The Devourer, the Lord of Unlife, the Biggest Baddest Lich
Acererak has been building deathtraps for adventurers since the very first edition of D&D. His name brings memories of unfair deaths and some of the most cruel and iconic moments of dungeons and dragons. He’s back again for 5th edition, but do his schemes fit in your next campaign? Grab a shovel as we exhume Acererak’s old bones yet again and go through everything you need to know.
Liches and Demiliches
Before we get into Acererak’s mad machinations, you’ve got to know what liches and demiliches are. Liches are necromancers who’ve decided against that whole “dying” thing. Rather than pass on to their probably hellish afterlife, necromancers can perform a heinously evil ritual that binds their soul to a special artifact called a “phylactery”. With this arrangement, a lich can essentially live forever with all their intelligence and power intact, albeit as a decrepit undead husk. As long as the phylactery remains intact, they can always reform a new body.
Demiliches get a bit more confusing. In the earlier editions of D&D, a demilich was basically a lich on steroids. Demiliches transcend even that deathless state by splitting their soul between several “soul gems” (think Voldemort) that they implant into their body, usually replacing their eyes and teeth with them.
However, 5e took that version of demilich and retconned it quite a bit. In 5th edition, demiliches are a sort of “degraded” lich. Originally, liches were genuinely immortal, now they’ve got a key weakness. Now liches need to keep feeding fresh souls to their phylactery, or else they start losing memories and skills like a dementia patient. Eventually their bodies disintegrate as they forget how to feed souls into their phylactery.
So, what is Acererak?
Acererak was a demilich back when demiliches were mega-liches, now that they’re a downgrade, 5th edition sees the return of simply lich Acererak. But not only is he a lich, he’s THE lich. Thousands and thousands of years old, with his fingers in all sorts of evil plots throughout the multiverse, Acererak is a villain of historical scale. When he’s not making deals with evil deities or destroying civilizations, Acererak’s favorite “pastime” has always been luring adventurers to their doom, particularly in his “Tomb of Horrors”.
Tomb of Horrors
We can’t talk about Acererak without talking about the Tomb of Horrors. It has been with us since 1st edition and is still possibly the most lethal thing you can send a group of adventurers through. Acererak wants souls, and what better way to get them than to have them come to you. The Tomb of Horrors is an adventurer trap, a shining challenge filled with treasure and glory for the true heroes willing to brave its depths. The tomb is designed like a meat grinder, and while technically a few bedraggled survivors make it out with treasures, the cost of a few trinkets pales in comparison to the countless souls now trapped for Acererak’s nefarious ends.
Acererak planned on using these thousands of mortal souls to empower a ritual that would let him merge his consciousness with the entire plane of negative energy. It’s a tad hazy what this would actually do but it all sounds like bad news, and we can assume this would turn him into some form of evil energy god. His need for souls shifts quite a bit in 5e, when we get to the spiritual successor to the Tomb of Horrors, the Tomb of Annihilation.
Tomb of Annihilation
It’s technically called “The Tomb of the Nine Gods”, but Tomb of Annihilation is on the book’s cover, so what are you going to do? This version of Acererak’s deathtrap is way more survivable but is still a play on the same concept. Acererak set up this nightmare as a lure, and trapped the 9 trickster spirits that had previously ruled the area before Acererak took over.
His motivation this time around is a bit different though. Now in 5th edition, he needs that constant supply of souls to keep himself from degrading into a demilich. He also has a “pet project” that requires a ton of souls. Acererak found an atropal, which is like an undead failed god (and looks like a disgusting zombie fetus baby). Acererak built an artifact called “The Soul monger” that would feed mortal souls to his god baby and trapped the souls of those brought back through resurrection magic, a plague now known as “The Death Curse”.
Again, the end results are a tad murky, but it seems like Acererak planned on creating some kind of death god that he could control, essentially becoming the master of death at a celestial level.
Acererak is an absolute monster. He plays a lot like a “normal” lich, but with far more hit points, a higher AC, and the unbelievable ability to cast up to 3rd level spells as a legendary action, meaning he’ll be dishing out up to 4 massive spells a turn. Acererak is intelligent too, so he won’t be blindly firing off his spells. He has destroyed countless adventurers, knows all their tricks, and uses his spells in diabolical combinations to render his enemies into potentially useful corpses.
Medium undead, neutral evil
Armor Class 21 (natural armor)
Hit Points 285 (30d8+150)
Speed 30 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
13 (+1) 16 (+3) 20 (+5) 27 (+8)21 (+5)20 (+5)
Saving Throws Con +12, Int +15, Wis +12
Skills Arcana +22, History +22, Insight +12, Perception +12
Damage Resistances cold, lightning
Damage Immunities necrotic, poison; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks
Condition Immunities blinded, charmed, deafened, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, stunned
Senses truesight 120 ft., passive Perception 22
Languages Abyssal, Common, Draconic, Dwarvish, Elvish, Giant, Infernal, Primordial, Undercommon
Challenge 23 (50,000 XP)
Special Equipment. Acererak carries the Staff of the Forgotten One. He wears a Talisman of the Sphere and has a Sphere of Annihilation under his control.
