Something interesting happened the last session. Somehow, I tricked one of the PCs into making a deal with a devil in exchange for Dexterity 28.
Of course, the twist on the deal was the PC would become a will-o’-wisp in service of that devil for all eternity. D’oh.
The boring thing to do would’ve been to deus ex out of it. Or even make it so that PC couldn’t play his own character anymore and start a new character. But that felt like too much of a penalty for what was, in all honesty, good roleplaying on his part.
Thus, here we are with me creating a playable race for will-o’-wisps for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition.
- 10/5/2018 – Whoops, just noticed the damage dice for the wisp’s shock attack at levels 15 and 16 were 9d9 and not 9d8.
What is a Will-o’-Wisp?
From the Monster Manual:
Will-o’-wisps are malevolent, wispy balls of light that haunt lonely places and battlefields, bound by dark fate or dark magic to feed on fear and despair.
The thing that I think makes will-o’-wisps really unique is their incredible Dexterity. There is literally nothing (so far) in any of the canon Fifth edition books and supplements that has a Dexterity that’s as high as the wisps with the exception of the Elder Tempest, which is basically a god. And it’s tied with it!
When I did my Dexterity analysis three weeks ago, this is more or less how good a Dexterity 28 is in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons:
There is only one creature in the entire Monster Manual that goes beyond 22 Dexterity and that’s the Will-o-Wisp.
So, how do they move?
It’s hard to say. You can’t actually see them move.
There’s a light you see 100 feet ahead.
And then pop! They’re right in front of you. Blinking from location to location, Will-o-Wisps are imperceivable even to the Gods.
The air around them is probably warm and filled with static electricity; small plants die in their wake, not because they’re necrotic and undead, but because they’re slowly destroying the world thanks to their unnatural existence.
Thank the Gods there’s nothing faster than these things, for that could certainly mean the end of the entire universe.
Yeah, these things are bonkers fast.
Here are some other tidbits about will-o’-wisps:
- Will-o’-wisps balance hope and doom, using their light as “beacons of hope”, but then you know… they sneak up on you and eat your life.
- The wisps are created from the souls of evil beings that perished in anguish or misery. Usually, powerful magic has a hand in their creation, either residual effects from some crazy magic battle, or possibly even from a high-level wizard or fiend.
- Will-o’-wisps are agents of evil that work alongside hags, oni, black dragons, and evil cultists.
How can I create a will-o’-wisp as a playable class/race in 5e D&D?
Similar to a few of the Stat Anything listings I’ve done before, will-o’-wisps as playable races and classes took quite a bit of research.
Reverse Engineering Player Classes
The first thing I had to do was reverse-engineer a player character, something I, oddly, haven’t really done yet. I selected a drow thief-archetype rogue for the class I broke down, and more-or-less min-maxed it for highest possible Dexterity followed by highest possible Constitution with its ASIs. (And yes, this was the build of the PC who got turned into a wisp!)
Essentially, I estimated the rogue’s effective challenge ratings per level. It took quite a bit of doing since a lot of the rogue’s defensive capabilities come mostly from all its class features. In the end, I discovered that CRs relative to the rogues class levels roughly come out to the level x 0.75 (give or take). So a 10th level rogue is essentially a CR 7 or 8, 20th is CR 15’ish, etc.
Creating the Will-o’-Wisp as a Player Race and Class
One conclusion I came to while breaking everything down is that the will-o’-wisp can’t simply be just a playable race. Nor can it be just a playable class. It has to be both.
Many of its inherent abilities come from its race such as its flying ability, bonkers ability scores (1 Strength and 28 Dexterity), damage immunities, damage resistances, condition immunities, and senses. In addition, it is ephemeral, has incorporeal movement capabilities, and variable illumination.
At first glance, it may seem that many of these abilities “break the game”, but realistically, a wisp with much fewer hit points (in the PC range of 1 to 2 hit dice) comes out to only a challenge rating of 1 or so.
And the wisp has a number of glaring disadvantages. First off, it can’t heal magically; it can only get healing from consuming life. Also, ephemeral isn’t a bonus, it’s a penalty. They can’t carry or wear anything, meaning no magic items. In fact, without a way to interact with the world, they can’t even open a cabinet or turn the pages of a book without assistance!
Because of the will-o’-wisps limitations, it only makes sense to give the will-o’-wisp race a single class to choose from: will-o’-wisp class. And that’s it. Sorry, folks, there’s no multi-classing. Once you’re a glowing ball of light that likes to suck the life outta living things, you stay a glowing ball of light that likes to suck the life outta living things.
