This post is part of a series! Click here to see the others.
Dark Ones appeared in the first 4e Monster Manual, and you can read my take on that book’s entry here. This entry adds a few more stat blocks and tries to fill in the lore gaps.
If you read the post linked above, you’ll see that the MM1 contained little in the way of Dark One Lore. I speculated that most of them would be peaceful civilians like halflings are, but it seems that the Monster Manual 3 is moving in the opposite direction by saying they’re all thieving murderers. I guess this is a prelude for some of the even more egregious stuff you could find on the Monster Vault and on some early 5e supplements.
This book says Dark Ones are “incapable” of crafting beautiful or useful objects. This is described more like a divine curse than some sort of neurological limitation. Everything they make is destined to be ugly, fragile, and useless. Their armor crumples, their weapons shatter. So instead of making their own stuff, they steal other people’s.
As the MM1 said, most Dark Ones live in the Shadowfell. This one says that they tend to see the middle world as a, well, “loot pinãta”, full of stuff just waiting to be taken. They tend to go for “loot caches” that are relatively hidden from the larger societies of the middle world, and target groups that are isolated from those same societies.
In other worlds, your typical team of Dark One acquisition experts is in direct competition with adventuring parties for the XP and treasure contained in dungeons, bandit lairs, and cultist strongholds. The PCs could arrive at one of these places only to discover a group of Dark Ones got there first and took all the stuff.
Some of them prefer to work as mercenaries instead of thieves, and they’ll join forces with anyone who pays them. Often their clients end up being cults of Vecna and other appreciators of the sneaky-stabby arts.
And of course, if you want to tone down the speciesism here, you can just remove the divine curse bit. If you still want a Dark One community to be dependent on goods from outside, you can say they rely on trade more than on theft and mercenary work.
Most of the basic Dark One information remains identical to what it was on the MM1. They’re Small Shadow Humanoids with Darkvision, a Speed of 6, and two signature abilities.
The first is Dark Step, an at-will move action that lets them move 4 squares with a +4 AC bonus against opportunity attacks, and gain combat advantage against any enemies it ends up adjacent to.
The second is Killing Dark, which causes them to explode in a cloud of inky darkness when reduced to 0 HP, blinding any enemies adjacent to them for a turn.
Hex Knights are the closest thing Dark Ones have to noble warriors, though their codes of conduct apply only to members of their own society. Their gear is very similar to that of a common sneaky-stabby Dark One: leather or hide armor, short sword, hand crossbow. Their fighting style, however is much more direct.
Hex Knights are Level 4 Soldiers with 54 HP. They mark enemies using the Shadow Hex minor action, which lasts until the fight ends or the knight uses it on someone else. Enemies who ignore the mark grant combat advantage to all enemies for a turn.
The hand crossbow is a basic ranged attack and it’s merely okay. Knights are better in melee, where their basic short sword can attack twice with one action, and each hit slows the target. Knights can also use their swords in a Vicious Flurry (recharge 5+), which targets 1 or 2 enemies with a sword attack that also does ongoing damage.
These spellcasters are usually on some secret mission to acquire a treasure or a valuable bit of information, and will prioritize that mission over whatever else might be going on. They might pose as mercenaries or allies to some other faction as a cover. Once they have what they seek, they’ll abscond, leaving enemies and allies alike behind.
Bolters are Level 5 Artillery with 50 HP. They fight with daggers in melee and with black bolt spells at range, and they’re all about gaining combat advantage. The Deadly Precision trait gives them combat advantage against any enemy flanked by two allies, even if the bolter themselves are far away. When they hit someone with combat advantage, they deal 5 extra necrotic damage to the target and to any of the target’s allies adjacent to it.
The black bolts also make a hit target take 5 necrotic damage whenever they provoke an opportunity attack (save ends), which is very situational but might be useful to punish mobile PCs.
Shadow Speakers are the Dark Ones that know the necessary rituals for crossing between the middle world and the Shadowfell. They lead “acquisition” expeditions into the middle world, and are responsible for bringing them back home. They carry little clay jugs filled with soil from the Shadowfell as a focus for their powers.
Shadow speakers are Level 6 Controllers with 70 HP. They fight with short swords and shadow magic.
Their basic ranged attack is a Shadow Curse that deals necrotic damage, makes the target grant combat advantage, and inflicts 5 necrotic damage when the target provokes an opportunity attack (save ends both).
Less often, they can cast a Choking Shadow spell (recharge 5+), which deals heavy necrotic damage and immobilizes for a turn.
Even one of these is an excellent force multiplier for a Dark One party, or really for any encounter group whose members deal extra damage with combat advantage. Just have then stay at the range limit for Shadow Curse and spam it on the PCs to make them all grant combat advantage.
On the other hand, Shadow Speakers tend to be “load-bearing monsters” for Dark One encounter groups, since they’re the group’s only way home. If the Shadow Speaker is in too much danger, the entire group might try to make a run for it.
I like the greater encounter variety, but I dislike the extra emphasis on a species-wide negative stereotype (“they’re all thieves, every last one of them”). I’ll stick to my initial assumptions that these stat blocks represent the Dark One equivalent of adventurers and other combatants rather than typical members of the culture.