According to Monster Manual (page 203),

"A lich must periodically feed souls to its phylactery [...] using the imprisonment spell."

But looking at the Lich's stat block on Monster Manual page 202, it has no imprisonment spell prepared. Hence, how/when can a Lich actually imprison another creature? The question's title specifies "during combat", but since the spell isn't even prepared, I don't understand how a Lich could even imprison anyone outside of combat...


It prepares imprisonment after combat

A Lich is an ancient wizard, and it needs to use the imprisonment spell to feed souls to their phylactery. That makes it pretty obvious that 'imprisonment' is one of the spells that it has in one of their spellbooks somewhere, it just doesn't generally have it prepared for everyday use. Luckily, it's a wizard, so it can simply study the spell from one of its spell books and prepare it if it ever needs to feed a soul to their phylactery.

Instead of feeding people who are trying to kill you to your phylactery however, it is far easier to simply disable those people and then once they are no longer any threat to you, memorize your imprisonment spell and feed them at a safe location.

The spells a Lich in the stat block has available are not all the spells they could prepare, it's simply the ones they have prepared. If you want your Lich to have Imprisonment prepared, simply replace Power Word: Kill with Imprisonment.


Don't feel you have to limit the lich to its given spell list

Access to the spell imprisonment is apparently vital to a lich's continued existence:

A lich must periodically feed souls to its phylactery to sustain the magic preserving its body and consciousness. It does this using the imprisonment spell. [..] A lich that fails or forgets to maintain its body with sacrificed souls begins to physically fall apart, and might eventually become a demilich.

However, you've noticed that, somewhat bizarrely, imprisonent isn't actually in the lich's spell list. What now?

Don't feel the need to limit the lich's access to spells based purely on the spell list provided. This is implied in the MM:

Magic Collectors. Liches collect spells and magic items. In addition to its spell repertoire, a lich has ready access to potions, scrolls, libraries of spellbooks, one or more wands, and perhaps a staff or two.

Liches 'are the remains of great wizards' so (if you feel you need justification for making changes to the template), as DM, you can decide that they prepare their spell list from their 'libraries of spellbooks', just like a wizard PC would.

Finally, I can't tell you why imprisonment wasn't included on the lich's spell list originally, but assuming it was a simple oversight, and either adding it or swapping it in, won't unbalance anything.

After all, with a casting time of 1 minute, it's not a spell that's useful in combat (it would take ten rounds just to cast it), so wouldn't affect CR in any way.


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