"Sometimes they come back."
- – Stephen King
Revenants are an uncommon undead monster in various tabletop games, most notably Dungeons & Dragons, but also appearing in horror games like the World of Darkness and All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Based upon certain real-world mythologies, they are restless souls whose obsession with something or someone (stereotypically, murdering the bastard(s) who murdered them) is so strong they rise up from their grave, and in some versions they cannot be killed permanently; they just come back again and again until their driving obsession is nullified. One notable feature of the original mythological version (at least compared to modern ideas about undead creatures) is that depictions could have the state of decomposition be near-fresh, skeletal, or anything in between.
The very term comes from early medieval France and means "returned" (reveniens, "returning", related revenir, "to come back"). This is not to mention that by all means, the Revenant is a spiritual precursor to the zombie, yet with their personality intact and minus the insatiable hunger for the flesh of living beings.
Revenants in folklore
Revenants in folklore are walking corpses (or ghosts that have a more physical, visible form) that have their minds and personalities intact. Usually, they rose from their graves to spread terror among the living; in life revenants were often wicked, vain, wrongdoers or unbelievers. These creatures often were linked with spreading diseases, and in order to have them stay in their graves for good, people would often do exhumations of them and decapitate them, or rip out and burn their heart. Some stories even had revenants drink blood, a trait also associated with vampires (especially since both were rooted in the then-unknown process of decomposition where the corpse would be swollen with blood).
Another example would be the Aptrgangr (more popularly known as the Draugr) from Norse Myths. These were essentially revenants with the addition of magical powers (like a Lich), and could also walk in broad daylight as opposed to the traditional revenants and their restriction to night walks only (not to mention having immunity to conventional weapons). Said magical powers include size-shifting and a life-draining "death field" which can be extended at will. They are also in full possession of their memories and intelligence, and, as many are former warriors, combat experience. This made them very dangerous, but luckily most of the time they would stay in their burial mounds.
Dungeons & Dragons
Revenants have a long history as monsters in D&D, debuting all the way back in the Fiend Folio for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition, which basically defined them in D&D lore. There's an alternative: the mightiest form of Spirit in the Companion Set, so the nastiest undead in the canon up to PC level 24. This one didn't catch on.
Revenants are self-aware, sentient undead who rise from their grave through the power of sheer fury at being unavenged in order to seek retribution on their killers. They appeared in every edition thereafter as a monster, save for 4th edition where they got weird. They're mostly associated with the Ravenloft setting.
Revenants were promoted to being playable undead creatures in 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons, meant to serve a purpose dictated by either the Raven Queen or some other divine/magical individual, who gave them life in a body based on the corporeal form their soul once inhabited. They are not necessarily bound by the will of the person or deity who resurrected them, though; they have free will and are completely autonomous. A revenant's features are mostly similar to the previous life's, but the skin and hair color are ashy shades of gray or white or black, and instead of fingernails or toenails they sometimes gain black talons for nails and black scales on their forearms and lower limbs, reminiscent of the legs of a giant raven. They don't always have a vulnerability to religion-based or radiant powers, and are not inherently evil-aligned undead entities. They're weird and can be interesting characters depending on who's playing them and what the player's concept for the character is.
- Ability Scores: +2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma or +2 Constitution
- Size: Medium
- Speed: 6 squares
- Vision: Low-light
- Languages: Common and one other
- Skill Bonuses: +2 Endurance, +2 Intimidate
- Dark Reaping: If someone within 5 spaces of you dies, one enemy you attack before the end of your next turn takes an additional +1d8+Con or Cha modifier necrotic damage
- Past Life: Select a race other than revenant. You are also considered a member of that race for the purpose of meeting prerequisites, such as feat or paragon path prerequisites.
- Undead: You are considered an undead creature for the purpose of effects that relate to the undead keyword. You are also considered a living creature.
- Unnatural Vitality: When you drop to 0 hit points or fewer and are subjected to the dying condition, you can choose to be dazed, instead of falling unconscious. You make death saving throws as normal, and if you fail one, you fall unconscious instead of being dazed
As you can notice from this statline, you find a race that can do quite a few things very well (special shoutouts go to the Assassin and Warlock, whom these stat boosts best benefit), and the fact that it can poach off any one race's feats on top of their smattering of feats makes them even more customizeable. The "Past Soul" feat in particular lets you steal the racial power from your past life race, the only caveat being that you can't use both the other race's power and the Dark Reaping power in the same encounter (Which would be terribly weird for human revenants who picked a third at-will or half-elf revenants with their dilettante power made into an at-will).
