D&D General Monster ENCyclopedia: Will-o'-wisp

This is the 32nd in a series of articles about specific monsters from D&D’s history. Each entry takes a look at the origin of one D&D creature, and tracks its appearances and evolution across different editions. For the letter “W” we’re taking a look at a monster that has been undead, fey, aberrant and a magical beast during the course of its history. It also has a surprising number of relatives and a name that is one quarter punctuation marks — the will-o’-wisp.​


Origins
Will-o’-wisps appear in the folklore of many real-world cultures. They are ghostly lights seen by travelers, usually at night, and particularly over swamps or marshes. Those who follow the lights are lured away from safe paths and into bogs. Marsh lights are a real phenomenon, but have a scientific explanation. They are the result of either a bioluminescent organism or a chemical reaction, typically the oxidation of methane and other gasses released by organic decay.​

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Das Irrlicht (1882), image from Wikipedia

Will-o’-wisp (sometimes written as “will-o’-the-wisp” and with both the hyphens and the apostrophe seemingly optional) is a composite of the name “Will”, and the word “wisp” meaning a bundle of straw or hay used as a torch. Hence a will-o’-wisp was originally a ne’er-do-well named Will who was doomed to wander the marshlands carrying a torch as penance for his misdeeds. Other English names include friar’s lantern, ghost-light, hinkypunk, hobby lantern, jack-o’-lantern, and spook-light. A will-o’-wisp is sometimes referred to using the Latin ignis fatuus, (“foolish fire”), but this is a translation from the German Irrlicht (“wandering light” or “wrong light”), first coined in the 16th century to lend intellectual credibility to the German name. The illustration above is a portion of an 1882 painting titled Das Irrlicht by Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin.

In European folklore, will-o’-wisp are viewed as related to fairies or elemental spirits. In some Mexican folklore, it is witches who transform into these marsh lights. In Brazil wisps are the fiery eyes of a serpent that only eats the eyes of others. Many cultures view will-o’-wisps as some sort of spirit or phantom; one Colombian story, for example, claims a will-o’-wisp is a flaming, ghostly grandmother. It is no surprise that the translation of will-o’-wisp in many languages is “ghost light”.

The Dungeons & Dragons version of the will-o’-wisp made its debut in the 1975 Supplement I: Greyhawk, where they are known as “will o’ wisps” (no hyphens). We don’t get a good explanation of the nature of a will-o’-wisp but we do get some statistics and some insight into how wisps behave.

Scattered through Supplement I are the will-o’-wisp’s substantial hit dice (9), excellent armor class (-8!), zippy movement speed (18), damage (2-12 points of electricity damage if cornered), number appearing (just one), chance of being found in a lair (1%) and treasure type (A, which mean potentially thousands of copper, silver and gold as well as a 50/50 chance to find 6d6 gems or items of jewelry plus a 40% chance of any three magic items). Curiously, the text specifies that when reduced to 3 or fewer hit points a will-o’-wisp can be forced to reveal its treasure.

Supplement I: Greyhawk notes that wisps are “highly clever” and pegs them as aligned with either neutrality or chaos. They can make themselves bright, dim or completely invisible. Will-o’-wisps inhabit deserted places with areas of quicksand or mires and lure victims into places they will die. They don’t have any attacks other than their defensive electricity discharge, but they somehow feed on the life force of these dying creatures.

Will-o’-wisp might be hard to hit, but they have no special immunity to normal weapons and take damage when struck. They are listed on the level 5 encounter tables, alongside trolls, wyverns, and displacer beasts, so they were clearly always intended to be more than just a minor inconvenience to adventurers.

Since they feed on the life force of the dying, we can infer that will-o’-wisps have some sort of necromantic connection. This seems to be confirmed in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, published a year later, where wisps are listed on the “undead types” table of wandering monsters. As we’ll see, this classification was anything but definitive.

There were two early D&D adventures produced by Wee Warriors but distributed by TSR: Palace of the Vampire Queen, which holds the distinction of being the first D&D module ever published, and The Dwarven Glory. Because of their rarity and historical value, copies of these adventures used to be limited to collectors, but authorized reprints in 2010 and 2011 have made them more accessible. Both of them contain encounters with this early version of the will-o’-wisp. In Palace of the Vampire Queen, the wisp is in a boring, empty room, but The Dwarven Glory has a more interesting encounter. The will-o’-wisp in room #14 pretends to be mortally wounded in order to get help accessing room #15, and then locks the door (and presumably attacks) or tries to get the adventurers to look into a pit (in room #13) that charms people into jumping into it. This raises the question of how a floating ball of light fakes being mortally wounded, or locks a door.​


1st Edition
In the Monster Manual, released two-and-a-half years after Supplement I: Greyhawk, the will-o’-wisp entry uses the name “will-o-(the)-wisp” in the title and “will-o-wisp” in the description. The entry presents mostly the same information published earlier, but with some clarifications, changes and additions. The illustration is not particularly revealing, showing only some bright, roughly circular shapes against a dark, forested background. There are five or six glowing shapes shown in the picture, despite “no. appearing” indicating a maximum of three, so we’ll have to assume that some of the lights are torches held by travelers being led astray.​

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Monster Manual (1977)​

A will-o’-wisp is described as a glowing sphere, resembling a lantern, torch or the effect of a dancing lights spell. Small in size, they change color to blue, pale green or violet when fighting. Wisps have exceptional Intelligence and like to haunt dangerous places where there are plenty of traps to lure victims into. The list of likely locations to encounter one still includes bogs, fens and swamps, but has been expanded to include catacombs with an abundance of traps, particularly quicksand and pits. A will-o’-wisp will try to lead a target into one of these hazards and then feed on the life force of the expiring victim. While wisps were either neutral or chaotic in Supplement I: Greyhawk, now they are firmly chaotic evil.

The will-o’-wisp’s armor class (-8), hit dice (9) and movement (18”) are unchanged, but the damage from its electricity has been boosted from 2-12 to 2-16 and it no longer uses the attack only when cornered. The text again notes that normal weapons can harm a will-o’-wisp, but it has gained blanket immunity to all spells except for protection from evil, magic missile and, for some reason, maze.

As well as learning that will-o’-wisps can change color, we get a bit more detail about their ability to change their brightness. They can become bright or dim at will, but can only make themselves completely invisible for 2-8 melee rounds, and they become immediately visible if they attack. They combine changes in illumination with either slow or flitting movements in order to confuse any prey they are trying to lead into danger.

Will-o’-wisps are listed as uncommon creatures usually encountered solo, in which case there is a 5% chance of the encounter being near the wisp’s lair. Occasionally (10% of the time) 1-3 will-o’-wisps are encountered together. In this case, the encounter is 90% likely to be in the vicinity of a lair. As before, a sufficiently injured will-o’-wisp will reveal its lair. The threshold for this is now 5 hit points, and the wisp automatically gives over its treasure, if so defeated. Its treasure type has shifted from type A to type Z, which means a wider variety of coins, and substantially more gems and jewelry.

The Monster Manual offers no additional clues about the nature of will-o’-wisps, so it isn’t clear at this point if this version of the wisp is intended to be an undead creature.

The next mention of the will-o’-wisp after its appearance in the Monster Manual is in an articled titled The Wandering Monster in The Dragon #15. An example will-o’-wisp encounter is included on a table of fourth-level wandering monsters. The whole entry is less than thirty words, and is unremarkable except for the claim that a will-o’-wisp is able to make itself bright enough to become “blinding”.

The Dungeon Masters Guide lists the wisps on the level 7, 8 and 9 encounter tables. This might be considered a slight promotion from the level 5 ranking in Supplement I: Greyhawk, but the tables in Greyhawk only extend to level 6, while the ones in the Dungeon Masters Guide go to 10, making them roughly equivalent rankings. They are listed on the highest level (VII) monster summoning table. The Dungeon Masters Guide includes will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for temperate and subtropical forests, rough terrain, mountains and marshlands. Wisps are also encountered in cities at nighttime, generally near places associated with death (mortuaries or graveyards). Dragon #54 suggests that will-o’-wisps also inhabit ruins.​

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Monster Cards, Set 3 (1982)​

The 1982 Monster Cards, Set 3 provides the first color picture of a D&D will-o’-wisp. The card depicts a day-time encounter, and the will-o’-wisp is glowing an orangey yellow with a gossamer yellow-white halo around the central orb. The stat block on the back of the card is copied directly from the Monster Manual. The only new information is the specification of the wisp’s size as one foot in diameter.

The Monster Manual II adds the surface of saltwater bodies as a potential encounter location for will-o’-wisps, and indexes them using the alternative name of “swamp lanterns”. It also reprints the boggart from WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. A boggart is an immature will-o’-wisp, and is the focus of a good portion of an Ecology article in Dragon #99. This is the first of two ecologies in Dragon, with the second following nearly two decades later in Dragon #328. We’re going to come back to the boggart later, but the Ecology article also adds to our knowledge of the adult will-o’-wisp. It repeatedly refers to will-o’-wisps by the alternative name of corpse lights. It confirms that will-o’-wisps are natural creatures and not created using magic, despite their appearance and abilities. We get confirmation that they can levitate (something that has only been heavily implied before this) and it is noted that both levitation and the will-o’-wisp’s electrical attack are a result of their unusual nature.

What is that unusual nature? Will-o’-wisps have left behind the limitations of a material form and progressed to a higher state of being. They exist as an information lattice with no material substance. Each wisp exists as “crystalline energy” which is described as self-sustaining and likely immortal. The lattice gives off the will-o’-wisp’s characteristic glow, but it can temporarily quash this to become invisible. Since the will-o’-wisp can—with some difficulty— be struck by weapons, it is possible for physical interference to disrupt the energy lattice.​

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Dragon #99 (1985)​

Wisps have a form of limited telepathy. This ability allows them to communicate with other intelligent creatures and lets a will-o’-wisp know if its attempts to lure prey into trouble are working. If the will-o’-wisp detects that a target is suspicious, it will often change tactics.

Also introduced in the Ecology article is a connection between will-o’-wisps and the Negative Energy Plane. This is primarily of importance to the boggart’s form-changing ability but is also suggested as the reason that wisps are immune to most spells. The only reason the few spells that affect the will-o’-wisp do so is because they disrupt either the energy lattice or the creature’s link to the Negative Energy Plane.

We also learn that wisps do not covet gold, gems or magical items. They accumulate material wealth only because they know that it attracts other creatures upon which they might feed. Perhaps this is why will-o’-wisps so readily reveal their hordes if beaten by an opponent.

On the Letters page of Dragon #101, in response to a reader’s question about the Ecology article in issue #99, the editor confirms that will-o’-wisps stop glowing once they are killed, as their luminescence isn’t natural phosphorescence but something under the creature’s control.

The Grave Encounters article in Dragon #114 lists both will-o’-wisps and their boggart offspring in the encounter tables for graveyards. For some reason will-o’-wisps are more likely to be encountered around midnight, and when the moon is less than full. Boggarts on the other hand, can be encountered at any time of night.

Despite their connection to the Negative Energy Plane, 1st Edition steers clear of stating that will-o’-wisps are undead. Indeed, as we near the end of 1st Edition, we get confirmation of the opposite. In a section discussing the effect of fire on undead, REF5: Lords of Darkness specifies that will-o’-wisps are “non-undead creatures”. An article cataloging faerie folk in Dragon #155 lists boggarts (and by extension wisps) as faerie creatures. From this it seems the wisp has drifted from its original undead type towards being considered a fey creature. As we’ll see later, this didn’t stick.

In addition to being referenced in the above accessories and supplements, will-o’-wisps feature in plenty of 1st Edition adventures. The crashed spaceship in S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is home to three will-o’-wisps. Instead of luring victims into quicksand, these wisps will instead try to lead their targets into one of the spaceship’s radiation areas. Their treasure is a mixture of gems and other shiny items including steel tableware, chrome fittings, reflectors and even a working language translator.

C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan describes a solo wandering monster will-o’-wisp as “basically a coward” that will flee rather than fight and fight only if cornered. It will, however, investigate dying creatures for the chance of a free meal. There is also a non-wandering wisp in the Shrine, seemingly passing the time hovering in a corridor.

In Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits, one of the doorways into alternate worlds from Lolth’s web leads to a desolate swamp known as the Black Fen, where will-o’-wisps can be encountered at night. The will-o’-wisp is also listed as one of the creatures someone attempting to reincarnate while in the Abyss might turn into. There are some other unusual creatures on that list (intellect devourer, water weird) but a will-o’-wisp would probably be the most challenging for a player to take on.

A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords has a will-o’-wisp that is described as ancient and feeble, as it has not fed in some time. It tries to lure visitors to a nearby sandling lair. The illustration accompanying this encounter shows two underdressed adventurers fighting a sandling while the will-o’-wisp waits to feed on whoever dies first. If the adventurers triumph over the will-o’-wisp and force it to reveal its treasures, they will be disappointed as the sandling has eroded anything of value, leaving only a human skull (does not include jaw) and a dagger (does include severe rust).​

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A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords (1981)​

In the Chamber of Statues in T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil there is an encounter with four will-o’-wisps. They are hiding in pole-mounted lanterns pretending to be lights. The encounter is interesting only because it appears to contradict previous lore in a few ways. First, there are four wisps together, rather than the maximum of three the Monster Manual advises. Second, the will-o’-wisps are deliberately giving off violet light, whereas the Monster Manual implies that will-o’-wisps only change color involuntarily during battle. Finally, these will-o’-wisps are aggressors. None of this lead-the-heroes-into-a-trap business. Instead, the wisps wait until the adventurers are concentrating on something else, and then all start attacking.

The will-o’-wisp in the adventure Ravager (in Polyhedron #31) is pretending to be the eye of a beholder statue. It too has an unusual level of control over its color and illumination. It glows pale green and is able to sparkle by “concentrating its essence”.

A solitary will-o’-wisp in I7: Baltron’s Beacon lives in a well and is terrified of magic missiles, having previously been hurt by the spell. A single hit from a magic missile will cause it to flee in terror.

REF4: The Book of Lairs II includes a full page encounter with three wisps residing in Grympen Myre. There is a fair amount of new will-o’-wisp lore introduced here, some of which contradicts their established D&D mythology. We learn that the collective noun for will-o’-wisps is a glow. One particular glow has made a shared nest in the hollow of an old tree. Wisps are not migratory creatures and generally remain in one location for most of their lives. They favor lairs near quicksand, both because it serves as a convenient trap into which to lure prey and because it neatly disposes of any evidence of their feedings. The process of consuming the life energies of victims is said to leave the target as a “dried husk without strength or intelligence”. This is confusing, since one would presume that the deceased target is lacking in all abilities! The absence of animal life in the vicinity of will-o’-wisps is explained, not as the result of the wisps having eaten the animals (as in the Ecology article), but because animals instinctively avoid such areas. The encounter text makes a passing comment that will-o’-wisps evolved out of swamp gas.

The Plight of Cirria in Dungeon #9 has both will-o’-wisps and boggarts included in its jungle encounter tables. This is remarkable only because the jungle is an environment not previously associated with wisps. We can also add “clouds” as an potential will-o’-wisp environment, since a wisp encounter in Palace in the Sky in Dungeon #16 takes place on a floating cloud island. The will-o’-wisp attempts to lure the adventurers onto a patch of insubstantial cloud through which a pedestrian will fall.​


2nd Edition
The will-o’-wisp in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One is very similar to the 1st Edition version, but is missing the hyphens in its name, now “will o’ wisp”. It has some minor adjustments to its stats, and a little bit of additional lore added to the description. It completely ignores the existence of both the boggart and the earlier Ecology article. From the updated stat block we learn that wisps are now slightly larger (2-4 feet instead of 1-3) and have significantly less treasure. They have an organization specified as solitary and a night-time activity cycle, but this we already knew from their description. Although it was previously implied that will-o’-wisps could hover and maneuver at will, this is spelled out in the description and a maneuverability class of A is listed in the stat block.​

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Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989)​

Will-o’-wisps now explicitly have some control over their color, shape and size, but still glow blue, violet or pale green in combat. There is no sign of the telepathy suggested by the Ecology article. Instead the will-o’-wisp gets its own optical language, which uses subtle changes in color or brightness. (PHBR13: Complete Druid’s Handbook notes that a swamp druid can learn this optical language, but needs a hooded lantern to be able to signal.) A few exceptional will-o’-wisps have mastered the ability to produce sound by vibrating very rapidly, and can speak in shallow, ghostly-sounding voices.

The will-o’-wisp appears in the encounter tables for temperate marshes, swamps and mountains, as well as in dungeons. (The Monstrous Compendium Volume Two adds the surface of cold or temperate bodies of water.) When more than one wisp is encountered, it is a sign that the area is a particularly good hunting spot. Multiple will-o’-wisps will cooperate to lure victims into danger. The will-o’-wisp has the same combat statistics it enjoyed in 1st Edition, keeping its hit points, armor class, electrical touch attack and immunity to all spells except protection from evil, magic missile and maze.

The diet of will-o’-wisps is still linked to the energy released by a dying victim, but is more specifically stated as being the flurry of electrical activity in the brains of panicked individuals. This is the reason that will-o’-wisps prefer luring their targets into traps like quicksand that kill slowly—the victim spends more time suffering and thus provides more food. It is also hypothesized that this diet could be the reason that will-o’-wisps are found in swamps. The ominous nature of such places increases the amount of fear and dread felt by travelers prior to their deaths.

When it was reprinted in the Monstrous Manual, the will-o’-wisp received a new color illustration, but no changes were made to its stat block or description. The 2nd Edition version of the will-o’-wisp isn’t specified as undead or fey in its description, but will-o’-wisps are lumped in with the faerie folk in the description of the ring of the little people in Dragon #187.​

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Monstrous Manual (1993)​

During the 2nd Edition era, the number of published adventures not linked to a particular setting diminished, but will-o’-wisps feature in a few. The adventure Things That Go Bump in the Night in Dungeon #38, features the first “ancient” will-o’-wisp since A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords. It is said to be at least 600 years old.

The wisp in GA3: Tales of Enchantment displays its treasure hanging from the branches of a tree that towers over a large expanse of quicksand. This situation again raises the question of how exactly a will-o’-wisp picks up or moves its treasure, or any items, for that matter. Almost as puzzling is the will-o’-wisp in Train of Events in Dungeon #44. The adventure takes place on a railway line, complete with active steam engines. The will-o’-wisp in question masquerades as an approaching train. While it might be able to mimic the light of an approaching locomotive, a wisp cannot simulate the sounds or changes in air pressure that would be associated with a real train, making the effectiveness of this strategy rather questionable.

CR4: Deck of Encounters, Set One and CR5: Deck of Encounters, Set Two contain a couple of rather droll will-o’-wisp encounters. The Darklights encounter from Set One has three will-o’-wisps who are determined to lead the adventurers into a murky bog. They try, and if that fails they attack. If attacking fails they offer to lead the party to their treasure (which we are told is a jade idol worth 1,200 gp) but the will-o’-wisps don’t actually go to their treasure, instead they try once more to lead the heroes into the aforementioned murky bog. If that fails yet again, the will-o’-wisps flee. Given that these will-o’-wisp have no intention of ever revealing their treasure, why do we even need to know what that treasure is? The encounter in Set Two is worse. Wisp at Play simply decides that the PCs get hopelessly lost while in a swamp, and then presents them with two options which boil down to: spend a week retreating from the swamp and then go around it, or press on and have a boring encounter with a will-o’-wisp. The only redeeming feature of this encounter is this delightful sentence in the location description: “Snakes abound.”

Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, published towards the end of 2nd Edition has a—excuse the pun—bog standard swamp engagement with a will-o’-wisp. The text makes a meal out of emphasizing how dangerous the encounter is, to the point that it suggests that the party cleric should discover that protection from evil has mysteriously replaced another prepared spell. This will-o’-wisp has a substantial treasure horde, including… a jade idol. Clearly one of the wisps from CR4: Deck of Encounters, Set One has emigrated to a more profitable D&D product!​


3rd Edition
The 3rd Edition Monster Manual reclassifies the will-o’-wisp (spelled exactly like that) as an aberration, a type of creature it defines as having a bizarre anatomy, strange abilities, an alien mindset, or some combination of those three. Given that previous versions have oscillated between undead and fey, making the wisp aberrant isn’t a bad decision. The stat block and description presents a creature remarkably similar to the 1st and 2nd Edition versions. As seems to be a tradition for will-o’-wisps, the illustration depicts a number of wisps (five) incongruous with the description (2-4). Two of the pictured wisps are tiny, so perhaps we can pretend those are bubbles of marsh gas.​

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Monster Manual (2000)​

Will-o’-wisps no longer explicitly have as much control over their color or appearance. They are described as faintly glowing spheres about one foot across, either white, yellow, green or blue in color. They shed as much light as a torch. They retain the ability to become invisible, but now do so only when frightened. Curiously, they are now specified as consisting of “semisolid vapor” (a seeming contradiction in terms) and given a mass of three pounds. All will-o’-wisps can now vibrate to give themselves a voice, an ability that was restricted to only a few in 2nd Edition. They can speak Common and Auran (likely to match their “air” subtype) as well as up to two other languages.

