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NinjaClarinet
 
PostPosted: Fri, Jun 27 2014, 4:02 AM 



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Joined: 12 Jul 2010

Quote:
A modest manuscript bound in nondescript black leather finds itself into the academy's advanced sections, for those students that have earned their insignias. The cover bears Luca's personal sigil, that of a strange winged serpent coiled into an ouroboros, inked in royal purple. Scholars might recognize the creature as a veserab. There seems to be several copies provided.


Preface


This journal is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on shadow magic, the planes, or the Dance, as it's called. This is a collection of thoughts and methods on the path I've traveled, for my own reference, and a way to look back as the years progress, so that I might see where I've come from. If it serves to inspire or guide another student, then all the better. Given that the Plane of Shadows is the Nightsinger's creation, and that She holds sole dominion over darkness, shadow, and the Void, certain respects will be paid to Her throughout the text. While the faith of the student is ultimately irrelevant, it is always wise to pay proper respects when staying as a guest in another's realm.

Divine Realm


The source of every shadowdancer and shadowcaster's power stems from the Plane of Shadows. Ample information on this realm can be found in other works, so I will only focus on the principles relevant to the art. The Plane of Shadow, true to its name, serves as a dark counterpart to the Prime Material. Each shadow you find on the Prime maintains a tiny connection to this plane, and it is through these conduits that we draw our strength. At the center of this eternal darkness lies the Dark Tower, where the Lady of Loss gathers the secrets each shadow in the world overhears. In Her, the shadows converge and find a unified purpose. It is this inter-connectivity that lends the Plane of Shadow a life of its own, a quiet subconscious that can be felt by those sensitive to it. This Void has a breath and pulse that can be used for our Art, for those strong enough to not succumb to its will.

Basic Techniques


Darkvision and Shadow Sensation:

One of the most important talents a shadowdancer can master is the ability to sense the presence of nearby shadows, and discern their location and dimensions. Each shadow has a unique connection to the Plane of Shadow and thus a unique voice and feel. As a practitioner begins to become sensitive to these individuals voices, they find that mundane darkness no longer proves to be a challenge. This sensitivity allows them to perceive the layers of shadow that make up darkness with much more clarity. It is important for prospective student not to overlook this seemingly basic ability, as it'll become a cornerstone of many techniques to follow.

Vanish:

The ability to vanish into thin air is easily the shadowdancer's most notorious talent. So long as the student is within ten feet of a shadow that is not their own, the dancer can briefly “borrow” the shadow's shape and texture. With a little mental effort, the dancer can make the voice and sensation of this particular shadow match their own connection, creating a basic visual illusion of vanishing into it. This is not arcane invisibility however, and the student has only moments to find real cover before the illusion unravels.

Daze:

The shadow daze is a simple, but useful tactic that makes use of the fact that everyone shares a connection to the Plane of Shadows, even though they may not be as strong as a dancer's own conduit. By searching out the voice of a victim's own shadow, and then utilizing a violent burst of willpower to tear their conduit wide open, an untrained target is subjected to a dizzying array of sensation that can confuse and disorient. The more talented the shadowdancer, the longer an open connection can be maintained on a victim.

Shadow Familiar:

While many people may never see a shadowdancer's familiar, the process of bonding with a living shadow is nevertheless an important challenge and step towards greater mastery. The bond serves as a tangible reminder of the student's growing connection to the plane of Shadows, and more importantly, proof of its very real nature. The process is similar to that which a spellcaster might bond with a small animal, but utilizing very different talents. The initial bonding begins with a period of meditation in a darkened area. The shadowdancer gradually attunes their senses to the shadows of the area, identifying each one in sequence. Once identified, the sensation is pushed out of their consciousness, until eventually the only connection the student can feel, is their own. The student focuses on this connection, and strives to fortify and widen it. Creatures of shadow on the other side see this as a bright beacon, and cannot help but be attracted to it. Souls lost to the shadows, or even simple animals changed by the plane's influence might respond to the call. Some may be predatory, some simply curious. There is an element of risk involved, but in time a living shadow will approach that seems to resonate with the student's own connection. By focusing on the creature's own connection, and working to gradually meld and entwine each others' connections together, it is possible to create a permanent companion that can grow with the student.

