It was gallant, chivalrous - you could say. It started like any other fairy tale, although my colleagues didn't seem to think so. My goal was justice against that which stole my wife, my children, and even my livelihood. That bastard, who beat me down and spat on me and didn't have the courtesy to finish me off. A few experiments, trips to shady alleys, and a few tragic encounters were all it really took. I say tragic, but they were mostly tragic for my colleagues - they were put to good use. With every expedition people grew more worried, every ritual seemed to make me less popular with the students. Damn the students. They were young, happy, vibrant. They had their lives ahead of them. I didn't want that. What had life given me? A wife with water in her lungs, and children born dead. I wanted a second chance. I wanted to avenge them. I wanted to be reborn like my children were. From the womb of magic and might, I wanted to breathe void and speak power. I thought I wanted to prove them wrong - to right a wrong. It was the moment I woke, after those days in agony, that I truly realized what it had all been for. I didn't want to beat life. I wanted to enslave death.
A Lich (litch) is an undead being who has escaped the mortal coil by ritualistic and magical means. They have imbued an object with intense magical energies to become a phylactery (fuh-lack-tery, phi-lack-tor-e), which holds their undying soul. Their corporeal form, usually rotted away with the passage of time, is destructible but not permanently so; the phylactery reintegrates this form in a matter of days. A Lich lives forever; usually alone, feared by society, despised by colleagues, and abhorred by kin. The only way to permanently slay a Lich, a matter of much importance to many adventuring parties, is to destroy the phylactery.
A Lich grabs hold of the imagination of the people - tales of the horrific deeds inspire both chivalry and infamy as the fate of the world can change on the whim of a sole being. More powerful sorcerers than vampires, despised more than dragons, and the ultimate lords of nigh-all undead; a Lich commands fear and awe wherever it chooses to make itself known. They may be good, they are often evil. A Lich, simply put, is terrifying.
It began, like most horrible and atrocious things, with a rather brilliant idea. I wasn't born a God, but I would become one.
The single most frequent question on Lichdom is how does one become a Lich. An innocent enough question on a late-night filled with tales of werefolk and mermen but the pursuit of Lichdom is no mere undertaking, and accidents abound. For every Lich ever existing, hundreds of mages lie dead (or worse) from failed or misinformed pursuits.
Because of their cataclysmic nature, most all centers of magical inquiry and study put a general ban on the study of Lichdom past finding the best way to kill them. Even citadels and colleges tolerant of necromancy will usually draw a line at Lichdom in "civilized" society. But in magical groups that do not abhor Liches, even those that celebrate them, especially in Mortocracies, the pursuit of Lichdom is well-regarded. The problem is that even before Lichdom, necromancers do not want to reveal what they know for fear of having their power or position stolen. Often lectures are shaded in conjecture and duplicity, and more often describes the cautions one should take.
The first step to Lichdom, is knowledge. A Lich craves knowledge more than anything - a king mad to know the future of his legacy, a wizard lusting for the final component of his research, a druid holding fast to study the inner workings of an ancient forest. The ritual of Lichdom is not standardized - and what rituals are useless and what are critical steps are indistinguishable until a mage dies and either rises again or rises nevermore.
To become a Lich an ordinary mortal must look for the knowledge stolen away by past Liches or held fast by ancient patrons. Expeditions to abandoned temples or deep beneath the sea, any lead will be pursued by a mortal running out of time. Often a mortal mage will resort to bargaining with an otherworldly being to attain Lichdom. These Liches will often be bound in submission and altered by their patron to suit their ultimate will. In canon, Liches who have subjugated themselves to another entity in exchange for their powers are known as Bound Liches.
Common myth holds that the secrets of Lichdom are usually spread apart across the planes, but certain repositories of grand knowledge may exist. Books such as the Necronomicon, the Black Book, and the Living Thought are said to exist that hold the entire secrets of Lichdom. Some scholars, mostly of monastic orders, purport that the pursuit of Lichdom is simply escaping the cycle of reincarnation by truly knowing the self.
Whatever the case, classical Lichdom has a few known rituals that are relatively well researched. The beginning step, some middle-level rituals, and the final ritual are all relatively well-documented although variations do exist.
The first step to Lichdom must always begin with the Knowing. This is the point at which a necromancer forsakes 'good' deities and embraces the total pursuit, from this step there is no going back. Usually a simple prayer to evil deities (which often leads to a Bound Lich) some True Liches claim to have started with a ritualistic slaughter in the name of themselves. In this way, a True Lich also begins the first step on it's path to Divinity. It is yet undocumented how a Good Lich passes through the Knowing. Some elven communities speak of sagacious Baelnorns - immortal elders who have sacrificed their mortality and eternity in paradise in exchange for guiding future generations.
