The Revenant: An Undead PC “Race”

I woke already in the ground. I knew that I ought to have been terrified, to be frightened that I might die in my coffin, and yet I was calm. In my very depths, some part of me felt assured that I would emerge from the ground, and return to my home, and see my husband, and all would be well.

As I clawed my way through the wood of the coffin, and burrowed by body up out of the ground—my lungs burning, my fingers bleeding, and my eyes blinded by dirt—something else stirred within me. It was… I can only call it a conviction that there was something I had to do. Something I absolutely had to do. But I could not remember what it was, or why I had to do it. It was like a name forgotten, one you are certain will return to your memories at any moment. I put it out of my mind, and, finding myself in the churchyard outside my village, I hurried home with only the light of the moon to guide me.

When I got there, I found my husband with another woman… another wife. “Where have you been?” he cried, and then, “Is it really you…” He hesitated, and I saw it then: he was older. He had aged, even in the time I’d been unconscious. There was grey in his hair, and lines on his face. How long had I slept? Why had I not woken sooner?

Then he answered my question for me, his voice shaking as he whispered, “But you’ve been dead for ten years…”

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The Revenant is an alternate PC race for our campaign—a replacement for the demi-humans we won’t be using.

Though it is undead, it’s not a “revenant” of the sort that’s traditional in D&D—another flavor of undead antaognist, that is. The PC revenant is undead, and it is driven by some unfulfilled impetus that drove it in life: to protect a loved one, to finish a project, to save a village, to destroy a specific enemy, but that vengeful impulse doesn’t define the revenant one-dimensionally.

Walkers - The Walking Dead_Season 3, Episode 13_"Arrow on the Doorpost" - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Walkers – The Walking Dead_Season 3, Episode 13_”Arrow on the Doorpost” – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

That’s not to say revenants are as vibrant as they were in life: they are definitely “flattened” in some way, and they speak little, if it at all. But clearly revenants can do things other that pursue their driving, reanimating impetus, or they wouldn’t be available as a PC race. Still, revenants do tend to pursue their (literally) animating goals, no matter what they’re doing: killing bad guys in a town is fine if they can justify as protecting a loved one; delving into dungeons to retrieve a lost, ancient magical weapon?

That’s fine, as long as it’s a useful way for them to pursue their ultimate goals.

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In this way, more than one revenant has prolonged his or her life to the point where the goals slip into the realm of impossibility: the desire to protect a bereaved spouse doesn’t disappear just because she’s gone and grown old and died, or because she’s banished your undead self from her life, so horrifying did she find your unnatural resurrection. Revenants have a reason to go a-wandering, even beyond evading those who know they’re living dead, and would seek to destroy them… they wander as much because it’s a way of filling the long, pointless wait for their own ultimate extinguishment.

(For media and narrative touchstones, I’d recommend the French TV show Les Revenants

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… as well as the films The Crow and Jamie Marks is Dead or (kinda-sorta) the comic The Preacher. Similarly, Matthew McConaughey’s character in the first season of True Detective would make a great revenant, had he died of a drug overdose and then come back to life… though somewhere along the way, he’d picked up a few more corruptions (see below). Likewise, the recent film The Revenant would work, if you just squint a little and assume DiCaprio’s character actually died when he was abandoned… and then woke up a few hours later, undead and pissed off.

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(Or take Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and imagine that the hanging scene moved to the middle of the story. The guy is hanged, his body falls… then he wakes up a day or two later and runs home and… well, then what happens? Same for The Bride in Kill Bill: imagine her waking in a morgue, instead of from a coma, and you’re on the right track.)

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(Or, you know… Jason Voorhees. But he’d be a tough character to roleplay interestingly.)

Note: Revenants are not a method of character resurrection. LotFP rules lack a resurrection spell for a good reason: in this world, you don’t want to find out what happens whem magic is used to bring the dead to life. It never ends well. (Sort of like in Reanimator or a fair number of the magical resurrections in A Game of Thrones.)

If your character dies, she or he cannot come back as a Revenant… or, at least, cannot come back as a Revenant and continue to be used as a Player Character. Revenant PCs start out play as revenants, and are killable like any other Player Character.

