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The dead were housed in deep catacomb-like caves behind the mansion,
lying all night in stone coffins, and coming forth in daily resurrection
to do the tasks ordained by the masters.
- Clark Ashton Smith
Strange and Deadly Minions
Specifically, I am referring to the magically endowed undead creature, which I have named the quasimancer, to the fallen wizard, which I have called the vassalich; and to the abominable lich familiar. These are servants that, to a small degree, mimic their master's deadly combination of magic use and undead status. Their special powers raise them above the ranks of common minions, yet their superiority is little cause for rejoicing, even if they possess the free will to do so. They are pitiable creatures, miserable wretches who serve an evil master, battle fodder to an amoral commander who knows no shortage of replacement troops.
The extent to which these monsters pose a threat is variable. Taken by themselves, they offer a mildly dangerous combat adversary, certainly nothing beyond the skills of most seasoned adventurers. Yet each of them serves the lich in a special capacity that greatly multiplies the master's effectiveness, performing functions that hitherto required the presence of the lich itself. With the emergence of these creatures, the lich can remain safely out of harm's reach and thus create even more complex and wicked schemes. To the lich hunter, these minions represent yet another ring of defense to penetrate and another depletion of precious strength and magic.
The lich's ability to manipulate the dead comes so naturally that it should be no surprise if the lich were to improve upon the method. The powers of a lich are limited only by the scope of its imagination, intelligence, and research. In other words, the lich only need practice more powerful sorcery in order to create more powerful undead, and garnering more potent magic is about as natural an act as a lich can manage.
I wish that I had come to this conclusion myself - it seems so obvious - but it was my prized scout Markil who put me on to it during our hunt of the lich called the Bloody Hand.
"First a pack of zombies comes pilin' through the hedges-no problem; we pound 'em into dust. Then some ghouls come draggin' behind-pretty smelly, but again no big issue; we hold our breath, and we burn 'em down. 'Course they all have the red-eye, but we know how deal with that, thanks to you, Van Richten. I, myself, like to look a stiff in the breadbox when I take it out.
"Then what I think is another ghoul comes into view andjust stands there, lookin' at us. I finish off my last stiff and head for it, when I hear it whisperin' and see it wavin' its hands at me. Well, I never saw any stiff weaker than a vampire throw a spell, but I know what I'm lookin' at, so I yell 'duck' and then do the same. It's a damn. good thing too, Doc. Sure enough, the stiff dumps a ball o'fire into the party!
"To make a long story short, we dusted the magic cadaver, then headed back here to tell you what happened. "
It was not long before we encountered more of the Bloody Hand's special minions, and I was given the opportunity to observe them myself. They introduced a new complication to our hunt, forcing us to change our combat strategy, advance even more cautiously, and rest even more often. Meanwhile, the Bloody Hand was absent from the war, taking advantage of our delays to advance its agenda elsewhere.
Despite those setbacks, I made good use of the spare time and studied these magic-using undead minions with an educated eye. Based on my observations, and the collective opinion of a dozen scholars, I have valuable information to impart to the reader regarding the creatures I call quasimancers.
Let us begin with two basic prerequisites. First, the use of wizard magic apparently requires some force of will. It is not enough to simply comprehend the workings of a spell; one must have the determination to drive magical forces to a desired end. Therefore, a candidate for quasimancer must retain at least part of its former life essence - its personality, if you will - in order to use magic. Second, the casting of magic almost always demands the use of the hands and other body parts in order to shape the spell, Therefore, a quasimancer must have a physical body, possessed of some dexterity.
Mummies, vampires, and liches satisfy both prerequisites, but mummies and vampires are difficult to control, even for a lich. (I do not believe it is possible for one lich to control another.) Also, both vampires and liches are already capable of wielding magic, so endowing them with spell abilities would be redundant.
