On the one hand, umbral dragons seem to be simply the Plane of Shadow version of their primal dragon cousins—the fifth and most powerful of the set. And yet…well, there’s something about them that seems…off. They are definitely creatures of shadow (their mastery of shadow magic speaks to that) but they are also creatures tied to undeath—able to touch, harm, and even consume the restless spirits of the dead in a way few other creatures could. This speaks of heavy influence from the Negative Energy Plane…not surprising, since the Plane of Shadow is riddled with connections to that even darker place…but it almost seems like a taint. One has the feeling that they sampled too deeply of undead flesh, lingered too long in the Deep Shadow, gave too much of their souls over to dark powers (to such a degree that some elder dragons can even create undead!). They are the epitome of all that is the Plane of Shadow, but they are also contaminated and corrupt in ways the other primal dragons are not and never will be.
Killed by a rival, the inventor and philosopher Teolan has returned as a ghost. Such a significant spirit has attracted the attention of an umbral dragon who longs to slake her thirst on the ghost’s ectoplasmic form. Adventurers seeking Teolan’s wisdom will have to defend the ghost from her hunger—and defend themselves from the ghost, now a malevolent, bitter apparition who will strike them from behind even as they battle the dragon.
The umbral dragon Noxentia rules a cathedral-sized mausoleum, the dark mirror image of a college and seminary in the real world. She keeps the place meticulously clean of undead, with the notable exception of allips. These she allows the run of her lair, basking in the pain and loss inherent in their babbling song.
The Plane of Shadow does not only reflect environs, but sometimes individuals as well—those long-lived enough to cast a reflection across reality, that is. The gold dragon Heiraurum has two twins: the sovereign dragon Mist’s Remembrance on the Ethereal Plane and an umbral dragon, Vertixpylus, on the Plane of Shadow. Vertixpylus has recently become aware of his noble gold and contemplative sovereign reflections, and their very existence drives him wild with rage and envy. Working through proxies, shadow servants, and the odd kyton, he seeks intelligence about his mirror twins and hopes to strike them dead when the time is right.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 2 102–103
Any Ghostwalk fans out there? I imagine Dracanish’s priests would be fascinated with umbral dragons…weighing their ability to quite literally eat the dead versus their chaotic evil alignment.
Also, for tips on role-playing umbral dragons, I have one name for you: Synn. Synn was a night dragon on Mystara, a creature of Entropy not unlike umbral dragons, who was a major villainess in Bruce Heard’s “The Voyage of the Princess Ark” series. When wounded by Prince Haldemar’s boltmen, what does she do? Dog them through the skies. Send a polymorphed possessed servant to spy upon them. Ally with an order of sky knights against them. Follow them into the Hollow World. And then send them through a rift in time, and for good measure, dump a former passenger—a woman who assumes Haldemar abandoned her to rot in prison for decades—on the deck as a parting gift. Now that’s how you play an umbral dragon.