(In the very unlikely event that after a Player Character dies and subsequently returns as a Revenant, he or she will almost certainly be an NPC under the Referee’s control.)


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Stats & Class Info

Revenants may be a Fighter, Specialist, or Magic-User. They cannot be a Cleric or an Alice (or any other alternate character class that I might add to this site later). Also, a revenant cannot also be a Dagonian or a Changeling. (Dagonian undead are… well, they’re not like human undead. No Changeling has ever reanimated as a Revenant—indeed, Changelings tend not to reanimate as embodied undead of any type, a fact that scholars have noted and theorized about but cannot explain.)

The Revenant makes Saving Throws as a halfling. (See the Rules & Magic book for the Halfling Saving Throw table.)

In terms of Ability Scores: the Revenant is automatically -3 points for Charisma on reanimation (to a minimum score of 3), and +2 to Wisdom; she may distribute any remaining lost Charisma points (0 or 1) as she likes to her physical abilities, but cannot increase any score already above 15.

Motivating Purpose

Unlike other characters, the revenant exists for specific reason. The player should decide on a reason, and communicate it to the Referee (but not, at first, to the other players). It is the player’s choice whether to disclose the character’s nature, the details of its past, or any information about the motivating purpose.

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Once a revenant has fulfilled her purpose, she may or may not some revenants grow “weary” and drop off into a short sleep from which they never wake; others, however, seem to be affected much more slowly, losing one point of a randomly selected ability score per week or per month until finally, when one score hits 2, they collapse and die. Finally, some revenants—exclusively those who have successfully fulfilled their original motivating purpose—seem capable of finding a new one (for example, to slay a tyrant or other antagonist, to bring about the downfall of a corrupt empire, or even just to adventure with friends and see the world), and can remain animate indefinitely. (According to undead lore, revenants of this type can persist for decades or centuries, only succumbing to death after accumulating so many corruptions that they physically cannot function any longer.)

Likewise, if a Revenant fails to achieve her Motivating Purpose in a decisive way, she likely will crumble or die. However, she may be able to adopt a new Motivating Purpose, especially if she has formed bonds or connections with other members of the mortal world.

In game terms, the Revenant gains a +1 bonus on all rolls related directly to fulfilling her purpose (because of the power of her desire to do so), but also gains a -1 penalty on all Saving Throws made while not pursuing the fulfillment of her purpose—including Saving Throws to resist new corruptions. After a decisive Motivating Purpose failure, the Revenant makes all Saving Throws to avoid Corruption at -5 until or unless she manages to adopt a new Motivating Purpose.

(To adopt a new Motivating Purpose, the Revenant must successfully make three Wisdom checks on three consecutive days, respectively at -1, -5, and -15… with a bonus for each person she can coax into calling her a friend, a lover, a compatriot, within the week of the Saving Throw.)

Zombie-haitiCharacter Flaws

Because of their special nature, Revenants are subject to special, different flaws compared to other player characters. These include Turn Susceptibility and Corruptions.

Turn Susceptibility:

Revenants cannot be “turned” in the traditional sense by Clerics. (And in any case, Clerics (as in members of that character class) are rare in this world to begin with. However, when a cleric does cast a Turn Undead spell on them, Bad Things can happen.

The Revenant’s player should roll a Saving Throw vs. Magic.

  • Critical success: The Revenant’s astonishingly powerful resistance to the spell triggers and involuntary Unsettlement effect (see below). This terrifies the Cleric, who (assuming he is an NPC) must make a morale check at a penalty of -1 per point above the minimum needed to save, and an additional -1 per level difference between the two characters .
  • Success: The spell has no effect.
  • Failure: The Revenant receives hit point damage equal to the Cleric’s level divided by three (and rounded up) and plus a random effect from the Turn Result table below.
  • Critical Failure: Same as Failure, but the the Revenant also gains a new, and very visible, corruption.
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Corruptions:

Revenants are living souls who have reanimated dead bodies. The bodies take on a sort of life again, but it’s a limited sort of life. The fact they’ve traveled into the land of the dead and come back is somehow eerily visible in their bodies… and it shows increasingly the longer they remain animated. Their bodies are also more susceptible to long-term damage, because of their undead state: wounds heal more slowly, and less well.

