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I was wanting to make a lich character, but my DM doesn't allow evil characters. I was wondering if there could be a good lich (that is not an archlich).

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

closed as unclear what you're asking by SevenSidedDie Nov 3 '17 at 20:35

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did you actually ask your DM about this and "No, no evil characters" was his reason? Or are you just assuming he'd say no. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Nov 1 '17 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ What level is your PC, currently? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 1 '17 at 21:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Ways to become Lich-ish \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Nov 2 '17 at 11:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ ♦ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please only use answer posts to submit answers on the site. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 3 '17 at 3:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I added a link to your other question on this same topic. I believe that they are directly related. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 4 '17 at 20:11
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The description in the MM seems to indicate that yes, all liches are necessarily evil:

Wizards that seek lichdom must make bargains with fiends, evil gods, or other foul entities. [..] A lich must periodically feed souls to its phylactery to sustain the magic preserving its body and consciousness. [..] A creature imprisoned in the phylactery for 24 hours is consumed and destroyed utterly.. (MM 203)

The process that creates and sustains a lich requires them to destroy the souls of others. This is an act that no Good creature would even contemplate, and I think even Neutrals would abhor.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 2 '17 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ [some comments removed] Extended discussion is still expected to be taken to chat. Please reserve the comments for helping improve the post with concrete suggestions, or for other administrivia. Discussion, debate, and house rule ideas can be pursued in the link directly above. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 3 '17 at 20:31
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Workarounds to a DM decision likely won't be helpful

I'm going to answer as a frame challenge. Your DM has made a ruling on evil characters and per the Monster Manual a Lich is evil (page 203). Instead of looking for a loophole, discuss with your DM why you want to play a lich and see if there's a way both of you can make it work. If the ruling is no, let it go.

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If you are looking for a rules citation ... a lich is evil by default

The stat block of a Lich for D&D 5e has the following in black and white:

Lich
Medium undead, any evil alignment
Armor Class 17 (natural armor)
Hit Points 135 (18d8 + 54)
Speed 30 ft. (SRD page 325)

Lich defaults to evil in the rule book.

A lich must periodically feed souls to its phylactery to sustain the magic preserving its body and consciousness (MM p. 203)

Looks to be evil by nature. The lich consumes souls the way you or I might consume a breakfast taco or a milkshake. If that isn't innately evil, it's close enough not to make a difference.

Variations on the lich, like the baelnorn or archlich from previous editions, have not yet arrived in the official canon of D&D 5e monsters. That means that for the time being, all liches are evil subject to a DM ruling otherwise at a given table.

Since your DM has made the ruling not to allow evil characters, and a lich is evil, suggests to me that you either

  1. Need to come up with a compelling story/character development based reason for this in-character goal, and work with your DM on a path to that goal, or,
  2. Need to respect the DM's ruling and keep playing with the rest of the group.

    As @guildsbounty noted in a comment:

    Liches are incredibly powerful. This is the sort of goal that a player would more likely pursue throughout a long-running campaign, and achieve at the very end of the campaign, either for a big final epic showdown, or as part of the epilogue that is not actually gameplay.

    It was noted in this answer that determining the in-game details of "how to become a Lich" places a burden on the DM. Perhaps your DM would prefer, for the time being, not to add to DM workload and complications. Perhaps as you get to a higher in level you can revisit this idea with the DM.


If you don't have a copy of the Monster Manual, which has a more extended treatment of what a Lich is, you can take a look at the lich in detail in the SRD freely available from WoTC.

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In theory, a Lich could potentially be non-evil but...it's going to be extremely complicated and require some....significant moral gymnastics.

The Monster Manual lists the alignment of a Lich as 'Any Evil,' but it also tells DMs that this is the 'Default' and they should be willing to

depart from it and change a monster's alignment to suit the needs of your campaign.

But in this case....

The method to become and remain a 'proper' Lich is not a pleasant one

The d20 SRD says this

The process of becoming a lich is unspeakably evil and can be undertaken only by a willing character.

The 5E Monster Manual says this

Wizards that seek lichdom must make bargains with fiends, evil gods, or other foul entities. [...] those that control the power of lichdom always demand fealty and service for their knowledge

And...

With its phylactery prepared, the future lich drinks a potion of transformation - a vile concoction of poison mixed with the blood of a sentient creature whose soul is sacrificed to the phylactery.

And this...

A lich must periodically feed souls to its phylactery to sustain the magic preserving its body and consciousness.

