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Shadow Originsby Sharon Dornhoff
I've been giving some thought to the recent discussion about the Mystaran shadow -- the monster, not the thing you're standing in when Ixion's shining on the other side of the rock! ;-) -- and I came up with an idea for what might be going on with them. (This is assuming that shadows AREN'T undead, as in the AD&D rules, but weird living creatures as OD&D portrays them.) Please, tell me whether you think this makes sense, people:
From Bruce's long-ago article on Limbo (the Mystaran Purgatory, kind of), we learned that Mystarans have five components which correspond to the five Spheres: Matter, Time, Thought, Energy, and Entropy. Matter makes up the physical body, while Time sets the actual duration of life and guides the body's maturation. Thought and Energy make up the soul, which is made sentient by the former and kept in existence by the latter. The Entropic component binds soul to body, wears away as the person ages, and is eroded entirely when natural death occurs. If someone dies prematurely, any "leftover" Entropy passes into the world, which is part of the reason Entropy is so gung-ho about death.*
(* - Bruce told us all this; what follows is my own guesswork, based on his ideas.)
When someone becomes undead, presumably it's the Entropic part that is doing the damage/inducing the change. If they become something corporeal, this component binds the soul into the carcass even after Time has dictated the body should die, and Matter has ceased to maintain it (i.e. it rots). If they become incorporeal, it links them up to the larger forces of Entropy, keeping the soul in the Physical Plane and granting it whatever powers its undead-type has. In non-sentient undead*, the Thought component of the soul might also be damaged; in energy-draining forms, the Energy component is entirely displaced, and its role is usurped by the Entropic one.
(* - I'm thinking of creatures other than skeletons and zombies, here. Those don't have souls in them; they're just bones or meat under necromantic control.)
But suppose shadows aren't a result of the Entropic component's alteration? What if, in a Mystaran (i.e. style-style) shadow, the soul's Energy component is the one that's altered, in a way that causes it to absorb light -- hence, their appearance -- and drain vigour -- not levels, i.e. lifeforce, but Strength -- on contact with "normal" living beings? The physical body (Matter plus Time components) gets left behind, making the shadow incorporeal, but the soul never actually "dies", any more than a mage whose body is slain while Magic Jarred into another will be "dead".
Think of it like this. Maybe, in the far-distant past*, a cabal of wizards and clergy tried to achieve earthly immortality -- not an ascension to Pandius; just an indefinite lifespan where they'd never grow old -- by disjoining the Time components of their own bodies from the Matter components. In theory, they thought this would spare them from Time's rigours and eventual death, because their Matter components -- i.e. their flesh -- wouldn't get any "instructions" from the Time-components about when to grow old or die. This wasn't a complete severance -- they feared that would leave them with no sense of time's passage at all -- but it DID block Time from giving any "input" to their bodies' Matter.
(* - There were shadows in Blackmoor modules, IIRC, so they must have been around a long time.)
Unfortunately, they'd failed to consider whether the disjunction-magics they used would affect their souls, also. When the cabal actually invoked their ritual of "earthly immortality", the two components of their physical bodies disjoined ... but so did the two components of their souls, Thought and Energy! Just as Time had been cut off from communication with Matter, so Energy was cut off from communication with Thought. Their sentient "selves" -- the Thought portions of their souls -- lost touch with their spiritual source of sustenance/vitality -- the Energy portions -- and immediately started to grow weaker, due to their contact with the Entropy component (normally, the Energy component's energies would have compensated for this drain/erosion). Desperate to escape being drained, each mage's "self" -- technically only HALF a soul -- ripped free of its Entropy component, also severing the link to its physical body.
What was left from all this -- the sentient portion of a soul -- is what Mystarans today call a "shadow". The Thought portion of the soul remains battered yet largely unchanged, such that the creature is self-aware and capable of cunning. As this is the strongest remaining portion of the erstwhile person, the shadow manifests itself in a semi-gaseous form (since Air is related to Thought). Its new "body" is mutable and can lie flat like a real shadow; it can slip through small spaces with ease. Because it's basically a disembodied soul -- or at least 50% of a soul -- a shadow is immune to normal weapons, like many undead which share this same makeup.
The original, material body -- which wasn't really "killed", but got left behind when the half-soul broke its Entropic tether -- immediately falls into a coma and dies of thirst/starvation. So much for the Matter component of the new-born shadow. The Time component really DID get disjoined, then abandoned along with the flesh: for what it's worth, shadows are unaging and do not suffer natural deaths. They ARE alive, and not undead, because Entropy plays no part in their existence, beyond the Entropic component's having driven the half-soul from its body in the first place.
It's the Energy component -- still loosely linked to the Thought portion, yet unable to pass on its energies to the soul's other half -- that's the problem. In its state of disjunction, it can't "feed" the Thought-portion, as in a normal (dead or embodied) soul; more, it can't even sustain ITSELF, without the Thought-component's help! (Tapping into the Energy Sphere is something only a SENTIENT soul can figure out how to do, and on its own, the Energy-component isn't very smart. :-D) That portion of the shadow's soul which had once provided it with vitality, instead becomes an energy "sink", sucking in whatever traces of mundane energy -- light, warmth, the Strength of living bodies -- its incorporeal form can come into contact with. Sucking in MAGICAL energy is another story; as with tapping the Energy Sphere, magic's awfully hard to handle for the (essentially mindless) Energy-component, so that shadows can't become mini-NoSs and absorb energy from spells or from the ambient magics of Mystara. Even natural sunlight is a wee bit too magical for them, as Mystara's two suns -- inner and outer -- both tap their energies from the Plane of Fire. Light from torches or campfires (or PCs' lanterns ;-D) is much more to their "taste" ... and the physical vitality of corporeal beings -- the next best thing to the spiritual energies their sundered souls can no longer draw upon -- is the best thing of all, to slake their famished need for Energy.
Thus, we have the major properties of shadows -- they're neither wholly incorporeal nor truly gaseous, but a bit of both; they drain Strength by touch; they're immune to mundane weapons; their bodies absorb light (hence, they look "shadowy"), yet they avoid Continual Light spells (magical light does them no good) and the sun (ditto); they're alive, yet share many similarities with the bodiless undead -- all laid out ... or at least, all the ones I could think of! ;-D
The one shadows' feature I've NOT been able to account for, is the fact that their condition is "contagious", i.e. that they pass it on by turning victims into shadows. So, if you think this is a viable explanation for "live" shadows, let me know if you can come up with a basis for their "breeding" methods! Or, if you DON'T like this theory of shadow-origins, tell me what you think I've overlooked, or post your own story for how shadows -- the live ones, not the undead oogey-boogeys :-) -- came into the world.