Thursday, September 24, 2020

Shadow Week: The Plane of Shadow and Shadar-kai

I have been talking a bit about the denizens of the Shadowfell and various Shadowy realms, but what I have not don't yet is go deeper into what the Shadowfell is or how it relates to the Demi-Plane, or Plane, of Shadow.

They are the same thing.  Ok next week...

Wait, you wanted a little more?  I suppose that a bit more is needed really. Especially since this all extends over many editions of the D&D game.

Manuals of the Planes

The idea of Planes goes all the way to the beginning of D&D really. Last week I talked about Elric and the works of Moorcock, planes are central, even essential to those stories. The same is true for D&D even if your characters never set foot off the Prime Material Plane. 

AD&D 1st Edition Manual of the Planes

The first ed MoP was a game-changer for my groups back then. Yes, a lot of the material here was cribbed from several sources; Q1, Dragon magazine, and other adventures.  But having it all one place was great and there were plenty of ideas to be had here. Though, like the Astra Dreadnought on the cover, there is not a lot here on the Demi-Plane of Shadow.  This would not be detailed until Dragon Magazine #213 for the AD&D 2nd Edition game.  Even Tales of the Outer Planes does not have anything on the Demi-Plane of Shadow.

Back then we did all sorts of mental gymnastics to square the Plane of Shadow with Ravenloft and/or the Demi-Plane of Nightmares (Mystara, in its 1st Edition version) and the Plane of Imprisonment.

There was no Manual of the Planes for AD&D 2nd ed.  That role was filled by the Planescape line.  

To get to the Plane of Shadow as it is described these days we need to move up to 3rd Edition.

D&D 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes

Like the 1st Ed version, this one was also a "game-changer." It was disliked by some for the very reason I liked it; it dared to remake the Planes.  In fact this book pointed it out that belief was largely what shaped how you viewed the planes.  I know this was touched on quite a bit in Planescape, but I didn't play a lot of Planescape so I don't know to what degree.  This should have really been a non-issue. Of course, belief changes the reality of the planes, they are all about belief. We saw that in Deities & Demigods and Legends and Lore previously. 

The planes are still largely the same so I am not going to get into the details here save for one.  The Plane of Shadow is introduced to us here. It is here we get the idea that the Plane of Shadow is a dark reflection of the Prime, or just like the narration from Tales from the Darkside told us. 

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality.
But...there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit...a dark side.


The dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter — waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.

The Plane of Shadow gets 5½ to 6 pages in the MoP3.  Not bad.  The adjacent Feywild is not mentioned yet, nor is the Shadowfell. But there is enough detail here to keep you busy for a while.

For monsters of the Plane of Shadow we get Ephemera, Shadow-template creatures (not undead, but magical creatures, much like the Shadows of B/X and BECMI), and the Astral Dreadnought. 

D&D 4th Edition Manual of the Planes

Here we get some more changes to the Planes and even some I did not care for, but nothing that I could not adjust easy enough.

4e though does try to incorporate everything that has gone on before. The Feywild is introduced in it's full glory for example.  The Shadowfell is now a fully-realized Plane. Over 14 pages are spent on the Shadowfell and all of it is crunch-free.  The Shadar-Kai, introduced in 3rd edition and brought into fuller focus in the 4e Monster Manual (see below) are discussed and they are not the only inhabitants of the Shadowfell.

Again, monsters of shadow are detailed and there is even Paragon Path for characters. 

As you read through the various editions there is an evolution. A guided one? Not likely, more like one building on the others with other ideas added in. But there is a solid progression from one to the other.



Shadar-kai

Shadar-kai are older than most players are likely to know.  Much like Tieflings (2e introduced) and Dragonborn (3rd ed introduced, 1st ed inspired), the Shadar-kai were introduced as a "monster" race and then quickly given rules for player characters.  In this case, they were introduced in 3e.  But much like the Plane of Shadow/Shadowfell they call home they have changed over the years.

What has been constant is that Shadar-kai are a race of humanoids that have lived in the Plane of Shadow/Shadowfell for a aeons. They are pale skinned and have a fairly flat affect.  They lack the zeal of life and need to keep themselves excited or entertained or they begin to fade away.  What that means differs from edition to edition.

Fiend Folio, D&D 3rd Edition

The Shadar-kai are introduced here as a race of elves that have been living in the plane of Shadow. Their type is "fey" in the 3rd Editon and are also called the "Shadow Fey." Here they are mostly Neutral Evil and are considered to be a race of "bitter, determined people."  They have strange weapons and are prone to hiding and deceit. Rules are given for Shadar-kail characters but they have an ECL of 4 due to hit dice and powers. 

Monster Manual, D&D 4th Edition

Here Shadar-kai takes the stage as a playable race.  They are now humans (???) but much of their background is the same. They are dedicated to the Raven Queen so they fit in well with the entire D&D4/Shadowfell connections.  There is now ECL in 4e so they can start off as 1st level characters.

They were so popular for a while there we took to calling them the "new Drow."

Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, 5th Edition

I might be biased, but these are the best version of the Shadar-kai yet.  This one deftly combines the features of the 3rd and 4th editions versions and makes them Elves/Fey again. Though there is a lot more here with there creation and the creation of the other elven races (Eladrin, Elves, and Drow).


DumpStat does a pretty good deep dive into the Shadar-Kai and if you want more details than I have here it is a good read.

The Power Score also has done their typical quality work in their A Guide to the Shadar-Kai deep dive too. 

It would take a bit of work to square these with the Shadow Elves of Mystara/BECMI and the Shadow Fey from Kobold Press.  It might not matter for my uses anyway since Shadar-kai are not Open Gaming Content, neither are the Shadow Elves as presented in BECMI.  Shadow Fey are, via Kobold Press.  
But honestly I would want to do my own thing anyway.

2 comments:

centauri said...

I don't know quite why, but the 4th Edition cosmology was my favorite. I guess I wasn't too familiar with any before 3.5, really. I liked how 4th Edition made the planes part of every tier of the game. In Heroic tier, you have Eladrin, who come from the Feywild, and a number of fairly common fey and shadow monsters. In Paragon, the Shadowfell and Feywild were meant to be pretty easily accessible. Of course, in Epic, the planes could be the party's playground.

I liked how the Astral Sea was "heaven" and the Elemental Chaos was "hell" (and accessible, ultimately, via the Underdark), but that both were dangerous.

3.5 had some planes that it didn't seem like characters could even exist in without special protection, and I liked that 4th Edition mostly did away with that. You might quickly be killed by something, but not because the plane was pure energy or something.

Dick McGee said...

Much as I like 4E's very different take on planar stuff, even I thought the Shadar-Kai were better off as a elves native to the Shadowfell rather than a human variant race. The one 4E GM I had that used them seemed to agree, since he reskinned them to pointy-eared elf variants. Really, really edgy elves. Their sadomasochism in 4E made sense in terms of the setting, and it made them even creepier than your average drow for most folks.

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