Acererak, also called The Devourer, Lord of Unlife and Acererak of the Scarlet Robes, is a powerful lich best known as the creator of an infamously deadly dungeon known as the Tomb of Horrors. Once a wizard of a long-forgotten era and cleric of some forgotten god, Acererak devoted his existence to the secret of immortality.
- Spoiler alert: The following article contains spoilers for a Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition product.
As a demilich, Acererak appears to be a human skull inlaid with precious gemstones. Two rubies each worth 50,000 gold pieces are placed in its eyes, and six marquis-cut diamonds each worth 5,000 gp are set as teeth in its jaw.
Although described in some historical sources as a tiefling in life, his skull does not display horns common to the current-day tieflings whose fiendish blood derives from pact with Asmodeus; rather he is the descendent of a human and the balor Tarnhem, and it has been argued that he would be more accurately classified as a cambion or half-fiend.
A religious icon depicts him having small horns as a child, although whether this is historically accurate or colored by the artist's contemporary understanding is unclear. According to a diary left by Acererak to lure adventurers to the Tomb of Horrors, he suffered from hideous deformity.
Recently, Acererak is believed to have regained his original form as a lich. He appears as a skeletal figure wearing a tall, pointed, crownlike helmet with long horns which could be either part of the helmet or his original body. He wears flowing robes and carries a twisted staff topped with a glowing skull. On a chain around his neck he wears an amulet depicting the Sign of the Devourer.
A fake lich Acererak, a mindless undead dressed in the old king's raiments to look to dissuade adventurers, provides an image of how he looked in his prime. It is a mummified form, wrapped in bandages with points of light glowing in empty eye sockets. He wears tattered clothing and a grand, pointed headdress that likely once served as Acererak's crown. He reclines on a solid gold couch worth some 50,000 gp.
Acererak has from time to time replaced his demilich skull with a near-identical construct, a unique golem crafted from bone and inlaid with gemstones only one tenth as valuable as the real things.
Acererak is utterly evil, and cares not for other beings. He is single-minded in his quest for power, and one of the most incredible and devious geniuses in the multiverse.
Aside from being utterly insane by human standards, his greatest weaknesses is arrogance. Acererak has a habit of leaving clues and hints to those attempting to survive his dungeons or foil his attempts, for the sole purpose of heightening the glory of his eventual victory.
Acererak's voice is described as dry and filled with contempt.
Acererak is exceptionally powerful, and has slain minor gods. He is capable of pursuing ascension to divinity if that were to interest him.
As a lich, Acererak cannot be permanently slain without also destroying his phylactery. The exact form and location of his phylactery is one of the greatest secrets in the multiverse, and unknown even to the gods, but it is believed to be kept hidden in some unknown secret demiplane.
Acererak is one of the greatest wizards in the multiverse, and 9th level arcane magic is readily available to him. The spells readily available to him include time stop, power word kill, teleport, finger of death, and disintegrate.
Control over undead
Acererak possesses a mastery of undead, and at one point nearly succeeded in a plan which would give him control over every undead in the multiverse.
His undead form allows him the typical abilities of a lich, including immunity to cold and electricity, the ability to be healed by negative energy, and a paralyzing touch. He may also view people that are invisible using magic or with illusions.
Acererak speaks no fewer than nine major languages.
Acererak has spent centuries traveling the planes and crafting lethal dungeons that have served as his lair at one point or another. Some exist within their own demiplanes, many of which he created himself.
- Tomb of Horrors: The original crypt established as Acererak's lair, and site of the most infamously deadly dungeon. Here his jeweled skull inhabited the Crypt of Acererak the Demi-Lich. The original Tomb of Horrors is believed to be located in the Vast Swamp of Oerth.
- Tomb of the Nine Gods: A crypt on Toril where Acererak nurtured a stillborn godling rescued from the Negative Plane.
The purpose of each of Acererak's dungeons is not certain, but many are built and filled with treasure with the express goal of luring powerful adventurers in order to steal their souls. Some are part of elaborate plans to take control of the multiverse.
Acererak is known to carry a unique and powerful staff known as the staff of the forgotten one, which may inflict curses upon his enemies. He wears a talisman of the sphere and can control a sphere of annihilation, which he also possesses, having previously built one into his Tomb of Horrors.
Allies and minions
Acererak enslaved his father, the balor Tarnhem, whose minions tanar'ri minions maintain the original Tomb of Horrors. As part of his ritual of lichdom, Acererak learned the balor's true name and thereafter used it as a means of control. To exact revenge for the death of his mother, for which he blames his balor father, Acererak imprisoned in the Fortress of Conclusion for centuries.
