Shadow People are supernatural beings similar to ghosts. As the name implies, they are beings roughly human in shape, and made of shadow.
What they are exactly is somewhat confusing, considering the conflicting viewpoints on their nature. Some reports have them as being similar to ghosts, and they are often tied to the souls of the departed. These accounts draw a connection with the "Shades" found in some mythology and folklore. Still, other versions have them described as being entirely alien entities, perhaps from another dimension.
Most reports of shadow people are that they are malevolent, though this is not universally accepted. Some people believe them to be neutral, or even benevolent. Still, the exact ways in which they harm or help people seems very ill-defined. That said the ability to manipulate and incite emotions seems to be a common feature. Dread is the most prevalent emotion that they provoke, but feelings of rage and other negative emotion have been mentioned.
As far as their other abilities, they can move through walls and/or teleport, with their movement often being described as a dancing pattern, flitting between slow and sluggish to rapid and graceful. There also exists a connection between shadow people sighting s and sleep paralysis. Many people who report sleep paralysis also report sightings of shadow people, who close in around the sufferer while they are helpless. Though a correlation does not necessarily mean that the shadow people cause this, that being the implication is terrifying. The thought that perhaps they are merely drawn to those who suffer from sleep paralysis is equally terrifying.
Whatever the case, there are also reports of a few specific types of shadow people. Though shadow people are always formless and vague in shape, some are cited as having glowing eyes. The color of these glowing eyes tend to denote different behavior patterns, with red being more malicious and white being more passive. There are some specific shadows that are seen commonly as well. The best known example of this is the "Hat Man," so named for his fedora like hat. He is often portrayed as being more full of form than your average shadow person, and he displays a fascination with his victim, which he torments for his own amusement. Another well known shadow person is the "Hooded Monk," which is sometimes associated with rage.
Using Shadow People in Your Game:
I think that shadow people are best used as supplementary terrors rather than as antagonists in their own right. Use them to help set the tone of a location that your players are exploring. This could hint that people died here or that this location has ties to the supernatural. Since most encounters with shadow people leave no mark upon people beyond a sense of terror and dread, the shadow people pose no threat to the lives of the PCs.
That said, D&D and some other systems do have stats for them if you wish to use them. If you choose to define these creatures as a threat, I suggest capitalizing on their emotional manipulation capabilities, their movement powers, and their association with sleep paralysis. In relation to that last bit, consider giving your shadow creatures the ability to paralyze their opponents or at least sap their energy and ability to fight back. Also, as shadow people are incorporeal, this poses some challenge for those wishing to fight them. It is also worth noting that you could have different variations of the shadow creatures based on the eye-color differences as noted earlier. These could serve as ways to diversify their abilities and difficulties. Figures such as the "Hat Man" and "Hooded Monk" could even function as boss level versions if you so choose.
Another option for using them in your game is to play up the association with sleep paralysis and lean heavily into it. Have them attack your party in the dead of night, while they're resting. Or more horrifyingly, have them attack only a single one of the party at a time, or even just a single PC repeatedly and let the fear and paranoia set in while the players marinate in what these horrific entities want. This also prevents the party from getting a full night's rest, which will no doubt create problems for them in their waking life, so they can suffer all day and dread the coming of night and the return of the shadow people.
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- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.