Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Mystery of the Shadow

Does anyone have any insight into why the shadow, introduced in Supplement I: Greyhawk, and whose original description specifically notes that they "are not 'Undead' per se" came to be numbered among the undead in the AD&D Monster Manual? Holmes muddies the waters a bit by transforming Greyhawk's clearer language into "Shadows are not turned by clerics," but he nevertheless doesn't call them "undead creatures" as the Monster Manual does. Interestingly, Moldvay is quite explicit about the fact that shadow are not undead, thus bringing it more in line with OD&D's conception of the monster.

In my Dwimmermount campaign, shadows are not undead but malevolent manifestations of Chaos found in areas tainted by it. Still, I find it more than a little odd that Gygax reversed himself so radically on this question. It's a minor point, admittedly, but it bugs me nonetheless and I wish I'd thought to ask him the question back when I was corresponding with him.

24 comments:

  1. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of the writers of the Monster Manual?

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  2. I always liked Glen Cook's shadows from the Black Company books, iirc people who were transformed via an arcane ritual.

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  3. I had read in some iteration of the monster that they were beings from the negative energy plane, not dead souls/spirits.

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  4. Bighara,

    That seems familiar but I can't place where I might have seen it. I wonder if that version of the creature was considered "undead" or not.

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  5. It sounds like they were going back and forth between a traditional view, in which shadows were literally animated shadows, and the beginning of a "D&D Canon" representation, in which the shadow was a type of undead creature.

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  6. Actually the undeade version might be more in keeping with a "traditional view" since it was common to refer to the dead souls in the Greco-Roman afterworld as "shades" or "shadows", and this sort of imagery gets used a lot, e.g. in poetry.

    Speaking of "shades", BECMI/RC D&D had the nightshades. Giant monsters composed of solid darkness, which were clearly and inexplicably undead, and nigh unstoppable. Go figure...

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  7. I rather agree with Iglesias: the undead interpretation seems more in line with tradition, while the "Greyhawk" interpretation feels more like it was drawn from Pulp literature. I, too, recall reading somewhere that Shadows were described as "beings from the Negative Energy Plane" (IIRC) - perhaps in an early Dragon article?

    It's funny you should bring these creatures up: just the other day I was recalling how much I disliked level-drain for Undead. While I understand it's rationale, it always felt very artificial and klunky to me. I much preferred stat drains a la the Shadow, and eventually implemented those for all Undead who drained levels.

    Security word: "Ashea," the name of your typical Elf sorceress.

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  8. I do know that the large numbers of shadows in Vault of the Drow were there to represent the victims who were sacrificed to Lolth and had their souls taken away from them, leaving them as only shadows. Maybe there's a connection?

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  9. What did "Undead" mean, then? Perhaps it was a more exclusive category? For comparison, when did flesh golems show up?

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  10. It's important to note that A/D&D shadows were inspired by A. Merritt's novel, Creep, Shadow, Creep!

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  11. I thought of the Plane of Shadow as the border between the Positive and Negative planes...not canon I know, but it makes sense in head.

    To me shadows are the "humans" of the Shadow realm, and thus can be turned since they are infused with negative material energy. Totally goofy and convoluted.

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  12. To me shadows are the "humans" of the Shadow realm

    Wouldn't that be the shade from MM2?

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  13. Exactly what I was thinking, Joseph.
    "All knowledgeable authorities agree that shades are, or were, normal humans who through arcane magic or dark sciences have traded their souls or spirits for the essence of shadowstuff."

    Kind of an alternative to Lichdom. I love the reference to "Dark Sciences."

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  14. What did "Undead" mean, then? Perhaps it was a more exclusive category? For comparison, when did flesh golems show up?

    Flesh golems first appear in Supplement I as well and are not tagged as undead.

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  15. Kind of an alternative to Lichdom. I love the reference to "Dark Sciences."

    I like it too. In my Dwimmermount campaign, the Termaxians are obsessed with artificial life extension, so I can imagine a wizard employing "dark sciences" to imbue his physical form with shadow stuff in order to prolong his existence.

