Legacy In The Fleets Of Spelljammer
Aberrant, magical beasts of arachnid legs and eel bodies, the Neogi are another remnant of a more alien dungeons & dragons experience. Often described as the blend of a wolf spider and a giant eel, Neogi are monstrous to behold. These telepathic, mind-controlling masters of intellect and technology once roamed the extraplanar space and time of the Spelljammer ethos.
A society built upon cunning, opportunity, and devious plots, these aberrants sought power and prestige among the stars. Their ships, often called Mindspiders, drifted through the Astral Sea, or its legacy name - The Sea Of Night, within the Realmspace (a whole other fascinating can of illithid). Some of their ships could even shift into other planes, and prey upon the Githyanki and Djinn vessels across known space.
-- A Neogi Mindspider, primed for assault --
Might and Magic
As with all intelligent societies, the Neogi have a curious relationship with their gods and their roles.
Gender is not a thing in Neogi society, a fact that extends to its deities. These entities are more complex; built from the concert of certain barbaric ideas. For example, one deity personifies torture, pain, and suffering; while another stems from the chaos of creation; still another is fueled by envy or jealousy (the Neogi's understanding of "love").
But the Neogi's relationship and interpretation of these entities is particularly interesting. Unlike many other societies, Neogi culture dictates that the gods of their pantheon do not take tribute from their followers; it is very much the opposite. These mythic creatures are instead demanded favors and boons regularly; these gods, the Neogi believe, are merely servants of the Neogi race, and therefore MUST provide. For a deity to fail in this endeavor would mean their destruction, and devouring, as another more powerful "servant" would take their place.
However, the Neogi, always primed for chances at greater power, would not settle for their servant gods. In their journeys across realms, Neogi shamans (warlocks) would strike pacts with the powerful entities they came across - most notably some of the literal Elder Evils of D&D's legacy: Acamar, Caiphon, Gibbeth, and HADAR (you heard me). They took these greater beings on as mentors and helped further their influence in the known and unknown cosmos.
Science and Industry
Though their bodies and visage would lead one to believe only in a monstrous, primitive society, the Neogi are highly advanced in many studies and disciplines. The stratification of roles and duty can even be observed in how they paint or tattoo their furry abdomens, certain colors denoting specific trades and responsibilities.
With little empathy for other creatures, the Neogi are accomplished "flesh weavers" and necromancers, using the parts and pieces of numerous other species, slaves, and failed experiments to produce terrible and fascinating new monstrocities. It is rumored among Loremasters that these arachnid "mad scientists" are responsible for the creation of the Gray Render... Though no others can prove such a claim. The poor Umber Hulk and its cousins have been summarily studied, dissected, mutated, and raised from certain death by these practices, the dreaded Undead Hulk - an Umber Hulk flesh golem of regenerating pincers and necrotic spray - finding a home as both a Neogi guard dog and their prime enforcer.
Aforementioned warlocks and the few wizards of their clans were both motivated and industrial, forging new and modified versions of spells to adapt and support their war parties, and extend their dark rituals.
Speaking of rituals - this is how more Neogi are created. You see, as a Neogi reaches the end of its life and its memory begins to fade, a Neogi Priest will inject a powerful venom into the aging Neogi and perform an ancient ritual. Usually small or medium creatures, this elder Neogi will swell to a 20-foot behemoth called a Great Old Master. This mutated creature will remember nothing of its old life and will be driven only to eat, growing as large as possible. Those with Feeder striations in their fur must now gather as much food for the Great Old Master, as it eats and creates eggs inside its massive body. After two months of growth, the eggs hatch, killing the Old Master. The 20 to 40 new Neogi spawn then feed on the Old Master's corpse...and each other, until the strongest of the cluster survive.
By The Numbers (5th Edition)
In 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, you'll likely run across the Neogi in three forms - the Hatchling, the standard Neogi and the Master. Let's break them down.
HATCHLING (tiny) - young and fledgling (AC 10-11; HP Level 1 Wizard), these are dangerous in large numbers and simple on their own. Just don't wake up their older siblings.
NEOGI (small) - better natural armor (AC 15-16) and multi-attack makes this bugger a tougher beast to tango with, but this standard beastie comes with the main thing that makes these critters tick. The Neogi has an Enslave ability (Short or Long Rest dependent) that pushes a Wisdom save. Fail that, and you're charmed by the creature for one DAY (and it knocks out your Reactions - bummer). Oh and did I mention that the Neogi talks to you telepathically during this whole thing out to a distance of one mile? *shudder*
MASTER (medium) - not to be confused with the "Great Old" variety, these nasty variations on a theme get everything their small counterparts do (plus more than double their HP pool), and are freaking spellcasters! Looks like these masters went all in for the Hadar fan club with a slice of Confused Bard, so be ready for some telepathic Vicious Mockery while being whalloped with Eldritch Blast for good measure. Be careful too, they can function as a 7th-9th level caster, so that spell save may be meaner than you think at low level. And I know I mentioned the "Hadar vibe", but any DM that does their research can mix up that power set to match another Elder Evil (wink-wink).
Now, each of these creatures has the Mental Fortitude of an Elf and Spider Climb, so watch your six. What they lack in empathy, they make up for in numbers, and if they're following that Spartan Chuck-E-Cheese childhood, you can bet that what's coming for you ain't no pushover.
