Are you afraid of the dark? Good; Now you can weaponize it! Xanathar’s Guide to Everything came up with a way to use shadows for your own benefit with the Shadow Magic Sorcerer. You – or an ancestor – are related to the beings of Shadowfell. Dark energies within are struggling against your spark of life, threatening to snuff out what little humanity you have left. The question then becomes; why do you wish to curse your character with this horrific, dark secret, threatening to tear them apart from the inside..? It’s for the cool stuff. Yeah, I get it. Let’s learn all about these dark options with our Shadow Sorcerer 5E Guide.
Sneak in Darkness: Shadow Sorcerer 5E
The Shadow Magic Sorcerer is one of the most potent defensive sorcerer subclasses. You gain some basic utility features, anti-death measures, a summon, and fantastic mobility. While most Sorcerers could gain access to these through the spell list, your options to spend sorcery points on them instead gives you pretty solid versatility. Creative use of this subclass can cause the battlefield to swing into your favor quite quickly. And you’ll always be in the right place, at the right time.
There’s another roleplay benefit. All Shadow Sorcerers choose from a variety of quirks. None of these have any real mechanical penalties, though a lot of them might mess with Medicine checks. It could lead to some fun moments, if you and your GM want that to be the case.
Eyes of the Dark
This is one of the few Sorcerer subclasses that gains a benefit at level 3. To be fair, that’s because this benefit scales.
From 1st level, you have darkvision with a range of 120 feet.
When you reach 3rd level in this class, you learn the Darkness spell, which doesn’t count against your number of sorcerer spells known. In addition, you can cast it by spending 2 sorcery points or by expending a spell slot. If you cast it with sorcery points, you can see through the darkness created by the spell.
How spooky of you!
120 feet of darkvision gives you an actually gigantic range of sight in dungeons. Because of this benefit, you’ll probably want to not play as a race with natural darkvision. This is just such a huge range, and it doesn’t stack with any previously held sources.
120 feet is 24 squares. Most combats will never reach that size, though some extend past the 60 ft Darkvision typically has. Obviously, this works best in night combats or in dungeons with large rooms, but you’ll find this benefit helpful in most scenarios.
Level 3 is when this ability gets really cool. Darkness is a pretty bad spell, other than for niche scenarios – running away or obscuring the enemy’s archer line is all it’s amazing at. At least it has the benefit of being super flavorful and has good synergy with the rest of your abilities.
Thankfully, you don’t only get Darkness. By spending 2 spell points – the equivalent of a 2nd level spell – you get to see through it. So few creatures get the chance to see through magical darkness – usually only demons and Warlocks with a specific invocation. You’ll get the drop on enemies, since you’ll be the only one looking in! Spending your spell slot on it is still nice, but you lose the niche of seeing through darkness. It’s a worthy sacrifice, trust me!
You might want to do a combo with a Warlock in your party, who’s willing to take the Devil’s Sight invocation. You could actually make a full party comp around shadows, but that Warlock’s gonna also benefit a lot from the combat control.
Strength of the Grave
There’s some upsides to being dead inside! You can succeed at this saving throw once per day.
Starting at 1st level, your existence in a twilight state between life and death makes you difficult to defeat. When damage reduces you to 0 hit points, you can make a Charisma saving throw (DC 5 + the damage taken). On a success, you instead drop to 1 hit point. You can’t use this feature if you are reduced to 0 hit points by radiant damage or by a critical hit.
This is one of the worst death-prevention methods in the game, but it’s still death-prevention.
Let’s look at the upsides. You get this at level 1, where you have probably about 7 HP. That means that you can probably use this right away to prevent a decent hit from, say, an Orc. That keeps you conscious for a really long time, and then you can keep slinging spells.
The benefits of anti-death are myriad. You don’t need to risk Death Saving throws, your allies don’t need to waste actions and spell slots to pick you up, and your turn rolls around with you on your feet, ready to bust some heads. Landing this saving throw is crucial to any encounter!
