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My group might be facing a lich soon (as part of a one-shot). Its ninth-level spell is power word kill:

You utter a word of power that can compel one creature you can see within range to die instantly. If the creature you choose has 100 hit points or fewer, it dies. Otherwise, the spell has no effect.

We've all got more than 100 hit points, but we're not confident in staying above that threshold.

The usual countermeasure is death ward, but none of us are clerics. The lich has truesight, so invisibility won't help. Is there anything else we can do to make us less likely to get instakilled?

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6 Answers 6

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Simplest first, good old counterspell

Counterspell is the first thing that comes to mind and just needs a reaction, a 3rd level spell slot, and a PC to make a 19 DC ability check. Not a guarantee, but gives you a good chance of preventing the spell if it comes down to the wire.

Certain spells and abilities can help buff the party's hit points

Since the spell fails if the target is over 100 hit points, buffing hit points and max hit points can help here a lot. Aid immediately comes to mind to raise your hit point maximum starting at 5 at 2nd level and scaling 5 per level. If you can afford a 5th level spell slot, that's 20 hit points to everyone's max hit points are extended by. In combination with bonus hit points, which can be given with many sources two that come to mind are the Inspiring Leader feat and Heroism, you can easily have enough extra hit points to delay anyone getting to a point where they can be affected.

As a fail safe, bring revivify

If all suggestions fail, there are still ways to bring back a PC. Revivify for a cost can bring them back to life with 1 hit point to at least help minimize the consequences of power word kill.


There are other things that can pair with the above to help like using things like Bardic Inspiration, guidance, enhance ability, or even a divination wizard's portent can make the counterspell pretty much guaranteed. Bringing in resistances/healing along with any resistances like a raging bear barbarian or other effects that give resistances to damage types your hit points will last longer. If revivify itself is not available, it's possible to recreate it with wish.

Nothing above is foolproof, but it should give you enough combinations of tools to get over power word kill. I'd honestly be a bit more worried about the Lich up casting something like cloud kill to 9th level. 9d8 per turn damage even with a save may not have the same oomph as an instant kill, but it being an area of effect a party of 4 can easily be dealt over 100 damage on just the initial casting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The 2nd level spell Enhance Ability (Fox's Cunning) gives Advantage on INT ability checks, and will make that DC 19 easier to hit. \$\endgroup\$
    – aaron9eee
    Feb 2 at 3:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to echo your last paragraph. In a different situation against a different super-powerful enemy, I over-prepared for one of the enemy's deadly powers and completely overlooked the enemy's array of other deadly powers... \$\endgroup\$
    – BBeast
    Feb 2 at 6:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Best bring 2 characters that can counterspell, as the Lich can counter your counter back. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Revivify is how we got our warlock back among the living when a lich PWK'd him. +1 \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Upcasting counterspell with a 9th level slot will cancel PWK outright. The lich may try to counterspell your counterspell, but it would necessarily be with a lower level slot (liches only having one 9th per day) and thus easier for someone else to counterspell. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2 at 20:03
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Stay out of range

This is an auxiliary answer to the top voted answer, and situational. Power Word Kill has a range of only 60 feet. If you have ranged magical weapons like a magical longbow, or even humble Fire Bolt and Fireball and if the environment allows for it, you can deal with it from a distance. (Unfortunately, many a lich prefers the cramped environment of a dank crypt.)

High mobility also helps. The typical lich does have Dimension Door to get close, but it cannot cast that and Power Word Kill in the same round. If it has the standard spell list from the MM, it does not have other speed enhancing spells and a movement of only 30 feet, so putting your team under Haste will do a good job to keep you out of range in rounds where it can cast the kill spell.

Of course, all bets are of if it is a customized lich with a different spell list.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The one thing I'd be weary about is the stun effect of Haste. Not being able to move or take an action until after the next turn when it ends can undo a lot of what they Haste did. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dom
    Feb 3 at 1:00
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There are several good answers already given. Here are a few more:

  • Break line of sight with the Lich. Spells can only be cast with line of sight. Cover works, as well as the fog cloud spell. Darkness and illusions won't work due to truesight.
  • Silence can prevent the lich from casting PWK or other spells with verbal components. It will likely be tricky keeping him in the silence area.
  • Bait it out. Liches vary, but it'll be unlikely that he can cast PWK more than once. Trick him into casting PWK on someone with >100 HP by faking injuries, dressing the barbarian as the wizard, etc.
  • Get out of his truesight range so that illusions such as invisibility work. This won't work for default liches which have 120 ft truesight vs 60ft range on PWK.
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the idea of dressing up the barbarian as a wizard. :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom
    Feb 3 at 10:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Silence. Everyone forgets about Silence. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3 at 16:17
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Contingency with revivify

If you (any party, not yours if your party doesn't have this option in terms of what classes are in your party) have a Bard who (using magical secrets) has chosen both the contingency and revivify spells, or an Arcana Cleric who has them both on tap, then the condition used in the casting of contingency
"If I die cast revivify on me immediately"
will work against power word kill.

Arcane Mastery (Arcana Cleric {SCAG} 17th level feature)
At 17th level, you choose four spells from the wizard spell list, one from each of the following levels: 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th. You add them to your list of domain spells. Like your other domain spells, they are always prepared and count as cleric spells for you.

FWIW: this cleric option does not come online until 17th level, while a Bard can have this option available at level 14.

Also: if the Wizard has wish, then using wish to cast revivify as the spell that goes off under that condition when casting contingency, also fits this option but again, it isn't available until level 17 unless one has access to wish through an item or some such.

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The Lich is not entitled to know your HP, is it?

If it's a high-trust group and the GM agrees, hide your HP from the GM controlling the lich so they can't metagame that knowledge. The lich may waste the spell on someone ineligible, or waste opportunities to use it for fear of the first scenario.

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Heroes' Feast, Aid, don't let your druid wild shape at all, do not polymorph someone. If you can get your martial to grapple him and put manacles onto his hands and shove something in his mouth so he can no longer cast.

Why I say this is that wildshaping and polymorphing to something below 100 hp is instant death. However a well placed polymorph could be semi advantageous if someone dips below 100. Also spell casting in D&D is balanced so that it can be disabled if you stop vocal or somatic components so if you slap a pair of manacles on the lich and gag it, then you will completely disable it. This goes for almost all enemy casters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Feb 8 at 9:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ How would manacles prevent casting? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ its preventing somatics. you tie his hands up or put manacles on him it should stop him from casting anything that has a somatic component. like wise with gaging. having somatic and vocal components are meant to be exploited like this in design to give balance for martial classes \$\endgroup\$
    – xaddy666
    Feb 8 at 18:24

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