Your group was tasked to look for information about the diabolic cult that is forming inside the city. You enter a pitch-black basement and found a room covered with stains of blood from the floor to the walls. In there, a little devil is moping the floor. You interrogate it and found out that some rooms ahead lay the sacrificial chambers.
The little devil seems friendly, and you follow his lead. He talks with joy about all the things his surrounding people do, “killing, maiming, perverting, all that good stuff”. You think this stupid little guy will spit all the information you need and don’t notice when he presses one of the walls blocks and the entire floor falls. From below, you see the little devil flying and laughing, as scorpions flood the surrounding ground.
“This sure is going to give me some points! Don’t forget to die,” he says cheerfully as he turns invisible, and the ceiling starts to close. Welcome to our 5e Imp Guide.
What’s an Imp?
The Imp has been indifferent folklore during the years and with good reasons. This being is a mischievous little guy who constantly looks for trouble, and has the means to seriously screw with unaware people, as well as help others in order to keep having fun. Now, let’s see how this term moves from history to our beloved game.
The Imp is a European mythological creature similar to fairies or demons. These little devils were part of many stories along the years in the medieval period and went for many transformations. In the beginning, from their Germanic roots, they were simple mischievous creatures with joyful attitudes and basic motivations. They were very similar to leprechauns, in the sense that they were not necessarily malicious, but rather playful.
This image went through many changes along the years of the Medieval Period when they enter the Christian folklore. In Germanic myths, demons were not necessarily evil, they could even be attendants of the gods. But in Christianity, demons were unholy creatures and therefore representations of the worst of humanity. Imps went from little pranksters to full-on servants of Satan.
In this transformation, we get the most common representation of Imps, lesser beings serving a greater entity with a playful charisma and a wicked mentality. They kill to please a Demon Lord, they stole children and deliver them to his Hag Master, they steal from whoever his malevolent Wizard Boss demands to, they trick travelers and delivers them to his Warlock Patron. They are basically the “Minions” but less cute and eviler.
At this point, we reach 1974 and in the 1st edition of DND gets his first apparition, the Imp. Even this early in the game, this little monster appears very similar to how he’s going to end up. A lawful evil 2 ft tall flying monster, with darkvision and shape change. His goal has always been to corrupt the souls of his masters and lures them to Hell. Of course in the first edition, it was much more deadly than in the fifth edition, but the flavor is the same.
In earlier editions, there were many types of Imps from which we can grab inspiration. They have a variety of colors that range from dark red to even opaque blue and brown. The shape change to merge with human society, usually using rat, raven, or spider forms. In older editions, they used to transform into goats too.
Their objective is, as with all devils, to be promoted to higher power due to corrupting souls. There are two types of Imps, those who roam freely and those attached to contracts made in the Nine Hells with other entities. For example, the Pact of the Chain warlock could have an Imp given as his familiar by his patron. In that case, the Patron would get the credit of corrupting that soul and not the Imp. That is why, always, the Imp would prefer to go free and condemn souls on his own.
The Imp has a fairly weak stat block, but it’s mostly a matter of knowing how it is supposed to be used. Let’s summarize it:
This is a creature with a very low HP and mediocre AC for his CR of 1. It has, however, a flying speed of 40, which makes it faster than most characters. His abilities are well-rounded with low strength, but very high dexterity, and his skills are mostly Charisma-based, with a decent charisma to back it up.
It has a bunch of damage resistances and immunities, as well as immunity to being poisoned. To top it all up, it has a 120 ft darkvision that can see through magical darkness and magic resistance.
His actions are where this little creature really comes online. First, he can shape change to go undercover as a spider, raven, or rat. It has a very deadly poisoning attack, although with a low saving throw. And probably his most powerful ability, he can turn invisible, maintaining concentration.
Breaking down his abilities
With a set of abilities like this, a lot of things come to mind. First, looking at his ability scores, we can deduce how this monster is supposed to be used. A trickster and an assassin. He comes with high dexterity, on top of invisibility. This creature is almost impossible to detect for a low-level party.
Speed it’s often overlooked, but when we look at flying creatures, this is a big mistake. A 40 ft flying speed would make your Imp almost impossible to catch for front liners. You could go invisible and strike directly into the weak link (looking at you low-level wizard), maybe killing him, and then just fly off to the roof. Then turn invisible again, and repeat.
Although this DnD monster would probably die in one or two strikes, with enough cunning, the DM could make an interesting challenge using his immunities in a favorable environment. Encounter an Imp in-plane steppe is not as dangerous as finding it on top of a volcano where it can swim in lava if he wanted to. Read here to find out how Lava damage works in 5e.
