Dungeons & Dragons: How To Roleplay A Lich As A DM

Make a real Dead Ringer performance for your next antagonistic mage.

Dungeons & Dragons: How To Roleplay A Lich As A DM

Liches are one of the most iconic antagonists of Dungeons & Dragons, excluding the titular dragons. Undead necromancers that consume souls to achieve eternal life are just about the peak a spellcaster can reach before searching for divinity. This can make DMing one, both in combat and roleplay, a challenge.

What aspirations can you give to someone who has functional immortality? What personality and character traits can you give someone who eats souls? What reason can you give them to actually interact with the world and oppose the protagonists when they could just as easily wait for them to die of age?

Use Lichdom As A Means To An End

Dungeons & Dragons: How To Roleplay A Lich As A DM

Every villain is best characterized when they have a meaningful goal. Immortality and epic magic are powerful means that deserve powerful ends. This can also provide players with a personal motivation to oppose the lich. Here are a few common examples:

Consider reasons a spellcaster might pursue lichdom instead of other forms of immortality, such as cloning and reincarnation spells.



Player Conflicts

Infinite Time

The classic mad scientist has more research projects than time. Immortality by undeath gives an eternity to dedicate towards any and every task the lich chooses.

By the point they're eating souls to skip needing to sleep, you can expect a lich to have thrown all other ethics out the window.


Liches might use conquest as a means of pre-emptive self-defense or an extension of their ego. A lich with their phylactery held hostage might even lead armies on behalf of a king or country.

Player Characters are normally the first responders when an evil wizard tries to take over the land.

Protecting Their Soul

A Warlock might achieve lichdom as a loophole to having sold their soul or afterlife. Binding their soul to an object could be a way of getting out of a previous deal about their fate after death.

Collecting debts on behalf of a devil or fey is a seemingly simple quest. Serving papers to a lich adds some spice.


The archlich is a holdover from previous editions with some fun options. These good liches embody virtues held in life and ignore most negative consequences of undeath.

An archlich is liable to be inflexible in ways that players will contest their methods.

The lore around archliches not needing to consume souls somewhat implies that other liches do it either as a shortcut or for entertainment value. You might choose to amend this lore and require archliches to sacrifice something of meaning instead of getting better immortality than other liches at half the price.

Phylacteries Should Represent The Lich's Character

Dungeons & Dragons: How To Roleplay A Lich As A DM

The phylactery is what distinguishes a lich from other undead. The elaborate cage that traps and protects their soul. The respawn point if their skeleton gets pulverized. The maw to which they feed the souls of the innocent.

Each phylactery should hold meaning to the lich creating it: In some versions, it is actively a rule that it must be crafted from an item of great personal value. Since there are limitations on how phylacteries are used, the way the lich operates within or works around those limitations is a good way of characterizing them.





The phylactery is expensive

No making a phylactery out of a single coin in a vault, but it can be made from an existing magic item or piece of jewelry.

Adventurers who loot the lich will either be carrying or have sold off the concealed phylactery when the lich rejuvenates.

"If I'm going to be stuck in it forever, it should look good and feel comfortable."

The phylactery is visibly magical

A phylactery is easily detectable as a magic item but can be disguised using Magic Aura.

A lich can use magic aura to create a decoy phylactery and conceal their true one in a different location.

This lich thinks they are smarter than all the other wizards for remembering a second-level spell.

The phylactery must be corporeal

The phylactery must be both solid and corporeal. Your lich can't bind their soul to a river of liquid mercury, vapor cloud, or ocean drop.

The lich can instead use these inaccessible places as hiding spots for physical phylacteries. Undead don't need to fear suffocation, poison, or crushing pressure.

This lich is willing to put up with a lot of discomfort and inconvenience in exchange for security.

The phylactery must be accessible

The lich must have a way of accessing it to deliver souls and escape back to if slain. This typically means portable but doesn't have to.

The lich can enchant a building, monument, or entire demi-plane to contain their soul. These come with a built-in final dungeon!

This lich is confident in their indestructibility, to the point that they can openly display their phylactery.

One phylactery per soul

The standard rule is a lich can only have one phylactery. There is a Netherese version of the spell that allows a lich to create several.

Aumvor's Fragmented Phylactery is named after the lich who crafted the spell. They ended up with a total of 206 phylacteries scattered across their realm.

Any caster capable of breaking the one phylactery rule is going to wield other pre-spellplague magics.

Have Fun With Undeath

Dungeons & Dragons: How To Roleplay A Lich As A DM

Liches are the masters of undeath, but it takes some creativity to use that beyond a giant army of CR 1/4 skeletons. Necromancers with an eternity to hone their craft should wield unique approaches to tasks that keep them interested to DM and create enough body horror that the players have an extra motivation to destroy them.



Bone Armour

A humanoid lich might wear the animated skeleton of a larger creature as a suit of armor. Weaponize the preconception that spellcasters are weak in quarters or that wearing skulls is purely an aesthetic choice.

Diverse Bodytypes

A lich might start experimenting on making creatures that would be impractical or impossible if still living. Terrify the Soulsbourne veterans in your group by having wheel skeletons in the lich's army.

Soul Jars

Older editions had some flexible overlap between the magic jar spell and the phylactery of a lich. Soul trapping and body-swapping shenanigans are a good way a lich can keep adventurers on their toes.

Unlife Is A Resource

A lich with a grudge against the party should have no reservations about throwing themselves into a suicidal attack. Their death is much more temporary than anyone else's, letting them trade it favorably.

Kick The Undead Dog

There are few ways to make your players hate a villain faster than having them resurrect a beloved NPC (or possibly even a former PC) as an undead mockery.

Epic Magic

If your lich is old enough to have experienced it, give them some homebrew versions of tenth-level and higher spells found in previous editions. This is also a way to catch off-guard any players who have memorized the fifth edition spell list.

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