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Old 02-19-2019, 02:54 PM   #1
b-dog
 
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Default Lich in a dungeon

A lich is in a dungeon so what does he do? Does he just sit in his room for PCs to come and try to kill him? Or does he make a security system to detect intruders? If this is the case how do you play the lich? He might use wisard eye or a crystal ball but how would you have something set off a detector so that th ouch knows there are PCs in his dungeon? Or does he just sense it? What does he do in response to the intruders? Does he send minions to attack the PCs. Does he have some communication system in places where the minions are so that he can tell them what to do? Does the light teleport into the combat that the minions are having with the PCs? What about ghosts and spirits? They would be able to enter dungeon rooms and attack the PCs from all angles. In short how do you play a lich who has access to all kinds of powers and not be too unfair with the PCs?
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Old 02-19-2019, 03:34 PM   #2
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

I haven't run a game with a lich since the Tomb of Horrors (a long, long time ago), but here are some quick thoughts off the top of my head:

A lich that just wants to be alone could be nearly invulnerable, lairing in a pocket dimension or something that only it could access with its custom spells. But why would anyone care about such a loner lich?

The main reason a lich would have an accessible "dungeon" at all is that it is up to something that requires contact with the regular world. Maybe it is engaged in research and needs books or rare reagents. Maybe it needs bodies to raise into minions (or worse). Maybe it has political aspirations (or it may already be the power behind the throne). Maybe it needs to consult with sages, wizards, and clerics. Maybe it wants to be worshipped by mortal beings (to achieve godhood?). Figuring out the main goals of the lich help to indicate both its points of contact with the real world (book merchants, etc.) and what types of powers it may have. A political lich, for example, may have lots of mind control spells.

These bits may also indicate likely locations for the dungeon (or one of many dungeons). Perhaps it has a secret hideout beneath the largest library in the kingdom and the rare collections librarian is in its employ (see the library crawl thread for other possibilities here). Perhaps it is connected with an evil temple and has a lair there. Maybe it needs to tap into the raw energy of a volcano to power its Domination Device.

Then I would think hard about what type of adventure would be fun for the players and what type of vulnerabilities their PCs might be able to plausibly take advantage of. Maybe they have a mystical gadget that gives them an edge (lich kryptonite). Maybe the lich has a time limit before it must complete a ritual; this gives the PCs a reason to hurry, but it also means that the lich is busy and provides a plausible explanation for why a genius might make mistakes. Maybe there's another major entity gunning for the lich so the PCs aren't on its radar.

I know this is short on specific tactics and whatnot, but this is how I would unpack the problem. The details emerge from the intersection of the lich's story and the stories of my specific PCs.
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Old 02-20-2019, 12:06 AM   #3
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

The last liche I used in a game ran a walled village (really a fortress stronghold/wizarding tower and the village around it), so he was never really "ensconced deep in his lair".

In fact, being the baddest dude in his arsenal, he often lead fights from the front lines and often hung out with his top captains and lieutenants (which meant he was really alone and often had a handful of minions about at any given moment).
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Old 02-20-2019, 07:15 AM   #4
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

In short-term, "tactical" situations, I run liches like other powerful spellcasters: They exploit minions mercilessly – a living high priest's fanatical cultists, a breathing archmage's golems and summoned demons, and a lich's undead hordes differ in their capabilities, but all serve to tackle enemy fighters and block access to the boss. Being intelligent, casters box clever; they certainly have magical and nonmagical defenses ready, the latter being more important because people coming to kill a magic-user are often so focused on preparing for magic that they overlook things like covered pits, loose ceiling stones, and archers in high galleries. And living or undead, wizardly or other, boss-level magic-workers cast the same broad classes of spells in combat: defenses first, and then one-shot kills they can prepare at their leisure while lurking in Mystic Mist behind that legion of bodyguards.

Where liches get interesting is in long-term, "strategic" situations. Being effectively immortal, they can make extremely long-range plans. Not needing to eat, sleep, breathe, etc., and never getting sick, they can devote longer hours to those plans every day. This doesn't have to have any impact on how a combat encounter with a lich looks! Unless the lich is paranoid and obsessed with being assassinated, it's unlikely to use all those hours and days and months and years to do nothing but prepare for skirmishes with delvers.

Instead, the lich spends its time gathering or creating "dirt" on important people in town – and if the delvers are high-powered enough to be going after liches, perhaps on them as well. The lich is also sure to accumulate goods with which to bribe even holier-than-thou avengers. And the lich certainly has plans convoluted enough that defeating it actually makes things worse ("Go ahead and destroy me. Just know that it's only thanks to my efforts to build a power base here that the economy of Irontown is so strong, that no zombie plagues have struck for three generations, and that the Elder Things have hesitated to act."). In short, the lich uses its ample resources to become the ultimate conspirator.

