Dark Six: The Shadow

The Shadow was the first of the Dark Six. As Aureon drew the first words of power in the blood of Siberys, his shadow was tracing sigils in the blood of Khyber. As Aureon gained power, the darkness in his heart gained strength and sentience. It was the whispers of the Shadow that led the Mockery down his dark path and stoked the anger of the Devourer. For the Shadow is the maker of monsters. The Shadow gave the harpy a voice that lures innocents to their doom, and gave the medusa her deadly gaze. But the Shadow can make monsters of any of us, tempting us down evil paths. Aureon and Dol Arrah show us the path to the common good, while the Shadow urges us to give in to our own darkness. It is up to you to listen to the light and to take the higher road. 

—Halas Molan, High Priest of Wroat

Eat your vegetables. Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t learn that spell, it’s dangerous! Aureon, the king, the judge, the teacher… the world is filled with people telling you what to do, people who want to impose their laws on your life. They say the Shadow urges you to do evil, but who decides what’s evil? The Shadow wants you to achieve your full potential, to live your best life—not to be limited by lesser people and their laws. And if that makes you a ‘monster’ in their eyes, so be it. 

—Thalanna of Sharn

The war between the Shadow and Aureon rages in all of us. Aureon’s voice tells us that we are stronger together, that it’s worth it to suffer for the sake of the common good. The Shadow whispers that there is no common good—that all that matters is what you need and what you can do. Why should you make sacrifices for others instead of doing what’s best for yourself? Why should you give when you can take?

In the common tradition of the Five Nations, the Shadow is broadly responsible for evil within the world. The Sovereigns banished and bound the Overlords of the First Age, but the Shadow is a part of Aureon and couldn’t be destroyed; metaphorically, this reflects the idea that the potential for evil is in everyone. But as with all of the Dark Six, the Shadow has different aspects: the Sovereign of Ambition, the Tempter, the Keeper of Secrets, and the Maker of Monsters.

Ambition and Temptation

The Shadow is the source of ambition. It’s the voice that keeps you from ever being satisfied, that urges you to achieve greater things. A little ambition can be a good thing, but the Shadow is never satisfied. It embodies the hunger to succeed regardless of the cost to yourself or others. Those who revere the Shadow emphasize this as a positive trait: The Shadow will show you the path to power, how to be the best that you can be. But how far will you go? Would you murder your boss if it’s the only way to advance? What if you can simply ruin their reputation with a lie? Would you employ dark magics even if you’ll take a year off an innocent’s life each time you cast a spell? This is how ambition becomes a pathway to temptation.

But what is the purpose of temptation? Why does the Shadow want to lead you astray, and why should his followers care about you? Because Dolurrh isn’t the end of existence. Most Vassals believe that Dolurrh is a place where the soul transitions to a higher level of existence: the realm of the Sovereigns. Some believe that that this is a true afterlife based on the concept of each Sovereign: that Arawai and Balinor govern a realm of perfect nature, while Aureon presides over a grand assembly of courts and libraries. Others believe that Vassals become part of the Sovereign they most resemble—that the soul of the sage becomes one with Aureon. But one led astray by the Shadow becomes part of the Shadow. This might mean dissolution of the soul or it could be an eternity trapped in a formless void; either way it’s not going to be fun. Of course, as with all things related to the Sovereigns, there’s no absolute proof of this… and a devotee of the Shadow will tell you it’s exactly the kind of story followers of Aureon use to control you. Are you going to let fear keep you from achieving your ambitions?

Those who follow this aspect of the Shadow often call themselves mentors, but others refer to them as tempters or Shadowtongues. A tempter specializes in helping others find a path to power… but always driving them towards the darkest path. While this has some overlap with a talon of the Keeper, there are significant differences between the two. A talon negotiates a deal with explicit terms and benefits: your inn will prosper, in exchange for which you will die at the age of forty and the Keeper will take your soul. By contrast, a tempter doesn’t make a specific promise or ask you for anything. A mentor simply offers advice… helping you figure out how to solve your problem or achieve your goal yourself. But in the process, they will urge you to follow darker and darker paths… to become a monster.

