Encountering the Raven Queen

August 1st, 2008

Previously, I looked at some mythological inspirations for D&D’s Raven Queen and considered how those elements might be useful to construct the Raven Queen in-game.  There are certainly many possible ways of doing so, given how little there is in the rulebooks about her, but I’ve arrived at something that will work for at least one campaign.

Now it’s time to consider how to use the character as I’ve defined her in that campaign.

Heroic Tier

In the heroic tier, my PCs will probably not have any direct interactions with the gods, or even with direct representatives of the gods.  I’ve played in, and run, campaigns where such interaction did occur, but I feel that this is the exception, rather than the norm.  I’ll assume a “typical” campaign, if there is such a thing.

Therefore, at heroic levels, the PCs’ main interaction with the Raven Queen will come in the form of interaction with her worshippers and priests.  Among the obvious possibilities:

The characters require a divination regarding future events. They might approach Ioun’s priests, but they might also approach the Raven Queen’s. This could also be an opportunity to introduce the bargaining aspect — the priests will want something other than mere gold, in exchange for the divination. This will also provide a side adventure, maybe one night’s worth of play.

The characters find themselves opposing Orcus cults and/or the undead. The Raven Queen’s priests can provide information and perhaps material assistance. If the party achieves a particularly impressive victory, they may come to the attention of one of the Raven Queen’s more direct servants.

A murder mystery plot leads the PCs to discover an evil priest who’s using the victims’ deaths to prolong his own life through sacrifice to the Raven Queen. This is best thrown in after the PCs have received help from the Queen’s clergy, to remind them that she is not a Good goddess. Done properly, it should lead to some tension and provide some interesting roleplay the next time the characters consider seeking help from the Queen’s priests.

As a flavor event, the PCs should have a chance to attend a funeral, which will be presided over by a priest of the Raven Queen.

Another flavor event:  if the characters have occasion to come upon a battlefield, they might catch a glimpse of a black-clad figure walking calmly among the battle, apparently ignored by the soldiers as the fight rages around her.

Paragon Tier

In the paragon tier, the characters have achieved sufficient power and renown that they begin to interact more directly with the movers and shakers of the campaign universe.  If all goes well, they’ll have distinguished themselves sufficiently that they might even be approached by one of the Raven Queen’s servants.  All of the heroic-level scenarios concerning the priests can continue, but new possibilities open up:

The characters might need to resurrect a dead person, yet raise dead is insufficient for the task.  (Most likely because more than 30 days have passed since his death.)  The characters must learn how to contact the Queen or, more likely, one of her judges; then they must bargain for his life.

Conversely, the characters might want to make sure someone who’s dead is really dead, for good.  The Raven Queen can ensure that he won’t return, and is probably even inclined to do so, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a price.

If a character dies in such a way that the party is unlikely to be able to resurrect him, I can use the Raven Queen’s boon as an out:  his fate lies entangled with a future event that hasn’t yet transpired, so she (possibly) restores the character to life.  But this won’t be entirely a freebie:  I’ll stage the event as a trial — the dead character and his friends will need to make their case to the Raven Queen’s judge.  Possibly they might need to find someone willing to take his place among the dead.

A character who is a devout follower of the Raven Queen might gain a sense of when a person is near death, or of when a person has some important fate.  This is more a useful plot device for me than a power for the character, but I suspect my players will find ways of putting it to work for them on occasion.

If a PC dies, and the player wishes to roll up a new character rather than raise the dead one, he might later be encountered as an NPC at the Raven Court.

Epic Tier

In the epic tier, the characters are powers in their own right, and interaction with the gods themselves is reasonable.  Adventures in other planes are likely to be more common.  The possibilities are almost unlimited, but some obvious ones include:

The PCs must speak with someone long dead, or otherwise beyond the reach of mortal ritual magic.  They venture into the Shadowfell, to the court of the Raven Queen, to track him down.

An evil artifact proves utterly immune to destruction by any means.  In order to make its destruction possible, the characters must weave that destruction into the tapestry of fate itself.  Doing so requires either convincing the Raven Queen to alter fate in such a way, or somehow accessing and making use of the loom without her knowledge.  Neither is a simple proposition, and even if the characters succeed, they still must cause the artifact’s destruction to come to pass…

Somehow, one or more of the Raven Queen’s judges has become corrupt.  It now serves the Far Realms, sending the spirits of the dead to be tortured and devoured by the horrors there — and the patron that corrupted it is sufficiently powerful to conceal the fact from the Raven Queen.  The characters must root out the corrupting influence and cause sufficient disruption that the Queen becomes aware of the machinations.  Perhaps the Queen will, at that point, imbue the characters with great power so that they can stand against a godlike eldritch horror.

The characters are attempting some great mystic feat, and one of the ingredients they require is the name of the Raven Queen.  They must venture to Letherna and get her to reveal it to them, or else obtain it from one of the few entities of power who still knows it.

A Campaign Concept

There’s also one other possibility that intrigues me:  a non-standard campaign setting and concept.

The characters would start out in the usual manner, perhaps even play through a few sessions.  But at some point, the party would die.  It might happen all at once, or it might be a matter of attrition over the course of an evening or a couple of evenings (with players of dead characters stepping in to play temporary roles in the meantime).  That doesn’t matter so much.  The end result is a total party kill.

That’s when the campaign begins.  The characters’ spirits find themselves in Letherna.  They get to play among the Raven Court while awaiting their trial, and they can experience the partying, the hunting, and the wargames.  The setting should lend itself to intrigue plots, and straightforward adventure in the Shadowfell isn’t impossible either.