In short...Liches bargain with immensely evil creatures for knowledge that allows them devour the souls of sentient life forms in order to continue existing as undead. This eliminates a chance of both resurrection and afterlife for those you devour.

That's....pretty dang evil.

You're going to have to do some rather significant moral gymnastics to justify swearing fealty to a dark god, then routinely murdering sentient creatures and eating their souls and not call yourself (or have your DM call you) 'Evil.'

(That's essentially the whole point of why the Archlich was invented. Provide an 'everliving spellcaster' that wasn't evil.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can always go with the "Dexter" type character. Dexter was driven to kill people periodically, which is normally an inherently evil act. In order to make the character likable (and have a show), the hook was that he only killed bad people who he had proved deserved it. There is no requirement that the souls sacrificed to maintain (or initiate) lichdom must be good souls. They could theoretically be souls that good people might even line up and thank the Lich for removing. Think of it as "Lich the demon hunter" kind of stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – JBiggs Nov 2 '17 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JBiggs Possibly. But would you call Dexter a character who is of "Good" Alignment? "Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings." You can have an Evil character that people like....you can have an Evil character who is good for society. Dexter strikes me as Lawful Evil. He likes killing, but does so within the constraints of "but they deserved it" and won't harm someone who the 'Law' says does not deserve to die. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Nov 2 '17 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe the OP just required a "non evil lich" not a good lich specifically. I would classify Dexter as non evil for sure. \$\endgroup\$ – JBiggs Nov 8 '17 at 14:52
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A Lich is defined as always evil in every iteration of the Monster Manual that I have read. This fits with the kinds of rituals that are generally given as requirements for becoming one. They're not generally fuzzy, cuddly things that need to be done, and even a neutral character would likely shy away from them, let alone a good one.

However...

Depending on your setting you might potentially ask if you could play as a Baelnorn. A Baelnorn is a Lich that was created by non-evil means from a willing, non-evil creature. As such, some of their abilities are different, and their existence may be bounded by completion of some task or other limits, but they are not evil creatures.

Setting is important though. In some settings the negative energy that animates undead is inherently evil in nature and no matter how good an undead creature was to begin with it will eventually be driven to the dark side. In such a setting your Baelnorn may need to make periodic saves against turning evil and/or be fitted with a self-destruct mechanism in case it turns.

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Ask your DM

In most D&D settings, no, there cannot be a non-evil lich because nearly-all undead are innately evil and the lich in particular is generally well known for being super-evil. Liches voluntarily destroy their soul in a mad attempt to achieve immediate power and material immortality at the expense of spiritual immortality and long-term gains. Generally, you can't do that and not end up evil in most D&D settings.

That said, 5e is clearly trying to move away from typical alignment constraints on just about everything else, so your DM might be willing to alter their setting to include the possibility of homebrew non-evil lich-like creatures. Whether or not that is a possibility is entirely up to your DM and, while I expect the answer is 'no', it doesn't hurt to ask.

You have other options, though

Since your DM forbade the lich on the grounds that it's evil, and given that you are asking in the first place, it sounds like they are open to non-standard races for PCs. Depending on what you mean by 'lich' you might be able to use another, non-evil, monster and get things to work.

If what you want is an undead PC, consider porting some of the not-evil undead from earlier editions forward. There's an okay resource for that here, which covers Necropolitans, Deathless, Dhampir, and a weird ghost-ish thing.

If what you want is a nearly-immortal PC that comes back a week or so later when they are killed, consider porting the Ghoran from Pathfinder. I don't believe there's a 5e adaptation yet, so you'd need to get your DM to make one.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Unearthed Arcana also offers up the Revenant Sub-Race: dnd.wizards.com/sites/default/files/media/upload/articles/… Turn any character into an undead! \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Nov 1 '17 at 21:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty That one perma-kills you when you finish your quest, and doesn't feel very party-friendly to me. It's true that it exists, but I wouldn't recommend it as a replacement for a character who wants to play a lich. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Nov 1 '17 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer The UA material leaves that goal open-ended (and up to the DM). For a player character, that goal could be something campaign-capping rather than a stepping-stone quest. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Nov 2 '17 at 14:27
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First off,as others have pointed out, to become a Lich you must undergo an extremely evil process. And once that is done, to keep being one, you have to keep feeding souls to your phylactery. Meaning that when you decide to become a lich, you must be pretty warped, and/or in very, very deep despair.

However I can imagine a scenario where a Lich can become good - after a few hundred years of lichdom, for some reason the Lich sees the light and realizes the error of her ways.