Now that I know that we’re going to need both a race and a class for the will-o’-wisp that works together as one, it’s just a matter of determining the powers.
Due to their insane Dexterity, I’ve more or less built them with the rogue class structure. They end up being slightly more powerful than the base rogue, mostly thanks to their defensive capabilities, but I theorize that will be balanced by their lack of magic gear.
For archetypes, I’m seeing three main flavors. Again, these are structured on the rogue’s archetypes. They are (better names to follow):
- Stealthy Wisp. This is a wisp that doubles down on its greatest strength: Dexterity.
- DPS Wisp. Next, is a wisp that can use its basic shock attack in different, cool ways such as a ranged attack, an area attack, causing paralysis, etc. I’ll pull from the Monk and Fighter classes for ideas here.
- Magic Wisp. Finally, we’ll have a wisp that can use magic powers more for utility than anything. This is similar to the arcane trickster, however, the spell list is probably more relevant to the undead/Wisdom-based nature of the Wisp (I decided to hold off on this one for now).
Will-o’-wisp Shock Attack
Another thing to point out is that will-o’-wisps can’t use weapons. That means that the wisp can’t use the rogue’s sneak attack (RAW specifically states “weapon attack”). Instead, the will-o’-wisp gets a shock attack. The base wisp starts with 2d8 (like in the Monster Manual). From there, its shock attack bumps up an extra d8 every two levels, kinda like how wizards gain spells. Imagine that it’s “sacrificing” higher level spell slots for its attack.
Other Cool Powers for the Will-o’-Wisp
Finally, rogues have lots of cool fluffy abilities that don’t really affect the challenge rating but give it some flavor and interesting opportunities. I don’t see wisps as being hugely skill dependant (after all, they have no freakin’ hands), so instead, they can do cool stuff like telepathy, read minds, and later, get regeneration to help balance their lack of healing powers.
Without any further ado, here’s the will-o’-wisp playable race and character class for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. These are available for you to use in your personal campaigns; just not commercially!
Will-o’-Wisp Playable Race for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons
You are a will-o’-wisp, a malevolent, wispy, undead ball of light. These are your abilities:
Ability Score Adjustments. Your Strength score is 1, and your Dexterity score is 28. When determining your other ability scores, you only roll 4d6 four times or can assign 14, 13, 12, and 10 as desired. If your Dungeon Master uses the ability score points variant, then you have 18 points to spend instead of 27.
Age. Will-o’-wisps are at the same maturity level at the time of creation as they were at the time of death. Will-o’-wisps are effectively immortal, and can not die through old age. In addition, time moves much slower for them. A single round feels like a minute to a will-o’-wisp, ten minutes an hour, and a day feels like a tenday. A month feels like a year, and a year seems like a decade. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for will-o’-wisps to resent the “slows” around them.
Alignment. Will-o’-wisps are often filled with despair, malevolence, and a natural hatred towards life. For this reason, they are typically chaotic evil. However, some youngers wisps are able to push past these thoughts towards the neutral alignments.
Size. The core of a will-o’-wisp is usually not much bigger than a few inches in diameter. Being ephemeral, they have no discernible weight. Your size is Tiny.
Speed. You have no base walking speed. However, you can fly 50 feet (hover).
Darkvision. You have perfect darkvision. You can see in dim light within 120 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Class Restrictions. As a will-o’-wisp, you can only take class levels in the will-o’-wisp class.
Ephemerality. You exist and don’t exist at the same time. For this reason, you cannot wear or carry anything. In addition, you can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. You take 3 (1d10) force damage if you end your turn inside an object. You are immune to lightning and poison. Plus, you also have resistance to acid, cold, fire, necrotic, and thunder damage, as well as bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks. Also, you are immune to exhaustion, grappled, paralyzed, poisoned, prone, restrained, and unconscious conditions.
Undead Nature. You do not require air, drink, or sleep. Instead of food, you must consume life (see the feature below). Instead of sleeping, you enter a dreamless recharge phase for 4 hours a day. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
Variable Illumination. You shed bright light in a 5 to 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional number of feet equal to the chosen radius. You can alter this radius as a bonus action.
Consume Life. You cannot regain hit points through magical means. Instead, as a bonus action, you can target one creature you can see within 5 feet of you that has 0 hit points and is still alive. The target must succeed on a Constitution saving throw with a DC 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier or it dies. If the target dies, you regain 3d6 hit points.
