5e: How to Become a Lich

Written by Phil

Phil was a world-traveler, writing, playing games, and exploring. Now he lives in Toronto and plays D&D, Root, and Terraforming Mars online. Most recently, he has been exploring the asymmetric games by Leder Games. Links to Other Writing: Persuasive Writing; Coffee Website.

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Liches are some of the most powerful beings in D&D. They make terrifying villains for high-level D&D parties and Hogwarts students alike. Liches are powerful, evil wizards who have achieved immortality through undeath. How does one become a lich, and is it possible for a player character to achieve lichdom?

Becoming a lich is a dangerous process involving sacrifice, powerful necromancy, and evil pacts to achieve immortality. You must gain access to Imprisonment, find the secrets to crafting a phylactery & a special potion, and then a lot of luck. Even then, you must fuel your immortality forever.

It should be noted that the official writings on becoming a lich are rather thin. As such, I wrote what I could find that was official, but expanded with unofficial sources to help flesh out your options.

How to become a Lich

Lichdom is a dark, evil goal for any spellcaster. 

As a lich, you preserve your own life by sacrificing and using the life force of other creatures. Almost all liches are evil wizards. The first obstacle to overcome is being allowed to play an evil character, or at least a good character who is willing to commit deeply evil acts for good ends (see: archlich). 

This is what you need to do to become a Lich:

  1. Gain access to the spell Imprisonment
  2. Learn the secrets of lichdom (see below)
  3. Craft a phylactery to protect your soul
  4. Craft the potion of transformation
  5. Perform the Ascension Ritual / Die
  6. Hope for the Best
  7. Feed the phylactery (repeat for as long as you un-live)

Step 1: Gain Access to the Spell Imprisonment

This second obstacle may be one of the more substantial ones because most games stop before level 10, and Imprisonment is a 9th level spell (unlocked for most at level 17).

That said, you’ll need to be a powerful enough mage to cast 9th level spells. This is necessary to successfully undergo the ritual, but it’s also necessary to be able to cast the Imprisonment spell needed (only in wizards’ and warlocks’ spell lists). This spell is needed for Step 4.

As such, liches are typically evil wizards. However, becoming a lich as a bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, or warlock would be really awesome.

But wait, you may be thinking, if this is a wizard/warlock spell, how can those other classes use it? Well, you can have someone else cast it! But suppose you don’t have any “friendly” wiz or ‘lock around to help, here are some options:

  • Dip 1 level into Wizard/Warlock, then obtain at least one scroll of Imprisonment: “At least one” because you can cast higher spells than you are able (DMG pg.200), but it’s a DC10+[spell level] Intelligence check (Wiz) or Charisma check (Warlock), so… a 19. Chances are you’ll need several attempts, but it could theoretically work.
  • 17th Level Bards: Magical Secrets allows you to take two spells from any class at level 10, another two at level 14th, and another two at 18th. Since they count as bard spells, you can swap one out at level 17 to get Imprisonment.
  • Arcana Clerics: At level 17, you can choose spells from the Wizard spell list.
  • Clockwork Soul Sorcerer: At each level, you can swap out one spell for an abjuration or transmutation spell from wizards, warlocks, or sorcerer spell lists. So, level 17, you can take Imprisonment.
  • If you have others, feel free to contact us!

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Step 2: Learn the Secrets of Lichdom

The power of lichdom is a closely guarded secret, the process only known to precious few. To become a lich, you’ll need to know all eleven herbs and spices, which is easier said than done.

Make a Pact

According to the Monster Manual (pg 203), this is usually achieved by making a bargain with an evil entity. This could be a powerful devil, demon, or an evil god. 

The Demon Prince of Undeath, Orcus, is known to control the power of lichdom. Making a bargain with such an entity requires you to give something up in return. 

Most likely, you will need to work in service to this entity. But what’s 100 years of servitude when compared to living forever?

Receive a Dark Gift

In the adventure, Curse of Strahd, players can go to the Amber Temple and find a series of sarcophagi. In each of these are vestiges of evil and hateful gods. When a character touches a sarcophagus, they are offered a dark gift. One of these dark gifts is the secret to lichdom. To receive this, you must be able to cast 9th level wizard spells and be of evil alignment.

