Welcome back to this blog series where we dive into ley lines, the magical lifeblood of Midgard, and the casters who strive to harness their power. If you have not had a chance to read prior entries in the series, you can find them here. This month, we discuss a fascinating topic that often comes up in Midgard game discussions on the Kobold Press Facebook page: the mysterious shadow roads. Information on this and the greater topic of arcane transportation powered by ley lines is scattered across a variety of sources. This article presents a series of highlights, cross-references, and new details to help game masters and players navigate the magical currents of ley lines and the means of accelerated travel they unlock.
Ley Lines vs. Shadow Roads
Just like the vast oceans that separate continents and the majestic mountain ranges that rip through the land, ley lines are a natural feature of the world of Midgard, as exemplified in the magical waters of the River Nuria, the nexus of ley energy at Bemmea, or the conjunction of ley lines at Demon Mountain, east of Zobeck. The elves created the shadow roads out of titanic ley lines to facilitate travel over considerable distances across the Shadow Realm. Known as fey roads by their creators, these conduits connect regions and empires of Midgard otherwise geographically separated, and some even allow travel to and from the Summer Lands of the elves on the flip side of the coin-shaped world. While every shadow road is borne from a titanic ley line, not every titanic ley line is a shadow road.
Opening a Shadow Road
The first step to traveling a shadow road involves finding the entrance. Every road is different, and no two work the same way. Table 1–7 in the Midgard Worldbook presents options for the general lore of a shadow road as guidance to the GM when assessing the requirements for traveling a fey road. In terms of opening a shadow road, some GMs may opt to guide the party to the discovery of the new walking the shadow roads spell (see below). Another option could involve a quest to retrieve a specific artifact capable of unlocking a portal within a shadow road, such as the Key of Veles (see Midgard Worldbook), an expensive (at least 10,000 gp) but reusable corroded, copper-and-mithral key with 10 charges, capable of locating and opening portals within a shadow road (or fey road).
The reality is that opening some shadow roads can be somewhat like opening a planar portal. The party needs to obtain knowledge of how to do it rather than simply cast a spell or make an Intelligence (Arcana) check. Shadow roads should be used as an opportunity to design a story arc just to figure out how to open one, focusing on discovery and the narrative and not simply game mechanics. The adventure Courts of the Shadow Fey presents a prime example of investigative storytelling driven by the need to open a portal to a shadow road. You can find additional examples of travel via shadow roads in the recently released Empire of the Ghouls adventure.
Even when discovered, the entrance portal of a shadow road might have fallen into disrepair. Fixing the portal could be a matter of recruiting enough ley magic spellcasters to perform a ley restoration ritual, or the party could be led on a treasure hunt to locate special ley artifacts capable of repairing the portal’s magic. Contacting a ramag portal master (see Creature Codex) and convincing them to repair and open a portal is a worthy mission in and of itself.
As an alternative to existing shadow roads, some practitioners of blood magic have mastered the art of creating temporary shadow roads, as demonstrated in the 4th-level transmutation spell St. Parvalas’s risen road (see Midgard Worldbook).
Traveling a shadow road literally opens the door to adventures in the alternate plane of obscured reality known as the Shadow Realm. The party will most likely need a guide, and countless dark encounters may arise along the way. For more information about this transient world of dark magic and mystery, see the Midgard Worldbook and the Warlock Guide to the Shadow Realm.
Tapping Ley Lines for Transportation
Methods of transportation and fast travel exist within the scope of ley lines beyond the shadow roads themselves. The Honorable Society of Portal Wizards (see Midgard Worldbook) oversees the Red Portals, capable of opening doorways not only to the shadow roads but also other planes of existence, dimensions, alternate realities, and periods in time. The society has developed several unique spells known only to its members. Rarely, scrolls bearing these spells can be found for sale in the markets of Bemmea, Mhalmet, or Kel Azjer. Red Portal spells can be found in the Midgard Worldbook, including locate red portal, open red portal, reset red portal, and seal red portal.
Catslide alleys also provide a quick means of transportation across the world of Midgard, though these portals’ workings are limited to cities where cats and other feline creatures are held in high regard. Take a wrong turn into one of these feline-riddled alleys and you may very well find yourself in a similar alley but located in another city hundreds of miles away. Travelers beware—some of these catslide alleys may only allow one-way travel, leading to a lengthy journey back after an inadvertent trip down the wrong alley.
For geomancers and other ley magic arcanists looking to exploit ley lines for fast travel, other possibilities exist. As covered in a prior entry in this series, a ramag ley portal amulet can create a temporary portal to transport back to the site of a ley line where the amulet was previously charged over a long rest. Rumors also abound in Bemmea regarding a new ley transportation spell by a local scholar and academy instructor known as Ley Warden Khazdakhaal, a ramag geomancer. Discovery of the spell followed an investigation when the ramagi wizard employed it to whisk away his geomancy pupil known as Ratchet the Ratfolk, who had been framed by rival students and wrongfully condemned to “exile” (that is, death) by the Academy Council. See the spell ley teleportation below.