Invisibility. As an action, you and your light magically become invisible until you attack, cast a spell, or use your Consume Life bonus action, or until your concentration ends (as if concentrating on a spell).
Languages. You know Common and one other language of your choice. These are the languages you knew in life before undeath.
Creating a Will-o’-Wisp
When creating a will-o’-wisp, think about where your character comes from and his or her place in the world before and after death. Talk with your DM about the appropriate origin for your will-o’-wisp. Did you die in a magically-charged swamp, alone and afraid, only to be reborn as a hateful, ephemeral light? Or did you make a deal with a devil to become the fastest creature in the universe… but at what cost?
And now what is your purpose? Are you spreading your hatred across the world, destroying all life you come across? Maybe you are working for a band of evil adventurers to trap the innocent using your faux-hopeful light. Or perhaps you are still good, and you seek a “cure” to this horrible condition that’s befallen you.
You can make a will-o’-wisp quickly following these suggestions. Your abilities are 1 Strength and 28 Dexterity. Then, put a 15 in Wisdom.
|Level||Proficiency Bonus||Shock Damage||Features|
Shock, Undead Origin
Telepathy, Unearthly Speed
Ability Score Improvement
Undead Origin feature
Ability Score Improvement
Wisp Form feature
Ability Score Improvement
Wisp Form feature
Undead Origin feature
Ability Score Improvement
Wisp Form feature
Undead Origin feature
Ability Score Improvement
As a will-o’-wisp you gain the following class features.
Racial Restriction. Only those of the will-o’-wisp race can take levels in the will-o’-wisp class.
Hit Dice: 1d4 per will-o’-wisp level.
Hit Points at 1st Level: 4 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d4 (or 3) + your Constitution modifier per will-o’-wisp level after 1st.
Armor: you cannot wear armor or use shields
Weapons: you cannot use weapons
Tools: you cannot use tools
Saving Throws: Dexterity, Wisdom
Skills: Choose two from Arcana, Intimidation, Insight, Investigation, Perception, and Survival.
You start with no equipment.
At 1st level, you are able to focus your inner power to create an attack that deals lightning damage. This Shock attack is a melee spell attack with a 5-foot reach. You use your proficiency modifier plus your Wisdom modifier for your attack rolls (but not to your damage rolls). The amount of damage you deal as you gain levels in this class is shown in the Shock Damage column on the Will-o’-wisp class table.
Choose an undead origin, which describes the way in which you became a will-o’-wisp: Dark Magic or Fiendish Pact, both detailed at the end of the class description. Your choice grants you features when you choose it at 1st level and again at 6th, 14th, and 18th level.
At 2nd level, you have the ability to create a telepathic link between yourself and a willing creature with which you are familiar. The creature must be within 120 feet of you. You and the target can instantaneously share words, images, sounds, and other sensory messages with one another through the link, and the target recognizes you as the creature it is communicating with. This ability enables a creature with an Intelligence score of at least 1 to understand the meaning of your words and take in the scope of any sensory messages you send to it.
Starting at 2nd level, your ephemerality and speed allow you to move and act quickly. You can take a bonus action on each of your turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Dash, Disengage, or Dodge actions.
At 3rd level, you choose an archetype that grants you mastery over your undead form: Blur or Life-Eater, both detailed at the end of the class description. Your archetype choice grants you features at 3rd level and then again at 9th, 13th, and 17th level.
Ability Score Improvement
When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. You can’t increase Strength or Dexterity using this feature.
At 5th level, your pseudo-existant nature makes you difficult to target with magic. You have advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Beginning at 7th level, you can nimbly dodge out the way of certain area effects, such as a wizard’s fireball spell or a beholder’s disintegration ray. When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.
By 10th level, you’ve begun to master your undead nature and can subconsciously repair yourself even when you’re not consuming the lives of others. You regain 8 hit points at the start of your turn if you have at least 1 hit point.
Once you reach 11th level, you can read the surface thoughts of one creature within 60 feet of you. The effect can penetrate barriers, but 3 feet of wood or dirt, 2 feet of stone, 2 inches of metal, or a thin sheet of lead blocks it. While the target is in range, you can continue reading its thoughts, as long your concentration isn’t broken (as if concentrating on a spell). While reading the target’s mind, you have advantage on Wisdom (Insight) and Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, and Persuasion) checks against the target.
At 15th level, you have acquired a greater control over your ephemeral form. You gain proficiency in Constitution saving throws.
