Defining the Raven Queen

July 28th, 2008

In yesterday’s post, I briefly examined some mythical entities that might serve as inspirations to those who intend to give the Raven Queen a prominent role in their campaigns.  Today’s post presents a more fleshed-out, in-game model of the Raven Queen and her domain.  Almost none of this is official in any way, of course, but I hope it will prove useful, or at least interesting.

*

The being now known as the Raven Queen is the second-oldest entity in the universe.  In the moment of the first entity’s creation, death became a possibility, and from that possibility the Raven Queen was born.  She became the consort of this entity, of whom little is known other than the titles found in rare and obscure texts: the King Most Ancient or the King of Moments.  And when that King died, his passing tore the universe in two, creating the Elemental Chaos and the Astral Sea from what had come before.  From the failing sparks of the King’s being arose the first gods and the first primordials.

It’s little known that the Raven Queen is not, properly speaking, a goddess at all.  She predates gods and primordials alike, and in many ways she possesses more in common with the latter, those creatures who arose from the Elemental Chaos.  When the primordials formed the world, the Raven Queen was among them; it was she who first began to remove the darkest areas, setting into motion the creation of the Shadowfell, the dark echo of the first world.

When the primordials began to resent the interference of the gods and made war against them, the Raven Queen chose the side of the gods, turning against her prior allies.  As the keeper of fate, she alone could divine the impact the mortal races would have upon the course of events, and, whatever she saw in her skein, it led her to battle.  Wielding, variously, a spear of ice and starlight or a sickle crafted by Moradin from a piece of the night sky, she fought alongside Bane and Kord, carrying the front lines.

Some among those few sages who know of the Raven Queen’s true nature argue that the gods and the primordials were, in those earliest of days, evenly matched in numbers and in power, and that it was the Raven Queen, neither god nor primordial, who tipped the balance and ultimately allowed the gods their victory.  The truth of the matter is impossible to ascertain.

Following the gods’ victory, the Raven Queen might have entered the Astral Sea and formed a new dominion for herself there, to dwell among the other gods.  Instead, she retired into the Shadowfell, establishing her court of Letherna in the very realm she’d had such a prominent hand in creating.

*

The Raven Queen appears most often in the form of a human woman, and some suggest that she had a hand in the creation of the race of humans because of this preference.  She is most often depicted as a tall woman with skin as white as bleached bone and midnight-black hair, wearing either courtly dress or a long cowled robe — dressed entirely in black.  Her eyes reveal her true nature:  they lack whites, pupils, or irises, being instead a blackness filled with pinpoints of light, a reflection of the stars in the night sky.

She has other appearances, as well.  Among the barbarians of the far north, where she bears the title Old Mother Winter, she is depicted as a crone, bent with age, dressed in white save her cloak of raven’s feathers.  Despite her seeming frailty, she has an unbreakable grip, and she has been known to choke the life out of even the bravest and strongest of warriors who gets lost among the snow and howling winds of the storms she brings.  She is said to spin each snowflake on her loom of fate, encoding a small portion of destiny within its unique pattern, and many barbarian shamans practice the art of divination by reading snowflakes.  The fiercest storms, they claim, reveal the most of the future, for those who can withstand them.

In the vast deserts of the south, where winter never comes, she is titled both Leafblighter and Peacebringer, and there she is depicted as a blind young girl in dark robes, whose footsteps cause the most fertile ground to decay to desert sand.  The brush of her robe causes a living thing to die, yet the touch of her hand cures all manner of sickness and infirmity and ensures a long life.  She walks among the villages and the nomadic tribes, doling out health or death as she will.

When the Raven Queen takes animal form, she usually chooses to be embodied either as a large raven, or as a white wolf.

Her weapons are the spear and the scythe, and she is fearsome in battle; one myth tells of a duel fought between the Raven Queen and Bane that went on for a full century without respite or victor — the pair chose to call a draw in order to return to their other duties.

The Raven Queen is a mercurial being.  Sometimes she is as callous as Asmodeus himself; other times she is kind, even loving.  She is as implacable as death itself, yet she has been known to show mercy, or even, on occasion, to be swayed by a mortal’s plea.

At times, too, she will bargain over mortal lives; there are several tales of the Raven Queen accepting a woman’s life in place of her lover’s.  At least one tale in this vein has a twist:  in exchange for a woman’s life, the Queen takes not the man’s life, but his memories of her.  Then, too, there are the rituals evil priests have been known to carry out, sacrificing innocent lives to the Raven Queen to extend their own.  At first, these priests need only exchange a single life for their own, but as they grow older and continue to defy the bounds of fate, they require larger sacrifices to appease the Queen.  And no matter how many they kill, the day will come when the Queen refuses the bargain — for she allows none to escape fate entirely.

