How to Play the Classic Lich Like a Dark Overlord – Posts

Have you ever ever challenged your celebration to a high-level encounter with a lethal lich, just for it to fall flat? Possibly you underestimated how arduous the paladin can hit once they go nova, or maybe the wizard trapped your boss in a forcecage and it was recreation over. Getting stomped by a bunch of adventurers may be fairly an embarrassing second for the wickedly crafty lich. You had been presupposed to crush your enemies with the would possibly of ten thousand wizards! You had been presupposed to overwhelm them with a legion of the undead! Your magic ought to make you invincible!

A lich performed accurately ought to really feel invincible, each to you and your gamers. A lich performed like a darkish overlord deserves techniques and spells worthy of its foul title. And there’s no higher approach to play a lich than as a darkish tyrant overflowing with evil monologues and supported by a superb thoughts worthy of your excessive Intelligence. Learn on if you wish to play your lich like the final word villain.

Utilizing a Lich as Your Marketing campaign’s Large Dangerous

Why would anybody commit the foul acts required to ascend to lichdom? Immortality is sweet, however there are different strategies; the darkish wizard Manshoon of the Forgotten Realms famously used clone to increase his life. However a lich does not merely need immortality. What a lich craves is energy. A lawful evil lich wishes the power to dominate others. A chaotic evil lich craves the ability to destroy. A impartial evil lich might want one or the opposite, or each.

Domination is the purview of a darkish overlord and is an ideal want for a campaign-ending lich. When getting ready your lich’s backstory, selecting its spells, and designing its techniques, you must take into account its motivations. Does this alternative match with its want to dominate others? This alternative does not must make sense to different individuals; all that issues is that your lich’s actions are constant and make sense to you.

Consistency in a villain, particularly a lawful evil one like a darkish overlord, is a big boon you give to each your self and your gamers. It is one factor to suppose tactically your self, however it is one other to coach your gamers to suppose tactically. A lich could also be extremely clever, nevertheless it’s additionally a creature of behavior—you’ll be able to’t train a ten,000-year-old canine new tips.

A lich with an extremely organized thoughts has spent centuries studying tips on how to slaughter the residing effectively. It has perfected a spellcasting routine that may annihilate adventuring events. Present them that it all the time begins a struggle by casting higher invisibility to cover from the celebration, then casts fireball on the squishier celebration members, then casts counterspell when the celebration tries to heal and so forth. Discover methods to point out this routine to the celebration earlier than their closing showdown—maybe by exhibiting them NPCs being slaughtered by the lich’s magic. You might even have them struggle a decreased menace model of the lich at earlier ranges, just for it to [Tooltip Not Found] away on the final minute. 

Now that the characters have witnessed the lich’s techniques firsthand, they are often higher ready for once they face it once more later—outfitted not simply with new magic gadgets however with data from their earlier encounter.

A Lich’s Traits

Acererak dominating the mind of an adventurer

A darkish overlord is each champion and strategist, possessing extra energy and crafty than any who serves beneath them. If you do not have an Intelligence rating of 20 in actual life, this information will make it easier to select essentially the most devastating assault to deploy on any given spherical of fight.

Defenses. A lich’s lackluster defenses are its biggest weak point. It has subpar Armor Class, meager hit factors for its stage, and solely has two defensive spells. Protect might be the best 1st stage spell the lich possesses and must be used every time vital. Globe of invulnerability is a wonderful spell, and all liches ought to forged this spell instantly earlier than fight begins, if attainable.

The lich’s harm resistances are satisfactory. Whereas its immunity to poison and bodily harm appears spectacular, it is arduous to think about that any character going through a CR 21 monster would not possess no less than one magic weapon. It is equally arduous to think about any character attempting to make use of poison harm in opposition to undead at this stage of the sport.

Legendary Resistance is a powerhouse defensive device that must be reserved for avoiding the characters’ most devastating spells. These are spells like maze and psychic scream. Except a personality is utilizing their highest-level or second-highest stage spell slots, it isn’t value utilizing Legendary Resistance until not doing so will trigger the lich to die.

Lastly, a lich’s Flip Resistance is a useful function solely in opposition to clerics, nevertheless it retains a single cleric from trivializing the struggle, which is a big plus.

Motion. No lich ought to ever be caught on the bottom, the place it could possibly get caught in melee and torn to shreds. And but, the lich solely possesses a strolling pace of 30 toes and does not even have fly ready! As introduced within the Monster Guide, the lich’s motion is a substantial weak point. 

