Shadar-kai, also known as shadow fey, were a race of shadow-like fey connected to the Shadowfell. They were believed to have originated as an offshoot of elves associated with the Raven Queen, although other legends of their origins also existed, as well as shadar-kai who were connected to other deities and processes related with the Shadowfell.
Some shadar-kai resembled blighted elves, in a perpetual state between life and death, while others were human-like in appearance. They were usually slender and ranged from slightly taller to slightly shorter than humans, exhibiting graceful movements well suited to stealth.
They had dusky gray skin and colorless complexions that varied from alabaster to dark gray; black hair, with few shadar-kai having pale hair, that ranged within human hair colors; and dark eyes lacking any sclera or clear pupil. Shadows on their bodies or clothing always seemed to be deeper and darker than shadows elsewhere, and shadow seemed to follow them and reach out, especially when they were angry. They were easily lost from view. Many shadar-kai displayed all kinds of iron body piercings in nose, ears, eyebrows, shoulders, and other parts of the body, and purple-inked tattoos on body, limbs, and face.
Despite having a somewhat youthful appearance while in the Prime Material plane, being in the Shadowfell revealed the shadar-kai's cursed state. They appeared visibly aged and withered, with swollen joints that gave them an overall corpse-like aspect. For that reason, many shadar-kai wore masks to conceal their decrepit state while in the Shadowfell.
Due to their prolonged exposure to the Shadowfell, shadar-kai were nearly devoid of emotion. They were known to be bitter, grim-natured, troubled, and driven, with souls tainted by darkness. They were often seen as cold and pitiless to outsiders.
Shadar-kai had very little regard for their own lives. Often viewing a present incarnation as but one in an endless cycle and death as foretold and impossible to change, they had grown jaded and careless with their bodies. Their affinity with the Shadowfell defined them as a people and influenced every aspect of their culture.
Shadar-kai embraced living to the limits of pleasure, while striving for personal greatness, so that when they fell, stories of their great deeds would grant them a sort of immortality. In their search for personal glory, most shadar-kai ignored comfort, morality, and safety, traits they considered banalities.
Thanks to their strong affinity with the Plane of Shadow, shadar-kai were a deceptive and subtle people. They preferred to attack from ambush and steal without being seen. Some shadar-kai enjoyed watching other creatures succumb to despair, as their very presence brought about feelings of sadness and the awareness of one's own mortality.
Shadar-kai favored the path of the rogue, and these were the most frequent among them. Many others were clerics or wizards. These spellcasters had a predilection for illusion and shadow magic.
They generally detested other fey, and would hunt down and destroy those who had the misfortune to encounter them. Nevertheless, sometimes, they would ally themselves with other wicked fey beings, often so they could trick or infiltrate a good humanoid society.
Shadar-kai preferred to use their speed, grace, and agility in combat. Therefore, they typically wielded light weapons and were particularly known for fighting with spiked chains. Spellcasters typically favored shadow magic and illusion spells.
Shadar-kai had supernatural skill at stealth, especially while in shadow. They could hide even while in plain sight with nothing to hide behind. Only full natural daylight, a daylight spell, or the equivalent, could chase away the shadows and reveal them. Skilled at sneak attacks and often able to hide in plain sight, many shadar-kai favored ambushes. They were adept at backstabbing and making sneak attacks on their victims. Survivors of confrontations with shadar-kai often described the experience as fighting a living darkness.
Shadar-kai who lived in settlements in the Shadowfell were divided into two distinct societies: the shadar-kai who were part of Netheril, and those unrelated to them. Shadar-kai who were bound to the Raven Queen organized their societies around performing her bidding. They usually established dwellings in the Shadowfell near the Fortress of Memories, the Raven Queen's divine realm. Netherese shadar-kai had developed a meritocratic society based on power and prestige of deeds.
In the 14th century DR, the majority of shadar-kai realms were magocracies. These were ruled by puissant illusionists. Their societies were described as predatory. Leaders among them were titled "kithlord" while lesser commanders were titled "kithguard". It was common for shadar-kai communities to reenact ancient elven rituals and festivities, as a grim reminder of their distant origins.
Many shadar-kai were subject to the "shadow curse", doomed to lose their souls into the dark depths of the Shadowfell. Their souls were only loosely bound to their bodies, so, when they were dazed, stunned, knocked unconscious, or otherwise close to death, a part of their soul risked being sent to the Plane of Shadow. It took great strength of will to resist the tremendous and inexorable pull the Plane of Shadow had on their souls.
