D&D Monster Monday: Nightwalker
The towering shadowy figure points a single finger at you. You quiver in fear as you feel your very soul being ripped out of your body. It looms closer to you, tearing parts of your being out from your consciousness until everything fades to black. A nightwalker has entered the Material Plane.
Today we’re going to jump into Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and look at the highest CR creature we’ve talked about in this series yet! The nightwalker is a terrifying creature from the Negative Plane from the Shadowfell.
It’s a gargantuan being with the ability to kill a creature without giving them a chance to make death saves. Not only that, but it’s surprisingly able to maneuver itself around the battlefield and keep out of range of most melee attacks.
Nightwalkers are unique creatures that make for excellent roadblocks for high-level parties. They demand a lot of attention and resources be focused on them and can slow the party down significantly, making them easy targets for other creatures later in the session.
I feel like nightwalker lore can be summed up as 80’s Death Metal.
They originate in the Negative Plane that can be accessed from the Shadowfell. Basically, beings that enter this realm are generally destroyed almost immediately. Those that aren’t will release a nightwalker to take their place in the world.
These creatures cannot speak or understand any language. They are simply hulking beings that seek to only decimate all life. Nightwalkers have no masters and no personal goals. They are simply drawn towards life to destroy it.
A creature trapped in the Negative Plane can only escape from it if the nightwalker that was sent out to replace them is lured into the Negative Plane. This is not an easy task and generally involves having more living creatures act as sacrifices for the nightwalker to follow.
If this wasn’t terrifying enough, nightwalkers are undead beings. They do not require air, food, water, or sleep. Nightwalkers can destroy all life without ever needing to rest or slow down.
Nightwalker Stats and Abilities
You can find all of this information on page 216 of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.
HP: 297 (22d12 + 154)
Speed: 40 ft., fly 40 ft.
STR: 22 (+6)
DEX: 19 (+4)
CON: 24 (+7)
INT: 6 (-2)
WIS: 9 (-1)
CHA: 8 (-1)
You’ll see more of this later, but nightwalkers are extremely high variance creatures. Their Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution are all very solid, but their Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma are god-awful. Thankfully those stats aren’t necessary with the plethora of condition immunities that nightwalkers have.
They have a sizeable health pool thanks to their fantastic Constitution modifier of +7, but unfortunately, even a Dex modifier of +4 can only prop up its abysmal AC to a maximum of 14. This makes the nightwalker susceptible to direct attacks while giving them a solid chance at avoiding most saving throws.
Having a flying speed of 40 ft. gives them both a higher than average movement speed and flying. This gives even a Huge-sized creature plenty of room to maneuver around the battlefield.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Saving Throws: Con +13
Damage Resistances: acid, cold, fire, lightning, thunder; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks
Damage Immunities: necrotic, poison
Condition Immunities: exhaustion, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained
Senses: Darkvision 120ft., passive Perception 9
CR: 20 (25,000 XP)
First and foremost, +13 to Constitution saving throws is just bonkers. Good luck using any against a nightwalker. However, I wish that they got at least one more. This is a CR 20 creature. It should be a little beefier.
The damage resistances and immunities are off the charts. Your only options for inflicting the full amount of damage against a nightwalker are radiant, psychic, force; magical piercing, bludgeoning, and slashing damage.
With its flying speed, it can reliably eliminate magical bludgeoning and slashing damage by flying out of range of melee attacks. Its plethora of resistances, immunities, and maneuverability can make up for its awful AC if played well.
Its laundry list of condition immunities makes up for its terrible Wisdom modifier of -1. Even if it fails the saving throw the nightwalker will just shrug it off anyway.
Abilities and Traits
Annihilating Aura. Any creature that starts its turn within 30 feet of the nightwalker must succeed on a DC 21 Constitution saving throw or take 14 (4d6) necrotic damage and grant the nightwalker advantage on attack rolls against it until the start of the creature’s next turn. Undead are immune to this aura.
Life Eater. A creature reduced to 0 hit points from damage dealt by the nightwalker dies and can’t be revived by any means short of a wish spell.
Annihilating Aura is an interesting mechanic. It doesn’t deal a lot of damage for a CR 20 creature, but it gives the nightwalker a reliable way to gain advantage on creatures close to it. It’s also a fair amount of chip damage if this is a fight that will last quite a few rounds.
