This article is part of a series! Click here to see the other entries.
I believe shadar-kai originated in 3e, though they were completely different there. Here, they are only on the Monster Manual.
Just as the Feywild contains fantastical reflections of wordly life forms, so does the Shadowfell present its own menagerie of dark reflections. The Shadar-kai seem to be the shadowy counterparts of humanity, being similar in shape and build but with ashen grey skin and black orbs for eyes. They live in the Shadowfell, venerate the Raven Queen and achieve a level of goth that can’t be found in the middle world.
Shadar-kai culture and society are described as pitiless and meritocratic, and merit is measured by the great deeds you have to your name more than by wealth or personal connections. Note that great doesn’t necessarily mean good. Causing great chaos and suffering in the world is a great deed. So is murdering your rivals if they are themselves badass. Acting in the name of the Raven Queen counts, and isn’t a guarantee the service in question will be nice. Even a Good shadar-kai is likely to be a very gloomy and humorless individual. “Perky goth” is not really something they do.
Another significant trait of shadar-kai culture is that they do not fear death, for they know the Raven Queen will see to their souls when they shuffle off this mortal coil. This might make them seem more extreme in all they do to someone from a more standard fantasy culture. Another monster entry ahead will hint that shadar-kai desire immortality despite not fearing death, so maybe this focus on great deeds has something to do with that. If you die anyway, at least people will remember how badass you were.
Other sources would go on to make shadar-kai Dark Eldar-like, justifying the piercings and body art saying they pursue extreme sensation as a way to stave off the soul-draining malaise of the Shadowfell. I think this is going a bit overboard, personally. “They really like percings” should be reason enough for shadar-kay to have them!
Shadar-kai are typically Unaligned, which means the ones you meet might be evil, good, or doing something totally ortoghonal to your goals. Just like humans! I think they even got a playable writeup in Heroes of Shadow, though I don’t have that book so I can’t confirm.
Their signature traits are low-light vision (a necessity in the Shadowfell) and Shadow Jaunt, an encounter power which allows them to teleport up to 3 squares and become insubstantial for a turn. All their other abilities derive from training and vary per stat block.
This is a Level 6 Skirmisher with 68 HP and speed 6. It wields a Reach 2 Spiked Chain in combat and its special attack is the Dance of Death (recharge 6). This allows it to shift 6 squares and make up to three basic chain attacks against different enemies along the move. These attacks deal a bit of bonus necrotic damage.
This stat block might also be reskinned into a lower-level khyton devil. Despite the similar chain theme, khytons and shadar-kai aren’t actually related here.
A swordsman that uses shadow magic to supplement its techniques. It’s a Level 6 Lurker with 54 HP and Speed 5. It wears chain and wields a Greatsword.
As a move action the gloomblade can use Veil of Shadows to become invisible until the end of its turn and move its speed. This can only be used while it’s unbloodied. This pairs with the Gloomstrike passive trait, which adds a “blinded for a turn” rider to attacks made against targets that can’t see the gloomblade.
This makes them good at focus fire - use the Veil to get close to the chosen victim, and keep hitting them with Gloomstrike to keep them blind and vulnerable. If you miss, use the Veil or Shadow Jaunt to get away and try again.
This Level 7 Controller has 77 HP and is all about shadow magic. It fights in melee with a Blackfire Touch (vs. Reflex) that does fire and necrotic damage. At range it uses Beshadowed Mind (ranged 10 vs. Will; recharge 4-6) to cause necrotic damage and limit the target’s sight range to 2 squares (save ends).
Once per encounter it can cast a spell named Deep Shadow, animating the shadows around itself. This works as an aura 2 that provides concealment to allies, and deals 5 damage to enemies caught inside. It can be sustained with a minor action, but dissipates if the witch uses Shadow Jaunt or moves more than half its speed in a turn.
The warrior is a Level 8 Soldier with 86 HP. It wields paired katars and can make a double attack in its action. Its main special technique is Cage of Gloom (recharge 5-6), in which it makes a basic katar attack that causes shadowy tendrils to materialize and envelop the enemy. This is a secondary attack against Reflex, and a hit restrains the target (save ends).
Sample Encounters and Final Impressions
Level 6: 2 chain fighters, 2 gloomblades, 1 mad wraith. These are likely not loyal servants of the Raven Queen, who dislikes undead.
Level 8: 1 witch, 1 warrior, 2 rot scarab swarms and 1 spectral panther. The panther is likely a pet, and the scarabs either opportunists or controlled by magic.
I kinda like shadar-kai. Their extreme gothness is a very distinctive look, and I find it less annoyingly edgy than what Pathfinder did with Khytons. I also like that they’re unaligned, meaning it’s common to find them as either enemies or allies.