“Two minutes. Two centuries. It all ticks by so quickly. You are so like your ancestors, did you know that?” - Pinhead, Hellraiser: Bloodlines
No one wants to die. Of all the schools of magic, none is more synonymous with the pursuit of immortality than necromancy. Keepers, Unmade, Conduits, Doll Makers, Fateless, Dreamers, and Beholders, are all ultimately inspired by the immortality which master necromancers can achieve with relative ease: the immortality of the Lich.
Surrounding themselves with dusty tomes, undead minions, and the ghastly ingredients of their arts, necromancers are fearful figures who seemingly embody the worst excesses of spellcasters. While nearly all wizards are capable of wreaking terrible destruction or misery, the personally deadly and often disturbing nature of a necromancer’s spells marks them out as especially repugnant in the eyes of most. Any potential positive applications of the school are forgotten the moment someone sees a loved one’s corpse rise from their grave. Barely tolerated by most societies, necromancers have been given suitably grim appellations such as Deathless, or Reapers.
The existence of liches has been attested to as long as necromancy itself. Indeed, the very pursuit of the deathly arts may have began as an attempt to achieve immortality. Unlike other schools, the ritual to achieve this transformation is relatively well known, even to those on other paths. The lich removes their soul from their body, placing it in a receptacle known as a soul-cage. Their body continues to age, but their trapped spirit never flees from the material plane to the afterlife. Even if their corporeal form were to be destroyed, their spirit endures, and forces their body to rise once again.
The pathetic beings known as liches to scribes and commoners alike are those who did not truly have the stomach for what must be done. Who would want to spend an eternity as a slowly moldering corpse? These tyrants of death will accept nothing less than the full blush of life. To them, all life is reduced to mere kindling for the crucible of their souls. They are known as True Liches, The Greedy, or Hungry Ones.
“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.” - Alphonse Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist
As explained by the quote above, and honestly at least once a volume in the manga, magic in Fullmetal Alchemist runs on the principle of equivalent exchange. You get out what you put in. And while the comic often played fast and loose with the concept, one area where it never wavered is with regards to human transmutation. There is simply no way to bring someone back from the dead in the setting without giving up something massive in return, and even then, whatever comes back will be a horror show. The Elric Brothers lose their body and a bunch of limbs between them when they try to get back their mother, and their master Izumi’s organs were severely damaged by her attempt to resurrect her own child.
Seemingly a way to subvert the law of equivalent exchange, the philosopher’s stone is in reality a horrific expression of (in)human selfishness and malice. A stone does have nearly boundless power, because it is made up of the condensed life energy of humans. The first philosopher’s stones in the setting known to us were created from the entire population of the country of Xerxes in a single night; hundreds of thousands of souls to grant immortality (and near limitless power for alchemical rituals) to two beings: The Dwarf in the Flask and Van Hoenheim. By the time the story of the manga begins, the creation of more philosopher’s stones has become the subject of a centuries-long conspiracy which underpins the very culture of Amestris, and the nature of alchemical theory itself. The Dwarf in the Flask has had centuries to both cover its tracks, and to embed operatives at the highest levels of the government. For all intents and purposes, he would be unassailable without the intervention of Hoenheim.
Other, crude or flawed stones also exist. But they too are derived from the same sort of casual murder required for the greater stones. Equivalent Exchange is impossible to subvert. There is no way back through the door; the dead are death and the stone will never bring them back. Anyone who creates one is guilty of a sin so profound that it cannot possibly be truly washed away.
“Come on, get up! Attack me! You’ve only suffered the loss of your legs. Summon up your familiars! Transform your body! Heal your severed legs and stand! The evening is still so young!” - Alucard, Hellsing
When one imagines the immortality of a lich, it is one of prolonged existence, not of youth or beauty. In a sense, upon becoming a lich the necromancer freezes what life force remains within them, occasionally reinforcing any gaps which form with their magic. A Hungry One takes a much different approach to the solution of their constantly depleting life force: they take it from other living beings. With these stolen lives, a True Lich can not only extend their lifespan indefinitely, they can also control their apparent age, heal themselves, interrogate the souls of those they have slain, or to resurrect themselves from all but the most dire of demises.
The means to become a True Lich are distressingly simple to recreate; it is only the great costs, both personal and moral, that make these creatures mercifully rare. Through repeated use of both Magic Jar, Death Ward, and Death Knell, the necromancer crafts a permanent feedback loop within themselves in a ritual named Opening Wide the Maw. In a metaphysical sense, each of the Greedy has transformed themselves into a creature similar to a vampire, wight, or wraith. Much like those lesser creatures, the Hungry directly devour the life energies they feed upon; the precise means vary, but they usually take the form of blood-drinking, or the direct scouring of their victim’s spirits through a life-draining touch. True Liches do not create spawn when they feed, their victims are incorporated into them in their entirety.
In return for all of their myriad advantages compared to other immortals, the Hungry must contend with a constant need to feed on souls. While most of the Greedy have within them enough lives to persist for centuries, the abyss where their spirit should rest yearns to feel full once more. Instead of whiling away their existence in seclusion like other immortals, Hungry Ones are constantly on the prowl for sustenance. Any ethical reservations have long been discarded on the road to becoming immortal, so no method for gaining souls is off the table. Other sentient beings are seen a little more than prey, and are treated accordingly. While the less subtle of them simply leave a wake of abandoned villages and haunted survivors, others among the Greedy cultivate death cults dedicated to either sacrificing themselves in their ruler’s name, or bringing them a constant supply of souls to feast upon. It is sometimes whispered among sages knowledgeable in such matters that the gods of the underworld themselves may have earned their thrones by way of similar paths, but the wise tend not to dwell on such insights for long.
