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I am thinking of comparing the possibilities for immortality for high-level wizards. The most well-known solution is lichdom (if they are evil).

As we know, no cleric or wizard spell can resurrect people that died of old age, not even a wish. There is a single exception: the level 4 druid spell reincarnate(*).

A level 17 wizard can very likely get access to a level 4 druid spell (most simply, he can buy it as a magic item).

He doesn't need to be evil. There are no alignment restrictions.

Well, maybe it isn't really comfortable to re-awaken as, for example, a lizardman, but it is still much better than being a rotting corpse. Yes, she can polymorph herself in both cases easily, but being alive, she can enjoy life.

Well, maybe there are ideological problems from the side of the druids, but... 1) they don't need to intentionally cooperate 2) knowing that there are LN, CN, NE, NG and Neutral druids, at least one of them could have the compatible ideology to help the wizard.

As I see it, I simply can't find any reason why lichdom would be a better choice for a level 17 wizard.

Maybe the phylactery... but with careful usage of the magic jar spell (without the phylactery), she could get approximately the same effect as the lich does from its phylactery.

What are the objective benefits, both in-game and out-of-game, of lichdom over reincarnation for level 17 evil wizards?

Maybe the reincarnate spell was simply overbalanced?


(*) Also reincarnate needs a little bit of trickery because the spell description also says it can't bring back somebody who died of old age. But by committing suicide just before a reincarnate, it may be possible to restart in a new, young adult body.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You might want to edit your question to talk about the Iron Maiden of Eternal Youth that Brian Ballsun-stanton talks about in this answer: rpg.stackexchange.com/a/32255/3195 It basically takes care of both the "killing you" and "raising you without needing a second caster" problems, and is pretty kosher by RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Oct 2 '15 at 4:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just want to point out, you don't HAVE to be evil to become a lich. Though unbelievably rare, archliches are a thing. In a second edition campaign I'm in, I play a Philosopher, a subclass of true-neutral necromancer, and I have plans to become a lich when I can. Granted, this is Second Edition, so rules are slightly different, but I believe there are ways for almost any alignment to become a lich if they really want to. The only thing stopping me right now is an arbitrary 18th level requirment. Not for the ritual, it literally just says you must be 18th level to be a lich. \$\endgroup\$ – user25192 Oct 2 '15 at 4:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ [Related] question that takes a close look at the downsides of resurrection/reincarnation arrangements: What reason would there be for a ruler to forgo having himself resurrected? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 2 '15 at 18:24
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From what I can tell, there are three major reasons why a wizard would want to become a lich rather than using one of the several reincarnate-related tricks for immortality.

Being Undead is Awesome

The lich template in specific and undead type in general are really good. While PCs who have to care about LA might not want to become liches, NPCs who aren't bound by those restrictions see a number of upsides to becoming a lich. Extra natural attacks, a bonus to Intelligence, DR, and a huge suite of immunities are a pretty good reason to make yourself one of the living dead.

In addition, you never have to worry about aging as an undead. Once you die for the first time, you can exist forever without worrying about growing old ever 50 years or so, which probably appeals to many wizards.

Risk

It's actually reasonably risky to use reincarnate to keep yourself alive forever. The first big risk is that you spend some time dead before you can be raised, and a prepared enemy can take advantage of this to possibly make it so your reincarnate fails somehow (anti-magic field, counterspell, destroying the item casting the spell, etc.), preventing you from coming back. The other risk is with the random roll. The first 99 options on the roll turn you into something with hands, which lets you turn yourself back into whatever form you're coming from. However, that "100 Other" entry is pretty scary when you're considering all of eternity. If you're planning on living thousands of lifetimes, then you're nearly certain to end up in an inconvenient form every now and again, and that can cause significant problems for a properly paranoid wizard.

Metagame Concerns

There are cultural tropes that go against wizards wanting to pursue more 'natural' means of immortality. There are many, many stories of mortals pursuing undeath as a means to escape their mortality, but there are relatively few that revolve around the creation of new, natural, aging bodies to live in. The cultural inertia of "lich wizard" overpowers the idea of "reincarnating wizard" for a lot of people.

One other thing that I'd like to note: It's actually a little better to use last breath (SpC 130) rather than reincarnate. Last breath doesn't cost a level or a point of Con, so it's a bit more sustainable for true immortality.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “However, that "100 Other" entry is pretty scary when you're considering all of eternity”... I smell a story hook there.... \$\endgroup\$ – Clockwork-Muse Oct 2 '15 at 8:25
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Self-reliance

It's safer to be a lich. A lich doesn't worry about dealing with others to maintain its immortality.

If you're a wizard, every few decades you can probably find a safe place to cast your contingency spell while (with a sufficient Use Magic Device skill bonus) casting as the companion spell the spell last breath from a scroll, suicide, and be reborn into a random young adult body. But the necessity of that scroll leaves you at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Unless the world is unchanging or you commit acres of resources to scrolls of last breath, every few decades it's time to hunt for a new scroll, and that can be a pain. I mean, really, you look like a busy guy. Wouldn't it be nice to never worry about this again?

