[RPG] Are there any examples in published D&D material of how to destroy a lich’s phylactery


According to the D&D 5e Monster Manual, regarding destroying a phylactery, it says:

Destroying a lich's phylactery is no easy task and often requires a special ritual, item, or weapon. Every phylactery is unique, and discovering the key to its destruction is a quest in and of itself.

— p. 203, Death and Restoration

However, no further information is given on how this is typically done, or what is involved specifically.

I get that this is meant as a plot hook for the DM, and that the DM is meant to fill in the blanks as befits their story/campaign, and that the intention here is that different lich's phylacteries must be destroyed in different ways, rather than a one-size-fits-all method for destroying any phylactery.

However, it would be easier for me to come up with something if I had some examples to work with from existing adventures or additional lore on liches not included in the D&D 5e Monster Manual. Is there anything published in any edition of D&D that describes how to destroy a (specific) lich's phylactery?

Best Answer

Yes, several.

Most sourcebooks prior to D&D 5th edition make no mention of the invulnerability property of a phylactery, implying that they can be destroyed normally. Most lich phylacteries in D&D 3rd edition for example are merely extremely tough, and can be destroyed with sufficient force.

However, special methods for destroying a lich's phylactery in various editions of D&D include:

  • According to Van Richten's Guide to the Lich, p. 53, you must reverse the permanency spell affecting a lich's phylactery, then cast dispel magic, to make it temporarily vulnerable to damage. Thereafter you must deal 25 points of damage to crush the amulet.
    • Alternatively, according to the same sourcebook, a bludgeoning weapon of +3 or better can harm the phylactery.
  • The spell Laeral's Crowning Touch can destroy a lich along with its phylactery. It's a 9th level spell and can only be learned by one of the Chosen of Mystra, meaning that only a few individuals can cast it.
  • Tan Chin's phylactery could only be permanently destroyed if the four Ebony Artifacts of the Imaskari were first thrown into the Bottomless Pool of Fire; otherwise it could re-form within 24 hours.
  • D&D 4e's Dungeon Master's Guide, p.135, suggests that destroying phylactery could require its own quest, could require a specific ritual, or could require melting it down in the force where it was originally created.
  • In the 4e Tomb of Horrors, Acererak's phylactery can only be destroyed by completing the skill challenge, disrupting the flow of energy when it is connected to the Astral Engine, which will cause the Engine to explode and destroy the phylactery
  • Exethanter's phylactery (Curse of Strahd p.189) can be destroyed merely by taking 20 radiant damage from a single source.
  • In Dead in Thay, reprinted for 5e in Tales of the Yawning Portal, p.163, the phylacteries can only be destroyed by first disrupting the arcane energy of the sepulchers in which they are held.
  • In Tomb of Annihilation, each phylactery has its own unique method of destruction, with a 10% chance that each one can be destroyed by throwing it into lava.
  • The dracolich Dragotha's phylactery (Dungeon Magazine #133 p.82) can be destroyed merely by dealing the correct sort of damage, as it has only defences against specific elements and types of damage, and immunity to fire. Simply dealing enough damage in one hit can damage it.
  • Various liches have phylacteries that are merely physically difficult to destroy: they are hard, such as a large gem or existing artifact; huge, such as a solid gold throne or epic monolith; or immovable, such as a cavern or archway.

Additionally, you may find it useful to research the method of destruction of artifacts, which have historically required unique methods of destruction. See the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide, p. 221, for examples.