You remember the thing’s eyes. It looked right at you as it left you for dead taking your shadow with it. That’s right. It tore your very shadow away from you and took it as its slave. As it turned from you, it laughed to itself. As the life began to fade from your body, you could see a small army of shadows following it. They had once belonged to your regiment. But now they were dead and you were about to join them.
But, that’s the thing, isn’t it? You didn’t join them. You survived; never to cast a shadow ever again. On top of that, you could feel the cold grip of darkness clutching your soul. You may not have died, but you will never be the same. “Touched by shadows” the holy men said. Maybe so. But all you could feel was a tangible darkness creeping within. It effected you in ways you could never convey to anyone.
That’s when the men in the black robes showed up. They said you were needed. That you had special abilities that they needed. You weren’t interested. You didn’t have the heart or soul to do much of anything. That is, until one of them looked you in the and asked you a soul shaking question; “You want to go get that bastard shadow that wiped out your regiment and took part of your soul?”
All I could do was nod.
ONE FOOT IN THE SHADOWS
This begins a campaign pitch that is sure to send you and your party deep into the heart of darkness. Last week, we dropped an article about being shadowtouched. This week, we begin to talk about what to do with that.
First of all, let’s talk about how you got here. How did your character find it’s connection to the shadows?
Being Shadowtouched basically means that you have a special connection and relationship with the Shadowfell. And, there are but a few ways to become attached to such darkness.
SHADOWTOUCHED ORIGINS (1D8)
- You recently had a near death experience. Maybe you went full on with your death saves. Maybe you were dead, but a cleric brought you back but much too late.
- Much like the poor soul above, you come into contact with a creature that attacks with Negative Energy; sapping the life and strength out of you.
- Possibly, your family is living under a curse inflicted upon it by a dark entity from the shadowfell. Maybe you were born without a shadow and with the ability to walk the shadows. Maybe you hear them call you from the darker, other side.
- Or maybe, you were unfortunate enough to pick up a cursed object or weapon from the plane of shadows. It works its way into your soul with every swing or usage.
- Also you may have been touched by the darker side because you or someone close dabbled in forbidden shadow magic. And those who know know that Shadow Magic always exacts its price.
- Quite possibly, you committed an act of heinous betrayal. You were once a hero of truth and light, but, in one act, you fell horribly from grace. You lived, but your soul is being pulled to the Shadowfell and your darker self that abides there.
- In days past, you and your identical twin led a nation in discovery of all that is good. Joint lieges, you both had a great destiny to do many good things. But your sibling died young, finding that destiny shrouded in oblivion. Through powerful divination magic, you have come to find that the soul of your departed twin has been absorbed into the shadowfell. Gaining this knowledge not only drives you to find a way to the dark domain to save the soul of your ‘other half’ , but the endeavor has tainted your soul with darkness.
- Or it may be as simple as an adventure that went wrong where you found yourself in the Shadowfell for far longer than prudent. You lost years and now find your soul seeping with shadow.
If one of your players is choosing to play a Variant Human, they have the opportunity to chose SHADOWTOUCHED FEAT at first level. To explain this, they may add ‘seeing the other side’ to their back story. Being dead, they walked the murky lands of the shadowfell on their way to their final resting place. Whatever brought them back, it has left a mark on their soul. They feel the pull of the other side. They may see spirits of the departed and even attract the undead. They may also have angered something on the Shadow Plane; something that wants them back where they belong. The Shadowtouched may feel watched and hunted.
Conversely, they may have had a runin with a creature of negative energy.
CREATURES OF NEGATIVE ENERGY AND SHADOW (1D8)
- Shadows: the obvious choice as they steal shadows and those that they kill return as subservient beings of shadow!
- Wights: Their attacks gave negative energy levels in early editions as well as bringing those they killed back as more Wights.
- Wraiths: Their attacks resulted in a reduction in their hit point maximum and classified as necrotic. They created Specters out of the spirits of those they killed.
- Cloakers: These subterranean creatures were capable of powerful manipulation of shadows and Shadow Magic. Your current state could have occurred in a run-in with one or more of these loathsome creatures.
- Specters: Although not known to make spawns, are able to release a good deal of negative energy.
- Ghosts: The lost souls of the departed or dark reflections of the living/dead escaped from the Shadowfell? No matter. Their touch is ‘withering’ and not many have survived the possession of their body by a creature given life by negative energy to tell us what dark repercussions there are even for the survivors.
- Blighted Bloodfire Ooze: A shadow infused Bloodfire Ooze usually emerging from the plane of shadow itself. It not only has a negative energy beam but will also extract one HP a round for every creature within 10 feet ( Source: Anauroch: The Empire of Shade)
- The LICH: Not many forms of undead draw more fear and repulsion than the LICH. It’s paralyzing touch and ‘disrupt life’ spell will stay with a survivor in the darkest of ways. This undead master may have given you a preview of what awaits you on the ‘other side’.
BEYOND A SHADOW
This campaign pitch begins with a gathering of ‘shadowtouched’ individuals for a task that only they may survive since they survived their encounter with the shadows before. There are many suggestions above for how your connection with the Shadowfell started if you need starters.
The center of the adventure is a creature of shadow that has far surpassed the power of most of those who are energized by negative energy and shadow. It has aspired to greater power; possibly demipower or, even, godhood. It is gathering power and an army of shadows; ripped off the souls of those it kills.
