The shades are here, and they mean business. Their appearance has greatly troubled the councils of the wise and learned, and hardly a city in Faerûn does not hear rumors about these mysterious strangers. Who are these enigmatic beings? They are nothing less than a piece of living history, torn from Faerûn's half-forgotten past. Their ancestors and their flying city departed Faerûn over 1,700 years ago just as their homeland, the Empire of Netheril, was annihilated by a cataclysmic tragedy born of a desperate attempt to save the empire from the ravages of its greatest enemy. The most advanced arcane nation of its time, Netheril boasted magical knowledge not seen on Toril since its destruction - until now.
The city escaped the destruction thanks to great magic that shifted the city and all its people into the Plane of Shadow. Safe from the disaster, the refugees (who call themselves Shadovars) maintained their culture and society throughout the centuries that followed. Free to practice their arcane spells and experiment with the stuff of shadow, the city's noble rulers became suffused with the dark energy of their new home. Already wizards and sorcerers of considerable ability, they grew ever more potent as they mastered the tenebrous substance of their new environment.
The City of Shade returned to Faerûn abruptly in 1372 DR, appearing in the sky over the Dire Wood and then proceeding directly to Anauroch, where it has remained since except for brief forays into neighboring lands. Basing their home high over the Shoal of Thirst, the Shadovars lost no time in establishing the Empire of Shadows. They have made it clear that they consider the entire expanse of the great desert to be their rightful territory, and the disappearance of several Zhentarim caravans from the southern portion of the wasteland is considered testimony to the Shadovar claim. Thus far, the new masters of the Anauroch have not deigned to take action against the Bedine, the nomadic peoples who inhabit the desert, considering them beneath notice. Their attitudes towards races and cultures beyond Anauroch have ranged from aloof to curious, and from disdainful to aggressive. With an agenda and goals known only to themselves, the Shadovars represent one of the most intriguing mysteries - and greatest dangers - in Faerûn today. Many eyes are turned towards Anauroch and the strange city that looms in its sky, hoping for some sign of the Shadovars' intent, and for sufficient warning to react should the city's return prove the prelude to a war of conquest.
While the Shadovars make no secret about their connection to Faerûn's past, they have been reluctant to reveal the entire extend of what they know about their own - and Toril's - history, except when doing so has advanced one or more of the High Prince's specific goals. The Shadovars prefer that none realize they themselves do not possess all the answers to these questions, and that one of their primary goals is to learn as much about Netheril as possible.
A single flying city miraculously escaped the catastrophe unscathed, purely by happenstance. The city's ruling noble, a powerful arcanist, had for some time been experimenting with movement between Faerûn and the Plane of Shadow. His studies eventually enabled him to move not only himself freely between the two, but other people and objects as well. In the weeks preceding the cataclysm , the arcanist - known to the City of Shade only by his chosen sobriquet of Lord Shadow - had already contemplated the feasibility of moving an entire flying city into the plane to which he had been traveling for some time. He gave the order for the city to prepare itself for the experiment mere days before Karsus cast his spell. On the very eve of the disaster, Lord Shadow transported his entire city, and all its inhabitants, to the plane of Shadow. Once there, he was pleased to see that his predictions were correct. The city and its citizens suffered no immediate ill effects from the journey. However, he was concerned and dismayed by the discovery that, for reasons he did not yet understand, he was unable to move the city back to Faerûn.
Unraveling this mystery took weeks, and when the city returned to Netheril its inhabitants could only gape with horror at what it found. For days the city journeyed across the ruins of Netheril, searching desperately for survivors, to no avail. Presuming this hideous revelation to be the work of the hated phaerimms, the Netherese thirsted for revenge. Lord Shadow realized, however, that a single flying city was no match for the phaerimms. moreover, he considered it likely that the Netherese dwelling in his city might well be the last of their race. He concluded that he could not afford to risk losing his city and subjects as well. Vowing that one day the city would return to Faerûn to reestablish the ruined empire, the arcanist transferred his city back into the Plane of Shadow, where, through unforeseen circumstances, it remained far longer than he had originally planned.
