Skeletons and zombies are made by desecrating a body. Ghouldom (ghoulishness?) operates like a disease; you usually contract it from another ghoul or by eating corpses. But as PCs rise in levels, wights are the first example of the greater undead paradigm: spirits too single-minded and/or evil to die, plain and simple.
Jason Nelson goes into more detail in Undead Revisited, cataloging the number of ways wights can be created (there are many): necromancy, more powerful undead, a life of hate, a life of trauma, possession of a body by an evil spirit (this one I find really interesting and might tie in well with oni and many islander mythologies), and the classic grave guardians à la Tolkien’s barrow-wights. (He adds a tidbit I think all GMs should steal, which is that many wight treasures are likely cursed as well. Take that, grave robbers!)
So wights are your all-purpose undead—scary at low-levels, dangerous in packs, often the vassals of more terrifying abominations, and with enough variants to slot into any number of roles and environs.
Xander of Applewood’s larcenous luck saved him when he burgled Deadwatch Tor. Fleeing in panic from the Deadwatch cairn wight, he slipped trying to climb up a ladder, falling onto the wight and shattering the holy water vials he had lifted from a temple the night before. The wight perished in a bubbling howl of rage, and Xander escaped a rich man—or he would have done, had the treasure not being cursed. Now Applewood is a hamlet of the living dead, the inhabitants all turned to wights by the treasure or their neighbors. And Xander of Applewood, no longer a thief but a cairn wight, lords over them all.
Danvoort, the Moat City, has always relied on its namesake moat rings to keep out invaders. But Danvoort’s designers clearly did not reckon on necromancers enlisting. The invading force sends wights into the moats and reservoir tunnels, and brute wights make short work of the submerged gates meant to trap air-breathing assailants.
The monastery at the Spring of Psalms is under attack! An unearthly blizzard has blown in from the north, bringing with it frost wights, allips, and cackling ice mephits that have surrounded the monastery—trapping the monks, lay worshippers, and well-to-do patrons who have made the hot spring a holiday retreat. The crowd is disorganized and fractious, so adventurers will have to step in and organize the defenses. Fortunately, the sprawling complex is surprisingly defensible, and the hot temperatures and steamy conditions both entrance and enrage the frost wights. The party that uses the saunas and bathing caverns to their advantage might live to see the spring.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 276
And now, a PSA:
Kids, it’s never cool to eat corpses.
*The More You Know shooting star*
As mentioned above, Undead Revisited has more on wights, including more variants and a CR 9 wight lord.
Also, can we all agree old-school wight level drain sucked? SUCKED. I’m so glad it’s gone. (I’m finally getting back to the stack of Free RPG Day modules that last summer’s craziness forced me to abandon, which means I’m exploring a lot of 1e D&D clones. While I sincerely appreciate the enthusiasm of the Old School Renaissance tribe, I’d rather volunteer for the Hunger Games than go back to the era of level drain and save or die poisons.)
Enthusiastic response to yesterday’s post. Thanks especially to badmadwolf and underscorex for writing in. That third adventure seed probably has its germ in M. C. Sumner’s “A Wing of Wyverns,” in which a modern-era pilot discovers the damage DDT has done to wyvern eggs, from Dragon Magazine #170. Also in that issue: a Jeff Easley cover, fascinating looks at Mystara’s dragons and the nation of Yavdlom from Bruce A. Heard, and teaser ads for the Dark Sun setting.
(I don't usually link to Dragon Magazine PDFs because I’m a bit pedantic about sticking to official sources, which sadly don't exist for Dragon. But I assume you guys are talented Googlers and can find anything I reference that piques your interest.)
Speaking of islander mythologies, last Friday agelfeygelach wrote:
See now I want to make a fantasy Oceania setting. Too bad there are so few monsters from that area in the game.
A) Do it (and tell us about it)!
And B) well, you've already identified 11 in your link, which isn't bad. After a little Googling, I’m thinking the akhlut could be reskinned as one of the shark-dog hybrids…the popobala is from off the coast of Africa but would fit right in…the sea serpent, water orm, ogre, hag, devilfish, kraken, wereshark, and werebat don’t even need conversions (maybe a name change here or there—a water orm might be a horomatangi)…the werecrocodile might as well be a werelizard…the devastating dogs might be yeth hounds, dire wolves, or worgs…and the fey/pygmies of Polynesian legends could be halflings, gnomes, or brownies…
But—and that’s a big BUT—I don't know Polynesian folklore that well. What Oceanian monsters do you really feel the lack of? Which ones would you like to see statted up? And can any of the rest of y’all help agelfeygelach out?