New Ley Line Spells
Ley lines and shadow roads have inspired many a new spell.
5th-level conjuration (ley line) (druid, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M (a citrine gem worth 50 gp, which the spell consumes)
You open a doorway of shimmering white energy within a strong or titanic ley line that you can see within range. The doorway links to another site of your choice that you have previously visited and that is located along the path of a strong or titanic ley line on the same plane of existence as you. Roll a DC 18 Intelligence (Arcana) check. On a success, a similar doorway opens at the desired destination. On a failure, the destination doorway opens 100 feet from the target destination, along the path of the ley line, for each point rolled below the target DC. Both doorways remain open until the end of your next turn. The first creature of Large size or smaller that enters the origin doorway instantly appears within 5 feet of the destination doorway or in the nearest unoccupied space if that space is occupied. The doorway closes after the creature steps through, and the spell ends.
The target creature can bring along objects (but not creatures) through the doorway as long as their weight doesn’t exceed what they can carry. Other creatures carried through or objects thrown into the doorway simply bounce on its surface and fall to the ground at the point of origin.
Walking the Shadow Roads
7th-level conjuration (ley line) (druid, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
Casting Time: 70 minutes
Components: V, S, M (a lantern on a chain, a bag of sackcloth, and a pint of oil taken from a creature, such as whale oil)
Casting this spell permits travel to designated locations within the shadow realm and to many other locales of Midgard as well. The starting point in the mortal realm is a site of a murder, suicide, or other significant tragedy. Some fey roads are more traditional, beginning under a hill or through an enchanted portal.
Successfully casting this spell requires a series of skill checks performed as an incantation at 10-minute intervals over the length of the casting time. The caster or any other member of the traveling party must succeed a DC 18 Intelligence (Arcana) check three times, followed by succeeding a DC 18 Intelligence (Nature) check three times, and finally succeeding one last DC 18 Intelligence (Arcana) check. Any failure extends the casting time by 10 minutes.
To cast the incantation, the caster spins a lantern and lifts it in and out of a bag of sackcloth, creating alternating light and shadow. At the same time, the caster and any travelers move from an area of dim illumination to an area of darkness while one of the travelers provides a confession of lost love, betrayal, or failure.
If someone moving with the travelers but not accompanying them to the destination provides this confession, add +4 to each Intelligence (Arcana) check. Elves, elfmarked, gnomes, and other creatures with fey blood gain a +2 bonus to their Intelligence (Arcana) check when opening a shadow road. Creatures with the fey subtype such as shadow fey get a +4 bonus to all checks. Only one such bonus may be applied per check.
After the incantation, participants cannot stand bright illumination for a period of 1d6 + 1 days. The light causes participants extreme discomfort, and they gain the blinded condition unless they succeed on a DC 18 Wisdom saving throw each time they enter and remain in such areas.
Failing two consecutive skill checks, you mangle the incantation and disturb the planar boundary. Participants suffer 2d6 cold damage. The veil between worlds becomes turbulent and cannot be reopened until a day has passed or a fey creature opens the portal from the other side. Shadow fey notoriously demand expensive prices for such an opening. Failing a single check means the portal opens, but there is a strong likelihood the travelers have attracted the attention of a creature on the road and can be certain of an encounter of some kind.
At the completion of this incantation, a caster makes an Intelligence (Arcana) check; those with fey blood may substitute Intelligence (Nature). The result determines the duration the road remains open.
INTELLIGENCE (ARCANA) CHECK: PORTAL DURATION
|15 or lower||1 minute|
While the portal is open, any creature that enters the portal appears at the other location 1d4 hours later along with anything the creature holds or carries. If the creature travels with several others, they all arrive in the same round and in the same sequence that they entered the road.
The destination of the road is set when the portal opens—meaning small variations of this incantation exist to pair different origins and destinations. However, the caster may spontaneously change the destination during the casting with effort. Those with fey blood may change the destination of the shadow road by imposing disadvantage to the final Intelligence (Arcana) check. The caster must have visited the new destination before, not merely heard of it.
Any number of creatures of any size can use an open road; the only limitation is the number that can reach the portal before it disappears. Certain fey roads are guarded while others lead in only one direction.
Anyone standing in the vicinity of either end of the portal sees a foggy road through a forest but no hints of the destination. Environmental effects at one end of the road do not affect the other end.
Have you played or adventured with a ley magic spellcaster by now? Do you have any questions about ley lines or shadow roads? What fun events have emerged from their use in your campaigns? How are the new ley line spells, feats, items, and subclass working out in your adventures? Leave your feedback below and let us know what Midgard Ley Magic topic you would like to see covered in the future.