Shadow-Serf (5e Race)
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"Quiet as a shadow-serf." - Saying meaning "suspicious."
Walking through the streets of a city filled with wizards, there are many strange things to draw the eye and dazzle the senses. One of the strangest sights is that of a lofty mage walking down the middle of the road and, lurking at their shoulder, an exact duplicate of them, eyes scanning the street and hand resting on the hilt of a dagger at its belt. This is a shadow-serf, a monster made of darkness.
When a powerful wizard with an evil bent requires a servant with total, unflinching loyalty, they can perform a ritual to summon forth energy from the Subtle Realm. This is a twisted reflection of the ordinary mortal world, and in it lurk horrors that defy description. Some think that the Subtle Realm is the source of all magic. With the power that they draw out, the wizard enchants their own shadow, transforming it into a newly born shadow-serf: a physical duplicate of them that is willing to serve their every whim. Shadow-serfs are unfailingly loyal because their desires are identical to their creator's- they don't see themselves as individuals, simply as extensions of their master's body. Their creator bears one indelible mark that they have made a shadow-serf: they no longer cast a shadow.
A shadow-serf is almost perfectly identical to its creator in appearance but has a few subtle signs that mark it out as different. The shadow-serf is often thinner and paler than their master and might stand an inch or so taller than them. They are certainly much more dexterous, with a speed that belies their long limbs. When a shadow-serf is wounded or in pain, its true nature begins to show through: Its eyes become twin pools of darkness and its pallid skin becomes nearly translucent, with bones showing through. The true form of a shadow-serf is a blot of pure blackness, a walking, solid shadow surrounded by liquid darkness. It can assume this form for brief periods when it needs to employ stealth.
Shadow-serfs have difficulty experiencing and understanding complex emotions. Their wizard masters rarely have much empathy themselves, and they often require their shadow-serfs to perform tasks in which remorse would only be a hindrance. Thanks to their increased speed and ability to hide seamlessly in darkness, a shadow-serf makes an excellent assassin, and they don't flinch when the killing has to be done. However, shadow-serfs have malleable personalities: they frequently mimic other creatures whom they spend a lot of time around and might if they become associated with good people for a long time, slowly develop good qualities of their own.
Humans are the most likely species to create a shadow-serf, though other races might endeavor to do it. The process is quite a dangerous one since the magic of the Subtle Realm is always unpredictable. While the rite to create a shadow-serf is usually only attempted by a master wizard, a novice might accidentally form one when another spell goes wrong, or the ritual might kill the wizard and still create the serf. Shadow-serfs missing limbs or with too many eyes are a rare but occasional occurrence, and other stranger results to the ritual are possible.
Shadow-serfs aren't able to reproduce among themselves or with other species. Their emotional detachment means that the concept of love is an alien one to them, but over time they can learn to care about other creatures. The one person that a shadow-serf always has a fanatical devotion to is their master, who they will always protect with their life. It would take a particularly narcissistic wizard to begin a relationship with their own shadow-serf, but wizards are occasionally extremely arrogant and vain, so it's certainly a possibility.
Stories say that the ritual to create a shadow-serf was first given to humanity by M'shukk: a vast, monstrous Old One that lurks in the Subtle Realm. M'shukk is a nigh-omniscient being but is cursed to be entirely unable to interact directly with the world. This impotence embittered the immortal M'shukk, and its eternal boredom made it hateful. Whispering into the ears of spellcasters and other people of knowledge, it seeks to corrupt them and turn them to its own dark purposes, just to amuse it.
The process of creating a shadow-serf removes a tiny portion of its creator's soul to fill the shadow and animate it with sentience. While small, this removal takes with it a little of the wizard's compassion, kindness and sympathy, making it a much better tool for M'shukk's purposes. Furthermore, M'shukk is able to contact all shadow-serfs through strange dreams and visions that it sends them, and occasionally makes use of one of them as a mouthpiece to whisper corruption into the ear of a particularly promising pawn. While shadow-serfs seem completely indebted to their masters, some thinkers cannot help but wonder whether their first duty is to the wizards that they serve, or to the being that speaks to them in their most fevered nightmares.
Wherever there have been great wizards there have been shadow-serfs. The ritual, M'shukk's malevolent gift, is an old one and requires a great deal of blood in order to work. Nevertheless, there are always those willing to do whatever it takes to create an unshakably loyal servant. Mostly these are extremely paranoid wizards, afraid that they can trust no one except themselves. A shadow-serf doesn't serve out of any sort of magical compulsion to do so, but because its mind is totally in tune with the thoughts and desires of its master. Cases, where a shadow-serf has rebelled against its creator, are extremely rare. If they do happen, it tends to be because the wizard that made the serf was extremely ambitious and, sharing that ambition, the shadow-serf decided that its master was superfluous to achieving its goals.