A skilled tempter needs to know secret paths to power and to have the charm to convince others to follow them. A mentor could be a cleric, following either the Knowledge or Trickery domain; a warlock, using the Archfey patron to reflect a talent for beguiling others and slipping into the shadows; or a bard using the College of Whispers. Some tempters believe that their powers are a direct gift from the Shadow, and that they hear whispers from the Shadow telling them who to corrupt. Other tempters trust that the Shadow rewards them for their work, but don’t have direct interaction with the Shadow or an immortal emissary.

Another divine option is the Oath of Conquest paladin: a would-be tyrant who believes that the Shadow is giving them the power they need to achieve their ambitions. What separates a paladin of the Shadow from a paladin of the Mockery is the focus on power rather than war. Where a Mockery paladin lives for conflict, the Shadow paladin is only concerned with the end result.

Mentors are typically villains, and they facilitate the evil actions of others. But it’s a possible paths for a player character, albeit a dark one. A tempter emphasizes choice and freedom. They may excel at solving problems, and can help other characters achieve noble goals; the point is that a follower of the Shadow believes that nothing is forbidden. A Shadowtongue bard could even be searching for light in the darkness—tempting in the hopes of finding someone who resists corruption. Alternately, a player character could be haunted by a previous encounter with a tempter, who helped them achieve whatever position or power they hold today. Is this character permanently spiritually tainted by the actions they took to achieve their ambition? Or can they find redemption?

The Keeper of Secrets

Aureon is the Sovereign of Knowledge, who uses science (arcane and otherwise) to build a better world. As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost. This is one of the main things that can draw a Vassal to invoke the Shadow… the desire to gain knowledge they know they shouldn’t seek.

In dealing with a priest of the Shadow—NPC or player character—consider the ideas in my article on Adding Drama to the Divine. A priest of the Shadow may regularly receive revelations—information about the people around them, or the world. But unlike an augury or commune, the priest doesn’t ASK for this knowledge and has no control over it. Sometimes this knowledge will be useful, but just as often it will reveal things you don’t actually want to know… knowledge that will hurt people if you share it. With that said, people with this sort of connection to the Shadow often end up as fixers in the criminal underworld; are you willing to pay the price for their knowledge? Knowledge clerics and Whispers bards are both sound paths, though the College of Lore is also a reasonable option for a follower of the Shadow; the Cutting Words ability of the Lore bard can reflect your knowledge of a weakness, or a whispered secret that causes your victim to stumble.

While this reflects general knowledge, the Shadow is particularly known for arcane secrets—for teaching techniques that good people will shun. At a simple level, this makes the Shadow a standard patron for Warlocks. Because this is about deadly power, the actual “patron” is flexible; Fiend or Hexblade both work, and as noted before an Archfey warlock could reflect powes of coercion and deception as opposed to an actual tie to the Fey. Like all gods of Eberron, the Shadow won’t actually manifest to a warlock. But the warlock may BELIEVE they have a direct channel to the Shadow; and they could have a sinister spirit acting as an emissary of the Shadow, or they might actually be working for the Overlord Sul Khatesh. The main thing is that a Shadow Warlock believes they are making a sacrifice to gain mystical power… and that they are expected to use that power for malevolent purposes.

The Shadow Sorcerer is also a logical servant of the Shadow. In this case, the power may have been given to you involuntarily. Perhaps your parents were Shadow cultists, and you are the result of a a terrible ritual: are you doomed to be consumed by evil, or can you use your power in the service of the light?

Beyond this, any wizard can be presented as having received inspiration from the Shadow. You’d never have mastered necromancy on your own, but you woke from a dream and realized you understood it. This is fine as a general idea, but it’s also possible for a DM to introduce ACTUAL gifts of the Shadow into the game. The whole idea of the Shadow is that it knows secrets of magic people shouldn’t use. The magic of D&D isn’t designed that way. So, as a DM you can ADD forbidden magic. There’s a few ways to do this. One is to introduce new spells that are unusually powerful or have especially horrifying effects. Another is to allow a character to gain a metamagic benefit (as if they were a Sorcerer) by taking on a penalty. Here’s a few thoughts on effects that the magic of the Shadow might have.