According to the Monster Manual they are found only in swamps, either alone or in a “string” of 2-4. They are chaotic evil in alignment, and while they are still driven to lead travelers into peril, they no longer feed on electrical activity in the brains of the dying but now consume the emotions associated with panic, horror and death. They accumulate treasure, but less than a typical monster of their challenge rating (they are CR 6), so this is presumably found on the bodies of previous victims.

Will-o’-wisps remain 9 hit dice monsters with an excellent armor class (AC 29), rapid flying speed (50 ft.) and a high initiative (+13). The advancement line indicates that some wisps can have up to 18 hit dice, but these wisps remain small in size. Although they generally rely on their ability to lead opponents into dangerous places rather than engaging in combat, will-o’-wisps have the electrical shock attack they had previously. This is a +16 melee attack doing 2d8 points of damage. As expected, will-o’-wisps remain immune to almost all spells. Magic missile, maze and protection from evil still affect wisps, but so too do protection from chaos, magic circle against evil and magic circle against chaos. Rounding off the wisp’s 3rd Edition stat block, it has average Constitution (10) and Charisma (12), high Intelligence (15) and Wisdom (16), exceptionally high Dexterity (29) and no Strength score. A will-o’-wisp has the alertness, blind-fight, dodge and improved initiative feats, and its notable skills are bluff, listen, search and spot.

When it was updated in the Monster Manual v.3.5, the will-o’-wisp gained darkvision (60 ft.), the weapon finesse feat, and experience with the diplomacy, disguise, intimidate and survival skills. Instead of no Strength score, it is now listed as having a Strength of 1. It is “usually” chaotic evil in alignment instead of “always” so, and its preferred climate is refined to temperate marshes. The description refers to it as consisting of a “spongy material” rather than a “semisolid vapor”. The mechanics of a will-o’-wisp’s immunity to spells have a small but significant change: It is now immune only to spells that allow spell resistance, with the exceptions of magic missile and maze which work normally on them.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide lists the will-o’-wisp on the encounter tables for 9th-level dungeons and for swamps of any climates. The 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes lists will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for the Negative Energy Plane, although there is no specific connection to negative energy mentioned in the Monster Manual entry. The article Unhallowed Ground in Dragon #288 suggests that under the right circumstances, a wisp might be encountered in a graveyard. Departing from the Monster Manual v.3.5’s preferred climate, Frostburn includes will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for cold marshes, while Stormwrack indicates that they populate both warm and cold lakes and rivers.

Monsters with Class in Dragon #293 pegs the Effective Character Level (ECL) of a will-o’-wisp at 19, meaning that someone wanting to run a player character wisp would effectively start at level 19 before adding any class levels.

The Book of Challenges includes an encounter with two will-o’-wisps who have taken up residence in a trap. When encountered, the ghoulish pair of wisps is waiting for their last victim to die (he is at -2 hit points!) so that they can feed on his death throes. They don’t take kindly to being interrupted from their meal.

Even in 3rd Edition, sources have a hard time divorcing will-o’-wisps completely from faerie kind. Complete Mage considers them to be unseelie, for the purposes of the summon seelie ally ability of the wild soul class.

Two of the adventures in Dungeon #90 feature will-o’-wisps. In The Elfwhisper, the adventurers rescue someone led into a sinkhole by a wisp. The encounter description is honest enough to acknowledge that adventurers are seldom fooled by the “follow the light” trick, so this wisp uses its invisibility and hit-and-run tactics instead. The second wisp encounter (in Tears for Twilight Hollow) is a mundane encounter with a pair or ruins-dwelling wisps. The PCs have an opportunity to interrogate the corpse of a previous visitor using speak with dead and may learn that “orbs of light” armed with “bolts of lightning” were the killers.

Will-o’-wisps frequently appeared in 3rd Edition adventures with templates or using the advancement rules. The adventure Heart of the Iron God (from Dungeon #97) has an advanced will-o’-wisp with 14 hit dice which is described as “55% more powerful” than an average wisp. Dungeon #115 has a pair of “ancient” will-o’-wisps with a whopping 25 hit dice, exceeding the Monster Manual’s advancement limit. Unusually for wisps, these two are open to both negotiation and even bribery, willing to share what they know if given at least 5,000 gold pieces worth of treasure.

A bevy of eight will-o’-wisps dwells in the Tomb of Aknar Ratalla in Dungeon #119. They dwell in a chasm into which a group of ogres has recently moved, and the wisps are content to dine on them. The description indicates that these will-o’-wisps are able to feed on the emotions of anger, hatred and frustration, and that consuming fear, panic, and horror is merely a preference.​

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Dragon #328 (2005)​

Closer to the end of the 3rd Edition era than the beginning, Dragon #328 features a second Ecology article dedicated to will-o’-wisps. Not unexpectedly, the new article completely ignores everything in the 1985 Ecology, and instead gives the wisp a new reproductive cycle, society and even some new names. As well as generic names such as corpse-candles, bob-alongs and spooks, will-o’-wisps are often nicknamed after notorious evildoers in the region they haunt, for example “hag lanterns” in a village terrorized by a green hag.

The Ecology article hedges its bets on the will-o’-wisp’s origins, offering up four completely different possibilities: Will-o’-wisps are the spirits of cursed men doomed to wander the marshes. Will-o’-wisps are evil fairies with tiny lanterns who enjoy tempting travelers into danger. Will-o’-wisps are all related to an abusive husband returned to life as a ball of light to repent his evil ways. Will-o’-wisps are the descendents of fallen lantern archons, corrupted by evil and cast out of the celestial realms.

The will-o’-wisp’s physiology (according to this Ecology) relies heavily on gas. The wisp’s body is a cluster of 12-15 gas-filled nodes stuck together with a clear, spongy substance to form a roughly spherical shape some 8-12 inches across, usually hidden from sight by the creature’s flickering glow. The nodes are covered with porous membranes that pulse when the wisp breathes. The surface of the membranes functions as the will-o’-wisp’s sensory organs, through which it sees and hears. We get a picture of a will-o’-wisp with its light switched off, which occurs if it breathes shallowly. Although it appears dark in the illustration, the article later notes that if the wisp extinguishes its flame, it becomes a transparent globe, making it effectively invisible. The nature of this invisibility means that detect magic and dispel magic have no effect on the wisp’s visibility.​

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Unilluminated Will-o’-wisp, Dragon #328 (2005)​

It is revealed that in addition to feeding off negative emotions, will-o’-wisps must also consume gasses produced by decomposing plant and animal matter. One square mile of a swamp or a graveyard produces enough gas to sustain a single wisp. Some of the ingested gas is used by the wisp for propulsion; the rest is absorbed and used for biological functions. When combined with air, the by-products ignite in a heatless light, giving the will-o’-wisp its characteristic flame (and a faintly sulfurous smell). The wisp’s unusual biology also produces the internal build up of the electricity that it uses when it attacks.

Wisps must feed on gas at least once per day and on emotions once per week. A will-o’-wisp can survive for approximately three months starved of emotions, but only a week without gas. Assuming that they don’t starve, will-o’-wisps can survive indefinitely and have no natural lifespan. No explanation is given for the survival of will-o’-wisps living in locations that don’t have a ready supply of marsh gas.

A half-hearted effort is made to give the wisp’s diet of negative emotions a biological basis, with the Ecology article suggesting that it might be feeding off chemicals released through a dying creature’s skin. This isn’t consistent with the sheer range of different creatures that will-o’-wisps have been known to feed on, and the article does label this as a “vague and unsupported” theory.

A wisp grows a new node approximately once per month, and loses them at the same rate, with aged nodes tearing, deflating and eventually sloughing off. New nodes form in the center of the wisp and push the older nodes outwards. Each of the nodes making up a will-o’-wisp is capable of independent thought, but a node dies if separated from the rest of the wisp. A will-o’-wisp that has been well fed for at least six months forms a cluster of three extra nodes. After a week, this breaks off to form a new will-o’-wisp. The infant wisp takes just two weeks to grow enough additional nodes to be considered fully grown.​

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Dragon #328 (2005)​

A wisp thinks with the shared minds of all its nodes at once, and offspring share the memories and most of the personalities of their progenitors. Will-o’-wisps in the same region are often interrelated and, because of how similar their thought processes are, may even consider themselves to be parts of the same creature. They form strings of three or four wisps working together in hunting parties. Since will-o’-wisps only reproduce when well-fed, overpopulation is rare. Groups of wisps originating from a common ancestor are capable of concocting brilliantly evil plans. One tale has three strings of wisps collaborating during a storm to pretend to be a lighthouse, resulting in ships dashed to pieces on the nearby cliffs.

Wisps are territorial and perceive foreign will-o’-wisps entering into their territories as threats, to be attacked and killed if necessary. Only if a new wisp’s motives prove to be compatible will it be welcomed. It is possible to play rival wisps off against each other as they delight in betrayal and backstabbing, but they are highly intelligent beings and only the most talented adventurers are able to pull off such a scheme. It is also difficult for adventurers to tell rival wisps apart, although their light patterns may offer clues.

Will-o’-wisps do not occur in groups large enough to have much of a society. Those groups that do exist don’t make many distinctions between individuals, but they do generally defer to older wisps and those who have caused the most terrible deaths. Some sages have observed that wisps are a prisoner of their own form, incapable of building complex societies or dominating large areas because they are unable to use tools. The will-o’-wisps’ awareness of their own limitations fuels their cruel and spiteful natures.

One of the few areas where the two Ecologies agree is on the malicious and cunning nature of will-o’-wisps and their delight in luring the unsuspecting into danger. The new Ecology acknowledges (as did Dungeon #90 previously) that tales of travelers tricked by mysterious swamp lights have become so pervasive that will-o’-wisps must rely on more complicated and creative tricks. They sometimes follow travelers for some time to evaluate their abilities before setting a plan into motion. One wisp killed a single mercenary in a larger group for several successive nights, always during the same man’s watch. Eventually his companions turned on the watchman and hanged him for murder. The next night, the wisp killed once more, and then waited to feed on the horror of those realizing they had hung an innocent man.

Will-o’-wisps do need to sleep for a few hours each day, and while unconscious they cannot fly or become invisible, so must rest in lairs. These are often hollow logs in marshes, or hidden places in mausoleums, but they can even sleep floating in bog water if it is sufficiently gassy for the wisps to breathe. Adventurers hunting for a dormant wisp might detect one by looking for a faint glow or slight smell of sulfur. Wisps are not attached to their lairs, so they may change frequently. Will-o’-wisps do not gather treasure (the article notes that they can’t pick it up) so any treasure to be found nearby is usually on the bodies of previous victims of the wisps.

The Ecology admits no explanation for the will-o’-wisp’s near complete immunity to magic. In a section on fighting wisps it is suggested that a wand of magic missiles (and anything granting electricity resistance) are critical tools to successfully fighting a will-o’-wisp.​


4th Edition
In 4th Edition, for the first time, the will-o’-wisp does not appear in the Monster Manual, but is relegated to the adventure P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens. The page on which the will-o’-wisp appears was also released as a free excerpt on the Wizards of the Coast website, so everyone has access to this version of the wisp. There is no “number appearing” stat in 4th Edition, so the illustration can’t go wrong this time; it shows two white wisps in an appropriately vegetative setting.​

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P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens (2008)​

The 4th Edition will-o’-wisp is now a small fey magical beast, giving us a fourth creature type in as many editions. The punctuation remains unchanged from 3rd Edition, settled as “will-o’-wisp”. The wisp is a level 10 lurker, effectively a slight bump from the 9 hit dice creature it has been up to now. It has an armor class of 22 and 57 hit points, compared to an average of 40 hp in 3rd Edition. It remains a high Dexterity monster, but is less intelligent than its predecessors, with Intelligence plummeting to 8 from 15 in previous editions. The will-o’-wisp has a flying speed of 6, but curiously now has an altitude limit of just 10 feet.

In terms of the wisp’s nature, not much has changed. It remains a malicious, evil creature that feeds on the emotions associated with fear, horror and death. Wisps haunt swamps and marshes, lurking near hazards into which they can lure travelers. Mists and swamp gas give wisps plenty of hiding places. Will-o’-wisps will happily substitute powerful monsters for natural hazards, and usually these creatures are pleased to be provided with an easy meal. On some occasions, wisps will follow travelers into a dangerous area, waiting until they get into trouble. As a general rule, a will-o’-wisp prefers prey distracted by other dangers.

In appearance, the will-o’-wisp has a spongy core, almost liquid in consistency. Mechanically, the wisp is treated as insubstantial, making it resistant to damage from all sources. It is no longer immune to spells. A wisp glows with a crackling, sparking light, 1-2 feet in diameter. It can glow, blue-white, green, or purple and can vary its luminescence from bright to dim. It has two special abilities relating to its appearance: blink out which is a short range teleport, and fey light which allows the wisp to extinguish itself to gain concealment.

The will-o’-wisp, as previously, speaks in a buzzing voice by vibrating its body at different frequencies. Unexpectedly, it now speaks only Elven. A wisp has low-light vision, so it will often quench its light and sneak up on a target to attack with combat advantage.

This version of the wisp has a glimmer wisp attack (with a reach of 2) that does radiant damage (2d6 + 6 points), a once-per-encounter life drain attack (with a reach of 3) that damages and weakens an already bloodied target and heals the will-o’-wisp, and a luring glow attack with a burst with a 100 foot range that pulls targets closer and dazes them. All of these seem like reasonable ways to represent previous incarnations of the wisp in a way that matches 4th Edition’s engine. In particular, luring glow is a great way to give the wisp’s ability to lure travelers a bit of mechanical substance.​

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Monster Manual 2 (2009)​

The will-o’-wisp was reprinted in the Monster Manual 2, along with a new illustration. The description is considerably edited, although the essence is the same. The wisp’s actual body is described as “a tiny orb of diaphanous material” which brightens and dims as it speaks (still Elven!). Will-o’-wisps are attracted to the sounds of travel or battle. Life drain is renamed to spirit drain, and some abilities have been rephrased slightly, but the stat block is the same as it was in P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens.

Perhaps because they were not in the first Monster Manual, will-o’-wisps did not appear as frequently in 5th Edition encounters. Tomb of Horrors has a will-o’-wisp slave as a minor variation. This wisp gains the Acererak’s slave ability which means that if it dies, it keeps fighting for a turn as an undead creature. A 5th Edition version of The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan appeared in Dungeon #209. The wisp in that is part of a sandbox trap and is listed as a “hungry” will-o’-wisp, which just seems to mean that it does an extra d6 of damage on its glimmer wisp attack. Finally, a level 1 version of the wisp known as a will-o’-wisp guardian appears in a mini-mission for INTRO1-10S As He Lay Dying, a scenario for the little-known Living Divine organised play campaign.​


5th Edition
The transparency of the D&D Next playtest provides additional insight into many 5th Edition monsters. A late 2012 Wandering Monster article on The Fair Folk includes the will-o’-wisp on a long list of fey creatures, and this classification was repeated in Wandering Monster: Defining Our Terms a few months later, so the early thinking was evidently that will-o’-wisps would be fey, as they were in 4th Edition. However, two days after the second web article was published, an undead version of the will-o’-wisp appeared in the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks Bestiary in the mid-April 2013 D&D Next Playtest Packet.

This version is a level 5 creature, with 9 hit dice (31 hit points), an armor class of 19, and a flying speed of 50 ft. It is immune to spells other than magic missile and maze and has a shock melee attack (+9 to hit, 2d8 lightning damage) plus a life drain ability. The life drain can only target a dying creature and the effect is to kill that creature and the will-o’-wisp gains 1d10 hit points. A will-o’-wisp does not need to sleep or breath, can dim its light to become invisible, has darkvision (120 ft.) and is now proficient in the Auran and Common languages (the same as in 3rd Edition). The wisp’s ability scores are Strength 1, Dexterity 29, Constitution 10, Intelligence 15, Wisdom 14 and Charisma 10. There is no descriptive text accompanying the stat block, but these abilities are consistent with previous versions of the wisp, and the life drain in particular is probably the cleverest mechanical implementation of the will-o’-wisp’s ability to feed on the dying that we’ve seen.

Two months later, another version of the will-o’-wisp appeared in the Against the Slave Lords Bestiary in the June D&D Next Playtest Packet. The wisp’s armor class was bumped from 19 to 20, a result of a one point increase in Dexterity. Its darkvision was reduced to 100 ft. and its shock attack is now +10 to hit. The life drain ability only works if the target fails a death saving throw, and if the target dies, the wisp regains 2d6 hit points, instead of 1d10. No other changes were made to the stat block.

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, one of the printed D&D Next releases, uses the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks Bestiary version of the wisp, but includes a few paragraphs of descriptive text. This is copied from the 3rd Edition Monster Manual (not the 3.5 version), with minor edits, so the key points are: feeds on psychic energy from the emotions of the dying; looks like a yellow, white, green, or blue ball of light unless invisible; consists of semisolid vapor; and can vibrate to produce a ghostly voice.

The will-o’-wisp’s final iteration before the 5th Edition Monster Manual was in Dead in Thay. This is a blend of the previous three playtest versions. It has an armor class of 19, but is now only a tiny creature (still undead) with only 22 hit points, the lowest of any edition. It has Strength 1, Dexterity 29, Constitution 10, Intelligence 13, Wisdom 14, and Charisma 11, and darkvision of 120 ft. The only language listed is Common.

There are some tweaks to the wisp’s abilities. Shock and invisibility are the same, but the life drain now requires a Constitution save (not a death saving throw), and illumination has been added, specifying that the wisp can vary its brightness from dim to bright. The wisp’s blanket immunity to spells is no longer an ability, but is instead included in a very long list of immunities and resistances. The listed immunities are: lightning, poison; grappled, intoxicated, paralyzed, prone, restrained, unconscious; spells except for magic missile and maze; dehydration, disease, petrification, poison effects, polymorph; doesn’t breathe, drink, eat, or sleep. The resistances are acid, cold, fire, necrotic, thunder; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from non-magical weapons. This may be the first version of the will-o’-wisp that is officially unable to become drunk.​

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Monster Manual (2014)​

The 5th Edition Monster Manual sticks with the undead creature type, and explains this by stating that will-o’-wisps are the souls of evil beings who have died while wandering forsaken magical lands. They are chaotic evil, and found in swampy bogs and bone-strewn battlefields because these desolate locations are steeped in sorrow—places of lost hope and memory. They are bound there by dark fate or dark magic. Wisps lure other creatures into dismal fates and feed on their misery. This idea of will-o’-wisps being the spirits of creatures isn’t new to 5th Edition. In the late 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms supplement Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves, a theory is advanced that they could be elven spirits that have gone mad or become corrupted as a result of damage to the Weave or the Fall of Netheril. The idea of wisps as spirits of the dead also pops up in The Bestiary for Dragonlance: Fifth Age and in the 3rd Edition Ecology as a possible origin story.

(As an aside, there is a 5th Edition Adventurers League scenario—CCC-MMT-02-01 The Stuff of Memories—in which the memories of the will-o’-wisp spirits can be absorbed by killing the wisps, or by having the wisps ram themselves into the characters. This is part of the Convention-Created Content (CCC) line of adventures, so ranks fairly low in terms of canonicity, but the idea is nonetheless interesting.)

The Monster Manual version of the will-o’-wisp is tiny, as it was in Dead in Thay. It can change its illumination and color and, as expected, uses these abilities to look like a bobbing lantern in order to deceive travelers. A wisp can extinguish its glow to become invisible, but must concentrate to sustain the invisibility, and it ends if it attacks. More is made of the composition of the wisp, as it gains both the ephemeral quality (meaning that it is unable to wear clothes or carry items) and incorporeal movement which allows it to move through other creatures and objects. The wisp’s undead nature means that it does not breathe, drink or sleep. The voice of a wisp is now described as a faint or distant whisper, and it speaks the languages it knew in life, before becoming a will-o’-wisp.

