Acererak's Guide to Lichdom
by Marco Bertini and Marco Giulio Fossati
I love fucking undead. I love liches I think they are one of the quintessential monsters of dnd right next to a beholder and a red dragon and anything that gives me more to play with when it comes to them is welcomed.
Oh my god first the fuck off this art work is AMAMZING. Every single piece of it is great and adds to the content on whatever page it is on. Nothing is out of place.
Chapter One: Actions and Traits for Your Lich
The second I read this passage I fell in love with this supplement:
The lich shouldn’t be just a monster; it should be a great villain, the ultimate enemy at the end of a major campaign. The lich is one of the deadliest creatures in the multiverse, due to its powerful magic, undead nature, very long life (er… unlife), and brilliant intelligence. For all those reasons, each encountered lich should be a unique undead, with its own distinctive traits and ancient powers different from other liches. The 40 actions and traits presented in the following pages are an easy tool to create your own unique and special lich.
Customizable monsters are my jam. Having every type of monster do the same thing as the next monster like it can get really boring and I love the variety of options here.
Some of my favorite actions & traits:
Conjure Undead Legion: pretty self-explanatory. It functions like a conjure elemental/fey spell.
Imitate Spell: if a wizard spell is used against the lich as a reaction the lich can cast the exact same spell back on the player. OH MY GOD this shit is so fucked up I LOVE IT
Dream Manipulation: Functions similarly to the Night Hag's Nightmare Haunting but with a twist
Skull Sky: As long as the lich knows the skull exists, they can use the spell clairvoyance through the skull
There are so many others that I loved but I think 10% of the customizations are enough. You'll need to buy the product to get them all and trust me it's worth it.
Agents and Minions:
Okay so the monster manual's entry for liches gives us the stat block and covers the following things: Secrets of Undeath, Soul Sacrifices, Death and Restoration, Lonely Existence, Magic Collectors, Undead Nature and Lich Lairs.
All of that is great information some lore and some mechanical but nothing talks about the minions liches will inevitably have.
The first part of this chapter breaks down what kind of minions the lich would have and how they might get them. I really like the entry for the Humanoids:
A tribe of goblinoids or desperate humanoids will often swear fealty to the lich, usually out of fear or simple survival. These humanoids usually protect the area around the lich’s lair and are the first scouts or fodder used by a lich if it wants to raid or conquer land. Humanoids that fall in battle are often drug back to the lair to be raised as skeletons or zombies.
It's just a really good bit of text that can help get the story thread juices flowing and help DMs think about morally questionable situations to put players in.
I like the mention of being careful about what spells you possibly select for liches if you are going to customize them given the fact that they are powerful but their spell slots don't scale the way a player's does.
Also this one bit of wisdom:
The lich will always keep one 2nd-level spell slot and one 4th-level spell slot for the exclusive use of invisibility and dimension door. A lich will only fight to the death to defend its phylactery.
I know a lot of DMs are guilty of this - myself included - not playing monsters intelligently and a reminder is always good.
Liches as Big Villains
So Bertini & Fossati provide a handful of custom liches
Conall, Master of Undead
Dharash, the Mastermind
Kharadosz, the Juggernaut
Valerias, the Mistress of Spells
They each have nice little blurbs explaining what their goals are and what traits they have to accomplish those goals.
They all have unique spells, traits and actions that mean if you throw all of them into your game the players will have a different experience each time.
The excerpts that are specifically Acererak talking are the best. I love it when there is a personality in supplements.
"Conal was always interested in the dead and in death itself. When it was a young boy it used to work in a cemetery and started talking with the newly arrived corpses. But in the end, it got bored with their lack of response and it began to research a method to speak with the dead. Conall eventually discovered Necromancy, but it will always be nothing but an amateur; Conall creates the undead while I create Gods"
Appendixes & Maps
Appendix A: New Magic Items
Both of the magic items, Bonewand and Soulskull, fit the theme, have excellent artwork and have cool effects. The Soulskull is my favorite for its macabre healing capabilities.
Appendix B: New Monsters & NPCs
There are four new monsters/npcs: Baelnorn, Bleak Necromancer, Lich Initiate, Shadowguard
All but the Baelnorn flesh out the minions that could be found in a lich's lair or out in the world doing their handiwork.
I left the Baelnorn out even though technically you could have them be servants to more powerful liches but the lore is different for them. Instead of the typical "lets become a lich for power", they did it for nobler reasons.
Appendix C: Traps
Six new traps to delay, frustrate and possibly kill your players with: Explosive Object, Extraplanar Gate, Mist of Fear, Rain of Acid, Spectral Arms and Force Prison.
Adding any one of these to an encounter with a lich and their minion is sure to crank up the tension with your players and cost them valuable resources before fighting the big boss.
Maps: The Lich's Catacomb
I am a sucker for a good map. This one is excellent and definitely a DM map rather than a player's map since it has secret passages and traps marked but it is an excellent tool.
Overall this is an amazing supplement. It gives new versatility to liches, an iconic D&D villain in my opinion. There are three things that I am disappointed to not see in here. First how to actually become a lich. There's a lot of talk about different types of liches and ways to change them but the actual ritual to become one is lacking. Second, it would have been nice to see some additional lair actions outside of the ones in the monster manual.