  • Every time you cast the spell, roll 1d4. You permanently lose that many hit points.
  • Every time you cast the spell, roll 1d6. The DM chooses you or one of your allies, and either inflicts the result as necrotic damage or applies it as a penalty to the victim’s next saving throw.
  • When you cast the spell, an innocent creature dies. You have no control over who will suffer and may never know who it is.
  • Whenever you cast the spell, plants withers and all natural creatures within 15 feet suffer one point of necrotic damage.
  • Any time you cast the spell, there is a chance that a hostile shadow will manifest; if it does, it will try to harm you and your friends.
  • When you cast the spell, choose an ally within sight. The player must reveal a horrifying secret about their character to you. This must be worse than any previous secret they’ve revealed; if they can’t (or if the player chooses not to) the spell fails. Note that this is a choice of the player; the character doesn’t have this choice, and it’s up to the DM if they realize their secret has been shared.

These are all ideas that are at least PLAUSIBLE for player characters. An NPC wielding secrets of the Shadow could have more dramatic effects or costs to their spells. The main point is that when we say “This is power people shouldn’t use,” it’s NOT just Aureon being a jerk; these powers truly are dangerous.

The Maker of Monsters

Through temptation, the Shadow can transform anyone into a monster. But the Shadow is also infamous for unleashing monsters into the world. The definition of “monster” varies by culture, but the essential point is that this is the influence of malevolent magic twisting nature; thus, it usually includes most aberrations and monstrosities, along with giants or humanoids that are seen as evil by the culture in question. Mythologically, the idea is that the Shadow took evil humans (or dwarves, or halflings, etc) and transformed them into harpies, medusas, hags, and the like—and there’s a host of myths that deal with these monstrous origin stories. It should be noted that these are MYTHS and are in many cases provably false; certain creatures are known to be the creations of specific Overlords or daelkyr. But it isn’t always possible to prove the origin of a species; many scholars assert that the daelkyr Orlaask created medusas, while the medusas themselves attribute their powers to the Shadow.

This aspect of the Shadow overlaps with Cults of the Dragon Below and the daelkyr. But it’s another way that you can find wizards or warlocks who are seeking to create monsters. Looking to a warlock, the Pact of the Chain can be reflavored to suggest that the character created their familiar.

The Shadow in Monstrous Cultures

The Dark Six have been called out as having significant support in Droaam and Darguun. It’s important to recognize that these articles generally focus on the Nine and Six as they are presented in the Pyrinean Creed, the common Sovereign faith of the Five Nations. The people of Droaam have their own interpretations of the Nine and Six that are both entirely different from the Five Nations and from one another. Droaam is a tapestry woven together from wildly diverse cultures. The Last Dirge harpies worship the Fury, but they say that she was born from Eberron’s cry in birthing the world. The minotaurs worship the Horned Prince, but interpretation varies by clan and some are effectively worshipping the Mockery, Dol Dorn, Dol Arrah, or Rak Tulkhesh.

Following the unification of Droaam, the traditions of Cazhaak Draal have effectively become the state religion. People still hold to their own traditions, but the Voices of the Shadow—typically medusas or oni—are recognized as spiritual authorities. Here’s a few critical details about the Cazhaak faith.