The will-o’-wisp’s shock attack is less likely to hit than in the D&D Next versions. It is now a +4 attack but still does 2d8 lightning damage. The consume life ability (mistakenly referred to as life drain in the pre-errata version of the stat block) requires a Constitution saving throw, failing which the dying target dies, and the wisp regains 3d6 hit points. For the first time, a creature that falls prey to a will-o’-wisp might itself become a wisp, provided that it was an evil creature. If it does, its woeful spirit coalesces above the fallen creature’s corpse, to become a flickering wisp. The wisp’s diet is left a little more vague here, as it feeds on the suffering of its prey and revels in the screams of the dying.

The wisp keeps the relatively low hit points (22 or 9d4), armor class (19), darkvision (120 ft.), and movement (fly speed of 50 ft.) from the last playtest version. The wisp’s ability scores are also the same, except for a slight drop in its Dexterity score. It has almost the same list of immunities and resistances that it had in Dead in Thay, but appears to no longer be immune to intoxication, dehydration, disease, petrification or polymorphing; it is now immune to exhaustion though. Most importantly, it has lost its blanket immunity spells, making this the first version of the will-o’-wisp since Supplement I: Greyhawk that a spellcaster has a reasonable chance against in a fight.

In the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide will-o’-wisps are listed in the encounter tables for forests, swamps and urban areas.

Most 5th Edition adventures are set in the Forgotten Realms, but there are wisps in the setting-neutral adventures as well. In The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, there are wells known as o’-wells scattered throughout the domain of Hither. They are populated by chaotic good will-o’-wisps that are the spirits of creatures drowned when the hag Bavlorna flooded their realm. Unable to move more than a few hundred yards from their wells, they are able to grant a special magic boon to those willing to avenge them. This lets the recipient add 1d4 to one check. A normal (evil) will-o’-wisp guards Bavlorna’s bedroom in the settlement of Downfall.

Looking back over the will-o’-wisp across nearly four decades of development, it is interesting how consistent the basics remain: The wisp is always a 9 (or 10) hit dice ball of light which is immune to most things, feeds on the emotions of the dying, and attacks using electricity. Beyond these basics, the monster’s details have varied quite a lot, and in particular D&D has struggled to decide exactly what a will-o’-wisp is.

As we’ll see in the rest of this article, the will-o’-wisp is a creature with a presence in many D&D settings, as well as one with a surprising number of relatives.​


Boggarts
D&D has more than one type of boggart. There are boggarts in Dragon #54 and Dragon #239 that are faerie creatures related to brownies and unrelated to will-o’-wisps, but our interests lie in the boggart that is the immature form of the will-o’-wisp, introduced in WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. The accompanying illustration is confusing because the round framing makes it look like the boggart is a dark and light patterned ball with legs.​

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Boggart, WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (1982)​

A boggart is an immature will-o’-wisp and it appears as a small humanoid of variable form. It can choose to appear as a young halfling, gnome, goblin, xvart or norker. It can also change into will-o’-wisp form, and when it does, it appears smaller and brighter than a mature will-o’-wisp. A boggart is unable to permanently assume any form (including adult form) for more than 10 or 12 rounds (10 or 12 minutes), so it is constantly shifting. No matter what its current appearance, a boggart can make itself invisible for up to 12 rounds.

Like will-o’-wisps, boggarts are chaotic evil and of exceptional Intelligence. They are rare creatures and do not make lairs of their own or accumulate treasure. Boggarts are two feet tall in humanoid form and usually encountered in groups of 2-5. Boggarts have infravision while in humanoid form and a limited form of ESP which provides basic basic and limited understanding and speech of any language. In will-o’-wisp form boggarts can pass through solid objects, but not through living objects or metal.

Boggarts use their humanoid forms to lure larger creatures that eat small humanoids into traps, much like will-o’-wisps lure humanoids. Once a prey is caught in a trap, the boggart feeds both on the flesh of the beast and on its dying life force, as it needs both to transform permanently into a will-o’-wisp. Boggarts have 6 hit dice, an armor class of -6, both worse than a wisp, but the same movement (18”). A boggart is worth about half the experience points of an adult wisp . When reduced to 5 or fewer hit points, a boggart will do everything it can to flee, usually involving turning invisible or floating over something impassable in wisp form.

Much like a will-o’-wisp, a boggart delivers an electrical touch attack each round. The boggart does 2-12 damage, which is slightly less than a wisp, but it can also hurl the bolt of electricity up to ten feet every second round. A boggart has no special immunity to weapons, but it shares the will-o’-wisp’s immunity to all spells except magic missile, protection from evil, and maze.

As well as discharging electricity, a boggart has a one-per-day confusion attack, which is triggered when the boggart makes loud yelling, screaming, shouting, banging and similar noises for two rounds in a row. Successfully attacking the boggart during this time foils the confusion. If not foiled, everyone within 30’ radius must save versus magic or be confused for 7-12 rounds. The more boggarts make a noise at once, the harder the save. Although the confusion is triggered by sound, someone does not need to hear the sounds to continue to be affected by the confusion. Making a noise doesn’t make a boggart visible, so it can trigger its confusion while invisible.

The boggarts encountered in WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun pretend to be goblins who beg to be spared if they surrender their delicious rat, all while trying to lure the party into the area so that they can begin their confusion attack and then feast.

The boggart was reprinted in the Monster Manual II with exactly the same stats but a new picture, showing it as a humanoid holding knives and wearing a loincloth. It isn’t clear why it is carrying knives, since it doesn’t have any weapon attacks. We can perhaps imagine this boggart using its short knives as conduits to hurl bolts of lighting at ranged targets.​

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Boggart, Monster Manual II (1983)​

The Ecology of the Will-o-Wisp in Dragon #99 provides considerable additional detail on will-o’-wisp reproduction and the life-cycle of the boggart. According to the Ecology article, or more accurately, according to a manuscript on will-o’-wisps discovered by the characters in the Ecology article, will-o’-wisps have three genders. Since there is no discernable difference between the three genders, it might be more accurate to state that three will-o’-wisps are involved in the process of producing a boggart offspring.

The mating process appears to be cyclic. Will-o’-wisps rarely congregate in numbers, but when they do, they tend to mate three or more times in the space of a single week. The article suggests that the 10% chance of encountering more than one will-o’-wisp represents the chances of encountering a group that has just mated or is about to. This means that there is an additional chance (25%) of 1-4 infant boggarts being in the area.

When will-o’-wisps are about to procreate, they do so deep within an impenetrable marsh, as the process leaves them vulnerable. The three parent will-o’-wisps merge, combining their lattices into one. The combined being flares to an extreme brightness and a moment later splits back into three individuals, leaving behind an infant boggart. While merged, the will-o’-wisps share their entire store of knowledge and memories. The parents create a new lattice which contains the instinctual knowledge needed by the boggart, but none of the memories of its parents. The energy used to create the new lattice is drawn mostly from the Negative Energy Plane, but partially from the three parents, leaving them with half their hit points, and unable to manifest their electrical attack for roughly two hours. For a will-o’-wisp hunter, this is an ideal time to attack one of the creatures.

A baby boggart looks like a newborn humanoid, but with no features specific to any particular humanoid race. Within two weeks the infant boggart grows to the same size as a two-year old human child. During this time, the boggart is fed energy by its will-o’-wisp parents and does not need to feed on material substance. The three parents share nursing duties. After the first two weeks, a boggart begins to randomly change into will-o’-wisp form, infrequently at first, and never for very long. The first time it changes back, it can take on any humanoid form it has seen; the more humanoids it has witnessed, the wider the variety of forms it might take. Each time it changes back from its will-o’-wisp state, its humanoid form is slightly larger.

A two-week old boggart already has a rudimentary electrical attack which does half the damage of an adult (1-6 points). Like mature boggarts, it is able to use this as a ranged attack every other round, attacking a target up to ten feet away. It isn’t very accurate though, so the target gets two saves, the first to avoid the ranged attack and the second to reduce the damage to half (1-3 points). Once a young boggart manifests the ability to wield electricity as an attack, it is abandoned by its parents and must now fend for itself. It now needs to consume meat and energy, so it hunts for creatures from which it can absorb life energy and then eat. Groups of young boggarts born around the same time tend to stay together, either for social reasons or because they are more effective hunters in groups.

By the time it reaches two years in age, a boggart’s electrical attack is as strong as that of an adult boggart, and it has developed the ability to cause confusion and become invisible. The frequency of its changes in form will also have increased. A two-year old boggart matches the statistics presented in the Monster Manual II. When it reaches approximately five years old, a boggart makes a final transition and becomes an adult will-o’-wisp.

The Ecology article suggests that a boggart’s change in form requires the literal disintegration of the boggart and the conversion of the matter making up the body into energy. The creature’s energy lattice form remembers the position of every atom in the boggart’s body and when it changes form again, the body is rebuilt using this remembered template. The energy released when the material body disintegrates is channeled into the Negative Energy Plane. When the boggart’s body is recreated, this energy is withdrawn from the Negative Energy Plane, but because the boggart is slightly larger each time, some additional energy is taken from the surroundings, causing a temperature drop. The change in temperature is noticeable to anyone within thirty feet of the creature when it changes form.

During the boggart’s final change into a will-o’-wisp, not all of the energy is transferred into the Negative Energy Plane. A portion of the energy is instead released into the surrounding area. This sharp temperature spike can be felt by anyone within 200 feet and causes 1-6 points of damage to anyone within thirty feet who is not protected against damage from heat.

Also according to the Ecology article in Dragon #99, the boggart’s confusion ability is a manifestation of the will-o’-wisp’s limited telepathy. Despite the amount of noise a boggart makes to trigger the confusion, the effect is caused by telepathy, and not by the noise itself. While blocking hearing does nothing to prevent the effect of the confusion, magic that shields against telepathy does prevent the confusion attack from working.

Dungeon #5 has an adventure—The Rotting Willow—that revolves around a trio of boggarts as the antagonists. It takes place in a village named Rotting Willow, which sounds like exactly the sort of name to avoid if you expect to attract any tourists. The boggarts have been haranguing the villagers for some time and are immediately attracted to the “strong life forces” that the player characters possess. In the guise of a child or a demihuman, one of the boggarts will attempt (and likely fail) to steal something from the PCs, in the hope that it will be pursued. The boggarts’ goal is to lead their prey into a specially prepared area, where they can use their confusion and then pick off their targets one at a time. Nearby quicksand and pools of deep water aid them in this goal. The adventure provides a detailed breakdown of the boggarts’ strategies and tactics, and they have a few magic items available to them, to make this a fairly challenging scenario.

I8: Ravager of Time features a boggart named Gheerha who is indebted to an annis hag. Gheerha assists the hag by tracking and following the party of adventurers and then uses its confusion ability. The boggart isn’t loyal enough to fight for long—once wounded, it flees. The encounter glosses over the fact that the hag and her other allies appear to have no immunity to the boggart’s confusion and would likely be affected.

An article titled The Folk of the Faerie Kingdom in Dragon #155 was published after the launch of 2nd Edition, but was clearly written for 1st Edition. It suggests that boggarts are an intermediate form between buckawns and will-o’-wisps. Confusingly, given that the article is a catalog of faerie folk, it refers to boggarts as semi-undead. Contradicting the Ecology article, the text here suggests that boggarts simply need to absorb a certain number of hit dice before transforming into a will-o’-wisp. It also suggests that when the boggart uses its electricity attack at range it is then unable to absorb the life energy of its target. Why this would be the case is not clear.

No stats for the boggart were ever published in 2nd Edition. This doesn’t stop the 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms product FR8: Cities of Mystery from including three boggarts (using 1st Edition stats) as the main antagonists in an interesting adventure titled The Maltese Roc. The trio have taken over a shop catering for adventurers and take turns pretending to be the previous halfling proprietor. Adding a layer of complexity, the local thieves guild has become aware of the boggarts’ ruse, but has decided—at least for now—to work with the boggarts. Figuring out what is really going on is likely to pose an engaging challenge to any group of adventurers.

After these residual appearances of the 1st Edition boggart in 2nd Edition, it was dropped almost entirely from D&D lore. The 1996 Forgotten Realms novel Realms of the Underdark likens a line of dancing sparks to “a brood of will-o’-wisp younglings” suggesting that in the 2nd Edition era, the offspring of will-o’-wisps are simply smaller will-o’-wisps. (This is certainly the case by the time we get to the 3rd Edition Ecology article.)

In 2005, more than twenty years after its Monster Manual II appearance, the boggart suddenly enjoyed a brief 3rd Edition resurgence in Adventure Locales: The Silent Manse, an article on the Wizards of the Coast website. The boggart in the article co-habits a moody house with a brownie. The brownie remains friends with it despite the boggart’s mean temper, tendency to break things, and slovenly nature. The 3rd Edition boggart is a direct update of the Monster Manual II version. It remains a small humanoid with 6 hit dice, a shocking touch, an electric bolt attack, spell immunities, a noisy confusion power that gets stronger with numbers, and an unstable form that frequently switches between small humanoid and will-o’-wisp bodies. New to this version is a protective deflection shield boosting armor class and a tongues ability replacing the boggart’s limited ESP so that it can communicate. Unlike the earlier boggart, this version does not need to feast on negative emotions. It still behaves in mean and spiteful ways towards others, but simply because it wants to.

The boggart is described as a disheveled gnome wearing only dirty leather breeches and with wild hair and large eyes. As it did previously, a boggart uses its shape-shifting to lure victims into situations where it can cause them harm. If a foe proves immune to electricity the boggart will flee (usually taking will-o’-wisp form to do so). The 3rd Edition description does mention the boggart’s potential status as an immature will-o’-wisp, but it also says that elven lore classifies the boggart as a baleful fey creature of its own kind, with only a superficial resemblance to a will-o’-wisp.​


Will-o’-wisp variations
The article Also Known As… the Orc in Dragon #158 provides a delightful list of alternative names for will-o’-wisps, based on the folklore of different regions. These are: nimbleman (Celtic); swetylko (Czechoslovakian); elf fire, jack o’ lanthorn, joan-in-the-wad and spunkies (English); annequins, chere dansante, culards, eclaireux, fioles, loumerottes and tan noz (French); heerwische, huckepoten, irrichter and luctenmaneken (German); fuochi fatui (Italian); ignis fatuus (Latin, but first used in Germany); rusalky (Russian); chandelas (Sardinian); irrbloss, lygteman, and lyktgubbe (Scandinavian); merry dancers (Scottish); and ellylldan (Welsh).

None of the above are specifically variations of the will-o’wisp, but the same article notes that will-o’-wisps living over water are known as Saint Elmo’s Fire. They appear before violent storms and feed off the life-force of dying sailors. The will-o’-wisp encountered in Scavenger Hunt in I13: Adventure Pack I is likely an example of this variation, as it appears over open water.

The 1st Edition Manual of the Planes lists elemental will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for the Plane of Water.

A variant will-o’-wisp can be found in Old Man Katan and the Incredible, Edible, Dancing Mushroom Band in Dungeon #41. This specimen has the ability to subject anyone watching it for more that two rounds to a suggestion, which it uses to great effect to lead visitors into quicksand.

The 2nd Edition adventure The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga houses three mutated will-o’-wisps. Their mutation has given them a red color and the ability to imitate humanoid cries. They will attack only visitors who steal a pouch of gold coins left by Baba Yaga as a test of honesty.

The Razing of Redshore in Dungeon #92 features a fiendish will-o’-wisp named Msshila. As well as being notable as a variation on ordinary wisps, Msshila is a 12th-level sorcerer and the first D&D will-o’-wisp with a name. Although there are earlier examples of named boggarts, it seems no wisp was given a name before 2002.​

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Soul of Rage, Dragon: Monster Ecologies (2007)​

When the Ecology of the Will-o’-Wisp was reprinted in Dragon: Monster Ecologies, a stat block for an advanced variant called a soul of rage was added. According to this, will-o’-wisps are widespread throughout the planes, with a number of local and planar variants. The soul of rage is a half-fiend will-o’-wisp found on the lower planes. The illustration looks more merry than raging.​


Will-o’-wisp relatives
More than a dozen relatives of the will-o’-wisp are detailed in the campaign setting sections below: black souls, burning souls, firestars, forest wisps, ghostlights, gloams, nyths, swamp ghosts, will-o’-dawns, will-o’-deeps, will-o’-mists, will-o’-seas, will-o’-shadows, wychglows and wychlamps. Another relative, the hounds of law, are dealt with below.​

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Hound of Law, The Rod of Seven Parts (1996)​

Hounds of law are not specific to a particular setting. They were introduced in The Rod of Seven Parts and reprinted in the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four. The hounds are variations of the will-o’-wisp created using a breeding program by the vaati, a race of immortal humanoids known as the Wind Dukes. Hounds are used as trackers, guards, and messengers by the vaati, working individually or sometimes in packs. In its natural form, a hound of law looks like a tiny version of a will-o’-wisp, a faintly luminous sphere no brighter than a firefly. In this form it can vibrate rapidly to produce sound, giving it a limited form of speech. A hound of law is unable to attack while in its natural form but can turn invisible at will.

A hound of law is able to take the form of an animal, and can change form as frequently as once per round. The animal it changes into is an especially gifted version of that animal, but can have any appearance from a filthy feline to a well-groomed, muscular mutt. If it returns to its natural form, after a few rounds it regains some of its health.

Like will-o’-wisps, hounds of law are unaffected by all spells except protection from evil, magic missile, and maze. Almost all hounds are lawful neutral, but some are lawful good. They get an attack bonus when fighting chaotic creatures, and chaotic opponents suffer a penalty to attacks and damage. A hound has keen senses, tracking using sight or scent, and is hard to surprise. It can detect invisible opponents 50% of the time. So good is the hound’s ability to track that it can even follow the magical residue left behind by a teleporting creature and attempt to teleport after it. A hound can move to the Astral or Ethereal Plane at will and retains its ability to become invisible while in animal form. Although the stat block lists hounds as carnivores, no indication is given as to the source of their meat.​

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Hound of Law, Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four (1998)​

The Monstrous Compendium Volume Two suggests that water weirds and will-o’-wisps may have similar diets, feasting on the energies of the dying, but doesn’t suggest that they are related.

There are a number of D&D creatures that look like will-o’-wisps but which are not explicitly directly related. A haunt is a restless spirit (introduced in A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade) which has two forms: a nebulous image of its former body, or a hovering ball of light identical to a will-o’-wisp. Radiance quasi-elementals (Dragon #125) resemble will-o’-wisps if they reduce the speed of their constant spinning. While in spectral form, the gnome vampire (from MC10: Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix) is a sphere of light that looks like a will-o’-wisp. The dream stalker (from Requiem: The Grim Harvest) is sometimes mistaken for will-o’-wisp, as is the ghoul frog from Dragon #247.

The Campaign Workbook in Dungeon #126 described the physical phenomenon of corpse lights, which are static discharges that bounce from tree to tree and along the surface of water. They are a harmless natural occurrence triggered by decaying plants. This phenomenon is often mistaken for will-o’-wisps, so much so that the name is synonymous for both.

Two of the new familiars from Power Play: Arcane’s Gloaming Path in Dragon #382 are similar to will-o’-wisps. Muse sprites are spirits flitting all over the Feywild. Although resembling a winged humanoid when bound into a familiar, they take the form of flickering motes of light. They continue to radiate dim light in familiar form. Moon wisps (also known as Maiden’s kisses) are found in the primeval forests of the Feywild in the dead of winter. They have only a pale luminescence, so look like patches of moonlight flitting through the night. They are known to torment evil predators, especially lycanthropes.

There are surprising number of other types of “wisps” in 4th Edition sources, but none of them appear to be related to the will-o’-wisp: dark pact wisps (CORE2-8: Enemy of My Enemy), dust wisps (The Plane Below), fell taint wisps (Dragon #376), forge wisp wraiths (Dungeon #167), silt wisps (Dungeon #202), spellfire wisps (CORE2-8: Enemy of My Enemy), star wisps (Dungeon #207), tainted wisps (Dragon #382), tempest wisps (Monster Manual 2), wisp wraiths (Open Grave), and wyrm-wisps (Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons).​


Will-o’-wisp parts
The 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide suggests will-o’-wisp essence as an ingredient for a potion of levitation. According to the 1st Edition Unearthed Arcana, will-o’-wisp (or boggart) essence is the only thing (short of an alter reality or wish spell) that can defeat the magic of a secret page spell, revealing the true contents of a page. In 2nd Edition, the essence no longer defeats a secret page spell, but has become one of the components needed to cast the spell (along with powdered herring scales). In 3rd Edition, boggart essence is no longer an option, but the spell still needs will-o’-wisp essence (and the herring scales).