Because of her knowledge of destiny, the Raven Queen is sometimes petitioned for information.  While she will bargain for this as well, there is often a trap for the unwary in what she reveals.  She might omit some important detail that was not directly asked about, or provide detailed information about an extraneous point.  She will not lie, but she might mislead.  She takes a dim view of those who attempt to circumvent fate, but she does delight in watching the “foreknowledge” they gain from their bargain with her ultimately lead them to the fate they had been trying to avoid.

*

The Raven Queen’s domain of Letherna is a glittering palace of obsidian and silver, located at the very center of the Shadowfell.  Letherna is the place to which all of the spirits of the dead come before ultimately proceeding on to their final fate.  Within its confines, they regain some semblance of form, and they pass their days in the court of the Raven Queen until they receive their final judgement.  Letherna and its environs are in a constant state of winter, though the spirits who dwell there feel no discomfort because of the fact; to them, it may as well be midsummer.

The nature of Letherna has been known to change, just as the Raven Queen seems to.  At times, it is a place of revelry, and its spiritual inhabitants dance and feast.  Other times, it is a daunting citadel, and the spirits of the dead wage war against each other, unable to die no matter how grievous their wounds.  The court might go on a hunt, pursuing some creature of the Shadowfell — or the court might become the hunted, chased down by the Raven Queen and her servants.

A particular spirit may stay at the Raven Court for a few days, or for a few centuries.  The spirits swiftly lose track of how long they’ve spent there; time passes strangely in Letherna.  A hero a thousand years dead might be encountered there, swearing he had just recently arrived, while another, dead for only a day or two, might feel a century had passed.  In this way, Letherna is very similar to the courts of the fey.  The Court might therefore be a very good place to obtain information about a wealth of topics — provided an adventurer could reach it without dying, or could return from the dead afterwards.

The Raven Queen is a psychopomp, empowered to both escort the newly dead to Letherna and to sit in judgement of them.  She does not always do so, however, and when she does, it’s as likely to be for a common peasant as for a great hero.  On the other hand, she frequently gives up the spirits of great heroes and terrible villains to the agents of other gods, and these spirits then go on to dwell in their gods’ dominions.

On occasion, the Raven Queen will allow a spirit to return to mortal life even without a bargain (or the use of such intercession rituals as Raise Dead).  This occurs when she determines that the creature in question has a part to play in fate that is as yet unfulfilled.  Those who return in such a way are often marked by the experience, possessing a quirk of appearance or just an “aura” that makes ordinary mortals uneasy in their presence.  A boon of this nature is never extended twice.

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Related posts:

  1. Encountering the Raven Queen
  2. Seeking the Raven Queen
  3. Myth Direction: the Faerie Courts
  4. Ritual of Rejuvenation
  5. Rampant Sects

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14 Comments

  1. Kynn, Nov. 8, 2008, 11:25 am:

    I like this very much. Stealing for my campaign! :) Thank you!

  2. Scott, Nov. 8, 2008, 11:40 pm:

    My pleasure. Glad you liked it.

  3. Danielle, Feb. 5, 2009, 8:03 pm:

    I am copying this wonderful description for my Obsidian Portal ‘Tueor Pectoris’ campaign site. One of the players is a Raven Queen cleric and just found out he has a dhampyric heritage. He sent this site to me and mentioned it helped him determine how his character would deal with the new information. Thanks!

    Danielle´s last blog post: Star Cavern’s Finest gets Finer

  4. Björn, Feb. 16, 2009, 9:27 pm:

    Wow, impressive. Thx.
    Like your description of the raven queen, since i play a paladin of this deity. :)

  5. sethi, Mar. 12, 2009, 10:43 am:

    i really loved your version of the topic, i see happier times ahead for my little cleric =)

    thank you for sharing

  6. sethi, Mar. 12, 2009, 10:52 am:

    also, i wanted to ask whether i could translate it to be published on a czech website about roleplaying games, http://www.d20.cz, all credits going to you, of course.

    thank you

    kate

  7. Brian, Apr. 6, 2009, 8:47 pm:

    Great description of the god. This will fit in perfectly with the campaign I was writing, and my players who are all playing divine characters chose the Raven Queen, so this is incredibly relevant for them :) . Thanks for your hard work!