Perhaps her original reason for living forever was eternal love and she realizes it's warped and stupid. Or she wanted enough time to plot a revenge and the object of her vengeance died on its own, etc.. Tons of reasons. So she decides to roam the word and fix her mistakes, using her power to undo her own abominations. Or maybe she decides to do a trip to the land where she lived hundred of years ago in hope of finding some inner peace or a purpose to fill before passing away. etc...

There's the problem of the phylactery. We don't know what "periodically" means. Maybe she fed a very powerful soul last and she has half a century of "battery". Perhaps she only has one year, or a few months and in that case that's also interesting from a roleplay point of view; because for all we know what awaits a lich after death is not pleasant in the least. She could also decide to only use the souls of sinners for soul food (though I dislike that idea personally), she could be so determined to fill her purpose that she will not hesitate to fill her phylactery with souls of random passerbys if it means she can achieve it, (making a tragic Neutral character, not necessarily evil - accepting her own damnation) or her sanity could be damaged so much that she is convinced that feeding on some people is ok as long as it's meeting some weird requirements, I don't know.

Anyways.. this starting point is allowing all kinds of non evil alignments depending on the details and that's just one idea I had.

Obviously it's up to your GM to accept it.. or not =)

P.S. I use 'her' for the Lich as it feels more natural to me (it's feminine in french) there is no other reason.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi @LeRoiduSilence, and welcome to the site! Check out our tour to see how we work here, and when you reach 20 rep, you'll be able to join us in Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 2 '17 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ We do know what awaits a lich that stops eating souls: they become a demilich (MM p48-49). Which could add to roleplaying possibilities. If you're trying to repent, you probably don't want to leave your still immortal, questionably lucid skull lying around somewhere where innocent passersby might stumble upon it and be subsequently howled to death. \$\endgroup\$ – 8bittree Nov 2 '17 at 17:38
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It depends on how creative your DM wants your canon to be. There may be specific 'suggested' rules that define a lich to be quite evil.

Let us, for a moment, imagine a process whereby someone in a near-modern scenario might accomplish the purpose of becoming a lich. We could imagine that there were a process to upload one's memories to a machine (or a network), and thereby achieve a form of immortality.

Let us pull inspiration from some of Roger Zelazny's work. In the 'Merlin Cycle', he had a character create a kind of sentient computer whose internal logic is handled by arcane constructs. It might not be too far-fetched an idea that in a setting with gods, demons, astral-travel, many different planes, etc, for a concept of a kind of 'computer' to be created by a brilliant wizard. Or that a network could be formed from several of these types of creations... or that a person could upload their mind to such a network, thereby achieving a kind of immortality.

There could be a variety of non-evil reasons for a wizard to do this. Knowledge is their passion, knowledge is their raison-d'etre. So, they'd be willing to shed their mortal ties for the opportunity to seek out new magics, new ideas, and to continue onwards forwards through time to see the ages come and pass, to eventually transcend even the network into ever more mysterious, ever deeper layers of reality.

It might not be canon to the setting provided by Wizards of the Coast for 5e DnD, but they make their living creating new settings, nothing is stopping you from creating one of your own.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How is this process of becoming a "Dixie Flatline" in any way related to the question of "Is there a non-evil lich?"? A Lich is a very specific being, distinct from a supercomputer with a brain upload, a Dixie Flatline or a Supervac that, in the end of the universe, says "There shall be light". \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Nov 2 '17 at 8:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ 'A Lich is a very specific being' - in 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e, 5e DnD, the context of a lich was always an 'evil' wizard who had become an 'immortal undead'. The more general term for 'lich' originated from Clark Ashton Smith's 'Empire of the Necromancers', in which 'lich' meant living corpse. The OP wanted a solution for how to create a good lich. The Gary Gygax variety of lich cannot be good based on canon (baelnorn aside); which means that the solution for creating a 'good' lich would have to be non-canon. A 'Dixie Flatline' was presented as a possible non-canon solution to this. \$\endgroup\$ – Nimue's Goat Nov 2 '17 at 23:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish Thank you by the way; I think I want to grab a copy of Neuromancer now. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Nimue's Goat Nov 3 '17 at 0:02
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Liches are immensely powerful evil creatures only encountered at the end of a long, high level campaign. A PC lich is an interesting prospect but something that could only be undertaken by an advanced evil character.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This completely ignores the fact that the DM is disallowing evil PCs. \$\endgroup\$ – candied_orange Nov 3 '17 at 3:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ The answers makes the point that Liches are evil, but it doesn't add anything to other answers that already say that. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Aveling Nov 3 '17 at 8:18

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