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. ;)
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.