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The D&D lich was introduced in the Greyhawk supplement as type of undead created when a spellcaster uses powerful magic to defy natural death:

[S]keletal monsters...of magical origin, each Lich formerly being a very powerful Magic-User or Magic-User/Cleric in life, and now alive only by means of great spells and will because of being in some way disturbed. - Dungeons & Dragons Supplement I: Greyhawk, TSR 2003

In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition, were there rules given for how a player could become a lich?

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While there are various sources, such as the Monstrous Compendium and the Wizard's Spell Compendium, as described in the answer by Mark Beadles, arguably the most inclusive source is the Van Richten's Guide to the Lich, a sourcebook of about 100 pages dedicated entirely to the lich. It describes two ways for becoming a lich, one magical (for wizards and clerics), the other through psionics.

To become a lich through magical means, one first needs to prepare a very expensive (1,500 gp per level of the wizard) phylactery of exquisite craftsmanship. The phylactery is usually a box, but it can also be some other item with some interior space:

... the phylactery ... can be fashioned into virtually any item, provided that it has an interior space in which the lich can carve certain small magical designs. Silver is poured into these designs, and a permanency spell is cast on the whole. The designs include arcane symbols of power and the wizard's personal sigil. ... The wizard's personal sigil is a mystical sign of personal significance, and identifying it may convey great power over a lich.

Once ... crafted and properly enchanted, four spells must be cast upon the phylactery: enchant an item, magic jar, permanency, and reincarnation. ... The manner in which the spells are cast and the time at which they are cast are not important, except that the permanency spell must be cast last of all. The rules ... are not immutable. ... The Dungeon Master is encouraged to customize not only the phylactery, but the process of creating it, too.

The next step is the preparation of a highly poisonous potion of transformation, which needs to be consumed on a night with a full moon:

... the mage may blend several forms of natural poisons, including arsenic, belladonna, nightshade, heart's worry, and the blood of any of a number of poisonous monsters. Also necessary are a heart, preferably from a sentient creature, and the venom from a number of rare creatures such as wyverns, giant scorpions, and exotic snakes.

... If any error is made in the formula or in the concoction and distillation of the potion, irrevocable death results.

When the ingredients are properly mixed, the following spells must be cast upon the potion: wraithform, cone of cold, feign death, animate dead, and permanency. The potion must be drunk during a night with a full moon. Upon ingestion, a System Shock roll is required. If the mage passes the test, then he has been transformed by the potion into a dreaded lich.

If the mage doesn't survive the shock, he is dead forever, with no hope of any sort of resurrection. Not even a wish will undo the lethal potion. Only the direct intervention of a deity (or the Dungeon Master) has any hope of resurrecting a mage killed in this manner.

It is worth noting that while rare, the book also describes priestly lich:

The cleric lich is created through the same process as is the wizard lich, except that the spells it casts are obviously clerical in nature.

To become a psionic lich, the psionicist must be of at least 18th level and must be trained in variety of psionic powers. Again a phylactery is prepared and the would-be lich transfers his/her powers into it:

... A phylactery can come in any shape, from a ring to a crown, from a sword to an idol. The item is made from the finest materials and must be fashioned by master craftsmen. ... The cost of creating a phylactery is 5,000 gp per level of the psionicist. ...

... the psionicist must empower [the phylactery] with each and every psionic ability that he or she possesses. Although an object cannot normally be empowered with psychic abilities in more than one discipline, the unusual nature of the phylactery allows this rule to be broken. However, before "opening" a new discipline within the object, the would-be lich must transfer all powers from the first discipline into it. ... Once a discipline is "closed," it cannot ever be reopened.

... Each time that he or she gives the phylactery a new power, the psionicist loses it forever. ... Obviously, the last power that is transferred into the phylactery is the empower ability. The effort of placing this ability within the phylactery drains the last essences of the psionicist's life and completes the transformation into a psionic lich. At the moment that the transformation takes place, the psionicist must make System Shock survival roll. Failure indicates that ... the psionicist's spirit breaks up and dissipates, making him or her forever dead. Only the powers of a deity are strong enough to revive a psionicist who has died in this way; even a wish will not suffice.

PS: As mentioned in a comment by @TimothyAWiseman, Van Richten's Guides are Ravenloft source material. But the books are written in a way that seem to imply that they broadly apply to all AD&D 2e settings, with "in-game" and sidenote examples from Oerth, Toril, etc. For example VRGttL lists Azuth, Beshaba, Cyric and Mystra as possible dieties for the cleric lich.


