© Wizards of the Coast by Alex Brock

Shadow Magic Sorcerer Guide 5e: Embrace the Power of Darkness

This Guide is designed to give you a deeper understanding of the choices you’ll make when creating a Shadow Magic Sorcerer.

You will learn:

  • What makes them stand out, their strengths, and any limitations.
  • Our thoughts on Multiclass options.
  • Ability Scores – Races – Backgrounds – Skills.

Following that is our Progression Section. This is a sort of snapshot of how you’ll start, and when you get skills and powers after that.

You will find things like Hit Points, Proficiencies, Equipment, any Class-specific skills. Then we go through what you’ll get at each level as you progress your character.

Feats come next, and we wrap up the creation and progression with an example build.

At the end, we provide a long-form discussion of the things you can expect when playing a Shadow Magic Sorcerer. If you want a comprehensive idea of what you are in for, outside the stats and choices, you will find it there.

You can jump to all of these topics in our Table Of Contents right below. 

Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System

Color and Tier ranking is very helpful when you’re trying to digest a lot of information. In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
  • Green – B Tier. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.  
  • Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective. 
  • Purple – S Tier. the top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way.  No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.

Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.

While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast. 

What is a Shadow Magic Sorcerer? 

A shadow sorcerer is a sorcerer who has dominion over darkness.

Sorcerers choose their origins (subclass) at first level because it is a special part of who they are, and not simply a creed or path to follow.

This subclass introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything receives its powers from Shadowfell, the Plane of Shadow. That can mean your magical bloodline stems from some powerful being that belongs to the realm, perhaps the Raven Queen herself.

It can also mean that being exposed to the fell energy has given you the ability to manipulate darkness itself. 

With these powers the shadow sorcerer becomes a class that is focused more on deception and sneaking around than a normal sorcerer, at one point being able to literally slip between shadows.

This subclass can not only be incredibly defensive, but they also can be an incredibly useful class at battlefield control, benefiting their party members greatly and disorienting their enemies. 

Class Defining Abilities – Shadow Sorcerer 

  • See in Magical Darkness 
  • Summon a Shadow Hound 
  • Walk through Shadows 
  • Shadow Form 

Would you believe me if I said that what makes this class special is shadow sorcery?

I love how straightforward this class is – it’s in the name.

At third level you gain access to the darkness spell, without it counting against your known spells. Additionally, you can use 2 of your sorcery points, that fun sorcerer ability that allows you to manipulate your spells, to cast this spell instead of burning a spell slot.

What makes this so impressive is that you are given the ability to see in this darkness, an ability not bestowed upon normal creatures with darkvision, making you an unseen predator.  

Soon after, at sixth level we gain the best of boys, a monstrous hound made of darkness to summon upon for the sole purpose of maiming a foe you target.

You summon this hound of ill omen with 3 sorcery points (half of your available points when you gain the feature) and do so as a bonus action, which is an incredibly small price to pay to unleash a not-quite-hell hound. 

My favorite ability here is Shadow Walk, which lets you jump between shadows.

This is thematically similar to the druid spell Tree Stride, with the advantage of being able to perform this technique as a bonus action.

Being able to slip seamlessly from shadow to shadow, with a range of 120 feet, means that you can flank your enemy, escape from almost any jail cell or any number of incredible teleportation hijinks.  

Don’t tell your DM I said this, but with just 3 sorcery points you can cast darkness and use the metamagic option of Distant Spell (doubles a spells range) to create your own darkness up to 120 feet away from you.

As long as you are standing in shadow this means you can teleport yourself wherever you can see in a 120 ft sphere from your location. 

The final gift bestowed upon you is the ability to transform yourself into a shadow being. You become resistant to all damage types excluding force and radiant, and can move through objects and creatures.

There are plenty of classes that dish out transformative abilities at high levels, and while this might not be the angel wings of the Oath of Vengeance paladin, the defensive abilities are noteworthy.  