  8. Dennis, May. 18, 2009, 12:19 am:

    From Wizards.com:

    Rise of the Raven Queen

    In the early ages of the world, the souls of mortals unclaimed by the gods were not free to pass to the great beyond after death. Instead Nerull, the god of the dead, held them in his gray, cheerless dominion. The dead were fated to spend eternity as powerless shades, haunted by the memory of life’s rich sensation and vigor. Nerull’s dominion grew ever greater, as each day myriads of mortal souls came to Pluton and never departed. The god of the dead set his sights on making himself king over all the gods, and began to send blights and plagues into the world to speed the passage of mortals into his realm.

    Then an especially powerful mortal died and came to Nerull’s domain. She was a beautiful and proud sorcerer-queen. Among the gray shades of mortals held in Pluton, her ghostly form glowed with the fierce power of her will and ambition. Her name in life is forgotten now, but some knew her as Nera, the name that Nerull bestowed on her. Nerull deemed her a worthy consort, and gave her form and substance so that she could rule at his side. This proved to be Nerull’s doom, for the sorcerer-queen refused to be second to any being, god or mortal.

    Nera discovered the means by which Nerull held mortal shades in thrall, and seized that power for herself. Strengthened by countless souls, she challenged Nerull and strove with him for mastery of Pluton. Although she was mighty indeed, Nerull was an old and strong god, and even shorn of his dead legions he was too strong for her. In order to defeat him she had to expend the souls she held. Each one she released gave up a tiny surge of strength as it passed from bondage, and by freeing almost all the souls held in Pluton she grew strong enough to destroy Nerull and seize his dominion over death.

    In her victory, the sorcerer-queen thought to take Nerull’s place—but the other gods intervened. Rather than rising as new goddess of the dead, she became goddess of death instead. Mortals who did not put themselves in the power of gods or devils in life were no longer bound to eternal existence as shades under her dominion, but instead were free to pass into the infinite, beyond the power or knowledge of the gods. The death goddess has sought to escape the strictures limiting her power ever since. Soon after her ascension she expunged her own true name from the knowledge of all creatures, hoping to void the restrictions in that fashion, and took to calling herself the Raven Queen. She abandoned Pluton, since she could no longer hold souls in thrall, and founded a realm of her own in the mountains of Letherna in the Shadowfell.

    In the long centuries since the Raven Queen overthrew Nerull, she has slowly increased her power, adding dominion over fate and winter to her rule over death. While she is not malicious or destructive, she sorely resents the gods who denied her the full power Nerull once wielded and jealously guards her domain. The Raven Queen claims all mortal souls who do place themselves in her power, and those that do are enslaved within her cold realm forever.

  9. Scott, May. 18, 2009, 8:44 pm:

    @Dennis: There’s a somewhat-abbreviated version of that in the Manual of the Planes, too. I have to say, as the official version, that’s not half bad.

    I still like my version better, though.

  10. Daniel, May. 27, 2009, 10:38 pm:

    WOW this is well detailed. my character young is a rogue half-elf worshipper of the raven queen. he’d never allow himself to be resurrected without the RQ’s blessing. his blind devotion drives him to kill all necromancers in vengeance, since his elven RQ worshipping tribe was slaughtered by necromancers. (and RQ is the sworn enemy of necromancers)

    anyway… keep up the good work fellow D&D player!

  11. Jabez of Sorrow, Jun. 29, 2009, 12:04 am:

    Love this story and the one Dennis put on here. Im getting ready to play a dwarf cleric in 4e who was tricked by Venca to bring one of his closes friends back to life and is now a wanted man by mortal followers of the Raven Queen. This really gave me ideas on how to play my cleric and maybe find redemption in the Raven Queen’s eyes. Thank you for this story and Dennis for finding the official story. Either way, my cleric has a mission.

  12. Jordan, Feb. 28, 2010, 6:10 pm:

    Thanks very much for this, I’ve only been playing for two weeks and I’ve made it my goal to meet the Raven Queen… I’m an invoker devout to this deity, and it’s really helpful to know more about her. Thanks again.

  13. Andrea, Dec. 15, 2010, 10:30 pm:

    Thanks for this, could you write something about the Raven Queen’s interaction with revenants?

  14. Drew, Dec. 22, 2011, 7:50 pm:

    Okay for one there is no reference to her arch-enemy orcus the god of the undead, but still realy great thing about other details.

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