The City of Shade, normally located floating above Anauroch just off the northeast coast of the Shadow Sea.
Approximately 500 shades among the approximate 25,000 shadovars.
Telamont, the High Prince of Shade
The shades neither possesses nor use a symbol to represent their city or society as a whole. Each of the twelve Princes of Shade and High Prince Telamont employs his or her own individual heraldic device. These sigils were first used in the Netherese Empire, and have long since passed out of common heraldic lore and experience. A knowledge (history or nobility) check against DC 24 is required to recognize that the symbol is Netherese in origin, and a second Knowledge check (DC 30) is required to correctly identify the exact Netherese noble family.
The Shadovars have a discrete culture and civilization. They do not constitute an organization in the generally accepted sense of the word. But because the actual number of shades is small (about five hundred shades dwell in the City of Shade), and because they guard their privacy and motives so zealously, they are functionally similar to a secret society.
The shades make up only a small percentage of the flying city's population. The remained of the city inhabitatns are of two types: Normal humans who are the descendants of the netherese who entered the Plane of Shadow over 2,000 years ago but who did not become shades, and humanoid slaves that the Shadovars have acquired both in the Plane of Shadow and in Faerûn.
The Shadovars dwell in what is best described as a mobile city state ruled by a government that combines features of a monarchy, meritocracy, and magocracy. The city is ruled by its High Prince, Telamont, a powerful arcanist and shade. His power and authority are absolute. All Shadovar live and die by his command. Telamont has been the High Prince of Shade for as long as anyone living in the city can recall. Only his sons and trusted associates know that he is as old as the city itself and has ruled since it was first built at his direction.
Serving the High Prince as extensions of his authority are his twelve sons, the Princes of Shade. Like their father, the princes are shades and arcanists. Competition among this circle of archwizards is simultaneously fierce and regimented, much like Shadovar society.
Centuries of survival on the Plane of Shadow taught the Shadovars that survival is accomplished only when every member of the society understands his or her role and works for the betterment of the city as a whole. Thus, Shadovar society is strictly hierarchical, but it is also a meritocracy. Everyone is expected to work for the security and survival of the community, to the best of each person's capacity. This capacity is determined by a specialized battery of tests administered to each free citizen shortly after he or she reaches the age of ascension (13 years old). The tests are administered by Prince Lamorak's circle of Determinists. Once the Shadovar's aptitudes are known, he is trained to develop them until he reaches the age of majority (18 years old), when he enters his profession full-time. Occasionally a Shadovar exhibits such dramatic improvement in skill or aptitude over time that the Determinists administer a second round of resting and sometimes alter the Shadovar's original designation. These instances are rare, however, due to the sophistication and accuracy of Prince Lamorack's assessment methods.
Below the royal family, but far above the average Shadovar in authority and importance, are the wizards and sorcerers of the City of Shade. Taking their name from the ancient Netherese term for wizard, the arcanists are the magical backbone of the city. They staff the institutions of learning, train the talented in the secrets of the Art, and support various missions as the twelve princes command. There are approximately one thousand arcanists living in the city, of whom roughly two hundred fifty are shades. The shade arcanists are by far the more powerful representatives of the group, and they hold the positions of highest authority among the arcanist assemblies and organizations.
Some Shadovars who demonstrate only minimal magical aptitude find a respected place in the city's military. Most begin as low-ranking soldiers, but ample opportunity exists for the able and intelligent to earn promotions into the ranks of the officers. The City of Shade suffered innumerable attacks from a variety of hostile creatures during its long sojourn in the Plane of Shadow, and the army bore the brunt of these offensives. Now that the Shadovars have come back to Faerûn, the High Prince has ordered that the military's numbers and readiness increase as swiftly as possible.