Limitations – Shadow Sorcerer 

At earlier levels, this class just doesn’t stack up as nicely. It’s not until sixth level that you gain any real offensive abilities or defensive abilities for that matter.

Casting darkness at third level for sorcery points instead of spell slots is made worth it with the ability to see through that, but it’s not a strong enough ability to lean on.

The Strength of the Grave feature is really underwhelming and doesn’t improve as you level, so more and more often you’ll be taking too much damage to pass the saving throw needed to keep you alive.  

While the later level benefits are exciting and can be used to create some very fun scenarios, they aren’t enough to really make this subclass stand out from the base sorcerer in any fantastic way.

Most of your real benefits are going to come from the spells you cast and the way you utilize your metamagic. That gets trickier when you realize that most of your subclass abilities require you to drop a substantial amount of sorcery points. 

All of this makes this subclass more beneficial for someone who is excited about the shadow element and is willing to be very creative with how they use their spells and metamagic to benefit this.  

Synergies and Multiclassing – Shadow Sorcerer 

  • Paladin – Boost your health and support others
  • Warlock – Combine metamagic and eldritch invocations to become a master of manipulative magic.

Charisma is your spellcasting ability as a sorcerer, so it makes sense to multiclass into another class that can benefit from this. Depending on what role you want to fill, this can mean a few different classes are the clear choices. 

As for choosing when to multiclass, I would suggest doing so after third level when you receive metamagic and the ability to cast darkness with sorcery points. You want to be able to start keeping up with other classes before you get left in the dark. 

Then we’re left with a choice of how many features to come back to shadow sorcerer for. My personal suggestion is to forget about Umbral Form and only take 14 levels in sorcerer.

This will give you access to Shadow Walk and six levels to play around with another class. If you want to gain 8th level spells, hang in for one extra level.

Paladin

Paladins are generally tanks that balance supportive and offensive abilities well. Being able to benefit from some extra health and provide more support for your party can be an excellent option. 

Paladin does have a strength requirement of 13 to multiclass into, so this should be something you plan on while you’re building your character. 

Which oath you choose is up to you, there are a variety of different options but each will offer you some class specific spells and options for Channel Divinity.

An option I think is really fun is the Oath of the Ancients, whose entire focus is light; disorient your enemies by alternating between light and darkness, making the battlefield into a funhouse of your own design.

Warlock 

A dark sorcerer receiving their magic from a realm of shadows already feels very similar to warlock, so thematically we’re off to a great start.

There are a few things that warlock has that will drastically improve this class so let’s get into it.

Pact of the Tome

Your Book of Shadows gives you access to three cantrips from any class at third level.

It’s thematically appropriate and means more room to use your metamagic while whipping off spells that don’t require spell slots.

Eldritch Invocations – Six levels in this class means 3 known invocations. While all of these are great options, there are a few that stand out as specifically helpful. 

  • Armor of Shadows lets you cast mage armor at will without spell slots, boosting your AC at no cost. 
  • One with Shadows lets you use your action to become invisible in dim light or darkness, which is insanely useful to a caster who’s whole purpose is to sneak around the shadows. 
  • A very honorable mention goes to Eldritch Spear, an invocation that gives eldritch blast an insane range of 300 ft, and when paired with Distant Spell metamagic will give you an effective range of 600 ft. Want to get crazier? The Spell Sniper feat can double this again. THAT IS A SPELL WITH A 1200 FOOT RANGE! Thanks for coming to my TEDtalk.

The synergy here is glorious, and that’s without even choosing a patron. The Great Old One would grant you telepathy and Entropic Ward is a great defensive option.

Meanwhile, the Archfey could make you a frightening force of darkness and give you even more teleportation options. 

Getting Started  

Ability Scores 

Our highest stat for a sorcerer is always going to be charisma so that we can cast spells and make it hard for our opponent to save themselves.

After that, we’ll want to put a lot into our constitution so we don’t die before we can cast spells. 

If you plan on multiclassing, remember your requirements for other classes. A 13 in strength is necessary for paladin so if that’s the path you choose you’ll need to account for that here and now. 

