By Michael E. Shea
Back in 1978, Gary Gygax created a creature that would haunt adventurers for the rest of their days. Older than the ages, cold as stone, and as deadly as the very depths of the Abyss, Acererak the Demilich filled our dreams and nightmares for decades.
Although it has reappeared in 4th Edition, today we’re looking to rebuild the demilich—and capture even more of its true terror.
Ecology of a Demilich
The earliest mentions of the demilich go back to the original Tomb of Horrors published in 1978, wherein a magic-user-turned lich traveled so far from its mortal beginnings as to leave only a single jeweled skull behind: Acererak. This demilich had traversed consciousness and morality; it had barely a single spark of memory of life. It cared nothing for the lives of mortals except as souls to be devoured.
The original demilich description listed the abilities we’ve come to love. First and foremost is the demilich’s soul drain ability. This attack removes the soul of the victim and traps it within one of the demilich’s gemmed teeth. Each hero who avoided these attacks might fall prey to a curse that causes an enemy to hit him or her successfully, or he or she could be teleported six hundred miles away. The demilich’s protections were as hard to handle as its attacks. Though it had just 50 hit points, only a very select set of attacks could damage or disorient it, only certain spells could harm it (such as shatter), and only a handful of powerful weapons could affect it (such as +5 vorpal weapons and swords of sharpness wielded by fighters, rangers, and paladins).
For a more complete look at the demilich, consult our old D&D Alumni, which covered both Acererak and Vecna.