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Energy Drain
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

I t's time to go over more undead! You might have noticed one power I didn't list among all the vampire's capabilities a couple weeks ago: energy drain. In past editions, that's been a widespread characteristic of undead, but in our discussions, we felt like it was most effective as the signature ability of one or two kinds of undead. Well, the two undead most strongly associated with some form of energy drain are the subject of our column this week: wights and wraiths.

Destructive Evil: Wights

In life, a wight was a truly evil person whose anger and all-consuming ambition distorted it into a hateful and murderous creature. Its transformation into undeath is a punishment meted out on it—a curse formed from the corruption it embodied while living. (Of course, some gods and their followers might view the curse as a blessing and reward.)

In undeath, a wight is even more hateful and destructive, and it has supernatural power to back up those qualities. Animals flee from the presence of a wight. Plant life withers where it walks and for miles around where it resides. Its undead body is preternaturally tough, making it difficult to harm without the use of magic. A wight retains its memories and personality, in some cases including class features and spellcasting ability, and it can use any weapons, tools, and armor it retained from its past life. Wights that were spellcasters in life are sometimes called deathlocks.

A wight's most dreaded quality is its energy drain, and here's a place where we're still hammering out some details. In the current playtest bestiary, energy drain is an attack the wight can use in place of two weapon attacks, so it does less damage, but it also reduces the target's maximum hit points (limiting the effects of healing until after the target's next long rest).

Another concept we've been kicking around is that energy drain is an ability the wight uses to drain the last bit of life from a creature already worn down by its other attacks. The image in my mind is the queen in Snow White and the Huntsman, holding a woman by the throat, lifting her up off the ground, and opening her mouth to suck years off the woman's life. Whatever you thought of the movie, I hope you agree that's a striking image.

I think a key element of energy drain (which is missing from the current playtest bestiary) is that using it should restore the wight's health—it drains life from the victim and consumes it, gaining that energy for itself.

Here's another unresolved issue about energy drain: What happens to someone whose life energy a wight utterly consumes? In past editions, the person becomes a wight under the control of its creator. We left that out in 4th Edition, partly because we envision that as the particular shtick of vampires, and partly because of a lingering suspicion that if wights could create other wights, it wouldn't take that long for the whole world to be transformed into wights. In the current playtest bestiary, creatures slain by the wight's energy drain attack become zombies, but I don't think that will stand. What do you think?

Well, that was a long digression into the land of "I don't really know what I'm talking about," but here's some more I do know about wights. They're strong and have high Charisma scores, which can sometimes draw other evil creatures and undead to follow them. They make good leaders; they're smart enough to use followers intelligently.

On the other hand, they're not good at patience or impulse control. They're consumed with rage and hatred, and when their plans go awry they get easily frustrated. Unlike liches, they don't have the patience to wait years for their plans to unfold. They're very aggressive and tend to be direct in their efforts to wreak destruction around them. Tied to all this is a below-average Wisdom score, in general.

Conquering Evil: Wraiths

Some say that wraiths are akin to wights, but formed from people who were even more hateful and evil than those who become wights. Others describe wraiths as wights whose malign spirits have outlived even their supernaturally preserved bodies. Whatever the truth, wraiths are like pure evil concentrated into a single incorporeal form.

Their incorporeality is one of their defining characteristics. They can pass through solid objects and are smart enough to use objects such as walls and pillars as cover and protection from enemy attacks. Sometimes they'll appear from one wall, make a devastating attack while sweeping past an enemy, and disappear into the opposite wall.

When a wraith attacks, it extends part of its incorporeal form into its target and tears out part of its foe's life force. Whether the wraith attacks with its ghostly claws or with a spectral image of a weapon it wields, the effect is the same.

Whatever approach we take with wights, I'm pretty sure that every one of a wraith's attacks involves some form of energy drain. It's possible that the mechanic used for the playtest wight is better suited to the wraith: an attack it uses every round to claim some of its foe's life, inflicting more than mere wounds.

Highly intelligent, wraiths are undead masterminds who often lead other undead creatures (especially wights) in their schemes of conquest. Like the Witch-King of Angmar in Tolkien's works, some wraiths have dreams of ruling over lands of the living, slowly but surely transforming what was once a pleasant land into a haunted nightmare realm. Wraiths are more patient than wights in pursuit of their goals, though they are still somewhat lacking in Wisdom—their alienation from the material world diminishes their faculties of perception and insight.

As with wights, we're leaning away from allowing wraiths to create spawn. In the D&D world, it sure seems like the incorporeal wraiths could flit freely about the world turning every innocent commoner they could find into a wraith, and the world would quickly come to an end. But again, this is something we really want your feedback about.

What Do You Think?

Here's your chance to help us with some of those unresolved questions, as well as give us your overall feedback on this description of the energy-draining undead.

 How should a wight's energy drain work?  
They shouldn't drain energy at all.
Every attack should drain some life energy from its target.
It should be a finishing blow the wight uses against a weakened target (for example, it can affect only a creature with X or fewer hit points).

 What happens to someone who's killed by a wight's energy drain?  
The victim dies.
The victim dies and becomes a zombie, either immediately or some time later.
The victim dies and becomes a wight, either immediately or some time later.
Other (comments!).

 Now, how should a wraith's energy drain work?  
They shouldn't drain energy at all.
Every attack should drain some life energy from its target.
It should be a finishing blow the wight uses against a weakened target (for example, it can affect only a creature with X or fewer hit points).

 What happens to someone who's killed by a wight's energy drain?  
The victim dies.
The victim dies and becomes a wight, either immediately or some time later.
The victim dies and becomes a wraith, either immediately or some time later.
Other (comments!).

  Overall, how well do the wights we've described here match your sense of the iconic D&D undead?  
1—I hate it like wights hate the living.
2—I don't recognize it at all.
3—The basic outline is fine, but it needs more.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a wight.
5—It's a perfect match to the wight in my head.

  How well do the wraiths we've described here match your sense of the iconic D&D undead?  
1—I hate it with the darkness of a thousand extinguished suns.
2—I don't recognize it at all.
3—The basic outline is fine, but it needs more.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a wraith.
5—It's everything I always wanted a wraith to be.

Previous Week's Poll Results

How well do the mummies we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D undead?
1--Imhotep is spinning in his sarcophagus. 52 3.2%
2--Mummies need a stronger and better story than this. 220 13.6%
3--I like one of the mummies but not the other. (Comments!) 68 4.2%
4--Yeah, I recognize those as mummies. 696 43.0%
5--I would trust these mummies to guard my treasures. 583 36.0%
Total 1619 100.0%

How well do the liches we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D undead?
1--Azalin is fuming in his tomb. 22 1.3%
2--Power-mad wizards—ho-hum. 72 4.2%
3--The basic outline is fine, but it needs more. 238 14.0%
4--Yeah, I recognize that as a lich. 698 40.9%
5--This is the lich I would be if I were a mighty wizard! 675 39.6%
Total 1705 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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