Shadow-serfs are extremely long-lived creatures and frequently outlive their master by many years. The death of its creator is usually the first time a shadow-serf ever experiences something approaching grief, and for some, it is too much: their minds are broken and they are sent mad. Mostly, however, a shadow-serf looks to continue its creator's legacy and to achieve the things that they never could in life. Shadow-serfs rarely forget their master, though over time their memories might begin to become blurry.
A shadow-serf is only trained in magic by its master very rarely. Since the wizard that created it is already a potent spellcaster, the shadow-serf can serve them much better as a research assistant and personal servant or an enforcer, assassin and bodyguard. Whatever their purpose, a shadow-serf is a dedicated student if its master requires it and can pick up disciplines that take ordinary mortals years to master in a couple of months. Generally, however, shadow-serfs are single-minded and tend not to focus on anything other than the role they have been given. This dedication sometimes gets in the way of a shadow-serf being a versatile fighter or varied learner, which might ironically get in the way of them completing their task with one-hundred-per cent efficiency.
While it takes a powerful wizard to make a shadow-serf, their longevity means that most cities have a small population of shadow-serfs, some serving a master and some living freely. Shadow-serfs feel no particular compulsion to meet with others of their own kind and they are frequently solitary when they don't have a master to serve. A shadow-serf whose wizard is dead searches for some other form of employment, and pours the zeal they put into obeying their master into their new job. As such they are often highly prized by employers, even if those employers find the shadow-serf's cold, aloof attitude unnerving.
When it comes to towns and villages, shadow-serfs are feared and loathed by the superstitious common folk. Nevertheless, since they are almost indistinguishable from ordinary humans, a shadow-serf might be able to make a life for itself among a village community. Its tendency to mimic the habits of others around it means that a shadow-serf could well become a trusted and respected member of the town that it lives in. Some might even be so well-loved that they aren't stoned to death when their disguise slips or someone wonders why a certain villager never seems to age.
While they are magical creations, a shadow-serf still needs to eat, drink and sleep to survive. Their wizard master ensures they are looked after and live in relative luxury, though in reality a shadow-serf only has simple needs. A shadow-serf doesn't think about death in the same way that other creatures do. It is not something fearful for them since they don't consider themselves as separate individuals: they are merely extensions of their master. This can give shadow-serfs as somewhat reckless attitude when completing their missions, and they will often keep working on an assignment even if it is doomed to fail or result in their death. This disregard for their lives is not shared by their wizard creators. A wizard can only ever create a single shadow-serf in their lifetime, so they cannot be treated as dispensable cannon fodder. When it comes down to it, though, most wizards are willing to sacrifice their serf to spare their own life.
When their master has passed away, a shadow-serf must learn to think for themselves for the first time. This affects each serf very differently. Some retain their former master's aims and desires and continue to toil after them, but others might totally rebel against those ideals and strike out on their own path. It can be difficult for shadow-serfs to start thinking of themselves as individuals, so they often look to join a group or guild, turning themselves from a tool of their former master to a tool of a new one. The blind obedience of a shadow-serf makes them a desirable addition to the ranks of cults and other sinister organisations.
M'shukk sometimes takes an interest in a shadow-serf and begins to manipulate it through dreams and visions so that it will serve the Old One. These serfs become warlocks, but their relationship with their patron is more like that of a master and a slave than a teacher and student, as M'shukk replaces the serf's creator as the target for its devotion. M'shukk has a number of these pawns among its most committed followers. What exactly their purpose is in M'shukk's unknowable, complex schemes is unclear, but the grand puppet-master wraps them firmly into its coils, making use of their fanatical dedication and unflinching coldness.
A shadow-serf is most frequently given an ordinary name by their creator, something from their own race. Sometimes, however, the wizard never bothers to name their serf, or else gives them a nickname reflecting their shadowy nature. Technically shadow-serfs are of the same sex as their master, though they have little concept of sex and gender, being magically constructed beings who don't reproduce and rarely participate in romantic relationships.
Names: Shade, Shadow, Ink, Gloom, Nox, Knife, Glint, Blade, Chill, Cloak, Dagger, Serf.
Unnatural doppelgangers created by powerful wizards to be unfailingly faithful servants.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
Age. Shadow-serfs can live for a very long time and frequently outlast their creators. The truly oldest last for about 1,000 years. They are created fully mature by their masters and don't appear to age as they grow older.