  • Strength – Needed to multiclass into paladin. Can be beneficial to have a weapon to fall back on if you run out of spells.
  • Dexterity – Stealth relies on this ability, so it should be high on your priority list. Will also allows you to benefit from weapons that have finesse, allowing you to disregard strength.
  • Constitution – As a squishy sorcerer you’re going to need all the health you can get.
  • Intelligence – This does not benefit your class.
  • Wisdom – Aside from the normal use of perception checks, you won’t see any benefits here.
  • Charisma – Your spell save DC and your spell attack modifier rely on this. This should always be your highest stat.

Races 

We’ve selected a few races that provide the appropriate stat bonuses and/or racial features that can greatly benefit the shadow sorcerer subclass. 

Drow

+2 Dexterity, +1 Charisma; ability bonuses where we need them. Proficiency in Perception from Keen Senses racial trait, and advantage on saving throws against charms thanks to Fey Ancestry. 

Drow magic also provides you with a few charisma-based spells that you can cast once per long rest. Dancing Lights and Faerie Fire are both very fun spells that fit the theme.

Faerie Fire can even be used to make your opponents visible to your allies while you enshroud the area in darkness, which by the way, is the third and final spell you get from this racial feat.

Tiefling

+2 Charisma, +1 Intelligence; more charisma bonus even if we won’t benefit much from the added intelligence. This race gains fire resistance and also gains three charisma-based spells: Thaumaturgy, Hellish Rebuke, and Darkness again.

Thaumaturgy is one of those utility spells that can always be put to creative use and Hellish Rebuke is a great way to make offense your best defense. 

Fallen Aasimar (VGtM)

This is a really exciting race to lean into the paladin multiclass. You’re gonna get +2 Charisma, and +1 Strength, which is right where you want those abilities to be. You’re also going to get some awesome racial feats.

Healing Hands is just a racial version of paladin’s Lay on Hands, and is a great quick way to boost healing potential. You’ll also get access to the Light cantrip, allowing you to play into the balance of light and dark. 

At third-level you’ll gain access to the Necrotic Shroud ability, with which “you can use your action to unleash the divine energy within yourself, causing your eyes to turn into pools of darkness and two skeletal, ghostly, flightless wings to sprout from your back.”

Thematically this fits so nicely into the dark character you’ll be building, and mechanically this allows you to frighten your opponents and deal extra necrotic damage equal to your level once per turn. 

Changeling (ERftLW)

Charisma +2 and +1 to another ability of your choice is a great set of bonuses and leaves room for different builds. 

What makes the changeling special is the ability to change your appearance and voice as an action. This is a fun ability for any class, but can be especially useful to a character who is centered around mischief and shadows. 

Backgrounds 

  • The Criminal background meshes very well with the shadow sorcerer, providing proficiencies in Deception and Stealth, as well as thieves tools, which might be useful. Being able to utilize criminal contacts to get messages around fills a nice role and it makes some level of sense for this shadow sneaking mage to have some… shady connections. 
  • Charlatan would work excellently with the changeling class, using your False Identity as an actual different shape you could switch into. It also provides the Deception and Slight of Hand skill proficiencies for a slightly different take. 
  • Urchin deserves mentioning because it means knowing secret patterns to cities, meaning in cities you and your party can travel double speed between two locations.

Skills

  • Arcana (Int) – You won’t have a very high intelligence so this shouldn’t take priority, even if knowing a good deal about magical lore might be appropriate to your character.
  • Deception (Cha) – Capitalizing on the mischievous nature of a shadow sorcerer and the high charisma you will have.
  • Insight (Wis) – Unless you have the wisdom to warrant this it’s not necessary for your character.
  • Intimidation (Cha)/Persuasion (Cha) – These two are very interchangeable, choose the one that feels more appropriate for your character. Are you more aggressive or more convincing?
  • Religion (Cha) – Not only will you not have high intelligence, your character would likely know very little about any religions aside from potentially the one related to your origin, in which you shouldn’t be required to make a religion check.