  • All members of the Dark Six are worshipped by their common titles (Shadow, Fury, Keeper, Mockery, Devourer, Traveler)… though usually in Goblin.
  • The Shadow is the foremost of the Six. In addition to the traditional spheres of magic and knowledge, the Shadow is generally considered to be a guide and guardian to the monstrous species. As such, a medusa cleric of the Shadow might actually have the Life domain… because she sees the Shadow as being the bringer of life to her people.
  • The Sovereigns are considered to be the cruel and petty gods of the people of the East. The general assertion is that the Sovereigns want to keep their subjects small and weak; that the Shadow rebelled and broke free from Aureon, giving gifts to its creations. Thus, there is some overlap with the way the Seekers of the Divinity Within view the Sovereigns; a Voice of the Shadow feels pity for a human Vassal.
  • A Voice of the Shadow reveres all members of the Six and will invoke all of them when it is appropriate. However, there are priests who are devoted to a single deity and who lead or provide services tied to that god… so, there is a priestess of the Keeper in Graywall who performs funerary services.
  • One question that’s come up is whether the Cazhaak Six are seen in a more positive light than the Pyrinean Six. On the one hand, they definitely are; they are seen as positive forces in civilization. On the other hand, they still embody the same core ideas; part of this is that the values of Droaamite civilization are very different than the Five Nations. Droaam is a place where there is no distinction between vengeance and justice, where victory in battle is more important than honor. It’s a meritocracy where having the talent to take power is more important than following a system of laws. I will say that the Cazhaak Shadow drops the aspect of the tempter. The Voice of the Shadow asserts that knowledge is power, that people should pursue their ambition and that there should be no limits on knowledge. But they scoff at the idea that the Shadow tempts people to do evil; that’s the product of a civilization that’s bound and blinded by its laws and moral codes, that fears ambition and instinct.

It’s been asked before how a human follower of the Sovereign Host would react to a Voice of the Shadow, and vice versa. The short answer is that each will recognize that the other is following a different creed, and each will assert that the other’s interpretation is flawed. The Voice of the Shadow pities the fool who worships Aureon; how good can your god be, when he didn’t even give you eyes that can see in the dark? Meanwhile, the Sovereign priest will dismiss the Shadow-worshipper as a servant of the Tempter, both deceived and deceiver.

The critical point, however, is that the Pyrinean creed presents the Sovereigns and Six and two sides of a coin. The Droaamite faiths either focus on a single entity (such as the harpy faiths) or generally dismiss the Sovereigns as evil entities.

What About The Overlords?

The Shadow has specific overlap with two of the best known Overlords of the First Age. Sul Khatesh is also known as the Keeper of Secrets, and also said to be a source both of arcane knowledge and things best kept hidden. While Bel Shalor is known as the Shadow in the Flame and specializes in temptation.

There are a number of scholars who assert that the myths of the Shadow are actually based on interactions between draconic champions and Overlords… that the story of Aureon learning magic may actually be based on a bargain between the dragon Ourelonastrix and Sul Khatesh. It’s up to a DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales. However, even if these tales are false, the fact remains that Sul Khatesh and Bel Shalor are concrete, very real entities that can serve in the role of the Shadow… and that warlocks or cults that believe they are dealing with the Shadow could easily be working with one of these archfiends.

Using The Shadow

So how can you use the Shadow in a campaign? What would a villain devoted to the Shadow actually want?

As noted above, in many cases a servant of the Shadow may be an instigator as opposed to the primary villain. A mentor drives others to do evil, and helps facilitate their plans. A priest of the Keeper of Secrets may serve as a general fixer in the criminal underworld, but can also set trouble in motion by revealing a secret. Combined with their knowledge of dark magic, such a character could be an interesting frenemy for a group of player characters. Consider Thalanna, a human priestess of the Shadow in Sharn. She’s known as a reliable source of information about the underworld, always willing to share her knowledge… for a price. But she may also approach the players and simply tell them things. Did they know that Ilya Boromar is going to assassinate Saiden Boromar tonight? Did they know that Thora Tarkanan was the one who killed a friend of theirs? Thalanna has nothing personal to gain by sharing this information, but she enjoys setting wheels in motion. And if one of the players is a wizard, Thalanna can offer to teach them a few things they won’t learn in Arcanix… tied to the ideas presented above. These secrets ARE powerful… but is the character willing to pay the price?