And you certainly don't want to be beholden to an actual druid for that reincarnate or last breath spell every few decades. Unless someone wants you back bad enough to use true resurrection, all it takes is one sneaky druid to watch you suicide, say to your corpse Sucker!, use wild shape, eat your corpse, and take your stuff, and your story ends.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Want to discuss this in chat? \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Oct 2 '15 at 3:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Discussion moved to chat \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 3 '15 at 0:11
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Reincarnation makes the wizard vulnerable to powerful magic that can be used to return him to his original form—maybe with all the problems that form entails

There's also this part of the reincarnate spell:

A wish or a miracle spell can restore a reincarnated character to his or her original form.

So anyone who knows the secret of the wizard's immortality can do this. There's no stated range requirement, either, so anyone anywhere can do this. The wizard can be transformed from what he is now back to his original, probably decrepit and near-death body by any enemy with enough knowledge and sufficient cash. Properly timed, this could leave the wizard extremely vulnerable and embarrassed. Properly worded, this could leave the wizard diseased, cursed, ability damaged, energy drained, and suffering from whatever additional conditions that plagued him right before his original reincarnation.

While on it's own this isn't a major reason to become a lich (really, having foes with wishes to burn this way probably means the wizard's already lost), it is another advantage becoming a lich has over a continuous cycle of reincarnation.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What prevents someone from using wish or miracle to undo lichification? Though I'm fairly certain that entry is intended to allow player characters to return to their original forms at some point in a campaign; it says "can", not "will", so one could argue it may require the reincarnated creature's consent. \$\endgroup\$ – JAB Oct 2 '15 at 13:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JAB Because it's a specific listed wish option, the wisher needn't worry about the wish going awry as a wish for a creature to no longer be a lich totally could. The spell wish also uses the can language, not the will language. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 2 '15 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I see. \$\endgroup\$ – JAB Oct 2 '15 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan No worries. You thought of a few things I forgot to mention. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Perkins Oct 2 '15 at 16:18
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From the SRD entry for Reincarnate:

The subject’s level (or Hit Dice) is reduced by 1

Why would a wizard want to lose valuable experience (years of training if he's nearing death by age at that level) when he can instead gain in power and be immortal? Moreover, it makes him even harder to kill!

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a solvable problem: The Spell Compendium spell last breath works just like reincarnate, but doesn't cost a level. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Oct 1 '15 at 22:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Coming back from the dead is an ordeal. The subject loses one level when it returns to life" Unfortunately not the case. Furthermore its requirement is that the target died very recently (the last round) and of course it required that the target is dead, which is... unpleasant. \$\endgroup\$ – Slacklord the Terrible Oct 1 '15 at 22:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Evidently there are different versions of Last Breath depending on your source book. My quote was from Complete Divine. \$\endgroup\$ – Slacklord the Terrible Oct 1 '15 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Axelrod: Pretty sure SpC printing controls. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Oct 1 '15 at 22:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since Spell Compendiumn came out a few months later, I guess it does. On topic: that basically requires two people: one to kill the wizard, one to cast the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Slacklord the Terrible Oct 1 '15 at 22:21
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The answers so far have been quite nice but there is one thing they didn't take into account.

To resurrect you have to die. And death itself is as good as never nice or without severe pain and feeling weak. Furthermore most variants mean you ahve to age, grow old and weak and get sick again and again and again.

So all in all the resurrection version means that for all of eternity you would have sickness, loss of hair and growing old time and time and time again as a fixated point. That is if you don't suicide before that, but even for that.....death is pain, nothingness and unsureness if the spell works as intended, .... . So your life would be one filled with pain and fear for the rest of eternity.

The undead variant means...you die....one time (the other time would be your final death), are harder to kill never grow old and never get weak or sick again.

I think that also has quite some sway over many who seek to live forever.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I get what you're saying, but death can be painless (e.g. by using the 1st-level Clr spell painless death [necro] (Ghostwalk 51)). The rich, powerful, and extremely careful could even reincarnate when they, like, got bored or whatever, not waiting until their bodies were giving out to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 3 '15 at 0:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even when painless the problem is still the unsureness and death itself the nothingness before they resurrect. That aside the cleric spell would need either an item or that you take a lvl in cleric (or the same problematic with trust comes up). Additionally it is that wizards are worldly mages trusting only in their own wisdom......do they really trust in powers that are not their own to behold? That are given by beings more powerful than them over which they have no control? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas E. Oct 3 '15 at 8:17
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I think the sort of evil wizard who becomes a lich, probably doesn't have any seventh-level druid allies he can trust to reincarnate him.

I think there probably are quite a lot of (non-evil) high-level spellcasters who do ask druids to reincarnate them. Then they equip a cap of disguise so nobody can tell they're not human, and they go about their business and nobody ever finds out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The question notes that the wizard pursuing reincarnation is not necessarily evil - that no particular alignment needs to be assumed. It's just after an objective comparison of lichdom vs reincarnation. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 2 '15 at 0:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, but he can probably trick one, or most ideally, find a way to get the spell in a magic item. \$\endgroup\$ – Gray Sheep Jul 31 '16 at 5:18

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