The wight, as currently understood, owes much of its existence to Professor Tolkein. The original English word simply means "person" (sometimes "man"), although it is cognate to the German wicht - which often refers to small gnome or fairy like creatures, often of bad character. The first specifically undead wights appear in Tolkein's The Fellowship of the Ring as "Barrow-wights" (roughly "people of the barrow"): dead Dunedain and Edain, animated by evil spirits dispatched from Angmar by the witch-king. That said, the idea that the dead buried in a barrow would rise and attack those who violated it - and might even rise from an involate barrow to hunt the living in some cases - was not a strange one to our ancestors. The Norse in particular had a store of legends about such things and knew them as draugr - although that term was used for other forms of undead as well. Also, to add to the confusion, many barrows were said to be fairy hills and so a reference to "people of the barrow" might also imply the fae … who were also not well disposed towards strangers.
Thus have such creatures appeared in a variety of fRPGs over the years - typically as semi-sapient, zombie like creatures, dwelling in ancient tombs and preying on the living. A wight will also typically have additional powers above and beyond simple physical violence: the ability to drain life energy is common, as are various other magical skills. They may also be dressed in ancient finery and/or armour and might well be armed with ancient weapons. Armour or not, resistance to normal weapons is another normal trait for these creatures, meaning that they require significant resources to destroy. Once it is destroyed, the victors are free to claim the treasures of the wight's grave-goods, which would normally be significant: indeed in some treatments it is mostly the accquisitiveness and desire to deny their horde of precious things to others that lead to them becoming wights in the first place.
In some senses, the wight may be considered a different culture's version of the mummy.
Game and Story Use
- These things deserve more backstory than they traditionally get - any barrow is the grave of someone significant and it should be possible to find out whom.
- The possibility that the troublesome presence in a given barrow may be fae rather than undead could be played up. The appropriate countermeasures - and for that matter, the inherent risks - are very different.
- Goblins, especially of the fae variety, would seem good candidates for infesting a barrow.