Tyranny of Dragons
The Shadowfell, also known as the Plane of Shadow, was one of the planes of existence in various cosmological models. Its purpose and characteristics evolved as new cosmologies were formulated. Other names for this plane included Shadowland, the Demiplane of Shadow, and simply Shadow.
It existed as sort of counterpart to the Feywild, in the sense that it was a reflection, or “echo”, of the Prime Material Plane. Unlike the Feywild, it was a bleak, desolate place full of decay and death.
“It is the toxic plane of darkness and power.
It is the hidden place that hates the light.
It is the frontier of worlds unknown.”
Shadowfell in the Great Wheel Model
According to early versions of the Great Wheel cosmology, the Plane of Shadow was considered only a demiplane. Demiplanes formed out of the proto-matter that ebbed and flowed about the Ethereal Plane, creating a finite plane with its own Border Ethereal whenever a critical mass was achieved. The largest of these was called the Demiplane of Shadow, and was made up of both positive and negative energy in equal measure. For those traveling through the Ethereal Plane, the curtain of vaporous color for the Demiplane of Shadow was the color silver. Wizards could shadow walk directly to the edge of the Shadowfell and travelers could use this plane as a transitive plane to traverse many Prime Material miles/kilometers very quickly. Clerics could use the plane shift spell to travel to this plane. If any were brave enough to cross the Demiplane of Shadow, it was possible to find the borders of other planes of reality. Very little was known about the Demiplane of Shadow other than it was a dim and dismal place.
After further study of the plane and refinement of the Great Wheel cosmology, such as the one following the Second Sundering, the Shadowfell was considered a parallel plane, or an “echo” of the Material Plane, coexisting with it along with the Feywild.
The most striking and immediate impression a visitor to the Plane of Shadow experienced was the lack of color and light; no sun, moon, or stars adorned the vault of the inky black sky, and all things looked as if the color had leeched out, leaving nothing but black and white, which in the dimness were more like “dark black” and “light black”. A light source only illuminated half the distance it normally would, flames and fires put out less heat, and spells that dealt with light or fire were less predictable and prone to failure, whereas shadow spells were enhanced. On the other hand, although it would not illuminate as far, any light source on the plane could be spotted at a distance of up to ten times its normal range of illumination, such was the contrast to the constant gloom, similar to a star in the night sky. Even a light source that only put out shadowy illumination, like a darkness spell or a lantern burning shadowlight oil, could be seen up to five times its range of illumination.
Gravity and time were the same on the Shadowfell as on the Prime, but because the Shadowfell was magically morphic (and divinely morphic in the realms of Shar, Mask, and the Raven Queen) the landscape was a dark, twisted echo of what existed on the Prime. Upon entering the Plane of Shadow, the local features were usually quite similar: casting shadow walk in a forest put you in a shadow forest; casting it under water dropped you in a similar body of water, etc. But from that starting point, the landscape diverged rapidly away from the familiar, and on subsequent visits from the same starting point it diverged in different ways, making mapping the Shadowfell a useless endeavor. Landmarks were usually recognizable but altered in some bizarre way: buildings might be constructed in a different style, built with different materials, at a different location, and/or in any condition from dilapidated ruins to its normal appearance, for example, or otherwise strange and distorted. Similar sites were sometimes called “shadow-analogues”.
Due to the ever-changing landscape, the Plane of Shadow was subject to relatively frequent but very small earthquakes (called shadow quakes) that resembled an earthquake spell in an area about two hundred feet (sixty meters) in diameter. For those on the ground, damage was equivalent to a Prime earthquake, but shadow quakes could also disrupt the shadow walk spell and dump unfortunate travelers onto the Shadowfell in the middle of the disturbance at a place very likely unknown and far from their destination.
Some areas on the Plane of Shadow seemed to have an affinity with the Negative Energy Plane and life-draining undead such as shadows, ghosts, and vampires. These “darklands” had a minor negative-dominant trait and unprotected visitors immediately felt the life force being sucked from their bodies—unless they exited the darkland quickly, all that was left of them was a pile of ash. Someone with protection from negative energy could stop and admire the utter desolation in an otherwise forlorn landscape, and perhaps make the acquaintance of the truly inimical undead. Thankfully, no natural vortices opened into darklands regions, preventing the unwary from stepping through into almost certain death, and keeping the creatures that thrived there from having easy access to other planes. Material Plane locations such as desecrated burial mounds, haunted battlefields, and necromantic foci frequently had a darkland echo on the Shadowfell.
Other less dangerous but quite unsettling echoes occurred in areas analogous to towns and cities in the Prime Material Plane. They were nothing more than mirages, but familiar faces and places seen through the macabre mirror of the Shadowfell could be very demoralizing. Structures might appear altered, dislocated, destroyed, or replaced entirely by something else. Mirages of the living had visages of distorted nightmares, but were still recognizable enough to give travelers a jolt of fear and revulsion.