Evasion and Shadowstuff:

As a student grows in skill, they find that with a little effort, they can begin to pull threads and clouds of raw shadowstuff from the Pane of Shadows and manipulate the substance. Simple illusions can be fabricated from the murky substance, and powerful shadow adepts known as Shadow Smiths can even create spectral weapons and armor. However, the most basic application of shadowstuff is simply known as the Shadowdancer's Evasion. The student creates a swirling sheath of shadowstuff to conceal subtle motions, and to soften the blows of weapon strikes. More practiced shadowdancers have better concentration, and can maintain the shadowstuff longer and with more substance.

Mental Displacement:

By practicing meditative techniques, it is possible for a shadowdancer to shake off otherwise debilitating magical control or compulsion. It does, however, take very precise timing and skill to pull it off consistently. The moment the student feels a mental compulsion taking root in the mind, they must fight the instinct to try and match wills with the spellcaster. Instead, the student focuses on their connection to the shadows, and slips into a light trance, displacing their consciousness into the interconnected web of shadows. This forces the spell to lose its target and look elsewhere for the mind it was supposed to control, giving the dancer a second chance at resisting its effects.

Intermediate Techniques


Night Sight:

As a Dancer's ability develops, the ability to discern shadow becomes a 6th sense all its own. If one takes the time to hone this ability, even magical or pitch darkness no longer becomes a barrier. One starts with a barren room and a single source of light, with a collection of simple objects and a blindfold. When the student is able to identify the objects by the sensation of their shadow alone without the help of their mundane senses, more complexity to the scenario can be slowly introduced. A true master of this art is able to navigate any terrain in any light entirely blindfolded, and fight just as well. This takes considerable practice, meditation and discipline, however. Something worth noting is that multiple sources of illumination can cause the same object to cast multiple shadows. While any of these shadows can be used and manipulated by a shadowdancer, only one shadow is that objects “true shadow” and contains its unique voice. Learning to successfully filter out false shadows is the key to using this technique without becoming overwhelmed in complex scenarios.

Shadow Jump:

Once a student has mastered the basic techniques of her craft, the Shadow Jump is often the first step they take in expanding their repertoire of techniques, and their first taste of the potential the Plane of Shadows can offer. To successfully shadow jump, the student should have taken the time to develop their ability to sense shadows to the point where they can confidently isolate the unique voices of two distinct shadows. The dancer should begin by studying the two shadows they intend to use to make the jump, isolating their voices and knowing how to find them again despite any distractions. This process can take several days for first-timers. Making the jump involves fixating on the voices and then using the first shadow to deliberately slip into the Fringe. This is a strange, disorienting border-world between the Material Plane and the Shadow. The unique feel of the first shadow serves as the Dancer's anchor to the Material Plane. Without this anchor, it is possible to lose one's grip on reality and disappear into the Fringe. No one has ever been recovered once lost this way, so it is imperative that Dancers are taught never to venture into the border world without an anchor, or to take someone with them that is not able to sense shadows themselves.

To successfully complete a jump, the Dancer must find the voice of the second shadow they had originally intended to use, and fixate on that sensation as their new anchor. This allows them to return to the Material Plane in a new location. Though the process may seem involved, experienced Dancers are able to trans-locate nearly instantly. There are some limitations to this method of travel, however. The Fringe is still very much parallel to the Material Plane, so any physical barriers present will still prevent travel, and can cause serious injury if not accounted for. Secondly, it is imperative that the Dancer is able to isolate the sensations of the two shadows before attempting the jump. This means a clear line of sight is needed to the second shadow. It is not possible to try and use a shadow as an anchor that you have not been able to visualize clearly before beginning. Becoming lost is assured.

Shades


Shades, in their truest form, are creations of the survivors of the Netherese Empire. Originally developed by Lord Shadow, the ritual lives on with the Princes of Thultanthar. Worthy servants of the throne are rewarded by having their souls replaced by by essence of shadowstuff, granting near perfect immortality and a host of powerful abilities. Replicating this ritual without the knowledge of the Princes is nearly impossible and certainly ill-advised. However, with discipline and devotion, it is possible for powerful shadowdancers to come close through a partial transformation. Through careful control and slow, measured steps, a master of the art can infuse themselves with enough shadowstuff to literally become one with the darkness they command. The ways to reach this state are as varied as the shadowdancers themselves, and the final results also show varied differences. I will describe the theories I have encountered.

