Last Updated on November 8, 2023
Will O’ Wisp
Tiny Undead, Chaotic Evil
The Wisp’s basic stats are as follows:
- Size: Tiny
- Creature Type: Undead
- Alignment: Chaotic Evil
- STR 1 (-5), DEX 28 (+9), CON 10 (+0), INT 13 (+1), WIS 14 (+2), CHA 11 (+0)
- AC: 19
- Hit Points: 9d4 (22 average)
- Speed: 0 ft. 50 ft. fly (hover)
- Damage Resistances: Acid. Cold, Necrotic, Fire, Thunder, and nonmagical Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing
- Damage Immunities: Lightning, Poison
- Condition Immunities: Exhaustion, Grappled, Paralyzed, Poisoned, Prone, Restrained, Unconscious
- Proficiency Bonus: +2
- Passive Perception: 10
- Senses: Darkvision 120 ft.
- Languages: The languages it knew when alive
- Challenge Rating: 2
Consume Life: As a bonus action, the will-o’-wisp can target one creature it can see within 5 feet of it that has 0 hit points and is still alive.
The target must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw against this magic or die. If the target dies, the will-o’-wisp regains 10 (3d6) hit points.
Ephemeral: The will-o’-wisp can’t wear or carry anything.
Incorporeal Movement: The will-o’-wisp can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. It takes 5 (1d10) force damage if it ends its turn inside an object.
Variable Illumination: The will-o’-wisp sheds bright light in a 5- to 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional number of feet equal to the chosen radius. The will-o’-wisp can alter the radius as a bonus action.
Shock: Melee Spell Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 9 (2d8) lightning damage.
Invisibility: The will-o’-wisp and its light magically become invisible until it attacks or uses its Consume Life, or until its concentration ends.
Behavior, Tactics, and Fighting of Will O Wisp
The Wisp is a predator that likes to let the environment or others do the actual killing. This simple fact, along with its evil nature, informs much of its behaviors and tactics.
Wisps are built for evasion, stealth, and trickery, and while their high AC and resistances can make them difficult to attack, effectively their low hit points mean that direct combat is so not their style.
Will o’ Wisps are usually cowardly, preferring to use Consume Life on creatures that are already dying or using Shock on creatures who can’t fight back.
They spend their time wandering their environment, feeding on small animals or looking for the lost and the vulnerable.
In Pathfinder, Will ‘o Wisps did not age. Some would organize into societies called “strings” for unknown purposes.
If you had the means or the power, you might compel a Wisp to tell you the secrets it had accumulated over an immortal lifetime.
In 5e, Wisps are the souls of evil creatures who die in situations of great despair; they are undead stuck in the pattern of inflicting their deaths on others.
They seek out opportunities for cruelty and are intelligent enough to leverage their knowledge of the area against even experienced adventurers.
Tactics and Encounters
An encounter involving these glow-balls of death is likely to start with a somewhat desperate situation, like either being actually lost in a swamp or simply trying to search a dark and difficult-to-navigate area for some goal or larger enemy.
Will O Wisps Luring Victims
Whatever the specifics, Wisps try to target people who would react favorably to a distant light, seeking it out rather than hiding from it.
If they can get someone to follow them, they use their invisibility and speed to maneuver to various distant points, encouraging their victims to take convoluted paths that result in total disorientation.
These paths usually end in some terrible place: a sudden cliff that someone might fall off in the fog, an alligator den, quicksand, a patch of poisonous gas, etc.
They might also just bait a desperate person into wandering so far they can never escape the wilderness and die after a few days of wandering in circles, driven mad by a twinkling light that never gets closer.
Will O Wisp Intelligence and Communication
Wisps are fairly intelligent, and higher-level parties might find themselves hunting down a wisp only to run directly into the lair of a much more powerful monster who’s been expecting them.
Wisps can actually speak, so they can coordinate and plan with allies if they so desire.
However, should their allies be defeated, their Chaotic Evil nature means that they will have no trouble using Consume Life on their former ally and fleeing.
Unless the party is fairly low level or for some reason you’re using a lot of Wisps together as a combat encounter, most Wisps will prefer to lead others into greater danger rather than fighting themselves.
Will O Wisp Encounters
As an encounter, they should be run as a complication to a larger fight rather than serving as the main focus themselves.
Potential allies can be anything from a den of wolves to a local necromancer. However, many people suggest using a Shambling Mound because they can heal from the Wisps’ lightning damage.
If you decide this strategy is on the table for Wisps, you might make an encounter consisting of a Shambling Mound with a Wisp hiding inside it, constantly healing the Mound each round with Shock.
Such a symbiotic relationship between even a single Wisp and a Mound could be very dangerous.
If you really want a tough battle, see how many Wisps you can cram into a single Shambling Mound to supercharge it.
When it does go down, your players will be weakened and left facing a swarm of whispering shadows.
Fighting a Will O Wisp – Player Tactics
Despite the Wisp’s ability to evade damage, players do have access to some effective counters to the Wisp’s tactics.
Firstly, don’t follow strange lights or whispering voices! These are likely Wisps, despite what they might try to tell you.
See Invisibility can be quite effective against Wisps.
In combat, use the rules for damaging objects when a wisp goes to ground. While they have total cover, the object housing them does not. Break that apart to expose the Wisp to attack!
You can also ready attacks while the Wisp is hiding. A round it spends repositioning and turning invisible is a round you can spend getting ready to crush it when it does appear.
Locking Down a Will O Wisp
The best low-level option to lock down a Wisp is the 2nd-level spell Earthbind. This spell targets the Wisp’s Strength save, so it’s almost guaranteed to fail.
It doesn’t impose any conditions on the Wisp that it’s immune to either. Instead, it simply prevents it from flying anywhere, which effectively reduces the Wisp’s speed to 0 since it can only move by flying.
Remember that a Wisp with no movement can still attack, and Earthbind is concentration. Stay out of its range!
You might be able to kill a wisp, but it’s better than most creatures at permanently slaying at least one of your own.
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Growing up I spent most of my time reading, so when I first started playing RPGs in middle school and got a copy of DnD 3.5’s rules I loved their collaborative take on storytelling. These days I like to use RPGs to develop my creative problem-solving skills as well.