10 Lich’s Phylacteries

Lichs are among the most powerful undead and are dangerous foes for virtually any adventurer. As well as being puissant spellcasters, lichs are virtually immortal; they cannot be destroyed until their phylactery is also destroyed.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

Thus, a lich’s phylactery is a tremendously important object both for the lich itself and the adventurers seeking to defeat it. However, a lich’s phylactery is rarely described. The default phylactery is a small metal box filled with rune-covers scraps of parchment, although—obviously—other examples exist. No matter, in whatever form it takes, the phylactery is tremendously difficult to destroy.  (And obviously such important items would be heavily guarded or well hidden—they might even be enchanted so they don’t radiate as magic).

Use the table below, to generate the details of a lich’s phylactery.

  1. This hinged plain iron amulet opens to reveal a small, seemingly empty recess, perhaps once used to hold a small picture of a loved one. The recess is actually a very small inter-dimensional space which can only accessed by speaking the lich’s name. This space contains the lich’s research it used for its transformation.
  2. This seemingly rusted iron comb was once apparently inlaid with several small gems, but these have long since fallen from their fixings. The comb itself lies—hidden in plain sight—amid a pile of mouldering and rusty equipment taken from corpses of the lich’s enemies.
  3. A seemingly innocuous platinum coin lies among a hoard of similar coins hidden away in a dusty vault. The coin is one of a handful of very old coins intermixed among more recently designs. Most of its features have been worn away seemingly through use and age.
  4. A lump of magical hardened platinum lies at the centres of a large stone boulder created by stone shape. The boulder is so thick, detect magic and the like do not detect the phylactery’s magic, although a perceptive PC may notice the boulder was formed by magic (and wonder why).
  5. This lich painstakingly etched the secrets of lichdom onto the teeth of a great golden wyrm it slew centuries ago as part of its transformation. It keeps the wyrm’s skeletal remains behind a cunning hidden secret door. The skull is hidden amid a great bone pile comprising the remains of all those who have attacked the lich in its lair.
  6. This phylactery takes the form of an over-sized amulet. It hangs from the mouldering collar worn by a huge skeletal dog lying in state in its own sarcophagus hidden in a secret recess in the floor.
  7. This lich used the very first dagger it ever owned as the vehicle for its transformation. It etched the secrets of lichdom onto very thin sheets of gold which were then wrapped around the weapon’s blade. The phylactery was then buried deep at the bottom of a pool somewhere in the lich’s lair.
  8. An animal lover in life, this lich decided to use the animate bones of its first animal companion—or perhaps a beloved pet—as its phylactery. The bones were drenched in molten adamantine before being animated (rendering them virtually indestructible).
  9. Diamond—one of the hardest substances known to man—makes an excellent phylactery. This lich spent years hunting down a diamond as big as a man’s fist. Magically enchanted and inscribed with various special command words the value of the thing is virtually incalculable…unless it is destroyed in which case the magic lurking within its form causes the various pieces to evaporate like ice in the midday sun.
  10. Vastly powerful, this spellcaster defeated a powerful paladin during its quest for immortality. The paladin bore a holy sword that was shattered during the confrontation. The lich used the hilt of the once powerful weapon as it phylactery, revelling in the irony of transforming such a powerful good-aligned weapon into an object powering its unholy life. To make matters worse, the hilt is very distinctive—carved from the bone of a balor and inscribed with the symbols of various good-aligned deities and the PCs may recognise it as the shards of a legendary, lost weapon. The lich has kept the shattered piece of the blade and in extremis may offer up the various shard in exchange for its “life” (gambling the PCs will either hesitate to destroy such a weapon or—more likely—not notice the lich’s sinister modifications to the hilt).

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This article will appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2017. For more, check out our Free Resources page.

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3 thoughts on “10 Lich’s Phylacteries

  1. My favorite Phylactery was not unique because of its construction, but because of its hiding place. The lich in question, named Phoestrichar, had been a devoted astronomer in life, and sought to become immortal so he could continue his study of the heavens. He built a portal to the moon, and had undead servants build a fortress there. He then stored his Phylactery in the fortress and flooded the valley where the planet-side portal had been built (he didn’t destroy it, since he might have a need to use it).

    Of course, the PCs got on Phoestrichar’s bad side and he became their ultimate rival until they discovered where his Phylactery was hidden. As PCs usually do, they came up with a plan to survive the moon’s environment, and went in guns blazing. The final showdown was pretty amazing: imagine being atop a one-thousand foot tall tower on the moon (with cattywampus gravity) with both the Sun and Earth floating in the background as you fight wave after wave of undead creatures and nameless aberrations… it was fun, to say the least.

  2. Remember that in the case of a liches defeat, the phylactery has to be someplace that the lich can recover from…

    An integral part of becoming a lich is the creation of the phylactery in which the character stores his soul. The only way to get rid of a lich for sure is to destroy its phylactery. Unless its phylactery is located and destroyed, a lich can rejuvenate after it is killed .

    Additionally, the phylactery is worth 120K gp. That is a heck of a lot — perhaps the majority of that cost is in reagents and components that are used up, but chances are it is still a pretty bauble.

    Now in my current campaign the PCs discovered and defeated a weakened lich that had been trapped in wards. After killing the lich, they searched the lair looking for its phylactery. Needless to say, they didn’t find it, but they did find the lich’s collection of crowns, circlets, diadems, and headgear. And then they gifted the most valuable to their patron, the land’s king. I am sure you see where the campaign is heading….