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  16. Dark shadowy things were on my mind anyway, but after reading this post and comments this morning, I put up a new RuneQuest monster to my blog. The Walking Shadow... not undead but the remains of evil human souls, things of elemental darkness that sneak around using cold and despair to weaken their prey before they swoop in for the kill...

    So thanks, JM and everyone else, for the inspiration!

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  17. Personally, I always felt that it was due to confusion from the Shadow monster and the Shadow Demon. One was undead and the other was a demon. And along the way both picked up a bit of the other.

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  18. As Geoffrey mentioned above, they come from A. Merritt's Creep, Shadow, Creep! in which they're explicitly mortal souls bound by an evil witch, and people can be transformed into shadows. I suspect at the time Supplement I was written Gary had the notion that because the person doesn't "die" and then "rise" as a shadow - that becoming a shadow is a change of physical, rather than metaphysical, state - that they shouldn't be counted as undead, but that that distinction was lost as the planar cosmology became more fully defined in AD&D, with "undead"-ness representing a tie to the Negative Material Plane (which shadows have) rather than literal death and rebirth.

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  19. Clearly, we will never know what Gary meant by the Demi-Plane of the Shadow (which was promised in some TSR product) but the Gord books give us some tasty things to think about.

    Shadows would be manifestations of that demiplane. Whereas, as Undead are abnormalities that have upset the elemental balance of positive, negative, shadow, Good, Evil that are present in all creatures. This probably all stems back to the relationship of Alignment and Planar influences upon the game.

    In my games, I have always taken the tract that Alignments are absolute and it is necessary for a DM to track and police alignment actions for this were tied into the notion of the eternal soul. The purer the person was to their alignment...the richer the material that would available in the afterlife. And, the more powerful, a hero(ine) would become the more useful they would be to their deity.

    But DDG states a difference between Souls & Spirits. Whatever, belief structure you possess in D&D clearly these things are the building blocks of the universe/cosmic order.

    People who tamper with these building blocks are likely to become monsters. Hence, the role of the Shadow. Those who drift too much into the grey through ancient (arcane or divine) magic can effectively cheat death and live forever by substituting their lifeforce (the cocktail mentioned above) for an energy source directly fed by one of the planes.

    As the Gods themselves wish only to have this ability...it angers them but they are impotent to stop it. For that would reveal how Gods, Demons, and Devils would use the raw material of the lifeforce in the afterlife to support their lifestyle.

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  20. @James "Flesh golems first appear in Supplement I as well and are not tagged as undead."

    Remember, golems are powered by magic not lifeforce and they are assembled from different bodies hence from the dead material of spent bodies.

    @Joseph et al. re: Shade

    Gary believed in hierarchy. Therefore, I would say the Shade because of its greater abilities would be a more been a more powerful individual in life.

    The transformation of people into undead is hinted at through the different spells. But, what do you think, all those Evil Priests do with all those sacrifaces - shame to waste the material...let's animate them into Zombies, as Zombies decay, they become Skeletons hence their abundance in OD&D. Which is one the ironies of the modern age of Zombie flicks - they appear a more powerful monster then what they are. However, the reanimation of a Dark Champion could certainly lead to a powerful form of undead not merely the sacrifices or the lackeys that served the priest.

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  21. What meant by "humans" for the Shadow realm, was that they are the base "life" form that exists there. Much in the same way as Modrons, Demons, Devils, Slaad, Daemons, etc... are the base life form for their respective planes.

    I see the Shadow realm as populated by Shadow versions of "real" creatures. For example, you could have a shadow hill giant that combines the hill giant and shadow... Weapons from the prime would be weakened in shadow, just like shadow versions would be less powerful in the prime (similar to the change in the Shade’s power).

    The Shade gives lots of interesting hints at the shadow realm. I have not read the Gord book that has him romping in Shadow. :(

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  22. There is also a Clark Ashton Smith short story The Double Shadow where a wizard summons a shadow being that eventually kills him.

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  23. I think this may just be overthinking in action: The shadow is non-material, and the only other such monsters created at that time were also undead, hence the note.

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  24. Is there a spell that detaches the MU's shadow so it can be used as a spy/proxy? I always wondered what might happen if that shadow failed to reattach.

    Maybe I'm thinking of another game.

    veriword: glecions. subatomic particles of iciness. Or jelliness.

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