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Phylacteries have a caster level set at their creation, which implies that they are magic items. As magic items, it would seem as though their functionality could be dispelled or suppressed without destroying them. Is that correct, and if so then what are the effects on the lich? If there are not explicit rules in Pathfinder, then are there illustrative examples in previous editions of D&D? Even even that reveals nothing, then how would you rule it and why?

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This is a kind of musing, rambling answer because there are a few aspects of the rules that I think deserve calling out and considering here. There is no explicit rule on this one way or the other, and I haven’t found any commentary by Paizo, so I am going to have to reason about what the rules do explicitly say to inform an answer. (I am not aware of any examples of this, or commentary on this, from any edition of D&D, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t one; that would be a lot of material to sift through to rule out the possibility.)

  1. The lich’s phylactery is probably magical, but it’s not actually called out as such.

    Basically, nothing ever calls it a magic item. You use Craft Wondrous Item to make it, and that feat generally creates magic items (but the phylactery could be an exception), and its crafting rules require a minimum caster level (but strictly speaking that only says you have to be magical). So there is good reason to assume it is magical, but it’s not spelled out.

  2. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the phylactery is magical.

    The lich’s rejuvenation ability is a property of the lich, not the phylactery, though obviously they interact. But ultimately, the only thing that the rejuvenation ability requires of the phylactery is that it be the phylactery—and it’s not clear that a phylactery, even if it is normally magical, ceases to be a phylactery when magic is suppressed.

  3. Dispel magic probably doesn’t come into play.

    The lich’s rejuvenation is a supernatural abilities, and those cannot be dispelled. You can argue that you could cast dispel magic on the phylactery, if you have decided it is magical in the first place, and then that the phylactery ceases to be a phylactery while suppressed, but otherwise dispel magic is of no use.

  4. A lich who is destroyed in an antimagic field has rejuvenation suppressed.

    This one is pretty clear: suppressing magic around the lich suppresses its magical abilities. Since supernatural abilities are magical, that includes rejuvenation.

    The main question is whether or not the lich only gets one chance at rejuvenation. Supernatural abilities suppressed by antimagic field come back as soon as the antimagic field goes away—but at that point, the lich is already destroyed. Can a destroyed undead creature even be said to have any abilities?

    Moreover, even if it does, the rejuvenation ability is “triggered” by a particular event, the destruction of the lich. It specifically says “When a lich is destroyed,” not something like “A destroyed lich...” So by suppressing the ability at the moment of that event, does the triggered ability just miss the trigger? Or does it trigger, but get suppressed until it can go?

  5. If a lich is destroyed while its phylactery (but not it itself) is in an antimagic field, then... unclear.

    This is basically the same as the question of dispelling the phylactery: can rejuvenation still target it, that is, is it still a phylactery without magic? First aspect of that question is whether or not the phylactery was ever magical to begin with, as discussed, and even if so, whether that was a required aspect of its identity as the lich’s phylactery. Either answer gives rise to more questions.

    If the lich’s phylactery wasn’t at the time of its destruction, does that mean it missed its window to rejuvenate? Or does the ability trigger, only to find its target suppressed and so become effectively suppressed itself, allowing it to resume once the antimagic field is over? Or does the triggered ability just fall apart because the phylactery wasn’t available at the time?

    On the other hand, if the lich’s phylactery is still a phylactery even though it is suppressed, doesn’t that mean that the lich—in spirit, anyway—moves adjacent to it and thus is now inside the antimagic field? If that were the case, we would have a pretty clear case of the ability being suppressed—after being successfully triggered. That would mean that the lich doesn’t begin rejuvenating until the antimagic field is gone, but then does begin to rejuvenate. And if the lich isn’t said to move yet, and suppressing the magic of the phylactery itself doesn’t prevent rejuvenation, then you would have the lich magically reconstructed while within an antimagic field—decidedly odd, but conceivable, at least under the rules.

