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The Way of Shadow monk's Shadow Step feature says (PHB, p. 80; emphasis mine):

At 6th level, you gain the ability to step from one shadow into another. When you are in dim light or darkness, as a bonus action you can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space you can see that is also in dim light or darkness. You then have advantage on the first melee attack you make before the end of the turn.

In D&D 5e, does Shadow Step count as a magical ability? Or is it more of the ninja-like reflexes using those abilities to move within shadows? I get the word used is “teleport” which, in the general D&D world would be considered magical, but based on the context, it doesn’t seem to be a magical ability.

For example, on the D&D Beyond website, in the text description of Shadow Step, the word teleport is not linked to the teleport spell, whereas Cloak of Shadows does reference invisible as a link. Also Shadow Step is not under the Shadow Arts section where Ki can be used to duplicate certain spells. These separations make me think it’s not really magical.

I’m asking specifically regarding its use in the Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage adventure. My understanding is that all magic doesn’t work the same way in there so wondering if Shadow Step would be affected there seeing how it’s not mentioned as a spell and/or magical.

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The Shadow Step feature is not magical

The Sage Advice Compendium (page 17) answers the question on determining a game feature as magical as below:

Determining whether a game feature is magical is straightforward. Ask yourself these questions about the feature:

  • Is it a magic item?
  • Is it a spell? Or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description?
  • Is it a spell attack?
  • Is it fueled by the use of spell slots?
  • Does its description say it’s magical?

If your answer to any of those questions is yes, the feature is magical.

The Way of Shadow monk's Shadow Step feature (PHB, p. 80) is defined as below:

At 6th level, you gain the ability to step from one shadow into another. When you are in dim light or darkness, as a bonus action you can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space you can see that is also in dim light or darkness. You then have advantage on the first melee attack you make before the end of the turn.

The feature is not described as magical in nature, so it does not match the 5th criterion. Also, while there is a spell called "Teleport", the lack of italics or other explicit reference to this spell in the description of Shadow Step suggests that this does not qualify for the 2nd criterion either.

Seeing as it meets none of the above requirements, Shadow Step is not a magical feature.

In relation to the changes to magic in Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, I expect you are referring to the "Alterations to Magic" section below (emphasis mine):

Halaster doesn’t make it easy for creatures to enter or leave his dungeon. No spell other than wish can be used to enter Undermountain, leave it, or transport oneself from one level to another. Astral projection, teleport, plane shift, word of recall, and similar spells cast for these reasons simply fail, as do effects that banish a creature to another plane of existence. These restrictions apply to magic items and artifacts that have properties that transport or banish creatures to other planes as well. Magic that allows transit to the Border Ethereal, such as the etherealness spell, is the exception to this rule. A creature that enters the Border Ethereal from Undermountain is pulled back into the dungeon upon leaving that plane.

From the above, it looks like the only intention is to stop the player from moving in and out of the dungeon or between levels. As Shadow Step is dependent on line of sight, it seems unlikely that this feature could be used to circumvent the intentions of the Alterations to Magic, and other forms of movement which are explicitly magical are not affected outside of trying to escape or move levels. As a result, it does not seem likely that Shadow Step would be directly affected by Alterations to Magic.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is what I was thinking as well, but @krb also has a good point about Jeremy Crawford's comment about background magic. I guess I'll wait and see what votes say! \$\endgroup\$ – HanzelMan Sep 21 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HanzelMan That's cool. I've added a little in relation to the Alterations to Magic you mentioned. \$\endgroup\$ – CardboardKnight Sep 21 at 18:37
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Shadow Step is teleportation. If it were based on "ninja like reflexes" then there would be no way of moving between shadows that are not connected and the characters's movement rate would apply. A human monk with a movement rate of 40 feet can take their full movement then telport an additional 60 feet into a shadow that is on the other side of a deep chasm that has a river of molten lava flowing at the bottom. "Ninja like reflexes" are not a rational explanation for how a normal human could get to that new location.

Shadow Step, and other Monk abilities are powered by Ki, which is not necessarily magic. As described at Does ki count as magic for the purpose of an antimagic field, or is it only fluff? abilities like Shadow Step use what Jeremy Crawford refers to as "background magic", similar to a dragon's breath. So even though they are fueled by magic they are not effected by things like an anti-magic zone unless the DM makes a house rule to limit the Monk's Ki abilities.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great mention of "background magic" to explain how the monk can perform the extraordinary while not actually having the ability classed as distinctly "magical" in nature. \$\endgroup\$ – CardboardKnight Sep 21 at 18:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see where you're coming from, especially with your example of going over a chasm or molten lava. Maybe I shouldn't have use the 'ninja like reflexes' in my question. Ultimately, I'm looking to see if it's really magic or a non-standard type of skill that monks have. Again, this is question came about because of the way the Dungeon of the Made Mage refers to "Alterations to Magic". \$\endgroup\$ – HanzelMan Sep 21 at 18:12

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