I conclude, then, that the lich raises a special form of wight to serve as a quasimancer. The minion retains a small part of its former identity, and a freshly animated wight still maintains a viable physique for spellcasting. Furthermore, such a creature is subject to the same absolute control exerted by the lich upon its lesser cousins, yet its orders from the "general" would include the use of offensive magic. To support my hypothesis, I have observed that quasimancers exhibit hand-to-hand combat techniques and other innate abilities common to the wight.
Let me caution the reader not to take this text too literally. The ghast also satisfies the prerequisites for a quasimancer. Perhaps the lich can endow even the lowly skeleton with the ability to cast magic. Then again, perhaps such magic is not possible. Whatever the case, we cannot rest upon absolutes, for liches make new breakthroughs in spell research even as I write this guide, and even as you read it.
A quasimancer can command a company of skeletons and zombies, send them into a fray, then saturate the area with highly destructive magic, obliterating its own troops and even itself. Indeed, one should not expect a quasimancer to stand aloof from the battle or the rest of the undead as a mage would, for it carries no expectations of survival into battle. The monster has no concerns for its underlings or for itself, so it makes an ideal leader for a suicidal mission. And, because it outwardly appears to be no more than a common ghoul or wight, its actions may not always be noted or anticipated until too late, so it is all the more deadly.
I have no positive suppositions to contribute to this matter, except perhaps that the knowledge of the quasimancer's existence should be enough to keep the hunter of undead monsters on constant guard. If these minions encourage the reader to be ever vigilant, ever ready to face the unexpected, then that is the only good they will ever do for us.
As always, the Dungeon Master is free to vary the origins and powers of the quasimancer. Some guidelines follow.
"It was the most terrible thing I have ever seen, Dolf! No! Not the most terrible - the dreams it put into my head when I could no longer stay awake... when I put my wife's hand into a - No! I didn't do that! I didn't do that! Don't look at me!"
"It was the lich that put those thoughts in your head, Harmon. Let them go, they are not yours!" I cajoled him, realizing that his reason would not remain much longer. "Tell me about the minions. You were talking about the lich's minions, remember?"
"Yes, yes! It was horrid, horrid! Not just dead things - living things too. Men! A man became a lich before my eyes! He swallowed a stone - a diamond or something, I don't know. Then the lich slit its rotted wrist open with its own fingernail and blood - no, not blood ooze, gray ooze ran from the black hole! And the man drank it! He drank the lich's blood! He drank it, Dolf! And he fell down and screamed. And he changed. He shriveled. He died! He lay there, dead, and -"
"And what, Harmon?"
"He got up and spit the stone into the lich's hand. Then he was a lich, too".
- From the private journal of Dr. Van Richten
I have never met a creature like the one Dr. Ruscheider described on that evening when he came to me like a crazed animal beneath the full moon, but I have little doubt that it exists. So much evil is around us, and so many people are exposed to temptations proffered by agents of that evil. It is sadly simple to conclude that a wizard of questionable values might strike a pact with a lich and become immortal, albeit undead. What mage does not crave the arcane secrets of the universe? What wizard would not consider the advantages of unlimited time to learn new magic? Who among any of us does not wish to live forever?
These sentiments are the genesis of the vassalich: a wizard who undergoes the transformation to lichdom under the sponsorship of a full lich, thus becoming an undead magic-user long before he could accomplish the feat himself. Such a foolish mage is a free-willed individual who is yet a slave. He is capable of independent thought, abstract strategy, self-conducted research, and intellectual processes available to a living human, but he has committed himself to eternal bondage to a master who inevitably will use him as nothing more than another means to its own ends.
As people who are more intelligent than the average, mages should know the consequences of entering into such a relationship, or so I would assume. This may well be why I have never met a vassalich; it is extremely uncommon. Even so, I have shared Harmon Ruscheider's remarks with a few scholarly wizards, and I have made the following speculations upon the nature of the vassalich.
A vassalich ideally much rarely than a lich; such a slave is bound to be more than a handful, and it is sure to draw undut attention as well - something few liches desire. If a Dungeon Masters wishes to roleplay the creation, of a vassalich, a number of conditions can be created to carry off a successful transformation. Heroes who prevent these conditions from occurring also prevent vassalich creation.
