Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Shadows

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “S” the number “19” and the support of readers like you.

Thank you.

A shadow is an interesting thing. It exists, but doesn’t really. There, but not. Traditionally in RPGs Shadows are monsters (Not Undead!) or things for thieves to hide in, but I’ve been watching a lot of Babylon 5 recently (I’m into season 4). If anyone is unfamiliar with Shadows from B5, they are an ancient alien race, one of the “first ones” to inhabit the galaxy. They were fanatically devoted to the idea that in order for life to survive it must have conflict.

As an ancient race they used an advanced biotechnology in their ships. The ships, which used captured sentients as CPUs, were incredibly powerful, yet until the end they were content to remain hidden, and use other races as pawns in their game with the ultra-lawful Vorlons. The few times that Shadows are shown in person, rather than their ships, there isn’t usually combat. They’re able to become invisible at-will, so will usually work though an intermediary rather than show themselves. The few times they are involved in combat, it tends to end fairly quickly. They don’t do very well against energy weapons at short range, but then who does?

What the Shadows can do in an RPG is to serve as a powerful villain! They’re incredibly smart, with access to great power which they’re perfectly willing to share, but at a cost. They introduce themselves by asking “What do you want?” A fairly innocuous question, but when the adventurer responds “the bugbears on level 3 dead” and then they go back to level 3 to find them all dead? Plus all the treasure is still there, untouched! What price would the PCs be willing to pay? Could they convince the local lord to go to war with a neighbor? They’ll help things along by killing a few cattle and a villager or two. Maybe they can lead the attack?

Of course you don’t need to use a new monster to accomplish this. Any of a number of powerful and sneaky beings exist already in the game that can serve; vampires, Medusa, lycanthropes, evil cultists, devils, and of course Mind Flayers!


  1. Or they could just meet Mr. Morden and he could ask them What they want!

  2. I admired how JMS was able to boil the two opposed philosophies down to a question each:
    "Who are you?"
    "What do you want?"

    The Shadows are an excellent model for behind the scenes manipulators. After all, the only way to evolve is through conflict, right?

  3. I love B5. And the whole saga is just the battle between Law and Chaos, how D&D is that? Shadows would be a perfect behind the scenes villain. So perfect, I might actually use them :)