When asking how a creature attains godhood, I feel that it’s different in every situation. Reference the gods Bane, Bhaal and Myrkul doing away with the elder god of death, Jergal, and receiving his portfolios. It’s sort of thematic. In this situation, this creature of shadow is drawing negative energy to himself in every form. He’s also collecting shadow servants much like regular shadows do. But, instead of a few, this entity has an army.
POSSIBLE BIG BADS
- It may simply be a shadow that has gotten too big for its proverbial ‘britches’ and now looks to supplant all powers in Shadowfell.
- Every being born in the Prime Material has a shadow of itself in the Shadowfell. It is supposed to be a darker, more sinister version of themselves. Diviners are know to travel into the dark domain to see what a persons shadow becomes to divine the dark potential in this creature. WHAT IF the being was so dark and infused with negative energy in life that its dark ‘doppelganger’ is a thing of insane shadow power. Possibly on the death of its prime material version, this shadow met and devoured the soul of his prime material copy; making it even more powerful.
- If playing in Faerun, it would be perfect to use the fallen, ancient kingdom of the Netherese. They fell to dark magic they dared to dabble in. This powerful shadow could be the dark version of an ancient Netherese wizard who had dark plans that are coming to fruition.
- Could you imagine the dark, Shadowfell shadow of a Lich? Just let that sink in. So much darkness and ambition.
- Maybe its an artificially animated creature made of the ‘shadowstuff’ itself. It’s outgrown the ambitions of its creator and now uses the mechanisms built into it to absorb negative energy and make itself greater by adding more and more of the shadowstuff.
GIVING THE PLAYERS A BOON AGAINST THE APATHY EFFECTS OF THE SHADOWFELL
Those who enter the plane of shadows aka THE SHADOWFELL usually are effected by the apathy that permeates the area. Most give in and simply get absorbed into the landscape. Possibly, since most, if not all, of the players are Shadowtouched, you could give them some sort of protection from it; if not total immunity. If you feel there should be some blowback, work in tragic repercussions attached to a DC roll along the way. Balance the good with the bad; the protection and effects. I would make it both a good thing to be shadowtouched here, but work in a side effect down the road if you take too much damage here or spend too much time here.
THE MCGUFFIN: THE SWORD OF SHADOW’S HEART
Once you lead your party through some investigative adventures to find what the Archshadow is actually after, they find that it is gathering information on the forging of ‘Shadowstuff’ and ancient shadow magic. This could mean traveling to the fallen kingdom of the Netherese or something akin to it in your world. I would have them all run into the master shadow and have another near disastrous encounter with this powerful entity. It should always be a deadly encounter with your Big Bad, of course.
What the party actually learns is far more than simple instructions and diagrams for forging a weapon. Other intel included the absorption of negative energy and olden Elven Mythals of massive proportions. What ever this means, it all leads to the shadowfell and something I’m calling the DARK FORGES.
Obviously, this entity is drawing as much negative energy and as many shadows for his army as possible. This is the first part of its path to godhood. Later, you will find a second part that includes deicide and drawing in their power.
But first we go to Shadowfell to try and stop this weapon from being forged.
SNUFFING OUT THE DARK FORGE
Ok, all of this is under development and raw info as we speak. The idea of forging the ‘Shadowstuff’ (worse name ever) sent my imagination reeling. And, of course, just saying the word ‘FORGE’ sent me to thinking all things dwarvish. There’s a lore problem with this process of thinking. Dwarves have never been a thing in either the Feywild nor the Shadowfell. Not considered FEY, Dwarves seem to be omitted from the normal citizenry of both worlds. But, this doesn’t make total sense. Both are ‘reflections’ of the Prime Material Plane, so why no Dwarves?
I think it’s mainly since the Fey were thought to come from the Feywild and Dwarves (shrouded in mystery) were said to be created in the depths of the earth in the image of their creator and rose to the surface. All of this is very vague and I can’t really come up with a lore reason for all of this. However, if we go back to the primordial story of the Fey, it brings us to the ancient land of Ladanion and two sisters: Titania and her unnamed sister. An amazing black diamond was unearthed and given to the sister. This led to a schism between the sisters and the unnamed was corrupted into the Queen of Air and Darkness.
This was planted by the DARK GOD OF THE UNDEAD and the Dwarves had nothing to do with it. BUT, some say this act drove a wedge between the Elves and the Dwarves. This may go to some extent to explain why Dwarves aren’t found in Feylands unless they came from somewhere else.
However, I see the creation of a new Dwarvenlike creature who has been mining and forging the shadowstuff for millennia. Some say, ‘use the Duergar’. But I never liked that option here. But, possibly these Shadowstuff Forgers are creatures of another ilk. Like AND unlike the Dwarves of lore. Picture an Azer like being, but, instead of red fire jetting off the head resembling hair and beard, their hair is instead a black, negative flame. This dark flame is sort of like cold forging but using negative energy.
These ‘Dark Forgers’ may be Shadowfell reflections of the Plane of Fire’s Azers only fashioning items and weapons using the dark flames that inhabit the dark domain. This could be the target of the Archshadow’s quest; to find enough material and fashioners of said material to make a weapon of incredible negative energy.
This could go one of so many ways (as usual). They could fail and have to hunt down the Archshadow in the Prime Material Plane leading to an endgame situation. They could stop the final forging of said weapon. Or maybe even get a chance to steal such an item.
This is just the start, but I wanted to get my thoughts out there. We do not brew anything in a vacuum. We love to hear your ideas and it could have an immediate impact on our finished product. But feel free to develop this on your own (as if we could stop you). Just, as I said, let us know your thoughts.