Shadow sects can also fill the classic role of the warlock cabal or the infernal bargain… people being granted mystical power in exchange for performing malevolent actions. Often this is about ambition—getting the power you need to fulfill your darkest desires—but it can also be driven by fear. The leader of a warlock coven may play on fears of the Mourning, refugees, or even monsters. Join them and they will teach you the magic you need to protect yourself! As mentioned above, such a cult could be found to have connections to the Lords of Dust, either Sul Khatesh or Bel Shalor.

Another Shadow-driven villain is the wizard who is determined to unlock ultimate arcane power, regardless of cost. Such a character could even have a noble goal; for example, a wizard who believes that they must unlock the power of the Mourning so they can prevent it from spreading, or being harnessed and used by one of the Five Nations. The point is that this character is consumed by their ambition and doesn’t care about who they hurt in pursuit of their goal. Perhaps they need to open a manifest zone to Mabar in the middle of Sharn to complete a ritual or learn a secret… even though doing so will break Sharn’s connection to Syrania and bring down the towers. It doesn’t matter, because the knowledge they acquire will help them save the entire world!

To be clear: these examples are extremes. There are some who offer prayers to the Shadow who aren’t warlocks or wizards, and who don’t seek to tempt others or destroy the world. The ultimate principle of the Shadow is that nothing is forbidden: that you shouldn’t let laws or the dictates of society hinder your ambition. Do you believe that you’d do a better job than your boss, but it’s going to take decades to get there if you follow the system? The Shadow tells you the system is the problem. Beyond this, the Shadow embraces those that society calls “monsters.” The Mockery and the Keeper can both serve as patrons for criminals driven by greed or violence, but the Shadow is a general patron for someone who feels that they stand apart from Boldrei and Aureon; that they don’t have a place in a community, or that the laws only exist to hold them back. In this, there’s some overlap with the Traveler; the net is that the Traveler encourages people to challenge systems and to drive change, while the Shadow is more about pursuing personal ambition.

As for player characters, here to you can have the person pursuing knowledge at any cost; the character shaped by a past bargain who now seeks redemption; the bard who sees the Shadow as the source of knowledge and freedom, who does good but on their own terms. Looking to the paragraph above, you can also have a rogue who’s a casual supporter of the Shadow, asserting that laws are for other people. You can have the Conquest Paladin who is willing to use the power of the Shadow to seize their ambition… will they have a change of heart along the way?

Long Shadows

The Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook calls out a number of “holidays” in Eberron. One of these are the nights of Long Shadows, which takes place from the 26th through the 28th of the month of Vult. It’s said that on these three nights the power of the Shadow is at its peak—that malevolent magics are stronger, and that monsters—either those born monsters, or those who have become monsters—are free to act. It’s up to the DM to decide what truth there is to this superstition. Perhaps people have disadvantage on saving throws against any sort of “dark magic” during this time. Maybe those who act with evil intent will receive advantage to their actions, or other supernatural benefits. Perhaps there are mystic rituals that can only be performed on these nights. In any case, these are three nights when good folk tend to stay in and huddle around the fire, while the forces of evil rise up and take action.

Q&A

Is necromancy associated with the Shadow? Is it forbidden, or is it taught in Arcanix?  

Divine necromancy—such as a cleric with the Death domain—would usually be associated with the Keeper or the Blood of Vol. Arcane necromancy is generally associated with the Shadow. Sharn: City of Towers presents the shrine of the Shadow as a gathering place for necromancers, and Thalanna is presented as a cleric/necromancer. Only Karrnath employed necromancy in the Last War, and that was primarily divine necromancy provided by the Blood of Vol. We’ve never said that it is strictly FORBIDDEN; it’s not like a cleric of the Blood of Vol can be arrested for having a skeleton companion. But it’s definitely seen as a dark path that good people avoid. I suspect that Arcanix has a small necromancy department that primarily focuses on passive necromancy—such as speak with dead—and that is constantly struggling to maintain its funding.

As the Shadow is a creator of monsters, how would you present a Shadow-themed barbarian? 