At 20th level, you have limited control over reality, time, and space. If you fail a saving throw, you can choose to succeed instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Will-o’-wisps use their innate compulsions to influence their abilities. The wisp form you choose to emulate reflects these inherent desires.
The blur wisp is one with its speed and focuses on developing abilities complementary to its quick nature.
Beginning when you choose this form at 3rd level, your fly speed increases by 10 feet.
Starting at 3rd level, you can use your inherent invisibility action as part of your Unearthly Speed class feature.
By 9th level, the world around you appears to move at a slower rate than you. You have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) and Intelligence (Investigation) checks if you move no more than half your speed on the same turn.
At 13th level, you move so quickly that you appear as a blur to others. Attack rolls against you have disadvantage unless you are incapacitated or restrained.
Out of Time
When you reach 17th level, you can use your action to move so quickly that you briefly stop the flow of time for everyone but yourself. No time passes for other creatures, while you take 1d4 + 1 extra turns, during which you can use actions and move as normal. This effect ends if one of the actions you use during this period, or any effects that you create during this period, affects a creature other than you or an object being worn or carried by someone other than you. In addition, the effect ends if you move to a place more than 1,000 feet from the location where you used it. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Life eaters despise the living, and constantly craft new ways to maim, torture, and kill all life it comes across.
When you choose this form at 3rd level, you learn new powers that can change the dynamic of your shock attack.
Powers. You learn three powers of your choice, which are detailed under “Powers” below. Most of these powers enhance your shock attack in some away. You can use only one power per attack. You learn two additional powers of your choice at 9th, 13th, and 17th level.
Daily uses. Each time you learn a new power, you can also replace one power you know with a different one. At 3rd level, you can use any combination of your powers four times per day. This increases to five powers per day at 9th level and six powers per day at 17th level. You regain all of your powers’ daily uses after a long rest.
Saving Throws. Some of your powers require your target to make a saving throw to resist the power’s effects. The saving throw DC is calculated as follows:
Power save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier
At 3rd level, you can use your Consume Life action on an incapacitated creature regardless of its current hit points. When you use Consume Life, the target takes 3d6 necrotic damage and its hit point maximum is reduced by the amount of necrotic damage it takes, and you regain the same amount of hit points. This reduction lasts until the creature takes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.
Sense Life Force
Starting at 9th level, you can use your action to observe a creature. The DM tells you the creature’s current hit points.
At 13th level, if you have your full hit points, your shock attack deals an extra 1d8 lightning damage.
Starting at 17th level, when you roll initiative and have no daily uses of your powers remaining, you regain one daily use of your powers.
The powers presented are in alphabetical order.
Altered Shock. When you hit a creature with your shock attack, your shock deals its normal damage, however, you can have it deal a different damage type choosing from one of the following options: fire, force, necrotic, radiant, or thunder.
Ball of Lightning. When you take the Shock action on your turn, you can make the attack as a ranged spell attack. The attack uses your normal attack bonus and Shock damage, however, the Shock’s range is 20/60 feet.
Blinding Flash. When you take the Shock action on your turn, instead of rolling for an attack and dealing damage you instead create a brilliant flash of light in a 20-foot radius centered on you. Each creature in that area must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or become blinded for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
Concussive Blast. When you take the Shock action on your turn, instead of rolling for an attack and dealing damage, you instead create a concussive force in a 20-foot radius centered on you. Each creature in that area must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 2d8 thunder damage and is pushed 10 feet away from you. On a successful save, the creature takes half damage and isn’t pushed. In addition, unsecured objects are automatically pushed 10 feet away from you by the shock’s effect, and the shock emits a thunderous boom audible out to 300 feet.
Consuming Shock. When you hit a creature with your Shock attack, it deals its normal Shock damage and the creature’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the lightning damage taken and you regain hit points equal to that amount. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.
Energy Field. As an action, you create a protective sphere of crackling energy around you. As long as you are concentrating (as if concentrating on a spell), you gain a +5 bonus to AC, and you take no damage from magic missile. This effect ends if you make an attack, cast a spell, or use your Consume Life action.
Hypnotic Lights. When you take the Shock action on your turn, you can choose to forgo the attack to create lights that hypnotize a creature you can see within 30 feet of you. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become charmed for 1 hour, or until you harm the creature.
