There is a black terror that amasses great authority in the farthest reaches of Ravenloft, quietly insinuating its sway upon the land like a creeping poison in the body: its name is lich.
Until now, vampires have been the undisputed masters of darkness, but the sheer genius of the lich (coupled with its immortal quest for ever more powerful magic) has proven to be malevolent threat to the cause of Goodness. Liches were once powerful wizards in life, yet they have sacrificed everything to leap beyond the bounds of humanity and acquire unspeakable necromantic mastery. In the face of such might and malice, there appears to be but one hope.
Dr. Rudolph Van Richten, scholar and bane to all creatures of the night, has once again picked up quill and parachment—this time to expose this dreaded monster's darkest secrets! Within these pages the reader will learn of the lich's origins, its powers, its lair, and even its very psychological makeup as well as the keys to a successful hunt and termination. Deadly new minions and unique lich magics are also brought to the fore.
Take back the night, all ye of courageous heart and keen blade! With each chime of the clock, the lich seeks to complete another of its diabolical schemes. Unchecked, the monster will obliterate the light of day, and Ravenloft is already much too dark....
RS1: (RR6:) "Van Richten's Guide to the Lich" (1993), by Eric W. Haddock, is (sort of) the sixth Ravenloft Resource. It was published in February 1993.
Continuing the Ravenloft Resources. In the early '90s, module numbering was a confusing mess at TSR. Module codes rebooted on a yearly basis, and as a result some series were spread across two or three modules codes — with the six-book "RA"/"RQ"/"RM" Grand Conjunction campaign for Ravenloft being one of the most confusing. However, "Van Richten's Guide to the Lich" may take the cake. It's marked as "RS1" on the cover, but was advertised as "RR6" in Dragon magazine. When the next resource came along, that was RR7: "Van Richten's Guide to the Werebeasts" (1993) — verifying "Lich" as "RR6", even though that's not what its cover says!
"Lich" was TSR's third Ravenloft monster splatbook, following on from RR3: "Van Richten's Guide to Vampires" (1991) and RR5: "Van Richten's Guide to Ghosts" (1992). It was the second of these monster splatbooks in a row, so its publication marks the point where the Van Richten guides took over the Ravenloft resource books.
Like its predecessors, "Lich" focuses on a single horrific monster … though it's a somewhat surprising one. "Vampires" and "Ghosts" both detailed classic gothic horrors, while the lich is much more a creation of D&D. "Lich" contains lots of fluff detailing the background, powers, and psychology of the lich. It also has a nice section on lich tactics. Finally, there's a bit of crunch in the form of unique ("salient") powers and spells. Surprisingly, "Lich" doesn't follow the example of "Ghosts" and provide the ability to create really unique liches. It would have been a natural idea given the infrequency with which liches (hopefully) appear, but instead the liches of this book only get a tiny bit of variability, through those salient powers.
A History of D&D Liches. D&D's liches were born of the swords & sorcery genre of fantasy fiction. Gygax has affirmed that the classic lich originated with the stories of a friend of his, Gardner Fox. The short story "The Sword of the Sorcerer" (1970), which features the sorcerous corpse Afgorkon, appears to be the specific source. Meanwhile, many fans suggest that Fritz Leiber's "Thieves' House" (1943), which features a murderous skull, is the source of the demilich.
In D&D, liches premiered in "Supplement I: Greyhawk" (1975), which describes them as "skeletal monsters … of magical origin". Magic-users in life, they can still use magic spells in death. After that, liches became a regular part of the D&D bestiary, appearing in books like 1e's Monster Manual (1977) and 2e's Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989).
However, the history of liches in D&D is largely overshadowed by two unique liches, who defined the monstrous type from its earliest days.
The first is Vecna, who was first mentioned in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardy (1976). Though he's best-known for his artifacts, he became a major foe during AD&D's 2e Greyhawk days, starting with WGA4: Vecna Lives! (1990).
The second is Acererak, who is a bit stranger because he's a bodiless demilich. He was more of a trap than an NPC in his first appearance, but he would rise to greater fame in later days.
Liches became one of D&D's more notorious monsters in the 2e era (1989-2000), thanks in large part to the appearance of many variant lich types — including the archlich (1990), the master lich (1991), the firelich (1991), and the psionic lich (1991)
In Ravenloft, liches were highlighted by Azalin, one of the lords of the demiplane. When "Van Richen's Guide to the Lich" appeared, he was starring in the final two adventures of the Grand Conjunction sequence. That made him the third great lich of D&D, following Vecna and Acererak.
Monsters of Note. Besides spotlighting liches and demiliches, "Van Richten's Guide to the Lich" also provides rules for creating priestly liches. However, it only includes one true variant lich: the psionic lich. D&D had advocated giving psionic powers to liches since the release of Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976), and a full psionic lich had previously appeared in Dragon #174 (1991), in a Ravenloft article called "Out of the Mists", by William W. Connors. However this was the psionic lich's first official appearance in a published module.
Psionic liches have since appeared in a few other Ravenloft books and were renamed "psiliches" in the White Wolf Ravenloft days (2003).
Future History. Lots more liches would appear in Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (1994). Meanwhile "Van Richten's Guide to the Lich" would be reprinted in Van Richten's Monster Hunter's Compendium, Volume Two (1999).
About the Creators. Although Haddock had previously written a few pieces for GDW in the early '90s, this was his first work for TSR. He would produce just one more TSR book: Cormyr (1994).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.