I would guess that nearly all vassaliches were once living students of the wizards' college of Necrology. A preoccupation with or sheer ambivaience about death would certainly render the prospect of becoming undead less daunting. Hence, it is expected that a vassalich can wield death magic as a specialist of the dark school of Necromancy.
A vassalich most likely undergoes a process similar to his master's when he becomes undead. He might drink a poisonous potion or partake of the lich's body fluid as Ruscheider suggested, but his soul then occupies a phylactery. Ruscheider's story also implied that the phylactery is given over to the lich, who presumably keeps it as the perfect instrument of leverage over its new minion. The lich gains an absolutely loyal servant in complete control of its sophisticated mental faculties. As long as the phylactery remains in the lich's possession, the vassalich must do its sponsor's bidding.
Quick-thinking hunters will realize that he who holds the phylactery of a lich, be it a vassal or otherwise, controls the lich! Furthermore, the phylactery of a vassalich may not be subject to the same security standards as the master's. The captured phylactery of a vassalich may be one of the deadliest weapons that a lich hunter could ever hope to wield.
A vassalich is reincarnated, as a monster with HD equal to half (round down) its former experience level, but retains its former spellcasting abilities. It gains 1 HD every 10 years, equal to two experience levels in spellcasting abilities. It becomes a full lich upon reaching 11 HD. However, it must first gain control of its phylactery, then follow all normal procedures for becoming a lich.
A wizard who becomes a vassalich probably gains its master's black aura to some extent, and it probably shares the lich's resistance to holy symbols and certain types of magic, but it surely lacks its master's experience and level of magical power. I suspect that a vassalich retains the same spellcasting ability as it had in life. If there is any such gain upon transformation, then it is probably paid for with the loss of endurance, mobility, or strength.
The mind of a vassalich is sure to be an incredibly complex thing. It retains its memories and force of personality after its transformation, which must mean that it continues to harbor within its breast the same intense ambition that drove it to pursue vassalichdom in the first place. How it must grate upon it to become the absolute slave of another! No doubt, a candidate for transformation is absolutely loyal to the sponsor lich while courting immortality, but once the deed is done, how long is it before the intelligent minion comes to resent the bond of slavery?
This line of reasoning leads me to two conjectures about the "lesser lich". First, a would-be vassalich might be more dangerous to our world while he is still a mortal, for he can act as a spy and thief for the monster whom he wishes to please. While he remains a living man, he is capable of insidious and far-reaching damage, for who would guess at the ghastly station to which he aspires, and realize that he is already a minions of a lich? Second, he may be more dangerous to the lich when he is no longer mortal, for such an ambitious creature is sure to plot against the one who holds its phylactery. After the transformation, egotism and ambition, to say nothing of basically evil character, quite likely estranges the vassalich from its master. As long as the lich has its very life essence in its keeping, a vassalich's existence hangs upon the whim of an evil persona. I think that I can safely say that such an arrangement cannot be tolerable for long.
While I have little advice to offer regarding living spies, I think that it may be possible for a clever hunter to poison the relationship between the lich and its vassal undead. The trick is to establish an alliance with the vassalich without the lich's knowledge. The vassal is sure to be nervous about such an arrangement - after all, its master will crush its phylactery at the first hint of rebellion. However, there is more than enough incentive to turn against the lich, and that is one fact upon which a lich hunter may almost certainly depend.
Many interesting adventure scenarios are possible with the inclusion of a vassalich. It may serve as a nemesis to heroes who simply are not strong enough to deal with a true lich; in such cases, the lich may be busy in another realm while the vassalich runs the lair or initiates plots of its own. A vassalich can be powerful, but never as much so as a true lich.
