So my question is simple. There is a shadow dragon in my campaign who was previously a gold dragon. He remembers vaguely his past and wishes to revert back to his original form. I thought of True Polymorph spell at first but I didn't find it very satisfying. Does anyone have a suggestion or if there is already a known method to revert a shadow dragon back to it's previous form. I don't mind the edition of dnd if there is published method. I want to turn the dragon's request into a side quest for my players
Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage has a section dedicated to transforming a certain shadow dragon back to its original bronze dragon form.
In level 18 of the 5th-edition adventure Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, a shadow dragon can be transformed back to his original bronze dragon form by ending his despair. The adventure states:
Characters can try to turn Umbraxakar back into a bronze dragon by ending his despair and breaking Shar’s hold over him. To accomplish this, they must present the shadow dragon with items he cherishes and succeed on three separate ability checks to lift his spirits (see below). If they fail more than one such check, they won’t have enough gifts left to turn the shadow dragon back into a bronze dragon.
With each successful check, the dragon becomes visibly more conflicted as moonlight magically flickers across his scales, making them appear more solid and less translucent. A character who sees this magical moonlight can sense, with a successful DC 20 Wisdom (Insight) check, that it’s of divine origin. (The moonlight is a blessing from Selûne, though there’s no way for the characters to confirm this.)
Three successful checks are needed to rid the dragon of his despair, whereupon he dismisses any remaining undead under his command, causing them to vanish and never return. His spirits lifted by the characters’ gifts and words, Umbraxakar changes back into an adult bronze dragon, returns the characters’ gifts, and insists on being called Glyster henceforth.
In official 3.5e, shadow dragons are born that way
Barring some kind of curse or ritual or whatever, a shadow dragon wouldn’t be “previously a gold dragon,” because shadow dragons are just another type of dragon, not a “corruption” of other dragons. That concept was introduced in the 5th edition, so you’d have to look to 5th edition material for undoing that precise process, as it didn’t exist in official 3.5e.
But there could be other, more generic ways...
If nothing else, Savage Species has the Ritual of Vitality
Savage Species is a weird book, developed during the odd “3.25e” phase of D&D, where it’s supposed to be based on 3.5e but 3.5e wasn’t quite done yet so not all the rules are right. And it does a lot of “experimental” things, I guess, that the rest of D&D wouldn’t do. It doesn’t have a great reputation.
That said, the Ritual of Vitality on page 150 would certainly accomplish this: a creature can use their XP to change from one type of creature to another. The cost is “A number of experience points sufficient to earn class levels equivalent to the goal creature’s starting ECL, minimum 1,000 XP,” as well as (goal ECL)² × 1,000 gp. So to become a young gold dragon (14 HD + 6 LA = ECL 20th) requires 190,000 XP and 400,000 gp (!).
The obvious problem here, aside from the very large size of those numbers, is that XP and ECL are things for player characters. NPCs don’t generally gain XP, and gold dragons older than young don’t have any defined ECL, because they aren’t playable (LA —).
Page 150 also mentions that this kind of thing could be done with wish, but that this is always “falls under the ‘wishing for greater effects’ rules in the spell description.” It gives some suggestions for what the DM “may” do if such a wish is made, but nothing hard-and-fast.
It could always be dispelled, but polymorph any object would last forever otherwise
A shadow dragon and a gold dragon are very-closely related. The “Same kingdom,” “Same class,” and “Related” factors in the polymorph any object table should apply, for a total duration factor of 9, which is sufficient to achieve a duration of “permanent.” “Permanent” means the magic lasts indefinitely—unless it’s specifically ended by something, such as dispelling. As such, it’s not really a great answer here. The shadow dragon is still a shadow dragon under all that magic.
Unsure if this applies to 3.5e, but in the case of 5e...
NPCs aren't bound by the same limitations as PCs
Nothing restricts you from giving your dragon NPC access to a unique ability that allows it to change back and forth between either forms (or just go back to one form permanently, if that's what you're looking for). The list of existing spells and their limitations are imposed on player characters, but there are multiple examples of monsters having unique abilities that operate outside of those spell lists.
For this kind of situation, it's probably easier (and also less confusing for everyone involved) to decide that "There is a unique ability [insert ability name here] that does X" rather than saying something like "There is this variant of the True Polymorph ability, except its duration is X, it is limited to Y, ...".
As you mentioned you'd like this to be a side quest, there are plenty of ways to make this ability available to the dragon after some adventuring, such as :
- Finding a unique artifact that allows the dragon to use the ability.
- Searching for and breaking a deal with a wizard, druid or other kind of magical NPC with that ability.
- Defeating some entity that would be the source of the dragon's "curse".
There need not be only one solution as well, you never know what players could think about. The adventure in itself is up to your and your player's imagination.
If you're looking for a specific example of a shadow dragon reverting to its original form in earlier editions, I don't believe there are any. In earlier editions, shadow dragons were just another type of dragon, like gold or red or amethyst.
There are, however, plenty of ways to change one's species in 3.5e. Player's Handbook II has character rebuilding, which allows one to change species, but it's not a great fit here. Savage Species has the Ritual of Unlearning and Ritual of Vitality, which will change the subject's species. These feel like a better fit for this situation, though the numbers would need to be tweaked; transforming into even a baby gold dragon using the Ritual of Vitality would take 13 days and cost 78,000 XP and 169,000 gold pieces (and require a level 13 spellcaster to perform). Frustratingly, it doesn't account for starting species; transforming from one type of dragon to another should be cheaper than transforming from a halfling into a dragon, but not in Savage Species (which was a book notorious for interesting ideas and poor implementation, even by 3.5's standards). Still, the idea of some sort of customized ritual is, I think, a good one, and has the advantage of being an interesting plot hook for a sidequest or even a main goal for the PCs, and the DM can make it as difficult as necessary to pull off. Rather than simply costing gold and XP, it could require rare magical items or reagents, things important to the dragon in question in his youth before becoming a shadow dragon, and so forth.
If a custom ritual based on the Ritual of Vitality is too much like homebrew for your tastes, Savage Species also explicates that wish can change someone's species. More broadly, undoing some otherwise-permanent change is often one of the use-cases for wish—here's an excellent list of effects it ends in 5e, and reverting the shadow dragon transformation seems like it would fit right in—so it definitely seems like wish should work here.