The shadowy mirror of the Mortal Plane
What is the Shadowfell?
The Shadowfell is a dark, shadowy plane of existence where there is little colour, just varying shades of black and grey. It is often known as the Shadowland, Demiplane of Shadow, the Shadow Deep and the Plane of Shadow.
Like the Feywilds, the Shadowfell itself is a mirror of the prime material plane with physical locations on the material plane often coinciding with similar locations in the Shadowfell. Mountains and forests often appear in geographically similar places and even buildings might exist in the mirror plane. Often though, there are distinct differences as well. A building might be in ruins or made of different materials, forests may be devoid of the beautiful, luscious plant life of the mortal plane, replaced with dark, dank vegetation.
While geographically, the Shadowfell is often a mirror version to the material plane, it also has a habit of shifting and changing geographically making it impossible to map. Locations will shift and change with no obvious reason. Tremors are also felt commonly throughout the Shadowfell like minor earthquakes. There is also no constant light source (such as a sun, moon or stars) but rather verying degrees of darkness. Even light sources produced by fire or magic tend to be weaker in the Shadowfell giving off half the brightness they might normally give on the material plane. Conversely, spells associated with shadow and darkness tend to draw greater power from this plane, enhancing them beyond what a mage might normally expect.
While the landscape itself is a twisted form of what is on the material plane, it is still possible for mortals to survive in the Shadowfell if they’re determined enough, though it is more difficult. Plant life will give nutrition, as will the water, if you can get past the taste. There’s also animal life that has adapted to being more hardy, supported by this less wholesome ecosystem.
Creatures of the Shadowfell
The Shadowfell is a place filled with negative energy that sucks the life force of living creatures that find themselves there if they are not protected from such forces. Anyone that lingers too long, unprotected, will quickly find themselves drained of all life. Because of this permeating negative energy, creatures with an affinity for such things also tend to walk this plane. This often includes undead such as ghosts, shadows and vampires. Shadow mastiffs are dog-like creatures that have made the Shadowfell their home as well as shadow dragons. Other creatures attracted to the Shadowfell include; bodaks, cloakers, darkweavers, ephemera, veserabs, liches, nightshades, shadurakul, spectres and wraiths. Other more natural creatures that have managed to survive in the Shadowfell include; apes, basilisks, bears, owlbears, rats, umber hulks and wolves.
The Shadar-Kai have also made the Shadowfell their home. They are elves that once originated in the Feywilds, but have become distorted by the negative energies of the Shadowfell. There’s also the remenants of the Netherese empire, humans that live in floating cities that have become transformed by the negative energies into shades.
Domains of Dread
Within the Shadowfell are numerous (and potentially innumerable) demi-planes known as the Domain of Dread which together form the setting of Ravenloft. The Domains of Dread are limited planes that range in size from a single household to small nations. Each is a form of prison for its inhabitants, plucked from the mortal plane by the Dark Powers and imprisoned eternally (usually) within evil and tortured lands. Within each Domain of Dread is an individual that both rules the domain and is the one most tortured by it. These individuals are known as Darklords and have been chosen by the Dark Powers for deeds of incredible evil.
For D&D 5e, Wizards of the Coast released Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft which details the known Domains of Dread in 5e, but there are potentially innumerable others waiting to be discovered and created by players. Below are a list of all the Domains of Dread in D&D 5e.
