Here we are friends, a little late but that’s okay!! Today we have a special double reskinning article (complete with me giving up on the hyphen because I don’t know if it was necessary anyways!). Because we are focusing on two different topics, these are gonna be a little shorter. That being said, today’s topics are going to be tieflings and liches. First we will look at some alternatives for players who want to play interesting or unique tieflings. Then we will look at some ways to use the lich stat block for all kinds of different creatures or adversaries.
The first thing that we should do, as usual, is go over some of the features and points of what we are tweaking. The tiefling has been around for a number of editions now. In fact the concept is a very long-lived one. Originally they were a bit different, focusing on being half-fiend in essence. At the very least they were closely related to fiends. This, of course, meant that the tiefling would have a number of physical and physiological (and magical!) features that they inherited from their uncle/grandmother/whatever. As the years moved on, playing a tiefling became something desired at the table and, as a result, these beings started to become a bit more simplified. Eventually they were homogenized into a specific race with a specific history and a set of features, looks, and abilities. That hasn’t stopped many players from not just playing around with looks but also wanting features that favor different ancestry or diabolical links. While tieflings aren’t technically fiendish these days, that doesn’t mean you cannot play one as a half-fiend, of diabolic blood, or just under some kind of curse. All this being said the current form of tieflings is heavily Asmodeus-adjacent. These are classic fiend with features of “The Devil” with tails, horns, fire, etc. But what about all the other type of devils, demons, and fiendish beings???
Let’s start with the simplest things to replace to manipulate the theme of your character. The first is hellish resistance which is by far the easiest. Rather than fire, we simply need to look at the heritage we are going for. This could be any type of damage and, while some might prove more useful than others, let’s keep with thematics more than anything. Zuggtmoy could give you poison, gelugons could grant cold, and directly descending from Asmodeus (as a god) might give you radiant resistance! The next easy tweak is that of bonus language. If you are linked to a demon instead of a devil than you would probably know Abyssal instead of Infernal. Depending on how far you are taking your ancestry or what you are going for, think of other languages that might fit better. I would also say that you might want to tweak ability score increases. While demons aren’t as “known” for their Charisma, many of them tend to be more charismatic than expected. Intelligence though, might be replaced with Str or Con for a demonic heritage to better belay the powerful, bestial aspect of these fiends. Once you take care of these things, there is only one other thing to take care of: spells.
Perhaps one of the most revealing aspects of your heritage as a tiefling are the spells you can cast due to your bloodline. This might sound like a daunting prospect but fear not! There are actually some simple options for reskinning this aspect of your character. Thaumaturgy and darkness are basic spells that, honestly, fit any fiendish relation. The key here that we want to focus on is that of hellish rebuke. This is a wonderful spell but is fire-based and has a very specific feel to it as a result. Just looking through the monster manual reveals how many more aspects and dangers are covered by fiends than fire. So how do we make sure that our use of this new classic fits our intended character? The first option is to simply change damage type. We could go with cold damage for gelugon or poison for yochlol, but there are other options too. For example we could take it and weaken the ability a little bit by making the triggering attack have to be within 5 feet. From here we can re-strengthen the attack and get some versatility in look and feel. One example I threw out on Twitter once was bludgeoning damage and a knock prone by kicking with hooved feet. We could also reduce the range to half of what it is but make the rebuke pull the triggering creature closer. Imagine being descended from a chain devil, playing a tank, and having chains leap out from the shadows around you to pull enemies closer! How cool would that be!?
What Makes A Lich?
Okay, it is time to move onto the DM’s side of things with the lich. What makes a lich, though? I am not talking about the fluff and lore of this undead mage. Instead I want to look at the mechanics and how it fits in as an adversary. Liches are high-level, intelligent, old, clever. They have access to preparations, experience, lots of spells, are hard to kill, and able to maintain strength withing their stronghold. In order to use this set of stats we need to use them for creatures that make great villains. More specifically these should be masterminds that are more focused on the big picture and long term goals. These are not quick to anger but their rancor builds with every defeat they suffer or problem the heroes throw their way. Agents will come for the party before they ever learn that the lich exists and they will often not even know what the being is in truth until things escalate any further. The possibilities are endless!
While I could probably write an entire entry for reskinning the lich in varying amounts of detail, let’s stick with easy things. The spells are powerful, mean, damaging, and/or manipulative. The other abilities involve disrupting and scaring enemies or being resistant to what is thrown at the creature. One thing we could do is make this a construct of some kind. Perhaps a powerful, independant, and sentient golem that is infused with millennia of magic from its ancient masters. Or, perhaps we are looking at an alien creature with technology small and accessible, capable of producing all of the effects that a lich’s spell list has. Maybe this creature is the avatar of a goddess of magic, wrathful and confused after being inappropriately summoned or even an angelic lieutenant of said goddess gone rogue looking to make a divine name for themselves. We could even see this thing as a powerful demon long trained in the arts of arcana or who once had a soul and was a great and powerful magic-user who turned to sin and depravity. You don’t need to go crazy manipulating the abilities themselves, but with every idea might come more, so feel free to tweak them and replace spells to make it fit even better. The limits are only that which you can imagine!