Clicks and clacks echo along the pale cobblestone as tendrils of lazy fog curl toward you. This moonlit night sends chills through your heart, and up your spine. Determined to get home, you pull your coat closer and quicken your pace.
Then, you see it. A slumped form, stepping out from a back alley. It is a man. Pale of skin, and dry of breath. But then he straightens, cold breath exhaling from his lips. A scraping of steel draws your eyes to the jagged dagger in his hand.
He begins walking toward you and you wonder if that blade is for you. But then his eyes meet yours, and though another chill slices into your bones, you know he is not here for you. The two of you pass in the night. Tonight, you are not what this creature seeks.
Revenants are created when a mortal soul claws its way back from the edge of the afterlife, seeking vengeance for its cruel and undeserving demise. The soul could be righteous or malevolent, courageous or cowardly, or any striation between. No matter what their true nature, they have been bound to seeking revenge, and cannot rest until that vengeance is completed.
A Revenant soul reclaims their mortal body, and rises from the grave much like a zombie. However, instead of the dead eyes of a corpse, the eyes of a Revenant command intelligence and resolve, often flashing or burning within the presence of their quarry. And their quarry always recognizes the Revenant for the reaper it is, no matter what body it may inhabit at the time. If a Revenant is killed...the soul finds its way back to another corpse, rising again from the dead in a new body, seeking its quarry endlessly.
It is known among monster hunters that a Revenant's quest is not forever. The soulbound only have a single year to exact vengeance upon their adversary, after which point the soul is ripped back to the afterlife and its current body turns to dust. And yes, I said "current body." During that year, a Revenant does not require food, air, drink, or sleep and if their body is killed...they find a new one.
If their adversary dies within the year, whether by the Revenant's hand or another's, the soul may finally pass on to the afterlife fulfilled. If not, well, whatever rips it back can decide what to do with them. Some pass on, while others linger as ghosts or wraiths, forever tormented by their unfulfilled destiny.
And these things are intelligent, often retaining the abilities and memories they possessed when they were alive. Now, these skills and powers may feel distant - like a lost dream - at first, but with training, a Revenant can utilize all of its previous assets to seek out its adversary, including seeking powerful allies to help it fulfill its hunt.
Monster hunters are also aware of the enhanced immunities and resistances it possesses which keep it in divine pursuit. One of the few creatures to possess resistance to psychic damage, you'll also have some difficulty with necrotic damage. Don't even try to poison or charm this thing, and assume it can't be stunned or exhausted. In fact, many of the techniques one might use to slow down any of us breathing humanoids just won't stick with a Revenant. Kill them, they rejuvenate somewhere else. Hurt them, they regenerate anyway.
Oh yeah. And they're really strong for a dead guy. Like all of their physical power were being channeled from their literal soul. Wouldn't want to get in the way of this thing and their divine justice.
The smart zombie in the legacy of Dungeons and Dragons is often fulfilled by the Wight, an intelligent and powerful undead with the capacity to command a small contingent of weaker skeletons and zombies. The Revenant, though also an undead creature and intelligent, is a different beast entirely.
It represents one trapped in a cycle of vengeance, desperately trying to punish those that wronged them in their former life. And, they're not even evil. At worst, they are only neutral, constantly walking the line between justice and chaos, and most of the time they're the good guys, cursed to right the wrong of their death. An anti-hero with a ticking clock.
This archetype finds its way into all sort of genres; the wanderer in the old west, a bitten hero in a zombie apocalypse, a terminal warrior princess with visions of her death. Someone who knows full well that the end of their quest is the end of them, but fights anyway. The terminal, destined entity. And I am pleased to say that what was once just a "hard zombie" has flourished into an entity with a massive potential for personal history, lore, and exploration.
And these creatures offer great opportunities for depth of world-building and cosmology when one entertains the idea of what gods and devils might vie for such a soul. Is it the Raven Queen that has brought you back for such a singular purpose, or Pelor with a divine mission before you can pass on to Elysium; is it a Great Old One in need of a temporary champion, or an Archdevil with a contract? The circumstances with which a Revenant is made can have startling implications as to the intentions of the greater beings in the world and their relationship to the Revenant, and, if a party surrounds them, to the party as well.