Most middle-level rituals are simple evocations or conjurations designed to produce the materials for the final ritual. This includes strengthening the phylactery, infusing reagents, etc. Often the raw magical energies required for this process will begin to rapidly age the proto-Lich - and being too consumed with the pursuit of Lichdom to maintain appearances, this is also the stage at which it becomes easier of locating a proto-Lich. During this stage, depending on the nature of the Lich, the environment around their laboratory and ritual sites will change. Most plant life will die, water will become poisoned, and animal life will grow sick and their flesh will become necrotic. This is not to say all Liches produce these results. There is one instance of a Bound proto-Lich in service to a mighty Dao clan near a mining town that mysteriously found a massive vein of gold ore. Another in service to a god of Quaggoths began to cause the nearby village to devolve into lustful and cannibalistic frenzies.
The final ritual is the most well documented because it is the point at which a proto-Lich is most vulnerable and their presence is most observable. The central ritual is for the proto-Lich to kill itself on the night of a celestial event. The most traditional means of this is through an Elixir of Defilement on the night of a Full Moon. The means by which the proto-Lich preforms this ritual is also dependent on their patron and alignment. Most Liches will create the final Elixir with the ichor of a mighty celestial being - most commonly devas or Unicorns - and the viscera of an ancient natural being - krakens, rocs, dragons, etc. The rarity of the celestial event seems to influence both the strength of the Lich and their bolstered magical prowess.
After killing themselves, the proto-Lich will lie dead for a day before rising the next night as a full Lich.
The entire process of Lichdom has been examined for centuries, and it has been suggested that the process of Lichdom is not necromancy at all - it is the process of ascension. Liches thus would be a corrupt and limited form of demi-god - and True Liches who have attained undeath by their own will are on the path to true ascension. The Lich Gods: Vecna, Lady Vol, and others are said to be the complete manifestation of Lichdom.
What did you expect, whore? A shining knight? A dashing king? This is what you wanted! This is what I spent lifetimes working for! Look at my flesh - I love this flesh! I have bones stronger than mythril; a drop of my blood can kill a kingdom. Look at your weak, decrepit form. You're filth. I did this for you, and you have the arrogance to call me subhuman? I am not beneath you. You're dying. I... I am alive.
The Lich experiences a much more enjoyable state of undeath than most undead. Like most, they do not require sleep, food, drink, or air but they have been known to be able to enjoy them. A Lich exhibits the general status of necrosis among the whole body, with drawn flesh and viscous blood. Feathered and furred species that enter Lichdom will molt and shed the vast majority of their outer coverings, and skin often sloughs off in large portions. This process of decomposition can be carefully staved off, but the motivation to do so is usually not that present in the reclusive Lich. They still have excellent sensory input and response however, even though their eyes are usually among the first to be eaten by maggots.
The undead body of a Lich is deceptively strong. In addition to their ability to reform, their corporeal form is extremely strong and their viscera are very potent. Bones are as strong as the strongest metals, blood is extremely toxic, and even the touch of a Lich makes flesh necrotic. Liches can paralyze mere mortals with this touch, and conjure forth hordes of undead minions at their will. Bound Liches are often imbued with great powers in line with their patron also.
A Lich retains perfect recollection of their past life, and often claim to have sharper wits and a more subdued disposition. Depending on the patron of a Lich and their alignment, some Bound Liches exhibit a slow decline into madness (especially among chaotic deities and fiendish patrons.) The immense timeframe that a Lich has to implement plans, along with the tomes of knowledge they gain on their path are counted among Liches as their strongest asset.
The magical energies of a Lich are amplified by the potent rituals and excruciating trials one must perform to become a Lich - the sheer force of will alone; the drive and ambition of a proto-Lich is a nexus for the raw magical energies of undeath. But this toll of everlife is exacted upon a Lich in the form of requiring souls to fuel their phylactery's energies.
Several subspecies of Lich exist that react differently to Lichdom, some notable Liches are Alhoon Liches, Dracoliches, Arcliches, Baelnorns, True Liches, and Bound Liches. The Demilich is an advanced form of Lichdom; one that has been starved of souls whose consciousness travels without regard for planar boundaries.
The specific form of phylactery is traditionally depicted as a metal strongbox stuffed with scrolls and parchments with strange runes. It is safe to assume that most Liches choose an alternative form as adventurers take to smashing all objects and casements that look like they might have a few coppers in. A phylactery must be of strong material construction, certain rarity, or personal importance so as to grant it magi-corporeal binding stability. A relatively easy to attain form is a that of an exotic gem, which is relatively safe from being smashed and easy to disguise as a simple magical pendant. Phylactery's may also be imbued with magical properties beyond that of Lich-magic, such as Contingencies, curses, and illusions. These act as a defensive mechanism to protect the phylactery if the series of minions and hordes of undead are swept away.
