Friday, February 3, 2017

Voldemort is a Lich

Spoilers ahead if you haven't read J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, or seen the associated movies. (But who hasn't?)

So, in the Potterverse or whatever it's called, the Big Bad (calling himself Lord Voldemort) wanted immortality, and found a dark and secret way to do it. He would kill people, which mangled and shattered his soul each time he did so. He then took these fragments of his broken soul and placed them in various objects; so long as at least one object survived, so would he, even if his body was killed. These "soul jars" were called horcruxes, and he made six of them (well, seven, but the last one was an accident). It's never explained why, but horcruxes are incredibly difficult to destroy simply by virtue of being horcruxes (an echo of the titular One Ring of Tolkien's devising?), in addition to the secret locations and arcane defenses that Voldemort used to protect them. As Voldemort's soul was fractured and eroded by this black magic, his appearance became skeletal, ophidian, inhuman.

So, in Dungeons & Dragons (all the way since OD&D, actually), there's this monster called a lich. Liches are spellcasters who remove their soul by black magic and store it in an object called a phylactery. In the process, they die and are raised as a gaunt undead. The phylactery is then kept in a safe location, likely guarded by powerful arcane magics. Sacrifices of living beings are necessary to maintain a lich's body; the souls of these murder victims are absorbed into the phylactery, where they are consumed and destroyed to sustain the lich's life force. The phylactery itself must be destroyed to permanently a lich, which is a difficult process often requiring unusual or supernatural methods to even damage it.

Sounds familiar?

Voldemort is a lich.

I shouldn't need to point out the many similarities. However, I will take a moment to dwell upon the differences.
1) Though both methods of "immortality" require murder, horcruxes are created through murder while phylacteries are sustained by murder.
2) Only one phylactery can be made by a lich, while horcruxes can be iterated. (Voldemort intended to split his soul into seven parts, considering seven to be a highly magical number. However, it is implied that he was the first wizard to make more than one horcrux.)
3) "Horcrux" is a cooler word than "phylactery" (which is another word for tefillin, small boxes containing bits of the Torah worn by members of certain Jewish sects during prayer - not exactly a related concept?)

So, how do you use these similarities and differences in a tabletop RPG?

Try giving your Big Bad lich more than one phylactery/horcrux. A three- or four-part adventure where several phylacteries and then the lich itself must be destroyed sounds dang cool.
Try calling phylacteries "horcruxes." It's a great point of reference for many of the younger generations (such as I), for whom Harry Potter is often a touchstone.
Try using some imagination as to what a horcrux could be. Phylacteries are often a piece of jewelry (a holdover from tefillin - or the One Ring?), whereas Voldemort's horcruxes included a diary, a ring, a locket, a goblet/cup, a diadem, a snake, and an infant (so, mostly jewelry, but hey).

Also, I like the implication of Voldemort's horcruxes that a piece of Voldemort's soul still remained in his body, necessitating killing him in addition to all his horcruxes. For a traditional lich, however, all that needs to be accomplished is the destruction of the phylactery itself, at which point the lich dies no matter where it is, since its soul is in the phylactery, not its undead body.

Housekeeping Update: I am discontinuing the "d100 Dungeon Master Tips" Critiqued series; despite being easy to write, it doesn't seem very focused or useful for someone reading this blog. (Make an outcry now if you want it to come back, haha.) I will either move my stand-alone article delivery, normally occurring each Wednesday, to Friday, or simply publish a stand-alone article each Wednesday AND Friday! (Or, start a new series for the Friday slot, but I will need to put more thought into what would make the best series.) So, continue tuning in each Monday and Friday, and watch this space on Wednesdays too!

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