Shadow Sorcerer — how to play in DnD 5E

The baron had been running for over an hour, his expensive loafers ruined by the muddy land he had controlled until mere hours before. He hadn’t seen the revolt coming, a wandering band of adventurers poking their nose into his affairs now found him fleeing for his life, penniless. Well, not entirely. Of course, he had poured what he could of the barony’s coffers into his haversack, and he still had his ancestral sword, albeit he had stained the pristine blade with that bothersome servant’s innards. A cracking branch caused him to look back, a shadow appeared to erratically dart closer, passing from tree to tree in the moo-cast shadows, a trick of the light surely. The weight of the gold on his soft back had begun to chafe and cramp him, he stopped in a clearing to catch his breath and drink his favorite imported spirit from his hip flask. 

Over the sound of his own labored breathing he could barely hear the howl in the distance, a coyote perhaps, there were no wolves in his lands. The baron’s heart had just started to slow when the hound fell upon him, the sorcerer melted out of the shadows shortly after. Hoisting the sack of gold over her shoulder and pocketing the fallen lord’s signet ring as evidence, she turned back. It took mere minutes to return to the mansion by riding the shadows, she left the baron to become one with his land.

Dark and mysterious, this Sorcerous Origin highlights the power that lies in the shadows, building on the creepy theme that allows a Sorcerer to own the night in 5E.

In this Shadow Sorcerer 5E mini-guide, we’ll break down what this Origin provides you, as well as give you an insight on how to play this literally dark subclass.

Shadows and Puppies: Shadow Sorcerer Features

Level One

Eyes of the Dark – You gain 120 feet of darkvision. In addition, at 3rd level, you automatically learn the Darkness spell, without it counting as a spell known. You can cast this spell by with your spell slots, or by spending 2 sorcery points. When you cast it with sorcery points, your vision is unaffected by the spell. This gives you better darkvision than most races and monsters, a versatile battlefield control spell without eating your precious spells known, and the ability to cast it cheaper with the ability to see through it! This is excellent, although it’s a shame that you can’t see through Darkness when you cast it with your spell slots, but this is mostly an inconvenience.
Strength of the Grave –When you are reduced to zero hit points by damage, you can make a Charisma saving throw to instead drop to one hit point. The DC for this saving throw is 5 + the amount of damage that you took. You can only use this feature once per long rest, and it has no effect if the damage that would reduce you to zero is from a critical hit or radiant damage type. This makes you a little harder to kill in early levels, the save being Charisma gives you a good chance of succeeding. The downside to this is the static 5 in the formula, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make this save very quickly. Better than nothing, and comes alongside the better Eyes of the Dark!

Level Six

Hound of Ill Omen – You can spend 3 sorcery points as a bonus action to summon your hound of Ill Omen within 30 ft. of a target you choose, this target must be within 120 ft. of you. This hound has the same stats as a dire wolf, but with these alterations:

  • It is large instead of medium.
  • It is a monstrosity instead of a beast.
  • It can move through objects and creatures as though they were just difficult terrain, taking 5 force damage if it ends its turn inside an object.
  • When summoned, it has temporary hit points equal to half your Sorcerer level, rounded down.
  • It automatically knows the location of its target at the start of its turn, making the creature known to the hound even if it was initially hidden.

The hound has its own initiative count and is limited to moving only toward its target by the most direct route possible. It can only use its action to attack the designated target and can only make opportunity attacks against that target. In addition, the target has disadvantage on saving throws against your spells whilst the hound is within 5 ft. The hound exists until it is reduced to 0 hit points, five minutes pass, or the target chosen is reduced to 0 hit points. This means that it will persist, and continue to attack its target, even if the summoning Sorcerer dies. An excellent feature that provides you with a minion relatively cheaply and with very little action economy or oversight needed. Even if the hound doesn’t kill its target, the harassment it provides is an excellent way to expedite the matter and the bonus to your casting is icing on the cake. You can consider this a mixture of a summoned ally and persistent use of the Heightened Spell metamagic, all for only 3 sorcery points!

Level Fourteen

Shadow Walk – Whilst in darkness or dim light, you can spend a bonus action to magically teleport up to 120 ft. The destination must also be in darkness or dim light, must be unoccupied, and you must be able to see it. A method of teleportation shared with the Way of the Shadow Monk, this conditional, but at-will, mobility feature can be exceedingly valuable. Whilst its use is reliant on dim light or darkness, the former should be fairly common and you can use your ability to cast the Darkness spell to facilitate it when in brightly lit areas.

Level Eighteen

Umbral Form – As a bonus action, you can spend 6 sorcery points to magically enhance yourself with shadows. This form lasts for 1 minute, but ends early if you’re incapacitated, die, or dismiss it willingly as a bonus action. Whilst in this form you gain the following benefits:

  • You have resistance to every damage type, except force and radiant damage.
  • You can move through objects and creatures as difficult terrain, taking 5 force damage if you are inside an object at the end of your turn.

An excellent, if expensive, feature, this makes you a tank despite your D6 Hit Die and increases your already impressive mobility. Given its high cost, you should save this ability for the tougher fights of the day and budget your sorcery points accordingly so you can actually use it!

