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A lich from the game The Battle for Wesnoth
GroupingLegendary creature
Sub groupingUndead
Other name(s)Liche

In fantasy fiction, a lich (/ˈlɪ/;[1] from Old English līċ meaning "corpse") is a type of undead creature.

Various works of fantasy fiction, such as Clark Ashton Smith's "The Empire of the Necromancers" (1932), had used lich as a general term for any corpse, animated or inanimate, before the term's specific use in fantasy role-playing games. The more recent use of the term lich for a specific type of undead creature originates from the 1976 Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game booklet Greyhawk, written by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz.[2]

Often such a creature is the result of a wilful transformation, as a powerful wizard skilled in necromancy who seeks eternal life uses rare substances in a magical ritual to become undead. Unlike zombies, which are often depicted as mindless, a lich is sapient, retaining their previous intelligence and magical abilities. Liches are often depicted as holding power over lesser undead soldiers and servants.

Historical background[edit]

Lich is an old English word for "corpse"; the gate at the lowest end of the cemetery where the coffin and funerary procession usually entered was commonly referred to as the lich gate. This gate was quite often covered by a small roof where part of the funerary service could be carried out.[3]

In literature[edit]

The lich developed from monsters found in earlier classic sword and sorcery fiction, which is filled with powerful sorcerers who use their magic to triumph over death. Many of Clark Ashton Smith's short stories feature powerful wizards whose magic enables them to return from the dead. Several stories by Robert E. Howard, such as the novella Skull-Face (1929) and the short story "Scarlet Tears", feature undying sorcerers who retain a semblance of life through mystical means, their bodies reduced to shriveled husks with which they manage to maintain inhuman mobility and active thought.[4] Gary Gygax, one of the cocreators of Dungeons & Dragons, stated that he based the description of a lich included in the game on the short story "The Sword of the Sorcerer" (1969) by Gardner Fox.[5][6] The term lich, used as an archaic word for corpse (or body), is commonly used in these stories. Ambrose Bierce's tale of possession "The Death of Halpin Frayser" features the word in its introduction, referring to a corpse. H. P. Lovecraft also used the word in "The Thing on the Doorstep" (published 1937) where the narrator refers to the corpse of his friend possessed by a sorcerer.[7] Other imagery surrounding demiliches, in particular that of a jeweled skull, is drawn from the early Fritz Leiber story "Thieves' House".[8]

In popular culture[edit]

In print[edit]

  • Acererak is the final boss of the classic Dungeons and Dragons adventure module Tomb of Horrors,[9] Acererak was also featured as the guardian of the Copper Key in the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.[10]
  • The Overlord light novel series has many characters who are Liches or Eldar Liches.[11]
  • The light novel series KonoSuba has a supporting character named Wiz, who is a Lich. A former adventurer, she now runs a shop in the town of Axel, specializing in magical items. Unlike the skeletal appearance of most liches, she appears as a pale-skinned human.[12]
  • In the comic book Gold Digger, the Lich King is one of the deadliest and most evil adversaries in the entire run of the book and is the grandfather of the book's protagonist.[13]
  • In the short story "Sticks" by Karl Edward Wagner, the protagonist comes in contact with a lich in a deserted farmhouse.[14]
  • In the webcomic The Order of the Stick, the main villain Xykon is a lich.[15]

Film and television[edit]

  • In the Adventure Time television series, the main antagonist is an evil, powerful undead being known simply as "The Lich".[16] He describes himself as an ancient, cosmic being who is the manifestation of the inevitable death of all things, while Finn is his opposite, a being of life and goodwill. Both are manifestations of Catalyst Comets, colored comets that broke off the Cosmic Comet, the source of life. The Lich is born of the Green Comet while Finn is born of the Blue Comet.
  • In Mysticons, the undead sorceress Queen Necrafa is a lich.[17] Her power is suggested to originate from the spectral hand, a reign of evil that started from a witch seeking district powers.
  • In the second season episode of Lost Girl entitled "Death Didn't Become Him,"[18] the episode's chief antagonist is a lich, and uses Dungeons & Dragons terminology, including the idea of a phylactery in which it stores its soul.


Video games[edit]

