Shadow Magic Overview

Before creation, darkness was all, and it waits even now beyond the edges of all worlds. In time, the greatest of lights and the brightest of suns must dim and gutter. Day might banish night for a while, but night always returns.

On various planes of existence dwell those who follow this notion to its ultimate conclusion. Most frequently called the Doctrine of Eternal Night, it posits that darkness is the only truly eternal concept of the multiverse. As such, it must be the greatest. Symbolically and physically, darkness is the ultimate force—the final result of all efforts.

As with symbolism and physics, so too with magic. Wizards call down fire, druids channel the essence of nature, and clerics wield the powers of the gods themselves. Yet in time, the greatest of those magics fades, worlds crumble to dust, and even gods die. The magic of shadow is not flashy, beautiful, or divine, but it is eternal, and thus superior.


The Plane of Shadow neighbors and overlaps the Material Plane, and many of the others as well. It is a dark, twisted refliection of the real world, made all the more alien by its nagging similarities. Color is a faded memory, bleached from the world and replaced with shades of gray. The sky is an endless vault of black, with neither sun nor stars to break the gloom. Emotions are as muted as colors—love and hate, joy and sorrow, mirth and mourning are all less potent, less expressive. Only true needs—hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and pain—remain undiminished. Bring all the light you like; it will not shine half so brightly as it does in the darkest night of your own world.

The Plane of Shadow is the literal shadow of the Material Plane, cast not by any light but by the mystical energies that hold creation together. The domain contains twisted refliections of everything that exists in the physical realm. Mountains rise from the earth, but they are perverse and foreboding. Structures stand clustered into communities, but they are warped and often worn.

The most twisted of all areas are the Darklands scattered throughout the Plane of Shadow. These stretches of land are infused with negative energy. They suck life from those who travel them. Desolate, bleak, and forlorn, the Darklands are the most inhospitable terrain in a harsh realm.

It is only natural to consider the Plane of Shadow lesser than the Material Plane. After all, it is merely a reflection of “true” existence, a shadow distorted by the angle of the light and the movements of the world. It is simple image without substance. A rare few understand a deeper truth, however. Shadow is sculpted in the endless darkness. Carved from the only force that is truly eternal, it has a greater meaning, and a greater existence, than the physical world itself. Rather than the Plane of Shadow poorly reflecting the Material Plane, the plane of light and substance is the ephemeral re?iection of all-encompassing shadow.


Shadow magic is subtle and indirect. It involves two fundamental principles of mysticism.


Like affects like. If a caster controls a thing similar to, or related to, a target, the mage controls the target itself. Spellcasters of certain cultures take advantage of this principle with dolls shaped like specific people, or by stealing a lock of hair or an item of clothing belonging to their intended targets. Shadow magic takes this concept much further by taking advantage of perhaps the greatest example of sympathy. By manipulating the shadows of individuals, the caster can control their minds, their souls, and even their physical forms.


For every action, an equal and opposite reaction exists. The reaction is not visible in most forms of magic. The wizard who casts a fireball into the midst of his enemies neither sees nor cares about the brief amount of flame that vanishes from the Elemental Plane of Fire to power that spell. The cleric who heals a dying friend knows that her god is a being of such might, he scarcely notices the energy she draws from him. Shadow magic does not hide these effects, but rather uses them, creating strength from weakness, substance from emptiness, and dark from light.


Shadow magic has its lesser but far more familiar cousins. Casters of shadow magic scoff at those who believe that these feeble magics represent the limits of shadow. In truth, they barely scratch the surface.

Darkness and Related Spells: All spellcasters tap into the Plane of Shadow when creating darkness. They draw extraplanar shadows to them, for no shadow of the Material Plane is strong enough to displace the light. Comparing these manipulations of shadow to those practiced by shadow magic users, however, is as comparing a child playing with rude clay to the skillful efforts of a master sculptor. Others can only force shadow through the planar boundaries in fixed amounts; the shadow master can manipulate ambient lighting as a bard manipulates sound.

Shadow-Based Illusions: Several spells of the illusion school draw on shadowstuff to add an element of reality to their images. Swords seem to cut, lightning to burn. Yet these are no more real than any other illusion. They are shadows of shadows, merely skimming the tiniest amount of substance from the dark plane. Shadow magic casters understand that they need not settle for semireal images. They can create true items, as solid as anything found on the Material Plane.

Negative Energy: The association of negative energy with shadow is in fact a false one, although many of the wisest scholars—and even some shadow magic users—continue to make it. The propensity of mortal minds to associate the symbolic with the real causes most people to think of positive energy as “light” and negative energy as “dark.” The reasoning proceeds—if negative energy is dark and shadow is dark, they must stem from the same source. In truth, shadow and negative energy are separate cosmic forces, although they attract many of the same entities and can be used to accomplish some of the same effects. When a shadow magic caster draws the life or strength out of a foe, however, she is funneling the foe’s essence into the Plane of Shadow, replacing it with less animate shadows. She need not manipulate negative energy, any more than evil clerics manipulate shadow to control undead.

Shadowdancers: Not all who manipulate shadow do so through intense study and arcane formulae. A rare few grow so close to darkness, they brush the edges of shadow on an instinctive level. Shadowdancers pierce the borders of the Plane of Shadow when they make use of their abilities, even if they remain ignorant of that fact. To date, shadow magic casters have been unable to determine what it is about shadowdancers that grants them this innate link to shadow, but it is an area of intense study and debate within their various societies and organizations.