Alternatives: Archlich & Baelnorn

If the lich candidate is good or neutrally-aligned and does not want to become an evil undead, the alternative is to become an archlich, whose procedure is described in the answer by ucbpaladin. Yet another alternative in the Forgotten Realms setting is the baelnorn lich. These are usually LG or LN elf undead with lich-like features. According to Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves, the procedure for becoming a baelnorn is through the elven high magic ritual known as "Fhaor 'Akh 'Tel'Quess - Tribute of One's Duty to the People". For some details you can see the book itself, which used to be offered as a free download by the Wizards of the Coast.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be clear, Van Richten's Guide to the Lich is meant for use with Ravenloft. With that said, there is very little reason that most of it should not be imported to all campaign settings and it is one of my favorite expansions. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Dec 28 '17 at 1:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman: Since there are plenty of sideboxes everywhere in VRGtL describing how the mechanics apply in other campaign settings like FR, as well as Van Richten's own in-game comments describing characters who entered the mists from various worlds, I felt no reason to think the material had to apply to Ravenloft only. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Dec 28 '17 at 4:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman : I have added a small postscript to mention your comment. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Dec 28 '17 at 6:34
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There are a couple slightly different documented ways of becoming a lich in AD&D 2E. In both cases, the Lich must be a wizard of at least 18th level.

According to the AD&D 2E Monstrous Compendium (Volume 1, TSR 2102) The wizard has to create a magical object called a phylactery using the following mechanism:

In order to become a lich, the wizard must prepare its phylactery by the use of the enchant an item, magic jar, permanency and reincarnation spells. The phylactery, which can be almost any manner of object, must be of the finest craftsmanship and materials with a value of not less than 1,500 gold pieces per level of the wizard. Once this object is created, the would-be lich must craft a potion of extreme toxicity, which is then enchanted with the following spells: wraithform, permanency, cone of cold, feign death, and animate dead. When next the moon is full, the potion is imbibed. Rather than death, the potion causes the wizard to undergo a transformation into its new state. A system shock survival throw is required, with failure indicating an error in the creation of the potion which kills the wizard and renders him forever dead.

The Wizard's Spell Compendium (Volume 4, TSR 2177, p. 1087) gives a slight variation and more details.

  • The phylactery is enchanted using the spells enchant an item, trap the soul, Nulathoe's ninemen, and magic jar.
  • The potion is composed of arsenic, belladonna, blood of a pegasus foal killed by wyvern venom, vampire blood, intact heart from a humanoid killed by arsenic & belladonna, reproductive glands from seven freshly dead giant moths, phase spider venom, and wyvern venom; and does not require spells to be cast over it.
  • Other specific procedures are laid out in more detail, including timing, failure chances, what happens in case of failures, etc.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ @zwiq not that it mattered... XD \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Dec 28 '17 at 12:18
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To provide another variation, in addition to those detailed by Mark Beadles and ZwiQ, SJR1 Lost Ships describes the "Archlich", a Good-aligned lich with some other variations to its abilities. A prospective Archlich must be a wizard or priest of at least 18th level or a bard of at least 24th level (as far as I know, the only lichdom option for bards). The procedure was detailed as follows:

...To become an archlich, a living spellcaster must create a magical item of some sort. By tradition, for most wizards this item is a miniature spellbook into which they put the nine spells they seek to carry forever in undeath.

A potion must then be created and enchanted with the spells animate dead, chill touch, contingency, pass without trace, permanency, teleport, trap the soul, and wraithform. The would-be archlich drinks the potion while touching the chosen magical item, which must be anointed with at least one drop of the would-be archlich's blood.

A single, secret spell is then cast, and the being either dies (07% chance) or enters undeath (83% chance) [sic], collapsing into a death-like slumber that lasts 4-16 turns. When the being awakes, it will be an archlich forevermore.

The potion may be created and the lichdom spell cast by the would-be archlich or by another being; i.e., a prospective archlich may achieve undeath through the magical assistance of another. The process cannot, however, work on an unwilling creature (its death will always result). The would-be archlich may also have aid in creating the magical item that stores its essence, but must take an active part in its creation.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a nice catch. Speaking of archliches, would you care to add a couple of sentences about baelnorn as well? It would not fit into my own answer given that yours already dedicated to good lich. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Dec 28 '17 at 5:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also 83+07 is not 100. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Dec 28 '17 at 5:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Baelnorn is an FG thing right? Not really familiar with it, although I've seen the term. If I happen to find anything, I can add it. The percentage thing is as printed, I think interpreting it is up to the DM unless there's errata somewhere... \$\endgroup\$ – ucbpaladin Dec 28 '17 at 5:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, they are FR. Here is a suggestion, as a note. "PS: Similar to the archlich, there are also good-or-neutrally-aligned lich-like elf beings known as baelnorn who are native to the FR setting. According to Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves, they come to being using an elven high magic ritual known as Fhaor 'Akh 'Tel'Quess - Tribute of One's Duty to the People." \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Dec 28 '17 at 6:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ The remaining 10% cases is for the uncertainty lich, of course. \$\endgroup\$ – Angew Dec 28 '17 at 9:51

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