These questions basically give rise to a series of options:

  • If the phylactery is not magical
  • Or the phylactery’s magic is not integral to its identity as phylactery

    Then

    • Dispel magic doesn’t matter
    • Antimagic field on the phylactery may matter, specifically:

      • If the lich moves to the phylactery as soon as rejuvenation begins

        Then the rejuvenation is suppressed until the antimagic field ends but resumes at that point.

      • Otherwise the rejuvenation happens unimpeded and the lich’s magic is only suppressed once it is complete.
  • Otherwise (if the phylactery is magical and must stay magical)

    Then

    • Dispel magic and antimagic field on the phylactery have the same effect as antimagic field on the lich.
  • Either way antimagic field on the lich suppresses rejuvenation, meaning:

    • If the trigger is a one-shot deal

      Then the lich does not rejuvenate and is dead.

    • Otherwise the lich rejuvenates once the antimagic field around him (or around the phylactery, or dispel magic on the phylactery, if those are magical and must be so to rejuvenate) goes away.

Since the phylactery is probably magical, and seems to be doing magical things (“phylactery [...] begins to rebuild the undead spellcaster’s body nearby” implies action by the phylactery which implies it is magical), I tend to favor that suppressing magic on it is much like suppressing the lich’s own magic. After all, for the most part, if you have unimpeded access to a lich’s phylactery then you can probably destroy it anyway, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference and seems more appropriate that way.

The real question, to me, is whether suppressing rejuvenation at the time of the lich’s destruction prevents the trigger altogether, or if it only delays it until the magic-suppression ends or is removed. Rules-as-written, it would seem to me that it’s a one-shot deal, based on the word “when.” If they had written it with “if” instead (as in, “if the lich is destroyed”), then I would go the opposite way on that. But the rules-as-written approach here seems somewhat dubious to me, on the basis that we are hanging a lot of weight on the choice of “when” over “if” for a ruleset that is not generally written with that level of care.

And narratively, I like the idea that the suppression is only good for as long as you can maintain it. It seems interesting to me to imagine having to set up some system to keep magic suppressed in the area—and an obvious future plot-hook, to have that suppression removed by scheming fools or by nosy teenagers.

But I could also see wanting to give this as an option for finishing a campaign, so that you have this epic battle wherein you have to try to make sure the lich is finished while inside the antimagic field (which would be fiendishly difficult) or else it will just reform (assuming here that for plot reasons the phylactery is inaccessible or undiscoverable).

So I think in large part it depends on how you want to run your campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This was a long but good read. This question arose as a "What if?" inspired by the webcomic Order of the Stick. In that comic, a lich's phylactery is worn as a pendant by an underling. Also in that comic, a dragon casts antimagic field to negate the powers of a wizard while fighting. My question arose when combining the two things — what if the underling wearing the phylactery as a pendant were to cast antimagic field for whatever reason? It seems for the most part as though you don't think doing so would (at least immediately) endanger the lich. \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Oct 26 '17 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ While never called out as a magic item, the Monster Manual does say, "An integral part of becoming a lich is creating a magic phylactery in which the character stores its life force" (168) (emphasis mine). (I'm not sure if that needs to be addressed or if that's already factored in.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 26 '17 at 17:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan is that from a 3e MM? \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Oct 26 '17 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras Intelligent magic items are a lot more complicated than that: "Intelligent items can actually be considered creatures because they have Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. Treat them as constructs." However, we're never told to what degree we should treat them as constructs, and that's not the same as saying they are constructs! They, for example, lack Hit Dice, which is kind of a big deal. (Sorry for the rant. It continues to irk me how little attention was paid during the 3.5 revision to intelligent magic items.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 26 '17 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood (I was actually unaware until now that this was a Pathfinder question, so there's that. ;-)) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 26 '17 at 19:43
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There is no known way for a phylactery to become a mundane item once it's created.

Dispel Magic will simply suppress the effects for a short duration, and will not destroy the item.