Book of Vile Darkness

Rumored to have been authored by the lich-god Vecna, the Book of Vile Darkness is an evil artifact filled with all sorts of black magic, from lichdom to the true names of fiends to horrific spells. Find this book, and you should be able to uncover the secret to lichdom

Be warned: the Book of Vile Darkness is so evil that nature abhors it. It erodes its surroundings, requires the user to commit evil acts, and physically disfigures you. It could also cause you to rot, take psychic damage, unleash monsters, or make you vulnerable to all damage.

Still, you’ll learn what you need in order to perform the proper ritual. The following steps are the broad strokes of that ritual without the requisite magic knowledge to actually undertake the ritual.


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Step 3: Craft a Phylactery

A phylactery is a small vessel that houses the soul of a lich and binds it to the material plane. After you achieve lichdom, if your body is killed, your soul and mind snap back to your phylactery, and you reform a new body after 1d10 days within 5 ft. of the phylactery

Once you’ve learned the magic to craft one and imbue it with the power to contain your soul, it takes at least 10 days to craft. If a creature ever gets a hold of your phylactery, they have the means to destroy you forever. 

Therefore, you need to hide it well. There’s no point in becoming an immortal being if you have your only weakness on display to the world.

This unofficial source expands and clarifies that the phylactery must meet the following requirements:

  • A nonmagical item of your choice.
  • If crafted, it must be exceptionally high quality.
  • Must be bound in silver with an inscription that costs 5,000gp
  • To prepare the object for your soul, make a DC20 Arcana check. This can be done once a day, and failure destroys the object.
  • Once prepared, you have 1 week to ascend (by drinking the potion in Step 4). If you miss this window, the object cannot be used again in this way.

After successful preparation and soul linking (same source):

  • AC10 with 30hp and resistance to all damage
  • If it is destroyed, your soul returns to your body
  • No body = permadeath; 
  • Body = you can craft another one
  • Once you are paired, you always know where it is, so long as it’s on the same plane.
  • You can see the phylactery at will as if casting Scrying.

Step 4: The Potion of Transformation

Once you’ve crafted a phylactery, you’ll need to brew a potion of transformation. This potion includes poison and the blood of a sentient creature who has been sacrificed to your phylactery.

Did we not mention that you’ll need to make sacrifices to become a lich? What part of “become an evil undead wizard” didn’t imply someone would have to die?

You’ll need to obtain a sentient creature, drain its blood for your potion, then cast the 9th level spell Imprisonment to trap its body and soul inside your phylactery. Brew your potion according to the specifications given to you from Step 2. The potion takes at least 3 days to brew

This unofficial source says that 5 of the following 9 ingredients are required:

  • A vial of wyvern’s blood
  • A vial of Manticore venom
  • A vial of pure Arsenic
  • Crushed Belladonna
  • A crushed Unicorn horn
  • A pint of Griffon’s blood
  • A pint of Vampire’s blood
  • A pint of specially prepared ale that has had the spell book or brain of another spellcasting creature soaked in it for 24 hours.
  • The heart of a sacrificed humanoid. The humanoid must have been sacrificed within 1 hour of the potion being created and is used as a container for the potion rather than an ingredient. If used as an ingredient, the heart must be consumed immediately after drinking the potion.

Then…

Step 5: The Ascension Ritual

The potion of transformation, containing a lot of poison, will probably kill you. But to become undead, you first need to become dead.

Some places are better than others, however. According to this unofficial source, you’ll need to perform the ritual in a place that is brimming with magical energy, and you must create binding sigils using your own blood (DC 15 Arcana check; DC5 if full moon).

Still from the same unofficial source: Note that the phylactery doesn’t need to be physically present, but it must be prepared to receive your soul. Though the source isn’t official, it has many interesting tweaks that make it more difficult, such as a d100 chart (page 3 of that source) that you must survive in order to become a lich.

Others rule that you simply must drink the potion once the phylactery is prepared, and then die from it. As usual, this should be discussed with your DM.

Step 6: Hope It Works

If you followed the recipe correctly and the magic worked, you should be raised to undeath by your ritual. Keep in mind your DM might make you roll for this to work. A failure could mean you stay dead. (One option is the unofficial d100 chart on pg 3 here)

Step 7: Feed the Phylactery

You thought you were done? Not at all. If you want to continue ‘living’ as a lich, you’ll need to make sure your phylactery is well fed

You’ll need to periodically feed your phylactery with more soul sacrifices. It’s not clear how often you need to do this, but we can assume that this is included in the instructions given to you when you learn how to craft the phylactery and potion.

