I have said before that, although Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons is a good source of all things draconic for 5E, it misses some of the most interesting dragons. That would be one of my favorite types of dragons, Planar Dragons.
I’ve already showcased my absolute favorite, the Chaos Dragon. So, now, I come to the darkest of dragons, Shadow Dragons who actually got space in Fizban’s!
To begin with, Shadow Dragons are not even a real type of dragon. It is actually a hybrid of one of the many other types of dragons listed in Fizban’s. No, Shadow Dragons are not born, they are made. This happens when any other real dragon is either born or spends a lengthy stay in the Shadowfell. Even if this particular Shadow Dragon has offspring, they will always be hybrids of one of the ‘real’ dragons.
That is why the Shadow Dragon entry in the 5E Monster Manual (p. 85)is a Young RED Shadow Dragon. The affects of the gloom and darkness of Shadowfell transform the dragon to a creature of shadow who becomes the most evasive and dangerous predators known to adventurers. The creature could either have been born in Shadowfell or be trapped or choose to exist in the plane of shadow for prolonged amounts of time.
A dragon or any other creature could find gateways to Shadowfell; much like one could find a portal to the Feywild. These dark gateways exist in the dark and gloomy corners of the worlds of the Prime Material Plane. It is possible for even a dragon to stumble into one of these openings and find himself in a dark and twisted replica of the territory where they built their lair. Now, one would think that it would be easy enough to just turn around and leave through the same portal. But the effects of the Shadowfell eat at one’s soul and affect it with a gloom and apathy. It is possible for even a dragon to become despondent; affecting their will to return.
On top of that, the reality of Shadowfell is morphic in nature. It is everchanging. It would be possible to, even if you found the will to escape, be lost in the chaotic landscape. Therefore, even a dragon could be caught up in this dark domain for possibly years. And it is in this lengthy stay that the soul, power and biology of this dragon, no matter how powerful, will be forever changed. Whatever they were before, they now hate the sunlight; craving the shadows. They will grow abhorrent of all life being filled with the essence of shadow and negative energy. They will seek to snuff out the light of mortal’s souls wherever possible. They will become creatures of pure hate and shadow with ravenous, murderous souls.
The diabolical darkness transmutes what the dragon was, but every Shadow Dragon will bear that individual flavor of the dragon they once were. A Red Shadow Dragon will blow a black flame; burning the living with a negative energy flame (as described in the 5E Monster Manual). A Blue transformed dragon will project sheets of black ice like lightning that is also of Necrotic damage, but I could see a DM allowing Cold damage or a combo. A Black Shadow Dragon spits a neon black acid that sinks into the soul of its enemy. Transformed Green Dragons would spew a hideous black mist and a White would project a cold like winter much like a black blizzard.
Even more curious would be some of the newly expounded Gem Dragons and their unique breath weapons of Force, Radiant, Psychic and Thunder. Each flavored with a ebony taint that glows like blacklight and digs deep into essence of their enemies; taking light and life away with every attack.
Even more dangerous is the fact that if the humanoid enemy is simply reduced to zero by these necrotic breath weapons, they will die immediately. No going down, no death saves and no healing (according to 5E MM-You play it anyway you want DM). Much like many of the creatures of shadow, the fallen enemy’s shadow will rise from the dead body and serve the Shadow Dragon from hence forth. Once again, this entry allows for no saving throws at that point or recovery. Although, as in previous articles about the Shadowtouched, there have been fallen heroes supposedly slain by the shadow creature that were raised from the dead. These survivors will exist without a shadow and are possibly ‘shadowtouched’ as well giving them a dark connection to Shadowfell.
Now, although they have Sunlight Sensitivity that gives disadvantage on Attack Rolls and Perception checks dealing with sight, these newly transformed Shadow Dragons gain useful pluses other than their cool new dark breath weapon. They are truly creatures of pure shadow and, in ‘dim light or darkness’, they gain proficiency in Stealth and can hide as a bonus action. They, not only, have resistance to Necrotic damage, in the same dark corners, they have resistance to all damage but Force, Psychic and Radiant. This is explained by the transformation of their scales to a black, translucent shade creating a camouflaged in darkness. I would imagine if you developed a NPC villain/Shadow Dragon with some levels in Rogue, that they would be highly dangerous.
On top of this, any resistances like Fire for Red Dragons will crossover in the transformation. Lair actions could also be either kept as where or transformed as the DM sees fit. And, all according to the age, these newly formed creatures of darkness could keep their legendary resistances.
Apparently, part of the transformation made whatever dragon was changed to shadow to be more crafty and dangerous. It sharpened the whit and made them as smart or smarter than either the red or gold dragons. However, they seemed to come out weaker in the transfer. The effects of the gloom of the plane of shadow had its effect on its physical strength. But it more than made up for that in its stealth.
With age, these dragons would foster a powerful arsenals of illusion and teleportation magic; making them even more elusive. If they were to lean to the divine side of magic, they would favor the great Dragon God Null. More on him in this link! But Shadow Dragons were highly favored by the Drow god, Vhaeraun.
Tending to frequent dark places, especially those with connections to Shadowfell, they would be known to inhabit ruins and abandoned structures. Known for their tendency to raid Dwarven holds, it was not surprising to find one hiding out underground in a cleared out keep. Even better, they took to the depths in favor of those dark spaces and more connection to the plane of shadow.
within these dark depths they were known to consort with the Drow a great deal. Although not a part of 5E lore yet, a Drow Half-Dragon was not unheard of. It could easily be transformed into a Shadow Dragonborn of Drow descent or any other really. The below is a thought but I would love to give this dark scaled dragonborn some boon in stealth or hiding.
There is a particular offshoot of hybrid called the Zekyl which descended from the union of Clan Jaezred’s shadow dragons and the drow of Chaulssin. After the defeat of their dragon overlords, the citizens of Chaulssin fled to Shadowfell where, I suppose, any Zekyl offspring left could develop in the powerful darkness of the shadow they were born from.
There are many different Shadow Dragons to pull from for your campaign, but one I’m looking at closely is Aurgloroasa from the Western Heartlands of Faerun. This badass not only cleared out the Dwarven Stronghold of Thunderholme in the Thunderpeaks but also spread her influence into the Cult of Dragon cell in Sembia. Known as the Sembiant Shade, she would make a great power broker in the greater Cormyr theater.
We will continue our Forgotten Draconic Lore soon. Let us know how you’ve used Shadow Dragons in your campaign or a unique storyline that has included them. Comment here or hit us up on Facebook (themagictavernlgs).