Shadows are low level Cr creatures (1/2) used mainly as tests in the early stages of a campaign. Usually easily forgotten although highly elusive and possibly dangerous is luck doesn’t persist. The fact that they can hide as a bonus action, get a +6 to stealth and can, if you are reduced to 0 and don’t make your saving throws, make you into one of them makes them a tad on the dangerous side. But they’re weakness to sunlight CAN be a help in dispatching them.
But what if there were more?
What comes next is not only is from the dark mind of BDC but also is an option that the player and DM can orchestrate to being an amazing character build. This will take a great deal of thought and roleplay to possibly show the difference in the character after becoming one with the Shadowfell; even if but for a second.
Now last year, I mentioned playing as a Shadow. First of all, if you are, as mentioned above, killed and you cannot make your death saving throws, in 1d4 hours, you rise as a Shadow yourself. But, as much as playing a Shadow would be cool, it’s just not an option for a PC. Taking a cue from Wotc recently; they wouldn’t allow the Pixie to be a tiny creature. Making your PC able to fit through keyholes while, extremely cool, is a an ability too far. Add on the ability drain and super stealth and hide and you’re just a super PC.
But there is a way to play your character as actually effected by a near death experience with a Shadow. As your PC is nearly dragged to the Shadowfell, although you escaped their dark clutches, it will never fully be the same again. Living life with one foot in the grave will effect the way you live the life part of it. Not only that, you begin to develop certain abilities from the plane of shadows.
THE SHADOWTOUCHED FEAT
No matter what class you choose, you should start with the variant human from the PHB and take SHADOWTOUCHED as the feat. It gives you an extra +1 to one of three attributes that have the most to do with spellcasters. Not a coincidence.
You also get INVISIBILITY once per long rest free of any restriction and without need of spellslots. Although, being a second level, you are allowed to do it again by spending what 2nd level slots you have.
The same is true for another first level spell of your choice. There are a lot of great choices, but to complete the ‘shadowtouched’ build, EXPEDIOUS RETREAT is my favorite. For ten minutes (equals 100 rounds btw), you may use a bonus action to dash (verses a full action). You may still have to use a full action to disengage (more about that later…there are options), but this makes you tremendously hard to get a bead on even at low levels.
The real fun is the skinning or how what you do looks. It matters not to the DM or the game if you flavor both these spells with a bit of shadow. Simply make casting either phase you into invisibility or into a super fast move a transformation into shadow. Your material form begins to fade and shadow rolls off of your body like smoke until you either disappear or are too fast to track.
THE SHADOW SORCERER
Now, the most ‘Shadow oriented’ subclass to date is that of the Shadow Sorcerer. Unfortunately, it’s also been the source of hate and ridicule for being too underpowered. That may or may not be true. But even the weakest subclasses have room to make an amazing PCs.
EYES OF THE DARK gives your PC darkvision of 120 feet. Now, at first look, that may not seem like much, but just throw a character without darkvision into the underdark or a dark alley and see how useful that will be. You’re character is attuned to the dark. They live in it. They meld with it. SO, being able to see that far in the dark is super useful for any class.
Also, at third level, you gain the Darkness Spell that you can cast with 2 sorcery points. And, to boot, you will be able to see in this darkness if cast this way. It’s always an advantage being able to fight opponents in the dark when you take no disadvantage. But the sorcerer is going to use this to position themselves out of harms way and at the best vantage point for their spells.
STRENGTH OF THE GRAVE brings you back from 0 hit points once a long rest. But you better get that Charisma up because there’s a saving throw.
At 6th level, the HOUND OF ILL OMEN is able to be summoned to ‘harass’ your enemy. It’s a weakass version of the Dire Wolf that is there for little more than to use up your enemies turns dispatching this thing. It also gives them disadvantage on saves vs your spells.
What’s better than seeing 120 feet in the dark? Teleporting 120 feet in the dark. At 14th level you gain SHADOW WALK. As long as their is shadow in your 120 feet of vision, you can teleport to that spot as a BONUS ACTION.
Level 18 gives you what you’ve been waiting for. UMBRAL FORM allows you to spend 1 minute aka 10 rounds in a shadowy form that gives you resistance to all damage but force and radiant. You can also move through the spaces of other creatures.
I think the optimum build as a PC with the Shadowtouched feat is Rogue. A 1st level rogue with the ability to cast INVISIBILITY and EXPEDITOUS RETREAT once a long rest for free? Now that’s a dangerously sneaky thief or assassin. Instant advantage is always a boon for rogues. Also bonus action disengage to invisibility? It would come in handy when it’s difficult or impossible to hide or until your hide numbers get high enough.