Despite the apparent usefulness of will-o’-wisp essence, nowhere in D&D lore is the process of extracting it described. We do have a price though: 10 gold pieces per drop of essence. This is according to the description of the Sam Shock’s flashlight spell in Polyhedron #50, for which a drop of essence is the material component. There aren’t many drops of essence per will-o’-wisp, at least based on the price of 75 gold pieces listed for a whole essence in Player’s Options: Spells & Magic.

The candle of pyrotechnics from Dragon #179 requires will-o’-wisp (or boggart) ichor to make. It isn’t clear how ichor is related to essence. Does one first somehow reduce a will-o’-wisp to ichor, and then distill the ichor to get the essence? How much essence can one get from each wisp? How much ichor is needed for one candle? So many questions!

Better Living Through Alchemy in Dragon #130 reveals that two ounces of boggart bone is required to make dust of tracelessness. A whole boggart skeleton is needed to make the enchanted blue dragon’s tooth from Dragon #98.

The organs of the will-o’-wisp variant known as a firestar can be used as ingredients for the ink used to scribe scrolls of affect normal fires, dancing lights, and detect magic. One of the organs can also be used as the material component for dancing lights. The MC3: Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix puts the price on these organs as 1-5 gp each.​


Will-o’-wisps and other monsters
According to The Ecology of the Will-o-Wisp (the 1985 version from Dragon #99) few creatures are found in the vicinity of will-o’-wisps because most are regarded as easy prey and are swiftly killed and consumed. It is usually only creatures that the wisp cannot easily detect, are intelligent enough to evade it, or creatures too powerful for the will-o’-wisp to take on, such as a dragon. The Ecology article suggests that when rolling for random encounters in wisp territory, 20% of encounters should be with something fleeing from the will-o’-wisp, and 80% of encounters should be with nothing, because the wisps have already killed it.

The 2005 Ecology of the Will-o’-Wisp notes that wisps are capricious in nature, and while they are willing to work with other creatures, most partnerships are short lived. Adventurers should strike deals with will-o’-wisps at their own peril!

The Monstrous Compendium Volume Two hypothesizes that in the deepest, darkest swamps and jungles, there may be vastly oversized shambling mounds living in symbiosis with will-o’-wisps. An article in Dragon #288 also pairs will-o’-wisps with shambling mounds, suggesting that a cunning wisp will lead adventurers into the shambler’s territory, and then use its electrical attack to boost the shambling mound’s Constitution, making it more likely to overcome the opponents.

The otyugh is another creature that will occasionally exist in symbiosis with a will-o’-wisp, according to The Ecology of the Gulguthra (Dragon #96).

Veeru are small creatures, related to pseudodragons, resembling miniature gold dragons. According to Dragon #86, they sometimes work in concert with will-o’-wisps.

The will-o’-wisps in GA2: Swamplight are reluctant allies of nearby rakshasas. While they would prefer it if the rakshasas moved to another swamp, they accept payment to lead trespassers into danger. If it seems that their efforts to keep out unwanted adventurers are failing, one of them will speed to the rakshasas to warn them.

In GR4: Treasure Chest there is a will-o’-wisp sharing a cave with a behir. The two creatures have reached an uneasy truce only because they are unable to hurt each other. Another creature that cannot hurt, but is also immune to the will-o’-wisp is the tome guardian (introduced in FR4: The Magister). The tome guardian is an elemental creature summoned to guard a particular object, but it isn’t clear from the text why it is immune to a wisp’s attack nor why it is important for anyone to know that it is.

The wisp in the Reflections Side Trek in Dungeon #65 has a captive gibbering mouther that it uses as a replacement for the traditional quicksand. It lures wanderers into their shared cavern and then feeds on the dying emanations of the mouther’s meals. In ALQ4: Secrets of the Lamp, will-o’-wisps are included in a list of creatures that might be servants or companions of djinn. In the novel The Paladins, one of the protagonists somehow manages to mistake beholders for huge will-o’-wisps.

The will-o’-wisp in the adventure The Dying of the Light in Dungeon #84 co-habits with some vampire spawn, attacking opponents only while they are already dealing with the vampires. According to the 2005 Ecology of the Will-o’-Wisp, it is not uncommon for a wisp to cooperate with undead creatures haunting burial sites, particularly ghouls or wights. The wisp uses its light to lead the undead to trespassers and then feeds off the victims’ fear and horror.

The Ecology of the Mummy (in Dragon #300) suggests bog mummies as the perfect companion for a will-o’-wisp, looking in combination exactly like a traveler carrying a lantern. The mummy can call out to attract targets close enough for its despair ability to take effect, at which point the wisp can begin to feed.

The Treasure of the Black Veils, a 3rd Edition adventure released on WotC’s website, has two will-o’-wisps allied with a spirit naga. The wisps are masquerading as a legendary local ghost known to guard lost riches, in order to lure treasure hunters to their death in a trapped lair.

The ancient wisps in Strike on Shatterhorn in Dungeon #115 are loosely allied with a band of half-orcs led by a hill giant barbarian. This relationship is described as tenuous, and the will-o’-wisps are quick to flee if the giant is slain.

Lords of Darkness mentions particularly corrupt drow who use their dancing lights to drive prey into the lairs of real will-o’-wisps.

Dragon #331 states that green hags have an affinity for will-o’-wisps, having an alien cruelty in common. The 4th Edition Living Forgotten Realms adventure DALE1-4: The Lady in Flames has a will-o’-wisp assisting a howling hag.

The 4th Edition preview book Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters describes the underground fomorian kingdoms of the Feywild as lit by will-o’-wisps.

For their official 4th Edition debut (in P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens) three will-o’-wisps were teamed up with a trio of chuuls. The encounter also notes that these wisps have recently lured a troll scout to its death. The suggested encounter groups in the monster description included will-o’-wisps working with a bog hag and a feymire crocodile, and with trolls and a shambling mound variant. Underdark has will-o’-wisps and quicklings allied with an adult wretch dragon.

In the Monster Manual 2 will-o’-wisps are encountered with eladrin, gnomes, werewolf lords, and spriggans. Monster Vault describes hobgoblins cruising through the forests of the Feywild on floating crystals, hunting with pet will-o’-wisps. The Ecology of the Gargoyle in Dragon #423 suggests that a feywild variant of the gargoyle might cavort with will-o’-wisps in swampy ruins.

In SPEC1-3: Ghosts of the Past: Siren’s Lure, will-o’-wisps are encountered with banshees and blood amniotes.

The 5th Edition Monster Manual lists hags, oni, black dragons and evil cultists as creatures that will-o’-wisps will work with to ambush victims. While the allied creature attacks, the wisp hovers above, consuming the agony of a last breath and savoring the light going out in a creature’s eyes.

Two will-o’-wisps serve a Thayan human mage in Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage.

In DDAL8-18: Moving Day, the Death Knight Hannelore Shadowdusk is able to call on the will-o’-wisps of Shadowdusk Hold to swarm and attack his foes.

In CCC-ODFC03-01: A Momentary Lapse of Reason there is a will-o’-wisp who is the spirit of a githyanki traveling with a berbalang. An ancient firbolg crone in CCC-BMG-MOON17-2: Shed Light, Shed Blood has a will-o’-wisp instead of a heart!​


Will-o’-wisps and gods
The Ecology of the Will-o-Wisp article in Dragon #99 highlights the lack of information about will-o’-wisps’ gods and philosophical views. Twenty years later, the Ecology of the Will-o’-Wisp article in Dragon #328 concurs that wisps have no religious beliefs and do not worship any gods. There is also no record of a will-o’-wisp ever returning from the dead as a result of divine magic, either because they have no souls (as they themselves seem to believe) or because deceased wisps simply do not wish to return.

Although will-o’-wisps do not have or serve a deity of their own, they do have some links to the gods. The original Deities & Demigods discusses omens—signs or foretellings provided by the gods—and gives the example of the arrival of a will-o’-wisp indicating that a building will burn to the ground within seven days. In a section on divine abilities, 2nd Edition Legends & Lore notes that all gods can understand and speak any language. This specifically includes unusual languages such as the light and color based language of will-o’-wisp. One imagines Thor changing color and brightness as he exchanges pleasantries with a wisp.

Dragon #328 observes that worshipers of evil gods sometimes seek out alliances with will-o’-wisps. Wisps, for their part, are possibly at their most trustworthy when working with evil allies; they eagerly aid devotees of faiths dedicated to lies and trickery. That said, there are also many good and neutral faiths that count will-o’-wisp as allies or symbols. The chaotic good demigod Syeret, from Races of Destiny, uses an advanced 18 hit dice will-o’-wisp as his herald. Eye of the Night in Dragon #340 details the worship of the neutral moon goddess Linara. Her church sometimes depicts her as a will-o’-wisp and she counts the creatures as her allies.​

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Burning Eye, Dragon #338 (2005)​

Boccob, the neutral god of magic from the Greyhawk setting, has as one of his better-known servants a celestial will-o’-wisp sorcerer named Burning Eye, detailed in Dragon #338. Burning Eye looks like a silver-colored flame with one staring eye in the middle of it. Like other wisps, it can change color and shape, even splitting into a group of smaller flames, but there is always a single staring eye in the center. Neutral in alignment and aloof in temperament, Burning Eye always considers the effects of its actions on magic and on the balance. It does attack if roused to anger. Burning Eye will act as a planar ally to those willing to donate sufficient magic items to Boccob’s faithful.

Perhaps because the gods of the Forgotten Realms have been detailed far more thoroughly than the pantheons of other settings, there are numerous links between will-o’-wisps and Faerûnian deities. Mystra has been described in appearance as a prismatic will-o’-wisp since an early description of the faiths of Faerûn in Dragon #54. She also takes this form in the novel Cloak of Shadows. According to Faiths and Avatars, after Midnight took Mystra’s place this appearance fell out of favor, but Netheril: Empire of Magic notes that Mystryl, the incarnation of the goddess of magic that predated Mystra, also manifested as a prismatic wisp. In FOR13: Secrets of the Magister it is noted that a failed Magister may become a will-o’-wisp as an alternative to perishing utterly.

Lliira is another Faerûnian goddess who manifests as a will-o’-wisp. She leaves a sparkling trail, and can release dancing lights at will to light areas or to form symbols and words. In will-o’-wisp form Lliira can speak normally and usually does so to the audio accompaniment of a female voice singing wordlessly from a distance.

The demipower Eshowdow (detailed in Powers & Pantheons) sometimes shows his favor through the appearance of will-o’-wisps.

Faiths & Avatars notes that the Tower of Skulls in Ormath, an abbey dedicated to the worship of Kelemvor, is guarded by mysterious creatures that resemble wisps.​

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Glamer, Dragon #299 (2002)​

Will-o’-wisps are one of many different creatures sometimes used by the goddess Leira as her agents (Faiths & Avatars). Dragon #299 describes outsiders known as glamers. They are said to be the incorporeal remains of the goddess of illusions, Leira and are masters of illusion, capable of deceiving and manipulating others with ease. When not shrouded in illusion, glamers look like ethereal, mist-shrouded creatures and are said to be akin to will-o’-wisps.

Dragon #54 mentions that Selûne sends “moondust” to guide worshipers along difficult paths. This dust looks like tiny will-o’-wisps glowing with moonlight. Faiths & Avatars calls these “moon motes” and refers to them as manifestations of Selûne. They exude drops of pearly liquid which Selûnite clergy collect for use as an ingredient in potions and healing salves. In Dragon #285, the Silverstar prestige class gives Selûne’s faithful the ability to project from their eyes luminous balls resembling will-o’-wisps.​


Will-o’-wisps and magic
Since the 1st Edition Players Handbook, the glow of will-o’-wisps has been the benchmark for what can be done with the dancing lights spell. The spell description says that the spell can be used to create up to four will-o’-wisp-sized glowing spheres of light. The accompanying illustration shows five balls of light, so we must assume that it shows a magic-user casting dancing lights at a will-o’-wisp.​

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Dancing Lights, Players Handbook (1978)​

Polyhedron #38 confirms that dancing lights can be effective, stating that dancing lights can be used to confuse attacking wisps. This is repeated, many years later, in Class Acts: Apprentice Tricks (Dragon #325), which says that even a real will-o’-wisp could mistake the dancing lights for four of its kin. In the Player’s Handbook v.3.5 the spell description for dancing lights notes that it can be made permanent with the permanency spell, offering the possibility of enduring fake wisps.

While protection from lightning has always warded against electrical attacks, the 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook makes it explicit that it provides complete invulnerability to the will-o’-wisp’s attack. Similarly, the spell Sam Shock’s lightning rod from Polyhedron #50 creates a rod that protects against electricity. The ring of the little people from Dragon #187 and the thunderstrike rod from Dragon #232 can also both be used to make someone immune to the attacks of a wisp.

The Sage Advice article in Dragon #145 clarifies that a wisp’s immunity to spells does not dispel summoned creatures on contact, as creatures with sufficient magic resistance do.

We covered spell components that are wisp parts above, but Ratecliffe’s deadly finger, a true dweomer from DM’s Option: High-Level Campaigns, requires as one of its material components two copper coins surrendered by a wisp.

As part of their conscription process into the ranks of the Talons, the soldiers of Ravenloft’s domain of Falkovnia must drink a specially brewed potion. According to Death Unchained, swamp water from the lair of a will-o’-wisp is a required ingredient of this potion. The potion drives mad many of those who imbibe it.

The article If You Wish Upon a Star… in Dragon #146, lists a will-o’-wisp as one of the creatures that could occupy a magic item and grant wishes to the possessor of that item. The accompanying text makes it clear that these would be unusual examples of their kind, as wisps cannot typically grant wishes.

A captive will-o’-wisp can be used to power a spell mirror, as described in 3 Wizards Too Many in Dragon #196. This mirror has the power to reflect a specific magical effect while carried, but is easily broken. They can also be used to make lamps. An article detailing the Hall of the Frostmaiden in Dragon #367 describes the Promenade of Auril’s Winter Hall as lit by lamps made from will-o’-wisps. Similarly, gray slaad in DDAL8-17: The Tower of Ahghairon use wisp-powered candle lamps.

The article Charging isn’t Cheap in Dragon #101 suggests that a wand of lightning can be fully recharged by throwing it through a will-o’-wisp. The text notes that the throw needs to actually hit the creature, but that even on a successful strike, the wand will still pass through the wisp’s body, recharging as it does.

AC4: The Book of Marvelous Magic describes a flute of danger which attracts dangerous and hostile woodland beings, including will-o’-wisps.

The paddleboard of wondrous transformation (from Dragon #134) has a 2% chance of changing the person paddled into a will-o’-wisp for an hour. The wisp shot seeker power from Dragon #413 temporarily polymorphs an opponent into a will-o’-wisp like ball of light (technically something “not unlike” a wisp) cursed to distract its own allies.

A will-o’-wisp could be used to detect something made of adamantine. According to Volo’s Guide to All Things Magical, adamantine is black, but has a clear green sheen under candlelight and a purple-white in the light given off by will-o’-wisps and other magic radiances.

The phantom light spell from the Wizard’s Spell Compendium Volume Three is a spell restricted to witches. It creates a light—similar in shape and size to a will-o’-wisp—that follows the witch around. Wisplights, mentioned in Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves, seem to be similar. They are described as glimmering lights that meander about flower beds at night, magically shaped to appear as tiny winged elves or pegataurs.

A magestar—a magic item described in FRQ1: Haunted Halls of Eveningstar—looks exactly like a will-o’-wisp once activated. It is able to turn the energy from spells targeted at it into healing, to assist the owner of the magestar when needed.

There is a gallery of orb sculptures in the Ravenloft supplement The Shadow Rift. These look like will-o’-wisps and are capable of housing the spirits of creatures that touch them, effectively transforming them into an incorporeal undead creature much like a will-o’-wisp.

The 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook II mentions a magic item known as a wisp crown. The spirits of ancient advisors are trapped within “will-o’-wisp like glowing balls” on the crown, and can provide advice to the wearer of the crown.

The 4th Edition Adventurer’s Vault 2 introduces essence of the wisp as a head slot item. This is a glowing ball of light that looks like a wisp and circles the possessor’s head. It grants a bonus to will saves and pulls closer opponents attacking from range.​

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Essence of the Wisp, Adventurer’s Vault 2 (2009)​

Tomb of Annihilation, the 5th Edition adventure, has a shadowfell wardrobe which summons four invisible will-o’-wisps to attack whoever opens it.

The Adventurers League scenario DDEX1-12: Raider of the Twilight Marsh features a device (called “the device”) that can be used to capture will-o’-wisps. It looks like a large, rune-covered iron lantern, and can be activated to try to draw a nearby wisp into it. While it contains one or more will-o’-wisps, the device blasts out arcs of lightning at anyone within 60 feet, unless someone constantly focuses on “tuning” the device to prevent this from happening. Captured wisps can make three attempts to escape, after which they are stuck inside for the next 24 hours.​


Al-Qadim
Cities of Bone lists will-o’-wisps as inhabitants of the catacombs of Moradask, City of the Sun.


Birthright
There is a captive will-o’-wisp in the adventure The Sword of Roele and the unpublished sourcebook Blood Spawn: Creatures of Light and Shadow confirms that wisps are found in the Birthright setting. Of more interest, however, is the related will-o’-shadow. Blood Spawn presents this variation of the will-o’-wisp as “will o’shadow” with no hyphens, but we’ll refer to it as a will-o’-shadow to be consistent with 5th Edition conventions.

Although it was never published, Wizards of the Coast released the completed text of Blood Spawn in 2003. Unfortunately, it was canceled before the artwork was commissioned, so we don’t get an illustration of the will-o’-shadow. From the description, it seems identical to a will-o’-wisp with the exception that the apparent size of the glowing sphere is linked to the appearance of a portal to Cerilia’s Shadow World. The larger the light, the sooner a portal will open. Where will-o’-wisps communicate by varying their color and brightness, will-o’-shadows communicate with each other using patterns of movement. This language is too complex to be understood by other creatures. The motion of will-o’-shadows is described as floating and bouncing, suggesting that they have different styles of movement even when not communicating. Will-o’-shadows appear in groups of one to three.

Based on its stat block, the will-o’-shadow is rarer, a bit smaller and slightly less intelligent than the will-o’-wisp. Not as malevolent as its cousin, the will-o’-shadow is chaotic neutral in alignment. It has the same combat statistics but an energy drain attack instead of an electrical one. This energy drain is linked to the creature’s unusual diet and home in the Shadow World. This is essentially Birthright’s version of the feywild, but the barrier between Cerilia and the Shadow World is beginning to break down. A will-o’-shadow is able to pass through the boundary between the two worlds while a portal is still forming, sometimes as much as three hours before the portal opens. Will-o’-shadows subsist on Cerilian life energy, and will try to absorb as much as possible before the open portal inexorably pulls them back into the Shadow World. It is the will-o’-shadow’s efforts to resist this pull that makes their movement seem bouncy.

Will-o’-shadows can feed off the life energy of both flora and fauna. Plants near a recently closed portal from which will-o’-shadows emerged are wilted and brown and will take several days to recover. If animals or humanoids are nearby, the will-o’-shadow will seek them out, instinctively drawn to the strongest source of life energy. Will-o’-shadows can use their energy drain attack in either a passive or active manner. If they are simply feeding, then creatures within a quarter mile must save against poison or suffer 2d6 damage, feeling strangely weaker as a result. After feeding in this manner, the will-o’-shadow will appear noticeably brighter. They do not use their energy drain aggressively unless first attacked. If provoked, they swoop in to make physical contact with a target, each successful touch drains 2d8 points of damage.