Undead creatures being immune to Annihilate Aura means that you can throw in some minions and keep them close by to the nightwalker without worrying about their safety.
Life Eater is a very flavorful ability. If a creature is dropped to 0 hp by a nightwalker they are instantly killed without being able to be revived. If the PCs know this information before engaging the nightwalker they may play a bit more carefully, giving it more time to waste their time and resources.
Multiattack.The nightwalker uses Enervating Focus twice, or it uses Enervating Focus and Finger of Doom, if available.
Enervating Focus. Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 15 ft., one target. Hit: 28 (5d8 +6) necrotic damage. The target must succeed on a DC 21 Constitution saving throw or its hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest.
Finger of Doom (Recharge 6). The nightwalker points at one creature it can see within 300 feet of it. The target must succeed on a DC 21 Wisdom saving throw or take 26 (4d12) necrotic damage and become frightened until the end of the nightwalker’s next turn. While frightened in this way, the creature is also paralyzed. If a target’s saving throw is successful, the target is immune to the nightwalker’s Finger of Doom for the next 24 hours.
Both of the nightwalker’s actions are pretty solid. Enervating Focus gives it a reach attack that out-ranges any other melee weapon attack in the game. Plus, it has a DC 21 Constitution saving throw attached to it to reduce the target’s maximum HP until they take a long rest.
It’s a very slow-burn type of creature. The longer the fight goes on, the more chip damage it can deal. This is particularly devastating as lowered max hp reduces the amount of usefulness that healing provides. Add all this up and realize that dropping to 0 HP against a nightwalker means permanent death and you have yourself a scary situation.
Finger of Doom has a massive range of 300 ft. it’s an excellent tool for closing the gap between the nightwalker and any long-range characters. The nightwalker thrives in wide-open spaces, but so do spellcasters and archers. Being able to paralyze them with a DC 21 Wisdom saving throw is a huge addition to the nightwalker’s kit.
Unfortunately, it does have a recharge of 6 which is extremely low, especially considering the fact that creatures that make the saving throw are immune to the Finger of Doom. Bumping it up to a recharge of 5-6 wouldn’t make a huge difference in my opinion and gives the nightwalker a bit more to work with.
With so many damage resistances, immunities, and condition immunities you’ll have to spend a lot more spell slots than usual to bring down this behemoth. It’s simply a numbers game. If you expect to do x amount of damage or CC with one spell and you end up doing half of that you’ll need to cast 2x as many spells.
If the party is unfortunate enough to witness the nightwalker’s Life Eater trait then they’ll be much more liberal with their healing spells and consumables. No one wants a permadeath to happen without a chance to make your death saves.
The most consistent resource drain that the nightwalker has is Enervating Focus. If a creature fails its DC 21 Constitution saving throw after it’s hit by the attack, all of the damage it takes permanently reduces its max HP until it takes a long rest. This is huge, especially in any sort of dungeon crawl.
Throw in a nightwalker encounter or two in a situation where the party cannot take a long rest and you’ll have softened them up plenty by the time they reach the boss.
Your nightwalkers may be slain easily by the party. They may not kill anyone, but they’ll absolutely drain a lot of spells, consumables, and max hp from the party during the encounter. Their lethality comes from either landing a final blow or weakening their enemies for stronger creatures to finish them off.
Range and Avoidance
Nightwalkers have many resistances and a solid amount of HP. However, they have no resistance to magical slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning damage. With only an AC of 14 at CR 20, they are a martial character’s best-case scenario to fight.
Thankfully though, nightwalkers have plenty of answers to melee martial characters. All of their abilities, traits, and actions have some form of range or reach. Their shortest-range attack is Enervating Focus which is a reach of 15 ft. This makes it a whole square longer than any other melee reach attack outside of a bugbear PC.
Finger of Doom can be used to crush a caster or a martial ranged enemy from up to 300 feet away. This gives the nightwalker plenty of time to rush towards them using their 40 ft. of flying speed to catch up to their now-paralyzed foes.
Ideally, you want to always be at least 15 ft. off the ground from any creature. You want to force them to use ranged spells and attacks against you and hope that it’s not their ideal attacking method.
The big issue with this is how likely it is for a Huge creature to be able to float 15 ft. off the ground. It’s almost impossible to have this encounter take place inside of a dungeon crawl. Nightwalkers thrive in wide-open spaces where there aren’t many places their prey can escape to or hide behind.