Alignment. Shadow-serfs share the alignment of their master, which usually means that they are evil. When they gain their freedom, their malleable personalities means that they often become shaped by whatever society they end up living in.
Size. Shadow-serfs are the same size as their masters, meaning they vary a lot in proportions, from barely 5 feet to well over 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Shadow-serfs move with supernatural quickness. Your base walking speed is 35 feet.
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Shadow Shape. Starting at 3rd level, you can use your action to unleash the necrotic energy within yourself, causing darkness to obscure the area around you. Your transformation lasts for 1 minute or until you end it as a bonus action. During it, the area in a 10-foot radius around you is magical darkness, and at the end of each of your turns, each creature within 10 feet of you take necrotic damage equal to half your level (rounded up). You can see through this magical darkness. Once you use this trait, you can't use it again until you finish a long rest.
Slip into Shadows. You seem to meld into the shadows and disappear from view when you wish. When you roll a 1 on an Stealth check while in darkness, you can re-roll the die and must use the new roll.
Aberrant Nature. You were formed from the magic of the subtle realm. Your creature type is aberration and humanoid.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one other language of your choice.
Subrace. Shadow-Serfs are usually trained for one of two purposes: to serve as an enforcer, or as an assistant and they train so intensively in their duty that it becomes second nature to them.
Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 1.
Sneak Attack. You are a master at causing pain if you get the drop on your opponents. If you surprise a creature and hit it with an attack on your first turn in combat, the attack deals an extra 2d6 damage. You can use this trait only once per short rest.
Ability Score Increase. You Wisdom score increases by 1.
Gauge Emotions. As an action, you can attempt to identify the desires, wants or needs of another humanoid creature you can see. That creature must make a Wisdom saving throw with DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier. If it fails the save, you become aware of its immediate surface desires and emotions. If it succeeds the save, you gain no insight and it becomes aware that you have been trying to identify its desires in this way. Once you've used this trait, you can't use it again until you finish a long rest.
Archive Trawler. Helping your master's research has given you an insight into the past. You are proficient in the History skill.
Random Height and Weight
|4′ 8″||+2d10||110 lb.||× (2d4) lb.|
*Height = base height + height modifier
When creating a Shadow-serf character, you can use the following table of traits, ideals, bonds and flaws to help flesh out your character. Use these tables in addition to or in place of your background's characteristics.
|1||I watch others very closely when they're talking, which is extremely unnerving.|
|2||I would saw my own arm off if it meant increased efficiency.|
|3||I mimic the emotions of others, though it's often clear that I'm faking it.|
|4||Failure of any sort is totally abhorrent to me and I work tirelessly always to succeed.|
|5||I hold a quiet, cold hatred for every single living being who isn't my master.|
|6||The whispers of M'shukk torment me constantly, though I try not to show it.|
|7||I enjoy doing a job well, even if that job is ruthless assassination.|
|8||My master is the only thing I ever talk about and it can get very tiresome.|
|1||Servitude. I am nothing but an extension of my master, their word is absolute law (Lawful).|
|2||Freedom. I've thrown off the shackles of my old life and now seek to do things for myself (Chaotic).|
|3||Efficiency. I will do anything to make my master's plans run smoothly- even kill (Evil).|
|4||Memory. My master left me a task- to continue to work on their glorious legacy (Neutral).|
|5||Community. I've grown to love the adopted community that I've integrated myself into (Good).|
|6||Revenge. I will hunt down anyone who hurts my master and destroy them utterly (Evil).|
|1||My master- the wizard who gave me life. I will serve them without question until the day they die and beyond.|
|2||The Old One M'shukk has taught me many mysteries and I am indebted to it for the power it has given me.|
|3||After my master's death, a guild recruited me and became my new purpose. I follow them as I did my creator.|
|4||I learnt to tell right from wrong from a simple farmer with whom I forged a lifelong friendship.|
|5||Despite myself, I have found myself falling in love with a mortal, and am even disobeying my master to see them.|
|6||There is only one person in this life that matters, and that person is me.|
|1||I will do brutal, unspeakable things just to get a job done- I know no limits.|
|2||When I focus on a task, I exclude all other things, including looking after myself.|
|3||Emotions are overpowering. I don't know how to deal with them and will often simply break down.|
|4||My master's memory still clings to me, even after three-hundred-years.|
|5||I tend to patronize anyone not up to my level of skill in my job- which is almost everyone.|
|6||I am gullible, and will do anything for someone with sufficient authority.|