Senses and Immunities. Like most undead, liches are resistant to many circumstances. Preserve a detailed eye on its immunity to the charmed and frightened circumstances since these circumstances can simply take it out of the struggle lengthy sufficient for the celebration to get better.

Spellcasting. The lich’s biggest asset is its spellcasting, nevertheless it’s additionally the toughest for many Dungeon Masters to deal with within the warmth of the second. Extra on this later; there’s a complete part of this text devoted to spells.

Paralyzing Contact. A lich ought to by no means enter melee fight deliberately, because it has few methods of escaping from harmful melee fighters (dimension door is the one spell it has ready that may assist it escape lockdown conditions). Its Paralyzing Contact motion would possibly permit it to incapacitate a single combatant—however this could solely be used as a defensive possibility, not as a proactive assault. The assault could seem {powerful}, nevertheless it’s unreliable. Not solely does the lich must be in melee fight, nevertheless it should first hit with the assault, after which the goal has to fail a Structure saving throw earlier than it is paralyzed. Frustratingly, the lich needs to make use of this assault in opposition to harmful melee combatants, who are typically proficient in Structure saving throws, making the paralyzing impact even much less dependable.

Legendary Actions. As a legendary creature, the lich can act “out of flip” through the use of legendary actions on the finish of different creatures’ turns. Its 4 legendary motion choices are Cantrip, Paralyzing Contact, Scary Gaze, and Disrupt Life. Casting a cantrip out of flip might look like small potatoes, however casting ray of frost 3 times every spherical will increase the lich’s harm per spherical by a powerful 12d8 chilly harm.

Utilizing a cantrip to deal further harm every spherical could also be its most useful use of its legendary motion, as its different three choices all require different creatures to be in shut quarters; Paralyzing Contact has a 5-foot attain, Scary Gaze can frighten a single creature inside 10 toes, and even the potent Disrupt Life motion solely impacts creatures inside a 20-foot radius. These different legendary actions appear {powerful} however are all situational and must be used with discretion.

Lair Actions. A lich good points entry to {powerful} magic whereas in its lair. (Highly effective sufficient to extend its CR from 21 to 22!) This edges into the realm of encounter design moderately than fight techniques, however the closing struggle with a lich ought to all the time be in its lair, regardless of the celebration’s stage. Have a look at its stat block. Its second lair motion, which permits it to share harm with an enemy, is compelling as a result of it helps bolster the lich’s mediocre defenses. Recovering a spell slot (presumably an Eighth stage spell slot) is extremely {powerful} however inconsistent. Usually, the damaging vitality tether and calling forth spirits lair choices are essentially the most persistently {powerful}. Nonetheless, all three are useful, so your technique here’s a matter of non-public desire.

A Lich’s Spells

The lich Acererak in the Tomb of Annihilation

Manners make the person, however spells make the caster—and there’s no higher spellcaster than a lich. The lich introduced within the Monster Guide has a powerful spell choice, and you must know tips on how to use it to its fullest potential. Or, extra importantly, customise it to suit the wants of your distinctive lich.

These spells are mixture of offense, protection, and utility, nevertheless it’s attainable to make the out-of-the-box lich an much more terrifying opponent by bettering its ready spells. Whereas the Monster Guide means that altering a monster’s spells can modify its problem score, it is cheap to be ruthless and even just a little unfair to your gamers and their characters by beefing up your campaign-ending villain’s spells. Bear in mind when customizing your lich’s spells which you can additionally change the category of your lich, changing its wizard spells with cleric or druid spells to characterize a special form of malign spellcaster.

Adjusting the lich’s spells in the best way listed under raises its CR from 21 to 22 (23 in its lair), nevertheless it does overload the lich with focus spells, so there are some drawbacks. At this level, these minor variations in problem score will hardly matter to a celebration able to dealing with a lich within the first place.

A lich casting a spellCantrips. You’ve utility cantrips with mage hand and prestidigitation, and one fight spell with ray of frost. These weak spells are vital due to your Cantrip legendary motion.

To extend this spell record’s energy, exchange prestidigitation with one other fight ranged cantrip like fireplace bolt or chill contact. The latter is extremely {powerful} as a result of it prevents the goal from regaining hit factors. Utilizing your Cantrip legendary motion 3 times in a spherical can doubtlessly forestall three completely different characters from therapeutic that spherical.

