A Shadow Dragon can be created by any dragon, except a Dracolich, that spends an extended period in the Shadowfell. Exposure to such corruption transforms the Dragon into an altered, fell beast well-suited to dark environments but prone to severe disadvantages in well-lit areas.
As a result, the Dragon can replace its breath weapon with one that inflicts Necrotic Damage and potentially transform its victims into an Undead Shadow.
Even if the Dragon leaves the Shadowfell realm, the template remains and causes the Dragon’s personality to shift. The Dragon’s instincts change, becoming more comfortable in shadows and underground environments.
The Dragon will also feel a strong, constant, unnatural urge to return to the Shadowfell. They are also drawn toward the negative powers that emanate from the realm known as the Underdark.
The Essence of the Shadow Dragon 5e
Shadow Dragons are not a breed but more like a mutated and unnatural stage of development for any species of Dragon, excluding Dracolich can become. A large number of Shadow Dragons will eventually become Dracoliches be to their obsession with sorcery.
Anyone killed by a Shadow Dragon’s breath attack will respawn as an Undead Shadow that will be attached and accountable to the Dragon that created it. As Shadow Dragons prefer to fight from the shadows at a range, this Undead Shadow will instead be used to fight any attackers in direct melee, the Dragon itself fighting close up only as a last resort.
Although Shadow Dragons are not always the most physically intimidating dragons, especially for seasoned adventurers, some of the most cunning and will know to attack any spellcasters first and then target the strongest-looking fighters next.
Only a true dragon can be born as a Shadow Dragon, or transformed into one; this doesn’t include Dracoliches who have renounced their draconic ancestry to gain their dark powers. True Chromatic, Metallic, or Gem Dragons are eligible for transformation.
A transformed Shadow Dragon maintains its previous statics modified by the following.
- A Shadow Dragon gains resistance to Necrotic Damage.
- If caught in sunlight, a Shadow Dragon is at Disadvantage for all attacks and when checking for successful sight perception.
- The Dragon’s Stealth skill proficiency check is doubled.
- The Living Shadow trait grants the Dragon damage resistance against all forms of damage, except for force, radiant, or psychic, but only in dim light or darkness.
- With the Shadow Stealth trait, the Dragon can use a bonus action to Hide in dim light or darkness.
- The Dragon’s Bite attack modifies any additional damage caused, such as fire or poison, to necrotic damage.
- The Shadow Breath trait alters the damage type of any breath weapon to necrotic damage.
The Shadow of the Dragon
If a Shadow Dragon reduces an enemy to zero Hit Points using Shadow Breath, they die, and an Undead Shadow controlled by the Dragon rises from their fallen body. This Shadow always takes its turn immediately after the Dragon has taken theirs.
Medium Undead, Chaotic Evil
|Hit Points||16 (3d8+3)|
|Dmg Resist||Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning, Thunder; nonmagical Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing|
|Dmg Immunities||Necrotic, Poison|
|Condition Immunities||Exhaustion, Frightened, Grapple, Paralyze, Petrify, Poison, Prone, Restrained|
|Senses||Dark-Vision 60 Feet|
|Amorphous||That humanoid figure of theirs is merely a memory of their former selves. Shadows can move through a space as narrow as one inch wide without squeezing.|
|Shadow Stealth||Lighting conditions considered dim or lower allows the Shadow to use the Hide skill as a bonus action.|
|Sunlight Weakness||Sunlight disadvantages the Shadow on saves, ability checks, and attack rolls.|
|Roll to Hit||+4|
|Range||Five Feet, Single Creature|
|Hit||9 (2d6+2) necrotic, 1|
Any reduction in a target’s Strength will be regained after a short rest.
Should a target die either by being reduced to zero Hit Points or their Strength reaching zero, a new shadow will rise to take their place within 1d4 hours.
Shadow Dragon 5e Biology
Shadow Dragons derive their Strength from infusing Planar energies from the Shadowfell, making them most powerful in dark environments.
