System Agnostic

A Lich for Every Class: The Paths to Transcendence

This is Part 1 of a Multipart Series | Part 2

Inspired by this post on the fabulous Goblin Punch blog about an immortal, evil, ‘lichlike’ path available for fighters, I’ve been thinking about Liches and the ‘other class’ equivalents to such things. I’ve always liked the idea that as an adventurer gains levels they slowly lose/supersede their humanity (elevanity? tieflinganity? you know what I mean). I’ve also always thought that liches slowly replace their essential humanity with a certain expression of magic, and that this is baked into the progression of certain wizards.

Most undeath is totally unrelated to class (zombiehood, ghostdom, vampirism, or ghoulification) but for liches it is the development of arcane magic that provides the path (and it might be why certain individuals choose the study wizardry in the first place). Moving forward, assuming that each class represents an equivalently valid ‘path to power’ what would each class giving up their humanity to increase/merge with their chosen power path look like?

What follows is an outline for some thoughts about a class specific ‘lich’ for the other classes: what parts of an individual’s essence would be given up, what would be gained, and some thoughts about how they fit into a game world. I should point out that none of these are by necessity evil (although the lich and the whisper tilt that way), though almost all transcend traditional notions of morality. Additionally, I think these might be a little unwieldy as character options (unless you have the right players) and might make better NPCs or enemies. Finally, if you were going to create statistics for these you could do ‘lesser’ versions as Pathfinder Archetypes or D&D 5th Edition specializations OR present them as epic, beyond level 20 prestige classes to really play on the characters becoming demigods.

The Imbued – The Path of the Fighter

As a fighter develops their craft, some experience a curious drift in their attention and sense of self. They don’t feel their skin so much as they feel the edge of their blade when it slips into an opponent’s throat. They don’t feel their heartbeat so much as they feel the ringing of their armor when it turns aside a blow. And so, over hundreds of battles -when the line between life and death thins- where the fighter’s attention turns so flows his soul.

A fighter following the Path of the Imbued will find his physical form slowly fading. But it’s of little matter, for his weapons and armor have never been lighter for them to wield or fallen more heavily upon their opponents. Eventually, the fighter’s body draws its last breath and turns to ash. But it matters not; for the fighter’s (now imbued’s) soul, consciousness, and *self* now resides in their beloved sword or bow or axe; and in the supernatural skill with which they wield such things.

And now, all they need is another to pick them up; a vessel to temporarily or permanently seize control of so they can fight and triumph throughout all eternity. Some of the finest armies in the world are led by ancient, imbued generals; their subordinates willingly taking up the arms or armor to channel the skill and tactical acumen of centuries old master strategists.

What’s Given Up A Body

What’s Gained Supernatural skill with weapons, extreme resistance to pain/damage (as the heart/soul/intelligence/will is located in the weapon itself rather than the ‘wielder’), limited ability to summon a ghostly form to wield the weapon is the host dies, telepathy, ability for the weapon to take on different qualities/abilities based on the imbued’s tremendous battle experience.

The Herald – The Path of the Cleric

All clerics wield the power of their chosen deity, and must ensure to appease and please their god. But for the Herald, this is not enough. They must become a perfect reflection of their divinity.

For a cleric to become a Herald they must spend years, decades, centuries modeling their every thought and deed after their god. Through magical alterations to their appearance (including -at times- race and gender) the would be Heralds push their forms ever closer to modeling the perfection of their chosen deity. The union they seek, when accomplished- transforms them into a perfect mirror or avatar for the presence of their god to be more fully realized on the mortal plane. At this point they can be worshiped as their god because -in the Herald’s mind- there is no longer any difference.

Heralds looks, talk, and act like their god and while they still only can wield a fraction of their god’s full might this is still far and away greater than what is possible to mortal clerics. They are functionally immortal (eventually regenerating from even titanic damage) and can only be truly killed by first desecrating/consecrating them away from being a perfect mirror of their divinity; tricking, coaxing, or forcing the Herald to take on some trapping of their mortal life which breaks their Heralddom and reverts them to being ‘nothing’ more than a supremely powerful (though mortal) cleric.