Like their relatives, will-o’-shadows are immune to almost all spells. Only detect invisibility and shadow magic are known to work against them. In combat they are able to camouflage themselves using blur, color spray, dancing lights or hypnotic pattern. The presence of a strong magical light source renders a will-o’-shadow invisible until it is extinguished. If reduced to five hit points or fewer, a will-o’-shadow flees its opponents.​


Blackmoor
Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor lists will-o’-wisps as a special monster for encounters in the mountains of Blackmoor. The 2006 version of Temple of the Frog lists wisps on the encounter tables for the Great Dismal Swamp. In 2007, Wizards of the Coast released a free Return to the Temple of the Frog adventure on their website. This also lists will-o’-wisps in the encounter tables for the swamps surrounding the temple.​


Council of Wyrms
The Council of Wyrms boxed set places will-o’-wisps in the temperate mountains of the Io’s Blood Isles.​


Dark Sun
It isn’t surprising that will-o’-wisps are not mentioned as inhabitants of Athas prior to the publication of Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs, since their typical environment did not exist on early maps of the planet. With the introduction of the wetter lowland regions to the northwest, there was space for Athasian swamplands, and with them, will-o’-wisp inhabitants.​


Dragonlance
Will-o’-wisps appeared in many early Dragonlance adventures, starting with DL1: Dragons of Despair, where they are a random wilderness encounter. In this first appearance we learn that the creatures were spawned on Krynn at the time of the Cataclysm. In DL7: Dragons of Light there are will-o’-wisps in the salt marshes located in the Wilds of Ergoth. In both DL8: Dragons of War and DL13: Dragons of Truth wisps are listed as a potential random encounter (as many as eight at once in Dragons of War, and as many as fourteen in Dragons of Truth). In DL10: Dragons of Dreams, will-o’-wisps are found in Silvanesti’s Bleeding Woods, in the Swampmire and in a maze in the High Clerist’s Tower—or at least in the versions of those locations conjured up by the elf king Lorac’s nightmares.

Dragonlance adventures and accessories published for 2nd Edition continued to feature will-o’-wisps: in the deep swamps of Northern Estwilde in DLE1: In Search of Dragons, in the nations of the Imperial League and the Blackwater Glade of Southern Hosk in Time of the Dragon, and in a Silvanesti swamp in DLS2: Tree Lords. The encounter tables in MC4: Monstrous Compendium Dragonlance Appendix locate will-o’wisps in Krynn’s temperate mountains, temperate marshes and swamps, and the surfaces of cold or temperate waters.

For a few years in the late 1990s, the Dragonlance setting became Dragonlance: Fifth Age, and used the SAGA System instead of the D&D rules. The Bestiary published for this version of the setting includes the will-o’-wisp (but spelled in the hyphenless 2nd Edition style). Comparing the stat block isn’t very helpful, but the creature still has invisibility, a lightning attack, and immunity to some magic (mentalism and sorcery), normal weapons, and poison. These will-o’-wisps congregate in greater numbers (a dozen or more), but don’t work together. They still lure victims into danger but are timid, fleeing rather than engaging in battle. The Bestiary suggests some new lore, listing them in a section on “incorporeal undead” and recounting stories that will-o’-wisps are undead spirits of local drowning victims. Alternatively, it is suggested that they are bits of sentient magical energy.​

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The Bestiary (1998)​

For most of 3rd Edition, Dragonlance game products were produced under license. Will-o’-wisps appear in several Sovereign Press titles, including Key of Destiny, where they are found in the Peak of Malystryx, and Spectre of Sorrows where they can be encountered in the Blood Sea’s Mire and Nordmaar’s Great Moors. In the 3rd Edition update of the original series of modules, will-o’-wisps appear in Dragons of Winter and Dragons of Spring. Similar to 1st Edition, they can be found in Ergoth’s Salt Marches, in the Tower of the High Clerist, and in the Swampmire west of Silvanost.

No article on Krynn’s will-o’-wisps would be complete without mentioning that Krynn’s Qualinesti elves have a will-o’-wisp cake, a traditional fluffy egg-white confection served to celebrate the sacred holiday of Kith-Kanandras. The name of the baked good is associated with its decadence, according to The History of Dragonlance.​


Eberron
The Eberron Campaign Setting places will-o’-wisps in the Shadow Marches. Sharn: City of Towers suggests that there are will-o’-wisps moving invisibly among the citizens of Sharn. A will-o’-wisp appears on the encounter table for Glarehold/Amberwall in Five Nations. A quest to destroy a will-o’-wisp is one of the potential requirements to prove worthy for admission as a gatekeeper mystagogue, as detailed in the Player’s Guide to Eberron. The drow warrior Xu’sasar battles wisps in the novel The Gates of Night. The 5th Edition Adventurers League title Oracle of War: Salvages Bases and Missions places will-o’-wisps in the Mournland.​


Exandria
In Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep, while crossing Xhorhas, the heroes encounter three will-o’-wisps in an overturned wagon. If all three wisps are slain, the spirits of the travelers grant one of the PCs a charm of heroism. Another will-o’-wisp is a potential encounter in the Netherdeep’s Chasm of Yearning.​


Forgotten Realms
The first accessory published for the Realms was FR1: Waterdeep and the North. The heraldry section of the book notes that the coat of arms for the Tesper family includes a pair of will-o’-wisps.​

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Tesper coat-of-arms

Dragon #128 contains an article by Ed Greenwood titled Welcome to Waterdeep that was originally written to be included in Waterdeep and the North, but which was cut for space. According to this, six will-o’-wisps guard a stronghold at the base of Mount Helimbrar. Others can be found in the Stump Bog to the northeast of Waterdeep. City of Splendors includes a will-o’-wisp as one of the encounters in the Blue Alley in Waterdeep’s Sea Ward. The City System set suggests that will-o’-wisps might be encountered anywhere in the city, but only rarely. The 3rd Edition City of Splendors: Waterdeep lists places will-o’-wisps in Waterdeep’s sewers and notes that six will-o’-wisps voluntarily serve Marune the Masked, the oldest living member of the city’s Shadow Thieves.

Will-o’-wisps are known to inhabit many places in Undermountain, below Waterdeep. The Ruins of Undermountain lists them as “Gatelurkers”, creatures that like to hunt near one of the megadungeon’s many portals. There are nine of them in The Island Temple room on Level Three; these will-o’-wisps do not attack, but simply follow adventurers around waiting for them to fight other monsters, at which point they feed. Dragon #172 notes that will-o’-wisps are commonly sighted in Skullport, usually trying to lure visitors away from the relative safety of the city into the dangerous depths of Undermountain. The Ruins of Undermountain II: The Deep Levels places a will-o’-wisp in the drow farms of Murial’s Gauntlet. Of more interest is the gate to Triobriand’s Graveyard. Created by Triobriand himself, the gate looks like a will-o’-wisp and functions by roaming the Realms and teleporting those it encounters into Undermountain, which it can do if it makes a successful attack. In Undermountain: The Lost Level a will-o’-wisp has been trapped in the Hall of Mirrors for thirty years, for some reason unable to pass through the reflective exits. In 5th Edition’s Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, there are wisps in many parts of Undermountain: the Sargauth Level, Wyllowwood, Dweomercore, and the Maze Level. Notably, any humanoid who dies in the Shadowdusk Hold rises as a will-o’-wisp 1-4 hours later, unless magical precautions are taken.

Waterdeep and the North places will-o’-wisps in the Mere of the Dead Men, a vast salt swamp stretching along the Sword Coast shore. There they are a common sight from the High Road. The presence of wisps in the Mere is consistent in the Forgotten Realms through to 5th Edition sources, making it perhaps the best place on Faerûn to visit for anyone keen to meet one. City of Splendors suggests that the Mere is home to a will-o’-wisp of “monstrous size that pulses with black energy”.​

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Volo’s Guide to the Sword Coast (1994)​

On most nights, a will-o’-wisp hovers over the Crumbling Stair, a ruin in the Forlorn Hills to the east of Waterdeep (Dragon #275). Elminster’s Ecologies Appendix II places wisps in the The High Moor. They are known to have a reddish glow like many creatures of that area. In A Verdant Tomb, will-o’-wisps haunt a sepulcher some 40 miles east of Secomber. Will-o’-wisps can be found in the Lizard Marsh, southeast of Waterdeep, according to Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle. The same source places will-o’-wisps in the Ironaxe Halls in Mount Illefarn. North of Waterdeep, the Dessarin Valley is also home to will-o’-wisps, according to Princes of the Apocalypse.

The Lykortha Expanse is a network of fungi-filled caves below the Sword Coast. Will-o’-wisps serve the lichen lich Xanthoria who dwells there, according to Candlekeep Mysteries.

Acquisitions Incorporated notes that sightings of will-o’-wisps along the Sword Coast north of Neverwinter are on the rise. The Silent Sound lighthouse, located on a cliff three days’ travel north of the city houses a necromantic lens guarded by a will-o’-wisp and three shadows. The Dragon’s Barrow in Neverwinter Wood northwest of Phandalin is haunted by will-o’-wisps (D&D Essentials Kit).

The Fields of the Dead are a range of hills east of Baldur’s Gate. According to Volo’s Guide to the Sword Coast, a dozen or more will-o’-wisps inhabit Durlag’s Tower, located in the area. The text suggests that they are either led by a gigantic will-o’-wisp (an “Over-Wisp”) capable of hurling spells, or alternatively that the will-o’-wisps are working for illithids.

In Elturel, to the east of Baldur’s Gate, two will-o’-wisps guard the helm of Torm’s sight, according to Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. Of course, when this adventure takes place, Elturel isn’t east of Baldur’s Gate but has instead been transported to Avernus.

Three friendly will-o’-wisps dwell in the Stratigraphic Hollow of Candlekeep Library, according to DDAL-DRW11: Shadows in the Stacks.

According to Realmslore: Sarifal (in Dragon #376) there are will-o’-wisps in Llyrath Forest, an ethereal realm stretching for 150 miles west along the southern coast of the island of Gwynneth in the Moonshae Isles. The Rites of Spring trilogy of Adventurers League scenarios notes that will-o’-wisps can be found in the Drowned Forest on Alaron, largest of the Moonshae Isles.​

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FR1: Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave (2007)​

A rumor circulating in the city of Arabel is that Golkont the Hawk-Mage has been seen in the Stonelands, riding a lamia toward Cormyr surrounded by a ring of will-o’-wisps (FRE1: Shadowdale). FOR1: Draconomicon suggests that the black great wyrm Shift, whose abode is rumored to be in the Farsea Marshes in northeastern Cormyr, may have gained the aid of a large number of will-o’-wisps to protect his lair from intruders. The Elminster’s Ecologies boxed set include will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for the Sea of Fallen Stars, the Storm Horns, the Thunder Peaks, and in Cormyr’s Vast Swamp. In FR1: Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave there is a will-o’-wisp cooperating with Sharran cultists based in the swamp’s Lost Refuge. That source also lists wisps on the encounter tables for the Shadow Swamp, which is the Shadow plane counterpart of the Vast Swamp. The 4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide still has will-o’-wisps sheltering in the Vast Swamp.

Will-o’-wisps are suggested in the revised Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting as one explanation for sightings of a ghostly figure carrying a lantern in Hermit’s Wood, south of Wheloon. Forgotten Realms Adventures notes that will-o’-wisps lived in the dismal Marsember Marsh, the bog upon which Marsember was constructed. Stories of will-o’-wisps knocking over bridge lamps remain a popular feature of local tavern tales. Cormyr confirms that will-o’-wisps are still said to lure folks into the city’s canals and remaining bogs. Volo’s Guide to Cormyr suggests that the will-o’-wisps dwelling on the Marsember Marsh only began to inhabit the area following a great war between the lizard folk dwelling in the swamps. Volo’s Guide to Cormyr also includes an entry on Theavos Thontar, a resident of Arabel who enjoys “juggling will-o’-wisps, small children and full wine goblets” while dancing. Quite how anyone juggles a levitating creature is not revealed.

The (previously) underwater city of Myth Nantar is explored in ADCP4-1: City of Destinies. Some of its battlefields are lit by will-o’-wisps so ancient that they can be dispatched with a single attack. They are harmless creatures.

According to the novel All Shadows Fled, the Sembian city of Ordulin (prior to its destruction) was home to the Winking Will-o’-the-Wisp Pleasure Palace. There is, however, no evidence that actual will-o’-wisps were associated with this venue.

Will-o’-wisps roam the dungeons in the hearth of Highmoon Hill in Deepingdale and the Glaun Bog in Tasseldale, according to Volo’s Guide to the Dalelands.

The Elminster’s Ecologies boxed set include will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for Cormanthor’s Starwoods. In Pool of Radiance: Attack on Myth Drannor there are said to be will-o’-wisps in Myth Drannor. Will-o’-wisps lurk in Eventide Abbey which spans the branches of three massive trees in the Starwood area of Cormanthor (DDEX3-7: Herald of the Moon).

According to The City of Ravens Bluff, will-o’-wisps haunt the dwarven ruins on the northern shore of the Fire River.

The ruined city of Yûlash is located in the Moonsea Lands between Zhentil Keep and Hillsfar. According to FRC2: Curse of the Azure Bonds, there is a will-o’-wisp in the well room. The encounter description seems to imply that this will-o’-wisp has more control over its appearance than most, since it can apparently look like a glowing golden ring to suggest treasure to any observers. Ruins of Zhentil Keep notes that there is a chance of encountering a wisp in the keep’s dump.

The Elminster’s Ecologies boxed set include will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for the Great Gray Land of Thar.

Between the town of Phlan and Thar lies the Twilight Marsh, in which DDEX1-12: Raider of the Twilight Marsh is set. There are a number of will-o’-wisps living there, some of them created by the black dragon Throstulgrael using a ritual provided to him by a coven of hags. According to DDEX1-14: Escape from Phlan, will-o’-wisps have become accepted denizens of Phlan since the green dragon Vogansharax took over administration of the town.

The adventure H2: The Mines of Bloodstone wasn’t published with a setting logo, but became retroactively part of Faerûn once H4: The Throne of Bloodstone was canonically set in the Forgotten Realms. In the Caverns of Deepearth below the Bloodstone lands there is a will-o’-wisp armed with a prison of Zagyg. This is a strange magical trap from the 1st Edition Unearthed Arcana that shrinks a target down to a few inches in size and captures them inside a bird cage, only able to be released using a command word known to the possessor of the prison. No explanation is provided as to why this will-o’-wisp owns such an unusual treasure, or why it wants to trap someone in it, so we are left to imagine that it has discovered that the prison can keep a human captive without requiring food or water, leaving the will-o’-wisp able to feeding on the captive’s panicked distress whenever it gets hungry. In the aforementioned H4: The Throne of Bloodstone, will-o’-wisps are noted as inhabiting the Temples of Kali in the Abyss.

Unapproachable East has will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for Lake Ashane. The same source reveals that wisps can be encountered in the Umber Marshes on the border between Aglarond and Thay. According to Dead in Thay, there are will-o’-wisps in the Doomvault in Thaymount.

According to Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, will-o’-wisps can be found in the Cauldron Caves on the shore of Lac Dinneshere and in the Lost Spire of Netheril below the tundra of the Spine of the World.

Silver Marches places will-o’-wisps in the Far Forest of Luruar and in the Evermoors. In the Ice Spires, further north, there is an icy will-o’-wisp believed to be as old as the fen in the Kingdom of Hartsvale in which it lives (FOR7: Giantcraft).

Lands of Intrigue notes that will-o’-wisps inhabit the Umar Hills between Amn and Muranndin. FR3: Empires of the Sands states that wisps are found in the central agricultural region of Amn.

The article The Athalantan Campaign in Dragon #228 covers adventuring in a historical period of the Realms. One of the years covered by this period is 218 DR, known as the Year of Dancing Lights. A profusion of will-o’-wisps were seen throughout Faerûn, leading some to speculate that it is an invasion, perhaps through a gate to another plane. Lands of Intrigue notes that many will-o’-wisps wandered into eastern Tethyr during this year, with a few surviving to the present day. Lands of Intrigue also places will-o’-wisps (four of them) in the ruins of Myth Rhynn in the Wealdath forest, and possibly on Nemessor Island. Four will-o’-wisps serve as agents of the organization known as the Twisted Rune in Tethyr. FOR13: Secrets of the Magister notes that the border settlement of Trailstone has an old burial mound long frequented by will-o’-wisps.

There are will-o’-wisps living in the jungles of Hlondeth’s Cathedral of Emerald Scales, as detailed in Powers & Pantheons.

Undermountain: Stardock reports that twelve will-o’-wisps were recently causing chaos in the Calimport’s sewers. Wisps are also found in the Spider Swamp in southwestern Calimshan (FR3: Empires of the Sands).

According to The Border Kingdoms, scores of will-o’-wisps can be found in a site just east of Oparl in the Border Kingdom realm of Bedron. Sixteen will-o’-wisps dwell in Tiirglarod Vale in Middle Mukshar, another of the Border Kingdom realms.

Will-o’-wisps can sometimes be seen at night on Lake Halruaa, according to Shining South, as well as in the Great Swamp Rethild, the Forest of Amtar, and the Southern Lluirwood.

When The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (which included will-o’-wisp encounters) was updated to 5th Edition (in Tales from the Yawning Portal) it was nominally placed in either Maztica or Chult indicating that wisps occur in those regions.

MC6: Monstrous Compendium Kara-Tur Appendix includes will-o’-wisps in the encounter tables for special encounters in the continent or Kara-Tur’s ’s cold or temperate regions and dungeons.

The most recent appearance of the will-o’-wisp in the Forgotten Realms is in the Commandar Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate set of Magic: The Gathering which has a Beckoning Will-o’-wisp as card #10.​

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Beckoning Will-o’-wisp, Battle for Baldur’s Gate (2022)​

The Forgotten Realms is home to some will-o’-wisp relatives. One of these is the firestar, first published in Dragon #94. It is described as a silent, floating, fist-sized mote of light and is usually seen dancing in intricate patterns in forests or on moonlit hills, giving it a nickname of moondancer.​

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Firestar, Dragon #94 (1985)​

Firestars are more numerous (1-12 per encounter) but weaker (only 2+2 hit dice) than will-o’-wisps and have a lower armor class. They absorb energy from flames (ordinary or magical) and electrical discharges, boosting their hit points as they do. This means they are attracted to firelight within a two-mile range and spells cast within 200 yards. They are of neutral alignment and tend to ignore other creatures unless they are a source of energy. Similar to wisps, firestars are immune to magic, except for detection and communications spells, magic missiles and cold-related spells. They have no special weapon immunities. Firestars have an electric attack, but this is a 30-foot ranged bolt doing 2-12 damage. Use of this attack is limited to five times per day, so it is used almost exclusively in defense.

In size, firestars are tiny creatures, only 3-6 inches in diameter. Much like will-o’-wisps, firestars can control their own intensity and even make themselves completely invisible for a short period (2-8 rounds). They have their own language, communicated via motion and light fluctuations. Firestars are intelligent creatures, able to interpret gestures and usually understand some phrases and words of Common, but understanding what they say in response requires speak with monsters or some form of telepathy. The true form of a firestar is an egg-shaped body, two feet long, covered with a spiderweb of black nerves and eye-nodes. The body contains several different organs, which have alchemical uses.​

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Firestar, Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix (1989)​

The firestar was updated for 2nd Edition in the Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix (and later reprinted in Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four with a color picture). Additional detail is their preferred climate (temperate forests and hills), and diet (thermosynthesis). Firestars are active at night, dancing intricate patterns with one another. During the day, they land in high, inaccessible places and spend the day absorbing sunlight. In this state, their nerves are retracted and they may be mistaken for exotic eggs. Some adventuring egg collectors have been surprised by the appearance of a firestar in their luggage at nightfall. Firestars are reclusive and secretive about their lifespan and reproduction, but it is suspected that they create offspring by asexual budding.​

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Firestar, Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four (1998)​

Another variant of the will-o’-wisp native to the Forgotten Realms is the nyth, first detailed in FA1: Halls of the High King. (In 1st and 2nd Edition nyth has an invariable plural, but in 3rd Edition, it changed to nyths, which is what we’ll use here.) Nyths are found primarily in the northern forests of Faerûn, and on the Moonshae Isles. The description of the nyth refers to will-o’-wisps as their more famous relatives, and they are close enough that nyths are able to communicate using the will-o’-wisps’ flickering light language. Nyths are rarer than will-o’-wisps and weaker, with only 7 hit dice, an armor class of 1, and 44% magic resistance rather than a blanket immunity to all spells. Lawful evil in alignment, nyths are solitary creatures and are never encountered in groups. They are telepathic and quickly learn the languages of any creatures they regularly interact with.​

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Nyth, FA1: Halls of the High King (1990)​

Although it looks and moves like a will-o’-wisp, the nyth does not feed on the dying but is instead a carnivorous predator, hunting small animals and creatures. Nyths hunt with the sun behind them, hidden in its glare until they can strike their prey with a bite that does 1-4 points of damage. They also have a magic missile attack which does 1d4+1 damage. A nyth can generate and fire a magic missile once every two rounds.

