D20-System - Liches: Lords of the Night
At first I have to say a few things about myself, because it would be unfair not to do so. I am a regular reviewer at some german boards and I really like LOTN: Vampire. Stuart, the author of the book contacted me because of a review I have written. We have a very nice and friendly contact ever since, so you might call me biased. I like his style and the different take on d20 his products offer, so it might be true. But perhaps you still like to read my opinion. My review is also written with the practical use of the book in mind. Please refer to the other reviews for a thorough examination of the content.
In case you haven't noticed, Liches seems to be the most controversial book of the last months. Not many books have spawned so many reviews in such
short time and the reviewers differ vastly, although everybody says its good. But the reviews differ on how good the book really is.
Let's see. The book is a about liches and well a lich you find in the MM is something like a very powerful mage who has sacrificed his mortality for power. Period. Actually not too much. A good adversary but that's about it.
Vampire was certainly easier because they have the innate panache and the freudian innuendo, that makes them more interesting.
The book "Liches" begins with a basic description of the Arcane, a flavor text describing the history of an ancient order, which existed nearly since
the dawn of creation. The Arcane are neither good or bad, merely beyond mortal concerns and guess what, they're Liches. The Arcane is also the arcane energy of creation, and both "The Arcane Liches" and the "Energy" are inseperable. (no confusing terminology here, as stated by some reviewers) We
also learn that there is an age-old enemy "The Void" and its Minions. They are very powerful and endanger creation as it is.
The book continues with a summary and dictionary (to avoid confusion) and then with a whole shock of new rules. The Lich goes through several stages
of lich transformation, from undead to a bodyless, spiritlike "enlightened" lich. It becomes clear that the body is more and more only a vessel for the increasing arcane power of the lich. The body of the lich is therefore
something like a cocoon.
Also, the lich is about to join an order that defines his way of lichdom. The artifex lich are the craftsmen and they are able to create of golem and the artifex lense, fascinating magical artifact. The darke liche is something of an assassin, the dirge lich a necromancer, the frost lich propelled by absolute cold, the mors lich is a vampire hunter, the prime lich a kind of scholar, the Umbral lich a Shadow pupeteer.
The book continues with different rules and descriptions of how to apply the different powers of the liches and their orders in your game. I understand that the lichstates and orders are something of a template that can be added to any creature willing to change
into a state of lichdom. The rules and descriptions deviate from your average standard d20 book. That makes the book more difficult to understand,
at first. But after a time of reading it opens new possibilities.
The Liches change their state through ritual and not through levels or XPs. This offers a more roleplaying oriented way of changing your character and still
playing your PC. This is like enhancing your template by and by.
All arcane rituals and specials are described, too. It takes some time to get used to the sheer amount of possibilties the book offers. Staggering but optional. Nobodody needs to use everything, but the whole amount of combinations of states and orders offers a whole new range of roleplaying opportunities.
The second part of the book is more like a setting, the "fluff". The city of Kechak lies on the plane of ash and is the central plane for the conclave and other undead. It reminds me of "Ghostwalk" but is more sinister, plane-like. While Ghostwalk somehow tried to be mundane in some aspects, Kethak goes through the roof. Liches aboud and their arcane politics cloy
this strange place. Mortals have great difficulties surviving in this frigid and lifeless landscape, but it somehow seems to fit the conclave. The last
part of the book describes the dark minions of the void, the spectral and also offers some role-playing tips for Liches.
This part is indeed too short, but it contains more information than other 128 pages book. It offers ideas but the GM has to work on them to get a comprehensive setting.
There are not many roleplaying books around that are so dense and tightly packed. The sheer amount of possibilities is staggering and the different
take on otherwise of-the-hook d20 system is confusing, but also refreshing. In a way Liches is the next step toward a new generation d20 book. Although
not completely the next level, it shows the way. I find it hard to understand that some reviewers criticise exactly this.
I don't know but I am tired of same-old-same-old. I applaud Stuart to dare going a different way, something that looks and reads unique. I don't like every idea of the book and sometimes I wish it were 256 pages and not so overcrowded and a bit more coherent. So objectively I should rate this book a very strong 4, but because of the creativity and the courage for such a
small company to go its own way - against the grain - I reward it with a 5.
I know that we can expect much more by BIG in the future. If you like planescape, Liches or Ghostwalk, try this. If you're into "classic" d20 book you'd better pass this one.