The Shadow Parasite Method


The Parasite:

Everything casts a shadow, and individuals seem to be no different. Not the physical shadow they might cast upon the ground, but rather a sort of metaphysical reflection of their soul and personality. This “shadow-self” is not an opposite in the strictest sense, but rather a collection of everything the person is not. Even this definition is lacking, as every individual's is vastly different. Most people remain blissfully unaware that such a reflection even exists. It is this reflection that causes insanity in spellcasters whom adopt the Shadow Weave without the Nightsinger's blessings, but this story is not mine to tell.

In this path to immortality, however, the student is infected with a creature that immediately adopts this reflection and makes it a very real part of the student's existence. This is done by the student's teacher or mentor issuing a call to the plane while the student is in a vulnerable state, and receptive to the plane's energies. A rogue, insubstantial shadow creature is inserted into the student's mind, usually unknowingly. It lies dormant for some time, studying its new host, and adopting the guise of the shadow self.

However, as a Dancer becomes more aware of the shadows around them, they also become more aware of the shadows within. Simply becoming aware of the unwanted shadow seems to grant it a measure of power and precipitates an internal conflict that must be resolved in order for the student to retain their sanity, and progress through the transformation. I am of the belief that force of will and discipline are the required tools to subdue this deviation, though other practitioners have had success in bribery, coercion, supplication or bargaining to placate the conflicting force.

Manifesting:

The way the parasite can manifest is as varied as the people they represent. For some, the shadow is little more than a whisper or vague feelings, urging the shadowdancers towards acts that make them more susceptible to the shadow's influence. Generally, as the shadowdancer becomes more and more exposed to the planar energies that they work with, the more overt the shadow's manifestation. Some dancers can manifest multiple personalities or lapses in memory and consciousness as the parasite exerts dominance. Most shadowdancers by this point have learned to bind a shadow to serve as a companion. Some, more powerful adepts are known to take the parasite itself as their new summon in order to gain a more powerful, intelligent servant. While this symbolic act of dominance may tip the balance of mental power towards the shadowdancer, there are definite risks in giving the shadow more freedom to express itself through a physical form.

Drawing Out:

The parasite is a subtle entity, constantly undermining the student's goals and emotional well-being. They tend to be miserable creatures at their core, doing all they can to make their host suffer equally by playing upon their doubts, fears and insecurities. Given the indirect methods they employ, being able to resolve the internal dichotomy without outside help is extremely difficult. Without a competent mentor, or a fellow student to walk the path with, a 'dancer is limited to strictly internal battles with their counterpart. With a second adept on hand, however, a more direct confrontation can be arranged. This allows the student to learn more of their counterpart, and formulate a strategy on how to appease or subdue it.

The process involves the mentor or other student restraining the first. Emotional or physical stimulus is used to agitate the parasite so that it begins exerting itself more strongly. The process tends to be rather intimate, it's strongly suggested that the pair are familiar with one another, and aware of each others “triggers”. Without sufficient familiarity, it is possible to use purely physical stimulus. Despite the undermining nature of the shadow-self, they are still primarily concerned with self-preservation. If the host dies, they die with it, so in sufficiently painful or traumatizing situations, the shadow may exert more influence in order to protect the host. Obviously, this method should be avoided if possible. Once the shadow is sufficiently agitated, it should have enough metaphysical presence in the world that the second adept can use their influence over shadows to draw it out of the host. The specifics of the following confrontation depend on the needs of the students, but it's suggested not to let it go on too long.

The Battle and Absorption:

The ultimate purpose of the struggle with the parasite is to grow both it and the student through the conflict. The parasite is nurtured and trained by the ongoing battles until it is nearly the student's equal, and the student likewise gains a more intimate understanding of the self, and a stronger will. When the parasite has grown to sufficient strength, and the student has demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the creature, the parasite is drawn out one last time. The student is given a vampiric dagger forged of shadowstuff and instructed to slay the parasite. Students that made peace with their counterpart can kill it through guile and deception, while those that resisted it from the beginning are faced with a bloody and difficult battle.

