How to Play Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress

Last Updated on September 11, 2022 by VoltorRWH

Having successfully escaped the Arena of the Undead Horde in our previous How to Play article, our group of heroes continue their adventure. How will the group fare as they infiltrate the Tower of the Lich Empress? What perils await within? And will the next Epic Encounters box live up to the standard set by Arena of the Undead Horde? Read our How to Play Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress to find out!

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How to Play Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress – Introduction

Following on from our How to Play Epic Encounters: Arena of the Undead Horde, we return to The Games Table in Norwich for more Dungeons and Dragons!

For those who need a reminder, we’re trying something a little different with our playtetsing. As you may remember, we recently playtested Steamforged Games’ Epic Encounters: Arena of the Undead Horde with some D&Ders. On the same day, we also took a look at another Epic Encounter: Tower of the Lich Empress.

Epic Encounters Tower of the Lich Empress Box SFG Photo
Source: Steamforged Games

Epic Encounters boxes come in two flavours. The first are “Warband” boxes, like Arena of the Undead Horde. These pit parties against diverse groups of enemies across an appropriately themed encounter. The second are “Boss” boxes. These are where adventurers face off against a single, much larger, more imposing enemy in a brutal showdown.

Tower of the Lich Empress is the Boss box to the Arena of the Undead Horde Warband box. Whilst the two do not need to be bought together – nor even played together – they can be used in tandem.

You can see our full review of Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress here. You might want to make sure you’ve had a look at that review before you read on. That way you can be sure you’re fully up-to-date on what’s in the box.

How to Play Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress – The Team

You’ve met them once before, but here they are again. For this session, we roped in this quartet of adventurers.

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From right to left, we have Lizzie, an aarakocra druid. Next to her is Richard, a half-elf wizard. Beside him is Dave, a half-elf druid. Last but not least, Ollie, the hill dwarf barbarian.

On the far left, sitting by himself (assuredly due to the need to DM and not odour) is me. Not pictured is another Lizzie, who helped me run the event. Regular readers will know her from previous playtestings. Her quick-witted camera use, as well as her memory for drinks orders, assured the smooth management of the afternoon.

How to Play Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress – The Venue

As the sign in the image above suggests, we carried out our playtesting at The Games Table in Norwich.

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I had been past The Games Table a few times prior to playtesting our Epic Encounters sets. The venue is gorgeous, and I was dying for an excuse to go inside. When I was finally able to for these reviews, I was really impressed.

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Local games venues have a bit of a reputation. More frequently than not, they tend to be claustrophobic, box-like spaces tacked on to the back of a larger LGS. They have a habit of feeling like a bit of an afterthought for whichever business it is that owns them.

The Games Table, however, is different. Primarily a venue intended for gaming, its purpose is to facilitate your gaming needs. There is a vast library of board games as well as tables of various sizes for all manner of gamin. There are also a number of far larger scenic tables designed for Warhammer or similar. When we were in there, most of these were taken up with people playing Age of Sigmar.

Alongside this, the venue also has a not-at-all shabby inventory of hobby supplies, GW products, board games and so-on. I was particularly surprised to see such an extensive Scale75 range alongside the complete choice of Citadel colours and products.

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It was also like they knew we were coming: they even stock the Epic Encounters sets!

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The Games Table will also ensure you are appropriately fed and watered during your stay. Whilst they have their own refreshments available, The Games Table also have an arrangement with the restaurant adjacent to them. Mambo Jambo, located upstairs, let you order from their menu and bring you your food. Should you have a preference for something else, you can order food straight to their establishment – or bring your own.

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As I said in the previous article, The Games Table is also air-conditioned, which was a very welcome mercy. When we were there, it was about 32 degrees outside.

How to Play Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress – Playtesting

With that, we had a venue secured and a team of adventurers ready to continue their campaign. We were able to move straight from Arena of the Undead Horde to the Tower of the Lich Empress.