All-or-Nothing Saving Throws
I have a love-hate relationship with spells and abilities that have all-or-nothing saving throws. Generally, it means that if a creature fails the save they suffer some major setbacks.
Take Hold Person for example. It’s a CR 2 spell so at its core it won’t be super powerful. However, it gets away with being an amazing ranged paralyze ability because if a creature makes the saving throw nothing happens to it. It’s a huge risk to cast the spell, but the reward can mean dismantling an otherwise difficult encounter.
These types of high-risk high-reward spells and abilities can be fun when coupled with other options that don’t rely on such a risk. The nightwalker doesn’t have that luxury though. 2 out of 3 of their abilities will do nothing if creatures make the saving throw.
Enervating Focus will still deal damage, but it won’t lower your max HP making it a lot less scary.
Weak for a CR 20 Creature
A party of 4-5 characters could go up against a nightwalker from level 13 onwards. Perhaps a bit earlier if they’re decked out with magical items. That being said, the nightwalker isn’t super scary by itself.
DC 21 saving throws are pretty nasty, but the punishment for not making those isn’t damning outside of maybe Finger of Doom. Even then, you become immune to Finger of Doom when you finally succeed your save against it. The attack becomes useless if your entire party has saved against it.
It has a lot of potential, but it’s extremely reliant on good dice rolls. Annihilating Aura and Finger of Doom don’t have any modifiers attached to their damage. This feels weird to me, especially since Finger of Doom has a recharge of 6.
This has been a problem for quite a few creatures in MToF such as the winter eladrin. I love the book, but for a book with a lot of mid to high CR creatures, it features quite a few that could stand to be much more powerful.
Personally, I think that weak high CR creatures are an inherent problem with D&D 5e and not the book. It’s difficult to create challenging creatures in a game where magical items can be given out at various frequencies and power levels. Sly Flourish has written an excellent article on this problem and how to fix it.
How to Play a Nightwalker
Utilize Your Range
The nightwalker’s range attacks and abilities are their biggest benefit as a creature. They have a resistance or immunity to almost every damage type or condition in D&D 5e so force your players to use long-range attacks with these damage types rather than their magical greatsword.
You have 40 ft. of flying. Use this to constantly get a good position in a wide-open battlefield and make sure you’re always floating just out of range of any weapons with the reach property.
Nightwalkers have abysmal AC, but great HP and a plethora of resistances. You want to be hit by spells and abilities, or force them to use saving throw spells. You can take some solid hits if it means your enemies are draining their resources to slowly bring you down.
Keep Your Enemies Close
You want to hit as many enemies as possible with Annihilating Aura. While 4d6 isn’t much against level 13+ PC, it’s still free and consistent damage. Not to mention the fact that the nightwalker gets advantage on all attacks against a target that fails their saving throw for Annihilating Aura.
Advantage is a huge benefit if you don’t have Finger of Doom available this turn. It gives you more of a chance to inflict some pain with Enervating Focus. The more often you hit with Enervating Focus the more saving throws the party has to dish out to see if their maximum HP is drained as well.
Aura of Annihilation gives you more opportunities to drain more resources. Use it to your advantage to keep the enemy on their toes and keep draining their resources!
I love the flavor and unique mechanics that the nightwalker brings to the table. They don’t deal a lot of damage and are not the pinnacle of survivability, but they have a permadeath trait that can seriously scare your party into making some big mistakes in an encounter.
Use them as obstacles for your party to cross. They need to expend a lot of resources and tread carefully when confronting a nightwalker. In doing so they may waste some crucial spells and consumables that would aid them a lot in a much harder encounter later in the session.
Overall I like the nightwalker. It’s a unique creature, but it suffers from the same problems that a ton of other high CR creatures have in D&D 5e. They just don’t do enough damage to a party of demi-gods.
Sure, nightwalkers can inflict permanent death with no saving throws, but I feel like WotC pulled a lot of heavy punches when creating this creature because of that. I’d rather the creature be without Life Eater and deal much more damage.
Also, if the party isn’t altruistic and isn’t specifically incentivized to kill it, Banishment is an easy out. It’s Cha save, so it’s rolling against probably DC 21 with a -1 mod, which is to say basically a guaranteed failure.
If you have a necromancer in group level 14+ ….. ” Command Undead ” THE END of this combat and your party necromancer get a new pet ;)P
For sure! Bit of a goof on their part making this a low INT and CHA undead in that regard!