One would assume that Heralds are primary scourges of their god’s enemies but -in fact- the peaks of their wrath are saved by all they deem heretics, any who would shift a congregation’s image or understanding of the god away from the Herald’s own.

What’s Sacrificed: A Personality

What’s Gained: Immortality, knowledge and divine revelation from their god, 1st through 3rd Level Cleric Spells becoming spontaneous, unconscious transformation of the surrounding area in line with their god’s nature.

The Whisper – The Path of the Rogue

There are many tools the rogue uses to ply her trade: trickery, mastery of skills, misdirection, or knowing just where to sink the knife into the throat. But above all, rogues use the shadows. Rogues rely on being unseen (or seen incorrectly) and over the years learn to wear the darkness like a set of well tailored clothing; they learn to wear unseeing like a second skin. And by eventually merging with this unseeing they become something less and more than a woman; they become a whisper.

Whispers are semi-incorporeal beings who fade into and out of their flesh. They regularly shift into different identities (the disguises they used in their mortal life become manifest and fully realized once they step completely into the shadows by embracing the Path of the Whisper). They are nearly impossible to notice against their will, and if noticed will often be forgotten immediately. Whipsers usually engage in criminal enterprise or intrigue on a superhuman scale; where an ordinary metropolis may have a thieve’s guild of hundreds a single whisper might suffice to perpetrate a city’s worth of crime. They are rumored to create vast hordes of gold and magical items or information that rival the grandest known to dragonkind.

Whispers can only be killed (permanently) by first utilizing focused, unrelenting attention – trapping them in a bright room free of any shadows through which they could slip out.

What’s Given Up – The Ability to Easily Be Perceived/Appear as You Are

What’s Gained – Abilities to slide into and out of shadows, superhuman stealth, limited ability shape shadows into weapons and allies, incredible abilities at information gathering or spreading misinformation.

The Lich – The Path of the Wizard

Wizards know the truth of things; knowledge is the path to power. And of all studies, that of arcane magic is supreme as mastery of it eventually makes every other kind of knowledge superfluous. And the better the mind, the more knowledge can be held within it and the better that knowledge can be wielded.

Mastery of arcane magic however can not be accomplished through disembodied consciousness (many have tried); there must be senses for any kind of relatable mind to exist, there must be a body as an instrument to make the subtle gesticulations and articulations to shape a magical working. But a mortal body can be such a bother, full of such needless distractions: the beating of the heart and pumping of blood when the wizard wants nothing more than to read, the intake and elimination of gross organic matter, and the constant interruptions of that most noisome sense of all -scent- that sets even the most disciplined mind reeling when trying to study something as natural and as putrefaction or fascinating as arcane formula received by a madman and smeared onto a wall in excrement.

To truly free the mind of these quibbles, the only sensible course for the wizard is that of the lich. Those walking this path learn to slow their biorhythms until they’re eventually ready for them to stop. Their flesh becomes like the flesh of the dead, and they no longer draw their life force from something so base as digestion but rather from that inexhaustible well of sustaining power that the ignorant casually dismiss as ‘negative energy.’ They shed, dull their senses till all that’s left is hearing and eyesight particularly suited to piercing illusions and reading the most faded script.

And through it all, they craft their phylactery. The uninitiated, superstitious claim such things house the lich’s soul. Rather, the phylactery is merely the externalization and ‘backup’ of a wizard’s mind and arcane learning/spell book complete with magical instructions for how to regrow its body if it’s ever destroyed.

What’s Given Up: ‘Life,’ the Possibility of Sensual Pleasure

What’s Gained: Immortality, ‘Back Ups,’ Increased capacity to study/arcane power, immunities related to its undead status.

I’ve written the second part with four more classes and will be writing the remaining four. 