Eventually, they come before the Raven Queen herself.  She informs them that their role in destiny is not yet complete, and they must return to the world of the living.  But instead of waving a wand and zapping them back, she points them toward a passage.

And the party then spends much of the campaign making their way out of the underworld.  I see it playing out sort of like a reverse of the GDQ Against the Giants/Vault of the Drow/Queen of the Demonweb Pit modules:  the party encounters a variety of threats as they proceed closer to the “surface”, eventually making their way through the fortress that guards the intersection between life and death, and stepping out into the world of the living once more.

Capping off the campaign would be a climactic battle against the Big Bad who killed the PCs off in the first place.  (Maybe not personally, but they’d know he was responsible — and in the time they were dead, he’s become much more powerful, crushing nations underfoot and all that other good villain stuff.)  The returned heroes rally the resistance, track down the villain’s weakness, foil a plot or two, and ultimately face off in personal combat against this threat.  Those who survive are heroes of the world; those who fall are granted high places among the Raven Queen’s court.

I need to reread some old modules for more inspiration.  I like this approach, though.

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Related posts:

  1. Defining the Raven Queen
  2. Seeking the Raven Queen
  3. Rampant Sects
  4. Myth Direction: the Faerie Courts
  5. Skybreaker

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10 Comments

  1. TheLemming, Aug. 2, 2008, 4:04 am:

    Sounds like a very good start to the 4th edition. Thanks for the inspiration, just got me back into adding a few religious aspects to my current pathfinder campaign, and I really think you gave me a few clues here. Thanks.

    TheLemming’s last blog post: Shadowrun Cyberpunk Imaginations

  2. Scott, Aug. 2, 2008, 9:43 pm:

    Thanks. I always find it useful to mine mythology for ideas and root my campaign elements in them — my players are all more or less familiar with Greek and Norse myth, so they recognize the nods and grasp the functioning of the world that much better.

    Fairy tales and legends are good sources too, of course. I intend to do a series of posts about that, starting relatively soon.

  3. Sotall, Aug. 6, 2008, 9:57 pm:

    Interesting idea for your alternate campaign setting.

    I’ve been DMing a door-kicker throwaway campaign since 4e came out, and now that my group is used to the whole “this isnt 3.x” idea i think its time to kick in some sort of overarching story.

    though i must say, episodic campaigns are much more fun in 4 than they were in 3.x.

    but you’ve got me thinkin’. thanks.

  4. Scott, Aug. 7, 2008, 2:32 am:

    Thank you. Here’s hoping your 4e story campaign goes well.

  5. Azmarath, Jan. 18, 2009, 1:55 am:

    “an evil priest who’s using the victims’ deaths to prolong his own life through sacrifice to the Raven Queen”

    Unaturally prolonging one’s life sounds like something the Raven Queen would be vehemently against… ‘Bring down the proud who try to cast off the chains of fate.’

  6. Scott, Jan. 18, 2009, 4:55 am:

    @Azmarath: It is… to an extent.

    This is building on my previous article in the series. Part of my concept there was that the goddess of death is fickle, and her agenda can’t be easily encapsulated. Sometimes she’ll trade a life for a life. Sometimes she’ll restore a life lost too soon.

    Sometimes not. Taking these things for granted is a bad idea, even if it’s worked that way in the past. Maybe especially if it’s worked that way in the past.

    This is one of the reasons her priesthood is all over the board in my game — she has sects of every alignment, unlike the rest of the pantheon. And they’re all right in their theologies. But none of them is completely right.

  7. Ian, Jan. 29, 2009, 6:05 pm:

    It’s been a while since you posted this, but I just came across it and wanted to throw in a couple notes.

    I completely agree with you that the Raven Queen is a remarkable source of narrative possibilities. In my campaign, she stands at the center of a web of plots (using the web/loom of fate parallel), slowly moving the characters into her camp. The campaign is designed to be quite wide open, except that all roads lead to Letherna, eventually. It has been a source of great joy for me, moving the characters imperceptibly to her way of thinking. We are near the end of the Heroic tier, and 3 of my 6 players are devoted to her, with the others not far behind, all of their own volition.

    My ultimate goal is to transform the characters into her champions, wading into battle wearing armor of skulls and talons, looking for all the world like agents of darkness, but pursuing goals they know to be just. For the most part, my players are true-blue hero types, and I think that this paradox, to pursue good with the appearance of evil, is one of the Raven Queen’s biggest narrative possibilities.

  8. Scott, Jan. 30, 2009, 4:50 pm:

    Ian: Sounds like a terrific premise for a campaign. I’ve always enjoyed mixing in issues of ethics and morality, myself, and it sounds like this is a situation that would be fun to play through and consider, in-character, the ramifications of choosing to act in that way — or the consequences of choosing not to.

  9. Phil, Jun. 3, 2009, 3:32 am:

    “The characters are attempting some great mystic feat, and one of the ingredients they require is the name of the Raven Queen”

    That…. really isn’t going to happen for them. According to “open grave”, the Queen’s name might well be key to her defeat, or is at least sufficiently important that Orcus has devoted incredible time and effort to learning it, in his attempt to usurp her throne. She’d probably destroy anybody cheeky enough to go looking for it, or place them under some divine geas never to reveal it to or even be able to write it, speak it aloud, or otherwise communicate the name to another sentient being, not even through telepathy.

    I love these ideas, otherwise. I’m playing a devoted death-cultist follower of the Queen in a campaign right now, and I think I’m going to be forwarding this page to my GM.

  10. Scott, Jun. 3, 2009, 4:34 pm:

    @Phil: That’s why it’s epic. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy… ^_-

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