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I think the general consensus around here is that giving up four levels of Spellcasting (plus the XP an gold cost) to become a Lich wouldn't be a good choice for a Wizard (or Cleric for that matter).

So basically I'm asking what would be an appropriate (e. g. balance-preserving) level adjustment for the Lich template, supposing that the character acquiring is a primary caster?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Thomas Jacobs, Miniman, user27327, KorvinStarmast, Chemus May 1 '17 at 3:04

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Ultimately, this is an impossible question. Lich provides fantastic defensive bonuses, but a sufficiently-optimized wizard would be able to do better without giving up spellcasting. So at high optimization, lich is not worth any LA, but is clearly too good to be free.

A better approach that I have used is 4e-style epic destinies. Basically, in 4e, at the end of the game (21st through 30th; 4e goes to 30th level), every character chooses an epic destiny, which pretty much always ends with a feature that gives partial/conditional immortality, as lich does—and indeed, lich is one of the options. I have introduced a similar idea to my 3.5 games to some success, and it's a great way to implement lich. The trick is to come up with similar-but-distinct forms of immortality for other types of characters. 4e can provide a lot of inspiration for this; you don’t even really need the rules, just concepts.

Wizards did back-port epic destinies to 3.5 in this web article, though they implement them as replacing epic feats between 21st and 30th—arguably truer to 4e, but that means getting into 3.5 epic rules, which are bad. A variant at the bottom has them replacing feats before 20th, but personally I just do it as a pure add-on thing, without replacing those feats. As long as everyone has one, balance is OK.

More problematically, lich isn't one of those that Wizards back-ported. For that, look to the dread necromancer class from Heroes of Horror, which gradually becomes more lich-like before gaining the template at 20th as a capstone feature. Selecting some of those class features for 12th, 15th, and 18th works well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ DN could potentially be re-written as a shorter prestige class to suit the needs of Clerics or Wizards, too. \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. May 1 '17 at 6:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does that all still hold true in epic? (Yes, epic is a weird dumpster fire. Even so.) I'm not sure whether it's still worthless to give up, say, levels 24-28. Also, may be worth mentioning the power now/cost later trade: it is always worth grabbing lich if you are already as high-level as the game will get. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin May 2 '17 at 0:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin Well, in epic, the bit about being able to do better than lich does for less cost is even more true (or more easily true), so... yes, more or less? But as you say, epic is weird. The bit about pushing past what would otherwise be the level cap of the campaign is a good point, though it’s also a great example of how LA is a stupid terrible system. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 2 '17 at 0:39

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