What Do I Know About Reviews? Shadowmancer (5e OGL, Dungeon Masters Guild)

I love the concept of shadow magic in fictional settings. I have ever since I saw characters like Cloak, who could tap into a dimension of darkness for their powers. There is something compelling in going against the tropes of many stories and having a hero that controls the darkness as a weapon to do good.

I was not a fan of the Shadow Weave in the Forgotten Realms lore of 3rdedition. There had been references to shadow magic before, but there had never been an underlying separate power source for magic. The additional lore wouldn’t have been so much of a problem, except that the additional power source was, in various contradictory fashions, not evil, but also the creation of Shar and part of her master plan for taking over/destroying Toril, and also portrayed as the Dark Side to the Weave Light Side of the Force, without, you know, being evil.

All of this is a huge digression, however, because what I’m really looking at here is one of my favorite 5th edition 3rdparty pass times, seeing creators from earlier editions recreate a class from an earlier ruleset for 5th edition D&D. Previous examples of this were the Warlord and Warden as envisioned by Rob Schwalb, and today, I’m looking at the Shadowcaster, as created and now re-envisioned by Ari Marmell.

The Shadowcaster wasn’t directly tied to the Shadow Weave in Forgotten Realms lore, because it didn’t come about until the 3.5 book, The Tome of Magic, which was one of my favorite rules expansions for 3.5. I’m not going to say everything worked mechanically well from that book, but I will say that I liked it because it took more risks with what it did with the rules of 3.5, and didn’t turn into “look, here are more of the same options, but better,” which cause a lot of rules bloat and escalation in the late game of 3.5. Shadowcasters didn’t quite use spellslots the same way as other casters, studied and trained more like wizards, and sort of cast more like sorcerers.

Of the classes presented in the Tome of Magic, the 3.5 Shadowcaster was probably the best realized, followed by Binder and trailed way behind (unfortunately) by Truenamers.

That’s a lot of preamble, but I guess the concept of shadow magic casts . . . a long shadow?

The Silhouette

The Shadowcaster PDF is 32 pages long, with grey on grey bordered pages, and bold red and blue formatting for headers and sub-headers. There are several full, half, and quarter page images of various shadow themed characters throughout.

There is a front and back cover, and a credits page, which includes the DMs Guild boilerplate, and because this is a DMs Guild product, there is not a full page OGL page included.

Introduction and Class Basics

The introduction of the class goes a bit into the philosophy of shadow magic, reiterating that it is neither good, nor evil, but it tends to have a negative reputation, and then it details how Shadowcasters get along with other spellcasters.

Looking at the class features section and the Shadowcaster chart, the class is structured in a similar manner to Warlocks, with the biggest departure being that Intelligence is the Shadowcaster’s casting stat, instead of Charisma. They have the same armor proficiencies and hit dice, and share a similar spell progression, complete with a shorter number of spell slots that default to a base spell level, which refresh on a short or long rest.

The Shadowcaster also departs from the standard Warlock structure in that there is no pact bond equivalent. The subclass is chosen at first level, much like a patron is for the Warlock. Mysteries share a similar function for the Shadowcaster as the Invocations do for Warlocks, with an added mechanic. Various spells are grouped into Spell Paths, and the number of spells known from different Spell Paths may serve as the prerequisite for various Mysteries.

The Shadowcaster picks up the following tricks as they gain levels:

  • 2nd level, Eyes of Night (Free darkvision with some additional benefits)
  • 3rd level, Gloaming Feast (You subsist on shadows, so sleeping and eating are different for you)
  • 7th level, Shade-Touched Soul (You get another proficient save)
  • 20th level, Never-Ending Night (You get a spell slot back if you start a fight without any)

All of these feel pretty thematic for the class (5e really does hate for people to go without darkvision), although Gloaming Feast feels a little awkward. If you are a species that doesn’t have the elf’s four hour rest feature, that’s what you more or less have now, but unlike, say, giving darkvision out to a species that already has it, elves specifically now only trance for two hours. Given the story of how and why elves “trance” instead of sleep, I’m not sure this tracks, but the main thing I wanted to point out is that as this ability progresses, you really need to remember that you only get the benefit of a long rest once per 24 hours, because if you forget that detail, this gets really wonky.