Air, water, and food existed on this plane, supporting plants, animals, and some humanoids adapted to the shadow environment. Visitors could survive indefinitely if they were willing to endure thick, foul-smelling water, food that oozed dark blood, and a pervasive nip of cold in the air. A visitor could never feel warm, would often hear or sense the presence of things that weren’t there, and could never shake the feeling of being watched. It was a constantly unsettling place. Over time, exposure to the Plane of Shadow altered living things, increasing various traits and abilities but also some vulnerabilities. Emotions and the ability to experience them seemed to fade over time for those imbued with shadowstuff.
The morphic nature of the Shadowfell could produce strange effects, mainly in areas like the Black Rift that were especially morphic, and with events that had a particular affinity with the plane, like death. For example, in the Black Rift alone, a pile of bodies caused more skeletons to appear, until there were thousands. More bizarre were the strange biers upon which dead bodies spontaneously appeared, apparently drawn from wherever they rested, anywhere in existence, only to disappear after a few seconds, presumably to wherever they’d come from. Stalactites in a cave dripped ephemeral shadowstuff, which was reabsorbed into the plane rather than form a puddle. Even common mushrooms bore realistic humanoid faces, capable of twitching or blinking. More significantly, forests of grasping tendrils sprouted from some surfaces and reached for passersby, similar to the black tentacles spell.
The earliest known conscious interaction of the peoples of Toril with the Plane of Shadow was in the time of the Imaskari empire. In the Late period, circa −3500 DR, the archwizard Madryoch the Ebon Flame was focused on researching the secrets of the Shadowfell and plotted to use its dark power to overthrow Lord Artificer Omanond. His plans were thwarted by a young adept named Hilather. Knowledge of the existence of the Plane of Shadow was presumably lost with the fall of the Imaskari empire because it was some three thousand years later, in the Year of Plentiful Wine, −533 DR, that the Netherese rediscovered it and began their study.
In 1235 DR, the Black Horde attacked Faerûn. The Horde defeated Eldrith the Betrayer, who would go on to betray Baldur’s Gate. They killed her and she was reborn out of hatred. In her soul of hatred, the Onyx Tower was created and tied to her life. The Onyx Heart was located in the Plane of Shadow and only with its destruction could the Onyx Tower be destroyed.
An adventurer and their companions were exploring the ruined Netherese city of Undrentide in the Year of Wild Magic, 1372 DR. In an Arcanist’s Tower, they slipped through portals into its dark reflection on the Shadowfell, where they encountered shades. The adventurer later escaped impending doom by traveling back to the Plane of Shadow using a magic mirror.
Although the souls of the dead did not begin to be drawn to the Shadow Plane until after the Spellplague and Shar transformed it into the Shadowfell, it was possible to trap a soul there. Notably, this happened to a king of Damara, Gareth Dragonsbane, in the Year of Rogue Dragons, 1373 DR, by a cabal of wizards allied to the lich Sammaster. King Gareth’s soul was rescued in the following year by a phalanx of paladins led by the smoke drake Brimstone.
In the Year of Lightning Storms, 1374 DR, Sharran and Cyricist cultists based in the Shadow Swamp on the Plane of Shadow, plotted to tear apart the Weave from the Black Rift. Adventurers pursued them through the Dusk Lord’s Passage to the Shadow Swamp and disrupted their efforts, and found the Black Chronology among their detritus. That same year, a rift to the Shadowfell was opened in the skies over Sembia and the city of Ordulin was destroyed when a shadowy tract of land fell on it.
In 1376 DR, eight brave heroes ventured into the Plane of Shadow and defeated one of its guardians, Mordoc SeLanmere, and destroyed the Onyx Heart.
A major change afflicted the Plane of Shadow in 1385 DR when Shar, having successfully arranged Mystra’s death, bound the energies of the Negative Energy Plane with the plane. Since then, the plane became known as the Shadowfell, existing as a center of Shar’s power as well as a transitory place for dead mortals on their way towards judgment on the Fugue Plane.
After the Second Sundering, the Shadowfell no longer was a waypoint for the souls of the dead on their way to the Fugue plane, but it remained known as the Shadowfell for most people.
Only three deities were known to have claimed the Plane of Shadow as their home:
Mask, the Master of all Thieves and Lord of Shadows had a realm on this plane called Shadow Keep. It was made out of shadowstuff and was extremely difficult to see even when standing right next to it.
Shar, Mistress of the Night and Lady of Loss, once resided in a high tower called the Palace of Loss. It had no apparent means of entry or exit, but her followers had no trouble gaining access. She sometimes kept prisoners there so she could enjoy their suffering. After the Spellplague, she moved her abode to the Towers of Night and left behind a deep dark hole guarded by evil creatures. This Foundation of Loss exuded palpable grief and was reported to contain a portal to her home in the Towers of Night.
The Raven Queen still resides within her fortress of Letherna, or the Fortress of Memories as it has come to be known by the Shadar-Kai. Within the fortress are not only the souls of those yet to be judged, claimed by the Queen or otherwise sentenced to stand before her, but also all manner of items and trinkets she finds irresistible. Memories, artifacts, art, and more are kept within this fortress, all with the commonality that they are saturated with raw emotion.