The City of Shade's army currently numbers approximately three thousand soldiers. The bulk of these numbers are human descendents of Netheril, while about two hundred are shades (including all the officers above the rank of lieutenant). The High Prince is the commander of the army, but he relies on a triumvirate of generals - Shelkar, Vadebryth, and Tyrrollus - to develop and implement military strategies on all but the most dire of occasions. Each general commons roughly one thousand troops, and there are many specialized squads and divisions within the army. Some of these groups vie with one another in rivalries that range from mostly friendly (such as that between the First Expeditionary Division and the Royal Scouts) to dangerous (such as that between the High Prince's Personal Guard and General Shelkar's Black Swords).
Shadovars who show no aptitude for spells higher than 0 level or for warfare are assigned ot one of the common ranks of society. These folks make up the bulk of the inhabitants in the City of Shade. They know their places and understand that they city's survival depends not only on their ability to work hard for its future but also in their obedience to their society's structure. The Shadovar commoner is loyal to his princes and devoted to his city. The rare citizen who displays behavior or commits acts that may undermine the city's safety or security are discovered, often by the nobility's paid informants, and put to death.
The City of Shade requires constant maintenance, due to the stresses it endures while moving through the atmosphere. There are hundreds of crafters in the city, each specializing in one of a number of trades (masonry, paving, carpentry, metalworking, leatherworking, and similar tasks). Many have managed to learn one or two arcane spells (0 level) to help ease their labors. These spells are typically mage hand, mending, open/close, or prestigidation. All crafters are human. They and their families expect reasonable treatment from their betters, and their wages are sufficient to allow them to live comfortably if not luxuriously.
Even in the treacherous and strange Plane of Shadow, the City of Shade maintained an economy. Its merchant class was skilled in obtaining raw materials and other goods from the places the city visited in that dark realm, and making them available to their fellow citizens. Prices are strictly controlled, as is the minting and distribution of currency. Thus the economy is artificial, intended more as a means of regulating supply and demand than allowing anyone to earn a profit.
Those citizens who show no aptitude for magic, religion, crafts, or any other useful employment join the ranks of the personal servants. These folk are assigned primarily to domestic roles such as maid, valet, messenger, and street cleaner. While they have no hope of bettering their lives, many hope and dream that their children fare better.
Slaves occupy the lowest rung on the Shadovar social ladder. Some slaves are Shadovars who exhibit absolutely no useful skill or talent; others are citizens convinced of non-capital offenses. The majority are humanoids captured by the Shadovars on a slaving expedition or acquired from slave traders.
The slaves of the Shadovars expect nothing better than lives of menial labor and drudgery. How a slave is treated is left entirely to the individual slave owner. Some, particularly among the aristocratic segment of society, prefer to regard slaves as favored pets, but there is no recourse for a slave whose master decides to treat him with brutality. The slaves of the city know better than to attempt revolt or flight, however. Their masters possess power at least several orders of magnitude higher than that of the typical slave. Worse, the Shadovars have no reservations about simply slaying rebellious slaves out of hand and acquiring more later.
Appearance and Personality
The physical traits of a shade are described in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. Shadovars who are not shades are identical to their outsider masters, but lack the distinctive gray cast to their skin.
The Shadovars dress in clothing that seems (to other residents of Faerûn) outdated to the point of antiquity; their courtly attire may appear outlandish and alien. They favor dark colors such as black, burgundy, charcoal gray, dark green, and midnight blue. members of the upper class wear a great deal of jewelry; gems and jewels are also often cunningly woven into their ensembles. They are also fond of gilt, gold thread, and cloth-of-gold accents. Common folk wear simpler garb as befits their trade, and slaves are permitted only serviceable, unadorned clothing that is only marginally better than simple homespun.
Having lived in a magical society for generations, the shades are completely comfortable with magic, and most have at least some magical ability. Because of their isolation and aloofness, their mannerisms and equipment are exotic and old-fashioned. Ruled by powerful wizards and sorcerers, the shades have access to an almost unlimited number of potions, scrolls, and minor magic items.
Shades were once humanoids, but they have traded their souls for the essence of shadowstuff.
Most shades appear as humanoids of their former height and appearance, but with grayish or nearly black, dusky skin and veiled eyes. They are often thinner than normal for their races. They favor somber clothing and wear armor if they so desire.