To continue existing in their current form, a Lich must feed souls to it's phylactery. The amount of souls required seems not to vary, but has been known to increase with great magical exertion. Many Bound Liches attest that if significantly trusted, their patron will imbue the phylactery into their divine presence - thus rendering the Lich completely immortal unless the bond between divinity and Lich is severed (usually in consecrated or desecrated grounds, with specific binding magics, and a powerful gem designed to capture the unbound Lich soul upon severance)
Variant Liches Edit
Mother never was fond of my... tendencies. A failed tadpole was regarded as useless to most of the others, but I always thought of death as an opportunity. No one thought much like me, which made me the renegade mind. That's in the past though, long ago I... eliminated those objections. Ah, but what is one without their heritage. The taste wanes with every year it seems, but I can never resist the desire to enjoy a fresh mind. Old habits die hard, it seems.
The ecology of Lichdom is a controversial and vast field - for every sentient species so too are there respective Liches and sub-classes of Liches. Some races of course are simply too aggressive or unintelligent to support more than one or two exceptional Liches: goblins, orcs, Quaggoth, and others. But truly advanced species often have similar rates of Lichdom as the common human: elves, dwarves, halflings, tieflings, and others all are prone to Lichdom.
Certain qualities of a race make them more or less predisposed to Lichdom. Races the live for long or indefinite periods of time, such as elves, gith, celestials, or fiends often are not drawn to infinite lifespan of a Lich. Races with already inherent magical prowess also do not tend towards Lichdom. Lichdom is more prevalent among the ambitious races: humans, dragons, half-elves. Races concerned with purity such as yuan-ti, nagas, and some dragon sub-species are even less so inclined towards Lichdom.
The Demilich is considered by some Liches to be a degeneration of Lichdom, and by others to be the next evolution of a Lich. A Demilich has been deprived of souls for such an extended period of times that the magics sustaining the body (and some would say consciousness) of the Lich can no longer function - slowly dissolving a Lich into a sole bone body part - usually a skull or hand. In this state, Demiliches claim to exist as "an ethereal conscious." Whether this is simply a constant state of divination magic - in which the scrying matrix fuses with the psyche - or a limited form of divine presence is still unresolved.
Dracoliches are the draconic form of Lich, who along with inheriting the strong magics and temperment of the race also have a unique feature among Liches. A Dracolich may imbibe itself and soul into the body of another drake such that it has full possessive control (not unlike fiendish possession.)
Celestial beings are thought to be incapable of becoming Liches, but rumors of fallen Deva and Planetars seeking godhood through Lichdom do exist. Fiends and other outsiders can become liches, classified as lichfiends. Especially in the intrigue of the Hells, it is not uncommon for a fiend to essentially steal the souls of lesser devils to prevent a rise of power similar to their own. These beings exist solely by the will of a superior fiend, however, and at any moment their soul may be cast down back to the Maggot Pits of Avernus.
It is unknown if the Lich deities were once pure or if they ascended as Liches. Some theologians posit that the divine essence could not be corrupted in such a way - but the matter is often reserved for a matter of thought experiments.
Inter-Species Observations Edit
I simply do not understand the fears of these mortal traders. Their lives are not at too horrible a risk. Our vampire clans are safely regulated in most of our provinces. Even the zombie hordes have somewhat accurately measured migratory patterns. A Lichdom is a... relatively safe government.
A Lich's quest for domination often leads it to the ultimate evil: a political career. Fueled by a sense of absolution, infallible logic, and a keen distaste for living governments - a Lich will often assemble hordes of the undead to be governed by their will. These Lichdoms are tyrannous blood-hordes at best, but some rumors exist of relatively peaceful, almost utopian, societies where the dead serve the living and a Lichking rules in tandem with a mortal king.
A sole Lich who does not pursue the creation of it's own state will often hole up in ancient tombs, caverns, towers, cairns, etc. In these locations the Lich will extend it's reach of power with subjugated mortal envoys and undead servitors. A Liches physical nexus of power is almost never the location of its phylactery, which is kept in much more secretive and less extravagant (though much more deadly) locations.
Liches are haughty in comparison to all races, especially mortal ones, viewing them as little more than ants. Immortal or long-lived races may garner some respect, but even then a Lich will always call into question their "inferior intellect." Even minor divines are often treated lukewarmly by Liches. Trickster gods enjoy Liches as they are the ultimate source of entertainment, gladly manipulating them into performing inane tasks or foiling their plans for world domination.