1st stage. Your 1st-level spells are mixture of offense and protection. Whereas detect magic has area of interest makes use of in fight, magic missile has stunning use as a approach to assure harm in opposition to enemies which are near loss of life, particularly when forged with a higher-level spell slot. Since every missile counts as a separate hit, it is a merciless approach to immediately trigger a dying character to fail all their loss of life saving throws. Protect is a crucial spell, because it shores up your mediocre Armor Class in dicey conditions. Lastly, thunderwave can be utilized to pressure close by aggressors away in a pinch.

To extend this spell record’s energy, exchange thunderwave with Tasha’s hideous laughter, which may proactively disrupt enemy techniques by taking a significant menace out of the struggle for a spherical or two.

2nd stage. Your 2nd-level spells are a few of your least thrilling choices. It is protected to disregard most of those spells, besides mirror picture, which is a wonderful spell to forged proper earlier than fight.

To extend this spell record’s energy, don’t put together invisibility (to release house for one more spell later), and exchange Melf’s acid arrow with thoughts spike. Acid arrow is an unimpressive spell, whereas thoughts spike mixes harm with utility, particularly in opposition to rogues that wish to cover from you.

Third stage. Your Third-level spells embody the always-powerful fireball spell, however you lack a couple of very important choices. Animate lifeless is an attention-grabbing spell not as a result of it raises a trivially weak undead creature however as a result of you’ll be able to forged it on a lifeless participant character to stop them from being resurrected by resurrection or related magic. Nevertheless, you must take care utilizing this tactic as your gamers would possibly maintain a grudge if you happen to had been to drag one thing this merciless. Counterspell is a crucial spell to have in your repertoire as a result of it means that you can nullify enemy spellcasters’ strongest magic; dispel magic is a equally {powerful} spell as a result of you’ll be able to dispel lots of the {powerful} buff spells forged on the celebration earlier than fight.

To extend this spell record’s energy, exchange animate lifeless with fly. The added maneuverability fly grants you is far more helpful than doubtlessly screwing over a resurrection, particularly since animate lifeless’s 1 minute casting time prevents you from simply utilizing it in fight.

4th stage. You solely have two 4th-level spells, blight and dimension door. The previous is disappointing, dealing solely 8d8 necrotic harm to a single goal, versus fireball’s 8d6 fireplace harm to a number of targets at Third stage. Dimension door, nonetheless, is significant. You need to use it to flee lethal lockdown conditions the place you’ll be able to’t escape a number of melee combatants.

To extend this spell record’s energy, unprepare invisibility (at 2nd stage) and put together higher invisibility (at 4th stage) as a substitute. Having the ability to forged spells whereas invisible is an enormous energy increase, particularly if you happen to forged it earlier than fight begins. Additionally, take into account swapping out blight for freedom of motion, only for just a little further mobility.

Fifth stage. Your Fifth-level spells are very situational. Cloudkill may be lethal if you happen to can maintain the celebration from shifting simply, whereas scrying is simply relevant outdoors of fight.

To extend this spell record’s energy, exchange scrying with wall of pressure. This spell will forestall any bodily character from assailing you whereas nonetheless permitting you to forged spells from inside it. Any lich value their salt ought to personal a crystal ball anyway.

sixth stage. That is the place your spells begin to develop into devastating, however you solely have a single spell slot per stage from right here on out. In case you time it proper, your disintegrate spell can completely kill a personality until the celebration cleric or wizard has held on to their Ninth-level spell slot to forged true resurrection or want. Or, you should utilize globe of invulnerability to develop into resistant to all however essentially the most potent magic. Casting globe along with your Eighth-level spell slot is a severe defensive pressure, making you resistant to all spells of Seventh stage or decrease. Be aware which you can’t mix this spell with wall of pressure since each require your focus.

That is already a robust a part of your spell record, with no strictly superior alternative spells.

Seventh stage. Since your Seventh-level spells are comparatively situational, chances are you’ll wish to think about using this spell slot to upcast a lower-level spell like counterspell. Airplane shift, nonetheless, is a stable “get out of jail free card” if you happen to aren’t prepared to go down combating.

To extend this spell record’s energy, exchange finger of loss of life with prismatic spray, permitting you to exchange a spell that’s basically a worse model of disintegrate with a spell that may throw a complete adventuring celebration into chaos.