Revenants in Io
There are dark machinations that resonate and ripple across the ages of Io, and in this machina innocent people can find themselves crushed within the gears. These undeserving souls might find dreadful purpose in this false resurrection, and revel in their unkillable nature. However, every rebirth is a gift granted by an extra-planar entity, god, devil, or something else. And, like so many elements of the Weave in Ionian lore, there is a cost to such gifts...
The concept of an undead hero, neutral or not, exists in my world without a doubt. Revenants are certainly not common, but they aren't unheard of. Always seeking that greater depth of immersion and storytelling, those that do reveal themselves are never grunts or shambling corpses. They are aware, and might have already taken steps to hide the fact that they may be slowly decomposing (herbs, liquor, formaldehyde). Some have actively injected themselves with healing potions, syrupy elixirs of vitality, or taken to consuming infernal blood to cease the flow of rigor mortis. And all are well aware of the passage of time - and how long remains before they turn to dust. They may seek help from our heroes, allies to defeat their nemesis, or perhaps they've been down this road before, and have given in to their damnation.
My players have met two Revenants before, but I don't it was ever revealed to them (in secret or otherwise), and they will definitely show up again. Can a player-character be a Revenant? Anything's possible. There's too much espionage and assassination in my world for an Archfey to not take advantage of a poor, unfortunate soul every now and then. However, that is something that will be explored and revealed during play, not before. No one goes in thinking they're going to become a zombie Clint Eastwood...
See you at the table.
Man. I'm tired. What I wouldn't due for some CAFFEINE. ;)
Some baddies you find just hold a special place in your heart. Maybe you often fall back on them because they're so versatile, or you save them for that key moment when they'll be most effective. Could they be a striking nemesis, a freak chance encounter, or a surprising subversion of expectation?
I use a lot of monsters, and I make a lot of my own (that's another post altogether), but none so far have had such an "OH CRAP" moment from my players in recent games as the Remorhaz.
The Remorhaz is a traditionally arctic monstrosity. A predator preying on elk, polar bears, and other creatures that wander into their territory. They burrow deep into snow or ice, lying in wait for the faint vibrations of creatures moving above them. While hidden, it can raise or lower its body temperature, keeping the snow or ice around it from melting, or allowing it to glide through the cold tunnel.
A Remorhaz nest is quite a find, especially if you are a frost giant, as the young Remorhaz can be trained from hatching to obey commands and guard your citadels. Some might even become mounts for other creatures. Be careful if training these beasties, though; they are adept at swallowing their victims...
Their Place In Ionian Lore
The Remorhaz has become recently fascinating to me, and not just because of their mechanical capabilities. Residing in the grand north of the world, somewhere beyond the Wynnrik Region, the Remorhazes and their ilk would have been one of the first batches of creatures to encounter menacing Brood as they fled the collapsing Shadowfell at the turn of the 6th Age. This means that the once dormant, territorial creatures, fought, failed, and were corrupted by the impending swarm of shadow monsters. What came out of such a clash was an even more formidable foe.
What Makes Them Scary
1) They Can Swallow You (and then Burrow)
I have a few players it seems with a penchant for getting eaten, and with an ability like Swallow, this number continues to rise.
On their turn, a Remorhaz makes a Bite attack against a creature it is grappling (snake-like body, go figure). If the attack hits, you're looking at 6d10+7 piercing damage PLUS 2d6 fire damage, AND the creature is swallowed. While swallowed, they are considered blinded and restrained, and will suffer 6d6 acid damage at the start of each of Remorhaz's turns.
Now, that's pretty awful. However, your allies can deal damage to this thing while you're in its gullet. Deal enough damage in a single turn and the thing has to make DC 15 Constitution Save or regurgitate you. ...HOWEVER, if this thing swallowed you BEFORE it moved, it can now burrow 20 feet down (movement speed). Without a player with Sentinel, you're in BIG trouble if they can't hit it hard enough with attacks of opportunity.
If you're still conscious, you might be able to get yourself out. Restrained only brings your speed to 0, gives others advantage on attacking you, and your attacks and Dex Saves have disadvantage. You can engage in trying to hack your way out (which at higher levels is completely kosher), cast a spell, and so on. But if the odds aren't in your favor, your body might be SOL.
2) Fire AND Cold Damage Immunities
Let's shut down that Fireball and Cone of Cold immediately, shall we?
3) Their Bodies Are Superheated (Melee beware!)