Numerous liches follow Acererak. No fewer than 14 liches and perhaps over 30 trust Acererak with their phylacteries, who keeps them in the Tomb of the Nine Gods
A cult worshipping Acererak under the title of The Devourer, centered in a settlement around Acererak's tomb. There is no known relation to the deity called The Devourer followed on the world of Eberron.
Acererak cares nothing for the worship of his followers.
Understanding of Acererak by his cultists is limited and cryptic. According to mad prophet Danele, the Devourer's phylactery holds the souls of the lost, who will be damned eternally. He believes that "The scorn of Man birthed the rage of the Devourer".
An inscription upon a black obelisk in the Black Academy reads "Acererak Walks Among Us".
The cult of the Devourer uses a symbol called the Sign of the Devourer. It is the face of a green demon with a gaping maw, known for its appearance on a wall in the Tomb of Horrors.
Acererak was born more than a thousand years ago to a human woman named Kecethri and the balor Tarnhem. Acererak's mother was able to conceal her son's fiendish lineage until age ten, when a lynch mob burned down their house. Only Acererak survived due to the supernatural ability from his fiendish blood.
Acererak would later cite this event as what inspired him to undertake the study of necromancy and set upon a path of revenge against the entire human race.
Acererak found welcoming company among tieflings, attributed by some to be the now-fallen empire of Bael Turath, where he began to study methods of acquiring immortality, including lichdom. Sources debate whether his fiendish lineage made Acererak himself a tiefling, cambion, half-fiend or human, though the difference is largely an irrelevant matter of nomenclature.
During his research, Acererak discovered the existence of The City that Waits, a demiplane wrested the world of Ranais from by Orcus long ago and linked to the negative energy plane. Other subjects of his research into immortality included alchemical and necromantic preservation, time magic, and potions of youth and vitality.
Acererak entered the service of the demon prince Orcus, taking advantage of his authority in that being's cult to order the construction of vast crypts, including at the site which would later become the Tomb of Horrors.
Construction of the Tomb of Horrors
Over the centuries, Acererak's power began to wane, as all liches eventually do. Rather than simply feed souls to his phylactery or seek out new sources of power, he delved into a period of research and ordered his his servants spend the next eighty years building the deadly Tomb of Horrors beneath the hills where he held court.
Upon its completion, Acererak had all of his slaves killed.
Retreating to within his tomb, Acererak willingly failed to maintain the soul energy necessary to retain his physical state, and degraded to a pile of lich dust and a single gem-encrusted skull.
This new form still allowed him to project his spirit throughout the multiverse, where he carried on a epic campaign of exploring multiple worlds, establishing deadly dungeons and acquiring artifacts. The primary goal of these dungeons was to absorb the souls of powerful adventurers in order to feed his phylactery.
Around a hundred years ago, Acererak's quest led him to the Forbidden City of Omu in Chult, on the world of Toril, whose priests were routinely killed in a series of death traps to appease their nine trickster gods. Impressed, Acererak killed all nine gods, enslaved the people, and forced them to build a dungeon beneath the cliffs called the Tomb of the Nine Gods.
Acererak then slaughtered all of his slaves by using them to test the deadliness of his dungeon, turned a few into undead and flesh golems, and continued on his way. The creations of trapmaker Gorra particularly pleased him, and was rewarded with transformation into a wight. Acererak returned every few decades to improve the dungeon and collect souls.
Tomb of Horrors
Acererak intentionally allowed rumors of the location of his original tomb to spread, resulting in a wave of brave adventurers attempting to brave the deadly Tomb of Horrors. To maintain the tomb, he employed armies of ethereal demons to replace slain monsters, reset disabled traps and restore missing treasure, to varying degrees of accuracy.
Over the next twenty years, Acererak's tomb attracted a cult-like following, establishing a settlement called Skull City, populated by mad worshipers and necromancers, including a school of necromancy known as the Black Academy. Among the academy's upper echelons included those researching the true nature of Acererak. Those closest included Mistress Ferranifer and Academian Drake. At its height, Skull City was home to nearly 500, and around 1,000 undead servants, and various other creatures.
One of Acererak's plans involved luring powerful adventurers to numerous and highly lethal dungeon lairs of his own devising, scattered across worlds including a pocket dimension of his own creation. One such lair deployed magic allowing the demilich Acererak the ability to possess and control the body of any undead within.
Acererak intended to steal away the great souls of any individuals powerful enough to defeat his dungeons, and use these to empower a ritual allowing him to merge his consciousness with the entire negative energy plane, giving him the ability to take control of every single undead in the multiverse. Among the individuals captured for this purpose was the powerful wizard Desatysso.
Unfortunately, he underestimated the ability of these adventurers, who destroyed his physical form and banished his spirit into the distant ether. Acererak was presumed gone forever, with only a faint vestige of his former form accessible to esoteric users of pact magic.