Eighth stage. Your Eighth-level spell slot can be utilized to devastating impact. Dominate monster has the possibility to not simply take away a personality from the struggle for a couple of rounds however to show them to your facet for that point. It is a devastating two-for-one that may shift your entire dynamic of the encounter. Equally, energy phrase stun can lock down a low-hit level character like a wizard from the start of a struggle.

To extend this spell record’s energy, exchange dominate monster with feeblemind to arduous counter spellcasters, or with maze to reliably take away anyone character from the struggle, particularly martial lessons.

Ninth stage. Energy phrase kill is epic; killing a creature with no saving throw feels unimaginable.

Nevertheless, there are higher choices. Energy phrase kill must be saved till halfway by the struggle when considered one of your enemies has 100 hit factors or fewer, which is a very long time to hold on to your strongest spell. To extend this spell record’s energy, exchange energy phrase kill with psychic scream to maintain the celebration from overwhelming you firstly of the struggle. Or, to extend your survivability, use shapechange to struggle as an grownup purple dragon for a couple of rounds. Or, mass polymorph to show your entire enemy celebration into frogs, so you’ll be able to kill every character at your individual tempo.

A Lich’s Ways

A lich commanding an undead horde

With so many spells at your disposal, it is important to plan tips on how to use them. As talked about earlier, most liches have been destroying {powerful} adventurers for thus many centuries that they’ve developed an virtually mechanical spellcasting routine for the very important first rounds of fight. You may construct your individual routine that matches the persona of your lich, however here is a pattern spell routine.

Spherical 1

Start fight at a variety of 75 toes from the enemy. Solid globe of invulnerability to defend in opposition to spellcasters.

Alternatively, begin fight at a variety of 60 toes and forged psychic scream (if you happen to selected it as your Ninth-level spell as a substitute of energy phrase kill, as talked about above) to throw the celebration into disarray.

Spherical 2

Because the enemy approaches, forged dominate monster to take management of a charging warrior and switch them in opposition to their allies.

Alternatively, forged cloudkill to swamp characters surprised by psychic scream in toxic fuel.

Spherical 3

Now that the enemy is in disarray, it is time to deal harm. In case your enemies are clustered collectively, blast them with fireball. If they’re unfold aside, single out a single goal to blight.

Alternatively, if the celebration continues to be organized, forged prismatic spray (if you happen to selected it as your Seventh stage as a substitute of finger of loss of life, as talked about above).

Spherical 4 and Onward

Deal with eliminating single characters rapidly, particularly clerics that may revive their allies and switch any undead minions you could have with you. Energy phrase kill can put a swift finish to most spellcasters and rogues in the event that they’ve taken even a small quantity of injury. Disintegrate is much less dependable however nonetheless will get the job performed.

Do not be afraid to cease attacking for a spherical to make use of a defensive spell like mirror picture or wall of pressure (if you happen to swapped out scrying, as talked about above). Do not let the enemy lock you down, otherwise you’ll face a swift second loss of life.

Having Enjoyable as an Overlord

It ought to go with out saying that the purpose of this information is that can assist you have enjoyable enjoying a lich as an conceited tyrant. If the enjoyable of planning turns into a chore for you or your gamers, take into account backing off and approaching this character from one other angle. Enjoying a lich to the hilt requires sufficient planning to appear omniscient and all-powerful—an understandably tough activity!

When enjoying an conceited, omnipotent villain, I begin by making an in depth plan and sticking to it (as described above) to make my life simpler. Then, I lean arduous into each villainous cliché I can consider. I monologue, taunt, and cackle madly on the gamers. The efficiency will clean over any errors you make in enjoying this megalomaniacal villain, and in the event that they one way or the other beat your mastermind villain too rapidly… properly, congratulations! In case you play the villain to the most effective of their evil skills and open along with your {powerful} Ninth-level (then Eighth, then Seventh, and many others.) spells first and the gamers nonetheless overcome that energy, they’re going to really feel nice about their victory, fast or not.

And this is not even entering into the place to place your phylactery. Bear in mind, a lich is not lifeless till its phylactery is situated and destroyed… however that is a subject for one more day.


James Haeck (@jamesjhaeck) is the previous lead author for D&D Past, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Crucial Function Tal’Dorei Marketing campaign Setting, and can be a contract author for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington together with his companion Hannah and two wilderness defenders, Mei and Marzipan. 



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