Playtesting – Set Up

Any D&Der will know that a reasonable amount of set up is needed for any D&D game. First off, the DM needs to have the session planned and be fully up-to-date with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition ruleset. Epic Encounters are fully 5E-compatible, so whoever is leading the session will need to make sure they’re comfortable using these mechanics.

DMs tend to come in one of two types. The first are the over-planners. These are DMs who will spend hours prepping every part of their campaign to try and minimise being caught off-guard. The second type are the wingers. These are DMs who are able to show up following minimal planning and ad-lib most of their session.

I am an over-planner. In spite of Epic Encounters’ comprehensive Campaign Book, I still made almost 11 pages of my own notes. This is in no way a reflection on the resources in the Epic Encounters box, it’s simply just the sort of DM I am.

In fact, that I was able to make notes around what was provided in the Epic Encounters is good. It shows just how versatile and easy-to-use these boxes are. I could lift out the bits of flavour text that I wanted, make notes around the suggested campaign’s structure, and build in some additional bits for my players.

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The second bit of set up needed for any D&D session is having the physical stuff you need to play, be this maps, miniatures, tokens, scenery, or anything else. Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress does this for you. The box provides you with all of this stuff, and you can see more of it in our full review.

With the team assembled, the session planned, and all the necessary bits of kit required to play ready to go, we could continue our adventure.

Playtesting – Playing the Encounter

For those of you that read our How to Play Epic Encounters: Arena of the Undead Horde article, you’ll know that Arena of the Undead Horde is an encounter made of two halves. The first is a fight in an arena, the second a fight in the training area.

Tower of the Lich Empress does not do this. The encounter is set entirely within the confines of the Lich Empress’ titular tower. The fight is focused on the Lich, and the chamber in which she is faced. The chamber is also a very important part of the fight – and we’ll see more of this in a moment.

Just like in Arena of the Undead Horde, Tower of the Lich Empress comes with three difficulty tiers. This is true for all Epic Encounters sets.

  • First is the low tier, which is aimed at players between level 1-5. Plenty of punches are pulled so the campaign isn’t completely lethal for low-level players.
  • Next is a medium tier, for players around levels 6-10, who have a few more hit points and spells.
  • Finally is the high tier, for players level 10+. This is where things start to hurt.

We stuck with the high tier, as that’s what we’d decided on for the first part of the adventure. This also meant that the team could keep using their level 10 characters.

I. The Approach

In order to ensure that there was a reasonable amount of synergy between the Arena of the Undead Horde and the Tower of the Lich Empress encounter, I concocted a little narrative fluff to keep my players interested.

“You escaped the Arena of the Undead Horde, but exchanged one nightmare for another. Gone are the blades and the blood of the arena, and in their place stands a labyrinthine city filled with prowling undead monsters, an endless night lit only by flashes of lightning and acid-green fire, and the tower.”

My players found themselves lost in the undead metropolis that stretched between the Arena of the Undead Horde and the Lich Empress’ tower.

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I did this for two reasons: first, to create a sense of synergy between the two boxes. Secondly, to give them an opportunity for a long rest. Without a long rest, there was no way they would be able to successfully defeat the Lich Empress.

“You’ve lost track of time. Has it been days since you fled the arena? Weeks? Months? Your wounds have healed, but the memories persist, undying in your minds. Sleep eludes you – those fragments you can snatch between the roar of the roiling black clouds above and the constant groan of the hellish city are filled with dreams and visions. The burning acid-green flashes burn through your mind, the lipless mouth of the Lich Empress, taught and unfeeling, stiflingly close. The constant sense that you are being waited for. You always awake and see the tower. That accursed tower. You are certain, it is the centre of it all – and where you must go to ever have a chance of escaping this nightmare.”

Part of the virtue of the Tower of the Lich Empress set is that it’s not restrictive. The Campaign Book provides a good framework for running the encounter, but it does not force players and DMs to arrive in a certain way.

