Once, the ettin Arbrid had but a single purpose, his complete and groveling servitude to the Cabal Lord Jhar. No task was too menial; the ettin served as a cook, guard, carrier, and slave-of-all-work.
Arbrid the ettin had good reason to offer loyal and compliant service; his lord had freed from him a hideous life in the slave souks of H’skad. Indeed, his master was kind to him, and in time, the dim-witted ettin grew to love the master he served.
All was well, as well as any slave’s lot, until his master began to die. In short weeks and months, a terrible wasting disease stripped Jhar of his humanity, draining out his vitality and grace, his humanity. And there were so many things left undone. So very many things…
As the sickness spread so did the dying wizard’s madness. With the clarity of delirium , the dying wizard probed into books best left alone. In the Forgotten Words of Kith, he came learned the methods of the Hideous Sacrifice, a ceremony to prolong life for any arcanist seeking to become a lich.
Arbrid knew it was wrong for his master to seek undeath, but he loved the old man so well in his dim fashion that he sought only to help. His feeble mind could not grasp the moral implications of the ceremony – perhaps it was wrong, but the master told him what he must do, and he obeyed. At the precise moment instructed, he struck the blow as commanded, and slew the lord he loved.
The master said it would help him live forever. Arbrid wanted that more than anything.
The ceremony was not quite performed as it should have been. Tiny errors, perhaps those of a clumsy ettin’s hand, perhaps those of a dying, diseased mind, crept into the ritual. Instead of being drawn into a phylactery, the wizard’s soul was drawn into his loyal slave ettin…
Option 1 – The Innocent Monster
In this version, the ettin is seen as he kills Lord Jhar, and the poor slave is quickly tried for his master’s murder. Found guilty, the ettin is sentenced to the punishment called storm fire – that is, he is lashed to an iron pole on the highest hill on the edges of the Stormhills until the lightning takes him.
This fails to achieve the desired effect. The strange magic of the ceremony works in a horrible way on the ettin, slowly transforming him into a lich. The lightning does not destroy the ettin but only angers him, and at the height of the storm he escapes his bonds and flees into the hills.
The PCs arrive at a town on the edges of the Stormhills just in time to hear the story of the ettin’s escape. Will they seek to destroy the creature or can they find a way to release the wizard’s soul and reverse the transformation into a lich?
Option 2 – The Mad Tyrant
In this version, Lord Jhar takes full advantage of the ettin’s transformation into lichdom, and creates his phylactery. Rumors reach the ears of the PCs of a dreadful ettin ravaged by disease yet able to cast the most dreadful spells. The creature is said to be insane and speak with two voices at once.
Arbrid’s next quest, they say, is to put out the light of the sun. Dare the PCs enter his sickened dead land where once happiness and light prevailed?
This version is good for lower-level parties. Imagine a group of novice characters who suddenly meet a wizard able to cast maze, timestop or trap the soul: How would your players react? Surely they will hear the story of Arbrid, the mad hermit giant in the hills who can cause earthquakes. Will they think it is just a bit of bardic license? Will they flee the adventure in terror or are they bold enough to dig a little deeper?
In this version, Jhar’s control of the ettin is only partial. The Jhar-Arbrid, he casts some spells, but most fail due to the giant’s clumsy hands and voice. You can hint at the giant casting incredibly powerful spells and levelling towns, as rumors speak only of the ettin’s successes. If the party digs a bit, they may learn that the ettin can cast such spells occasionally. He is more than a match for the PCs, but he is no fully fledged lich. As a partial success, he lacks their full intellect and powers, and retains just a few lich abilities such as immunity to cold.
Jhar-Arbrid can be slain normally without destroying a phylactery, and he is little more than a spell casting giant. Or so it seems. If you wish to add a phylactery angle to the creature and build its hideous reputation further, the bards may tell of its being slain a thousand times only to rise again at dawn. What does it do each morning? Why, it wreaks raging, giant vengeance on those who slew it!
Liches are great monsters that work in unexpected ways. As a DM, you can have fun twisting a straightforward undead spellcaster into something truly memorable. For more information on liches and details of the Hideous Sacrifice (and more unspeakable ways to become a lich), order a copy of Kobold Quarterly Issue #3 – available now.