Wandering Monsters: Shadar-Kai

Whether 3rd or 4th Edition I have never been able to take shadar-kai seriously.

They just seem so comically grim, skulking in a realm of perpetual shadow that literally tugs at their soul, which they can only delay through constant pain (including, but not limited to, an armband that impales you while you wear it). Their high concept reads like the kind of angst-y poetry that a teenager would write.

I cannot decide which origin story is sillier, the one where I guess an entire race of fey is on board with a nebulous dark entity bargain that ultimately (and not-so-surprisingly) goes south, or the one where they beg the god of death to help them cope with death, who does so by promising to protect their souls after they die, except when she transforms them into undead soul-reapers.

Thanks Raven Queen, this is much better than eternal bliss.
Of course they are cool with this, moving into the Shadowfell where they build, and I am quoting the article here, "somber cities and grim fortresses". If this is the race that got the most traction from 3rd Edition, I would love to see the ones that lost. Seriously, trying to maintain a degree of inclusiveness is admirable, but I think that, along with many other D&D classics, that they should try pitching flavor that makes more sense. Or any sense.

For example, it does not make sense for an entire race of fey to bargain with a dark power. I could see a group of them doing it and being cursed, but not all of them. Similarly, why did the Raven Queen respond to a whole bunch of humans? Does she still do this, or was it a one-time deal? Why did she just do it for humans? Why would she not warn them against hanging around in the Shadowfell, especially when it is so much more hostile than the natural world? Why would they stick around?

The new story has similar problems.Why would they make a deal with a god of death or despair? What was so important that they would risk their souls (and, I guess the souls of their children)?

This is a part where I think a magical cataclysm would suffice: some necromancer was dabbling in forces beyond his understanding, crossed the streams, and now people are beginning to fade into the Plane of Shadow (where they might become shades). This could make it applicable to any race (or at least more than one), and it could be a kind of sub-race or feat tree that anyone could pick up.

I could also see a culture, or a region where the planes bleed over (like Eberron's manifest zones) where instead of aging the people are gradually pulled into the Plane of Shadow. Or maybe they do age, but when they die they are sucked there. There could have been a war or disaster, and the priests prayed to the god of death, and it "spared" them by drawing them there, marking their souls. What if a whole nation or city died before they were supposed to, and the god of death kept them alive, but they have no souls? What if they are an early, failed attempt at creating life that requires strong emotional stimulus to feel emotions, and/or they have no souls?


  1. Lots of things about the Shadar-kai bugged me. I always felt they were trying to out-Drow the Drow (who had been reduced to a cartoon anyway).

    But their society makes no sense really, but then again there are lot of real world societies that also leave me scratching my head.

    I like the no emotions/souls idea. Maybe the Raven Queen rescued these humans.

  2. The fae race aspect makes some sense, I think. Fae have bizarre and weird rules, so having an entire race/faction/court bargain or at least pay the price for someone else's bargain could work.

    On the other hand, the Raven Queen was once mortal. If she's staying around as the god of death, then the Shadar-Kai could be the remainder or descendants of her mortal followers. Which, at least in our home game, would have been the fae of the Winter Court, as she was formerly the Winter Queen. Though even in our home game, the entire race/court doesn't join her in the Shadowfell.

  3. @Timothy: There are aspects of real-world cultures that might confuse me, but nothing to this degree. I just imagine every member of shadar-kai society as the goth-kids from South Park.

    At any rate, that is probably what I will do: flavor them as imperfectly made first-attempts by a god giving life a shot, whether the god was just no good or trying to copy another god's design.

    @Svafa: I get that fey can have strange/bizarre rules, but they also tend to be good at making deals and coming out on top. This is what makes it strange that they got the short end of the stick; if anything I figure that they would have screwed the "dark power", or what have you over.

  4. That's true; fae do tend to always come out on top. It helps if that dark power is also fae, or formerly anyway, but that's our home game colouring my perceptions. That being said, I've still not found a good fit for shadar-kai in our home game and tend to use revenants instead.

  5. Making the dark power also a fey would make it easier for me to accept, and I also prefer revenants. :-)

  6. I personally think 4.e was a failure, but what they did to the Shadar-kai was even bigger. I am a 3.5e guy to the core, but as I was looking for the racial bonuses for Shadar-Kai I found the 4.e version of it, they murdered it. all of it. I don't know if they changed the lore on them too, but the lore you're giving here isn't the story I know for Shadar-kai.

  7. So they are not fae, they are human, they went to shadowfell because its the location of the raven queens domain. The race originally was subject to the previous god of deaths abuse of the dead, and whenever the raven queen vanquished him and became the new queen of death the race pleaded for their coping with death and the fear of the afterlife. Pledging to the goddess to be the loyal subjects to her, being in return *blessed* with a longer live and no longer the state of fragile. 5e in the dark arts players companion.


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