Domains of Dread in D&D 5e
- Barovia – Domain of the first vampire
- Bluetspur – Domain of alien memories
- Borca – Domain of desire and deceit
- The Carnival – Wandering domain of wonders
- Darkon – domain on the brink of destruction
- Dementlieu – Domain of decadent delusion
- Falkovnia – Domain besieged by the dead
- Har’Akir – Domain of the ancient dead
- Hazlan – Domain doomed by magic
- I’Cath – Domain trapped in a dream
- Kalakeri – Domain of betrayal and revenge
- Kartakass – Domain of tarnished dreams
- Lamordia – Domain of snow and stitched flesh
- Mordent – Domain of the haunted
- Richemulot – Domain of disease, isolation and wererats
- Tepest – Domain of nature’s cruel secrets
- Valachan – Domain of the hunter
- Cyre 1313, the mourning rail – Domain escaping from disaster
- Forlorn – Domain of invention
- Ghastria – Domain of cursed art
- G’henna – Domain of corrupt theocracy
- Invidia – Domain of posessed children
- Keening – Domain of the silent village
- Klorr – Domain of impending doom
- Markovia – Domain of depraved science
- The Nightmare Lands – Domain of nightmares
- Niranjan – Domain of shadows and brainwashing
- Nova Vaasa – Domain of nomadic riders
- Odaire – Domain of evil toys
- The Rider’s Bridge – Domain of murderous legend
- Risibilos – Domain of misdirection
- Scaenna – Domain of reality-manipulating theatre
- Sea of Sorrows – Domain of nautical horror
- The Shadowlands – Domain of heroic sacrifice
- Souragne – Domain of swamp magic and imprisonment
- Staunton Bluffs – Domain of endless warfare
- Tovag – Domain of undead military dictatorship
- Vhage Agency – Domain of detective work and memory loss
- Zherisia – Domain of urban decay
Gods of the Shadowfell
The gods of D&D often use the non-mortal planes as abodes, choosing a plane that matches their powers and disposition. 4 gods are known to have made the Shadowfell their home; the Raven Queen, Mask, Shar and Null. In addition to them are the Dark Powers who are god-like entities of whom little is known, but they do seem to have god-like powers. They rule over the Domains of Dread of Ravenloft, imprisoning hapless souls within these realms.
The Raven Queen
The Raven Queen is the current ruler of the Shadowfell and a goddess of death. She originates from the Feywilds where she lived as a mortal and a queen of the elves. She sought greater power though and attempted to ascend to godhood but her ritual was corrupted and she was almost killed. To save herself, she drew memories from the Shadowfell to maintain her presence. She continues to rule from the Shadowfell over her shadar-kai followers, seeking to wrap herself in more memories to continue to gain in power.
Shar is the goddess of darkness and shadows. She is one of the creator gods of Toril and the Forgotten Realms and the twin sister of Selune. She originally setup her home in the Palace of Loss but after the Spellplague, moved her home to the Towers of Night. While her home appears to have no discernible entrance, her followers have little trouble gaining access. It was Shar that transformed the Shadowfell into what it is now, infusing the Plane of Shadows with necrotic energies from the Negative Energy Plane during the Spellplague.
Mask is the god of thieves and keeps his home in the Shadowfell as well in a place known as Shadow keep. The Keep itself is made of shadows making it incredibly difficult to see, even when close to it.
Null is the draconic god of death. While his realms existed on the outer planes of the Outlands and Carceri, it is believed that his realms also existed in the Shadowfell as well. These were known as the Mausoleum of Chronepsis and the Mausoleum of Pain.
The Dark Powers
The Dark Powers are ill-defined entities that rule over the demi-planes of Ravenloft, plucking individuals of great evil from other planes and transporting them into these torturous domains. Each domain is designed to specifically torture a certain individual known as a Darklord in a way that they do not suspect that they are being tortured but are in constant misery and despair.
Travelling to the Shadowfell
Unlike the Feywild, portals to the Shadowfell do not mysteriously just appear, nor are they created by accident. One must purposefully create a means of transporting to the Shadowfell through the use of advanced magic. Even then, protections are required once someone arrives in the Shadowfell as mortals will find their life force slowly sucked from them. A failed shadow gate can also be a dangerous thing as someone might believe they have successfully created a portal to the Shadowfell and it may even work momentarily. If this happens, a seed of darkness will have been implanted into the individual that would see them consumed by shadow, usually resulting in their eventual death. The few that survive this process do acquire the powers of a dark creature though.
Who rules the Shadowfell?
The Shadowfell is ruled by a deity known as the Raven Queen. She was once an elven queen of the Feywilds before ascending to godhood. She lost her form during a corrupted ritual and gathers memories in order to maintain her presence and power. She is worshipped primarily by the Shadar-Kai, elves who have lived for generations in the Shadowfell and been transformed through their time there.
In previous editions, the ruler of the Shadowfell has shifted. At times it has been the domain of Mask, the Lord of Shadows and Master of Thieves. At others, it has been associated with the goddess Shar.
Is Ravenloft in the Shadowfell?
Is the Shadowfell the opposite of the Feywild?
Yes, the Shadowfell and the Feywilds are both mirror planes of the material plane. The Feywilds are more whimsical and full of life whereas the Shadowfell is a barren and shadowy mirror of the material plane making these planes opposites of one another.