It’s Not a Phase, Mom – Sample Builds

Child of Darkness [Half-Elf (Drow variant) Sorcerer 20]

Here is a suggested Ability Score Array for this build using the point buy method, before applying racial ability score increases:

Str 8 Dex 15 Con 13 Int 8 Wis 12 Cha 15

Your half-elf ASI will push your Charisma to 17, whilst the floating +1s will push your Dex to 16 and your Constitution to 14. You’ll be taking the variant option for half-elves in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, trading your Skill Versatility feature for the drow’s Drow Magic feature. This will net you the Dancing Lights cantrip initially, with a free casting of Faerie Fire from 3rd level, and Darkness from 5th level, with the latter being very thematic and aiding your Shadow Walk feature.

This build will lean into the Shadow Sorcerer subclass entirely, making the most of your various features so that you can hound your enemies from a safe distance. This is one of the simpler builds you can do with this subclass, whilst still making the most of it.

Key Levels

1-4: The spells you need to grab in these levels are Mage Armor, Shield, and preferably Absorb Elements for basic protection. As you gain access to 2nd level spells Scorching Ray is an excellent pickup to take advantage of your Darkness shenanigans. Because of this, you’ll want to take Transmuted Spell as one of your Metamagic options to overcome resistance and immunity to fire. At 4th level, instead of increasing your Charisma score, you should use your ASI to take the Metamagic Adept feat, you can take any options that interest you, but Quickened Spell and Twinned Spell are solid options. The point of this feat on this build, however, isn’t to give you more options, it’s to give you more sorcery points. This allows you to spend your core allowance on casting Darkness, whilst still having some points to enhance your spells.

5-10: During these levels, you will gain access to substantially more powerful spells, along with your Hound of Ill Omen and your second ASI. Choice spells for these levels should include Slow, Blight, and Synaptic Static. All of these spells require saving throws, allowing you to take advantage of the debuff your hound will apply. Speaking of your best of boys, due to the relatively high sorcery point cost at these levels, it’s best to reserve deploying your hound for when it’s really needed. Besides ‘boss’ fights, this should also include encounters that feature multiple medium-toughness monsters, you shouldn’t use your hound against any enemy that it will be able to quickly kill single-pawedly, it’s an inefficient use of your points. Your 8th level ASI should bump your Charisma to 18, an initial delay wasn’t very impactful, but you really want to increase your to-hit and spell save DC at these levels, beyond just proficiency.

11-15: Your play style will change pretty significantly as your total spell slots and pool of sorcery points grows. Besides allowing you to leverage more powerful spells and use metamagic more frequently, this will allow you to sacrifice lesser-used slots for more points and more freely use your Hound of Ill Omen and Darkness, potentially more than once per combat for the former. During these levels, you’ll be able to take your Charisma to 20 with your 12th level ASI and gain the ability to teleport at will between spots that aren’t hit by bright light, which you can create yourself easily. This added mobility will help increase your practical durability by allowing you to stay out of reach of, or get away from, melee-centric monsters, which the game is laden with. Spells that you should consider taking at these levels include Disintegrate, Eyebite, Finger of Death, and Power Word Stun. Dominate Monster might be tempting, but with damage causing subsequent saves, your hound will both help and hinder you with such a spell.

16-20: The end of your career brings your final subclass and class feature, with the latter being fairly lackluster, you have enough great uses of your sorcery points that being able to use them more liberally is still welcome. The former transforms you from a fairly fragile caster, into a veritable tank against most enemies, with even further enhanced mobility. Your new found resistances are expensive, but worth it as it won’t just make you harder to kill, but will also make your concentration incredibly difficult to break. Your final ASIs can either be used to bump your Dex or Con, or take any feats that might interest you. Some feats that would add value to your build are Lucky to further mess with your enemies saving throws, Alert to allow you to use your subclass abilities before the monster can even act, and Elven Accuracy to make the most of your Darkness if you’re still making use of attack-based spells. The strongest choice for your 9th level spell is Wish, thanks to the sheer versatility of being able to cast any spell of 8th level or lower. This gives you massive versatility in combat and can be used for a variety of preparation during downtime, which can include the following spells: Find familiar, Find Greater Steed, Simulacrum, and Clone. This list is just to inspire you as to the power of having this spell and any degree of downtime is.
We hope that you’ve found this article helpful and are now prepared to slink into the darkness and harness its power for your own. If you’re interested in more Sorcerer information, then check out our Sorcerer guide, or if you just enjoy reading about the game, then check out our how to play section. Until next time, may your battlefields be dark and your hound a good boy!

What 5e book is Shadow Sorcerer from?

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGtE).

How powerful is the Shadow Sorcerer in 5E?

It can be very powerful if you leverage Darkness and the spell debuff from the Hound of Ill Omen well. Just be careful you don’t blind your allies!

What is the best race for Shadow Sorcerer in 5E?

Many races work well with a Shadow Sorcerer, but the half-elf gives you an excellent starting point.

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