When dealing with more powerful opponents, nyths try to converse, or—like a will-o’-wisp does—lead hostile beings into dangerous terrain. Also like will-o’-wisps, they can suppress their glow completely to become invisible for 2-8 rounds. They cannot remain invisible while firing a magic missile as doing so causes them to glow brightly for a round. Fire, electricity and energy attacks heal nyths, and since they do not heal naturally they seek out forest fires and travelers’ campfires to replenish their essence. A magic missile fired at a nyth is reflected directly back at the caster. Despite their lawful evil alignment, nyths have chaotic, multi-layer minds and are completely immune to enchantments and charms.​

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Nyth, City of Splendors (1994)​

Wild nyths are wandering hunters, without lairs. They do have favorite hunting spots, but avoid locations where they will attract attention. Nyths are usually lonely creatures. If they are befriended by other creatures and given a particular location designated as their home, they will take great delight and pride in becoming the guardian of their new home. All they ask in return is regular food (both energy and live prey). They will only retreat from this duty if their lives are at imminent risk.

Nyths do not mate with other nyths, but instead split into two when they have absorbed sufficient energy (at least 60 hit points worth). A split is a spectacular process and dangerous to anyone in the vicinity, as bursts of light and magic missiles are released in a violent display of fireworks. This phenomenon has given nyth the alternative name of “wildfire” in some settlements. Most people living in nyth-inhabited areas simply try to avoid them. Much like the essence of a will-o’-wisp, it is theorized that the essence of nyth could be a useful magical or alchemical ingredient, perhaps for fire or magic missile spells. Research has yet to demonstrate this in practice, however.​

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Nyth, Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Two (1995)​

The nyth was reprinted in City of Splendors and again in the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Two with a color picture. The entry in City of Splendors notes that when the Rat Hills—a massive garbage dump near Waterdeep—went up in flames in the year 1367, there were both will-o’-wisps and nyths caught in the blaze. While the will-o’-wisps fled, the nyths remained in the inferno, reproducing at astonishing rates. Numerous nyths are now believed to dwell in the Rat Hills and Ardeep Forest. The 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting reveals that the small city of Nyth in Thesk was named after the nyths that used to haunt the western edge of the Forest of Lethyr.​

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Nyth, Monsters of Faerûn (2001)​

Monsters of Faerûn updated the nyth for 3rd Edition. Like the 3rd Edition will-o’-wisp, it is a small aberration. It remains a 7 hit dice creature with a bite attack, a magic missile attack, the ability to reflect incoming magic missiles, invisibility, a mind that is immune to mental influence, and the ability to absorb energy until they explode into two new nyths. Nyths are silent predators, making no sound unless they speak. They can speak Common as well as communicate with will-o’-wisps. They are solitary, active during the day and usually lawful evil in alignment. Although they can be recruited to serve as guardians, most citizens of the Realms simply avoid them.

One final variant will-o’-wisp from the Forgotten Realms is the blacklight, a wisp created by a xeg-yi lord. (A xeg-yi is a sort of negative energy elemental originally from the 1st Edition Monster Manual II.) This variant comes from the Adventurers Guild scenario CCC-PIPYAPS-DH1: Breaking Bes, so is of dubious canonicity.​


Greyhawk
The most significant contribution the Greyhawk setting made to early will-o’-wisp lore was the introduction of the boggart in WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, but will-o’-wisps themselves are also found on Oerth.

One of the possible random encounters at the beginning of WG5: Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure is with a will-o’-wisp. Strangely, one of the wisps treasures is a scroll signed “Igniss Fatuus”; we are given no explanation of whether this is intended to be the will-o’-wisp’s signature, or how a will-o’-wisp could sign anything if so, or why anyone from Oerth would misspell a latin term for a monster on a scroll. So many mysteries!

In WG7: Castle Greyhawk, there is a group of library-dwelling will-o’-wisps who are determined (very determined!) to rope any visitors into a game of “book hunt” which involves teams racing to find copies of Ode to the Ground Snails of Greyhawk, Volume VIII and other thrilling titles. Because this is WG7: Castle Greyhawk there is, of course, a boggart in the plane of Silly and Unused Monsters. Almost two decades later, will-o’-wisps appeared on the encounter tables in the Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk, specifically in levels 5 and 6 of the Tower of Magic.

WG9: Gargoyle features a boggart, at the entrance to Gargoyle Valley. It has spent the night hunting and has recently feasted, so is not in the mood for a fight and will flee if confronted. The adventure By the Wayside in Dungeon #19 is set in the The Hool Marshes, and includes will-o’-wisps in the encounter tables. The Dungeon Master’s Guide II mentions that will-o’-wisps haunt the places where Hool Marshes blueberries grow. MC5: Monstrous Compendium Greyhawk Adventures Appendix has wisps listed on encounter tables for temperate mountains, temperate marshes/swamps and salt cold/temperate water surfaces.

WGR5: Iuz the Evil notes the presence of wisps in the Cold Marshes and the Phostwood. Dragon #208 mentions will-o’-wisps in the Coldwood of the Adri Forest, and Ivid the Undying confirms that wisps are found in boggy places elsewhere in the deep Adri Forest. According to From the Ashes there are will-o’-wisps in the Vast Swamp and the Mistmarsh, while the Welkwood is home to creatures that look like will-o’-wisps but which are harmless. The appearance of will-o’-wisps sometimes heralds the appearance of the atmospheric phenomenon known as the Spinning Helix of the Archmages in the winter skies. WGR4: The Marklands details the Velunese Lights, a light phenomenon manifesting in the Gold Country that can sometimes be mistaken for will-o’-wisps.

A few Greyhawk adventures published on the cusp of 2nd and 3rd edition feature will-o’-wisps. There is a starving, enslaved wisp in the stairway to the vault in The Star Cairns, one on the Chetanicatla Environs encounter table in The Scarlet Brotherhood, and another on the encounter tables for the Nyr Dyv and Northern Woolly Bay in Slavers.

The Sea Wyvern’s Wake in Dungeon #141 introduces a will-o’-wisp named Tlanextli dwelling in the Tamoachan Ruins. A varrangoin recently arrived in the ruins and has been fighting with the territorial wisp. The presence of the PCs presents Tlanextli with a possible means of breaking its stalemate with the varrangoin, so the wisp will not be too hasty in attacking them.

The Temple of Celestial Winds is detailed in the adventure The Coming Storm in Dungeon #136. There are four will-o’-wisps living in the climbing plaza and on the roof.

In the Greyhawk branded novel The Temple of Elemental Evil the protagonists encounter wisps in the eponymous Temple.

The Living Greyhawk scenario COR4-16: The Frozen Spire makes use of the dreamstealer spawn template (from Dungeon #106) to present undead will-o’-wisps that have risen as madness made manifest after being killed by a dreamstealer. In addition to the abilities of normal will-o’-wisps, these wisps have a wisdom drain touch attack, a once-per-day wail of doom and an unnatural aura.

Will-o’-wisps feature in PAL4-02: Stirring the Waters where they are working with an Ur-Flan mummy. This Living Greyhawk scenario introduces a will-o’-wisp stalker, which has one level each as a ranger and a rogue. It is slightly smaller than most wisps, favors green and blue colors and has a keen mind, making it more devious in its efforts to inflict malice and confusion on others. FUR5-05: Of Blood and Bone has elite will-o’-wisps, who have higher Strength, Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom scores, resulting in slightly more hit points, higher armor class, and improved attack bonuses.

Another minor variant will-o’-wisp can be found in KET6-06: The Patriot’s Post. This is referred to as an insane will-o’-wisp, but seems to simply be an advanced wisp. Versions for higher level groups also have fighter and ranger class levels. The adventure TUS7-02: Bringing the Rain features a malevolent will-o’-wisp who has been living in the buried village of Re’Mar for a thousand years. It now has a plot to blot out the sun. The wisp varies between an ordinary will-o’-wisp through to (eventually) an advanced half-air elemental will-o’-wisp depending on the level of the adventuring party. The umbral will-o’-wisps in SHL9-02: Lord Torkeep and the Temple of Gloom are referred to as bog lights.

In the 5th Edition adventure Ghosts of Saltmarsh, will-o’-wisps (and a green hag) are a potential encounter in the Hool Marshes. Two more occupy the windmill in the ruins of Warthalkeel.​


Historical Reference
Thrills and Chills: Ice Age Adventures in Dragon #68 includes will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for a Pleistocene era campaign. Similarly, Playing in the Paleozoic (from Dragon #176) includes will-o’-wisps as a possible swamp encounter.

Dungeon #21 has a Celtic-themed adventure The Cauldron of Plenty which features a solo will-o’-wisp as a wandering monster. The will-o’-wisp’s suitability for this period is confirmed in HR3: Celts Campaign Sourcebook and in DMGR6: Creative Campaigning which covers Celtic Ireland.

Hearts of Darkness (in Dragon #126) notes that in Chinese legends, will-o’-wisps are connected to the misty forms of vampires.

Dragon #274 includes a mini-gazetteer for use in a Robin Hood-themed Sherwood campaign set. It mentions Boggart Hole Clough as a location near Manchester. While acknowledging that this boggart is probably the brownie relative (from Dragon #54 and Dragon #239) and not a wisp progeny, the article suggests that this location could be haunted by boggarts or will-o’-wisps.

Similarly, Dragon #299 suggests will-o’-wisps as appropriate for a knight-themed campaign in a medieval setting.

It is not strictly speaking a D&D setting, but d20 Future lists the will-o’-wisp as a creature from the Monster Manual that would fit into a futuristic setting.​


Jakandor
According to Jakandor: Island of War, will-o’-wisps can be encountered in the island’s swamps.​


Kingdoms of Kalamar
The Mermaid’s Promise is a ghost ship described in Secrets of the Alubelok Coast. Amongst other creatures, will-o’-wisps haunt the vessel, dancing around the ship’s lanterns. Will-o’-wisps are found above ground in the marshes and bogs of Tellene, as well as underground. The deity Ablutor sometimes appears as a will-o’-wisp (Divine Masters: The Faiths and Followers of Tellene).

In the Living Kingdoms of Kalamar scenario LKOK34: An Academic Incursion, three will-o’-wisps are encountered in the Udo Bog. An earlier Living Kingdoms of Kalamar adventure (LKoK3: Hurry Up and Wait) introduces an anarchic wisp, a chaotic neutral will-o’-wisp discovered on the outer planes. Anarchic wisps are less powerful than ordinary wisps (only 4 hit dice).​


Lankhmar
The 2nd Edition Legends & Lore lists will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for the forests of Nehwon.​


Mahasarpa
The Mahasarpa Campaign was published as a web enhancement for the 3rd Edition Oriental Adventures book. It provided new character options, magic items, and monsters suitable for a South Asian-themed campaign setting. Will-o’-wisps are found in the jungles of Mahasarpa.​


Mystara
The will-o’-wisp has a slightly odd history in the Mystara setting. It was initially intended to be included in the Companion Rules; the Dungeon Masters Companion from that set has a Monster List, Part 1 that announces “Apparition to Will o’ Wisp” but actually ends with “Whale”. According to the Sage Advice column in Dragon #120, the will-o’-wisp was dropped due to a lack of space, but accidentally left in the heading. It was instead published in AC9: Creature Catalogue but with a different name—in Mystara, the will-o’-wisp is known as a wychglow.​

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Wychglow, AC9: Creature Catalogue (1986)​

Although Dragon’s Sage states that the wychglow entry provides the D&D stats for the will-o’-wisp, there are some substantial differences. Wychglows do not feed on the energy of the dying. Instead they are attracted to metallic objects because they have some mysterious way of creating electrical energy by draining metal, a process that can take hours or days and reduces the metal to dust. Wychglows attack other creatures in order to obtain any metal items they may be carrying. They are encountered only at night or deep underground.

Unlike will-o’-wisps, the electricity attack of wychglows is always a ranged attack—a lightning bolt two feet wide and thirty feet long. This does 1d10 damage, but a save reduces this by half for characters wearing metal armor, or entirely if they are wearing leather or cloth vestments, in which case they also enjoy a saving throw bonus. Wychglows have fewer hit dice that will-o’-wisps (6 instead of 9) and do not enjoy any special immunities to spells. They do however require +1 weapons to hit, and are immune to electrical attacks and take minimum damage from magical fire.

The wychglow was reprinted in DMR2: Creature Catalog with the same stats and a slightly edited description. The text clarifies that wychglows feed on electrochemical energy and that they will focus on opponents with the largest metal objects. DMR2: Creature Catalog also reprints the wychlamp, a creature that originally appeared in GAZ8: The Five Shires. Despite the similar name, the wychlamp isn’t explicitly related to the wychglow, but it is similar in appearance.

Wychlamps are smaller than wychglows (9 inches versus 1-3 feet). They are composed primarily of energy, with a visible, web-like, geometric skeleton. They are unintelligent creatures that usually float aimlessly, but are attracted to the nearby use of magic. If they get close to active magic, they cause it to go wrong in a variety of different ways, including random deflections, changing the area of effect, and changing the target of the spell. These properties make them prized possessions of those who seek to slay powerful mages. Wychlamps are themselves entirely immune to magic, reflecting any attacks back at the caster or wielder. They are not immune to weapons, but are immune to fire, heat, cold and lightning. Lightning attacks also restore a wychlamp’s lost hit points. As energy creatures, wychlamps are particularly vulnerable to the energy draining attacks of undead, which destroy them. Although wychlamps do have an energy discharge attack which causes a small amount of damage (1d4+1) and has a slow effect, they seem to use this randomly rather than tactically.​

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Wychlamp, DMR2: Creature Catalog (1993)​

Although wychglows are the official replacement for will-o’-wisps in BECMI products, several sources instead make reference to will-o’-wisps. In the Endless Quest book Revenge of the Rainbow Dragons, one of the unsuccessful endings has the protagonists following a “will-o’-the-wisp” until they become hopelessly lost. Oddly, the text states that will-o’-wisps have no Intelligence, implying that they move aimlessly (perhaps it was actually a wychlamp?). Another Endless Quest book, King’s Quest, presents more traditional will-o’-wisps, ones that feed on death and try to lead the characters off their path. In the novel The Tainted Sword the characters come across a tavern named the Will-o’-the-Wisp.

The Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix for 2nd Edition lists will-o’-wisps on the encounter tables for marshes/swamps and the surface of bodies of water, but make no mention of wychglows.​


Planescape
The Court of Woe, operated by the Dustmen, is located partially in Sigil’s Lower Ward and partially in the Negative Energy Plane. The description of the Court in Uncaged: Faces of Sigil notes that it is lit by will-o’-wisps housed in crystal globes hanging from the ceiling. In 2nd Edition, will-o’-wisps feed on the electrical activity of individuals facing imminent death, but the ones captured in the lanterns are able to feed on the panic of the accused present in the court. When they do, the lanterns glow more brightly.

Doors to the Unknown introduces a variant type of will-o’-wisp that feeds on happiness instead of panic. They are known as forest wisps and are found in a secluded region of Mount Celestia known as Beldaari. While it might sound as if the chaotic good forest wisps are benevolent creatures, they are as deadly as their cousins. They project a wave of happiness and if their target fails a save, they become overwhelmed by good feelings and lose 4d8 hit points as the forest wisps feed. This euphoria replaces the electricity attack of a will-o’-wisp, but the rest of the forest wisp’s stats are the same.

The Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix II presents the ghostlight. Also known as corpse candles, ghostlights share many of the same characteristics and abilities as will-o’-wisps and are said to be close relatives; they are thought to be will-o’-wisps that have traveled to other planes, or vice versa. Usually sickly green in color, ghostlights are constantly flickering as they shrink and grow. They tend to find a location with natural luminescence to conceal themselves, and then remain in that place permanently. Ghostlights typically dwell in bogs, dank caverns, moors or coasts.​

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Ghostlight, Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix II (1995)​

Like will-o’-wisps, ghostlights attempt to lead prey into danger, but they are more aggressive than will-o’-wisps. If they can’t persuade a target to follow, they will escalate the encounter by displaying a hypnotic pattern that causes confusion. If that fails, the creature is able to dominate a member of the traveler’s party to force an attack on its prey. To do this, the ghostlight must make physical contact with the target. If successful, the ghostlight flows over its victim’s body, becomes invisible and begins to completely control the actions of its host. If not even this domination ability works, a ghostlight will engage in direct combat, using an attack that chills and drains levels.

A ghostlight is vulnerable when it is feeding on a dying creature. So hungry are these creatures that they will continue feeding even if attacked. This means that they have a lower armor class and ignore the attacker. However, they still require a +2 enchanted weapon to hit, can become invisible and even teleport up to 200 feet once per encounter.

Ghostlights are said to either be the spirits of evil mortals who have strayed into a particularly dangerous region of the Abyss, or perhaps the targets of a finger of death killed while visiting the lower planes. They are solitary creatures, and are never encountered in groups. They have a limited form of telepathy and will sometimes work with powerful monsters, leading them to prospective prey in return for a chance to feed. Ghostlights can occasionally be bribed with gems or someone to eat in return for knowledge of their adopted area. The longer they have been resident in that area the less likely it is that there will be any other living residents present.

One of the final releases from the Planescape line was The Inner Planes, detailing the elemental planes. There is a location in the Plane of Air known as Borealis, a spherical structure built around a portal to the Plane of Radiance. The inhabitants of this place are the nyth, from the Forgotten Realms setting. Normally solitary, here nyth gather in large numbers.​


Ravenloft
Although there are no will-o’-wisps mentioned in the original I6: Ravenloft, they do feature in I10: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill as a possible random encounter on the moors of Mordentshire. They are also listed as suitable monsters for the setting on the Monsters and Militia card in the Realm of Terror boxed set. The Realm of Terror book has will-o’-wisps as rare encounters in Arkandale, Barovia, Borca, Dorvinia, Falkovnia, Invidia, Mordent and Souragne. The 3rd Edition Ravenloft Gazetteer: Volume IV adds Verbrek and Sithicus to the list of domains where wisps may be found. Ravenloft Gazetteer: Volume V adds Tepest.

According to RM1: Roots of Evil, will-o’-wisps are more commonly encountered in Barovia during a Minor Conjunction. A Light in the Belfry lists wisps on the encounter table for the Phantasmal Forest in the domain of Avonleigh. Wisps are found in Invidia’s Vulpwood, according to The Evil Eye. The Shadow Rift notes that will-o’-wisps dwell in the Rift, particularly in the Black Marsh.

The Gothic Earth Gazetteer includes will-o’-wisps on its list of creatures appropriate for the setting of Masque of the Red Death. The Guide to Transylvania speaks of a fatuus igni appearing above the grave of a freshly buried corpse and describes it as a fire in the air, like a will-o’-wisp. It isn’t clear from the text if this is simply a phenomenon or a variant creature.

Van Richten’s Guide to the Mists, the final supplement produced by Sword & Sorcery under their 3rd Edition Ravenloft license, was never printed, but was released for free in electronic format. It suggests that certain creatures have a special relationship with Ravenloft’s mists, and that a will-o’-wisp could potentially be conjured up by the mists themselves.

The 5th Edition Curse of Strahd includes will-o’-wisps in the nighttime encounter tables for Barovia. Supporting this, will-o’-wisps are found in the Amber Temple in the Adventurers League scenario DDAL4-10: The Artifact.

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft lists will-o’-wisps as one of the creatures suitable for the folk horror subgenre. In the Adventurers League scenario RMH-12 Beneath the New Star, will-o’-wisps are found in Lychgate (previously known as Castle Avernus) in Darkon.

The Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness presents four brand new will-o’-wisp variants, the will-o’-dawn, will-o’-deep, will-o’-mist and will-o’-sea. These appear in print without the hyphens and with no space after the apostrophe, but we’re going to refer to them by names consistent with 5th Edition’s “will-o’-wisp” here.​

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Will-o’-dawn, Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (1994)​

The first of the Ravenloft wisp relatives is the will-o’-dawn, a chaotic good creature that feeds on the positive energies of excited or happy minds. This diet means that the will-o’-dawn tries to create conditions which cause relief, excitement and happiness. A will-o’-dawn appears only during sunrise and remains active for up to twenty minutes before becoming invisible and fleeing. It can sense creatures in distress, and during its active cycle it seeks out those who are lost or frightened to provide aid, and thus to feed. It will assist anyone of good alignment, leading them safely out of a swamp, taking them to hidden treasure caches, or distracting evil opponents. Sadly, travelers often mistake a will-o’-dawn for its evil cousin and don’t take advantage of its help.

Like will-o’-wisps, will-o’-dawns are immune to most spells. Only darkness or continual darkness can harm a will-o’-dawn, the former stunning the creature, and the latter killing it. Will-o’-dawns loathe combat and never intentionally harm other creatures—even their enemies. They are capable of casting either color spray or hypnotic pattern each round, but will use these spells only in defense and only to stun or pacify their opponents.

