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What happens to a lich's soul when it dies with a Ring of Mind Shielding? Normally, a lich's soul goes to the phylactery. But the Ring of Mind Shielding also takes a soul. Does the lich choose where to go or does one overrule the other?

My interpretation is, the ring takes the soul. The wording on the ring says:

If you die while wearing the ring, your soul enters it, unless it already houses a soul. You can remain in the ring or depart for the afterlife.

That sounds like the ring takes the soul regardless of the soul's desire. However the soul can freely leave the ring, though it'll be a one way trip to the afterlife. But in a lich's case, it'll go to its phylactery instead.

If this is a correct interpretation, a lich can use this ring to kind of treat it like a backup phylactery? (Possibly a cursed item for an awesome story?)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I play pathfinder and 3.5 more, but doesnt the phylactery hold onto the lich's soul and thus when the body is destroyed it just regenerates basically a new puppet body. \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Jan 24 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ you have the option, story wise, to allow the lich to make the ring it's new phylactery. only use it if one of the players is the lich, really... \$\endgroup\$ – clockw0rk Jan 27 at 23:45
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It's not clear that the ring would even activate

The operative part of the Ring of Mind Shielding's description is:

If you die while wearing the ring, your soul enters it, unless it already houses a soul.

However, the language used to describe the lich's abililty to reconstitute itself from its phylactery seems to carefully avoid the words "death", "die", or "kill", instead reserving these words for what happens when the lich is destroyed after the phylactery is destroyed. In the Monster Manual's description of the process:

Death and Restoration. When a lich’s body is broken by accident or assault, the will and mind of the lich drains from it, leaving only a lifeless corpse behind. Within days, a new body reforms next to the lich’s phylactery, coalescing out of glowing smoke that issues from the device. Because the destruction of its phylactery means the possibility of eternal death, a lich usually keeps its phylactery in a hidden, well-guarded location.

And in the lich's stat block:

Rejuvenation. If it has a phylactery, a destroyed lich gains a new body in 1d10 days, regaining all its hit points and becoming active again. The new body appears within 5 feet of the phylactery.

Note that the in addition to not mentioning death, the lich's Rejuvenation trait also makes no mention of raising the lich from the dead. So, RAW, it seems that a lich with a functioning phylactery does not die when its body is destroyed, which means the soul-trapping ability of the Ring of Mind Shielding never activates.

Even if the ring does activate, it can't free the lich's soul from the phylactery

The description of the process of becoming a lich is quite clear that the lich's soul is permanently housed within its phylactery, as shown by the following excerpts (emphasis added):

A lich is created by an arcane ritual that traps the wizard’s soul within a phylactery. Doing so binds the soul to the mortal world, preventing it from traveling to the Outer Planes after death.

And in the next paragraph:

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. The wizard falls dead, then rises as a lich as its soul is drawn into the phylactery, where it forever remains.

And importantly, the sole purpose of the phylactery is to make it as difficult as possible to access or liberate the lich's soul:

Destroying a lich’s phylactery is no easy task and often requires a special ritual, item, or weapon. Every phylactery is unique, and discovering the key to its destruction can be a quest in and of itself.

So, even if you as a DM ruled that the ring did activate upon the lich's discorporation (which is not an entirely unreasonable ruling), I would argue that it still can't pull the lich's soul out of its phylactery, since that is exactly what the phylactery is designed to prevent.

In summary: the ring can't trap the lich's soul because the lich's soul is already trapped in its phylactery.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the first sentence of your 'Death and Restoration' section says nothing about a soul, only that the 'will and mind' of the lich drain away from the corpse. I think you're spot on with your summary. Nice work. \$\endgroup\$ – aaron9eee Jan 23 at 7:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ To me the ring sounds like a "special item" able to destroy a phylactery's ability to retain the soul. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dvorak Jan 23 at 18:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnDvorak I would say it's a case of specific beats general. The general case is that a creature's soul is within its body and free to depart to the afterlife, and this is what the ring was written for. In the case of the lich, the soul is neither within their body nor free to depart. I very much doubt that an uncommon magic item whose soul-catching ability is not even its primary function can override a phylactery whose only purpose is to prevent the lich's soul from ever being released, and whose destruction is a quest unto itself. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 23 at 19:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ "the language used to describe the lich's abililty to reconstitute itself from its phylactery seems to carefully avoid the words "die" or "death"" -> Death and Restoration. I kinda get what you want to say, but at a glance it looks obviously incorrect. \$\endgroup\$ – nwp Jan 24 at 10:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nwp That paragraph also talks about how the lich actually can die if its phylactery is destroyed. But the first part of the paragraph that describes how the phylactery works doesn't use "death" or "die". I've edited my answer to make this more clear. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 24 at 12:57
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The lich is not forced to stay in the ring

In the description:

If you die while wearing the ring, your soul enters it, unless it already houses a soul. You can remain in the ring or depart for the afterlife.

The key is that the lich CAN remain in the ring. But it can willfully leave to the afterlife, and then to their phylactery whenever it wants.

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    \$\begingroup\$ But do the lich die when its body is destroyed? Can it "depart to the afterlife" and then to the phylactery? Can you elaborate on how you reached this answer when it differs from Ryan's? (i.e. the lich's soul is not in its body but in the phylactery all the time). \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Jan 23 at 15:10

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