Lightning Bolt. When you take the Shock action on your turn, you can forgo the attack to create a stroke of lightning 100 feet long and 5 feet wide that blasts from you in a direction of your choice. Each creature in the line must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes lightning damage equal to your Shock damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Magnetic Surge. When you take the shock attack on your turn, you can forgo the attack and instead create a surge of magnetic energy that pulls all metal objects within 20-feet of you into your space. Each creature in the area that is holding a metal object weighing no more than 7 pounds must make a Strength check versus your save DC. If the target fails, the object is pulled away from that creature and moved up to 20 feet toward you, landing in the space below you. In addition, any metal objects weighing less than 7 pounds in the area that aren’t being worn or carried automatically move to your space.
Maximized Shock. When you hit a creature with your Shock attack, instead of rolling for damage you can choose to deal your Shock’s maximum damage.
Precise Shock. When you make a Shock attack against a creature, you can make the attack with advantage.
Rapid Shock. When you use this power, you have a number of attack dice equal to the number of dice you normally roll for Shock damage. Until the end of your turn, you can use one or more of your attack dice to make attacks. When you use attack dice in this manner, make a Shock attack as normal. If the attack hits, roll the number of attack dice used to trigger the attack to deal damage and cannot be reused this turn, and if the attack misses, the attack dice are spent and cannot be reused this turn. For example, if you have four d8s for attack dice and you make a Shock attack using two of the dice and the attack hits you roll 2d8 for the attack’s damage; you then still have two more attack dice to use for additional attacks.
Restraining Shock. When you hit a creature with your Shock attack, it deals your normal Shock damage, and the creature is grappled for as long as you are concentrating (as if concentrating on a spell) and within 30 feet of the creature. The escape DC is equal to your powers’ save DC. If you move, the creature does not move with you, nor do you take a penalty to your own movement. The creature is restrained as long as this grapple lasts.
Stunning Shock. When you hit a creature with your Shock attack, you deal your normal Shock damage and the creature must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or become stunned until the end of your next turn.
Sustained Shock. When you hit a creature with your Shock attack, you deal your normal Shock damage and you can sustain the effect. On each of your turns, you can use your action to deal your Shock attack damage to the target automatically. The effect ends if you use your action to do anything else or move more than 5 feet away from the creature, or if the creature has total cover from you.
Not all will-o’-wisps are created the same way. Although many variations exist, most of these origins fall into two categories: dark magic or a fiendish pact.
When a mortal makes a deal with a devil, demon, or some other powerful fiend in exchange for enhanced speed, ability, or awareness, the deal often turns them into a will-o’-wisp.
Starting at 1st level, after hanging around fiends for a while, you’ve learned a little about making deals. You have proficiency in Charisma (Deception, Persuasion).
At 6th level, you can receive an omen from the fiend to which you are bound. You can cast the augury spell once per day and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for this spell.
At 14th level, you are immune to fire damage.
Beginning at 18th level, you can summon fiendish creatures that appear in unoccupied spaces that you can see within range once per day. Fiends summoned in this way last up to 1 hour and you must maintain concentration (as if concentrating on a spell). Choose one of the following options for what appears:
- One fiend creature of challenge rating 2 or lower
- Two fiend creatures of challenge rating 1 or lower
- Four fiend creatures of challenge rating 1/2 or lower
- Eight fiend creatures of challenge rating 1/4 or lower
A summoned creature disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the effect ends. The summoned creatures are friendly to you. Roll initiative for the summoned creatures as a group, which have their own turns. They obey any verbal commands that you issue to them (no action required by you). If you don’t issue any commands to them, they defend themselves from hostile creatures, but otherwise, take no actions. The DM has the creatures’ statistics.
Desecration runs rampant in the dark, dismal corners of the world. The unlucky souls who travel into these areas and perish alone often return as will-o’-wisps, eager to spread their fear and malevolence to all living things.
Starting at 1st level, you have advantage on saving throws against any effects that turn undead.
Speak with Dead
At 6th level, you can communicate with the recently deceased. You can cast the speak with dead spell once per day and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for this spell.
By 14th level, you are immune to any effects that turn undead. In addition, you are immune to necrotic damage.
At 18th level, as an action, you can target a humanoid within 10 feet of you that has been dead for no longer than 1 minute and died violently. The target’s spirit rises as a shadow in the space of its corpse or in the nearest unoccupied space. The shadow is under your control. You can have no more than four shadows under your control at one time.
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Wow! This was a lot of work to create, but well worth it!
My poor (former) rogue player gets to jump right in with it our next session, so I’ll get to playtest the heck out of it. Hopefully, all the research I did will pay off.
Be sure to share it and let others know that, yes… they, too, can play evil, undead balls of light!
See you next time!