Thus, the lich's lair – be it a bona fide dungeon, the catacombs under a settlement, a wizard's tower, a creepy castle, or a haunted house – isn't characterized by its battlefield preparations and security systems. Sure, there are guards and traps and all the rest, but no more than at the home of a 100% living and extremely conspiratorial nobleman or archmage, the main difference being flavor (undead rather than hired Northman karls, Deathtouch doorknobs instead of Fireball-breathing statues, etc.). But its main feature is the space to house the machinery of conspiracy: libraries of ledgers and damning correspondence, creepy little dioramas of how the town will look in a few decades, swirling portals to places best left unvisited, and so on. Oh, and no kitchens or bedrooms, because the undead don't need them . . .

I prefer to have liches try to suborn the party. As the notes say, "Liches often negotiate – or accept surrenders and then use secret Mind Control spells to bind victims to perform unspeakable services." I find this much more interesting than making liches super-spellcasters who can do whatever hand-waving stuff the GM wants to make combat unfair. All treating liches as powerful monsters to fight does is cause an arms race, an escalation of power. But having them drag the PCs into horrible designs, and perhaps even convince the heroes that working for a lich is the lesser of two evils, can drive an entire story arc. My first long-term fantasy campaign had the adventurers knowingly working for a lich (among others) because the lich was merely small-e evil while the Elder Things it was holding off threatened to unmake Creation . . . and the adventurers got to try to influence the lich, too ("Here, take these miscreants who the King wanted executed and use them as sacrifices and zombies; leave the innocent townsfolk alone.").
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Old 02-20-2019, 11:31 AM   #5
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kromm View Post
And the lich certainly has plans convoluted enough that defeating it actually makes things worse...
Gotta love those Load-Bearing Bosses.


That's sort of what my last liche was. But instead of dirt, instead of creepiness, instead of legions of undead... he had hard working, decent human minions and citizens (a whole village worth) who loved him. The fact that he was working against the PCs goals and their sovereign made for a terrible moral dilemma for the PCs (normally they might have indeed left the frontier village and it's Undead ruler alone).
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Old 02-20-2019, 01:31 PM   #6
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

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Originally Posted by b-dog View Post
A lich is in a dungeon so what does he do?
A smart and sane lich should be basically unstoppable, for the reasons Kromm details, so I prefer batguano crazy ones.

I had a halfling lich with a lair full of precious moments figurines once. PCs didn't terminate it, but they made it run, sold its figurines, and moved on.

Entire town was razed to the ground a few days after they left for some reason.
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Old 02-21-2019, 01:31 PM   #7
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

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Originally Posted by b-dog View Post
A lich is in a dungeon so what does he do? . . .
I like these kinds of discussions and find them very interesting.

These topics are in some ways more valuable than rules issues because a presumably solid rules foundation really gets you to the point that you can develop these higher level narrative concerns.
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Old 02-21-2019, 01:36 PM   #8
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

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Originally Posted by martinl View Post
A smart and sane lich should be basically unstoppable, for the reasons Kromm details, so I prefer batguano crazy ones.

I had a halfling lich with a lair full of precious moments figurines once. PCs didn't terminate it, but they made it run, sold its figurines, and moved on.

Entire town was razed to the ground a few days after they left for some reason.
I guess you are right. A lich should know right away when PCs are in his dungeon and then he should easily be able to kill them. But I was hoping for a special ops kind of situation where the PCs go into the lich’s dungeon and try to avoid detection or at least limit the information he gleans from them. I would like to use dice rolls to see if the lich detects the PCs and if he does then how much information he learns. If the PCs are sloppy then the lich will learn their weaknesses and use it against them. If they are careful then the much may know little about the PCs. Maybe the security system of the lich is old and not functioning properly or it is slow to start up? Realistically the lich would have super security. Maybe the PCs need scryguard, invisibility and other counter measures?
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Old 02-21-2019, 02:01 PM   #9
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

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Originally Posted by b-dog View Post
But I was hoping for a special ops kind of situation ...
... and there is nothing wrong with that, but that is not normal dungeon crawling style PC behavior. The tradition is for both sides of the dungeon crawling equation to be incredibly sloppy. PCs do cray cray stuff. Monsters do not co-operate very well, let alone run a coherent security plan. Folks suspend their disbelief because both monsters and adventurers are traditionally more than a little crazy, so it's ok if they are not organized or sensible.

Ocean's 11 style dungeon crawling is fine though - you just got to let your players know that that is the game, and then find some way to make the recruitment and planning phases fun.
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Old 02-21-2019, 03:18 PM   #10
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Default Re: Lich in a dungeon

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Originally Posted by martinl View Post
The tradition is for both sides of the dungeon crawling equation to be incredibly sloppy. PCs do cray cray stuff.
You'd be surprised. Yes, this is the tradition... but I've been in several (non-GURPS) DF games where everyone was a Thief/Rogue* and we rolled as a spec ops style fantasy crew.




* Or they were compatible, as in they had the Hide In Shadows and Move Silently high enough to not hold back the Thief/Rogues.
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