OSR: Liches and Immortality

Liches aren't really a category in my games. They're an end result, but a mythological one, and a fairly rare bit of mythology at that. They wouldn't be included in a medieval bestiary. They might be included as the protagonist or antagonist of an ancient translated epic.

Becoming a lich is difficult but not impossible. You need to breed 8 specialized spells and graft them onto your soul. After the death of the body, a typical soul retains only a few fragments of its former life; a memory, a desire, a pattern. If you want to become a lich, you need to actively remember your entire life, storing every memory, every reaction, and every desire. It's like writing an autobiography, except, once written, it becomes the whole truth. Lichdom will carve away anything you forgot to include.

The temptation is to carve away some unnecessary bits. Why bother packing your animal urges? What about fear, or loneliness, or self-doubt, or any of the thousand other poisons of the mind? This might not even be a conscious process; who would willingly retain something so distasteful?

But the mind is a complex instrument. Remove one part, and the rest may shatter into madness. Most liches are eccentric and detached, but some wake to find themselves trapped in a living nightmare. Some manage to re-learn the vital tools they eagerly discarded. Most lie entombed in their own bodies, gibbering or twitching, immortal and utterly alone.
Lich vs Firk, Alex Brock
That is not the only path to insanity. A newly risen lich sees the world without the filter of mortality.

Imagine an electric motor turning a gear at 200 rpm. There's a little red arrow on the gear that flies by in a blur. The gear is connected to a larger gear that turns 50 times slower (4 rpm). The little red arrow on that gear spins around and around, but in a manageable, sensible way. And that gear is connected to another 50 times larger gear that turns close to 5 times per hour.

Keep adding gears, 12 in total. The final gear will rotate once every two trillion years. You could embed it in concrete. So while one end of your machine is spinning and buzzing, the other end is completely still, and it always will be... from our point of view.

But when you're immortal, you can see the other gears, and you can see them turn too. That's the benefit of lichdom. Time. All the time you'll ever need, and more.

The 8 spells let the lich adjust the focus on their binoculars, seeing the little fast gears now, and then refocusing to see the big slow gears. The binoculars go all the way forward and all the way back. They can see how a mountain range is going to wear and how it got there at the same time, like watching a soap bubble burst. Deep time is almost impossible to comprehend if all you can see is the little gear. For a lich, deep time is their time.
Delay?" he cried. "Have you seen the world outside this ship? It's a wasteland, a desert. Civilization's been and gone, man. There are no lemon-soaked paper napkins on the way from anywhere." 
"The statistical likelihood," continued the autopilot primly, "is that other civilizations will arise. There will one day be lemon-soaked paper napkins. Till then there will be a short delay. Please return to your seat."

-The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams
Priests, BluntieDK

The Project

You need a goal if you want to live forever. Many would-be immortals discover, once they can see deep time, that their original goal were utterly pointless. Only the most gargantuan projects have a chance at succeeding. You can afford to get every detail right. You can afford to take your time. Study laquerwork to paint the control knobs. Breed a race of slave minions to harvest their hair to upholster your cushions.

And then you discover plate tectonics. Turns out you built the Large Hex Collider on a fault line. It's going to crack in half in a few decades. Better start over somewhere else (and leave behind a suitably impressive dungeon).

There will be interference, of course. Delays. Rot. The rise of a city is like a fungal growth on a painting; discovering a group of would-be tomb robbers is like discovering ants in your basement. People are a problem. Interference is a problem. It would be so much simpler if they would all just... go away.

And that is why liches sometimes want to kill everyone. Peace and quiet.

The Risks

The Authority's law is very clear. You cannot cheat death or allow others to cheat death. People were made to be mortal, and immortality in the flesh is forbidden. Any lich can expect to be cast into hell upon final death. Demons can't tempt them into further sin, but they will wait patiently to ensure the lich's soul does not escape or try some new trick, from phylacteries to reincarnation, to survive. They do not always succeed. Liches are very cunning.

Curiously enough, necromancers who only speak with spirits are fine. The law says nothing about asking questions of the dead - whether it's to saints or the damned. Very few necromancers are content to act merely as seers.
Legio Caesarus, Eyardt

6 Liches

1. Xiximanter
Race: Snake-Man
Goal: An immortal empire of snake-men, imperishable, ruling until the end of time.
Current Project: Distilling immortality potions.
Current Problem: The snake-man empire collapsed centuries ago. Snake-men are extinct. Also, his failed experiments keep escaping.

2. Scobalbane the Tyrant of Belth
Race: Human
Goal: The perfect society.
Current Project: Designing plumbing.
Current Problem: Excavating perfectly obedient simulacra-golems have accidentally tunneled into a dwarven city. Molten lead everywhere. Tyrant has written proclamations declaring dwarves illegal; no effect.

3. Lobal Oath-Breaker
Race: Beetle-ling

Goal: Epic revenge for his own death.
Current Project: Working on a vast autobiographical exhibit, with all details perfect, to show off his own life, the lives of his murderers.
Current Problem: Some of the initial test groups kidnapped and shown his exhibit were not sufficiently awed. Further testing required.

4. The Maiden in White

Race: Something extinct. Primordial vampire?
Goal: The perfect suitor. Romances last from a few minutes to a few days. Has a palace built into a glacier.
Current Project: Seducing the moon.

Current Problem: Tide is rising.

5. Multiplex Maximus the Fabricator
Race: Hardly matters now.
Goal: Perfect capability.

Current Project: Designing and grafting on specialized limbs for carving stone.
Current Problem: Has lost track of which section of his giant segmented body has the limbs for writing and illustration; trying to find the section that has the index. Multiplex Maximus is a very big lich. Adapt this.

6. Ur the City-Builder

Race: Human
Goal: Lead a rebellion out of Hell, seeking better terms from the Authority.
Current Project: Sending infiltrators into Hell, turning demons, identifying potential leaders, building better bodies for souls.
Current Problem: Demons are starting to grow suspicious; Ur needs a diversion.


  1. Number 3 is fantastic and the current problem sounds like a great adventure!

  2. There is likely ever to be The Lich. Based on the statistical realities of living in deep time and their desire for peace and quiet, no lich will tolerate another for long. Therefore the first lich, most powerful at the time of any others, would destroy that new lich. Should that lich cease to be, then another might come along.

    The Lich is not like you and me. It is driven by a single overriding negative principle. It does not want the good in life, but is compelled to master a bad thing.

    I think The Lich is like an anti-God. It has the power to rival any other being but uses it to not have to be bothered, rather than to meddle in the mortal realm.

    You don't stat out The Lich because there is no one in your campaign who can beat it in combat. That makes as much sense as beating the sun going out.