Seeing that your rogue has had a close call with death and the Shadowfell, the best flavor for a subclass is ARCANE TRICKSTER.
You get a plus one to Intelligence from Shadowtouched to aid you in your spellcasting. You already have two useful spells added onto your sneak attacks and super stealth. It just makes sense.
Not to mention, but all of your spell could have that wispy, shadowy effect on them. The RAY OF FROST could become a beam of billowing shadow that freezes at the touch. Blowing smoke into your enemies face could be the start of a SLEEP spell. FOG CLOUD become dark and foreboding. Your PHANTASMAL KILLER reaches from the shadows and maybe is made of shadows. And, once you reach 8th and can dip into other schools, maybe flavor an ICE STORM spell to become shadowy shards raining from the sky. Always remember, it doesn’t matter what it looks like (to a point) as long as it does the same thing. It gives you as the player agency to make your PC unique.
GNOME YOU SEE’M. GNOME YOU DON’T.
If you’re the patient type and fancy playing a Gnome, you can pick up the feat, FADE AWAY. It allows your Gnome to go invisible after taking damage. All the rules apply to being invisible as per the spell which can set the Gnome rogue up for its sneak attack or allow your spellcaster to make tracks. Add this to the SHADOW SORCERY and it makes for an interesting bit of combos. Turning invisible and casting darkness can keep an enemy reeling. But, if you’re EXTRA patient, you take the SHADOWTOUCHED FEAT first and pick up FADE AWAY at the next opportunity.
You could expediate this by making your Gnome a Fighter. YES, a fighter! Don’t short shame! Being able to take these two feats by sixth level would make your PC strategic; blinking in and out of battle, casting darkness and being a nightmare of a fight! And with an INTELLEGENCE bump of +2, Gnome make, not only, great Wizards, but awesome Eldritch Knights!
SHADOW ELDRITCH KNIGHTS
Either as a Variant Human with Shadowtouched or a Gnome with that and FADE AWAY can make amazing Eldritch Knights steeped in shadow. Your blade smokes; trailing black when swung. You become hell on wheels bringing the fight to the enemy; hard to hit and using the darkness to your advantage.
Gnomes get 120 feet of darkvision, but if you go with the Variant Human, you can take Eldritch Adept and take DEVIL’S SIGHT picking up 120 feet of darkvision in normal darkness as well as magical darkness! And DEEP GNOMES get an extra +1 to dexterity for a finesse build.
Whichever direction you take, the Eldritch Knight flavored with shadow can be a fearsome sight. All of your Evocation spells are easily skinned as shadow instead of whatever element they use. You can keep that damage or talk to your DM about shifting it to all Necrotic damage since you’re a child of the Shadowfell, sort of. In the same ilk, Abjuration spells can be cast as shadowy billows that embody things to protect the wearer.
You suddenly carry a SHEILD of shadow that helps protect you from the blows of your enemy. MAGIC CIRCLE become a barrier of shadow to creatures of the types, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, or undead. You cast MAGE ARMOR of shadow on one of your allies. You drop a flaming ball of shadow onto your enemy as you cast FIREBALL. The options are endless.
THE WAY OF SHADOW
A final option is THE WAY OF SHADOW; a subclass for you monk PC.
Starting with your SHADOWTOUCHED feat, you become nimble, quick and a thing of darkness. At 3rd level, you can ‘duplicate the effects of certain spells’; essentially casting Darkness, Darkvision, Pass Without a Trace or Silence.
SHADOW STEP gives you a 60 foot teleport through shadows. And drops advantage on your next attack before that turns over. Imagine combining this with a Rogue.
CLOAK OF SHADOWS at 11th level gives your PC invisibility period. No limit. Only limit is the existence of no or dim light.
OPPORTUNIST, at 17th level, gives you a reactionary attack when this opponent takes damage from someone other than you.
You could skin every move with a trail of shadowy smoke coming off of your person.
MORE OF A CURSE THAN A BLESSING?
This idea would work great with a WARLOCK, but any class could take this as a flaw. I know, here in 2021 playing 5E and talking flaws. But, truly, dealing with flaws is life. So a SHADOWTOUCHED who fears they might be slipping into the Shadowfell becomes an amazing story element.
As a Warlock, you may take on a dark entity as a Patron with the promise that this power will save you from fading into shadow. Whether this is true or not varies from story to story. Taking a good Patron of light would be an obvious option, but would this entity take you? Would they help you? Warlocks are more prone to go the easy route and look to dark, shadowy figure. Maybe looking to The Raven Queen who rules there?
I will be working on a FORGOTTEN GODS of SHADOW for this week. SO look to that.
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