Penumbral Ways

The Penumbral Ways are the subclasses for the Shadowcaster. Those subclasses are as follows:

  • Dread Witch (exploring the personal ramifications of shadow)
  • Noctimancer (the scholarly pursuit of the study of shadow magic)
  • Shadow Scion (exploring the boundaries between the material and the Plane of Shadows)

Each one of these subclasses adds additional spells to the character’s spell list, in keeping with the theme of the subclass. For example, the Dread Witch adds fear and controlling spells, the Noctimancer adds a lot of “metamagic” style spells to the spell list, and the Shadow Scion gets shadow flavored weather effects to simulate calling in a touch of the plane of shadow.

Dread Witches add the following tools to the toolbox:

  • 1st level, Dread Presence (intimidation and a fear aura)
  • 6th level, Fear-Weilder (even more intimidation, and a bonus inspiration effect when fear targets you)
  • 10th level, Dread Master (resistance to psychic damage, reflect fear at other casters)
  • 14th level, Living Nightmare (gain a foothold on a creatures mind for dream effects)

This is probably the subclass that gives the class it’s worst reputation. I’m actually a little disappointed to tack “witch” on to this one, to be honest. The “adrenaline boost” effect of being targeted by fear is kind of interesting, but I have to admit, even though fear is less onerous in 5e than it has been in previous editions (not moving closer is much better than running away until the effect ends or whatever breaks the effect), it’s still not one of my favorite things to have make a major foothold in the player character’s profile.

The Noctimancer subclass abilities are:

  • 1st level, Knowledge Arcane (comprehend language and identify as rituals)
  • 6th level, Eldritch Ward (use your reaction to impose disadvantage on spell attacks against you)
  • 10th level, Arcane Secrets (pick up wizards spells not on the Shadowmancer spell list)
  • 14th level, Mystic Siphon (capture magical energy when you counterspell or dispel other magic)

The player in me is very interested in this subclass, and I like the flavor of this subclass as the “scholarly” version of the class. The DM in me is not as excited about the potential to encourage people to frequently use counterspell, but that’s a deeper issue baked into 5e from the start.

The Shadow Scion rounds out the class with the following abilities:

  • 1st level, Warding Shade (you can use your reaction to have your shadow make an attack)
  • 6th level, Child of Two Worlds (ignore weather effects, choice of resistances at the trade off of vulnerability to radiant damage)
  • 10th level, Flesh of Shadow (turn into a shadow elemental)
  • 14th level, Maelstrom of Shadow (restrain creatures with a storm of shadow stuff)

While I don’t dislike the Dread Witch, I can’t quite warm up to it, so I’m glad that I like the Shadow Scion in addition to the Noctimancer, as it serves as the more aggressive counterpoint to the more studious and defensive Noctimancer.

While the Shadowmancer isn’t a Warlock, the similar structure does give us some benchmarks to look at, and most of the abilities, while unique, don’t feel too far from the scope of what the individual patron abilities look like for similar levels.

Mysteries of Shadow

The next three pages of the product are the Mysteries of Shadow, special abilities that the Shadowmancer gets at various levels that either modify existing abilities, or grant them abilities outside of the scope already provided by the class and subclass abilities.

This mechanic begins to play more with the Paths, which are concentrated areas of study that have spells grouped within them. Some mysteries have a prerequisite that require a Shadowcaster to know spells from various Paths, while others require a Shadowcaster to know all of the spells of a given path to gain access. In general, requirements that call for broader knowledge grant access to broader abilities, while Mysteries calling for specific mastery double down on how well you can do things associated with that path.

For example, Path Savant lets you cast all of the spells in that path without using components, while Greater Path Savant lets you cast one of the spells from that path without using a spell slot every long rest. Darkest Creeping Shadow, which has a prerequisite of learning spells from multiple paths, grants access to new cantrips and lower level spells.

Beyond the Mysteries that play with the Path mechanics, you have other mysteries that provide shadow familiars, add your ability score damage to cantrips, potentially regain more hit points when resting in shadows, the ability to cast invisibility in areas of low light, and, of course, Mysteries that let you access 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9thlevel spells.

Shadowcaster Spells

The Shadowcaster spell lists include spells that are considered class spells for the class, and in addition to listing the spells by class, the spells also note what paths they belong to as well. In addition to noting the path in parenthesis behind the spell name in the regular list, there is a follow up list that summarizes the paths and what spells are in each path.