In order to ensure that the encounter can be slotted into your D&D adventure, the Epic Encounters set does not provide too much guidance on the “before” and “after”. Whilst the Campaign Book makes a number of gentle suggestions as to how players could have ended up in the Lich Empress’ tower, they’re entirely optional. No part of the encounter relies on the players having done something previously in the adventure. This is left entirely up to the discretion of the DM.

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As such, my players were able to spend time exploring the undead city to figure out a route from their hiding place to the tower. With the help of a couple of good perception rolls, and another use of the Pass without Trace spell, the players were able to sneak undetected through the ruined city and make their way to where the Lich Empress was.

The sense that someone is waiting for you persists as you arrive at the foot of the Tower of the Lich Empress. You had expected to find legions of soldiers guarding her stronghold, but instead you find nothing. The gates may be sealed and the walls high, but not a soul stirs on the battlements. Perhaps whatever dwells within the tower is so powerful it has no need for swords and shields guarding it.”

The sneak through the city and the mysteriously unguarded tower served to help build some tension. Expecting a vicious fight around the walls of the tower, finding it unguarded set my players on edge – and made them wonder just how powerful, exactly, the thing they were due to face was.

II. Tower of the Lich Empress

When the party arrive in the tower itself, the encounter can properly begin. Able to delve into the delightful details of the of the Campaign Book, the three adjoined spherical chambers of the Tower of the Lich Empress become a playground for DMs – and an exhilarating fight for players.

“You walk into the room. You find yourselves in a wide, circular chamber with two further chambers abutting it from either side. Warm firelight from numerous lit torches bathes everything in an orange glow – but casts eerie shadows of the many things in these chambers.”

The Campaign Book leaves it up to the DM as to when to introduce the Lich Empress into the encounter. I chose to have the party discover the tower empty – just as they had found the approach. Secretly, I had the Lich Empress sitting invisible in the centre of the larger chamber. Thanks to the detailed map and the many things to see and do in the Lich Empress’ tower, the players immediately split up and began investigating different areas.

Dave the druid took a look at the collection of cages in one chamber and found a small stash of rubies tucked in amidst the various bones there. With no-one looking over his shoulder, he had to decide whether or not to keep the find for himself or share it with the party.

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“To share or not to share? That is the question…”

This caused a lot of discord in the party, especially when he originally opted to keep quiet about it and not share his find with anyone else (though his conscience eventually got the better of him and he ended up sharing them out evenly). These little opportunities for role-players are a great inclusion in the Campaign Book, as it helps build characters and get players interacting with each other.

Meanwhile, Richard the wizard took a closer look at the Lich Empress’ personal library. His first find was a Scroll of Fireball, and his second was an archaic set of notes.

Now, Liches need a reliquary. As long as their reliquary survives, even if a Lich’s body is destroyed, it will re-form several days later. Luckily for my party, Richard figured this out thanks to both a very high History check and also being able to decipher the archaic scrolls. Having worked out what the reliquary was (a small golden pendant that talked – though the players ultimately destroyed the thing so quickly once they had found it they never found this out) it was just a matter of finding it.

Lizzie the druid’s use of the Locate Object spell ascertained the reliquary was hidden in the Lich’s sarcophagus – another feature clearly on the map, one she and Ollie the barbarian were already investigating. It was at this point, whilst they were struggling to get the sealed sarcophagus open and destroy the reliquary within, I decided to introduce the Lich Empress.

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Placing this miniature on the board made a lot of eyes widen. Although they had seen her previously (she put in a brief appearance at the Arena of the Undead Horde), coming face-to-face with this massive miniature on the map was a totally different experience for the players.

And fighting her was like nothing they had done before.

Playing on the higher difficulty tier may allow for more developed and advanced player characters, but the encounter with the Lich Empress also becomes far more difficult. With higher saves, more resistances, and an even larger array of spells to choose from, the Lich Empress goes from being a tough foe to a downright dangerous monster.

Able to make Legendary Actions and Lair Actions, as well as boasting a vast and creative array of her own unique spells and abilities, the entire Lich Empress fight is designed to feel like an action movie.