Their scales have a charcoal hue with a subtle metallic sheen, while their wings are semi-transparent and blend seamlessly into the shadows at the edges. Their eyes are an iridescent gray, having lost all traces of their original color due to their prolonged exposure to darkness. In the shadows, a Shadow Dragon appears as a spectral entity.
Despite their ability to consume fresh food, Shadow Dragons prefer carrion and are often surrounded by pits filled with corpses in their lairs.
This gruesome practice can sometimes benefit adventurers as they can retrieve the bodies of fallen comrades before the Dragon consumes them. However, the corpses must be left to ripen to the Dragon’s liking before it can consume them, allowing for a brief window of opportunity for rescue.
The Shadow Dragon’s connection to their former reality has been corrupted, so much so that their breath weapon now serves as a conduit for spreading this corruption. The once elemental breath of the True Dragon has transformed into a corrosive cloud of necrosis, draining the vitality of its victims—literally, the breath of death.
In gameplay, Dungeon Masters can demonstrate this effect by imposing a cumulative point of exhaustion for each failed saving throw against a Shadow Dragon’s breath weapon. This highlights the devastating impact of the Shadow Dragon’s breath, as it inflicts significant damage and weakens the victim over time.
The transformation of a True Dragon into a Shadow Dragon is a gradual process that takes several years. However, since dragons are known for their long periods of slumber that can span many years, they may awaken to find themselves fully transformed, unaware of the process.
Portals between the Material Plane and Shadowfell can appear in locations filled with despondent energies, such as deep dungeons or caverns that have claimed the lives of many adventurers. In some cases, a Dragon’s lair can also become a portal.
The Shadowfell has an insatiable desire to attract dragons, drawing them in with their magical prowess and draining their power. As the transformation progresses, the Dragon’s scales lose their color, and a sense of melancholy sets in, compelling the creature to embrace the darkened environment.
Despite witnessing their physical decay, the Dragon becomes apathetic and indifferent to their plight, further sinking into the darkness. Once fully transformed, the corruption becomes permanent, even when on the Material Plane.
Dragons are not subject to the same aging process as mortal beings, but while they may appear immortal to humans, they do have a finite lifespan. It is difficult to determine the exact length of a dragon’s lifespan, but it is believed to be around 1500 years before its body shows signs of age-related deterioration. A dragon’s life can be divided into many stages that do appear comparable to the human life cycle of development.
However, for simplicity’s sake, this has been condensed to five stages for mortal comprehension. The first stage is Wyrmling, which lasts until the Dragon is five years old, while the final stage is Greatwyrm, achieved when the Dragon is over 1200 years old.
As dragons age, they become increasingly powerful, and their size often increases to match. Some dragons have been reported to be over one hundred feet long, making them some of the most enormous creatures to be found on the Material Plane.
Species of Dragons
Dragons in the material planes are commonly classified into three categories, akin to noble families. The Chromatic Dragons, including Red, Green, and other color-segregated species, are usually encountered by adventurers and are typically aligned with evil, serving the evil dragon queen Tiamat. Their reputation for greed and malevolence precedes them.
On the other hand, Metallic Dragons, such as Brass, Platinum, and Gold dragons, are known for their association with the forces of good. They worship the just god Bahamut and are highly esteemed for their wisdom and benevolence.
The third category is the rarest of the three, consisting of Gem Dragons, such as Topaz, Emerald, and Amethyst dragons. These dragons are notably neutral and, like the previous two categories, are believed to originate from a progenitor dragon. However, the first line of Gem dragons is said to have been born from the corpse of Sardior, the Ruby Dragon, a lesser deity believed to have died long ago.
Shadow Dragons, on the other hand, are primarily native to the Shadowfell. Still, any of the dragons mentioned above can be corrupted into a Shadow Dragon if they spend too much time in the Shadowfell or accidentally enter a portal to the shadow plane.
