The Shadowfell is a mysterious realm that mortals fear. It is the world’s dark reflection, containing in abundance elements that most people prefer to avoid—death, darkness, and peril. The souls of the dead pass into the Shadowfell on their way to their final rest. Ghosts and other undead linger there, alongside darker creatures. But the plane of shadow also contains power for those willing to seek it and pay the price. Perhaps the call of such power appeals to you.
In today’s preview, we look inside Heroes of Shadow, initially at the nature of shadow magic—and the price some pay in order to wield it.
Where the world is life and light, the Shadowfell is death and gloom. Where the world is growth and vitality, the Shadowfell is decay and apathy. The world, being a point of balance, holds these darker elements too. But even the Shadowfell’s lighter side is beset with such sinister components.
The darker aspects of existence embodied in the Shadowfell contain fearsome power. Any magic laced with the essence of the plane of shadow already has dread on its side. Shadow magic is the stuff of fell legends, wielded by terrible villains. In stories it is the province of the desperate, the vicious, and the reckless.
Such tales fall from the lips of the ignorant and the superstitious. Shadow magic is no more evil than any other magic. It is attractive because it can be easier to acquire than other forms of power, but it is also demanding.
Divine power requires, at least initially, devotion to an external source. Arcane magic can entail study and hard work. Martial excellence comes through difficult training and mastery of refined techniques. Psionic power hones the mind in a similar way. Shadow magic, unlike all of the foregoing, requires simple surrender.
Those who wish to connect to the innate power of the Shadowfell must forge a strong bond with the plane. To do so requires nothing less than a shard of the supplicant’s soul, given over to the unknown of death. How this gruesome task is accomplished varies among practitioners.
According to Evard’s Legendry of Phantoms and Ghosts, “To tap into the powers of shadow, you must find that lightest part of your soul and use the following rites to kill it. Fear not. It is only right. That piece simply goes ahead, in death, to that void of great mystery beyond all mortal cares. (May the rest of your soul never join it.) The power of shadow shall bleed into the hollow, making you anew. A darker you lives on, more potent than before. In a way, you have become my kin. Think not to become my rival.”
Wizards such as Evard learn arcane rituals to bond with the Shadowfell in this way. Others make pacts with obscure entities of the Shadowfell or lend magical potency to passionate oaths. Those who wield divine power swear service to the darker gods or focus on emotions that have destructive connotations. Practitioners of primal magic evoke spirits of death, disease, and decay, which have powers rooted in shadow. Assassins learn the secrets of soul sacrifice in their hidden guilds.
Not all who tap into shadow magic deliberately set out to do so, however. Shadow magic seems to have a quiet awareness that waits to fill any dire need or unintended opening. Fiery vows sworn to no one in particular but made with ominous intent can awaken shadow magic within a person. A desire to transcend death at all costs, or the willingness to give up life and love for a goal, can infuse the soul with shadow magic. Careless use of sinister powers, rituals, or items can crack the soul, allowing the shadow in. Interaction with or falling prey to undead or entities from the Shadowfell might do the same.
Gorm the Hidden, the renowned assassin, came to his power in this way. A soldier in Nerath during the gnoll wars that led to the empire’s fall, he was on the battlefield when King Elidyr died. Gorm survived. He swore by any powers that were listening to avenge the king. For reasons only he knows, he and his companions went on to slay three barons who also survived the battle that broke the empire. Gorm’s story has no true end. He eventually went into the Shadowfell, some say bound for the Raven Queen’s domain of Letherna, and never returned to the world again.
Despite the possibility of a spontaneous tie to shadow, most of those who wish to use shadow magic must actively learn to do so. A few such seekers are self-taught. Others have patrons, guides, or mentors.
Teachers of shadow magic are easy to find if the seeker knows where to look and is willing to take the risks involved in finding instruction. Temples devoted evil deities or to the darker aspects of some gods offer training. Assassins coach others in their arts within guilds or other underworld organizations. Some creatures of the Shadowfell know shadow secrets and are willing to impart them. A would-be apprentice in the arcane shadow arts can find a master who knows necromancy or nethermancy. Several schools or organizations impart their knowledge to members. Even the great shadow wizard Evard has been known to offer his knowledge of shadow magic, among other secrets, for a price. The numerous copies of his grimoire, Legendry of Phantoms and Ghosts, sometimes change hands.
