Article Header Image
Art of Shadow
Design & Development
Jon Schindehette

For this installment of Design & Development, we wanted to speak with Senior Creative Art Director Jon Schindehette regarding the visual style behind Heroes of Shadow. You may have had a chance to scour the art gallery from the book already; the following looks through select pieces of art and includes their original art orders (descriptions for the artists).

The Heroes of Shadows game supplement focuses on the darker characters in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. Now I’m not talking about villains, but rather those characters that call themselves heroes and use the power of the Shadowfell: dark, disturbed and perhaps even a little morally ambiguous at times, but heroes nonetheless.

Keven Smith was the art director for this product and pulled together art and artists from across the globe:

Alberto Dal Lago, Ben Wootten, Christopher Moeller, Daarken, David Rapoza, Eric Belisle, Jim Nelson, Lucio Parrillo, Marc Sasso, Mark Winters, Matias Tapia, Mazin Kassis, Nico Photos, Patrick McEvoy, Raven Mimura, Richard Sardinha, Ron Lemen, Slawomir Maniak, Thomas M. Baxa, Tyler Walpole, Warren Mahy, Wayne England, William O’Connor...

One of the key races that were addressed in this product is the shade, a human-sized creature with dusky skin, black hair and pupil-less eyes. They make for excellent assassins—lurking in the shadows and striking at the critical moment. Their ability to use shadow powers to attack their foes also made for some interesting visual moments. From an art direction standpoint, don’t confuse these guys with the drow. Sure there are some visual similarities, but these guys are truly in their element in the darkness and shadow.

A MALE SHADE ASSASSIN evades along the rooftops of a city at night from angry crowd of guards below him.

The MALE SHADE ASSASSIN is wearing BLACK HIDE ARMOR and armed with a LONGSWORD and a HAND AXE. HE moves stealthily and easily along the roof tops of the CITY BUILDING. Below him in the streets, armed with torches, are his pursuers: the bodyguards of his most recent victim. They scour the streets for the killer, but no avail.

The main focus of the piece is the MALE SHADE ASSASSIN.

A SHADE is a human-sized creature with DUSKY SKIN, BLACK HAIR, and pupils-less EYES that GLOW with an intense BLUE color.

A TROLL armed with a club stands in the midst of a DUNGEON room. He looks PANICKED as if it attempts to fend off a swarm of some unseen flying creatures.

However, the light source in the dungeon casts the TROLL’S SHADOW against the wall and we can see what is attacking him. Four BLACK BATS crafted from SHADOW buzz around the troll’s shadow, biting and scratching at it. The attack on his shadow is causing him physical pain and wounds.

The vryloka were even more fun. The original concept of these guys was cooked up by Claudio Pozas, also one of the authors of the supplement. I believe that is a first for D&D—an author helping on the visual side as well. The vryloka are a race of beings essentially functioning as living vampires—with the vitality of a vampire, but without the taint of undeath. It was great fun illustrating a race that so thoroughly commits themselves to any endeavor they undertake. There are no half measures with this race, and their distinctive features and armor really make them stand out from the crowd. Be careful with these guys—they might get in your blood.

VRYLOKAS are a new race for this book. Vrylokas are humans that have vampire lineage. They share a few of the traits of the vampire, specifically pale white skin, glowing red eyes, and extreme agility. However, unlike vampires, Vrylokas don’t have pointy ears, pointy fangs and don’t feed on blood. Another common trait for Vrylokas is their dark red hair. Vryloka outfits are primary crimson and brass in color with rust and black accents. Their look is layered and pointy with a strong “V” shape. Depictions of roses, vines, thorns and the Blood Rose are design elements that adorn the outfits. These are symbols that represent the “Red Witch,” the iconic deity of this race.

A FEMALE VRYLOKA WIZARD wearing RED AND BLACK ROBES points her BLACK STAFF towards a ROARING FEMALE ETTIN. RED Magical energy shoots out from the staff. This magical energy hits the ground between the wizard and the ETTIN, where a NUMBER OF SKELETON WARRIORS armed with RUSTED WEAPONS burst from the ground. The FEMALE VRYLOKA WIZARD has summoned these SKELETON WARRIORS to attack the ETTIN.

Vampires are a new class detailed in this supplement (and elaborated in last week’s column). The art staff was quick to jump on the tie between the vampire and the shadow powers. The idea of a heroic vampire was a little more interesting though. Trying to keep a vampire cool and feral, but with a hint of heroic traits was a challenge.

This a single character piece focusing on JYRIEL. JYRIEL is a is a beautiful, elegant FEMALE ELF VAMPIRE. She is more ELF-like than that of a vampire, minus the pale white skin and fangs. She wears BLACK LEATHER ARMOR and has long flowing BROWN HAIR. She carries a LONGBOW and has a SHORT SWORD and a QUIVER of ARROWS on her BELT.

She is in a dark, forest environment.

ELDAS stands at the top of a set of stairs in a crumbling, RUINED CASTLE, fending off a group of WERERATS with his RAPIER. Several wererats are crumpled and slain at his feet or have tumbled down the stairs. He should have his FANGS visible, his EYES FERAL as bloodlust and battle madness have overcome him.

In addition, you also see some of your favorite races and classes, and how the shadow power affects the way they interact with their kin and the rest of the world. One of my personal favorites is the binder build for the warlock class. Warlocks are pretty darned cool already—all those implements and powers make for a lot of visual fun. Now add a relationship with an ‘extraplanar entity’ into the mix, and you can take things to the next level artistically. Nothing is ever exactly what it seems... there is always the shadow of something larger in the picture. Both puns are intended.

EIDA is a HALFLING binder. She has a dark, menacing, powerful attitude about her. She is BALD, very beautiful, of Asian descent, and has a TATTOO of the RAVEN QUEEN’S symbol on her face and head.

She wears BROWN LEATHER ARMOR and a BLACK CLOAK. She carries a GOLDEN ROD in one hand. The ROD is covered with GLOWING, RED RUNES. She holds her other hand outstretched with the PALM UP. In her palm, a small CREATURE OF PURE SHADOW dances in her hand, under her arcane control.

Behind Edia, she casts a shadow, but rather than the shadow of a halfling it is of a LEERING, MONSTROUS CREATURE. We want to get across the idea that Edia, even though she is a halfling, has traded her soul to a powerful demon in exchange for her powerful arcane magic. So her shadow is the only true way to see what see really is inside.

Eida is cornered in a dungeon chamber by an AZER. The chamber is a grand FORGE. A great roaring FIRE in the center of the chamber separates the two foes from each other. The fire casts long shadows of the characters along the floor and walls.

The AZER is advancing slowly to attack Edia while she points her ROD at him. The AZER’S SHADOW that is cast against the WALL behind him has TWISTED AND TURNED into a FEARSOME SHADOW CREATURE that is about to attack him from behind. The AZER does not notice this new foe.

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at