Planar Dragons, including Faerie, Astral, and Axial Dragons, is a general category for species of dragons found natively or created continuously in other planes.
However, Dracolichs, which are undead and have forsaken their draconic nature for greater, forbidden power, are excluded from this classification. Still, a Shadow Dragon can be transformed into a Dracolich.
According to legend, Drow Shadow Dragons originated from a city where Shadow Dragons had enslaved the Drow population. A new race was born to rise from their subjugation: Half-Shadow Dragon, Half-Drow. They sought to gain the power to merge their two halves into a greater whole. Drow Shadow Dragons can switch between their Shadow Dragon form and their Drow form at will, possessing the strengths and weaknesses of both races.
Half-Shadow Dragons born from Drow are some of the few Half-Dragon unions with functional wings. The first generation of Half Drow-Half Shadow Dragons, inspired by their species’ most powerful member, is called a Zekyl. However, with subsequent generations, the dilution of the gene has led to offspring losing their Half-Dragon classification and being known as Zar’ithra.
Shadow Dragon Behavior
The Shadowfell’s corruption has made Shadow Dragons inherently distrustful of light. As a result, they adapt to this change by avoiding well-lit places, including their favorite resting spots. Despite this, a Shadow Dragon’s pre-corruption attacks, such as biting and clawing, can still be effective in close combat. However, it is more likely that a Shadow Dragon will rely on its Shadow Breath while moving from one Shadow to another.
To improve their chances of hunting and killing, Shadow Dragons will often amass an army of Undead Shadows. Anyone finding themselves in combat with a Shadow Dragon must beware of these Shadowed servants, which can be challenging to detect but who will fight to the finish on their master’s behalf. While Shadow Dragons are mighty, they prefer stealth over confrontation. They can climb quickly and blend in with the shadows on the ceiling of a cavern, away from the torchlight.
To counter a Shadow Dragon, spellcasters can use light-based spells to dispel the darkness and temporarily blind the creature. Shadow Dragons prefer to stalk their prey and target spellcasters first, followed by the strongest fighters. They will only engage in close combat as a last resort, relying on their army of undead Shadows to do their bidding.
Shadow Dragon Horde
Shadow Dragons have a well-known weakness for well-lit areas, so they often amass a hoard of treasures coveted by rogues throughout the Forgotten Realms that will give them an advantage in such areas.
These treasures usually include items that can cast darkness spells, invisibility potions, and various charms that allow them to perform shadow-related feats. However, if a Shadow Dragon is defeated, you may have to contend with the Dragon attempting to use these items to escape before they can get their hands on them.
In addition to these magical items, Shadow Dragons have a particular affinity for collecting dark-colored gems. While some may be precious stones, they also have a fondness for dark-colored rocks and lava stones that they find visually appealing. Some, of course, may also have magical properties.
There are only a handful of Dragons in D&D lore with a challenge rating of 40, and among them, there is one notable exception that lacks a stat block. Although Manzzkyl Jaezred entered the canon with edition 3.5, he is easily adapted to later editions of the game.
He is known as the Great Wyrm Drow-Dragon considered one of the most formidable dragons and one of the mightiest beings known under the gods.
According to lore, the Drow-Dragon is a living creature with remarkable abilities. It possesses a Sorcerer level of 13 and an assassin level of 5, which makes it a fearsome foe in both magical and physical combat. As a Drow Shadow Dragon, it is said to have originally been a Black Dragon that took deliberate steps to become a Shadow Dragon, further enhancing its already impressive powers.
The Jaezred Chaulssin
The Jaezred Chaulssin is an order of assassins established by Manzzkyl, who originally founded it using enslaved Drow and their Shadow Dragon masters. Over time, the organization has grown to include over 800 members.
Among its ranks are eight mighty Ancient Drow Shadow Dragons, including one with a formidable CR 30 rating that serves as a leader of the organization.