In addition to brand new spells presented, there are also spells from the existing spell lists in the game that have entries noting how the spell functions for the Shadowcaster. For example, Control Weather has a more limited range of weather that can be generated, and Conjure Umbral Servant is Conjure Elemental that only summons Shadow Elementals.

Side Note: In the copy that I’m writing this review from, it looks like the modifications to Storm of Vengeance is tacked on to the end of Spirit Guardians, without a distinct header.

As you might guess, there is a lot of cold and necrotic damage, illusion effects, and the ability to move through shadows. Some of the added spells for the subclasses tack on spells that play with fear, even more spectacular damage effects, and dispelling/countering options.

Spell turning is a returning spell from older editions, which instead of being an active spell used with a reaction, is an ongoing ward that deflects a given number of spell levels. Investiture of Shadows creates a shadow flavored version of the other Investiture spells. Hypnotic Shade creates a hypnotic pattern that is adjudicated in a slightly different manner, and Shadow Out of Time slips the caster out of synch into the plane of Shadow, watching what’s going on in the real world and able to take extra rounds to prepare, not unlike Timestop. There are a lot of other spells, but the point is that many of them do similar things to existing spells, and have a similar scope, but adjudicate effects in just a slightly different manner.

Arrow of Dusk is the Shadowcaster equivalent of Eldritch Blast, but with far fewer Mysteries tied to its use. If it knocks you to 0 hit points, you stabilize instead of dying (which I remember from the 3.5 version of this spell). Black Candle may be one of my favorite utility spells, as it is effectively a light spell, but it can’t counter darkness, and the only people that can see what you illuminate are the people you designate when you cast the spell. That’s a nice touch.

I Have My Weaknesses

The final page of text is the stat block for the Shadow Elemental, which can be summoned and is also the alternate form used by the Shadow Scion subclass. This is the part where I have to say that I love the concept of shadow elementals, and the shadow elementals that were in the 3.5 Tome of Magic got used as part of the final encounter for my multi-year campaign that I ran for that edition, where the players wrapped up their adventures at 13th level, versus a ton of shadow creatures.

Soothing Shadows

While it’s always hard to get a handle on a 20 level class in an initial read through, this looks very thoroughly mapped to the power curve of the existed expectations of the Warlock, but with the added benefit of not being quite so tied to the Hex and Eldritch Blast pattern of that class. All of the subclasses look good, even if I lean much more heavily towards two of them. I really enjoy that the new spells map well to existing effects, but add some interesting thematic kickers or slightly different means of adjudicating the effects they produce.

Lost in the Darkness

I have seen complaints that Warlocks are one of the less powerful classes in 5e, which means if you are one of those people, mapping the power curve of the Shadowcaster to that class may not be what you want to see. I don’t know if I agree, but I do know that the Warlock is one of the trickiest classes to get a handle on, with all of the interactions between spells, invocations, pact bonds, and patron abilities.

While the Shadowcaster doesn’t have a commensurate pact bond ability, the path system may actually make the Shadowcaster a little bit trickier to master than even the Warlock abilities. It may be challenging for people to tackle unless they have a pretty good grasp of what the class does and how the mechanics interact.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

There is a certain irony in that I liked the 3.5 version of the class because it didn’t stick too closely to how other classes worked in staking out its own way of doing things, and I like this version of the class because they found a good analogous set of parameters and readjusted to fit the shadow theme. That said, I think that’s because the hard frameworks of 3.5 existed more nebulously, i.e. what hit dice, how many good saves, what’s the attack progression, while I think the framework of 5e is more constrained, but can contain more individualized effect.

I knew that the 5e Warlock was very much a hybridized version of the 3.5 class with trappings from the Binder from the Tome of Magic, but I had forgotten that there really is some Shadowcaster DNA in that class as well, and I think that’s part of why using Warlock as a base works well for the Shadowcaster, even though the class itself has a different story to tell.

I was a little more hesitant to give this a flat “recommended,” because of the complexity of the class, but honestly, that’s also part of what I like about it. The complexity may be daunting, but it doesn’t feel random or awkward. It’s something I kind of want to engage with to see if I can make the class sing.

I’m just sad I can’t figure out a way to shoehorn Toll the Dead into the Shadowmancer’s known spells.

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