The Dream Shade — Threatening Thursday
Welcome back to another Threatening Thursday where we talk about cool monsters and how to run them in your games. Today we’re talking about a homebrew monster of mine, and one of my favorites, the Dream Shade. Because this monster requires some intimate knowledge of your players and their characters, the Dream Shade tends to be best used later on in the game. Dream Shades, or simply Terrors, as some people call them, are ethereal creatures that move about more as a heavy presence than as a physical form. They are a deep shadow in the corner, a heavy silence in the air, a sense of dread rising in your throat. When they do physically manifest, usually to attack a victim, Terrors take on the form of your worst nightmare, using fear as their chief weapon.
When outside of combat or a similar encounter where they need to directly interact with another creature, the Terror takes on a nearly undetectable form. It can be identified only as something that makes the characters feel uncomfortable. Exactly what that is is up to you, but it should make them feel very slightly unsafe. Unnaturally deep shadows, cold spots in the room, and faint echoes of screams are all very effective, but feel free to play around with it. Whatever form it takes, the Terror does need to have a singular location, whether that’s the visible place where the shadow lies or the curiously empty origin of the sounds they heard, it is still occupying a specific place.
Remember that the Dream Shade takes on a form based on the worst nightmare of the person that it is currently engaged with, using their own fear as a weapon against them. Because of this, you need to have good knowledge of the characters in order to concoct an effectively nightmarish appearance. If it’s earlier in the game, feel free to simply ask the players about something that their characters would fear or dream about.
Each time that the Terror engages with a different character, make note of their form smoothly transitioning into whatever most frightens their new target. Even when they become more physical, they are still very fluid and can change with ease.
The Long-Awaited Stat Block
Let’s get to the numbers. The Dream Shade can be either a young shade or an elder shade with stat blocks to match.
Both forms are suitable boss fights and are best paired with a number of smaller minions (specters, wraiths, or even young dream shades, depending on the party level). Usually, I place Terrors at the end of a dungeon or deep in a crypt, somewhere where they can be a good payoff to a leadup involving ghosts and haunting.
When playing for a Dream Shade, you want to maximize the use of the shift form ability, cycling through targets with your attacks and giving the possibility of having multiple targets feared at once. This is especially important for the Elder Dream Shade as feared targets are its source of healing and longevity in a fight.
I hope that you enjoy using this monster as much as I have. It’s always been suitably terrifying for my players and is one of the rare monsters that come with built-in connections to the characters and their backstories. Thanks for reading, and as always remember to follow me here on Medium as well as on Twitter. Check back each weekday for a new article.