Nyogtha, Volume II, Issue XLIV


Reader Mail query:

On an unrelated topic I’ve recently gotten into the D&D parody comic The Order of the Stick. The main bad guy is a lich, a term I’ve encountered a few times in games like Nethack. It made me wonder, is there any historical/mythological basis for liches beyond their inclusion in the Monster Manual?

Kyle McCowin

The first part of Kyle’s question were food queries and I answered them for him via email, so I cut that part out.

Lich in the way it is currently used is truly a Dungeons and Dragons creation. In this case, it is an undead magician whose magic was so powerful it allowed them to survive past even death itself. There have been undead sorcerers before in fantasy tales, but it wasn’t until Gary Gygax’s pen and paper baby that the term lich was linked to them. The reason the word “Lich” was chosen to describe an undead mage who survives past death by linking his soul to an object known as a phylactery (leather armband/tefillin) are many. Let’s look at a few.

1. Lich or rather Leiche, is German for “Corpse.”

2. Lich is also derived from the Olde English word, lic, which again means, “Corpse.”

3. In both Anglican and Roman Catholic Christian traditions, a “lych gate” is the entrance to the cemetery where the dead body, resting in its coffin, would be waiting for members of the clergy to perform rites over it, so that it could then enter the cemetery and be laid to rest interred in holy ground. In fact there’s many other archaic forms of “lich” or “lych” used in this way. If one researches, you can find references to concepts such as “lich-bell” (bring out your dead!), the “lich-house” (mortuary), and “Lich-rest” (the very grave itself). I also found this for those of you who may be curious as to what a lych-gate looks like.

http://www.samford.edu/~dgjeane/lych_gates.html. This is a wonderful folklore essay on the Lych-gate and how it relates to the architecture of Southern American graveyards.

4. The earliest reference to a lich I could find being used in a fantasy term goes way back to Dungeon & Dragons in their on-again, off-again campaign setting of “Greyhawk.” The year was 1975. It was indeed written by Gary Gygax and Robert J Kuntz, and here’s the text I have from that:

These skeletal monsters are of magical origin, each Lich formerly being a very powerful Magic-User/Cleric in life, and now alive only by means of great spells and will because of being in some way disturbed. A Lich ranges from 12th level upwards, typically being 18th level of Magic-Use. They are able to employ whatever spells are usable at their appropriate level, and in addition their touch causes paralysis, no saving throw. The mere sight of a Lich will send creatures below 5th level fleeing in fear.

5. The author Clark Ashton Smith had used the term Lich in some of his fantasy writings, however these “liches” were what we would call zombies; mere mindless undead roaming around. So we see that everything in some way in American folklore of the dead, goes back to the Cthulhu Mythos.

6. Old Slavic folklore speaks of a creature named Koschei the Deathless. Koschei is a powerful mage who survives death by placing his soul into magical needle. He then places this magical needle inside an egg. The egg is then placed inside a duck, which in turn is placed inside a hare. The hare is then locked in an iron chest. The chest is placed inside an ancient oak tree that resides on a magical island. There’s no more. The insanity ends there. The only way to kill Koschei the Deathless is to break the needle. This story holds very true to the D&D version where a Lich can only be killed if you find and destroy its phylactery. Those wacky Russians, eh?

7. Finally, this in no way relates to the actual history of the lich, but it’s funny so I thought I’d link to it. Bad softcore porn horror film called “LICH.”

So that’s really it: The origins of the Lich in terms of both RPG’ing, as well as the many things that inspired Gygax and Kuntz to create the underpinnings of an entire mythology for a very popular antagonist in modern fantasy literature.


I actually received several emails about the risotto recipe last week. A lot of people liked it, although some people said they were vegetarians and thus couldn’t make it due to the chicken broth. Like Kyle above, I talked about several broth variations they could try instead of chicken broth. Here’s hoping they enjoyed it.

This Friday I has a wonderful roast duck with pineapple for lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Unlike most American Chinese places, this was not a buffet featured long since cooked food under heat lamps. This was an authentic amazingly well done Szechuan cuisine. Their variation was simple roast crispy duck on a bed of crispy noodles and surrounded by pineapple. Simple, but delicious. I thought I’d do my own variation of the dish. In truth, it’s nowhere close to what I had ingredient-wise, but I really did start out with the idea of emulating their recipe and well…I got a nip carried away. Here’s hoping you like it.

Roast Duck with Red Curry and Pineapple


1 5lb duckling, excess fat and giblets removed, well rinsed and patted dry
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
3 cans coconut milk, chilled (about 13-13.5 ounce cans)
7 tablespoons red curry paste
4 1/4 tablespoons fish sauce (ask your local grocer)
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon lime juice
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 1/4 cup pineapple chunks (you can go up to 1 3/4 if you really like pineapple)
1 cup fresh basil, torn and shredded
6 kaffir lime leaves, cut into fine pieces (ask your local grocer or visit an Asian market)
Rice, any kind you want and as much as you want. White or jasmine will do best here.

1. Preheat the over to 400 degrees F for the duck. Rub the duck, both inside and out,w ith salt and pepper. Price the skin repeatedly with a fork. Place the duck in a roasting pan breast side up and then place it on the oven rack. Cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, reduce the oven’s temperature to 350 degrees. Pour out the fat that has dripped from the duck and continue roasting for another 75 minutes. Remove the duck from the over, wrap it in foil (albeit loosely), and let the duck rest for 10 minutes. Then pat the duck down with a paper towel(s) to again remove excess fat. With a sharp knife, cut the duck into bite-size pieces. Set the duck aside for the time being.

2. Open the three cans of coconut milk you have been chilling. Spoon out and reserve 2 cups of the cream that has risen to the top of the cans from the chilling. Stir the rest of the coconut milk together, then measure out and reserve 2 3/4 cups of this milk for later usage. Add 1 cup of water to the reserved 2 3/4 cups coconut milk to thin it out.

3. In a large crock pot or casserole dish, boil the coconut cream over medium high heat until it thickens and oil separates from the white solid cream. This will take about 8 minutes. Add the curry paste and stir-fry until the mixture looks cracked. Taste it to make sure. If it tastes kind of rae, keeping cooking. This whole procedure should take about 8 minutes. If the paste begins to stick to the sides, add a little of the thinned coconut milk to the mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. After the mixture is ready, you can add the rest of the thin coconut milk and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Add the duck and cook until heated thoroughly. I prefer my duck rare, but some of you may not, so cooking time will vary. Once the duck is to the meat state you prefer, add the remaining ingredients and cooking for 3 minutes. Serve on top of rice.

There we go. Nice happy yummy duck.

10 Plugs

In Games, Mark previews Yakuza.

In Music, I assumed Gloomchen column was going to be about the Fresh Prince. Meanwhile, KDP shows me The Flaming Lips are still around.

In Wrestling, Eric S is employed again, and the entire staff looks at the clusterf*ck that promises to be the Great American Bash. Anyone else remember when the GAB was bigger than Starrcade? GAB 1989 = best PPV ever. Sting/Muta, Flair/Funk, Steamboat/Luger, and so on.

In Movies, McCullar says Clerks II is okay. You know, I’ve never really liked anything Kevin Smith has done aside from the Clerks Animated Series. Also, Sawitz manages to be the only person alive to give a good review to “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.”

In TV, Jessica talks about some TV show I’ve never watched. Since when is REM considered “Rock”? Kevin Wong reviews the DVD collection of the failed remake of the Carl Kolchak series.

In Figures, PK talks new JLU toys.


Short-ish column this week. I’ll be back next week with more food and folklore.



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