A cursory glance at the Monstrous Compendium entry for “lich” reveals that this is a spectacularly dangerous creature. But players are often lulled into a false sense of security when confronting these powerful undead spellcasters. They might have a magic sword, for instance, that negates magic cast at a level equal to the wielder. But a lich casts spells at no less than eighteenth level, and even if you are tenth level waving a magic sword you are no match for anything cast by a lich. Make no mistake: destroying a lich is meant to be one of the game’s most daunting accomplishments.
Driving this home can be difficult on a Game Master. It is often difficult to persuade players that they are up against something awesomely tough unless the GM commits to actually killing off a character to get the point made. Spellcasting aside, a lich has numerous abilities that can make it unbearably strong. So it behooves a GM to resort to other means to illustrate how fearsome the player’s nemesis is.
In the game I am running there is a particular lich that has proven himself insufferable beyond words. He hasn’t killed any players but he has managed to obliterate some of their closest NPC allies. In a twist worthy of a Shyamalan movie this lich showed up to offer his help in driving an orcish army out of Maelonbourg. The help was warily accepted, and the lich upheld his end of the bargain with room to spare. You don’t realize how deadly a lich can be until you send him, virtually unassisted, right into the heart of an orcish army. The fear aura sends just about everyone fleeing immediately. Anyone that is strong enough to put up a fight is rendered paralyzed indefinitely if the lich manages to touch them, and all the while it is laughing mockingly as your army falls apart completely at the mere sight of him. And when spells start being cast? Yeah, game over.
I suspect that my players have a healthy respect for the lich in their midst. As they uncover more information, and deal with him in greater depth, they will discover just how terrifying he is. That makes me ever so happy.