Then, there is his shapechanging ability. This monster could pass unnoticed in the middle of a city with ease, like a rat. Spiders abound in caves, and ravens can fly very fast and even be used as messenger birds. Just add to this his invisibility, and you have an invisible spider that can see through magical darkness. Is there any better spy?
Lastly, there is his sting. Just do some math: 1d4+3 of piercing and 3d6 of poison deal an average of 15 damage. Mages at these levels have less than 8 HP. You could outright kill him in one shot. And if you manage to crit and the enemy fails his saving throw… you could send a level 2 barbarian to sleep in one shot. So yeah, this devil really stings!
How to play it
Well, we’ve been talking about how his abilities work but, how are they supposed to be used, and more important yet, how can we break the game with them? Those are the real questions.
First, as we said, this creature is very stealthy. With a +5 to stealth, invisibility, and a flying speed, on top of a spider that can climb, Imps are impossible to be detected. Even to higher-level parties, an ally that can pass as inadvertent as this is invaluable.
You then have his fairly high charisma, which makes them very diplomatic and cunning with their words. They can seduce a novel paladin to make him think that he’s on his side, and then properly betray him. Furthermore, trickery is not something that they are just good at, but they enjoy it, they live for it. They have fun at the expense of everybody, and they have the wits to avoid trouble and the capabilities to escape if the situation gets dangerous.
To top it all up, we have to talk about their usual pairs. Imps work very well with hags, doing their bidding, robbing children, spying on the locals, etc. They also work fantastic with wicked magicians, who can use them as butlers and alarms. Warlocks are just classic because you already have a pact to exploit an interesting relationship that can come with this pair. Lastly, remember that Imps are native to the Nine Hells, so they roam freely in that flaming place, or they could be in service of stronger devils.
Imps for players
The last thing important to discuss is the possibility of befriending an Imp that the characters have. This comes in two ways: Either one PC is a Pact of the Chain Warlock with an Imp familiar, or the DM decides to use the suggestion in the Monster Manual and give a spellcaster player an Imp familiar. Let’s see how these two options are in action.
A warlock that takes the Pact of the Chain feature has the possibility of choosing an Imp as their companion… and why on earth wouldn’t? The Imp is probably the best familiar a spellcaster could have. It has a decent flying speed, the possibility of shapechange, and it can turn invisible! It just has it all, that is why DM should be aware of this and know how to really make this broken familiar a fair trade.
Let your players play with fire, but there are two things to take into account: Firstly, Imps are bad taste tricksters. They probably wouldn’t mind if his master’s allies lose an arm or two, if they’re tasked to help someone, they may do it in a… funny way. Be creative. Secondly, the Pact of the Chain is a gift that the Warlock’s Patron gives to his Warlock, so perhaps he would get angry if his employee (the Warlock) mistreats his gift. The Imp has to obey his master, but the master better put up with its nonsense, or the real master may get angry.
Then, there is the possibility for a party to encounter a free Imp roaming around in the world, and instead of killing him, decide to befriend it. This is a possibility that the DM can allow and play with it, and it can get very interesting too. Remember that Imps are devils that want to corrupt his master more than anything in the world. Each DM can make devils in his world as they seem fit, but this is the general rule of thumb.
This Imp could still be free but decides to walk alongside the adventurers for his own reasons. He could be a less evil Imp that just wants to have fun with this group that he learns to care about, or maybe he wants to betray them when the opportunity presents itself, just to have fun. These Imps are basically an NPC for the DM to move around the party, and maybe leave them to reappear later.
The other way an Imp could stay with a group would be to start a new contract with a master. Think of this Imps like the Minions. They just want to find a master more evil than the last to serve. Their quest is simple, find a powerful master and try to corrupt him, or find an already evil one and make sure he doesn’t go off the tracks.
Question: Can Imps see invisibility?
Answer: No, they can’t. His Devil Sight ability is just to see through magical darkness, not to see invisible creatures. Furthermore, his perception is not that high, so he would have a hard time finding invisible creatures.
Question: Can Imps wear armor?
Answer: Yes, as with all monsters, the DM can give them any perk they want. Regarding Imp familiars, the player could talk to his DM to reach an agreement. Maybe with the same cost of studded leather armor, you could ask a tanner to adapt a piece of armor to your Imp. You could even give it a magic armor. Always with DM approval.
Question: How big is an Imp?
Answer: Imps are tiny creatures, having 2 ft of height, which is fairly big for a tiny creature. Although they are very small, they have a long tail and wings that can make them seem bigger if they widen.