In the upcoming Dungeons and Dragons release of the Heroes of Shadow player supplement, characters draw their abilities from the Shadow Power Source of the Shadowfell. Optical illusions due to light and dark are one thing, but in the land of shadow, we can take this much further. In this brutal environment, traps, terrain features, and hazards may not be what we normally expect. Although players might be caught off guard in the mortal realm, when a being moves between realms, many aspects of that realm will be completely alien. For Heroes of Shadow native to the Shadowfell, these traps might be common and mundane.
Putting this idea into practice, shadow traps that might be tricky for Shadowfell natives would be vastly more difficult for non-natives to detect and disable. This would mean shadow traps that are difficult for Shadowfell natives would be nearly impossible for non-natives!
This article is the first in a series exploring how to liven up games with features unique to the shadow realm.
To start, just about any basic trap that exists in the mortal realm can be upgraded for the realm of shadow. For example, let’s start with a very common and simple trap– the spear trap.
Shadow Spear Trap
Description: You enter a dimly-lit room. On the far side of the room is an ornate torch, casting light across an equally ornate artifact. The light of the torch shines across the prongs of the artifact, creating long, thin, shadow spokes that diminish into fine points throughout the room.
Effect: If a character walks into the room, and onto a shadow, he grimaces as a sharp pain strikes into him. The enchantments on the torch and artifact create a room filled with shadow spears!
Countermeasures: Extinguish the light and create total darkness, or vanquish the shadows with a greater light source.
Other Notes: You can choose to activate the torch when the players enter the room, trigger a pressure plate, etc., or it could be on the entire time, waiting for unsuspecting adventurers.
Shadow Snare Trap
The new Executioner Assassin build with “garrote” attacks gave me the idea for this one. The description here would be similar to the Shadow Spear trap above, except it would be circles instead of pointy shadow spokes. From here, you could set up the trap in a variety of ways.
Idea #1: You could have a corpse suspended in mid air in the middle of the room. Naturally, characters would be distracted by this and assume some sort of nasty undead solo enemy is going to wake up when they enter the area. In reality, the corpse really is just a corpse, and when a circle cross their neck, they find themselves dragged into mid-air and taking ongoing choking damage.
Idea #2: You could throw in rows and rows of visible spikes on the ceiling. When a character walks across any circles, the shadow circles close around any limb or weapon and begin dragging it (at any pace you choose) toward the ceiling. For dramatic effect, you could make the ceiling high enough that characters can attempt to free their allies from the trap (without being pulled up themselves). If a character is dragged up into the spikes, they begin taking ongoing damage… but at the same time, if the room is high enough, if they are freed just short of the spikes, the character still might take some nasty falling damage.
Shadow Pit Trap
If you have seen the film “Who Frame Roger Rabbit“, you are probably familiar with the concept of the “portable hole“. These are essentially bottomless pits that can be applied just about anywhere. If the light in an area is dim or dark, the pits would naturally blend in. Whereas most pit traps are elaborately concealed, shadow pit traps hide in plain sight.
While you could have a character endlessly fall and be lost forever in one of these, that would be a bit mean. I recommend combining these with other traps. For example, there is a series of bladed pendulums swinging back and forth across a hallway. You carefully wait for the right timing to run through the obstacle, and as you run forward, one of your legs suddenly sinks into the floor! You’re momentarily stuck, and the blade is coming right for you!!!
Shadowfell Terrain (Architecture)
A shadowy chasm separates point A and point B. You could travel for miles and not be sure if you will find a safe place to cross. But wait! In the fading light between day and night, you see a dim bridge appear. Was it there all along? Or is it magically activated in this fading light? Is it an illusion? Decide quickly! Time is running short and you need to cross!
This is essentially the Shadowfell equivalent of the “mirror maze”. You enter a very large, dim room. In the distance, you can see activated traps, boxes of treasure, and dead creatures strewn about. You cautiously take a few steps forward and THWACK! Your face is flattened by the transparent shadow wall in front of you.
Characters with darkvision are able to see the walls if they are looking for them, but they cannot distinguish the room configuration looking through so many walls at once. Characters with blind sight can sense the walls each turn as they move up to their speed. Characters without either of these advantages will have to find some other means to determine wall from open space. Lights merely illuminate the entire room. Furthermore, the walls are not invisible, either. Native shadow creatures are able to move through an area like this with ease.
If hazardous materials can come in the forms of acid, holy or unholy water, fire, molten metal, etc., why not light? Why not darkness? If you start using a lot of shadow traps, your characters will become wary of unusual shadows as they slowly acclimate to the brutal Shadowfell environment. But that doesn’t mean they should not be equally afraid of light in the shadows. Just as many powerful troll leaders harness the power of fire, shadow creatures who harness radiant powers become formidable opponents in the shadow domain.
Radiant Light and Necrotic Dark
This one is pretty simple. If characters enter spaces illuminated by magical white light or black light, they may have to take damage for starting or ending a turn in that square, or you can induce a related side effect. In a light square, even a dark square, they could save against blindness.You could also stun, weaken, grant combat advantage, or make insubstantial depending on your needs. Or perhaps light areas grant bonuses to radiant attacks, or add radiant damage, or dark areas do the same for necrotic attacks, with a few neutral grey zones in between.
I think these elements and statuses are best paired with combat. There are limitless combinations– I would make choices that work well with the monsters in the room.
Shadow Gas Cloud
Characters descend into a dim, mundane room. As they descend from a well-lit area, they notice the light fades in an unusual pattern. If they have torches or sun rods out, they are quickly unable to see the light sources they hold. Soon they begin to gasp for air and begin making endurance saves to hold their breath!
A cloud of heavy, odorless, transparent shadow gas has displaced all the breathable air in the area, and the characters find themselves walking/swimming through a very dangerous area. Characters with darkvision or blindsight can see through the gas with ease, but light sources do not function.
Characters who fail an endurance save take 1d10+their level damage. A character who fails a second consecutive save is slowed in addition to the damage. A third consecutive failure results in the character taking damage and falling unconscious, even if they have hit points remaining.
Now you know why no one goes to the Shadowfell just “to visit”.
More to Come!
In “Heroes of Shadow: Shadowfell Traps, Terrain & Hazards #2“, we’ll introduce a few advanced shadow traps, terrain, hazards, and possibly a fun ritual, monster, or item! And if you have any requests for anything you’d like discussed, let us know!
In the mean time, think about what kinds of traps would be at the entrance to a shadow assassin guild? A blackguard fortress? The lair of a hexblade pact demon? The tower of a necromancer?