After the parasite is slain, its essence is absorbed and the student becomes an immortal creature of shadow, a combination of both entities, and more powerful than both. The newly birthed pseudoshade no longer ages, and has little need for sustenance, though it is forever tied to the Plane of Shadow. If separated from its new home plane for a long period of time, it will wither and weaken. The shadowdancer can no longer be killed without the use of powerful magics, as its essence will eventually be absorbed back into the Plane of Shadow to heal before being reborn again, albeit with considerable mental damage. I believe this process to be inherently flawed, as it introduces foreign elements into the student's psyche that are carried over from the parasite. The student can never truly claim to be fully themselves again.

The Immersion and Replacement Method


Attuning:

The first stage of this process is comprised of simple meditative techniques used to deepen a shadowdancer's bond with the Plane of Shadows. In certain remote areas, the shadows deepen into pools of pure shadowstuff. The nature of raw shadowstuff is toxic, corrosive and corrupting. In the beginning, the dancer starts with gradual immersion, building their tolerance to the energies over repeated exposure. The process is dangerous and uncomfortable. Too much too early can kill the adept, while being too timid can fail to produce a resistance.

Once the student can survive indefinite, full submersion in these pools, the next phase can begin. As was mentioned earlier, the Plane of Shadow is almost a living, aware entity. To attune oneself to it is a meditative process of communion with the greater whole. To reach this stage, the practitioner must achieve a state of perfect spiritual and mental emptiness, clear of feeling or distraction. Methods for attaining this clarity vary, but this student has had the most success focusing on one strong feeling or sensation to the exclusion of all others. Negative or unpleasant emotions and sensations tend to persist longer and be more dominant. When the student is confident they have excluded everything from their mind but the one sensation, they shift to another. This process is repeated with different emotions and sensations until the disciple is adept at quickly making a solitary feeling the totality of their focus. Receptive emptiness simply becomes another state.

Once the adept has managed to purge himself of thought and feeling to the point where he becomes malleable to planar energy, they will experience the tide and heartbeat of the Plane of Shadows, and a second period of acclimation will begin. This stage also has pitfalls for the unwary. The planar lullaby of the Void is at once soothing and maddening. The student must learn to spend time communing with the plane, while maintaining enough grasp on the physical world to prevent themselves from being carried off on the currents and whispers of the shadows. A partner is always recommended at every step, to ensure the other does not lose themselves too far into the trance, as well as safeguard against the very real danger of slipping under the surface of the pool and drowning. Each trance will become progressively longer as the adept's discipline and mastery grows.

Transformation:

Once the shadowdancer is practiced in easily entering and recovering from the trance, the process of change can begin. A period of introspection is necessary, for the student to decide whether the path is one they truly wish to pursue. There is no turning back after the changes begin. As they progress, the essence of shadowstuff begins to replace the physical needs of the disciple. Food, drink and sleep all become lessened in importance, replaced by a compulsion to channel more power inward. The process must be completed, or the student will be forever trapped in a transitive state, dependent on the Plane's power but never achieving it for themselves.

Taking Control:

After the changes are well underway, the next step of the process is to begin directing the transformation on a more specific level. The student must be supremely comfortable in entering the trance and directing shadow energies before this process can begin, as it requires a great deal of concentration, and handling multiple things at once. To do this, the student is guided in creating a “mental construct” that represents his or her ideal self. Obviously, this takes a great deal of introspection and meditation, as a person's wants and desires change with the moons. For this to work, the construct must be consistent between sessions.

With the student's version of the ideal self firmly in mind, they are instructed to enter the trance, and expose themselves to the energies of the Plane. They must mentally protect their construct from the ravages of the plane's corrosive energy, while at the same time offering the portions of themselves they no longer desire as sacrifice to it. This will leave 'holes' in the students essence, which must be replaced and repair carefully from raw shadowstuff. This allows the student to rebuild them self from the ground up as a creature of shadow, through the process is lengthy, painful, and dangerous.