A shadar-kai missing parts of his or her soul was weakened, and thus less able to resist the next time their soul was drawn away. A shadar-kai so afflicted could not be raised from the dead or resurrected, and could not advance. The curse also sapped their will to live and filled their hearts with ennui, melancholy, and utter sadness. Those shadar-kai who were overtaken by the curse, or who voluntarily surrendered to it, were transformed into shadow-like undead horrors, sometimes with wraiths forming in their place.
Going to the Plane of Shadow and staying there mitigated the effects of the shadow curse, but did not cure it. An afflicted shadar-kai who returned to the Material Plane would be weakened once more. The only way to fully restore their soul was with a greater restoration spell cast on the Plane of Shadow itself; on the Material Plane, they needed no less than a wish or miracle.
Shadar-kai that were affected by the shadow curse were forced to struggle all their lives to avoid it or fend it off, just to stay on the Material Plane.
In order to avoid being affected by the curse, shadar-kai lived extreme lifestyles, embracing strong emotions and peak experiences. Most of them used pain to keep their focus, decorating their bodies with tattoos, scarification, and body piercings, in extremely sensitive parts of their bodies. Likewise, some of them engaged in self-flagellation, to the point of injuring themselves if they felt that they were being overtaken by the curse.
However, these temporary fixes also made shadar-kai cruel to others, and their propensity toward cruelty and violence increased with every generation. Shadar-kai who had already lost a chunk of their souls felt their hearts grow cold and empty and were disturbed. Inevitably, they surrendered and departed for the Shadow Plane.
The shadar-kai did not build many permanent cities of their own, preferring instead to lurk in the settlements of other races like humans. They could infiltrate these with ease, thanks to their many dark alleys. In cities all around Faerûn, there were small shadar-kai clans working to stave off their curse.
What few shadar-kai cities there were on the Material Plane were well-hidden, shrouded by illusions and shadow magic and defended by squads of shadar-kai scouts and their shadow mastiff pets. However, they were bleak, almost abandoned places, as the majority of the shadar-kai had already been subsumed into the Plane of Shadow.
Shadar-kai who'd succumbed to the shadow curse and gone to the Plane of Shadow could become bandits, preying on travelers there. They roamed singly or in bands of up to a dozen members.
The shadow curse could be better resisted with a gal-ralan, a cold iron armband with needles piercing the skin. It kept the shadar-kai's soul and body connected but also caused constant pain. Despite this, many shadar-kai wore them.
Shadar-kai often carried blackstone runes, which allowed the bearer to plane shift to and from the Plane of Shadow and the Prime Material Plane. Shadar-kai weakened by the shadow curse used these to take respite in the Plane of Shadow.
It was believed that the origin of the shadar-kai dated to the failed attempt by the Raven Queen to ascend into divinity. Although their exact motivations remained largely unknown, it was believed that the shadar-kai were originally an elven kingdom from the Feywild who agreed to participate in a ritual to pledge their souls and magic to their queen so she could enter Arvandor and put a stop to the conflict between Corellon and Lolth that threatened to tear the Seldarine asunder.
The queen's followers, who called themselves shadar-kai, firmly believed that their queen was capable of reunifying the elven pantheon and the sundered elves. However, due to the interference in the ritual by evil wizards, the ritual was corrupted into a curse that siphoned the queen and her followers into the Shadowfell, forever keeping the shadar-kai's souls bound to their increasingly mad and grief-stricken queen.
Another account of the shadar-kai origins claimed that they were once a fey race who desired to preserve the world against the growing power of humanoid races. With their shadow magic, they made a pact with a dark power in the Plane of Shadow to throw the world into eternal twilight where they would be the supreme race. They failed, however, but became cursed and inextricably connected to the Plane of Shadow.[note 1]
In the century before the Year of Rogue Dragons, 1373 DR, many shadar-kai migrated to Chaulssin, an Underdark drow city lying half in the Plane of Shadow. They willingly gave up their freedom and served the Jaezred Chaulssin, in exchange for magical aid in fending off the curse and to seek respite in the city's Shadow Fringe.
By 1373 DR, shadar-kai made up 39% of the slaves in Chaulssin. The majority served the velves of the Jaezred Chaulssin, carrying out their missions in teams of three or more. A high-ranking few were spies who monitored the works of Lolth-worshiping drow in the Northdark. Otherwise, small bands of shadar-kai claimed the abandoned parts of the city and the Galleries of Shadow.