Will-o’-dawns are usually encountered solo, but very rarely in pairs. (As usual, the illustration is misleading!) Although they are slightly smaller and have fewer hit points than will-o’-wisps, the two creatures are nearly impossible to tell apart. Like a wisp, the will-o’-dawn can alter its shape, luminance and coloring, and can become invisible for short periods of time. The golden glow of a captive will-o’-dawn rapidly glows and dissipates. Will-o’-dawns communicate with each other using rapid flashes of color. This language is too subtle for other creatures to understand, but it is possible to get a vague sense of some concepts such as “blue means safe”. However, a will-o’-dawn that has hypnotized someone is able to communicate directly with that creature’s mind.

A will-o’-dawn is sometimes called a feu follet, and that is how the characters in the novel Dance of the Dead refer to them when some are encountered in a swamp. The story also reveals that to be “willened” is local slang for being charmed by a will-o’-wisp or feu follet, and mentions a legend that will-o’-wisps were caused by a snake eating the sun.​

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Will-o’-deep, Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (1994)​

Smaller (only a foot in diameter) and slightly weaker than a will-o’-wisp, the will-o’-deep is essentially a wisp that lives in the remote tunnels and caverns of the Underdark instead of in a swamp. Most often flickering gold or red in appearance, a will-o’-deep is neutral evil, with whimsical tendencies. It feeds on the energies given off by someone experiencing fear or desperation. A will-o’-deep can change its color and shape, preferring the teardrop form of a small torch flame. Like their relatives, will-o’-deeps can become invisible for short periods and communicate with each other using a flickering light language.

Will-o’-deeps are usually encountered in clans of 2-4 (the picture so nearly gets this right), but are also often encountered solo. Groups work together to lure adventurers into confusing caverns or towards dangerous monsters. Where possible, will-o’-deeps will lead targets into a location where they can be imprisoned for days or months, so that they can feed on their desperation for longer. Once apathy and despair replace fear and desperation, the will-o’-deeps can no longer feed and lose interest in the captives, sometimes trading them with other Underdark races for treasure or new victims. Some of these other races have learned the basics of the will-o’-deeps’ light language.

Like its kin, the will-o’-deep’s main defense is immunity to most spells. Only lightning bolt and chain lightning do it any harm. The creature can attack by firing up to four small, white-hot sparks per round, each doing 1-4 points of damage. These sparks can interact with objects, knocking over rocks or slamming doors. Some cunning will-o’-deeps lead travelers into pockets of explosive cave gas, and then ignite the gas with a spark. This often causes cave-ins. Will-o’-deeps protect themselves by fleeing if reduced to a quarter hit points.​

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Will-o’-mist, Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (1994)​

Will-o’-mists are solitary creatures, appearing as diffuse strips of energy 3-5 feet long and 2-4 inches thick. In other words, nothing like the accompanying illustration. Like all creatures in the wisp family, they can alter their size and color to some extent. Will-o’-mists are usually an icy blue color but can vary from golden-white to deep green. They can make themselves invisible for short periods and are agile fliers, able to hover, dart or drift slowly. They are chaotic neutral in alignment.

As their name suggests, will-o’-mists have a special relationship with the misty borders of Ravenloft. Indeed, they can only be found there, unable to stray more than a few yards out of the mist. Some theories suggest that the creatures are part of a network funneling living energy into the lands of Ravenloft itself, but what is known for sure is that the will-o’-mists lure humanoids into the mists in order to feed. It seems likely that they consume the fear and disorientation experienced by those passing through the mists. Travelers experiencing dizziness and nausea as they leave the mists may have had a close encounter with one of these monsters.

The will-o’-mists themselves can navigate the mists unerringly, and are even able to gain access to a domain whose Darklord has sealed its borders. This makes them particularly useful to the Vistani, who know the secrets of summoning and commanding will-o’-mists, knowledge passed down from generation to generation. It is believed that this is how the Vistani gained their ability to travel safely through the mists. It isn’t clear how will-o’-mists communicate with each other (or with their Vistani masters) but they don’t seem to rely on the same sort of light-based language used by their kin.

Although they are physically slightly smaller (2-4 feet in diameter) and weaker than will-o’-wisps, will-o’-mists share their general immunity to spells, with only vampiric touch and energy drain working against them. They rarely need to engage in combat, but if necessary, they can release a burst of electricity targeting all within 30 feet. This does 2-16 points of damage and is particularly effective against creatures wearing metal armor.​

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Will-o’-sea, Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (1994)​

The will-o’-sea is the strongest, largest and most dangerous of the four will-o’-wisp variants native to Ravenloft. It is a solitary creature that calls the Sea of Sorrows home. A will-o’-sea avoids the cold waters of arctic climes, favoring the rough coastlines of tropical waters. Comfortable above and below water, a will-o’-sea often dwells in a shipwreck it has caused. It lurks near busy sea routes, attempting to lure ships into dangerous waters where they become beached or sink. It then feeds off the panic of drowning sailors, doing whatever it can to prevent them from reaching the safety of land. If traffic along a particular route drops, the will-o’-sea will migrate to a new hunting ground.

Unlike others in the wisp family, a will-o’-sea cannot become invisible, but it can vary its size and color. In its resting state, it looks like a long, shifting cascade of glowing energy (remarkably like its illustration, in fact). It may be mistaken for the colorful natural phenomenon of St. Elmo’s fire (not the aquatic will-o’-wisp variant of the same name). Naturally large (12-20 feet long), the will-o’sea can mimic objects as large as a ship or a lighthouse. Tactics include forming the shape of a burning vessel above a cluster of sharp rocks so that other sailors investigate, or presenting the illusion of shimmering treasure buried in seaweed infested waters. A will-o’-sea usually appears at dusk, and is a capable flier, able to move as swiftly or slowly as necessary to support whatever visual trick it is using to taunt a victim.

A will-o’-sea has a powerful lightning bolt attack which does 10d6 damage and can ignite wooden vessels. However it can only use this once every three rounds, and not while it is submerged. It usually reserves this attack for sailors who are close to escaping their drowning fate. The will-o’-sea is immune to all spells except ice storm and cone of cold. Neutral evil in alignment, the will-o’-sea can communicate using a mixture of electrical snaps, clicks and hums, but few are the aquatic folk capable of understanding them. A will-o’-sea is sometimes accompanied by undead creatures, as sea zombies and ghost ships tend to accumulate in their hunting grounds over time.

As well as the above will-o’-wisp relatives, a couple more wisp-related things are worth mentioning. Wicked Garden: Van Richten’s Legacy in Dragon #273 details willow wisps, small glowing fungi that grow on weeping willows and similar plants. They are unrelated to will-o’-wisps but often mistaken for them. The fungus is more common in Forlorn than in other domains. If crushed into a paste and smeared over the eyes, willow wisps boost night vision, and may even make spirit creatures visible. Sustained use may cause blindness.

A final mention of creatures with links to the will-o’-wisp from the Ravenloft setting goes to Will o’ the Woods. Detailed in The Book of Sorrows, an online release from the official fan site for the setting, Will o’ the Woods is a boabhan sith (a creature from the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III) and not a direct relative of the will-o’-wisp. He can, however, take the form of a wisp which is probably why he uses the pseudonym “Will o’ the Woods”.​


Rokugan
According to the 3rd Edition Oriental Adventures, will-o’-wisps can be found in Rokugan. They have the added subtype of spirit, and are known as phii khamot (“spirit/ghost corpse”) or thamop.​


Sanctuary
Between 1999 and 2001 Wizards of the Coast had a license from Blizzard to make D&D products set in Sanctuary, the world of the Diablo series of video games. Unfortunately, this came at an inconvenient time, resulting in a mishmash of 2nd Edition, 3rd Edition and stand-alone releases rather than a coherent product line. Diablo II: To Hell and Back was the last of these products, and was an effort to translate the story of the Diablo II game into a playable adventure. In the Diablo games there are frequently a number of very similar versions of the same monster, each with a different power curve, so that they can be a threat to player characters of different levels. This approach works well in a video game, but less well in an RPG book, and more than a quarter of Diablo II: To Hell and Back consists of monsters. Compounding the problem, most of these creatures had already appeared (with 2nd Edition stats) in Diablo II: The Awakening just one year earlier.

Diablo II: To Hell and Back presents four different versions of Sanctuary’s “willowisp” (no spaces, no punctuation). These are gloams, swamp ghosts, burning souls, and black souls. Only two of these variations (the gloam and burning soul) actually appear in the video game. All four are incorporeal swamp spirits that enjoy attacking good creatures. Even when they are incorporeal, these will-o’-wisps still have a vague, ghostly presence. Gloams are the smallest and weakest, with only 4 hit dice and a size limited to 4ft. tall. Next are swamp ghosts, said to be the spirits of those who died a violent death and whose bodies were left to rot in the swamps; they have 5 hit dice. Burning souls have 6 hit dice and an intense hatred for all living things. Finally, black souls are the spirits of evil beings who died while searching the swamps for lost secrets of power. They are both the largest (8 ft. tall) and the most powerful (7 hit dice).​

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Willowisp, Diablo II (June 2000), image from Diablo Wiki

Apart from a difference in size and slight variations in abilities, attacks and skills, these will-o’-wisps have basically the same abilities. They are all fast fliers (50 ft. speed), but are less dexterous than ordinary wisps, with only an “average” maneuverability. They attack with either a mana burn that saps a target’s spells, or a lightning bolt doing between 4d6 and 7d6 damage depending on the hit dice of the attacking wisp. As a fall back, these wisps have a rudimentary claw attack. These wisps are unambiguously undead creatures rather than aberrations, and are generally also incorporeal, manifesting only to claw or launch a lightning bolt.​


Shankhabhumi
According to Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel there are will-o’-wisps in the swampy Forest of Hands in Shankhabhumi. The wisps will attempt to lead the heroes into the path of a hostile hydra.​


Spelljammer
The Faeriespace system, as detailed in SJA3: Crystal Spheres, includes a group of four planets collectively known as Vastdarken. The inhabitants of Vastdarken include will-o’-wisps. Will-o’-wisps also reside on Morgion, one of the moons of Zivilyn in the Krynnspace system (SJR7: Krynnspace).

In the 5th Edition Spelljammer: Adventures in Space set, will-o’-wisps appear on the encounter tables for Wildspace and are said to sometimes accompany vampirate captains. In the accompanying adventure (Light of Xaryxis), a chaotic neutral will-o’-wisp offers navigational assistance to the heroes.​


Miniatures
In the days before clear plastic was an option for miniatures, creating a will-o’-wisp miniature would have been a significant challenge. It’s not surprising then that the only official D&D will-o’-wisp minis have been produced since 2010, starting with figure #55 in Lords of Madness, the last set produced by Wizards of the Coast before giving the license for D&D minis to Wizkids.​

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Lords of Madness, figure #55 (2010)​

Wizkids have subsequently released two different will-o’-wisps, figure #3 in the Icons of the Realms: Monster Menagerie set and, more recently, figure #4 in the Icons of the Realms: Boneyard set.​

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Icons of the Realms: Monster Menagerie, figure #3 (2016), image from MinisGallery

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Icons of the Realms: Boneyard, figure #4 (2021), image from MinisGallery


Video games
The first appearance of a will-o’-wisp in a D&D video game appears to be in 1991’s Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon. The creature appears as a luminous yellow shape, more of an unattached flame than an orb, and flickers blue once combat begins.​

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Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon (1991), image from czlowiekzwyzyn

A few years later DeathKeep featured far less interesting will-o’-wisps. These are little more than pale yellow circles.​

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DeathKeep (1995), image from the Forgotten Realms wiki

The will-o’-wisps in Icewind Dale II are also visually less impressive than the ones from Eye of the Beholder II, but they are competent spellcasters and make for challenging encounters. The spellcasting will-o’-wisps seem to be variants called death’s candles and witch lights. All of the will-o’-wisps in the game have the apparent ability to teleport, but we can charitably assume that they are simply turning invisible and moving rapidly from one location to another.​

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Icewind Dale II (2002), image from Coredumped Gaming

The will-o’-wisp next appears in the Neverwinter Nights series, this time with a cool, light blue color.​

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Neverwinter Nights (2002), images from Neverwinter Nights wiki

In the MMORPG Neverwinter, a will-o’-wisp can be purchased as a companion from the Zen Market.​

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Neverwinter (2013), images from ARCGames

Finally the Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms game has three different colored will-o’-wisps.​

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Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms (2017), image from Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms wiki


Will-o’-wisp names
Burning Eye, Crissann, Duurth, Msshilu, Shadow Heart, Tlanextli, Willy, Wispy, Z’reska​