Now, there’s quite a few problems with this feature. Unlike the Half-Orc’s Relentless Endurance, you can fail this. A Charisma Saving Throw of 5 + Damage isn’t too hard to land early on. And most physical attackers will leave you with a large, but passable, DC in the late game.
But some physical attackers won’t give you the option. And spellcasters… Hoo boy. Your Charisma saves will probably be around +11, meaning the highest damage you can tank with this ability is 25 (unless you crit!). That’s not too hard to beat; Fireball does an average of 28, for example.
And just in case that wasn’t bad enough, you can’t do this if a Cleric is beating you with radiant spells, or if you got crit. Just your luck… The Radiant damage clause is fine, but crits are some of the most likely things to drop your low-health body to the floor. You’d really want to desperately attempt to critically succeed there, but you can’t.
Overall, anti-death effects are super good, and you should always remember you have this. But, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t end up saving you too often, especially in the mid-to-late game.
Hound of Ill Omen
Your level 6 ability is one of the coolest ones on any of the Sorcerer class subclasses. For 3 sorcery points, you can bonus action to summon a Good Dog. Just kidding; he’s the baddest dog around, a shadow Dire Wolf. You sick him (or her) on one creature. It has a few differences from a typical Dire Wolf:
- The hound is size Medium, not Large, and it counts as a monstrosity, not a beast.
- It appears with a number of temporary hit points equal to half your sorcerer level.
- It can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. The hound takes 5 force damage if it ends its turn inside an object.
- At the start of its turn, the hound automatically knows its target’s location. If the target was hidden, it is no longer hidden from the hound.
Spookiest boy! It appears within 30 ft of the target, goes in a straight line towards the enemy, attacks only the enemy, can only opportunity attack against the enemy, and lasts for 5 minutes or until it or the target is gone. Oh, and while it’s next to the enemy, they have disadvantage on saves against your spells.
Bit of a mouthful! Don’t worry, after you cast it the first time, you’ll get used to it.
Okay, early on? This is an insane effect. Dire Wolves have above-average to hit, and pretty alright health. It also gains advantage on attacks if an ally is nearby, and could cause tripping if you force this effect against a caster. This is a really effective summon for chasing people down!
Unfortunately, this hound doesn’t scale too well. It only gains additional health equal to half your level, so it maxes out at 47 HP. That +5 to attack, even with Pack Tactics, probably won’t scale too well either. In that case, is 3 sorcery points worthwhile?
I’d say so.
Even with those downsides, the Hound is a fantastically effective tracker. Since it always knows the target’s location, it can find invisible, recently teleported, or ethereal opponents. That’s great anti-invisibility, and it can put you on the right trail to find an enemy! The Dire Wolf has 50 ft of movement speed and lasts for 5 minutes, putting you almost one full mile closer to your enemy after a teleport. And while 47 health isn’t exactly impressive later on, it might still take more than one or two hits to put down.
All of that, and I didn’t even talk about the disadvantage effect. Giving an enemy disadvantage on a saving throw would be pretty amazing metamagic by itself. That’s because it is; Heightened Spell. That also costs 3 sorcery points, and gives you exactly 1 saving throw with disadvantage. On one spell. This effect could theoretically give you 5 minutes of disadvantage-imposing magic in a dog-shaped form.
Insanely cool, insanely powerful… You know what, I take it back. This is a good dog!
This ability is used on a few darkness-based archetypes, and it never ceases to impress!
At 14th level, you gain the ability to step from one shadow into another. When you are in dim light or darkness, as a bonus action, you can teleport up to 120 feet to an unoccupied space you can see that is also in dim light or darkness.
Unlike other Sorcerer subclasses, this doesn’t grant you flight. Also unlike other Sorcerer subclasses, this is freakin’ awesome!
