Excerpts Archive | 11/24/2008
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Excerpts: The Shadowfell
Manual of the Planes

In today’s Manual of the Planes preview, we introduce the Shadowfell: where dark dreams gather, and the ghosts of mortals linger for a time.


The Shadowfell is the dark echo of the mortal world, a twilight realm that exists “on the other side” of the world and its earthly denizens. Legend has it that an otherworldly dimness arose around the remnants and tatters of the raw stuff of creation. Over time, these shadows coalesced and assumed a form similar to the natural world, but darker, more ominous, and thrumming with a strange and unexpected power. This murky land spawned beings of its own and drew others from different parts of the cosmos. It came to be filled with a diverse population of creatures, fair and foul.

The Shadowfell is more than just a mirror, even as darkly cast and twisted as it is. This plane is the destination of souls loosed from their bodies. It is the domain of the dead, the final stage of the soul’s journey before moving onto the unknown. For this reason, the Shadowfell draws the attention of any with an interest in death. The power and allure of this place even drew the Raven Queen from the Astral Sea to take residence among the spirits, to govern them, and to monitor their movements as they await the inexorable pull of dissolution.


Shadowfell Traits

Type: Parallel plane.
Size and Shape: The Shadowfell is a parallel plane with dimensions and topography similar to the mortal world.
Gravity: Normal.
Mutability: Normal.
Gloom: The Shadowfell mutes light sources, reducing the radius illuminated by 50 percent. For example, a torch illuminates 2 squares instead of 5; a lantern illuminates 5 squares instead of 10. Magical light sources are unaffected.

A place of deep shadows, of familiar yet alien landscapes, of vistas that snatch the breath, and of mind-rending visions, the Shadowfell is the gloomy reflection of the natural world. It is a plane dimmed and dulled by a pervasive and insidious pall. The home of the dead, the realm of the forsaken, a haven of the lost and the twisted, the birthplace of wretched creatures famous for their grief and sorrow—the Plane of Shadow is all this and more.

The Feywild reminds the traveler of the mortal world, but exaggerates its verdant splendor. The Shadowfell is similarly reminiscent, but the reflection is far different. Familiar landmarks, peoples, and places are changed, as if born from half-remembered nightmares or perverted by fear and doubt. Perils abound in the Shadowfell. Still, the allure of lost treasures, strange mysteries (including those of death), and alien vistas draw the bold and foolish alike to test their mettle against the forces of darkness that rule this chilling plane.

For all the Shadowfell’s dismal reputation, it does have bright spots where those who fight against the malaise and the chill live almost ordinary lives. In fact, for many visitors to the Shadowfell, the plane has more in common with the natural world than it has differences. This is both comforting and disturbing.

Reaching the Shadowfell

The superstitious claim that the Shadowfell caresses the natural world wherever the sun cannot reach. Its entrances huddle in old closets, among darkened doorways, and under the cloying darkness of the deepest dungeons. Common folk make signs against evil or whisper a quick prayer before continuing down dim streets, so strong is the fear that the Shadowfell evokes. These qualms stem from misapprehensions about the plane, born from mortal fears of death and what might lie beyond. Most know that when the flesh fails, into the darkness goes the spirit. No one can say with certainty what comes next.

The Shadowfell is one of the more accessible planes. In fact, on rare occasions, travelers have stumbled into it by accident. Places where the boundary between the world and the Shadowfell are thin are known as shadow crossings. Some intersections are naturally occurring, the result of ancient planar conjunctions or catastrophes. These crossings often occur in low-lying, deeply shadowed spots—forested hollows, mist-blanketed bogs, or the bottoms of caverns and ravines. Other junctions form in places where the forces of death are prevalent—graveyards, battlefields, and other places that bore witness to mass death.

When active, shadow crossings permit travelers to shift from the mortal world to the corresponding location in the Shadowfell (but not always back again). Few shadow crossings are continuously active. Most activate only under the right conditions, such as certain times of day, certain days of the year, or when various celestial phenomena take place—eclipses or new moons, for example. Travelers can also activate dormant crossing points using the Shadow Passage ritual, which is easier than creating a new portal or using the Planar Portal ritual.

A more reliable access to the Shadowfell is one of the many portals connecting this plane to the natural world. Most such connections bear the indelible mark of the Shadowfell. Gloomy, cold, and dripping with shadow, these places are tucked away, hidden by shadows, and behind layers of myth and superstition. Sites where portals to the Shadowfell exist usually have strong ties to death. Crude shrines erected to Orcus and hidden temples to Vecna, for example, might offer entry into Shadowfell.

Finally, the easiest—though costliest—means to reach the Shadowfell is via the Planar Portal ritual. Acquiring the address for a teleportation circle in the Shadowfell can be a challenge, for that information is almost always a closely guarded secret. Still, numerous junctions to the Shadowfell exist, and not all of them carry the risk of a lethal passage. The city of Gloomwrought is an excellent example. A sinking city along the coast of a vast and stormy sea, it is a popular port for seafaring ships and planar travelers alike.

Domains of Dread

Scattered throughout the Plane of Shadow are places hidden behind thick walls of mist, places ruled by dark and deeply troubled beings bound to the plane by dreadful curses. These isolated pockets within the Shadowfell are called domains of dread. A creature that passes through the curtain of mist into a domain of dread becomes trapped there—a prisoner of the dark lord who rules the domain.

Each domain of dread has a dark lord—a powerful creature with absolute hold over the domain and limited mastery over its shape and disposition. Similar to a fey demesne, a domain of dread bends to the will of its master, reflecting his or her dark mood in various eerie or disturbing ways. Some domains of dread are quite small, such as a lonely castle on a hill. Others extend for miles.

Escape from a domain of dread is tricky and usually requires one to slay the dark lord, break the dark lord’s curse, unlock the secret of the dark lord’s power over the domain, perform a dark ritual, or accomplish some other difficult goal.