The above skill proficiencies are offered when you take this class. Another skill that will be useful to you is Stealth, allowing you to capitalize on the shadows just that much more.

One way to get that is to choose the Drow class and use the customization option from TCoE to swap in Stealth for the Perception skill offered as a racial feature.

Shadow Magic Sorcerer Class Progression

Features that you automatically obtain through the sorcerer class will appear in Orange and features that you gain through the shadow magic subclass will appear in Pink

Filling out the Character Sheet (Level 0)

Hit Dice: 1d6 per Sorcerer level

Hit Points at 1st Level: 6 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d6 (or 4) + your Constitution modifier per sorcerer level after 1st

Proficiencies:

Armor: None

Weapons: Daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, light crossbows

Tools: None

Saving Throws: Constitution, Charisma

Skills: Choose two from Arcana, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Persuasion, and Religion.

Equipment:

You start with the following equipment:

  • (a) light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) any simple weapon
  • (a) a component pouch or (b) an arcane focus
  • (a) a dungeoneers pouch or (b) an explorers pack
  • Two daggers

1st Level

Spellcasting

At first level you know four cantrips and two 1st level spells from the sorcerer list. Your spellcasting ability is charisma.

Eyes of the Dark

You have darkvision with a range of 120 ft.

Strength of the Grave:

If your health would be dropped to 0 you gain the ability to make a Charisma saving throw against a DC of 5 + the damage taken to drop to 1 HP instead. You can only use this once per long rest and it can’t be used as a result of radiant or critical damage. 

2nd Level

Font of Magic: 

You gain access to sorcery points. Sorcery points can be converted into spell slots and vice versa. Sorcery points can be regained during long rests

3rd Level

Eyes of the Dark (Darkness)

You gain the ability to cast darkness. You can cast it using a normal spell slot, or use 2 sorcery points to cast it and gain the ability to see in the magical darkness you have created.

Metamagic:

You can use metamagic abilities to manipulate spells that you cast. You use sorcery points to activate these abilities. Only one ability can be used on a spell unless otherwise specified. Choose two from the following list:

  • Careful Spell: Use 1 sorcery point to protect a number of creatures up to your Charisma modifier to automatically succeed on a saving throw from a spell you cast.
  • Distant Spell: Use 1 sorcery point to double the range of a spell with a range of 5 ft or greater, or change range from touch to 30 ft.
  • Empowered Spell: Use 1 sorcery point to reroll a number of damage die up to your Charisma modifier. This ability can stack on other metamagic abilities.
  • Extended Spell: Use 1 sorcery point to double the time of a spell (starting spell length minimum 1 minute; maximum of 12 hrs)
  • Heightened Spell: Use 3 sorcery points to impose disadvantage on one target for a spell you cast that requires a saving throw.
  • Quickened Spell: Use 2 sorcery points to reduce a spell’s casting time from action to bonus action.
  • Subtle Spell: Use 1 sorcery point to cast a spell without somatic or verbal components.
  • Twinned Spell: Use a number of sorcery points equal to a spell’s level to target a second creature. The spell must only be capable of targeting one creature that is not self at the level you are casting it.

4th Level

ASI

You can either increase one ability by 2 points or two abilities by 1. Alternatively you can choose a feature, if you already have great stats this is a great choice.

6th Level

Hound of Ill Omen:

Use 3 sorcery points to summon a shadow beast that uses the Wolf stat block from the PHB. The creature targets one foe that you can see within 120 ft.

It appears within 30 ft of the target, has its own initiative, and disappears if it hits 0 HP, its target hits 0 HP, or after 5 minutes. While within 5 ft of the hound, the target has disadvantage on saving throws against spells you cast.

The hound differs from the wolf stat block in the following ways:

  • It is size Medium.
  • It is a monstrosity.
  • It gains temporary HP equal to half your sorcerer level.
  • It can walk through objects and creatures as if they were difficult terrain, taking 5 force damage if it ends a turn in an object.
  • The hound always knows the location of it’s target regardless of abilities like stealth and invisibility.

