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.
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 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). This made them very dangerous, but luckily most of the time they would stay in their burial mounds.
Dungeons & Dragons
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 claws like talons. 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).
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.
|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|
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 proper vampire. Some Revenants manage to eke out an existence and even create small "dynasties" if they can master their unique Vitae-retaining pseudo-Dynasty called Chary, but even these stronger Revenant groups exist at the fringe of the All Night Society.