Boggart names
Bakall, Gheerha, Heppbyrn, Humphrey​


Comparative statistics


References
Supplement I: Greyhawk, p6, 18, 33, 35, 65 (December 1975)
Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, p56 (April 1976)
Palace of the Vampire Queen (1976)
The Dwarven Glory (1976)
Monster Manual, p101 (December 1977)
The Dragon #15, p7, The Wandering Monster (June 1978)
Players Handbook, p65 (June 1978)
Dungeon Masters Guide, p117, 178-179, 185, 187, 191, 192, 214, 223 (August 1979)
S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, p4, 8 (February 1980)
C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, p4, 12 (May 1980)
Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits, p5, 16 (June 1980)
Deities & Demigods, p10 (August 1980)
A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, p5 (May 1981)
A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade, p32 (July 1981)
Dragon #54, p11, Ruins and p53, Down-to-earth Divinity (October 1981)
Monster Cards, Set 3 (May 1982)
WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, p23-24, 31-32 (July 1982)
Dragon #68, p73, Thrills and Chills: Ice Age Adventures (December 1982)
Endless Quest #6: Revenge of the Rainbow Dragons, p23 (January 1983)
Monster Manual II, p19-20, 133-156, 159 (August 1983)
DL1: Dragons of Despair, p31 (March 1984)
Set 3: Companion Rules, Dungeon Masters Companion: Book Two, p28 (June 1984)
Dragon #86, p22, Familiars with a Special Use (June 1984)
Endless Quest #18: King’s Quest, p115, 125 (July 1984)
WG5: Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure, p4 (July 1984)
AC4: The Book of Marvelous Magic, p34 (February 1985)
Dragon #94, p48, Creature Catalog II (February 1985)
Dragon #96, p21, The Ecology of the Gulguthra (April 1985)
DL7: Dragons of Light, p19 (May 1985)
Dragon #98, p13, The Magic of Dragon Teeth (June 1985)
Unearthed Arcana, p56 (June 1985)
Dragon #99, p18-20, The Ecology of the Will-o-Wisp (July 1985)
DL8: Dragons of War, inside cover (July 1985)
T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil, p78 (August 1985)
Dragon #101, p3, Letters and p33, Charging isn’t Cheap (September 1985)
DL10: Dragons of Dreams, p13, 16, 26 (October 1985)
I7: Baltron’s Beacon, p10-11 (November 1985)
I8: Ravager of Time, p19 (April 1986)
DL13: Dragons of Truth, inside cover (July 1986)
AC9: Creature Catalogue, p80-81 (September 1986)
Polyhedron #31, p17, Ravager (September 1986)
I10: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill, p25, inside cover (September 1986)
Dragon #114, p22-24, Grave Encounters (October 1986)
H2: The Mines of Bloodstone, p29 (December 1986)
REF4: The Book of Lairs II, p48 (April 1987)
Dragon #120, p26, Sage Advice (April 1987)
I13: Adventure Pack I, p49, Scavenger Hunt (May 1987)
Dungeon #5, p4-10, The Rotting Willow (May 1987)
Manual of the Planes, p49 (June 1987)
Dragon #125, p68-69, Plane Speaking: The (Positive) Quasi-Elementals! (September 1987)
Dragon #126, p17, Hearts of Darkness (October 1987)
FR1: Waterdeep and the North, p7-8, 49 (October 1987)
Polyhedron #38, p4 (November 1987)
Dragon #128, p11, 14, Welcome to Waterdeep (December 1987)
Dungeon #9, p52, The Plight of Cirria (January 1988)
WG7: Castle Greyhawk, p69-70, 78 (January 1988)
Dragon #130, p40, Better Living Through Alchemy (February 1988)
FR3: Empires of the Sands, p4, 61 (February 1988)
FR4: The Magister, p12 (May 1988)
H4: The Throne of Bloodstone, p44 (May 1988)
Dragon #134, p44, Bazaar of the Bizarre (June 1988)
City System, p25 (July 1988)
GAZ8: The Five Shires, p68 (August 1988)
REF5: Lords of Darkness, p86 (December 1988)
DLE1: In Search of Dragons, p62 (January 1989)
Player’s Handbook, p152, 219 (February 1989)
FRC2: Curse of the Azure Bonds, p45 (March 1989)
Dungeon #16, p8, Palace in the Sky (March 1989)
WG9: Gargoyle, p26 (March 1989)
Dragon #145, p12, Sage Advice (May 1989)
FRE1: Shadowdale, p11 (May 1989)
FR8: Cities of Mystery, p59-63, The Maltese Roc (June 1989)
Dragon #146, p93, If You Wish Upon a Star… (June 1989)
Monstrous Compendium Volume One (June 1989)
Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (August 1989)
Dungeon #19, p9-10, By the Wayside (September 1989)
Time of the Dragon (October 1989)
MC3: Monstrous Compendium Forgotten Realms Appendix (November 1989)
Polyhedron #50, p18-19, New Rogues Gallery (November 1989)
Dungeon #21, p7, The Cauldron of Plenty (January 1990)
MC4: Monstrous Compendium Dragonlance Appendix (February 1990)
Dragon #155, p31, The Folk of the Faerie Kingdom (March 1990)
Forgotten Realms Adventures, p92-93 (March 1990)
MC5: Monstrous Compendium Greyhawk Adventures Appendix (April 1990)
Dragon #158, p31, 34, Also Known As… the Orc (June 1990)
MC6: Monstrous Compendium Kara-Tur Appendix (June 1990)
Realm of Terror, p63, 65, 66, 69, 70, 73, 77, 84 and Monsters and Militia card (June 1990)
Legends & Lore, p7, 158 (July 1990)
SJA3: Crystal Spheres, p19 (September 1990)
FOR1: Draconomicon, p37 (September 1990)
FA1: Halls of the High King, p44 (October 1990)
MC10: Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix (February 1991)
The Ruins of Undermountain, Campaign Guide to Undermountain, p24, 103 (February 1991)
DLS2: Tree Lords, p32 (April 1991)
Dragon #172, p12, Seeing the Sights in Skullport (August 1991)
Dragon #176, p90, Playing in the Paleozoic (December 1991)
Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon (December 1991)
Dragon #179, p18-19, Magic by Candlelight (March 1992)
Dance of the Dead (May 1992)
FRQ1: Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, p30 (May 1992)
The Penhaligon Trilogy, Volume I: The Tainted Sword (September 1992)
HR3: Celts Campaign Sourcebook, p42 (October 1992)
From the Ashes, Atlas of the Flaenaess, p60, 79, Campaign Book, p38 and Reference Card #14 (October 1992)
Dragon #187, p22 (November 1992)
Dungeon #38, p34, Things That Go Bump in the Night (November 1992)
DMGR6: Creative Campaigning, p19 (January 1993)
SJR7: Krynnspace, p52 (January 1993)
WGR4: The Marklands, p32 (January 1993)
DMR2: Creature Catalog, p113-115 (March 1993)
WGR5: Iuz the Evil, p65 (March 1993)
GA2: Swamplight, p27-28 (March 1993)
RM1: Roots of Evil, inside cover (April 1993)
Dungeon #41, p65, 67, Old Man Katan and the Incredible, Edible, Dancing Mushroom Band (May 1993)
Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, A Grand Tour of the Realms, p50 (June 1993)
Monstrous Manual, p361 (June 1993)
Dragon #196, p , 3 Wizards Too Many (August 1993)
GA3: Tales of Enchantment, p20 (August 1993)
ALQ4: Secrets of the Lamp, Genie Lore, p21 (October 1993)
Dungeon #44, p64, Train of Events (November 1993)
Cormyr, p16 (January 1994)
CR4: Deck of Encounters, Set One, The Darklights (January 1994)
The Ruins of Undermountain II: The Deep Levels, Campaign Guide, p46, 95 (February 1994)
GR4: Treasure Chest, p38, The Great Stone Face (February 1994)
Cities of Bone, Adventure Book, p59 and Campaign Guide, p32 (May 1994)
Council of Wyrms, Card 9: Encounter Tables (May 1994)
CR5: Deck of Encounters, Set Two, Wisp at Play (June 1994)
City of Splendors, Campaign Guide to the City, p19, 114 and Monstrous Compendium sheets (July 1994)
Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix, p123-126 (July 1994)
PHBR13: Complete Druid’s Handbook, p19 (August 1994)
Dragon #208, p54, Campaign Journal: The Adri Forest (August 1994)
Elminster’s Ecologies, Explorer’s Manual, p11, 17, 18, 21, 26, 28, 32 (September 1994)
Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness, p118-121 (October 1994)
Volo’s Guide to the Sword Coast, p91-92 (October 1994)
The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga, p15-16 (March 1995)
Ivid the Undying, p74 (March 1995)
Ruins of Zhentil Keep, Campaign Book, p102 (March 1995)
Cloak of Shadows (May 1995)
The History of Dragonlance, p164 (May 1995)
A Light in the Belfry, back cover (May 1995)
Volo’s Guide to Cormyr, p39, 41, 223 (July 1995)
Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns, p140 (August 1995)
The Evil Eye, p36 (August 1995)
FOR7: Giantcraft, p78 (August 1995)
All Shadows Fled (September 1995)
Elminster’s Ecologies Appendix II, Encounter Tables, p1-5 (September 1995)
The Gothic Earth Gazetteer, back cover (November 1995)
Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Two, p91 (December 1995)
Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs, p103 (December 1995)
DeathKeep (November 1995)
The Sword of Roele, p52 (February 1996)
Faiths & Avatars, p86, 94, 97, 128, 135 (March 1996)
Realms of the Underdark, A Slow Day in Skullport (March 1996)
Uncaged: Faces of Sigil, p38, 40 (March 1996)
Dragon #228, p32, The Athalantan Campaign (April 1996)
Player’s Options: Spells & Magic, p75 (May 1996)
Undermountain: The Lost Level, p22-23 (May 1996)
Death Unchained, p53 (June 1996)
Volo’s Guide to the Dalelands, p104, (June 1996)
Dragon #232, p27, And the Walls Came Down (August 1996)
The Guide to Transylvania, p67 (August 1996)
The Rod of Seven Parts, Book IV Monsters, p3 (August 1996)
Requiem: The Grim Harvest, Necropolis, p25 (September 1996)
Volo’s Guide to All Things Magical, p55 (September 1996)
Netheril: Empire of Magic, The Winds of Netheril, p49 (October 1996)
Doors to the Unknown, p58, 60 (November 1996)
Undermountain: Stardock, p8 (January 1997)
Lands of Intrigue, Book One: Tethyr, p30, 66, 95 (August 1997)
Lands of Intrigue, Book Two: Amn, p54 (August 1997)
Lands of Intrigue, Book Three: Erlkazar and the Folk of Intrigue, p24 (August 1997)
Powers & Pantheons, p81, 141 (August 1997)
Dungeon #65, p50-51, Side Trek: Reflections (November 1997)
Jakandor: Island of War, DM’s Lorebook, p19 (January 1998)
The Paladins (January 1998)
Wizard’s Spell Compendium Volume Three, p662 (February 1998)
Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves, p71, 135 (March 1998)
The Shadow Rift, p81, 87, 104, 125 (April 1998)
Dragon #247, p90, The Anurans (May 1998)
The Bestiary, p165 (September 1998)
The Star Cairns, p21 (September 1998)
The Book of Sorrows, p58, 59 (October 1998)
The City of Ravens Bluff, p3 (October 1998)
The Inner Planes, p27 (November 1998)
Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four, p30, 48 (November 1998)
The Scarlet Brotherhood, p70 (March 1999)
Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, p30 (June 1999)
FOR13: Secrets of the Magister, p15, 74 (February 2000)
Slavers, p18, 45 (April 2000)
Dragon #273, p49, Wicked Garden: Van Richten’s Legacy (July 2000)
Dragon #274, p64, The Great Greenwood (August 2000)
Player’s Handbook, p248 (August 2000)
Dragon #275, p93-94, The Adventures of Volo: The Crumbling Stair (September 2000)
Dungeon Master’s Guide, p69, 124, 135 (September 2000)
Pool of Radiance: Attack on Myth Drannor, p51, 53, 94 (September 2000)
Monster Manual, p183-184 (October 2000)
Dungeon #84, p98, The Dying of the Light (January 2001)
Monsters of Faerûn, p68-69 (February 2001)
Diablo II: To Hell and Back, p168 (March 2001)
The Temple of Elemental Evil (May 2001)
Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, p209 (June 2001)
Dragon #285, p85, Faiths of Faerûn: Silverstar (July 2001)
Manual of the Planes, p80 (August 2001)
Dragon #288, p51, Unhallowed Ground (October 2001)
Dragon #288, p57-58, Tag Team Terror (October 2001)
Lords of Darkness, p31 (October 2001)
The Mahasarpa Campaign, p6 (October 2001)
Oriental Adventures, p145 (October 2001)
Dungeon #90/Polyhedron #149, p20, The Elfwhisper (January 2002)
Dungeon #90/Polyhedron #149, p78, 81, Tears for Twilight Hollow (January 2002)
Dragon #293, p55, Monsters with Class (March 2002)
Dungeon #92/Polyhedron #151, p103, The Razing of Redshore (May 2002)
The Book of Challenges, p55-57 (June 2002)
Neverwinter Nights (June 2002)
Silver Marches, p25, 44 (July 2002)
Icewind Dale II (August 2002)
Dragon #299, p29, Knights: Honor and Chivalry in any D&D Game (September 2002)
Dragon #299, p55, The Horrors of Cormyr (September 2002)
Dragon #300, p80, Shrouded in Death: The Ecology of the Mummy (October 2002)
The Treasure of the Black Veils, p2, 5-6, 9 (December 2002)
LKoK3: Hurry Up and Wait, p16 (2002)
Dungeon #97/Polyhedron #156, p31, Heart of the Iron God (March 2003)
Unapproachable East, p92, 94 (May 2003)
Blood Spawn: Creatures of Light and Shadow, p61-62, 82 (July 2003)
Monster Manual v.3.5, p255-256 (July 2003)
Player’s Handbook v.3.5, p216 (July 2003)
Secrets of the Alubelok Coast, p11 (November 2003)
Ravenloft Gazetteer: Volume IV, p67, 111 (December 2003)
Blood and Shadows: The Dark Elves of Tellene, p107 (May 2004)
Key of Destiny, p134 (May 2004)
Ravenloft Gazetteer: Volume V, p50 (May 2004)
Eberron Campaign Setting, p201 (June 2004)
d20 Future, p211 (August 2004)
Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor, p227 (August 2004)
Frostburn, p208-209 (September 2004)
Dungeon #115, p59, 61, 63, Strike on Shatterhorn (October 2004)
Wizards of the Coast website, Adventure Locales: The Silent Manse (October 2004)
Dragon #325, p90, Class Acts: Apprentice Tricks (November 2004)
Sharn: City of Towers, p177 (November 2004)
Races of Destiny, p77 (December 2004)
COR4-16: The Frozen Spire, p14, 30, 33, 36, 40, 44 (2004)
PAL4-02: Stirring the Waters, p14, 19, 32 (2004)
Dragon #328, p54-58, The Ecology of the Will-o’-Wisp (February 2005)
Dungeon #119, p65-66, Tomb of Aknar Ratalla (February 2005)
Dragon #331, p59, The Ecology of the Green Hag (May 2005)
City of Splendors: Waterdeep, p69, 126 (June 2005)
Dungeon Master’s Guide II, p130 (June 2005)
Five Nations, p40 (July 2005)
Spectre of Sorrows, p63, 119 (July 2005)
Stormwrack, p217-219 (August 2005)
Van Richten’s Guide to the Mists, p24 (August 2005)
Shining South, p84, 87, 88, 89 (October 2005)
Dungeon #126, p93, The Campaign Workbook (September 2005)
Dragon #338, p50-51, Core Beliefs: Boccob (December 2005)
FUR5-05: Of Blood and Bone, p24,-25, 38, 41, 44 (2005)
LKoK34: An Academic Incursion, p3, 14, 25 (2005)
Player’s Guide to Eberron, p88 (January 2006)
Dragon #340, p54, 55, Eye of the Night (February 2006)
Player’s Handbook II, p185 (March 2006)
Dungeon #136, p55, The Coming Storm (July 2006)
Complete Mage, p86 (October 2006)
The Gates of Night (November 2006)
Dungeon #141, p38-40, The Sea Wyvern’s Wake (December 2006)
Temple of the Frog, p21 (2006)
KET6-06: The Patriot’s Post, p23, 35, 37, 39, 41 (2006)
Return to the Temple of the Frog, p5 (February 2007)
FR1: Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave, p51, 58-59, 79 (March 2007)
Dragon: Monster Ecologies, p124-128 (May 2007)
Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk, p48 (August 2007)
Dragons of Winter, p64, 109-111 (November 2007)
TUS7-02: Bringing the Rain, p4, 12, 14, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27 (2007)
Divine Masters: The Faiths and Followers of Tellene, p82 (January 2008)
Dragons of Spring, p33 (January 2008)
Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters, p41 (January 2008)
Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, p107 (August 2008)
Dragon #367, p, Hall of the Frostmaiden (September 2008)
Wizards of the Coast website, P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens excerpt (October 2008)
P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens, Adventure Book One, p22 and Adventure Book Two, p4-5 (October 2008)
Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons, p204 (November 2008)
Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead, p192 (January 2009)
DALE1-4: The Lady in Flames, p5, 8, 22, 23 (May 2009)
Monster Manual 2, p97, 102, 129, 160, 209 (May 2009)
Dragon #376, p10, Creature Incarnations: Fell Taints (June 2009)
SPEC1-3: Ghosts of the Past: Siren’s Lure, p14, 16, 17 (September 2009)
Dragon #382, p61, Power Play: Arcane’s Gloaming Path (December 2009)
Dragon #382, p83, 85, Dark Awakening (December 2009)
The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos, p132 (December 2009)
SHL9-02: Lord Torkeep and the Temple of Gloom, p10, 33, 36, 39,42, 46, 51 (2009)
Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures: Lords of Madness, figure #55/60 (November 2010)
Dungeon #202, p11-12, The Isle of Death (May 2012)
Dungeon #207, p6, Starhaunt (October 2012)
Dungeon #167, p34, Heart of the Forbidden Forge (June 2009)
Dungeon #167, p65, Realmslore: Sarifal (June 2009)
Adventurer’s Vault 2, p61-62 (September 2009)
Underdark, p114-115 (January 2010)
Tomb of Horrors, p21 (July 2010)
CORE2-8: Enemy of My Enemy, p19, 20, 22, 25, 27, 29 (August 2010)
Monster Vault, p156 (November 2010)
INTRO1-10S As He Lay Dying, p2, 5 (January 2012)
Dragon #413, p61, Seekers of the Moonrise Vanguard (July 2012)
Wizards of the Coast website, Wandering Monster: The Fair Folk (November 2012)
Dungeon #209, p56-57, The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (December 2012)
Wizards of the Coast website, Wandering Monster: Defining Our Terms (April 2013)
D&D Next Playtest Packet, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks Bestiary, p26 (April 2013)
Dragon #423, p11, Ecology of the Gargoyle (May 2013)
D&D Next Playtest Packet, Against the Slave Lords Bestiary, p76 (June 2013)
Neverwinter (June 2013)
Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, p12, 101, 102, 103, 263 (August 2013)
Dead in Thay, p23, 67, 105 (April 2014)
ADCP4-1: City of Destinies, p60 (May 2014)
Monster Manual, p301 (September 2014)
Dungeon Master’s Guide, p303-305, 307 (December 2014)
DDEX1-12: Raider of the Twilight Marsh, p8, 10, 13, 14 (March 2015)
DDEX1-14: Escape from Phlan, p9 (March 2015)
Princes of the Apocalypse, p30 (April 2015)
DDEX3-7: Herald of the Moon, p21 (September 2015)
Curse of Strahd, p29, 33 (March 2016)
D&D Icons of the Realms: Monster Menagerie, figure #3/54 (April 2016)
DDAL4-10: The Artifact, p13 (May 2016)
Tales from the Yawning Portal, p64, 76 (May 2017)
Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms (September 2017)
Tomb of Annihilation, p170 (September 2017)
Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, p51, 71, 118, 125, 160, 278, 280, 282, 283 (November 2018)
DDAL8-17: The Tower of Ahghairon, p11, 13 (March 2019)
DDAL8-18: Moving Day, p14 (March 2019)
Ghosts of Saltmarsh, p25, 224 (May 2019)
Acquisitions Incorporated, p124, 128 (June 2019)
CCC-MMT-02-01 The Stuff of Memories, p6, 16 (June 2019)
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, p71 (September 2019)
D&D Essentials Kit, Dragon of Icespire Peak, p20 (September 2019)
CCC-ODFC03-01: A Momentary Lapse of Reason, p18 (December 2019)
Eberron: Oracle of War: Salvages Bases and Missions, p27, 47 (March 2020)
The Border Kingdoms, p10, 62 (April 2020)
CCC-PIPYAPS-DH1: Breaking Bes, p16, 32 (July 2020)
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, p66, 150 (September 2020)
Candlekeep Mysteries, p222 (March 2021)
D&D Icons of the Realms: Boneyard, figure #4/45 (March 2021)
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, p52 (May 2021)
A Verdant Tomb, p4-5 (July 2021)
DDAL-DRW11: Shadows in the Stacks, p9 (September 2021)
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, p61-62, 95 (September 2021)
CCC-BMG-MOON16-1: Augurs of Spring, p35 (March 2022)
RMH-12 Beneath the New Star, p7-8, 29 (March 2022)
Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep, p42, 164 (March 2022)
Magic: The Gathering: Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, card #10 (June 2022)
CCC-BMG-MOON17-2: Shed Light, Shed Blood, p16-17 (June 2022)
Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, p127 (July 2022)
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, Boo’s Astral Menagerie, p6, 63 (August 2022)
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, Light of Xaryxis, p31 (August 2022)​


Other ENCyclopedia entries
Visit the Monster ENCyclopedia index for links to other entries in this series.​


 
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Echohawk

Shirokinukatsukami fan
Thanks for the kind words, everyone! I appreciate the support for this series.

That is....significantly more information about will ' wisps than I expected there to be.
Indeed. When I started writing it, I thought this would be one of the shorter entries, but I was surprised at the sheer number of wisp relatives and variants in D&D lore.
The adventurers in the illustration are not underdressed without reason
Of course! I don't know how I missed that. Fixed, thanks.
The changing types and general lack of narrative description in the core books has always been a little weird. 5e going undead and being from dead souls felt like a big change in D&D lore for them.
In some ways, the 5th Edition will-o'-wisp circled right back to its roots. It started out as an undead creature (and without any immunity to magic missile, etc.) and ended up the same way.
I haven't finished the whole piece, which I assume is AMAZING as allways, but I think that on this sentence at the begining you meant to say "Colombian" instead of Columbian. "Colombian" meaning from the country "Colombia" instead of the other word, which relates to a place on the US.
Fixed, with apologies. Thanks!
 

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Voadam

Legend
In some ways, the 5th Edition will-o'-wisp circled right back to its roots. It started out as an undead creature (and without any immunity to magic missile, etc.) and ended up the same way.
So you demonstrate. :) I thought I was fairly familiar with D&D undead lore, and had seen them in the core monster manuals from 1e to 5e from roughly the eras when those books came out and were current edition. I've only seen the Oe stuff in PDF and I was unfamiliar with the specifics of a lot of the secondary sources you cite so the 5e undead nature was a shift for me personally from the non-undead nature I had seen them as.
 

Hussar

Legend
Goodgrief. I had no idea will-o'-wisps had appeared so many times. I can honestly say, it's one of those monsters I don't think I've ever used or ever remember encountering as a player.

Must fix that.
 


Cleon

Legend
Excellent work as always, Echohawk and very thorough.

Indeed, the article is so thorough I confess there was a point I though "how long is this blasted thing?" while reading it.

Couldn't think of and factoids about the Will-o'-Wisp that you'd missed, although I did notice a couple of possible typos as I read through it:

The Lykortha Expanse is a network of fungi-filled caves below the Sword Coast. Will-o’-wisps sever the lichen lich Xanthoria who dwells there, according to Candlekeep Mysteries.

Unless they're cutting up the lichen lich, I'm thinking this should be serve.

and another the encounter tables for the Nyr Dyv and Northern Woolly Bay in Slavers.

Presumably "another on the encounter tables"?

Oh, and would Slavers be in italics?

The Gothic Earth Gazetteer, includes will-o’-wisps on its list of creatures appropriate for the setting of Masque of the Red Death

Should this sentence have a comma?

The story also reveals that to be “wil-lened” is local slang for being charmed by a will-o’-wisp or feu follet

Is that hyphen in the right place? It they're charmed by a will-o'-wisp, wouldn't it be will-ened rather than wil-lened?

Tactics include form the shape of a burning vessel above a cluster of sharp rocks so that other sailors investigate,

Methinks the form is missing an ing, as in "Tactics include forming the shape".
 

crystorix

Explorer
While reading through this, I was thinking about fighting will-o'-wisps in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (if memory serves me correctly), and how annoying they were. At the time, I guess I wasn't aware that wisps attacked with electricity, so for a time had no idea what the glowing orbs of electricity were supposed to be. I'm not sure I've fought one in an actual tabletop game. My only other memory of them is very recently in the Pathfinder: Kingmaker video game, where for some reason they look like floating skulls.
 

Echohawk

Shirokinukatsukami fan
Indeed, the article is so thorough I confess there was a point I though "how long is this blasted thing?" while reading it.
Thanks for the feedback. I do apologise for the length. I didn't intend for this entry to be quite so long but there were so very many wisp relatives....
Couldn't think of and factoids about the Will-o'-Wisp that you'd missed, although I did notice a couple of possible typos as I read through it:
Your eagle eyes are appreciated as always. All of the typos have been fixed.
 

Cleon

Legend
Thanks for the feedback. I do apologise for the length. I didn't intend for this entry to be quite so long but there were so very many wisp relatives....

Don't worry about it.

With quality, more quantity is appreciated!

Your eagle eyes are appreciated as always. All of the typos have been fixed.

Yes, I must have been distracted this winter since I didn't even notice when your Vrock ENCyclopedia entry came out last October.

I'm reading through that in my spare minutes.
 

great job as usual Echohawk! don’t worry about the length—the more the merrier. its a perennial resource.

coincidentally, just after i read this, I DMed maybe the first will-o-wisps in my 40 years of play. They were in one of the Essentials Kit adventures i was DMing. I used your lore when a player sought info about then: “Some say they’re undead, others say they are fey or magical beasts.”

this is the kind of thing i would have liked to see WOTC publish…but now I’m movin’ on to the ORC alliance.
 
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ilgatto

How inconvenient
Once again, Sir, I can only stand in awe of your research and writing style. A pleasure to read and very, very informative.

The text again notes that normal weapons can harm a will-o’-wisp, but it has gained blanked immunity to all spells except for protection from evil, magic missile and, for some reason, maze.​
A true conundrum, it's immunity to Maze.

Occasionally (10% of the time) 1-3 will-o’-wisps are encountered together. In this case, the encounter is 90% likely to be in the vicinity of a lair. As before, a sufficiently injured will-o’-wisp will reveal its lair.​
Something to take into account when rolling up levels 6 and deeper of random dungeons using the DMG1 tables!:)

The Monster Manual offers no additional clues about the nature of will-o’-wisps, so it isn’t clear at this point if this version of the wisp is intended to be an undead creature.​
I suppose one could assume that the fact that DMG1 p. 75 does not have the will-o'-wisp in Table III effectively makes it not one of the undead, for I do believe that table specifically mentions all undead in the MM1. Also, if it would somehow be one of the "evil creatures from the lower planes such as minor demons, lesser devils, mezzodaemons, night hags" mentioned in the footnote on Special, it would probably be safe to assume that it isn't undead, considering the stage the game was ("officially") at at that time?
Anyway..., musings. And certainly not sound enough for a definitive verdict.


Some things that struck me when reading through the OD&D/1E/2E sections of the text:
The only new information is the specification of the wisp’s size as one-foot in diameter.
Not a native speaker, but should there be a hyphen in "one-foot" in this case?

A solitary will-o’-wisp in I7: Baltron’s Beacon lives in a well and is terrified of magic missiles, having previously been hurt by the spell. A single hit from a magic missile will cause it to flee in terror.

Italic for "magic missiles" and "magic missile"?
For example, see:
Similar to wisps, firestars are immune to magic, except for detection and communications spells, magic missiles and cold-related spells.
 
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