Every time a creature touches the Remorhaz or hits it with a Melee attack while within 5 feet of it takes 3d6 fire damage. Every hit. Not every turn, or every round. EVERY. HIT.
This one is nasty. True, average damage here is only 10 fire, but it can add up quick. Imagine your Monk suffering 40 damage just for smacking the creature with their Flurry of Blows; sure, the thing can't take Reactions now, but the martial artist is melting. It forces you to pay attention to a creature's mobility, economy, and range - so YAY for tactics!
4) Ionian Augmentations (6th Age)
After their brush with the Brood, the resulting surge of necrosis and corruption moved through the species, garnering them two new curious features.
First is an immunity to Necrotic damage.
Second, a plethora of pulsing, bulbous tumors and sacks that litter their bodies. Every time the Remorhaz suffers damage (except Psychic damage), one of the boiling tumors bursts (GROSS). Every creature within 5 feet of the creature immediately suffers 2d6 Acid damage. Oops.
It makes the 5-foot radius around them extra volatile, and just like before, no saving throw. This, coupled with the Heated Body feature, can really mess with the melee attackers and how they synergize with ranged support.
Keep your healers healthy, you're gonna' need it.
Also, I've been painting two of them! Trying to follow the picture in the book for once. So far his color test is looking really nice. Can't wait to tighten up everything, smooth the fades, and finish him up.
Stay safe and don't get swallowed.
See you at the table.
So my buddy Shelley showed up to an event without a character. She warned me first, like a good player, maybe about 6 hours ahead of time. Lords bless my DnD Beyond subscription and knowledge of the game, because I made this character in 30 minutes flat and brought it to the game for her to play...and it was AMAZING.
The Core Concept
Normally she plays casters, so I asked if she wanted something familiar, or something new. She picked the latter, citing that a non-caster would be welcome. Knowing her, and her trust in me, I decided to give her something with enough technical choices to engage her caster experience, without worrying about spells, and had enough oomph to keep her on the front lines (when normally she doesn't put herself there), and finally some quirk to make things a little silly.
She's mentioned wanting to one day try a Kobold, so now's a great time to try it out.
To keep her AC high, I've awarded her a Ring Of Protection and some Bracers Of Defense. We rolled a decent array so I'll put a high stat in Dexterity and round out her Wisdom, and our Unarmored Defense will take care of the rest.
Race, Stats, and Features
So we started with an 18, 16, 14, 13, 12, and a 6. We'll put that 6 in Charisma because that's hilarious, and the 14 in Strength. 18 and 16 in Dexterity and Wisdom respectively, and we'll fill out the 12 and 13 in Constitution and Intelligence.
Kobolds are one of the few races in 5E that suffer an attribute penalty. -2 Strength and +2 Dexterity brings our Strength modifier to a lovely little +1 and our Dexterity already maxed out at 20 for a +5. To keep this little spitfire moving, I grant the Mobile Feat (+10 feet of movement!, among other things) at Level 4, and then we'll up her Wisdom to 18 (so her AC goes up too).
Add on her Grovel, Cower, and Beg feature, Darkvision, and Pack Tactics, this is rapidly becoming Team Advantage! Slap a pair of sunglasses on that sucker, and Sunlight Sensitivity is no problemo.
Race: Kobold Class: Monk 8, Way of the Open Hand
HP: 64 AC: 22 Speed: 55 Initiative: +5
STR 12 (+1) DEX 20 (+5) CON 12 (+1) INT 13 (+1) WIS 18 (+4) CHA 6 (-2)
Saves: STR +5, DEX +9
Gear: BAGPIPES (used hilariously as a sled, and played every time she fells an enemy),
Bracers of Defense*, Ring of Protection*, Ring of Mind Shielding* (just because)
In practice, Aki is bloody hilarious. When paired with our spry halfling barbarian, the small brigade is a force to be reckoned with, felling just about every big foe I can throw at them. In character interactions, Aki is adorable, ravenous, and entirely loud at the worst times. Mechanically, she has lots to work with using her Ki Points, but it's always the same list, and Open Hand gives her plenty of options to pivot to what needs to be shut down each round - whether it be Reactions, pushing them away, knocking them down - plenty of choice points.
As it stands, Aki is currently level 12 in our Knight Owls Season 3 campaign.
I'd say the character was a hit.
See you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.