There is but one priest of nature among the hunters of undead with whom I have traveled: Alannthir the half-breed elf. Until I met him, I believed that lawful priests of goodness were the stoutest foes of the walking dead. but this druid proved me wrong. Alannthir's utter condemnation of the unnatural state of living death was matched only by the ferocity he exhibited when he met one of them face to face. He wielded a magical scimitar that blazed like the sun in the faces of the undead, but often he actually cast it aside to tear skeletons literally limb from limb, reducing them to piles of bone with his rough, bare hands! Here, I thought, was the ultimate ally to my cause.
Finally, we met the lich Redfist's familiar - once a red-tailed hawk, but now a molting, rotted, batlike thing with a scream like an infuriated banshee. We first encountered it in the company of its master and were forced to flee for our lives, but Alannthir was choked with horror at the sight of the undead hawk, and he had to be dragged screaming from the battlefield. He became hopelessly obsessed with the bird - his eyes never left the heavens, and he muttered through every waking hour, complaining, "We must move quickly, quickly!"
When we had finally laid our deliberate plans for approaching the lich, Alannthir agreed to the strategy. Nevertheless, while we were still many miles from the suspected location of the lair, he espied the familiar circling high above, shifted his shape to that of a small bird before my very eyes, and darted into the sky before we could stop him! The undead hawk, apparently senseless of its master's will at the time, gave itself over to predatory instincts and gave Alannthir chase.
The druid could not hope to elude the hawk's talons, but he lured it into our midst before it snatched him in midair and they both tumbled to the ground in a death struggle. We immediately seized the opportunity and pounced upon the unnatural monster, even as if snapped Alannthir's neck. With similar speed, we released the creature from its gruesome existence, driving a silver dagger through its leathery breast.
It seemed that Alannthir breathed a sigh ofjoy as he regained his humanoid form and died, but it was drowned by a long, hideous shriek from Redflst, which echoed across the realm.
- From the private journal of Dr. Van Richten
Insofar as a lich is a wizard, it is reasonable that a lich might have a familiar. Such a creature not only conveys special powers upon the lich, but it provides perhaps the only faithful company that a lich will tolerate. The relationship between a mage and his familiar is quite intimate, but the lich's familiar may be the only friend it has in the entire universe.
On the other hand, the familiar of a must certainly be or become an evil thing. It may be that a lich familiar endures an antagonistic tie to its master and must be ruled with an iron fist. Perhaps this creature rightly hates its master, even more so because it cannot survive without the lich. This might explain why Redfist's familiar chased Alannthir, putting both itself and its master at risk. I do not mean to suggest a familiar may be turned against the lich in the same manner as a vassalich. Rather, I think that some familiars may abandon their primary directives at crucial moments, heeding more basic instincts.
A wizard who has a familiar is faced with a dilemma when he contemplates lichdom: Perhaps his death may simply dissolve the bond between himself and his familiar, but it is quite possible that the separation adversely affects the mage. If upon the change he suffers a shock like that which mages experience upon the death of a familiar, the result could be absolute death. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that a lich will insist on taking its familiar into unlife with it, and that the familiar's life essence resides in the phylactery with its master.
However, I doubt that unliving immortality is acceptable to a natural creature, even if it is inextricably bound to a wizard. I would not be surprised if such a familiar actually rebelled in the face of this predicament. I do not wonder at Alannthir's rage over Redfist's hawk; I'm sure the poor beast was thoroughly miserable.
As an aside, I see no reason why a lich could not call a familiar after its transformation, but I seriously doubt that any natural animal would answer its summons. Rather, the familiar of a lich would most likely be an undead thing itself.
A wizard can take its familiar with it into lichdom by forcing it to drink the potion of transformation. After doing so, the familiar makes a System Shock roil at same level as the wizard. If it fails, the familiar dies and the lich must make a second System Shock roll. If that roll fails, the lich dies irrevocably, just as if he had failed his first roll. If the roll succeeds, the lich still loses 1 point of Constitution permanently, and it must rest two full weeks before memorizing spells or conducting any strenuous activity.