Who Is Shar?
In the lore of the Forgotten Realms, Shar is one of the most ancient gods that you might encounter. She is the goddess of darkness but not just the absence of light. She has dominion over the darkness that corrupts mortal souls – the darkness of secrets, loss, and pain.
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Symbol: Black disk with a purple border
Domains: Death, Trickery
Titles: Mistress of Night, The Nightbringer, Nightsinger, Dark Lady, Goddess of Loss
Darkness is a concept that is explored a lot within the worlds of D&D.
We can certainly look at it in the simple context of shadows and the cover of night, but we also have the ability to view it as how a person’s soul can be obscured and corrupted.
Shar’s dominion extends over just about every aspect of darkness that we might consider.
A better way of looking at Shar is considering her to be the goddess of the void.
As a representation of the void and nothingness, her control over darkness extends out to things like the absence of life (loss) or the absence of knowledge (secrets).
While she is an evil goddess, her far-reaching domain means that she is worshipped by many throughout the realms.
Miners, for example, will often pray to her for safety as they venture into dark caverns. Those in mourning might say a prayer in Shar’s name to be relieved of their suffering.
It might even be commonplace for people to say a quick prayer to Shar when searching for a lost item.
Still, Shar is undoubtedly evil. If I were to sum up her goal in a single sentence, it would be to return the universe to a state of nothingness.
Of course to understand any of that, we really need to look at how Shar came to be and what her ties to the worlds around her really are.
History and Relationships
Shar’s creation is deeply tied to the creation of the Forgotten Realms.
When Lord Ao, the overdeity, created the crystal sphere of the Forgotten Realms, two goddesses emerged from it. This was Shar and her twin sister Selune, goddess of the moon.
Shar and Selune exist as almost perfect counters to each other.
Where Shar is a neutral-evil goddess who embraces nothingness and darkness, Selune is a chaotic-good goddess who watches over life with the light of the moon.
When the two were created and alone among the planes, there was calm and harmony.
However, the two created the material plane of Abeir-Toril and with it gave birth to the goddess Chauntea, the embodiment of the planet.
Chauntea realized that Selune’s light was not enough to warm her, so she asked for more. This was the start of the endless feud between Shar and her sister.
Shar argued that more light would diminish her power, disrupting the balance and taking them further from their creation, but Selune wanted to care for her daughter and allow life to prosper on the worlds of Realmspace.
This conflict was the first real fight in the history of Realmspace, and many gods of war, death, disease, and more were spawned from it.
When Selune felt that she had the upper hand, she reached into the plane of fire and lit a celestial body in the material plane in flames, creating the sun.
When Shar fought back against her sister’s deeds, seeking to destroy all life and light in the universe, Selune fought back by sacrificing a piece of herself.
She ripped out a fragment of her very divine essence and threw it at her sister.
As the essence of one god ripped through another, pieces of Shar and Selune became entangled, giving birth to one of their most powerful descendants, Mystryl, goddess of magic.
As the war still raged on, the newly formed Mystryl sided with Selune, giving her a huge advantage over Shar.
After some time of fighting, the Mistress of the Night was forced to give up her straight-out assault and hide in the shadows.
For millennia, Shar has conspired against her sister from the dark.
The followers of the sisters carry this war out in the material plane, and there have been several skirmishes between the actual goddesses themselves throughout the history of the realms.
The Shadow Weave
While Selune’s only real adversary is her sister, that doesn’t mean she isn’t unfavorable toward quite a few deities and powerful beings out there.
One of the main gods that Shar has contended with is her daughter Mystryl and other carnations that went by the name Mystra.
Mystryl is responsible for creating the Weave, a latticework flow of magical energy through Realmspace that magic users tap into when casting spells.
Shar wanted some of this power to herself, so she studied the Weave from the shadows for years. Eventually, she was able to put together enough knowledge to create her own Shadow Weave.
This Shadow Weave was meant to replace the Weave but instead now exists as a sort of balancing opposite to the true Weave.
Necromancers and clerics who worship dark forces can call upon it to cast their spells. It makes such dark magic easier to cast, but it isn’t quite as effective to power more traditionally “good” spells.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot that the Shadow Weave does as far as the actual mechanics of 5e are concerned.
In fact, it’s not exactly clear if either of the magical undercurrents still exist within the modern lore of the Forgotten Realms.
Since an event called the Spellplague hasn’t really been explored since earlier editions, we as DMs can decide how big of a roll, if any, these will play in our campaigns.
If you wanted to include the weaves of magic, the Weave would exist as a default.
The Shadow Weave, on the other hand, could be something that a more sinister character could tap into given the right training and circumstances.
The effects could be as simple as a spell-attack bonus, or it could be as complex as a whole homebrewed subclass of wizard.
My favorite way to go when introducing optional mechanics is to create a feat.
You could even go the Strixhaven route and create a line of two or three feats to allow for a sort of modular path when creating dark magicians.
New Feat: Shadow Weave Adept
Requisite: Spellcasting or Pact Magic
Your worship of Shar and commitment to dark forces has granted you access to the Shadow Weave, an alternate way to cast magic. As a practitioner of dark magic, you are granted the following benefits:
- You gain access to the Darkness spell, which you can cast for free a number of days equal to your proficiency bonus. Expended uses are replenished when you finish a long rest. You can also cast the spell using any spell slots you have.
- At the beginning of each day, choose a number of spells equal to your proficiency bonus – these are your Shadow Spells for the day.
- Shadow spells can be cast with a spell slot one level lower than would normally be required. A 1st-level spell cast in this way would become a cantrip.
- When you cast a shadow spell in magical darkness, you gain temporary hit points equal to the level of spell cast plus your spellcasting bonus.
- You take a penalty when casting any spells that are not your Shadow Spells. Your spell-save DC is reduced by 2, and you have a -2 to spell attack rolls.
Behind the Screen: Fitting Shar Into Your World
As secrets are one of the many concepts under Shar’s domain, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the followers of Shar work in secret.
Instead of a large, well-respected organization, the Church of Shar is often made up of many distinct cells working in secret.
If you’re bringing the Dark Lady into your campaign as a big villain, you’ll definitely want to use this church’s secretive ways to your advantage.
Members of the Night Church could be anywhere. Political offices, military leaders, and even the high ranks of other clergies aren’t safe from suspicion.
The Night Church’s affiliation with secrets is about as vague and broad as Shar’s dominion over darkness.
Certainly they are a secretive group, but they are also rife with agents that collect secrets and rumors in large cities and towns.
Even between two followers of Shar, it’s commonplace to keep secrets from one another. These cultists likely don’t know each others’ names, let alone anything beyond what their role in the organization is concerned with.
This kind of antagonistic group is great for all sorts of subterfuge and puzzle solving.
If you want to run a campaign that is as sleuthy as a noir detective film with all the high-fantasy elements of Out of the Abyss, this is an excellent option.
Naturally, you want to have some form of goal for your party to foil in the end, and there are a lot of options to explore when deciding on one.
Coming back to the rivalry of Selune and Shar is always a great way to go.
This can be as high a concept as seeking to kill the moon goddess, or it can be something more insidious like toppling her church and corrupting her followers.
Alternatively, you can plug the Church of Shar in for just about any nefarious cult scheme you want to run.
Shar’s goals really know no bounds, so long as it has something to do with darkness, pain, secrets, or some nefarious attempt to overthrow others, you’re probably doing right by her.