8th Level

ASI

10th Level

Metamagic:

You learn an additional metamagic option from the list.

12th Level

ASI

14th Level

Shadow Walk

You can move between shadows so long as they are both classified as dim light or darker, and they are within 120 ft of each other. You have to be able to see the spot you are teleporting too.

16th Level

ASI

17th Level

Metamagic:

You gain a final metamagic option.

18th Level

Umbral Form

You gain the ability to take on a shadow form for 1 minute at the cost of 6 sorcery points. Your shadow form has resistance to all damage except force and radiant.

You can walk through objects and creatures as if they were difficult terrain, taking 5 force damage you end your turn in an object. This ends early if you are incapacitated, killed, or you choose to end it.

19th Level

ASI

20th Level

Sorcerous Restoration

You regain 4 expended sorcery points during short rests.

Feats

Spell Sniper – Allows you to double your spells’ ranges and ignore up to ¾ cover. You also gain access to a free cantrip from the bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard, druid and cleric classes. 

Metamagic Adept – Gain 2 extra metamagic options and 2 sorcery points. 

Eldritch Adept – Great option whether or not you want to multiclass into warlock. Gives you access to an eldritch invocation. You can replace this each time you level up with another invocation.

Shadow Touched – More gifts from the Shadowfell plane. Get +1 in Charisma. You learn Invisibility and one 1st level illusion or necromancy spell. You can cast these spells once per long rest. 

War Caster – Advantage on saving throws to maintain concentration, along with the ability to react with spells when an opportunity attack is triggered. You can also perform somatic elements while holding a weapon in one or both hands which is especially useful if you choose to multiclass into paladin.

Example Shadow Magic Sorcerer Builds

For the following example builds we’ve used the standard set of scores provided in the PHB (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) when deciding ability scores.

The only levels mentioned for the purpose of these builds are those when you will have the opportunity to make a decision on how your adventurer grows.

Single Class

1st level

Race: Drow

Background: Criminal

Ability Scores: STR 8,  DEX 15, CON 14, INT 10, WIS 12, CHA 16

Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Stealth, Intimidation, Arcana, Perception

Language Proficiencies: Elvish, Common

Tool Proficiencies: Three-Dragon Ante set, thieves’ tools

Equipment: light crossbow, arcane focus, explorer’s pack, two daggers, a crowbar, a set of dark common clothes including a hood, a pouch containing 5gp.

Multi-Class Build: Warlock

At level 7 we will begin showing every level to better demonstrate how multiclassing will work.

You will see your level in the sorcerer class, and your level in the warlock class, as well as anything notable happening at those levels, even if they are automatic class features, to avoid any confusion.

1st Level

Race: Changeling

Background: Charlatan

Ability Scores: STR 8,  DEX 13, CON 15, INT 10, WIS 12, CHA 17

Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Sleight of Hand, Intimidation, Arcana, Persuasion, Insight

Language Proficiencies: Common, Thieves’ Cant, Abyssal

Tool Proficiencies: Disguise Kit, Forgery Kit

Equipment: light crossbow, arcane focus, explorer’s pack, two daggers, a set of fine clothes, a disguise kit, a signet of an imaginary duke, a pouch containing 15gp.


In-Depth with the Shadow Magic Sorcerer

We Discuss How the Sorcerer Plays In Game

A being consumed by darkness, empowered by the very realm of shadows itself Shadowfell.

For some reason, you have been given not just the power of a sorcerer, but the power to manipulate the dark energy of this plane.

Whether you were cursed by some mischievous entity or imbued with these abilities when traveling between planes; how you choose to use the powers is up to you.

This class can seem very underwhelming at first. It lacks the gripping abilities and clear combat potential of some other sorcerous origins.

After a deeper look though, the shadow magic sorcerer can be an amazing class, taking full advantage of the shadows to overtake and confuse enemies.

All the while you’ll be benefitting from metamagic abilities that will always allow for fresh and exciting potential, both in and out of combat.

The first feature you really get is Strength of the Grave.

