|Images of will-o'-wisps
Source: Bestiary, pg(s). 333
Will-o'-wisps are cruel creatures that lurk in swamps, luring travelers to their doom and feeding on their fear.1
A will-o'-wisp is a living globe of spongy flesh about a foot in diameter, translucent almost to the point of complete transparency. They can emit bright light from every surface of their bodies, and can glow in any color they desire, most often pale shades of white, yellow, green, or blue. They can form patterns with their light, often displaying the apparition of a skull to terrify their victims.1 Will-o'-wisps can also extinguish their light to become effectively invisible, often doing so when the victim is wholly lost and realises that the bobbing light is not leading them to safety.2
When they discover travelers, will-o'-wisps float in the distance, attempting to trick their victims into believing they are signs of safety such as lanterns, while actually leading the gullible into places where they would suffer a slow death, like pockets of unbreathable air, quicksand, or other monsters' lairs. When their victims begin to die, will-o'-wisps come in close and absorb their psychic emanations, literally feeding on fear to gain sustenance.12
Will-o'-wisps taste subtle differences between the flavour of various types of fear, from the lurking dread of getting lost to the stark terror of facing a giant monster. Some will-o'-wisps prefer a particular way to watch their prey die, while others try to induce different kinds of fear among their victims. Will-o'-wisps can discharge a powerful electric shock to deter attackers, but usually only fight in self-defence, preferring to let exposure, nature, or other creatures finish off their prey.3
Will-o'-wisps cannot consume any kind of matter; all of their sustenance is drawn from the fear of their prey. Due to their long lives and good memories, will-o'-wisps can be a good source of information if subjugated, though doing so is not an easy feat.2
It is unclear how will-o'-wisps reproduce. The Chronicle of the Healing Dance claims that they transform the souls of their victims into more of their kind, but cannot do so to the good of heart; though, it is possible that this is only a morality tale and a reason to live a good life, and is not rooted in truth. Planar scholars speculate that will-o'-wisps form in the First World and move to the Material Plane, where they hunger for the strong emotions once tasted in the First World, though this does not explain their cruelty. Singing the Candles' Litany, a rare, forbidden daemonic text, talks about how fragments of souls slain by terror can be used to create will-o'-wisps through occult rituals and sacrifices, but spends more time describing the taste of such souls. It is possible that will-o'-wisps can spawn from all of these methods.3
Despite the abundance of prey in cities, will-o'-wisps prefer desolate, but not impassable, locations, usually near paths of least resistance through forbidding terrain like swamps, where there are numerous travellers who can most easily be led astray.3
Will-o'-wisps are also common within the First World.5 Some of them adapt themselves to the mercurial moods of the fey by feeding on various emotions other than fear, while others follow the fey into the Material Plane and prey upon the victims of their pranks. Elder will-o'-wisps bearing grandiose titles serve the Eldest as messengers and toadies, especially the Lantern King, who nonetheless laughs off claims that he might be their progenitor.67
There are various conflicting accounts of the origin of will-o'-wisps. In a tale told by the church of Ashava, when Lady Rushlight, an archetypal will-o'-wisp, starved to death after Ashava thwarted her attempts to lure a wayward, despairing traveller astray, she fragmented into pieces that became will-o'-wisps. According to followers of Yog-Sothoth, will-o'-wisps are paradoxical echoes of souls from a lost (or future) reality, despairing for what they had or cannot have yet. Even more fantastic stories say that will-o'-wisps were imprinted by beings from an adjacent, abandoned reality, or that they are creations of the sceaduinar.8
Will-o'-wisps are highly intelligent but possess an alien mindset that other sentient creatures have a hard time understanding. They are capable of rapidly vibrating their bodies to create sounds of speech, but communicate with each other via complex light patterns.1
Will-o'-wisps sometimes organize into small groups called strings, but their goals remain obscure to outsiders. Will-o'-wisps do not age and can be valuable sources of ancient knowledge to those who can figure out how to coax it from them.1
