Becoming a Lich is no easy task. It is expensive, complicated, and dangerous. If a wizard fails at any point, they could become an undead monstrosity.
According to DND 5e monster lore, if a wizard tries and fails to become a Lich, they can become either a Bone Claw (Mordenkaine’s Tome of Foes, page 238) or a Necrichor (Von Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft page 238). However, there are many more creative options as well.
What is a Lich?
Liches have played an important role in dnd since the beginning. Many of the greatest villains in Dungeons and Dragons are Liches. While there are many types of Liches (Dragon, Mind Flayer, Elves and so on) all of them use the same basic principle. They are powerful wizards who wish to continue their work by prolonging their lives indefinitely and they embrace undeath in order to do this.
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How to become a Lich
If you want the full story on Lich Lore and how to become a Lich, the monster compendium on DND Beyond is the best source. But, here are the highlights
- A wizard must make a pact or deal with a fiend, evil god, or other foul entity in order to obtain the secret to Lichdom. Most often, wizards will go to Orcus, the Demon Prince of Undeath.
- The wizard must create a “phylactery” (a very expensive process) to house their soul and bind it to the material plane.
- The wizard must create and drink a “transformation potion” (a difficult task) which requires poison and the blood of a sentient creature sacrificed to the phylactery.
- The wizard must then have sufficient control over their soul (requiring great strength) to force it into the phylactery where it will remain forever.
- Finally, if all the steps where completed correctly, the wizard will rise as an undead Lich
What Happens if a Wizard Fails to Become a Lich?
If any part of the above process goes wrong, the wizard will become a undead nightmare monster. Let’s go step by step to see what could potentially go wrong during this process.
The Research Phase
Not all wizards discover the secret to Lichdom to begin with! A great many start the process and fail at the first step. If a wizard fails at this phase, they can become one of the following:
Nothic (Basic Rules pg 146)
Nothics are the cursed remains of arcanist whose thirst for secret and forbidden knowledge has driven them mad and cursed them. They are reduced to creeping, crawling creatures forever searching for magical lore and items, though never knowing why. Nothics do not remember their past life but they do have an aptitude for magical secrets and lore.
A wizard seeking the secret and forbidden knowledge of Lichdom could end up becoming a Nothic if they are not careful. The knowledge of how to become a Lich is carefully guarded and not easily obtained.
Allip (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes , pg. 116)
If the wizard does manage to find the knowledge they are looking for, it may overwhelm the unprepared mind. The secret arcane ways of trapping the soul and reanimating the body can break the mind of the wizard and turn them into an Allip.
Allips are the psychic remains of someone who has learned a secret guarded by a curse. They obtained the knowledge they were searching for, but their body was annihilated in the process, leaving behind an undead, specter made up of fragmented pieces of the wizard’s psyche and overwhelming psychic agony.
When Allips encounter the living, they attempt to share the secrets they have learned, driving the living to temporary madness. The only way for the soul of the Allip to be relieved of its burden is for the Allip to transfer its horrible secret. DND lore states that:
It can transfer knowledge from its mind by guiding another creature to write down what it knows. This process takes days or possibly weeks. An allip can accomplish this task by lurking in the study or workplace of a scholar. If the allip remains hidden, its victim is gradually overcome by manic energy. A scholar, driven by sudden insights to work night and day, produces reams of text with little memory of exactly what the documents contain. If the allip succeeds, it passes from the world — and its terrible secret hides somewhere in the scholar’s text, waiting to be discovered by its next victim.DND Beyond- Allip
The Transformation Potion
After the wizard has obtained the knowledge of how to become a Lich, they must create the potion needed to begin the process of Soul Transfer. If the wizard makes even the slightly mistake, they risk becoming a Necrichor.
Necrichor (Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft pg. 238)
A Necrichor forms when the would-be Lich’s transformation potion isn’t quite right. Instead of killing the wizard and drawing out their soul, it kills the wizard and draws out their blood.