To the world at large, True Liches are the thing of nightmares. Often mistaken for their lesser cousins or for some strange form of vampire, legends regarding the Hungry filter down through the ages in the form of tales of undying kings or queens, of maidens bled to keep a noble woman beautiful, or of baleful ancestors who appear to steal the souls of their sinful descendants. These stories are discarded as mere fancies, deals with fiends, or unique circumstances, but this does not usually save a lesser necromancer accused of soul-theft from the pyre. True Liches are rarely at serious risk from fearful mobs, or even determined groups of undead hunters, possessing enough personal power to annihilate dozens of assailants with a wave of their hand and some muttered words.
Most of these supposed Kings and Queens of Death are undone by their own base urges, their hunger driving them to reckless actions which inevitably end in them being either sealed away, trapped, or simply starved away into nothingness. The majority of the rest are claimed by the lassitude that seems to afflict nearly all immortals. Those few who have survived for millennia are dangerous, crafty, and above all, careful.
As undead creatures, the Hungry do not need to eat, sleep, drink, or rest in any way. Any autonomic functions they perform are either out of habit, or a form of conscious mimicry of life on their part. Unlike other undead, Greedy Ones cannot be turned. True Liches are immune to death spells, as well as any harmful spells from the Necromancy school. Owing to their deathless nature, True Liches are able to endure crippling injuries such as decapitation, dismemberment, or conflagration. Even if rendered incapable of movement, the Hungry can still spend SP (see below) or cast spells. Instead of being rendered unconscious or dead at 0 hit points, Greedy Ones must be reduced to a number of negative HP equal to their constitution score times five. Even then, this may still not mean the end of them.
True Liches power their frightening abilities by the same means through which they attained their immortality; stolen souls. In mechanical terms the number of spirits one of the Hungry has access to is measure by the number of Soul Points they possess. Each Soul Point (SP) is equivalent to a single HD from a healthy humanoid. Most NPCs are only capable of giving a single SP, but monsters or humanoids with character levels can provide a number of points equivalent to their HD. Only sentient beings can be said to have souls. Animals, vermin, or other forms of non-sentient life cannot provide soul points. The particulars of how sentience is defined within a campaign world is beyond the scope of this article.
To harvest soul points, a Greedy One must kill the creature themselves with either a spell or effect from the necromancy school, or during a short ritual requiring 10 minutes times the sacrifice’s HD. The points are added to the True Lich’s pool immediately. Victims who have been devoured by a True Lich crumble into dust and cannot be restored to life by any means short of a Wish spell or True Resurrection unless the Lich who stole their soul is slain before they can spend it.
A member of the Hungry will not die from old age as long as they have a single SP left, but their apparent age degrades by a decade for every month they go without gaining more soul points. True Liches who have let their bodies degrade to elderly status may take physical aging penalties as appropriate until they refresh themselves. A True Lich begins to age at the natural rate for a member of their species if they are reduced to their last soul point. At the end of every month a Hungry One does not gain any new soul points they must make a save against Death, Fortitude, or Constitution (as appropriate to the system) and upon a failure they must seek the closest form of sentient life and attempt to devour it using the most direct means at their disposal.
Hungry Ones may only spend SP once per turn, but any amount may be spent, split among as many effects as they wish. They can choose to spend soul points on their own turn, or as a reaction to another creature’s actions. Spending SP does not consume an action, leaving them free to attack, move, or cast spells as normal. There is no upper limit to the amount of SP that a Hungry One can possess. Below are a few horrifying feats which soul points can be used to perform. Referees are encouraged to think of more.
The Tyrant of Death reduces their apparent age by a decade.
1 per query
The Lich questions ones of the souls they have eaten, but not yet absorbed. This functions as a Speak With Dead spell with perfect clarity and truthfulness.
2 + 1 per die/round
Bolstering their bodies with nercomantic energies, the Greedy is able recover from grievous wounds in mere moments. For each soul point they spend the Lich may choose to gain Fast Healing of 5, or to have the healing effect last for 5 rounds; each point spent in addition to the first 2 increases the effect by either another 5 points of healing, or additional rounds of duration.
2 per level of spell
Using their mastery of the deathly arts, the Hungry One burns soul points into necromancy spells, replicating the effects of any spell of that school that they have knowledge of. A Hungry One may not cast a whose level is higher than they can through their class abilities.
Instead of succumbing to a failed save or hostile effect, the Hungry One may choose to automatically succeed their save or end the effect instead.
1 + HD of Creature
Digging into their store of pilfered souls, the tyrant of death summons one of the beings which they have eaten, but not yet absorbed. Crafting them a body from pure soulstuff, the Lich brings them back as a revenant for a short time. The summoned soul persists for a number of rounds equal to ½ of the Lich’s HD, rounding up. It is utterly loyal to their summoner, though they still possess their old personalities.
Lich HD x 3
Overcoming their shame at falling prey to death, the Hungry One prevents themselves from slipping into the afterlife and then reconstructs their body. This rejuvenation takes a 2d4 weeks, and the Lich’s body begins to reform in a place of their choosing.
“All that remains is a pale shadow, wandering from battle to battle. I have come to believe that those frightening immortals are, in fact, frail sobbing children.” - Arthur Hellsing, Hellsing
Well, that’s all folks! I’m done with the alt-lich cycle of articles. Onward to more Thousand-Thousand Islands content. Thanks for reading!