I could see two paths. One would use the Zealot subclass and be similar to the Conquest paladin; a warrior strengthened by malevolent magic, who has been granted power to achieve their ambition. On the other hand, one could present a barbarian character as actually being physically altered by the power of the Shadow… with the Rage feature reflecting a sort of Jekyll and Hyde physical transformation.

Droaam is a nation where the official religion seems to be the Six, but do its leaders, the Daughters of Sora Kell, truly support it?

If you mean “Do the Daughters attend services and offer prayers to the Six”— No, I don’t think they do. None of the Daughters feel that their fates are in the hands of higher powers, and their mother may have known Ourelonastrix or Bel Shalor. What I’ve said is that the common faith is based on the traditions of Cazhaak Draal. It’s a tradition that’s broad enough to be able to incorporate the beliefs of other subcultures, which allows it to serve as a unifying force, and that’s all the Daughters care about; if a Voice of the Shadow can get a harpy, a minotaur, and a goblin to all attend the same service, mission accomplished. But to the Daughters it’s just a tool, not something they believe in.

HAVING SAID THAT… There’s no absolute answer as to who the fathers of the Daughters are. I could see Sora Maenya asserting that she’s a daughter of the Devourer; this certainly fits her wild nature and insatiable appetite. And asserting that she’s kin to the Fury would be a fun thing to add to her myth and reputation…

When did the Dark Six lose their names? Magic of Eberron reveals the names Shurkaan, Szorawai, Kol Turrant, and Dol Azur; when did the Church of the Sovereign Host decide those names would be forgotten in favor of the titles used today? 

There’s a few points here. The first is that it’s important to recognize that different traditions use different names and titles; the titles given here are the Pyrinean titles, just as Aureon and Boldrei are Pyrinean names. Shurkaan is also known as Shargon (hence Shargon’s Teeth near Xen’drik). The Harpies of Droaam call the Fury The Song of Rage and Fury or more typically The Song; they don’t accept the Arawai/Devourer story or use the name Szorawai. The Cazhaak tradition uses the titles, because they take the Six as embodiments of those ideas; they don’t hold to the Pyrinean myths. So to the priestess of Graywall, the Keeper is the Keeper; that IS his name.

Now, looking to the Pyrinean tradition, it wasn’t the CHURCH that stripped the Six of their names; it was the Sovereigns. Dol Azur was stripped of his name—and his skin—after he betrayed Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn. The Keeper was cast down after making his bargains with Death. So the CORE church has always separated Sovereigns and Six… but you’ve also always had the Three Faces sects and other groups that have preserved the names.

Do the Cazhaak have a unified symbol for the Six like the Octogram or do they just use the Six’s usual symbols?

Have you met the Hexagram? With that said, the Cazhaak tradition is also the main source of the five-bones-and-a-shadow symbol that often is incorrectly assigned to the Devourer. But essentially, any prominent display of six points—or five points and a shadow—is common.

how do the Cazhaak respond to the more aggressive extremes of the non-Cazhaak veneraters of the six?

As we’ve called out elsewhere, Droaam basis its laws more on the principles of the Fury and Shadow than on Aureon. The most powerful force—the Daughters and their governors—define and enforce the law. But justice and vengeance are still largely synonymous; if someone does you wrong, you don’t take the problem to the Flayer Guard, you handle it yourself. So the short form is anyone whose actions threaten the good of the city or nation will be dealt with by the authorities; otherwise, people can do whatever they can get away with. So a Voice of the Shadow tries to mitigate those extremes—to take the Last Dirge harpy and say “I recognize your devotion to the Song; here in Graywall we know her as the Fury, and let me teach you ways to honor her that won’t get you killed.”

I’m currently in the midst of a series of articles about the Dark Six, the sinister side of the Sovereign Host. You can find my articles about the Fury and the Keeper through these links. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Also, while it has nothing to do with Eberron (Aside from Arawai being the Protector of Puppies), please check out the Kickstarter for my new game: ACTION PUPS! It’s a casual storytelling game about revealing the secret lives of dogs, and we need your dog pictures! If you like dogs or storytelling, take a look!