Legendary Resistance (3/Day). If Acererak fails a saving throw, he can choose to succeed instead.
Rejuvenation. Acererak's body turns to dust when he drops to 0 hit points, and his equipment is left behind. Acererak gains a new body after 1d10 days, regaining all his hit points and becoming active again. The new body appears within 5 feet of Acererak's phylactery, the location of which is hidden.
Spellcasting. Acererak is a 20th-level spellcaster. His spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save DC 23, +15 to hit with spell attacks). Acererak has the following wizard spells prepared:
- Cantrips (at will): mage hand, ray of frost, shocking grasp
- 1st level (at will): ray of sickness, shield
- 2nd level (at will): arcane lock, knock
- 3rd level (at will): animate dead, counterspell
- 4th level (3 slots): blight, ice storm, phantasmal killer
- 5th level (3 slots): cloudkill, hold monster, wall of force
- 6th level (3 slots): chain lightning, circle of death, disintegrate
- 7th level (3 slots): finger of death, plane shift, teleport
- 8th level (2 slots): maze, mind blank
- 9th level (2 slots): power word kill, time stop
Turn Resistance. Acererak has advantage on saving throws against any effect that turns undead.
Paralyzing Touch. Melee Spell Attack: +15 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 10 (3d6) cold damage, and the target must succeed on a DC 20 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
Staff (+3 Quarterstaff). Melee Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage plus 10 (3d6) necrotic damage, or 8 (1d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage plus 10 (3d6) necrotic damage when used with two hands.
Invoke Curse. While holding the Staff of the Forgotten One, Acererak expends 1 charge from it and targets one creature he can see within 60 feet of him. The target must succeed on a DC 23 Constitution saving throw or be cursed. Until the curse is ended, the target can't regain hit points and has vulnerability to necrotic damage. Greater restoration, remove curse, or similar magic ends the curse on the target.
Acererak can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. Acererak regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
- At-Will Spell. Acererak casts one of his at-will spells.
- Melee Attack. Acererak uses Paralyzing Touch or makes one melee attack with his staff.
- Frightening Gaze (Costs 2 Actions). Acererak fixes his gaze on one creature he can see within 10 feet of him. The target must succeed on a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw against this magic or become frightened for 1 minute. The frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a target's saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the target is immune to Acererak's gaze for the next 24 hours.
- Talisman of the Sphere (Costs 2 Actions). Acererak uses his Talisman of the Sphere to move the Sphere of Annihilation under his control up to 90 feet.
- Disrupt Life (Costs 3 Actions). Each creature within 20 feet of Acererak must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw against this magic, taking 42 (12d6) necrotic damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Using Acererak as a DM
Acererak is the final encounter of “The Tomb of Annihilation” adventure path, and chances are you’re going to be piloting him in that context. Acererak earns his CR of 23, and at first it may seem insane to throw him at a party who just beat a gauntlet of other horrors while they’re only 10th level! However, the adventure cheats a bit, and the PCs are expected to harbor the “trickster spirits” acquired earlier in the tomb, with these guys pumping out 50 temporary hit points each turn, Acererak is going to have serious trouble even putting a dent in the PCs.
So, this combat gets kind of tricky, as it’s 1-sided in favor of the PCs if they do everything right and each of them have a spirit, but it’s 1-sided in favor of Acererak if they didn’t.
However, in that particular encounter, the hard-fought victory is really meant to be the atropal, and because of the spirits, actually fighting Acererak is presented as something of a victory lap as the ancient spirits use the PCs to enact revenge on their hated enemy.
If you want this fight to be more of an actual challenge, simply add fireball and fly to his spell list, which were notable omissions and drastically increase the damage he can lay down each round. Without them, 3rd level castings of ray of sickness are probably the best use of his legendary actions at range, or paralyzing touch if in melee.
If you harbor the spirits (see above), you actually shouldn’t have trouble defeating the ancient lich. Simply fall back on your constant stream of free temporary hit points and hit the old lich until he dies.
If you don’t harbor the spirits, you’re in trouble. His damage output isn’t insane, but he’ll quickly start disabling characters by frightening them, paralyzing them, or by simply counter-spelling everything the casters try.
But by far the biggest threat will be his invoke curse ability that shuts down healing and inflicts vulnerability to necrotic damage, which he has in spades. If PCs remain cursed for more than a round or so, they’ll start dropping like flies. Make absolutely sure you have castings or more preferably potions (because potions can’t be counterspelled) of greater restoration or remove curse.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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