Closing Thoughts and Interpretations
The Neogi are a Legacy Monster.
Given their expansive and extensive lore dating back to second edition (2e), not to mention their pronounced influence within the Spelljammer history, their current iteration and inclusion feels lackluster. There are dozens of fascinating creatures with deep history and ethos in Faerun and worlds beyond that are offered only a tiny passage in Volo's Guide, or Mordenkainen's Tome, or the Monster Manual talking about them, and, unfortunately, many of these passages end with a "nobody really knows" and a shrug (flips page).
To say that these are missed opportunities isn't exactly fair, either. At its core, 5th Edition is intended to be accessible. You don't want to bury the DM in mountains of back-logged history (some of it quite problematic today) just to get an interesting critter on the board. So instead, I offer up my own approach:
This awesome monster can be a one-off. A "well, that was weird, moving on" type moment. OR, much like what happens when I do my research for each of these, this monster is a launching point of inspiration. Truthfully, I hadn't yet considered the Neogi's place in my homebrew setting, but you can BET I've got one mixing now. The rabbit hole I jumped into has some really cool avenues to play with, and I can twist and turn and mutate them however I see fit.
These things have a huge spider motif going for them - could they be distantly connected to Lolth? Maybe the Drow that serve her hate Neogi, because they believe their banners as an affront to their queen! You don't know (shrugs and cackles in DM).
My point is that for every moment of disappointment found in a feature, creature, or spell, there can instead be a tiny mote of inspiration, leading you to a setting with greater depth, immersion, and personal craft.
A twig snaps,
A child cries.
I draw a knife,
The lantern lies.
"Hope," it whispers,
A fire warm.
But follow it, my dears,
And summon the swarm...
At A Glance
Will-O-Wisps are evil wisps of light that lift from malevolent corpses and haunt both battlefields and the lonely reaches of dark forests. Bound by dark magic, they lure unwary creatures into quicksand, lava flows, and monster lairs, reveling in the agony of their victims. Evil creatures that fall prey to the false hope of a Will-O-Wisp often become one themselves, and tend to gather in places of oppressive sorrow and death; graveyards, ghost towns, and dark forests of murder. Spiraling in these desolate places of lost hope and fragmented memory, they pull creatures toward dismal fates and feed on their misery.
Dungeons and Dragons, and its many branches, are not the only interpreters of this creature.
The story of the Will-O-Wisp harkens back hundreds of years in European and Asian folklore. These "ghost-lights" were sometimes evil spirits, other times witches or supernatural beings transformed. Whatever the influence, the creatures never spelled good fortune for those who saw them.
My own experience in the folklore of these lights ties back into Scottish folklore specifically, where the creatures were simply the spirits and fairies of the forest. I think that this simplified interpretation led my own writing down the fey path for these entities. The luring, however, was always a gimmick. I remember distinct dreams of following these wisps of dancing light and smoke as they percolated through a dense wooded trail. At the end, however, was not my demise; instead, a mysterious hooked staff covered in ancient vines. It would whisper to me like wordless whispers of the spirits that brought me there...
By The Numbers
These tiny undead orbs are quick (high AC), fast (50-60 feet hover speed), and resistant to a bunch of damage types, if not outright IMMUNE (lightning and poison). But if you can land one or two good hits on them, even at low level, you should be okay. Trouble is, they rarely move alone; where one appears, many more follow.
WoW's are Invisible until they attack (a little shock) or use their very scary "Consume Life" ability, so you literally won't see them coming. That latter ability is what makes these critters one of the nastiest in the Monster Manual, even at higher levels. Any creature with a low Constitution saving throw, even an epic hero, can straight up die from its effect. Die, not go unconscious, not become incapacitated. They die. DC 10 is standard, but that 5% chance Natural 1 could kill your character outright without a clutch Revivify in your back pocket.
Don't try to grapple these suckers either; they'll pass right through you, and their Dexterity save is stupid high. You see a swarm, you run, or let loose a big freaking fire ball...then run faster.
Will-O-Wisps In Io
Though the origins of the creature rarely differ, their intentions in Io are often less miserable. They are also HEAVILY influenced by the plane that they exist in.
WoWs of the Feywild will be more innocent and mischievous - still deadly, mind you - but their souls of dead sprites and nymphs don't understand the weight of their actions. It's tragic, really. These playful spirits are drawing creatures into their sight to feel not so alone...which kills their new friends anyway.
WoWs of the Shadowfell carry a sorrowful weight and an unending desire to consume the living. These spirits are tormented by the wales of their own death that they seek rebirth by draining the life force from other beings. This usually manifests in alternative versions of their Consume Life ability, wherein they don't kill the target. Instead, they inhabit their body, siphoning the creature of each of its attributes until only a husk remains...and a Wight is born instead.
The more I write on these creatures, the greater the permutations and variations that manifest across the planes. I consider what is in the Monster Manual as fact for the Material Plane, but as any Horizon Walker knows...Planeshift is one helluva drug.
Be safe out there, and beware the lights that drift in the forest.
Will-O-Wisps can be found all over Dungeons & Dragons, but for 5th Edition, look no further than the classic Monster Manual.
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