There are many different ways to play a story of any genre in Dungeons and Dragons. True, some genres come easier than others. I mean, you could play a Jane Austen-styled romance about class politics, education, and feminist theory. I’d play in that.
But until you add zombies to the mix, Dungeon and Dragons might not be your first platform for that particular game.
There are many tools for horror in Dungeons and Dragons, though, and there are few monsters that can jack the horror up to 11 quite as easily as the sorrowsworn.
What Is a Sorrowsworn in DnD 5e?
The sorrowsworn are creatures of pure emotion given monstrous flesh by the twisted energy of the Shadowfell. Sorrowsworn are some of the darkest creatures to come from the minds of Wizards of the Coast designers.
To be fair, Dungeons and Dragons is not the first time someone had the idea for monsters as manifested emotions. There are loads of truly frightening monsters in indigenous folklore worldwide that explore this idea. (Those monsters are so frightening that you aren’t even supposed to name them; so, out of respect, I won’t do that here.)
For Dungeons and Dragons, though, this batch of baddies is particularly dark. This makes sense, considering they are from the plane of shadow. You know, where it’s dark. *cough*
The sorrowsworn are a classification for five different published monsters, although there are loads of homebrew additions on DnD Beyond and elsewhere. Since we didn’t want to overload you with a stat block for each sorrowsworn, here is a quick chart with their basic stats and attacks.
You can see here that the majority of these monsters are melee-based combatants. They all receive a damage resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage while in dim light or darkness, and most of their special abilities are an aura effect that takes place within 5-15 feet.
Mostly solitary hunters derived from negative emotions surrounding isolation and despair, it makes sense they would be craving the comfort of touch and closeness. Hence, they are melee combatants.
Where Can We Find Sorrowsworn?
Sorrowsworn are said to wander the Shadowfell. This means you could find them in places like Ravenloft or in the mists between demiplanes. Additionally, you could find them in any dark and forsaken place where things get lost and go mad. Places like that are close to the Shadowfell anyway in a planar sense.
Places like the underdark, tombs, swamps, caves, the ocean floor, and deep dungeons. These things would live deep under the surface where the sun never shines. Rarely would you find these creatures in the material plane. As monstrosities of shadow and darkness, they won’t be wandering the surface. If they do, however, you will only see them at night, and they would certainly attract attention.
How Will Sorrowsworn Try To Kill Me? Can I Kill Them Back?
They won’t try to kill you, not really. They just want to cuddle! They just need a hug from a warm friend. Your death will be totally accidental. Unless, of course, the particular sorrowsworn you encounter is The Angry. That guy totes wants to kill you. The rest are just lonely, lost, or hungry and need a little reassurance.
That being said, they also don’t understand consent. To fight them, your best bet is to stick with magical or elemental damage sources since they will generally have a resistance to the normal damage types.
Light, daylight, and moon-touched weapons will help you here since the sorrowsworn want to remain in the darkness but also need to be close to you for their abilities to work. You can just watch the cognitive dissonance and confusion as they try to get close to you but avoid the light. Expect them to attack your light sources, if possible.
In general, your best bet against these monsters is ranged magical attacks.
Behind the DM Screen
How Do Sorrowsworn Interact With NPCs and Other Monsters?
Sorrowsworn are equal-opportunity killers, which means they will also attack other sorrowsworn. This makes them solitary when found in the wild. However, you’ll notice that The Wretched have a 40-foot movement speed, making them just slightly faster than the rest of the sorrowsworn.
You know how hyenas will follow around a lion in order to steal the lion’s kill but try to avoid being eaten by the lion at the same time? Use The Wretched like that.
Have a pack of The Wretched follow around another larger sorrowsworn in order to force the PCs to stay within a certain range of the main monster lest they leave themselves open to ambush from The Wretched.
However, Cults could be one way to have sorrowsworn in a larger organization. Perhaps a cult is trying to summon one to set it loose? Or maybe a cult keeps a Lonely in their basement and throws their sacrifices to it every now and then as a way to appease their twisted deity. But just like before, the sorrows are just as willing to eat a cultist, unless that cultist has somehow charmed the monster, which can happen!
Thirdly, sorrowsworn do tend to wander the Shadowfell and the Underdark. You could have a group of drow or shadar-kai keep one in chains for a similar reason as a cult would, albeit with no religious awe.
Sorrowsworn in Previous Editions
Sorrowsworn first showed up in 3e as demons from the abyss. The Shadowfell wasn’t fully developed at that point, and its nature as a place of psychic and necrotic energy hadn’t been realized.
In 4e, the world’s canon started to move in that direction, and the sorrowsworn became fiends from the Shadow realm.
Now, in 5e, the sorrowsworn are home in the Shadowfell. This is a perfect place for them, considering the Shadowfell is a place ruled by psychic energy, ghosts, undead, and necromantic magic.
Play Up the Horror
As a DM, Sorrowsworn will give you a perfect opportunity to scare the living daylights out of your players.
When playing a horror scene, there are a few things to remember.
1. Something that makes a monster scary in movies is our inability to see the monster. Remember the Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise? We didn’t get to see Freddy’s face until the third movie. Remember that. The less your players know, the more afraid they’ll be. As far as darkvision is concerned, remember that darkvision is “shades of gray” only, which means it looks like a trail cam: no details, silhouettes only.
2. Show, don’t tell. This advice is so old and cliché that it gets hard to repeat. Not only is it not always the best course of action, but sometimes it’s just wrong. Not in horror, though. Describe what your characters see. Do not use any of the language that is in the stat block, lest they get clues into what the monster is. Once they know what it is, they are less worried. Just roll the dice and describe what happens.
3. Find a compelling reason for the sorrowsworn to be there. If you can creep your players out by leading them to discover the circumstances that allowed such evil to rise, the emotional and existential angst should make them gag. That’s a good reaction to horror. *yuck*
Story Seeds for Sorrowsworn in Your Next Game
Let’s finish this post with a list of ways you can bring a Sorrowsworn into your game.
The PCs are attacked by a magic user that inspires horrifying nightmares. From the psychic energy built by the collective nightmares, the mage uses the PCs as a portal to create or summon a sorrowsworn into the middle of their camp.
An alchemist has created a drug that makes its users fall into such a deep state of despair and paralysis that a sorrowsworn is conjured and kills the drug user. The PCs must discover the drug, trace the victims, intimidate or investigate the investors, destroy the manufacturing facilities, and face down the crime boss and their alchemist.
*For added fun to the one above, consider the drug manufacturers to be a cult that is working with a thieve’s guild, and if the PCs aren’t fast enough, you could escalate the problem by having the cult and thieves guild go to war once the thieve’s learn that the drug is killing its customers (it’s bad for business). Perhaps one (or all!) of the PCs is a rogue in the guild’s employ.
The PCs are sent or happen across a village where every person was killed and left in the dirt. The only survivor is a small child from whom conjuration necromancy radiates to those who happen to cast detect magic. This child, when overstimulated, has a nasty habit of summoning sorrowsworn into the material plane. She blames herself, and ultimately, once the horror and realization of what happened sinks in, she will summon a sorrowsworn that will attempt to kill her. Hopefully, by then, the PCs will be able to intervene somehow. It would be great if the PCs drop her off at an orphanage or a temple before realizing she is the portal for the sorrowsworn.
Wrapping It Up
That’s it for today, Citadelians. May your players weep with despair over the tragedy of your next story involving The Sorrowsworn.