The Lore And Origins Of The Shadar-kai In DnD

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Among the many dark corners of the Dungeons & Dragons universe, few are darker than the Shadowfell, a realm of night and cold that serves as a decayed reflection of the Material Plane. The most well-known creatures in it are the Shadar-kai, a community of shadow users that serve the Raven Queen.


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If you followed the different depictions of the Shadar-kai throughout the years, you could get confused as to what’s currently canon and what isn’t. They have had plenty of changes over the years, from their allegiances to their heritage, but now we have a definitive take on the Shadar-kai in 5e.


The Raven Queen

Dungeons & Dragons image showing the Raven Queen absorbing souls
Via Wizards of the Coast

The story of the Shadar-kai starts with the Elven gods and their struggles, specifically Corellon and Lolth. These two deities were constantly at odds with each other, splitting the Elves into two factions, one of which would end up being the Drow.

An ancient Elven Queen wanted to unite her people under one banner and began a ritual that would elevate her to godhood. This ritual required many of her Elven kind to link their souls to hers, and with the many followers this Queen had, it seemed like she might achieve it.

As the ritual was nearing completion, a group of evil Wizards cast a vile spell that linked them to the Elven souls, granting them power. Outraged, the Queen interrupted the ritual and took care of the Wizards, but this interruption plummeted her soul into the Shadowfell, killing her mortal body.

The ritual was partially successful since her soul was now nearly divine. To avoid being completely destroyed, the Queen enveloped herself in the magic of the Shadowfell, giving rise to the Raven Queen, her previous identity being forever lost due to magic and time.

Rise Of The Shadar-kai

Shadar Kai elves lurking under a stone bridge in DnD
Shadar Kai by Sidharth Chaturvedi

When the Queen fell into the Shadowfell, so did all Elves linked to her. Their souls morphed and twisted by the dark magic of that realm. Those Elves were the first Shadar-kai, beings of shadow with Fey heritage.

While in the Shadowfell, the Shadar-kai look withered and old, their skin a sickly pale and their hair devoid of color. Only when walking through the Material Plane can they look like other Elves, albeit paler and with either black or grayish hair.

Their connection to the Raven Queen is such that, if they die, their souls go back to her, rising once again in the Shadowfell. The loyal followers of the Queen see this as a blessing, while those who want nothing to do with her suffer it as a curse.

Using The Shadar-kai In A Campaign

shadar kai D&D
Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse by Wizards of the Coast

On their own, the Shadar-kai make for excellent assassins, having access to plenty of shadow-bending powers. All of them can perform some sort of dark teleportation, making them great for espionage or backstabbing.

Those who follow the Raven Queen employ very reckless tactics since death is just a small nuisance to them. This makes them very dangerous to cross, but since the Raven Queen isn’t entirely good or evil, they can be reasoned with by most players.

Playing As A Shadar-kai

A character stands int eh snow as a glowing heart beats in her chest
Elise by Irina Nordsol

Roleplay aside, being a Shadar-kai gives you plenty of advantages, no matter your class. They already come with the long list of benefits all Elves have, but add to that Darkvision and a small-range teleport that makes you resistant to all damage for a turn.

On the roleplay front, there are some difficulties, and you need to discuss them with your DM to see what everyone is okay with. If your Shadar-kai is against the Raven Queen, then if said character dies, the result is roughly the same as any character dying.

If, instead, your character is in favor of the Queen, that makes them nearly immortal, giving them an unfair advantage over other characters. Granted, you still return to the Shadowfell, which can make for an interesting penalty, but it’s far lesser than death.

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