Cementing the Changes:

Unfortunately, it is the rare student that has the mental fortitude to create a completely consistent construct, or the patience and discipline to continue the process for months, or possibly years. After some time, most students reach a sort of plateau, where each step becomes progressively more difficult, and the changes become small minutiae rather than sweeping advancements. At this point, the best results are obtained through help. The student must possess a close bond with another practitioner of equal or greater skill. Absolute trust is required, and it is often the mentor that serves in this role. This second person is “entrusted” with the student's mental construct. They enter the trance together, and the assistant holds the student's vision of their ideal self firmly in mind, while protecting it from the flood of shadow energy. This leaves the student free to channel greater amounts of energy in order to complete the last steps of the change, and to seal the process permanently. Obviously, this process is limited by the availability of a skilled second person, and leaves the student vulnerable to the mistakes or influences of the assistant.

Arcane Methods


Many shadowdancers also have access to arcane abilities, and this opens a great many options in regards to ascension and immortality. The school of illusion allows spellcasters to channel and harness shadowstuff, and through ritual create their own bond to the plane of Shadows. The shortcomings of the arcane, however, lies in the lack of permanence. Some practitioners overcome this through the use of mystic tattoos. Beyond this, however, I am not qualified to comment further.

Advanced Theories and Techniques


Shadow Fusion:

Unfortunately, the multiple transformation processes can often take months, if not years of devoted study, and it is not always practical for a student to spend most of their time in the plane of shadows. As the changes progress, the student finds themselves able to spend less and less time on the Prime, being forced to return to the Shadow repeatedly in order to replenish their mind and body. There is a way to ease some of this burden, though it comes with its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Many shadowdancers are able to conjure a small familiar, but some have bonded with shadows much more powerful than average. Those with access to this fearsome creature can, with practice, not only summon it, but merge with it. The shadow and the dancer become a unified creature, and a powerful force of destruction. Users of this technique become an unliving conduit to the darklands, draining the life essence of all things nearby, while at the same time replenishing their own vigor. The cost of this comes with the indiscriminate nature of the destruction, as well as a temporary loss of higher-thinking ability. Bloodlust becomes an overriding drive, limiting this technique to the battlefield.

Shadow Mending and Consumption:

Those shadowdancers that have pursued the path of the immortal shade find themselves with a new and plentiful resource. While all shadows on the Prime have a tiny connection to the Plane of Shadow, those shadows cast from living things have an additional connection to the life-force of their owner. This possibly explains why vampires and many other undead have no shadow at all. This connection can be exploited by a wounded shade when other sources of healing are unavailable. By quickly entering a trance and seeking out a victim's shadow, the shade is capable of tearing it free from its owner and devouring it, using the small amount of life energy and shadow stuff it's comprised of to repair wounds, or replenish vigor if separated from the Plane of Shadows for a long period. This is very painful and confusing to the victim, primarily limiting it to enemies on the battlefield.

Purging Toxins and other Possibilities:

Once a shadowdancer has taken the step of becoming a Shade, they find themselves in a unique position where they posses the power and skill to control the substance their own body is born from. Much like a monk, they obtain a unique understanding and supernatural control of their own physiology, assuming they make the effort to pursue it. By cycling shadowstuff in and out of the body, it has been demonstrated that toxins or contaminants can be removed from the Shade. Under this theory, it may even be possible for an advanced Shade to master the ability to change their own form.

Geographic Attuning:

Many elaborate works of shadow play require opening a connection between the shadowdancer and the local shadow energies where the work is to take place. A shadowdancer can prepare an area beforehand, by intimately memorizing how the energies of the planes lie, and investing a small portion of their own energy into the space. This works on both the Prime and the Shadow, though the effects are much more pronounced on the Shadow. This additional preparation allows the shadowdancer to enter their trance more quickly, and the shadows of the area more readily respond to their will.

Fabric Manipulation:

The fact that the Shadow mirrors the Prime can often be utilized by canny shadowdancers when a conventional wizard is unavailable to render aid. By creating a uniform pattern of shadows over an area using artificial lights, portals or damage to the fabric of the planes can be closed or repaired. This typically requires multiple shadowdancers. The students are able to widen the conduits to the plane of shadow created by the network of artificial lights, and in turn draw forth threads of raw shadowstuff. Through force of will and careful work, these threads of shadowstuff can be used to “sew” the Prime and the Shadow together in the local area, creating a temporary blurring of the barriers between the planes. This serves as a sort of “planar bandage”, giving the Prime shape and support. This allows portals and tears in reality to heal naturally over time. The lights are removed after the planes have healed, and the conduits close on their own.

