Monster Manual A-Z is a series of quick looks at each and every monster presented in the Monster Manual for Dungeons & Dragons 5e. New monsters go up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in alphabetical order, touching on lore, mechanics, and ways to use them in your campaign. To search for all Monster Manual A-Z articles, search MMAZ in the search bar as we’ve excluded them from our Roleplaying Games tag to keep things tidy.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Shadow Dragons are pretty interesting creatures. Much like the Dracolich, a Shadow Dragon is not a specific type of dragon, but rather a transformation that can happen to a true dragon while spending time in or near the Shadowfell. Whether born in the Shadowfell or simply in proximity to it later in life, the transformation happens over years of exposure though the outcome is always the same. Dark, charcoal scales, translucent and wispy wings, and pale eyes are the trademark signs of a Shadow Dragon. It should not be surprising to find they are stronger in darkness and weakened in sunlight, and that their breath turns to shadow rather than the fire or other type it had prior to transforming. Once the change has occurred, there is no changing back, even if the Shadow Dragon were to leave the Shadowfell and never return. This leads to two trains of thought; one where they seek to lure others into the Shadowfell for company (and food), and another that sees them happy to leave the Shadowfell behind for good, knowing that achieving their goals is easier on the Material Plane.
As a dragon succumbs to the influence of the Shadowfell, the changes that happen are more than just in appearance. For starters, they gain resistance to necrotic damage, their bite now deals necrotic damage in lieu of any type of non-physical damage they previously did, and their breath is replaced with a shadow breath that deals necrotic damage but also raises enemies slain by the breath as shadows under the Shadow Dragons control. They also get a bit sneakier in the dark, as being in dim light or darkness allows them to hide as a bonus action and they have double proficiency for Stealth checks. Being in the darkness also grants resistance to all damage, unless it is force, psychic, or radiant. Of course, they do have a weakness, namely the light. While in sunlight they are prone to disadvantage on attacks and perception checks, making where and when you fight a Shadow Dragon important.
Shadow Dragons have a lot going for them, and their relation mechanically to the darkness or light ties in nicely to potential storylines and adventures. Of course, on the Material Plane it would seek to act at night, or in areas of perpetual darkness, such as underground. Setting it up as a mystery to be solved, perhaps before the players are ready to take it head on, is a good adventure in and of itself. Then you have the added challenge of finding out exactly what it is, and then concocting the plan to take it down. Alternatively to this, I think it would be a great idea to present the dragon, even a previously chromatic one, as a tragic figure. Perhaps they lament their transformation and seek the party’s help in finding a cure, though none are known. It would be up to you whether this is a fruitless endeavor or to invent a way to help the dragon, but even an evil dragon helped might repay the group by at the very least finding a lair away from their city. Or it could turn around and try to eat them, that’s your decision!
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