This is a true story. It happened to my brother and I, back in 1986. For almost twenty years, though, I thought nobody else had experienced that thing besides us. It seems pretty obvious now: I was dead wrong. It happened to LOTS of people.
It was the middle of the winter and I returned home from the gaming store with the brand new Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play core book. I was fifteen, and my brother was eleven – but I already ran home games of AD&D for him whenever I wasn’t at one of my friends’ for some bigger game. Thus, my brother was already familiar with most of the monsters from Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. He sat down with me as I started browsing through the Warhammer book. We were both very excited with that wonderful new concept of “careers”, but after maybe 45 minutes or an hour, we skipped to the monsters section – because we loved monsters. And that is when it happened. Flipping the pages of that monsters section, we got to page 249.
My brother’s breath caught, and he said, “THAT’S a lich in this game!!??”
I too was gobsmacked. It blew my fifteen-year-old mind. A huge undead bird-lich? Wow, man! Holy crap!
Turns out, it was all a case of bad editing. Look carefully at those two pages: on the left-hand side you have Undead, Carrion, and Ghoul; on the right-hand side you have Liches (plural), and then the picture for a Carrion (a large undead bird). That picture should have been put on the facing page, next to the Carrion text, and the Ghoul and Liches texts should have been on the right-hand page, without pics.
But our minds were already blown – it was too late.
Even though that image clearly depicts a Carrion...
“Physique: Carrion are skeletal flying beasts, mostly birdlike but with membranous wings and tails, reminiscent of bats or pterodactyls. They stand about 7 feet high, with a wingspan of 15-20 feet.”
Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play (first edition) hit the shelves in January of 1986. Ed Greenwood’s article in Dragon magazine #110 – the very first occurrence of a “dracolich” – was published in June of ’86. Five months later. That’s fact.
The rest is not fact, but speculation. Still, it stands to reason that MANY players had the exact same reaction as my brother (i.e. “THAT’S a lich in this game!!??”). Word got around, and soon the idea of a “dragon-lich” had a life of its own. Greenwood decided to write it down; if he hadn’t, somebody else would have.
So the dracolich was a happy accident. Its unintentional creator was the Games Workshop editor who worked on that book in 1985. Paul Cockburn: that is the name printed in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play’s credits under “editing”.
Mister Cockburn, we salute you!