If the object that you target is a magic item, you make a dispel check against the item’s caster level (DC = 11 + the item’s caster level). If you succeed, all the item’s magical properties are suppressed for 1d4 rounds, after which the item recovers its magical properties. A suppressed item becomes nonmagical for the duration of the effect.

Antimagic Fields will simply suppress the magic on the item indefinitely while inside the effect, but not destroy them and remove the magic from it.

An antimagic field suppresses any spell or magical effect used within, brought into, or cast into the area, but does not dispel it.

And finally, Mage's Disjunction could completely remove the magic from the item, but the item is also destroyed on the process. If used as an area effect, the items magical powers are simply suppressed as well.

You can also use this spell to target a single item. The item gets a Will save at a -5 penalty to avoid being permanently destroyed.

For magic items to lose their magical power they have to be destroyed.

A damaged magic item continues to function, but if it is destroyed, all its magical power is lost.

So none of those spells, or effects based on those spells, can actually permanently remove the magic from a phylactery. And even if they did, Create Whole can return their magical properties.

If the phylactery is not destroyed, the lich is still immortal and can rejuvenate when killed. The magic seems to bind the lich to his phylactery (the receptacle for his soul), not the other way around. It's not the lich that rejuvenates himself, even though the ability is from the creature, but his phylactery that does so.

When a lich is destroyed, its phylactery (...) immediately begins to rebuild the undead spellcaster’s body nearby.

If the magical powers of the phylactery are currently suppressed, they cannot rejuvenate until their magical powers return. So if a phylactery is hidden within a permanent antimagic field, the lich cannot rejuvenate while his phylactery's powers are suppressed.

Keep in mind that D&D/Pathfinder's lichdom is different from their original fairy tale inspiration (most notably Koshei the Deathless, as confirmed on Undead Unleashed), and while the lich would instantly be killed if his phylactery was destroyed on the original legends, that is not necessarily the case in Pathfinder.

The rules are vague about what happens if you destroy a lich's phylactery without also killing the lich, the lich could also be destroyed as well like in the legends, or simply create a new phylactery and plan his vengeance against you.

However, James Jacobs (Paizo's Creative Director) has explained that the lich should be safe (and angry) if his phylactery is destroyed:

Does destroying the phylactery harm (or somehow alert) the lich?

Destroying a lich's phylactery doesn't hurt it, but does freak it out and angry it up.

And he also confirms that a lich can create a new phylactery regardless if the old one was destroyed or not:

Can a lich make a new one if the old one is still intact?

They could, but once the new one is finished, the old one stops being a phylactery and the new one replaces it.

Which means that, while they cannot create multiple phylacteries bound to his soul, nothing prevents the lich from preparing multiple mundane phylacteries in case they require a replacement in an emergency.

If 3.5 material is of any help, Libris Mortis (age 151) actually says that an antimagic field will simply delay a lich's regeneration. You will notice though that it says the opposite of James Jacobs regarding creating a new phylactery.

A lich can construct only a single phylactery. A lich whose phylactery is destroyed suffers no harm, but cannot construct a new one. If a lich without a phylactery is slain, the lich is forever destroyed. A phylactery in an antimagic field cannot recreate a destroyed lich, though the lich returns to life 1d10 days after the phylactery is removed from the area.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why are you focusing on “permanently” here? I see nothing in the question that suggests they should be permanent. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 26 '17 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Because, in my opinion, if the phylactery is not actually destroyed, it can still fulfil it's purpose, even if at a later time. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Oct 26 '17 at 19:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you should make that opinion, along with the fact that it is opinion, clearer in your answer. Also, generally I have seen it held that liches cannot create new phylacteries if the original is destroyed, since the process of creating and linking a phylactery is tied to the process of becoming a lich. If you are already a lich, you cannot become a lich again, and thus you cannot create and link a new phylactery. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 26 '17 at 19:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see no rule suggesting otherwise, so its subject to table variation. All we have as backup is flavor from other sources. You will notice that I did not build my answer on an opinion, but on rules as written (with references). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Oct 26 '17 at 19:14

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