The secrets of true shadow magic are difficult to learn, for only a rare and jealous minority possesses them. The majority of such lore can be found in the hands of a few specific organizations, such as the Tenebrous Cabal, and knowledge seekers must petition them for access. Although a few ancient libraries and lost ruins contain tomes of shadow lore, these are usually insufficient for readers to become shadow magic casters simply by perusing them. At best, they might point in the direction of other, more useful sources. Some religious sects and temples also possess writings and lore regarding shadow magic. The priesthoods of many dark gods study the Plane of Shadow, believing it to be an aspect of their deity’s power.

As a matter of self-preservation, these groups seek out those who show both an aptitude for magic and a desire to delve into the mystic. With varying degrees of ritual, they share the secrets of the multiverse and shadow magic with a desirable applicant. Because it requires a devoted, disciplined mind to master shadow magic, for it is alien in ways that other magics are not, these groups approach potential recruits infrequently and accept petitioners even more rarely. Still, for those who prove themselves both capable and devoted, access to these organizations opens up an entirely new understanding of magic, of eternity, and of reality itself.


Mysteries are formed out of power drawn from the Plane of Shadow and channeled through a caster’s body and soul.

All mysteries have a level, which is used to determine save DCs. Mysteries are divided into areas of study called paths. Paths come in three categories: apprentice, initiate, and master, and each path has three steps of increasing power. Thus, the nine levels of mysteries divide equally into the paths: 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-level mysteries form the apprentice paths, 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-level mysteries the initiate paths, and 7th-, 8th-, and 9th-level mysteries the master paths.

Mysteries function as spells, spell-like abilities, or supernatural abilities, depending on the category of the path and the knowledge of the mystery user. All mysteries have the following characteristics, unless otherwise noted in a specific description.

  • Can be cast once per day if functioning as an arcane spell, two times per day if functioning as a spell-like ability, and three times per day if functioning as a supernatural ability.

  • Can be dismissed at will by the mystery user if it has a duration longer than instantaneous.

  • Functions in darkness or any sort of ambient light, even if the mystery describes the mystery user manipulating his or the subject’s shadow. The mystery user’s connection to the Plane of Shadow is so strong that he can manipulate a subject’s “spiritual shadow” even where shadows cannot normally exist.

  • Requires a standard action to cast.

  • Requires somatic components if cast as an arcane spell.

  • Is subject to the same stacking rules as spells.

  • Does not easily interact with spells. Any attempt to use a mystery (such as shadows fade) to dispel a spell, or to use a spell (such as dispel magic) to dispel a mystery, takes a –4 penalty.

  • Can be identified with a Spellcraft check, but requires a different understanding of that skill. A mystery user with no levels in a spellcasting class takes a –4 penalty on Spellcraft checks made to identity spells. A spellcaster with no levels in a mystery-using class takes a –4 penalty on Spellcraft checks made to identify mysteries.

  • Cannot benefit from feats that enhance spells, such as metamagic feats, Ability Focus, or Empower Spell-Like Ability. Instead, mysteries benefit from metashadow feats.


Shadow magic, though subtle, is an alien thing, and people who are learned in the occult can often detect its use. When a mystery user casts a mystery as an arcane spell, his shadow makes gestures different from the ones he performs. Any observer can notice this bit of oddness with a successful DC 15 Spot check.

Similarly, any image, item, or creature created or conjured through mysteries is touched by shadow. Some are darker than normal, as if half-obscured by shade; others, particularly living creatures, might be pallid or unusually gaunt. Minor details strike viewers as wrong. Colors seem dull and appearance more average, muting extremes of either beauty or ugliness. Dangerous aspects of creatures or items appear enhanced—a normally innocuous animal has a feral air and more vicious claws and teeth, a rose bush is darker in hue, slightly shriveled, and has excessive thorns.

Once an observer has either seen a character’s shadow moving independently, or has observed the touch of shadow in an image or item, she can attempt a DC 15 Knowledge (arcana) or Knowledge (the planes) check, or a DC 25 bardic knowledge or Knowledge (religion) check. Success identifies the mystery user for what he is or the item or creature as something tainted by the Plane of Shadow.

Although it is difficult, mysteries might be revealed as magic by spells such as detect magic. Mysteries register as belonging to the school of magic whose effects they most closely resemble.


Mysteries descriptions include many of the elements of spell descriptions (discussed in Chapter 10 of the Player’s Handbook). Other parts of the standard mystery format are new or altered, and are covered below.


On the line below the mystery’s name, the mystery’s path category (apprentice, initiate, or master) and path name are presented. If a mystery is a fundamental, only the word “Fundamental” appears on this line.


This line gives the mystery’s level, school, subschool, or descriptor. Creatures that have immunities, vulnerabilities, or special bonuses against a particular school, subschool, or descriptor of a spell have the same characteristics against a mystery of that school, subschool, or descriptor.


This part of the description provides hints about what the mystery looks, sounds, or feels like when it is cast or activated. The text here describes the mystery from the caster’s or user’s view. These descriptive passages are not binding rules. A grand gesture mentioned in a mystery’s descriptive passage (representing the somatic component) is unnecessary if a mystery user activates the mystery as a supernatural or spell-like ability. Even though a descriptive passage speaks of casting a mystery on another creature, it might be possible to cast the mystery in another manner (such as on the mystery user herself), depending on the mystery’s target entry and the rules for spellcasting in the Player’s Handbook.


Apprentice mysteries cast as supernatural abilities are not subject to spell resistance, regardless of what might appear on the spell resistance line of a mystery description.