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The Campaign Book suggests an attack pattern for her, which intersperses slinging the odd standard spell at foes with cataclysmic, reality-shattering moments. These are designed to keep players on their toes and thinking about what they are doing.

Added to the Epic Encounter’s awesome attack pattern for the Lich Empress was the party’s peril at having not successfully opened the Lich’s Sarcophagus and destroyed her reliquary. The party had to split. With some people attacking the Lich Empress and others trying to get into the sarcophagus and destroy the reliquary within, things got quite difficult for the adventurers.

With the party rolling low and the Empress rolling well, things began to get very dicey very quickly. When the Lich Empress summoned a number of her undead followers, as was suggested by the Campaign book, there were a few worried looks from the players. To give them a little breathing room, the Lich Empress then disappeared momentarily, teleporting away for a moment of respite.

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Eventually – more through luck than anything else – the party were able to break into the Lich’s sarcophagus and destroy her reliquary. This enraged the Lich and brought her back into the fight. By this point, several members of the party were looking quite badly wounded. Between the imposing boss and her minions, decisive action was required.

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It was, in fact, Richard the wizard’s use of the fireball scroll that he had found in the Lich Empress’ own library that brought the encounter to a suitably explosive – and poetic – ending.

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Rolling nothing but 5 and 6s on his 10d6 damage, he incinerated the Lich Empress and a good deal of her minions.

Without a sound, her body pitches forward and she slips from her throne. For a few moments, her body lies still amidst the stone and metal of the magical device upon which she has sat for thousands of years before slowly, her form begins to break down. White flecks of ash, like gentle snow caught on a breeze, begin to peel from her form and become motes in the air. In a few moments, she is gone.”

With the encounter over, the group were free to divvy up the loot they discovered in the rest of the chamber. Because of the higher tier of difficulty they had completed the encounter on, this was a vast sum of wealth, totalling around 42,000 gold – which, as you can imagine, they were very pleased with.

How to Play Epic Encounters: Tower of the Lich Empress – Summary

When the Lich Empress was slain, there were cries of jubilation from around the table. The adventuring party really felt like they had achieved something. Having faced down such an imposing foe and danced with death more than once over the duration of the encounter, finally defeating the Lich Empress felt like a big deal.

It was that kind of killed-a-big-boss-in-a-Soulsbourne-game moment. This titanic, terrifying foe falls. All the damage taken, all the work done, all paid off.

The encounter had them hooked. They never knew what was going to come next, nor if they were truly safe. From being accosted by undead servants to having reality torn apart around them, the array of abilities in the Lich Empress’ arsenal kept the players invested. Having their pouches then filled with around 10,000 gold each also broadened their smiles.

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But I have to admit, as a DM I barely even scratched the surface of the resources available to me. There’s so much a DM can draw on for the encounter I could not fit it all in to one fight. There’s a host of spells, many of which are original. There are actions inspired by her character design and the tower itself. There are even some narrative cinematic moments that DMs can employ to make the fight even more exciting.

That there is so much available within the Campaign Book means the encounter is endlessly re-playable. DMs will be able to entertain myriad parties with this box, and never get bored of using it themselves.

Tower of the Lich Empress, then, is a phenomenal resource for DMs and a suitably epic encounter for players. Easy to manage and overflowing with ways to make your session as exciting and climactic as possible, Tower of the Lich Empress is the perfect finale for your campaign.

Want to see how the rest of the box measures up? Take a look at our Tower of the Lich Empress product review.

One last time, a big thanks to Ollie, Richard, Dave and the Lizzies for all their help. Another shout out to the awesome The Games Table for hosting us – we will certainly be back!

Has Tower of the Lich Empress whetted your appetite for more D&D? Check out Steamforged Games’ brand-new Epic Encounters: Local Legends Kickstarter for more awesome D&D-compatible content!

Click this link & buy your hobby stuff from Element Games for the UK & Europe to support – Use Code “FAUX2768” at the checkout for double reward points.

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Rob has spent most of the last 20 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

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