a huge fan of random tables, and rolling on them. They’re a good way to organize and brainstorm ideas, trying to fill out and come up with entries into broad categories instead of trying to linearly come up with things out of thing air. We’re gonna roll on this table I come up with and see what we get.
So I rolled a 13 (The sword hilt of a long dead hero), 9 (coffin in a crowded graveyard), 6 (Myconid), 1 (Invasion), 5 (Neutral), 9 (A horrific smell), 7 (Ascended to religious leadership), 3 (Absorbs the memories/quirks/abilities of the souls it consumes).
Inductive creativity is a term I heard just the other day and it perfectly describes the process. We’re going to take all these numbers we have rolled and use them as anchor points, filling in the gaps between to help us tell a story about this NPC.
His phylactery is the sword of a long dead hero, HIS sword to be exact. He used to be a hero of legend centuries ago. A holy man of The Pantheon, a brave and noble leader of men. Now all that is left of that is a memory and the hilt of this sword, buried in the mass graveyard of the warriors who perished in that bloody conflict. Upon his death he was blessed by the clergyman of his faith and bestowed with the gifts of undeath, so that he may exact vengeance and Their Will. With the ability to harness the memories and emotions of those souls unfortunate enough to cross his path, using them as a prism to focus his power and his hatred. The plan is to bring about the destruction of the Empire. Uniformed men, loyal men, dynastic men are the targets. He bears no ill intent towards average citizens, merchants, passers-by. As long as they stay out of the way of his unholy crusade to put an end to the dynasty that threw his life away. He also happens to be a fungus-man and smells so horrid no living creature with a nose can stand to be near him.
Okay so those last two didn’t fit the theme that well so we could reroll or just choose new ones that fit better. Even so the rolls gave us a lot of details which helped fill in the blanks. A lot of worldbuilding and sandbox design works this way, but the method can be used to apply to anything, even NPC generation. Most of these concepts/categories could be used to fit any kind of villain. I encourage you to roll up your own lich here and try to connect the dots.