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Races|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Dragonborn - Dwarf - Eladrin - Elf |
Half-Elf - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
|Player's Handbook 2:||Deva - Gnome - Goliath - Half-Orc - Shifter|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Githzerai - Minotaur - Shardmind - Wilden|
|Monster Manual 1:||Bugbear - Doppelganger - Githyanki |
Goblin - Hobgoblin - Kobold - Orc
|Monster Manual 2:||Bullywug - Duergar - Kenku|
|Dragon Magazine:||Gnoll - Shadar-kai|
|Heroes of Shadow:||Revenant - Shade - Vryloka|
|Heroes of the Feywild||Hamadryad - Pixie - Satyr|
|Eberron's Player's Guide:||Changeling - Kalashtar - Warforged|
|The Manual of the Planes:||Bladeling|
|Dark Sun Campaign Setting:||Mul - Thri-kreen|
|Forgotten Realms Player's Guide:||Drow - Genasi|
5th edition likewise made them playable in the April 2016 Unearthed Arcana article, which had a theme of "Gothic Heroes", adding the Revenant and the Monster Hunter and Inquisitive archetypes to the game. The 5e revenant is handled using the sub-race mechanics, where you take a base race and apply the Revenant's extra options to the base race. Of course, that doesn't solve the problem of how to apply it to Humans, Tieflings and Dragonborn, who don't use that system, but the document explains that quite handily, although it does leave it ambiguous if humans and dragonborn are supposed to get +3 stat points or not:
Human revenants increase two ability scores of the player's choice by +1 and get the Revenant traits. Variant humans replace their Skills and Feat traits with the Revenant traits.
Dragonborn revenants change their ability score modifiers to +1 Strength and +1 Charisma, inflict and resist Necrotic damage via their Draconic Ancestry trait (although they presumably keep the breath weapon type, so it's still a cone vs. line choice), and gain the Revenant traits.
Tiefling revenants get +2 Charisma and the Revenant traits.
Revenants in 5e gain +1 Constitution and the Relentless Nature trait. This represents their undying, goal-driven nature, so the player and the DM have to agree on a completeable goal that the PC is pursuing; this is what drew them back from the grave, and is important. Relentless Nature means that, when reduced below half of their maximum hit points, a revenant will regain 1 hit point each turn until they are at half maximum HP again. It also means that revenants cannot be permanently killed; if slain, a revenant will self-resurrect 24 hours later and no force can stop this. Even total destruction of the body won't do anything, the revenant will simply rematerialize somewhere within 1 mile of the place where it was destroyed. A revenant can sense the direction of their "goal target" and the distance to reach them so long as you are both on the same plane of existence. If you came back to murder the guy who killed you, then you know where he is. If you came back to protect your family, you know where they are.
Sound overpowered? Maybe. But Relentless Nature carries a sting in its tail: if you complete your goal, then you automatically and irrevocably drop dead on the spot. With no further ties to the mortal world, you cannot be raised by any magic. So, your character will complete their goal, but that is it.
Coming back as a revenant is presented as a viable choice for players who have had a character die; you just adjust your stats as appropriate for switching out the subrace/core race traits, and then you crawl out of your grave, ready to resume your adventure.
Hollowed Ones are an official revenant PC race added to D&D 5e through the Exandria setting, appearing in the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount. They hail from the region known as Blightshore, where twisted necromantic magic infused into the terrain sometimes causes the dead to spontaneously return as semi-living creatures with an aura of necromantic magic and inhuman vitality. Mechanically, they're the weirdest race in any official 5e publication so far; you start with a "normal" 5e race, and then you apply the Hollow One "Supernatural Gift" (a kind of optional mystic power up from the Dungeon Master's Guide), which gives your character the following traits:
- Ageless: You don't age, period. You'll never die of old age, and effects that age people don't work on you.
- Cling to Life: When making death saving throws, you regain 1 hit point on a roll of a 16+.
- Revenance: You register as undead for spells and effects that detect the undead creature type.
- Unsettling Presence: Once per day, you can target a visible creature that is not a construct, undead, or immune to fear within 15 feet of you. The targeted creature suffers Disadvantage on the next saving throw it makes within the next minute.
Hailing from the 3rd party setting Seas of Vodari for 5e, Cursed Ones are a weird thematic mashup of the World Axis revenant and a playable ghost. As their name suggests, they are once-living mortals transformed into an undead state, somewhere between a revenant and a ghost, by either black magic curses or by the need to complete something that their sudden death interrupted. Cursed Ones have the following racial traits:
- Ability Score Increase: +1 to 2 ability scores of your choice; these should thematically be ones you gained bonuses to in your previous life.
- Size: As per original race
- Speed: As per original race
- Ghostlike Nature: You no longer need to eat or drink, nor do you age. In addition, you have resistance to necrotic damage.
