“We had ignored the signs. We thought he was fine. We knew Thalmond was a little crazy when we first met him, and didn’t mind when he was taking those bandits prisoner. But what we didn’t expect is for him to take his own life. We saw him dead on the floor of his room with an expensive poison still in the grip of one hand, and his mother’s locket in the other. But what was even more frightening was when he woke up, and stood. He completely ignored us and just… walked. He walked past and Valish found him in the library, reading whatever he could get his hands on.”Vorjund’s account of Thalmond’s transformation into a Lich
After slaying countless hordes of whatever, and defeating ancient beings bent on destroying the world, what wizard wouldn’t want to strive for immortality? Okay, probably the wise ones, but who cares about the concept of living longer than anyone else until the end of reality and watching the destruction of everything they ever knew and…
Existential crisis aside, becoming a Lich is probably one of the best ways to finish your wizard’s tale, or perhaps face a foe so great as to potentially kill said wizard far too easily to make any risk worth it, or maybe just wait for Half-Life 3 to come out. The perks of actually becoming a Lich include: Coming back to life 24 hours after being killed, being a spooky scary skeleton, destroying any foe that attempts to defeat you, and never aging at all, plus any other perks your DM grants Lichdom.
Now it’s all well and good, but actually becoming a Lich is another matter entirely and in fact, is a closely guarded secret! The Monster Manual does contain hints as to the process, and the fact that it varies from Lich to Lich, but the first steps I will describe are the basic steps. After that, we’ll be getting into homebrew territory, which is my own interpretation of the system. But the first of all these steps is: Work with your DM to see if it’s alright to work towards that goal. It would be a shame to go through all the effort only to end up with a dead character in your hands. Being 17th level or higher is also a good idea for this, as you’d have access to many spells that would be useful for this purpose.
Now the first step your character must take would probably be to study how to obtain the knowledge of Lichdom, then actually obtain said knowledge. This knowledge is usually provided by a demon lord named Orcus, though some fiends, evil gods, or other foul entities can grant the secrets as well, though these entities would definitely want something valuable in return for this knowledge, with one regular price being swearing fealty to the entity providing the knowledge.
After that, you must obtain something like a locket, a box, or any other item with an interior. Then inscribe the inside with silver arcane sigils of naming, binding, immortality, and dark magic, turning said object into a phylactery. This (to my best guess) is likely the main reason nobody can simply become a lich without swearing fealty to a dark entity. At least as far as the core rulebooks are concerned anyway.
Next, you find a sentient creature, and sacrifice their soul to the phylactery, which is left up to interpretation. I personally feel like Soul Cage (XGtE) would allow you to feed a creature’s soul to an item that could consume it, or just ensuring the creature to be sacrificed is wearing it while being killed would make sense, though imprisonment might also be the method which would simply transport the entire creature into the phylactery for 24 hours before they’re consumed. Just don’t forget to harvest some blood from the creature before using imprisonment if your DM decides that method is the way to do it, as you need the blood of the sacrificed creature specifically in order for this to work.
Next up is the potion of transformation, which is really just poison and the blood of that creature you sacrificed earlier. Just drink that and you die, then rise as a lich!
Of course there’s a problem: this is really easy, and a DM might not want it to be so, just so a lich couldn’t re-create the phylactery over and over again if destroyed, so I have a few ideas to get you started:
- Something dear to the to-be Lich must be involved, such as a locket for the phylactery, or a loved one’s life for the sacrifice.
- They can only perform parts of the process on a blood moon.
- The poison must be made from a special plant.
- A vampire must provide their blood for the ritual.
Now as a warning, there are some things to beware about Lichdom, as something such as this is not without price. First, you must feed your phylactery every so often or your body and consciousness will decay, eventually turning into a Demilich. This is actually what the Imprisonment spell will revert for you, as you trap creatures in your phylactery, destroying their soul and body to maintain yourself, though dispel magic as a 9th level spell would release creatures in your phylactery. Second, you will need to protect your phylactery with your life, as without it, your fate is sealed, and you will die, or become a Demilich. Third, Liches are usually corrupted by the process, losing interest in anything that doesn’t involve obtaining more knowledge, or some other form of corruption depending on the entity that gave you the knowledge. Fourth, you’re bound to an entity. While that doesn’t sound bad, wait till they start demanding you do something for them that you don’t want to do. Fifth, you’re immortal unless you wish to fade into a husk of what you used to be. Better hope you have a hobby you won’t get tired of, or insanity will be your downfall.
Now I keep mentioning the Demilich, and how it can be a problem. The big problem is that being a Demilich typically means your memory is fractured, and you’re left as a skull that simply sits wherever it is unless disturbed. However, if you have the presence to feed souls to your phylactery, this can be undone, and in fact, some Liches intentionally become Demiliches as a way to let one’s consciousness roam freely, setting special gems in place of eyes and teeth that send souls to the phylactery, allowing a Demilich to re-form without needing to remember the need for souls.
Beyond that, discuss implications with your DM, as well as rulings. Perhaps you might come up with a kind of Lich that doesn’t actually need to make a fiendish pact, but instead a holy oath. Perhaps your Lich becomes one by accident. Whatever you decide, just know that many exciting possibilities lie ahead of you, and don’t forget to stay creative with your character development!