A bonus action to move 120 feet is, unsurprisingly, quite great. The Sorcerer doesn’t have too many bonus action effects (other than Flexible Casting or Quickened Spell), so this gives you combat mobility without too much downside. Of course, you’ll need some shadows… But, you can find shadows pretty easily, or make them using Darkness.
You do still need some Fly speed from another source to keep up with late-game fights. But theoretically, once you get that Fly speed, you could teleport into dark spots of the sky to rain havoc without spending your Move action. Or, you could get a Climb speed and teleport onto a dark part of a wall.
Great versatility! You should use this whenever you can to get those sweet angles in the fight.
The final ability of this archetype combines defense and mobility together… Since you needed more of that, apparently.
Starting at 18th level, you can spend 6 sorcery points as a bonus action to transform yourself into a shadowy form. In this form, you have resistance to all damage except force and radiant damage, and you can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. You take 5 force damage if you end your turn inside an object.
You remain in this form for 1 minute. It ends early if you are incapacitated, if you die, or if you dismiss it as a bonus action.
6 sorcery points might sound like a lot, but the only effect even close to this is Etherealness… Which you can’t even get with Sorcery Points! If you need the utility of wall walking, this is much more useful.
Wall walking is somewhat niche, but it lets you escape Area of Effects and other dangerous situations easily; 5 force damage is a lot less than taking melee damage from angry dragons! It also lets you chase after enemies who can quickly turn around corners. Great defense, great mobility. Awesome!
The damage resistance is nice… Although, hopefully you’re invisible or Hiding enough to keep yourself safe! This form does make it much easier to use Strength of the Grave, since the Resistance lowers the DC you need to reach to survive. It also essentially doubles your average HP, which, considering you have d6 hit dice… You might be a bit happy to have this form.
6 points is expensive, though! Try to only use this if you desperately need to survive. Or if you wanna walk through walls. Try to resist the urge to walk through walls all the time.
Best Race for Shadow Magic Sorcerers
Shadow Magic sorcerers actually get no intrinsic benefits from their Charisma modifier, other than Strength of the Grave. However, you’re still a sorcerer. Get that Charisma as high as you can! Dexterity and Constitution are pretty important, too; they are two really important saving throws, and great to either let you avoid hits or take them better.
The Verdan race from Acquisitions Incorporated is actually really cool! They’re created Goblin-like people whose innocence is an essential part of their lives. Usually they’re an optimistic, innocent race… But that just means you can break a stereotype! Verdans gain a great +2 Charisma, +1 Constitution – Perfect! They also get Persuasion for free, which goes well with your Telepathy, requiring you to speak less languages. Black Blood Healing will help you stay alive between combats, and Telepathic Insight is crazy strong for a caster. Your new life of traveling the world will be one that the Bards will sing about!
Eberron: Rising from the Last War was a super experimental guide. One experiment was the Changeling, a race with a +2 to Charisma and a +1 to any stat, allowing you to get +3 to Charisma. That’s insanely powerful, allowing you to get 20 Charisma by level 4, the earliest possible +5. In addition, Shapechanger seems just as shady as the rest of your archetype, and bonus skills lets you become a more effective out-of-combat character. Their hearts are kinda already prone to darkness (i.e. the Doppelganger enemy), so you’ve got flavor on your side, too! The Changeling is one of the best sorcerer races around, so feel free to experiment with them anywhere.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Shadow Magic Sorcerer
The Shadow sorcerer is great. You can use your Sorcery points on extremely effective abilities that are much stronger than your standard metamagic or magic options. You get mobility options that seldom few other classes get, let alone casters. You’ll be giggling with your Devil’s Sight Warlock buddy as the enemies on the battlefield get super confused as to how you’re so accurate with your spell slots. Then you’ll disappear into the night, like nothing ever happened. This Sorcerer makes a Shadow Party work well, but if you’re even just looking for a backline Sorcerer that’ll probably stay alive for a long, long, time, this’ll work well for you.