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Shades are humanoids who have merged with the essence of the Plane of Shadow. They grow more powerful in areas of darkness or shadows, including the ability to leap from shadow to shadow, to create shadowy duplicates of themselves, and even become entirely invisible. They can also decrease the amount of light in an area, and can see through darkness, even of the magical variety.
A select few Shadovar, citizens of the Thultanthar, are rewarded for their immense loyalty to the city by being made into shades. The Shade was first created through the research of Netherese wizards who left Faerûn for the Plane of Shadow for research purposes long before Karsus's Folly. During this journey, it was found that by removing a part of your soul and replacing it with the essence of shadow, a Shade could be produced. This is an extremely complex and painful process but the result is a being with a prolonged life, and a greatly strengthened set of abilities when in the presence of shadows.