The soul mixes with the blood of the wizard to form a murderous, evil being of living blood. This ichor keeps its intelligence and will and even gains the immortality of a Lich. However, goals are difficult to complete without a body, making the obtainment of an appropriate body the first goal of a Necrichor.
Necrichors can control any creatures through their blood and they leave a trace of themselves in that creature’s blood. Necrichors are especially difficult to destroy because they can reform using the blood of any creature they have controlled.
The Soul Transfer
Perhaps the most dangerous stage of becoming a Lich, it takes incredible power and strength to force a soul into a phylactery. If the wizard fails, they can become either a Bone Claw or a Wraith.
Boneclaw (Mordenkaine’s Tome of Foes pg. 121)
If a wizard cannot force their soul into the phylactery, the soul seeks out the strongest source of hatred within a few miles and binds itself to that source of evil. The soul forms into a Boneclaw, a hideous monster that craves murder and enjoys inflicting pain at its master’s command.
The Boneclaw shares little in common with the Lich the wizard was attempting to become. Instead of being an undead master of magic, the Boneclaw is a slave to darkness and pain.
Boneclaws retain no memory or personality of the wizard they were, but they do enjoy semi-immortality. As long as their new master is alive and on the path of evil, the Boneclaw cannot be destroyed. The only way to destroy a Boneclaw is to kill or redeem its master.
Wraith (Monster Manual pg. 302)
If a wizard has made a pact with a fiend in order to become a Lich, but they lacked the power to complete the process, they could become a Wraith.
Wraith’s appear when a soul becomes so corrupt and filled with negative energy that it actually collapses in on itself the moment it is freed from its body. The soul ceases to exist and the void that is created becomes a soulless Wraith.
Very little of the original soul is left when this happens. Perhaps just a few strong memories. All that remains is a desire to eliminate all life. Wraith can control specters and raise undead servants from humanoids who have suffered a violent death, thus creating armies of undead.
If the Process in Interrupted or if the Wizard is Betrayed
There are also times when a wizard is on the verge of successfully becoming a Lich, but they are thwarted or betrayed. If this happens, they might become either a Revenant or a Bodak.
Revenant (Monster Manual pg. 259
If a would-be Lich is thwarted by adventurers, he/she might hunt them down as a Revenant. Revenants occur when a person has been so wronged that their soul is hell bent on revenge.
The soul claws its way back from the afterlife in order to seek revenge on those that wronged it. Revenants look like zombies, but they retain their intelligence, spells and abilities.
Revenants only have one year to exact their revenge. After they kill their sworn enemy or time runs out, they crumble to dust and their soul goes back to the afterlife.
Bodak (Volo’s Guide to Monsters pg. 127)
Because many wizards turn to Orcus for the secrets of Lichdom, it would make sense that Orcus, on occasion, might betray those who swear loyalty to him in exchange to the secret to unlife.
Perhaps, instead of giving a wizard the secret to unlife through Lichdom, he gives them unlife as his eyes and ears on the mortal plane.
Bodaks are usually only formed when a worshipper of Orcus takes a ritual vow. However, because very few know who the process of Lichdom looks like, Orcus could easily trick weaker mages into undergoing the ritual, under the false hope of becoming a Lich.
Instead of becoming a Lich, the duped wizard becomes an extension of Orcus’ will, spreading unlife throughout the mortal plane.
Failing to Maintain Lichdom
If a wizard does manage to become a Lich, his/her job is never done. The Lich must continue to sacrifice souls to its phylactery or slowly lose their magical abilities.
Demilich (Monster Manual pg. 48)
Demiliches are the remains of Liches who failed in duty to feed souls to their phylactery. They are now reduced to just a skull, though they retain some of their magical abilities and their lair.
Demiliches simply exist. They do not think or scheme as they once did. However, if they can remember to feed just one soul to their phylactery, they will become a full Lich once more!
If you are thinking of uses Liches or the Lich process in your campaign, I certainly hope this article gives you some inspiration! If it did, the helpful thing you can do is share it with other DMs!
Until next time, my friends,
May your game have advantage!