  • In the game Dota 2, Lich is one of the playable heroes.[21]
  • In the video game Enter the Gungeon, Lich is the final boss located in Bullet Hell.[22]
  • Liches are prominent in the Might and Magic series of video games, appearing primarily as enemies, but also as playable characters in several installments. They are equally prevalent in the spin-off series Heroes of Might and Magic, where they appear in most installments as recruitable creatures, but also as heroes. One of the most prolific liches in New World Computing's old continuity was Sandro, appearing in many titles and referenced in many more.[23] The primary antagonist of Heroes of Might and Magic III: Restoration of Erathia is also a lich: the former king of Erathia raised by necromancers.
  • Warcraft III and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King features the continent of Northrend, the realm of the eponymous Lich King and his undead minions.[24] Arthas Menethil, also known as the Lich King, one of the most prominent antagonists in Warcraft lore, appears as a raid boss in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, as well as a playable character in the crossover video game Heroes of the Storm.
  • In League of Legends, the champion Karthus embraced the gift of death and became a lich.[25]
  • In Kingdom Hearts III, a Lich Heartless steals the hearts of the Guardians of Light, causing the main hero Sora to dive repeatedly into a dangerous abyss to defeat it and recover each heart.[26] A series villain comments that the Lich exists "to usher hearts down into the depths of darkness", separating hearts from bodies, possibly for its own personal use.
  • The Baldur's Gate series of video games includes several liches, as powerful but optional boss fights.[27]
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, liches appear as high-level undead foes, with four unique, named liches being known; Lorgren Benirus, Arielle Jurard, Erandur-Vangaril, and the King of Miscarcand.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "lich". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 January 2020. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.) This entry includes only obsolete senses of "dead body".
  2. ^ Gygax, Gary (1976). Grewhawk. TSR Rules. p. 35. LICHES: These skeletal monsters are of magical origin, each Lich formerly being a very powerful Magic-User or Magic-User/Cleric in life, and are now alive only by means of great spells and will because of being in some way disturbed.
  3. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  4. ^ The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard (Vol 1 ed.). Cosmos Books. July 2007. pp. 194–320. ISBN 978-0809562367.
  5. ^ "Morrus' D&D / 4th Edition / d20 News - View Single Post - The Lich (Origins)". EN World. 2007-01-29. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  6. ^ "Morrus' D&D / 4th Edition / d20 News - View Single Post - Gygaxian Monsters". EN World. 2007-10-05. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  7. ^
  8. ^ D&D Monster Origins (L-M).
  9. ^ Strohm, Keith Francis (2002). The Tomb of Horrors. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 978-0-7869-6477-2. OCLC 842270166.
  10. ^ Janet Maslin (14 August 2011). "A Future Wrapped in 1980s Culture". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  11. ^ Maruyama, Kugane (2017). The lizardman heroes. New York: Yen Press. ISBN 978-0-316-39760-5. OCLC 999623837.
  12. ^ Akatsuki, Natsume (2017). Konosuba, God's blessing on this wonderful world! 1, Oh! My useless Goddess!. Translated by Steinbach, Kevin. Illustrated by Kurone Mishima (First Yen On ed.). New York, NY: Yen Press. ISBN 978-0-316-55337-7. OCLC 984981416.
  13. ^ Gold Digger v3, 38 (December 2002)
  14. ^ Wagner, Karl (1976), Two Suns Setting
  15. ^ Nicoll, James Davis (2020-06-10). "Five SFF Works Inspired by RPGs". Archived from the original on 2020-07-01. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  16. ^ Di Placido, Dani (2018-09-06). "The 3 Best Stories 'Adventure Time' Ever Told". Forbes. Archived from the original on 2019-11-09. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  17. ^ Marsham, Liz (2019). Mysticons: the Diamond Curse. St. Martin's Press. p. 3.
  18. ^ DiMarco, Steve (2011-11-13), Death Didn't Become Him (Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance), Anna Silk, Kris Holden-Ried, Ksenia Solo, Zoie Palmer, CMF-FMC, Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC), Government of Canada, retrieved 2020-12-04
  19. ^ Witwer, Michael (2018). Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana : A Visual History. California: Ten Speed Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-399-58094-9. OCLC 1033548473.
  20. ^ Donnelly, Joe (2018-01-17). "Total War: Warhammer 2 raises the dead in new Tomb Kings footage, full roster named". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2018-02-09. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  21. ^ Rothery, Jen. "The best Dota 2 heroes for beginners". PCGamesN. Archived from the original on 2020-07-16. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  22. ^ Stretch, Andrew. "Exit the Gungeon Review". TechRaptor. Archived from the original on 2020-03-28. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  23. ^ Sandrey, Ryan (2012-08-23). "Might & Magic: Heroes VI Gets Gold Edition and 'Danse Macabre' Adventure Pack This September". Archived from the original on 2013-06-18. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  24. ^ "Champions of the Lich King". Blizzard Entertainment. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  25. ^ Brown, Fraser (2014-06-14). "League of Legends' Karthus shows off his new look in his Champion Spotlight". PCGamesN. Archived from the original on 2016-07-19. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  26. ^ Oloman, Jordan and James, Ford (2019-05-14). "Kingdom Hearts 3 Battlegates: How to find all the Secret Reports". GamesRadar. Archived from the original on 2019-07-02. Retrieved 2020-07-30.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  27. ^ Reuben, Nic (2020-03-06). "Baldur's Gate 2's Athkatla is still one of the best RPG cities ever made". VG247. Archived from the original on 2020-04-08. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  28. ^