The practitioners of shadow magic guard their secrets closely. Any potential student must pay a price beyond the cost to his or her soul. Divine outlets demand faith and submission to the temple authorities. Guilds, organizations, and academies ask for loyalty and fees, and they hand down harsh penalties for failing to keep secrets. Individual shadow masters usually have good reason why they are not a part of a larger organization. An apprentice is lucky to find a tutor who is sane, honest, competent, and merely harsh in his or her methods. Creatures that can teach or grant shadow magic are worse, since many of them are native to the Shadowfell and often disdain mortal values.
One misstep in finding a place to learn or a trainer to teach shadow magic can lead to a horrible fate, of which death might only be the beginning. Necromancers are noted for their distasteful habits, and if an apprentice is fortunate enough to avoid grave robbing during his or her tutelage, he or she could still end up a servant to such a master in more ways than one.
The powers of shadow are subtle, and an unscrupulous mentor can create bonds that a neophyte can’t detect. When the time is right, such ties can be used to benefit the teacher. Results are seldom favorable for the former student. Some, if not all, copies of the Legendry of Phantoms and Ghosts are said to create such links for Evard. But Evard has always been honest, even in the pages of his grimoire, about the fact that anything he gives out—especially knowledge—comes at a price.
Another infamous wizard known as Emirikol was educated near the city of Nera in the Ghostflame Spire, a tower that exists simultaneously in the world and the Shadowfell and is devoted to teaching nethermancy, necromancy, pyromancy, and other destructive magical arts. Emirikol left Nera after his tutelage, only to return some years later. His homecoming was no happy event, however. Emirikol sought Zahrimahn, his former mentor, and killed the man spectacularly in a public duel, declaring, “So it goes with any who dare mark Emirikol with their paltry shadow powers!” Then Emirikol summoned a steed of shadow and began his legendary flight from the city, during which he killed all who opposed him with shadowy rays and fire.
As Emirikol proclaimed, so it goes with shadow magic and weak masters who try to control or monitor their pupils.
In Legendry of Phantoms and Ghosts, Evard wrote, “Shadow lives in the gaps. It fills them in, bridging the breaches between assumptions and reality, solid and ephemeral, light and dark, life and death. It is the heart of all my arts: illusion, nethermancy, and necromancy. Shadow is the most powerful force in creation, and it existed before the world. If one counts darkness as deeper shadow, it is far greater than light. Only a fool fails to acknowledge this. I am no fool. Are you, dear reader?”
On a number of points, Evard is correct. Shadow likes to be attached to other things—creatures, objects, and powers. It does lurk just behind everything and fill the spaces in between. The sum of darkness in the cosmos might indeed surpass that of light. Shadow or darkness connect everything.
Perhaps this is why pure use of shadow magic is rare. Shadow power is usually attached to darker aspects of arcane magic or divine power. Some wielders of the power couple it with martial prowess. Shadow prefers to lurk in the background, remaining unnoticed but ubiquitous.
Shadow magic is also scarce because its practice is feared even among the wise. It is a magic of darkness, terror, dissolution, and madness. Even if the power’s user is not cruel, the results of shadow magic often are.
To gain shadow magic, an individual must often engage in selfish acts, grasping for power and ignoring social conventions. Self-important pride is a common trait among users of shadow power. Other negative traits are also widespread among shadow magic practitioners.
The great shadow wizard Maikedhon wrote, in his master work Tome of Shadow, “Shadow’s influence is strong and its darker ways easy to fall into, but it can be mastered. Once you feel its touch, you must master it. Fail, and it shall master you.” He points out that the sway of shadow magic can be insidious. After the pain of the initial sacrifice, its use becomes easier and easier. An increase in apparent power can come quickly.
Such progress gives the user the illusion of control. Shadow magic’s nature, however, is conducive to negative emotions. Like the Shadowfell from which it comes, shadow power can accentuate rage, sloth, arrogance, greed, and all similar vices. A user might find bouts of wrath growing more frequent and less controllable, or desires growing into unsatisfying addictions. Minor misunderstandings can become feuds, and any reason for suspicion can rouse paranoia.
Shadow magic is most useful for doing harm or preserving its user, the latter often at the expense of others. It might also lead the practitioner to deal too much with dread forces such as death, the undead, and supernatural creatures of shadow.
Callousness, then, is the foremost danger in using shadow magic. Twisted experiences and shadowy energy strip away compassion and gentleness first. Once coldness creeps into the heart, real evil might not be far behind. A user of shadow magic who wishes to retain the more temperate side of his or her personality must be prepared to face the darkness.
Now that you’ve had a look at shadow magic and those who seek it, we’ll be previewing further material from Heroes of Shadow—what this book offers its practitioners, be they blackguard, necromancer, or even vampire. Still curious? We’ll leave you with a look at the table of contents—and all that this book offers.
Heroes of Shadow Table of Contents