Shadow Roads are the Dark Paths that hide in the Penumbras of the Ley Lines. If you know the Key Arcana to enter one of the Shadow Roads, it can provide a very fast mode of travel…but with numerous beasts and guardians crouching along their lengths, they are very dangerous roads indeed. . . .—Book of Ebon Tides
Ley lines are some of the most powerful, and least understood, aspects of the magical world.
Even less understood are the shadow roads that run alongside the ley lines in the Material Plane in the Realm of Shadow. Since shadow roads parallel the ley lines of the Material, these dark multi-dimensional paths allow adventurers to cover great distances by taking a “shortcut” through the Realm of Shadow.
However, these paths are not empty. They can be traveled as well, and even guarded, by shadow fey, shadow goblins, ferocious shadow hounds, or worse.
Finding a Road
The arcane portals that grant access to shadow roads are never simple to find or easy to open. If you are descended from the fey or are elven-blooded, the task becomes considerably easier.
Some portals can be opened with a single arcane word or phrase. These often only go one way, and to only one destination. Others can be opened with shadow-infused spells or rituals, and allow travel in both directions for a limited time.
A grand few are locked behind massive arcane portals that can only be opened by ancient elves or the darkest of shadow fey, as they were the ones who locked them in the first place. These portals keep their hidden paths safe and their secret shadow citadels secure.
Even with all the secrecy, a unique (often magic) item is often needed to open such a portal. These ancient, wending paths may be locked to a specific destination, or lead anywhere through the shadow realms—or both, if certain rituals are known or the traveler(s) have a Key of Veles (more details on this very rare magic item will be discussed in a later article).
If adventurers are fortunate (or foolish) enough to access a shadow road, roll d20 + 10 and multiply the result by ten to see how many miles in the Material Plane they cover in one day via a shadow road. If a member the party is fey or elven-blooded, or they have a fey or elven guide, make the d20 roll with advantage.
Trouble on the Road
For each day on the shadow road, the GM may roll a d6. On a result of 1 or 2, they encounter a monster or guardian of the shadow road. A 1 means a monstrous encounter, while a 2 means a guardian shadow encounter. Roll again on the appropriate table to determine the nature of the encounter.
Monstrous Shadow Encounters
|1||Shadow Beast (see Tome of Beasts 1). The beast fights to the death.|
|2||Night Hag (SRD). The hag appears as a comely female, and attempts to seduce and drain a PC with her Nightmare ability. If attacked, she becomes ethereal and flee.|
|3||Ghost (SRD). The ghost is an undead shadow elf that tries to possess a PC in an attempt to return to its home court.|
|4||Nightmares (SRD). PCs encounter a herd of 1d4 + 1 nightmares.|
|5||Hounds of the Night (see Tome of Beasts 1). the PCs encounter a pack of 1d4 + 1 hounds.|
|6||Memory Thieves (see Book of Ebon Tides). the PCs encounter 1d4 + 1 shadow goblin memory thieves.|
Guardian Shadow Encounters
|1||Rose Golem (see Book of Ebon Tides). The golem guards a garden of magical roses adjacent to the road. A DC 12 Intelligence (Arcana or Nature) check reveals that if petals from the roses are brewed into a tea, drinking it induces a magical sleep that lasts 2d4 days, unless the victim succeeds in a DC 17 Constitution saving throw. This tea may have other magical properties for the PCs to discover as well. The golem fights to the death to prevent any roses from being removed from the garden.|
|2||Spirit Naga (SRD). The naga resides in a luminescent grotto behind a purple waterfall next to the shadow road. If treated diplomatically, the naga answers one question truthfully, though cryptically.|
|3||Bronze Golem (see Creature Codex). The golem guards a bronze gate in a high stone wall that leads to a bronze castle full of clockwork creatures and devices. The GM can run this as a mini-adventure, or decide it is a shadow fey illusion to lure travelers off the shadow road (the road is gone when travelers look back, and then the castle vanishes). The wall is unclimbable—those who reach the “top” find themselves at the bottom of the wall again. The golem (which is real) fights to the death to prevent anyone from opening the gate.|
|4||Gargoyles (SRD). A pair of gargoyles guards an ancient stone archway portal that leads to a shadowy castle beyond. The GM can run this as a mini-adventure, or decide it is a shadow fey illusion to lure travelers off the shadow road (the road is gone when travelers look back and the castle dissolves into black mists). The gargoyles fight to the death to prevent anyone from entering the portal.|
|5||Sphinx (SRD). A sphinx resides in an open chamber at the base of a small stone pyramid near the road. If treated diplomatically and given gifts worth 100 gp or more, the sphinx answers three questions truthfully, though cryptically (usually in rhyme).|
|6||Dryad (SRD). The PCs see a shadowy dryad flitting from tree to tree in a shady grove next to the road. If approached and treated diplomatically, the dryad can give directions and instructions on how to shorten their remaining journey along the shadow road, as well as any known dangers ahead.|
At the End of the Road
Once the PCs reach their destination, they might also need to find and unlock an exit portal back to the Material Plane. Like the entry, this may require a password, a ritual or spell, or a specific token.
Given the changeable nature of the Shadow Realm, the GM can decide that the characters arrive 1d4 days earlier or later than they think—even if this means that they arrive before they left!
They might also want to make sure that they seal the exit portal, to keep shadow-stuff creatures from following them home.