In the early 1370s DR, the shadar-kai kithlord Thieraven came into contact with the Sharran priestess Esvele Greycastle, seeking aid in breaking the shadow curse. She claimed that Shar, goddess of the dark, could not break the bargain that led to the curse. However, she promised that if he and his shadar-kai aided in her scheme, then they would have a secret realm where they would be immune to the curse, with other sites planned in the future. She urged him to recruit other shadar-kai to the effort. Thus, by the Year of Lightning Storms, 1374 DR, Thieraven and a band of shadar-kai had been sent by Esvele to the Lost Refuge in the Vast Swamp to help the black dragon Despayr in his plot to tear apart the Weave of magic. Thieraven reopened the Dusk Lord's Passage to the Shadow Swamp in the Plane of Shadow, where the scheme was enacted. Commanded by Kithlord Thieraven, Kithguard Maurran and other shadar-kai guarded the swamp fort, while the ferrymaster Sithierel led the cultists to the Monastery of the Ebon Dome and ferried the victims of the cult to their dooms. Eventually, the plot was uncovered and the shadar-kai were likely defeated in early Eleint when an adventuring party in service to Mystra assaulted the fort.
After the Year of Blue Fire, 1385 DR, some shadovar humans and the children they gave birth to, as well as other humans across Toril that were somehow tied to the Shadowfell, were affected by the Spellplague and transformed into shade-like creatures, otherwise identical to shadar-kai of other origins. Some people associated the birth of this new race with the decline of the krinth, as the numbers of the latter dwindled while those of the "newborn" race thrived. Some scholars among the Netherese speculated that those events were related, and that somehow the shadar-kai were evolved forms of the failed krinth.
To avoid chaos among the shadovar, Prince Rivalen Tanthul said that they had been blessed by Shar, and called them "shadar-kai" (meaning "Those of Shadow's Gift", in the ancient Netherese language). Prince Rivalen even devised a ritual to change a human into a shadar-kai, similar to the ritual used to produce shades.
Netherese shadar-kai became a race unto themselves in the generations that followed the Spellplague. Some remained in Netheril, working as information gatherers to improve Netheril's standing in Faerûn. Most of those agents aimed at eventually becoming true shades. Others, mostly those that weren't originally shadovar, went to the Shadowfell, the Underdark, or to live across the lands of Toril. They were more easily disposed toward evil than shadar-kai of other origins, but shared the thrill-seeking behavior and affection for the macabre possessed by their cousins.
- Fiend Folio (3rd edition) only says "a dark power of the Plane of Shadow" for the core setting of D&D, so it is unknown who or what this could be. In the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, one candidate is Shar, goddess of darkness, who dwells on the Plane of Shadow, but this is unconfirmed. In Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave, page 56, the letter from Esvele Graycastle says "My Mistress [Shar] cannot break the bargain that tied your people's souls to Her holy realm". The wording leaves the question open as to whether Shar is the dark power and she cannot or will not break the pact, or if is she simply unable to break the pact of another deity.
- Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave • Dragon+ #21, "Six Faces of Death"
- The Captive Flame • Unbroken Chain • Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road • The Adversary • Brimstone Angels: Lesser Evils • Sword of the Gods: Spinner of Lies
- Video games
- Neverwinter • Dungeons & Dragons Online: Shadowfell Conspiracy
- Card Games
- Dragonfire (Sword Mountains Crypt)
- Organized Play & Licensed Adventures
- The Breath of Life
- Jesse Decker (November 2005). “The Ecology of the Shadar-Kai”. In Erik Mona ed. Dragon #337 (Paizo Publishing, LLC), pp. 72–77.
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- Bruce R. Cordell, Ed Greenwood, Chris Sims (August 2008). Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. Edited by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, et al. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 261–262. ISBN 978-0-7869-4924-3.
- Chris Sims (February, 2009). “Playing Shadar-kai”. Dragon #372 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 13.
- Richard Baker, Bruce R. Cordell, David Noonan, Matthew Sernett, James Wyatt (March 2007). Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 51, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57. ISBN 978-0-7869-4119-3.
- Robert J. Schwalb (September 2010). “A Legacy in Shadow: Shadar-Kai in the Realms”. In Steve Winter ed. Dragon #391 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 15.
- Eric L. Boyd (2007-04-25). Dragons of Faerûn, Part 3: City of Wyrmshadows (Zipped PDF). Wizards of the Coast. p. 5. Archived from the original on 2016-11-01. Retrieved on 2009-10-07.
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- Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (May 29, 2018). Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. Edited by Kim Mohan, Michele Carter. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-0786966240.
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Aquatic Elves: Aquatic elf • Marel
Dark Elves: Dark elf • Drow
Sylvan Elves: Wild elf • Wood elf
Miscellaneous: Avariel • Dusk elf • Lythari • Poscadar elf • Snow elf
Planetouched: Celadrin • Draegloth • Eladrin • Fey'ri • Shadar-kai
Humanblood: Crinti • Half-elf • Half-drow • Half-sea elf
Dragonblood: Drow-dragon (shadow) • Drow-dragon (deep) • Zekyl • Zar'ithra
Miscellaneous: Drider • Maraloi