I’m not counting darkvision as an actual feature here because who doesn’t have darkvision.

For a first ability, it’s not super exciting but can make the difference between living to fight another die and roaming Shadowfell as a revenant. As you level this becomes much less effective.

There’s a big difference between a spell save DC of 10 on 5 damage that could’ve killed you at level 1 and the DC of 35 when you’re taking 30 damage at later levels. 

If you get into a habit of casting darkness with sorcery points you’ll find yourself with a constant tactical advantage over your enemy.

Pairing this with spells like faerie fire or invisibility can extend this advantage to your allies so that you’re not just a one mage army. With your leftover sorcery points you can use your metamagic to buff your spells.

Depending on the combination of spells and metamagic you use, you can specialize yourself into a damage dealer or a battlefield control role, and do so very effectively at early levels with some creativity.

Once you reach sixth level in this class you gain the Hound of Ill Omen, an excellent offensive partner.

The leg up this shadow monstrosity has on other familiars is that it gives its target disadvantage on saving throws against spells you cast.

Your first choice for this spooky boy should always be the biggest bad on the battlefield so that you can deal some serious damage to them on two fronts, and take advantage of some great spells like crown of madness or slow.

Did I mention you can cast multiple of these dusky doggos? Yeah. You can.

The fact that this little guy costs 3 sorcery points can be a bit discouraging at sixth level when that’s half of your pool, but remember that you won’t be sixth level forever.

Besides, being a good sorcerer means knowing when to use a spell slot for a spell, and when to make some sorcery points.

For explanation purposes here, at sixth level you have 4 first level slots, 3 second level slots, and 3 third level slots. If you were to ONLY cast cantrips and convert everything else into sorcery points you would end up with 25 sorcery points inside of a long rest.

Moving forward we get my favorite ability of this class, Shadow Walk. I might be a bit biased because this feels like an ability Raven from Teen Titans would have, but so what, that doesn’t make it any less powerful.

Tree Stride might have more range, but that’s a 5th level spell, this is a bonus action. Not to mention the fact that you can create your conditions. Cast darkness and then jump into it so long as it’s visible within 120 ft of you.

You could create teleportation grenades by casting darkness focused on a pebble and then just appear behind a foe that is suddenly enshrouded in nothing but pitch black. 

The next feature, in all honesty, doesn’t do much for me. Umbral Form provides great defensive measures in the resistance to all but radiant and force damage, and the ability to walk through anything… which is just more defensive measures.

Unfortunately that’s where the benefits end. I expect more out of a capstone ability, particularly some sort of offensive abilities, or at least a bonus to my spellcasting. 

The silver lining to your umbral form is that you don’t have to take it. If you’re not chomping at the bit to have an ability that makes you a shadow with decent resistances you can seriously consider multiclassing.

Having an already high charisma is excellent when considering another class that casts spells with charisma. This means that up to six levels in Paladin, Warlock, or Bard become great options.

I say six because under almost no circumstances should you give up on Shadow Walk. 

My favorite multiclass goes to Warlock, providing the option for you to benefit from both eldritch invocations and metamagic.

There are also a lot of nicely themed options here that I talked about in the above guide such as Tome of Shadows and One With the Shadows that already feel like they belong to this subclass.

Getting creative here can not only give you a character that feels entirely your own, but can do absolutely incredible things.

There are also plenty of races that offer unique features to make this character more than just your standard sorcerer.

A changeling can take advantage of your foes’ confusion to morph themselves in a mischievous manner that Loki themselves would be proud of.

Meanwhile, Drows and Tieflings each offer unique spells (and an additional casting of darkness) to add to your arsenal. 

This subclass isn’t for everyone, as it requires a good amount of work and planning to have encounters go the way you want.

For someone that is excited about using the shadows to their advantage though, this subclass can play like the best of them.

This truly has the potential to be a part of a character who is a master of shadows and subterfuge, casting morphed spells to fit whatever purpose best suits the occasion and keeping their allies protected while confounding their foes.