D&D 5e: Shadow Magic Sorcerer Guide
D&D 5e: Shadow Magic Sorcerer Guide
Role in the Party
All Sorcerers draw their power from some great birthright that infects their bloodline. Sorcerers of the Shadow Magic lineage are touched, some would say cursed, by the Shadowfell, or plane of shadow.
The manifestation of that touch of darkness varies from mage to mage. All possess the ability to wreathe devastating spells out of the arcane, but many can also see and travel through darkness, or create great beasts stitched together from the shadows themselves. A powerful blaster and support caster, however, the Shadow Sorcerer presents itself, one thing is clear, the fearful reputation many of these umbral caster holds is held for good reason.
This guide breaks down the Shadow Magic Sorcerer, the subclass abilities, example builds, feat and skill choices, and everything else you need to know.
The Shadow Magic Sorcerer subclass is found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Click here to pick up your own copy of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything!
Shadow Magic Features
Eyes of the Dark: From 1st level, the Shadow Mage gains 120ft Darkvision. This is twice as good as the usual Darkvision provided by racial or class-based abilities. This means it’s much easier to be forewarned of encounters as a Shadow Mage because they have better Darkvision than everyone else.
From level 3, the Sorcerer also learns the Darkness spell, and it can be cast using spell slots, or for 2 sorcery points. Also, when cast using sorcery points, the Sorcerer can see through the darkness created by their own spell.
Strength of the Grave: Also at 1st level, the Shadow Sorcerer is much harder to kill than others of its ilk.
When reduced to 0 HP, the Sorcerer can take a CHA save, with a DC of 5 + damage taken. If the save is passed, the Sorcerer instead drops to 1 HP, and stays conscious.
The ability can’t be used against Radiant damage or Critical Hits, and once the save has been passed, the ability can’t be used again until the character has taken a long rest.
At early levels, this is an incredibly powerful ability. Proficiency in CHA saves and the high CHA of the class means that there’s roughly a 50% chance of staying standing after taking 10 damage.
But at higher levels, when enemies can casually drop a pile of dice on the table and routinely deal five times that number, the save can become literally impossible.
Hound of Ill Omen: From level 6, the Sorcerer can spend 3 sorcery points and target an enemy within 120ft of them to summon a shadowy monster. This only takes a bonus action, and the summon appears in a space within 30ft of its target. The summon is a creature that uses the Dire Wolf stat block, with the following changes:
The Hound is Medium sized instead of Large and comes into being with temporary HP equal to half the character’s Sorcerer level.
The Hound always knows the location of its target, even if it was hidden from it. It moves towards the target and spends its action only to attack its target.
The Hound can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain and takes 5 force damage for ending its turn in them.
It lasts for 5 minutes until it dies, or its target dies.
While within 5ft of its target, that target has Disadvantage against all of your spells.
This ability is absolutely fantastic. Not only is it flavorful, but it’s also incredibly powerful. At the level the ability becomes available, the creature is reasonably powerful by itself, strong enough to harass its target and cause appreciable issues. While the Hound is not particularly tough, any attacks sent its way aren’t being directed towards the party, and that, by itself, is already a win.
But the big draw here is the fact that it confers Disadvantage to its target as long as it is within 5ft. First point. It can be summoned within 5ft of its target if there’s an open space. Second point. The Heightened Spell metamagic confers Disadvantage on a single save and costs exactly the same: 3 sorcery points.
But if the enemy doesn’t deal with the Hound, it follows them around, forcing Disadvantage on saves until it or the enemy dies. That’s incredibly powerful.
Finally, this only takes a bonus action, meaning it doesn’t affect the action economy of the character at all.
So, to reiterate, this is a bonus action summon that’s reasonably fighty, unerringly hunts down its target, and confers Disadvantage on saves against Sorcerer spells, for the same cost as a single Heightened Spell. It’s amazing.
Shadow Walk: From level 14 the Shadow Magic Sorcerer can freely clothe themselves in shadows to move from place to place.
As a bonus action, if the character is in dim light or darkness (or Darkness) it can teleport to another area of dim light or darkness within 120ft.
Great range, no cost except a bonus action, no daily usage restrictions. This is a great ability that’s only limited by the lack of darkness in many combat encounters. It’s probably more useful out of combat. Flicker from point to point in the dungeon, scouting ahead while hiding in the darkness, or blur 120ft per round as part of overland travel, which is incredibly fast, as long as it’s nighttime.
Umbral Form: From level 18, the Shadow Mage can spend 6 sorcery points to turn into a ghostly shadow for 1 minute. While in this form, the character has resistance to all damage except the (relatively rare) Force and Radiant types, and can freely move through creatures and objects.
This ability is fantastic. For combat encounters, resistance to essentially all of the damage that the party faces doubles the effective HP of the Sorcerer, which makes a big difference in such a fragile class.
Out of combat, now the Shadow Mage can walk clean through anything in its path. Walls, vault doors, the world is your oyster. The only downsides are taking 5 damage if it ends its turn inside an object (oh no!) and the relatively steep up-front sorcery point cost.
Shadow Mages should count themselves lucky. The subclass is very strong, with a whole host of useful abilities that kick in from level 1, but nothing here actually limits the class or pigeonholes it into specific play styles.
From defensive abilities that can keep the character vertical and breathing after taking an arrow to the face, to mobility options and late-game powers that turn the character into a literal embodiment of shadow, there are tons to play with.
The principal ability of the class, though, has to be Hound of ill Omen. A summon that also confers a debilitating debuff to its target is just an incredibly powerful buff to have on call. The image of a gigantic shadow wolf chasing after a shrieking goblin while the Sorcerer pelts it with spells is always worth a laugh too.