  • The Emptied – The Path of the Monk
  • ? (some kind of alternate lich) – The Path of the Sorcerer
  • ? – The Path of the Ranger
  • ? – The Path of the Paladin  

Anyway, what do you think? Could you see yourself playing one of these at your gaming table? Sound off in the comments.

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  • Paul Ferris

    I like it! The fighter one especially makes so much sense

  • Eric Moss

    FYI death knights have historically filled the “martial lich” type role in D&D, though they’re aimed more at paladin and to a lesser extent fighters/barbarians and such.

    • J. M. Perkins

      Totally. I’m not sure what to do, but I want to move beyond ‘you’ve become an inhuman monster because you fell’ to ‘you’ve become an inhuman monster because you followed a path to its conclusion.

  • Snoopy Sopwith

    I like the lot, would love to see some stats. Hard to pick a name for the paladin-lich equivalent. I would sugest nephilim as a candidate

    • J. M. Perkins

      I too would love to see some stats.

  • caleb

    The ranger one could be themed around hunting single mindedly. What about the Revanent Apostle?

  • Daniel Gressman

    I think “The Vessel” Would be an appropriate path for the Paladin. They would become a reservoir of power of the god they served. Much like the Herald, the would lose all sense of self and move only to the whim of their deity.

    I also think that “The Shadow” would be a better one for the Warlock. I get why you used Protrusion, but it sounds kinda inelegant. But maybe that’s more fitting.

    Not sure on the sorcerer though. Maybe The Aberration? The Anomaly? They become so suffused with magical energy that they become a walking thread of the weave?

    • MTi

      I would also use “The Vessel”. I’d also propose “The Hand” too though, as the Paladin acts like the imbued will of her patron deity or moral.

  • Andrew York

    I’d go with Draugur for Barbarian. They’re Norse undead. And yes, this is also stolen from Skyrrim

  • Matthew Barker

    I could see the bard being “The Chorus” or “the Harmony” or “The encore”.

  • Wildstag

    I could see a druid becoming an ancestor stone in a circle of power, watching over their sacred groves, rising only to defend their land from a truly powerful threat. If the druid is more of a wild-shaper, maybe becoming a primal beast, a hunter or forest-king (maybe like a white stag) that commands the attention of other beasts of the land.

    • MTi

      This is perfect idea. Having the Druid losing all of her “humanity” and the feral instincts taking over.

    • J. M. Perkins

      Very interesting, and yeah white stag/forest king might be the way to go.

  • MTi

    These are perfect for Prestige Classes, maybe after 10th level, because to me you have to have considerable experience in each class in order to proceed to the selected path.

    Also,

    The Claw – The Path of the Ranger
    The Hand – The Path of the Paladin

    • J. M. Perkins

      Good suggestions all around.

  • Adi Gondo Hartono

    Berserk’s Skull Knight is the first thing I thought of when you mentioned Fighter Lich.

    • J. M. Perkins

      I was just talking about this with a friend. Never seen him before though but yeah – dude looks like a transcendent barbarian.

  • Joel

    Yes, please write the rest.
    I think these are terrific

    • J. M. Perkins

      Thanks man!

  • Michael Watson

    Would be curious to see what the path would be like for a paladin–even one that hasn’t fallen from grace.

    • J. M. Perkins

      Right. That’s the standard concept – the fallen potentially undead/demonic paladin. I’m curious what else could be done especially using 5e’s more oath-centric paladin.

    • WillofTheGods

      Halfway there by 20 – could just be The capstone is permanently on. All personal goals fade beside the oath,.

  • Syd Andrews

    I can see this being implemented easily in D&D 4E by creating these as Epic Destinies. Very cool stuff.

  • Rachel Motes

    Path of the Ranger- Nature’s Chosen

    Path of the Sorceror- Inspired Arcana

  • Nigel

    I feel like the sorcerer would simply give up the ability to turn off their powers and become an elemental of pure magical chaos.

  • Andy Piseck

    For the ranger who becomes an ultimate Hunter, perhaps “The Predator”. Favored enemy: Arnold.

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