The Jaezred Chaulssin is a formidable and chaotic force, but it is primarily focused on opposing Lolth and her followers. The organization emerged as a challenge to Lolth’s dominion over the Drow, which had been a one-sided agreement for far too long.
The Jaezred Chaulssin’s base of operations is the city of Chaulssin, which operates as a unified city in both the Shadowfell and Underdark realms.
Manzzkyl and his followers specialize in infiltrating Drow cities with their assassins’ guild. Once inside, they wage a campaign of chaos and destruction, targeting the religious orders of Lolth and sowing dissent to win over the hearts and minds of the Drow populace.
According to legend, at the dawn of creation, the creators of the Material Plane also fashioned two mirror planes that reflected its essence. Anything in the Material Plane had a counterpart in these planes: the Feywilds and the Shadowfell. The Feywilds housed all things that were dazzling and bright, while the Shadowfell was home to everything too bleak and rotten.
While the Feywilds shone bright with their deadly and delightful creations, the Shadowfell symbolizes desolation and despair. The natives of the Shadowfell thrive on negative emotions, and crossing over to this plane is far more challenging than entering the Feywilds.
Unlike the Material Plane, the skies of the Shadowfell are shrouded in eternal darkness. Even the black holes cluster like galaxies, feeding on negative energies and cosmic terrors that can only be imagined. One of the most famous sections of the Shadowfell is Barovia, a pocket of mists created by the Dark Powers and the possible prison of the notorious Strahd Von Zarovich, who features in the Ravenloft Campaign.
The Shadowfell is the source of corruption that transforms a True Dragon into a Shadow Dragon.
The Underdark is the name its residents give to the massive array of tunnels and caverns that weave their way throughout Toril. Beneath every prominent location on the surface lies a complex web of Mind Flayer Colonies, Drow Cities, Demonic Outcasts, and Shadow Dragon Lairs.
However, not all locations are easily accessible from one another, as the Underdark is divided into various domains further divided by geography and winding parallel cavern clusters that may not always be connected.
The Upperdark comprises the first three miles of underground terrain, followed by the Middledark, where most cities and civilizations are located, seven miles below the surface.
The Lowerdark lies beyond, ten miles below, and is home to the most dangerous creatures, including rifts to the Abyss, demons banished from the Era of Demons, and the legendary and heavily guarded Tomb Tapper Tomb, which is said to house one of the wealthiest hordes in the realm. Those who dwell in the upper levels of the Underdark avoid venturing into these treacherous depths.
Shadow Dragon 5e FAQs
Can a Shadow Dragon become a Dracolich?
Due to the significant loss of its physical form, it is unlikely for a Shadow Dragon to transform a Dracolich. When a dragon becomes a Dracolich, it generally retains its statistics but loses any trait that assumes living physiology, such as Amphibious.
What is a Shadow Dragon’s weakness?
When exposed to sunlight, a shadow experiences several drawbacks. It has Disadvantage on attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws, and it cannot cling to an enemy.
What do Shadow Dragons want?
Shadow Dragons highly covet treasure with shadow-related attributes. In addition, they have a penchant for collecting opaque gems with a dark hue and black stones.
Final Thoughts on Shadow Dragons
Choosing which type of Dragon to throw at players in a game named after them can be daunting. Shadow Dragons might add to the difficulty by providing the option to make any Dragon a corrupt force to all involved parties.
Despite disagreements between editions on whether it is a specialized species or a corruptive template, Shadow Dragons remain a staple in DnD lore. The concept of a dragon that can manipulate the shadows around it and unleash unknown magical abilities from its hoard is intimidating and inspiring.
Kendra has always been a hardcore fantasy nerd. Growing up in the worlds of Tolkien, Sanderson, Jordan, and Abercrombie, DnD & board games just came naturally. She and her husband, Bryan, started GameCows.com in 2018 as a fun passion project that just took over their lives. An avid board gamer since childhood and chronic DnD chronicler for more than two decades, she loves to play, write, travel, and learn dead languages.