Will-o'-wisps sometimes cooperate with marsh giants9 or ahuizotls in catching prey.10 They have an inherent relationship with witchfires, as the witchfire can summon will-o'-wisps, and her aura of terror affects them like a drug, inflaming their passions and making them highly willing to follow or serve the undead hags; will-o'-wisps are thought to have played a role in the creation of the very first witchfire.11
Though some will-o'-wisps serve Mestama or Yog-Sothoth, many more follow Nhimbaloth. She is said to be the true source of all will-o'-wisps, who serve as eyes through which she sees from a realm beyond the very concept of death.128
A rare, more powerful type of will-o'-wisp, known as Groetan candles, are associated with the god Groetus and are attracted to sites of his worship, where they may linger for centuries due to their lack of conception of time. Rather than emit electrical shocks, Groetan candles emit bone-chilling cold. They appear as normal will-o'-wisps with a skull-like shape in the center of their aura of bright blue light, surrounded by a nimbus of shifting runes.13
Dune candles are desert-dwelling will-o'-wisps that delight in burning their victims alive and feed on their screams. Though they can turn off their glow, their heat shimmer is difficult to conceal.14
Flickerwisps are a weaker but no less malevolent type of will-o'-wisp. They haunt similar locales to their more dangerous kin but feed on the doubts and confusion of their prey rather than fear.15
Spellvoids feed on magic, instead of fear, and are particularly dangerous to spellcasters, but usually leave non-spellcasters alone, except if they are adventurers, who are sometimes stalked by a spellvoid that hopes to be led to prey.14
Will-o'-wisps can be found in swamps throughout the world. They are very common in the River Kingdoms, especially Loric Fells,16 Candlemere,17 and the Narlmarches.18 In Qadira Will-o' wips haunt the isolated reaches of the fertile region of Maharev. 19
Some of the ancient Azlanti captured will-o'-wisps and bottled them to serve as street lights and living art pieces. The survivors and descendants of such "will-o'-wisp gardens" now hunt Azlanti ruins, including the Sun Temple Colony20 and Nal-Kashel.21
Will-o'-wisps inhabiting the Crown of the World sometimes approach travelers under the guise of helpful spirits, directly trying to lead them astray across the endless ice, but the native Erutaki are aware of their ruses.22
Will-o'-wisps have many colloquial names, including jack-o'-the-lanterns, corpse candles, corpse lights,24 walking fires, pine lights, spooklights, rushlights,1 and, in the River Kingdoms, Hanspur's night lights.25
A major article about will-o'-wisps was published in Hands of the Devil.
- “Monsters A to Z” in Bestiary, 277. Paizo Inc., 2009 .
- “Monsters A-Z” in Bestiary, 333. Paizo Inc., 2019 .
- “Among the Will-o'-Wisps” in Hands of the Devil, 60. Paizo Inc., 2021 .
- “Adventure Toolbox” in Ruins of Gauntlight, 82. Paizo Inc., 2021 .
- “Chapter 4: Mastering the Wild” in Ultimate Wilderness, 129. Paizo Inc., 2017 .
- “Among the Will-o'-Wisps” in Hands of the Devil, 63. Paizo Inc., 2021 .
- “The First World” in Sound of a Thousand Screams, 68. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- “Among the Will-o'-Wisps” in Hands of the Devil, 59. Paizo Inc., 2021 .
- “Marsh Giant” in Giants Revisited, 37. Paizo Inc., 2012 .
- “Bestiary” in Blood for Blood, 81. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- “Bestiary” in Sins of the Saviors, 84–5. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- “Lords of the Abyss” in Lords of Chaos, Book of the Damned Volume 2, 20. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- “Beyond the Doomsday Door” in Beyond the Doomsday Door, 47–8. Paizo Inc., 2012 .
- “Among the Will-o'-Wisps” in Hands of the Devil, 61. Paizo Inc., 2021 .
- “Adventure Toolbox” in Ruins of Gauntlight, 83. Paizo Inc., 2021 .
- “Loric Fells” in Guide to the River Kingdoms, 27. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- “The Stolen Lands” in Guide to the River Kingdoms, 51. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- “The Stolen Lands” in Guide to the River Kingdoms, 53. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- “Adventuring in Qadira” in Qadira, Jewel of the East, 37. Paizo Inc., 2017 .
- “Sun Temple Colony” in Lost Cities of Golarion, 41. Paizo Inc., 2011 .
- From Shore to Sea, 14. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- “The Hungry Storm” in The Hungry Storm, 16. Paizo Inc., 2011 .
- “Crown of the World” in The Hungry Storm, 68. Paizo Inc., 2011 .
- “Pathfinder's Journal: The Tower in Darkness” in Dreams of the Yellow King, 74. Paizo Inc., 2016 .
- “Pathfinder's Journal: Prodigal Sons 4 of 6” in Blood for Blood, 72. Paizo Inc., 2010 .