Again, this (unofficial) source states:

“Your phylactery requires the soul of a creature to maintain its magical properties. The length of time a soul reinforces a phylactery is equal to 6 months multiplied by the sacrifice’s CR or its level. Upon successfully trapping a creature’s soul in your phylactery, the soul must stay trapped for 24 hours, after which the soul deteriorates and reinforces your phylactery. 

A Dispel Magic spell casted at 9th level can free a creature’s soul, allowing it to return to its body if possible. 

If a soul is not deposited into the phylactery before the time period is up, your phylactery shatters into dust, forcing you to reconstruct a phylactery.”

Unofficial Source

The good news is that you don’t need to visit the location of your phylactery in order to do this (otherwise, a band of heroes could stalk you to discover its location). However, you need to be on the same plane of existence as your phylactery

Find a creature ripe for sacrificing, cast Imprisonment on it, and send its soul to your phylactery. After 24 hours, the phylactery completely consumes the soul. 

Alternative to the above quote, if you fail to keep your phylactery well-fed, you begin to physically fall apart until only your head is left and you become a demilich—though this is debatable because the lore states that a demilich is an evolved form of a lich, surpassing the need to have a body through arcane mastery.

Whatever the case, it’s up to the DM to decide.

Can You Become a Good Lich?

If you’ve undergone the process, and everything goes your way, you can successfully become a lich. Congratulations! What will you do with your eternity? Grow in power, grow in knowledge, destroy the universe?

The cost of lichdom is high. It requires your life and the lives of others. It might also require service to an archdevil undertaking foul and nefarious acts. 

Although there have been known to be good liches, called archliches, they are exceedingly rare. The process to become an archlich is the same, making it a questionable process at best. 

Good-aligned wizards who seek lichdom for noble means can easily be corrupted by the magic they acquire in the process and become evil, but the ones that remain good usually end up becoming so from an “ends justify the means” standpoint.

In most examples of achieving lichdom, once a character becomes a lich, they become an NPC controlled by the DM. Consider this when beginning this process. If you are only doing it so you can play as a lich, ask your DM ahead of time whether you’ll be allowed to.


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What are the Perks of Becoming a Lich?

After all that work, is it worth it? You’re undead, so you get the perks from that, but this (unofficial) source lists them more pointedly. Let’s take a look:

  • You are considered undead. Ageless; no need for food, drinks, sleep, or even air! You may consume them or sleep if you wish, because who doesn’t like a nap?
  • Your spellcasting ability and racial features remain what they were in life.
  • You gain proficiency in Constitution saves if you do not already have it.
  • Your physical appearance changes to that of a skeletal figure with skin and decrepit flesh strung over it with eerie, fiery pupils of burning magical energy. If you choose, you can forego the flesh and skin to simply appear as a skeleton.
  • You emanate a visible aura of power that you can suppress and manifest at will. This aura functions as a constant Detect Magic spell whether or not the visual aura is suppressed or not.
  • You become infused with magical energy and gain resistance to bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing from nonmagical weapons.
  • Immunities: can’t be exhausted or poisoned, and cold, necrotic, and poison damage don’t bother you.
  • You gain Truesight 120ft.
  • You gain Rejuvenation: If it has a phylactery, a destroyed lich gains a new body in 1d10 days, regaining all its hit points and becoming active again. The new body appears within 5 feet of the phylactery.
  • You gain Turn Resistance: The lich has advantage on saving throws against any effect that turns undead.
  • You gain Paralyzing Touch: Melee Spell Attack; reach 5ft, one creature. Hit: 3d6 cold damage. The target must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
  • No Legendary Actions or Legendary Resistances

Summary

Achieving lichdom allows a spellcaster to feed off the life force of others to live forever in a state of undeath. In order to become a lich you need to:

  • Gain access to Imprisonment
  • Learn the secrets of lichdom
  • Craft a phylactery
  • Craft a potion of transformation
  • Perform the Ascension Ritual / Die
  • Hope any required rolls work in your favor
  • Protect and Feed your phylactery forever

If you achieve lichdom, you are now an immortal, probably evil, undead wizard. While most liches become NPCs controlled by the DM, you might be able to play as one if your DM allows you.

Now you get to decide what you will do with your eternity. Will you snuff out all life, learn the secrets of godhood, or finally catch up on all the books you haven’t read yet? The choice is yours.

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