- Ghostly Form: You can strengthen your connection to the Ethereal Plane and take an incorporeal form. When you take bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage from a nonmagical weapon, you can use your reaction to take on a ghostly form and halve the attack’s damage against you. In addition, you can move up to half your speed without provoking opportunity attacks. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a short or long rest.
- Unfinished Business: Your curse holds you to the mortal plane. If you fail a death saving throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
- Lingering Memories: You no longer need to sleep. Instead, you slip into a dreamlike state, remaining semiconscious, for 4 hours a day. While in this dreamlike state, you are aware of your surroundings and experience the memories of the person you were. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
- Enduring Traits: Cursed souls lose many of the traits of the person they were before they became cursed. You retain the traits for your former race as outlined below:
- Dragonborn: Draconic Ancestry, Breath Weapon
- Dwarf: Darkvision
- Hill/Mountain: Tool Proficiency, Stonecunning
- Sea: From the Depths
- Elf: Darkvision
- Dark/High/Wood: Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry
- Sea: Child of the Sea
- Gnome: Darkvision
- Forest: Natural Illusionist, Speak With Small Beasts
- Rock: Artificer's Lore, Tinker
- Halfling: Lucky, Halfling Nimbleness
- Half-Elf: Darkvision, 1 free skill proficiency
- Half-Orc: Darkvision, Savage Attacks
- Human: Increase a 3rd ability score by +1
- Siren: Amphibious and either Singer (Seasinger subrace) or Dancer (Wavedancer subrace)
- Minotaur: Horns, Powerful Build, Savant
- Tiefling: Darkvision, Hellish Resistance
- Voda: Amphibious, Shapeshift
Appearing in the January 2021 Gothic Lineages UA, Reborn are essentially Revenants, but also includes a broader range of various "died but came back" themes, which also makes them a pretty good option if your character kicks the bucket. As a Reborn, you are the result of some mishap that brought you back to life, at the cost of turning you into something quite different and jumbling up all of your memories. Examples include being stitched together like Frankenstein's Monster, being a necromancer's minion that suddenly regained consciousness, crawling out of your own grave with no memories, or actually being a stuffy doll filled with straw that gained the gift of life. All Reborn have jumbled up memories, and every time you sit in one place to think for a while, you can choose to roll on a table and recall a Lost Memory, giving you faint glimmers of (one of) your past life(s).
Ability Score Increase. +2 to an ability score of your choice, +1 to a different ability score of your choice.
Type: Humanoid and Undead or Construct. Your choice when you take this lineage. Cure Wounds still works on you, since everything that works on a Humanoid still works on things that are Constructs or Undead.
Size: Medium or Small (choose when you gain this lineage)
Speed: 30 ft.
Darkvision: You get to see in the dark within 60 ft of you.
Deathless Nature: You get a boatload of different benefits because of the strange circumstances of your un-life.
- You have advantage on saving throws against disease and being poisoned, and you have resistance to poison damage.
- You have advantage on death saving throws.
- You don't need to eat, drink, or breathe.
- You don't need to sleep, and magic can't put you to sleep. You can finish a long rest in 4 hours if you spend those hours in an inactive, motionless state, during which you retain consciousness.
Knowledge of a Past Life: Anytime you would roll a skill check, you can add a d6 to the roll, as your previous life gives you a brief insight into what you're about to do. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. Note that you don't actually have to have proficiency in the skill you're rolling to make use of this d6.
World of Darkness
Both of the vampire games have their own version of the revenant.
In Vampire: The Masquerade, revenants are the result of ghoul eugenics. Yes, seriously. Essentially, the Tzimisce realized that certain attributes of ghouls could be inherited and through selective breeding, they gave birth to revenants, ghouls that produced their own, weak, vitae. They age four times slower than regular humans, have lesser versions of vampire weaknesses, along with their own unique weakness depending on the family, and can use disciplines. Of course the revenant families are depraved fucks, due to the Tzimisce having created them, with madness, cannibalism, incest, and other sexual depravity being common, with the most depraved ones being kept out sight. They are split between the families loyal to the Tzimisce, the Zadruga, and those loyal to other clans/factions.
In Vampire: The Requiem, revenants are "spontaneous vampires", occasionally created when a human with vitae in their body dies, or when a human gets drained dry by a low-humanity vampire. They are pathetic creatures, having many of the weaknesses but only a few of the strengths of a vampire. They are almost constantly in a state of hunger frenzy, due to bleeding out their vitae during the daysleep. With few exceptions, their only fate is to either be killed or Embraced properly to become a full-fledged vampire. Some Revenants manage to eke out an existence and even create small "dynasties" if they can master their unique Vitae-retaining pseudo-Discipline called Chary, but even these stronger Revenant groups exist at the fringe of the All Night Society.