Decades later, Acererak managed to return through sheer force of will.
Immediately he began crafting a series of great eldritch engines, elaborate enruned machines designed to focus magical energy. His goal was to absorb the power of all dead and forgotten gods, allowing him a level of power that surpasses even deities. He placed these engines throughout the planes.
To construct his greatest astral engine, a massive device intended to draw the power of dead gods to his own phylactery, Acererak stole gemstone keys from the crown of Nerull, god of death.
He activated the device for a number of weeks before it was disabled by adventurers in league with the Skullbreakers, who defeated a massive crystal golem possessed by Acererak's spirit and destroyed his phylactery.
Acererak's life force once again survived, but he was not able to recreate his phylactery quickly. As a last resort, he returned to the original Tomb of Horrors and acquired the Eye of Vecna, replacing one of the soul gems in his eye sockets and making one last stand in the grand throne room of the Tomb of Horrors. Acererak was once again destroyed.
Return from oblivion
Through means unknown, Acererak survived with his phylactery intact, and whether he re-created his phylactery or it was never truly destroyed is unknown. For the first time in untold years, he re-assumed his original lich form and began a plan of revenge.
Acererak discovered the remnants of a stillborn godling, an atropal, in the Negative Plane and carried it to Chult, where he placed it in the Tomb of the Nine Gods. Next, he created an eldritch machine called the Soulmonger, which captured the souls of the dead from across Faerûn and fed them to the atropal to restore its strength.
Acererak's plan was to feed the undead godling until it grew powerful enough to become a god, at which point he would unleash it upon Toril to genocide the planet. His reasons for doing this are unknown.
Unfortunately, and despite having a sphere of annihilation at his command, Acererak was once again defeated by a small band of powerful adventurers. His phylactery was intact in a private demiplane, hidden from even the gods, and he survived yet again.
Acererak abandoned his tantrum, but not before inventing a plan to take his revenge on the adventurers' descendents.
AD&D 1st edition
Acererak first appeared in S1 Tomb of Horrors (1e) (1978).
AD&D 2nd edition
Acererak appears prominently in Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998).
D&D 3rd edition
Acererak is referenced in Tomb of Horrors (3e), a direct conversion of the original module, originally released for free as a PDF on the Wizards of the Coast website.
D&D 4th edition
D&D 5th edition
D&D creator Gary Gygax revealed details about Acererak in the Gygax Q&A threads on the ENWorld forum. According to Gygax, Acererak served some "nether planes deity", from whom he received his soul-absorbing ability. As far as Gygax was concerned, there was no connection between Acererak and Vecna.
Gygax stated that Acererak "needed some great source of magical negative energy to return to regular lich state". This pre-dates the Monster Manual (5e) (2014) which established that liches must consume souls to avoid degrading into a demilich state.
Robilar and Tenser (characters of Gygax's players Rob Kuntz and Ernie Gygax) once faced the demilich Acererak after making it through the Tomb of Horrors, sacrificing many orc minions in the attempt. Upon meeting Acererak, Robilar swept as much treasure as possible into his bag of holding and escaped on foot using boots of speed, while Tenser destroyed Acererak and left with much loot.
In 2005, Gygax admitted that he did not give much thought to Acererak's origin story:
- "As a matter of fact I didn't actually do much in the way of background, leaving that open so that when I brought Acererak into some yarn before he became a lich, later a demi-lich, I would have more creative freedom. When that opportunity went away back c. 1987, I simply shelved all such projects, forgot about the matter, as pursuit of it would be otiose."
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), p.6.
- ↑ Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), p.30.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 S1 Tomb of Horrors (1e) (1978).
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 S1 Tomb of Horrors (1e) (1978), p.10.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 Tomb of Horrors (3e) (2005), p.35.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Tome of Magic (3e) (2006), p.19-20.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Tomb of Horrors (4e) (2010), p.4-5.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Tomb of Annihilation (2017), p.6.
- ↑ Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), p.79.
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 Tomb of Horrors (4e) (2010), p.50.
- ↑ Tomb of Horrors (4e) (2010), p.98.
- ↑ Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), p.35.
- ↑ Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), p.37-38.
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), p.131.
- ↑ Tomb of Horrors (3e) (2005), p.13.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 Tomb of Annihilation (2017), p.92.
- ↑ Tomb of Annihilation (2017), p.125.
- ↑ Tomb of Horrors (3e) (2005).
- ↑ Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), p.45-51.
- ↑ Tomb of Horrors (4e) (2010), p.86.
- ↑ Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), p.119.
- ↑ Tomb of Horrors (4e) (2010), p.151.
- ↑ 23.0 23.1 Tomb of Annihilation (2017), p.184-186.
- ↑ Tomb of Annihilation (2017), p.190.