Barrow wight

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The barrow wight, W, is a monster that appears in NetHack. They are members of the wraith monster class; like most other wraiths, they have a level draining attack, are resistant to cold, sleep and poison, and typically do not leave corpses.

Barrow wights have a small handful of monster spells that can stun the player, increase their speed, heal themselves, or assault the player's mind.

Generation

A barrow wight always generates with a long sword and a knife.[1]

Barrow wights typically begin appearing once a character has gained a few experience levels and is on their way Minetown or the Oracle. They are among the monsters that can be generated as part of the second quest monster class for the Wizard quest. Characters that die at the hands of a barrow wight will leave a named wraith in bones instead of a ghost.

Strategy

Barrow wights move at the same speed as an unhasted, unburdened hero, and can be more troublesome than expected. They will often throw their knife (and any other projectiles they comes across) upon spotting you; however, a barrow wight's melee attacks are not particularly strong, but can drain levels and still cause significant damage using the long sword. Their spellcasting can also potentially prolong a fight, and may be even more trouble when fighting multiple foes. Alert players, especially ones that can stay out of melee range, can handle them fairly quickly and without too much trouble.

Once a wight is destroyed, the long sword may be of interest to lawful characters looking to dip for Excalibur. Barrow wights are also a source of knives for roles capable of utilizing them as projectiles, e.g. Healers and Rogues.

History

The barrow wight first appears in NetHack 3.0.0.

Origin

A "barrow" is a burial mound, such as the ones used in Neolithic times; the word "wight" describes a living human being in its original Old English usage, but has come to be used within fantasy to describe certain immortal ghost-like beings (with "ghost" itself being a less archaic definition of the term). The earliest such example is in William Morris's 1869 translation of the Grettis saga, a work of Icelandic family prose; here, haugbui (referring to undead monsters Glámr and Kárr) is translated as "barrow-wight".

NetHack most likely derives barrow wights from their 1974 inclusion in Dungeons & Dragons, which in turn is derived from J. R. R. Tolkien's world of Middle-earth. Tolkien's barrow-wights are themselves derived from Nordic folklores such as the ones translated by Morris, and they are typically depicted as wraith-like evil spirits; in The Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Frodo and his company narrowly escape an encounter with one with the aid of Tom Bombadil, who then arms the group using "barrow-blades" and ancient swords from the wight's treasure-hoard (the basis for their NetHack starting inventory).

Since then, the wight has become a recurring form of undead in other fantasy works, such as A Song of Ice and Fire and Vampire: The Masquerade.

Variants

SLASH'EM

In SLASH'EM and other derived variants such as SlashTHEM, barrow wights are a decent monster form for early Dopplegangers due to their resistances and level-draining attack, though their carry cap is somewhat low.

UnNetHack

In UnNetHack, barrow wights are slightly more common; if a player is killed by a Nazgul, they will rise as a barrow wight in the bones file.

Encyclopedia entry

When he came to himself again, for a moment he could recall
nothing except a sense of dread. Then suddenly he knew that
he was imprisoned, caught hopelessly; he was in a barrow. A
Barrow-wight had taken him, and he was probably already under
the dreadful spells of the Barrow-wights about which whispered
tales spoke. He dared not move, but lay as he found himself:
flat on his back upon a cold stone with his hands on his
breast.

[ The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien ]

References