Sorcerers are traditionally blasters or debuffers. Their spell list lends itself comfortably to both roles, and Metamagic only ups the power of the class’s spellcasting. The Shadow Sorcerer is especially good at debuffing. Being able to drop a Darkness that the character can see through is a great way to shut down an entire encounter. The Sorcerer blinds everything, then drops debilitating spells into the AOE, while the party deals with whatever manages to make it out.
The Shadow Magic Sorcerer shares the common weaknesses of the sorcerer class. It’s squishy, and it’s limited in spells known.
A d6 hit die and no armor means that an enemy deciding to dedicate themselves to killing the character can often mean spending resources to stay alive or dead. The Shadow subclass has a natural defensive ability in its Strength of the Grave, but that’s quickly outpaced by enemy damage.
The second big issue is spell selection. The Sorcerer is traditionally a spell-starved class, with only 15 spell choices at max level. The game’s designers realized this, too, because the two newest subclasses bring with them their own spell lists, which increase the spells known by the class by a mighty 66%.
The Shadow Sorcerer … doesn’t have this option. That means the character is going to be limited in what it can do, and if it wants to specialize in something, for example, DPS by picking a wide selection of blasting spells, it leaves far fewer options for other roles.
Best Race Options
Protector Aasimar: Great stats, a little bit of healing, a cantrip, and resistance to two damages (including, importantly, Radiant Damage, which the class has weaknesses against!)
But what we really want is the once-per-day ability to flap our wings and soar through the sky, raining fire and death on our enemies. An overall solid package, and one of the best for any Sorcerer, Shadow included.
Satyr: Variable stats, skill proficiencies, and a random unarmed attack are all well and good, but the big draw is Advantage against spells. For a class that’s going to hang back, and might only be targetable by ranged attacks (Shield is your friend) and spells, that’s a huge defensive buff.
(Any) Tiefling: All Tieflings gain CHA, as well as resistance against Fire damage. We want the spells because, on a spell-starved class like the Sorcerer, a free cantrip and two once-per-day spellcasts on some nice but situational picks are a big deal.
As an example, Dispater gives one cast each of Disguise Self and Detect Thoughts, perfect for the sneaky infiltrator the Shadow Sorcerer wants to be.
Choosing the Right Skills
Face skills. Persuasion is king, and Deception is useful and right on theme. The Sorcerer is going to be good at both of these, because of its naturally high CHA.
Try and avoid physical skills, the class just isn’t built for them, and anything that Athletics could do, spells do better.
If you have one or two skill slots left over, pick up knowledge skills. Arcana is the stereotypical mage skill, but other skills like History also have their place.
Inspiring Leader: More HP is never a bad thing, and this feat spreads around scaling temporary HP across essentially the entire party after every rest (as long as the party can spare 10 minutes, which it probably can.)
At basically every level, this increases the effective HP of a 4 person party by around 25%. Plus it can be reapplied on a short rest. It’s also an easy reflavor to clothe your party in shadow instead of the usual effect. All in all, just a solid feat.
War Caster: The Sorcerer doesn’t have proficiency in CON saves, so can sometimes struggle to hold concentration on spells. War Caster helps to solve that issue, as well as adding bonuses to casting when holding weapons and armor.
An alternative is Resilient (CON) which gives proficiency in the save. Both are useful, but War Caster is better at lower levels when proficiency bonuses are lower. Choose according to your campaign and level.
Magic Initiate: Choose two cantrips and one spell from any class. Like the Warlock. Which has the most powerful damage cantrip in the entire game in Eldritch Blast. Hex is also an impressive boost to damage, and it can be cast once for free.
Criminal: Two subtle skills, and two thief-y toolkits, including the all-important Thief’s Tools, turn the character into a budget Rogue.
Guild Artisan: A pair of social skills, a language, and a set of Artisan’s Tools are a varied and deep skillset.
Courtier: Twin social skills and two languages shift the Shadow Sorcerer into a social animal.
Hexblade Warlock: A 1 level dip is one of the simplest ways to fix the durability issue of the Sorcerer. Medium Armor and Shields increase AC by around 3 points at the base level, without factoring in magic items.
On top of this, the Warlock offers a great spell list, including some fantastic cantrips, as well as the Hexblade’s Curse for more damage. 2 levels is as far as we’d go, for a second spell slot and Invocations. Anything more starts to drastically put spell progression behind other classes.
Conquest Paladin: If your build aims to be more of a gish, the simplest way of doing that is a Paladin of Conquest. Smite + a combat cantrip like Booming Blade is the bread and butter of the build unless you go at least 5 levels, Paladin, for Extra Attack.
There’s a reason Sorcerer/Paladins are widely regarded as one of the strongest multiclasses in the game. It’s a monstrously powerful build that’s only held back by resource costs, and that’s only a maybe.
Eloquence Bard: We’re here for a 3 level dip to grab Unsettling Words, which is (another) bonus action that confers Disadvantage against a saving throw.
Back that up with all of the abilities the Bard brings, including Expertise and some more skills, plus the Bardic spell list, and a bonus on Persuasion and Deception checks, for a nice way to round out the Sorcerer.
Would I recommend playing a Shadow Magic Sorcerer?
Absolutely. The Shadow Magic Sorcerer is a great subclass for the two biggest reasons a player might consider.
One, the subclass is powerful, packing a suite of abilities that are useful at every level, with options from level 1 all the way up to 20, that are effective in almost any situation.
Two, the subclass is fun. Everything it does is thematic, whether that’s leaping between shadows, passing through walls, or forming unthinkable horrors out of wisps of umbral hatred that hunt down their enemies.
If you haven’t tried the Shadow Magic Sorcerer, next time you’re rolling up a character, you should give it a try.