This theory can be expanded to translocation efforts. If two networks of artificial shadow are created at two distinct locations, people or materials can be moved by “bending” the locations together through the fringe by the same style of thread weaving. This requires many shadowdancers of high skill.

Connection and Thought Manipulation:

The secret-keeping nature of whispering shadows and the Nightsinger's void can be used to seek knowledge or repair memory. All shadows are connected in a web, and all the information they see and hear is relayed through the void, albeit in a nearly indecipherable scramble of whispers. With discipline, and a great deal of time spent in meditation, individual whispers can be located with some luck, and should it please the Keeper of Secrets. This can be used to repair a damaged memory, or to join with another trancing student to share information. All shadowdancers are likewise connected through this web of secrets, and their individual connections to the shadows can be memorized, allowing a talented student to track them across great distances.

Unraveling:

Every object and person shares a mystical connection to the shadow they cast. Theoretically, this connection can be utilized to control or effect the object or person. With the proper focus, and with carefully applied shadow manipulation, it may be possible to control or even destroy physical beings by doing the same to their shadow. Of further note, it may be possible to forcibly expose the untrained to their shadow-self, to cause distraction or self-destruction.

Celerity:

Shadow Jump allows dancers to cover large distances quickly, and opens many possibilities for tactical positioning, observation or escape. However, even the most advanced shadowdancer must progress with careful deliberation in order to remain unseen. They can move no more quickly than the rangers or martial ascetics that utilize mundane stealth. It may be possible to modify the Shadow Jump technique to achieve a partial shift into the Fringe between the planes, allowing rapid travel while unseen. The amount of focus needed to maintain this ability would likely be immense, though I suspect it's at least possible in theory.

Plane Shift:

Related to Shadow Jump and the theoretical Celerity, a powerful shadowdancer that has successfully transformed them-self may be able to utilize their inherent kinship with the Plane of Shadow to slip into the fringe and penetrate the boundaries to the Plane of Shadow completely. While I suspect where one would appear in the Plane of Shadow to be unpredictable at best, the technique would still be useful when an escape to the wilds of the Plane is preferable to death or imprisonment in the Prime.

Closing Thoughts


Though the power of shadows is subtle. It is not as varied a tool as the arcane can be, but it is nevertheless a nearly inexhaustible source of power so long as it's applied in suitable ways. However, shadows are deceptive. The void corrupts and the wilds of the plane are sinister and seductive. The power of darkness is limitless, and the talented student will find no end of opportunity. However, one must always stop to question if “can” and “should” are the same in any given instance. The measure of a shadowdancer in not in what they can do, but in their wisdom in knowing when it's appropriate. The wilds of shadowscape are littered with the Lost, those that reached too far and too quickly out of greed, hubris or ignorance, and paid with their sanity.

The line between an Immortal Shade and an Undead Shadow is razor thin, and the mind is a fragile, tiny thing when compared to the vast eldritch insanity simmering just under the surface of the night. Never walk the umbral paths alone, no matter your skill or confidence. The pain of betrayal or broken trust is minute compared to the damage that can be done to a mind without a frame of reference to check itself by.

The bond between Shadowdancers is unique and nearly sacred. We are greater than the sum of our parts when in harmony, and yet none can destroy us more completely than another that knows our art and our secrets. Keep your comrades safely on the path, and let them do the same for you.

~Luca K. Severin, Shadowblade of the Two-Fold Goddess


 
      
Kamina
 
PostPosted: Fri, Jul 11 2014, 3:25 AM 

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DM

Joined: 05 Jul 2007
Location: Kent, England.

One such book is promptly booked out by Rico Ondenfare, leaving note in the master's library that he has done such.

_________________
"Operating in the border between light and darkness, shadowdancers
are nimble artists of deception. They are mysterious and
unknown, never completely trusted but always inducing wonder
when met"

-Dungeon Master's Guide 3.5e.


 
      
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