For the Revenant’s first Corruption, the player can choose or can roll on the following table.

 

Revenants acquire new Corruptions when any of the following occur:

  • The Revenant is seriously injured. (The revenant is considered seriously injured when she reaches 0 hp, or receives a critical wound from an opponent.)
  • She encounters a new major obstacle to the fulfillment of her Motivating Purpose. (For example, if her motivating purpose is to protect a loved one from danger, when her loved one is kidnapped, she automatically gains a Corruption.)
  • The Revenant directly touches the corpse of any sentient being. (Once per week maximum.)

This list is not exhaustive; corruptions may also occur under other circumstances, according to the Referee’s decision.

When a Revenant gains a corruption, the player should roll a Saving Throw vs. Magic. If the Saving Throw succeeds, the player can choose the corruption that the revenant gains. Otherwise, one is rolled up randomly. For corruptions the revenant already possesses, they may be increased in severity or rerolled, at the Referee’s discretion.

Most new corruptions are slow to manifest, becoming apparent 1d8-1 days after they are acquired. Once acquired, corruptions are permanent. (i.e. They cannot be removed or healed by any means.)

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Revenant Powers:

Revenant automatically gain the Unsettlment power, and may choose one of the other following powers (Deadspeak, Crypt Regeneration, Soul Eating, Barrow-Beast Communication, and Call for Aid).

Unsettlement: Once per game session, revenants are able to reveal their true nature briefly, giving any looking a glimpse of what state their corpse would be in had it not been reanimated by the revenant’s will: rotting flesh, maggots creeping through ruined flesh, bare bones—whatever the revenant would othrwise have looked like in the present moment.

The sight is utterly terrifying and causes NPCs to make a Morale Check at -1 (and a bonus of -1 per every three levels the Revenant advances: -2 at 4th level, -3 at 7th level, etc.). However, for all who witness this spectacle, it also reduces the Revenant’s effective Charisma permanently by half, unless extenuating circumstances dictate otherwise. (For example, partial or full immunity could be extended to long-term adventuring companions, a lover, a surviving relative, or someone saved by the Revenant.) Unsettlement is counted as a non-action in combat terms. (In other words, using this power does not use up one’s turn; a Revenant can use this power simultaneously to another action in combat, though all attack rolls will be at -2 for the round.)

(If a player attempts to have her Revenant use this power more than once per game session, multiply the number of foes present by the Revenant’s level. The result is a percentile chance that the Revenant’s appearance will change… but then get stuck that way for a number of hours equal to 1d6 times the total number rolled on the percentile roll.)

Deadspeak: The Revenant’s time on “the other side” of the veiled wall has given her an ability to communicate with the (relatively recently) dead. The Revenant has limited ability to use this power on any corpse present (visible or invisible: a casket need not be opened). However: speaking to the dead reestablishes her own link to the land of the dead, and if she oversteps her time, she risks being ripped back into the clutches of Death.

In game terms, the Revenant’s ability to speak with the dead is limited by three factors, which interact dynamically:

  • duration of conversation
  • amount of time since the corpse’s death
  • the level of the Revenant

At first level, the Revenant can speak to someone who has been dead for a day for ten minutes. If the Revenant wishes to speak to someone who has been dead for two days (double the amount of time since death), she can only speak with them for five minutes. With a corpse dead for three days (quadruple the duration), she can only converse with the dead for two and a half minutes, though at 3rd level, she can speak with the dead for 12.5 minutes. A sixteenth level Revenant can speak with a corpse dead 500 years for ten minutes, or a thousand-year-old corpse for five minutes, and so on.

Time allotments expand by level, according to the table below:

Note, the Revenant cannot force the dead to converse with her. The dead conversation partner can break off the exchange when it likes. However, this rarely happens if the Revenant makes offerings—whatever offerings (food, alcohols, sacrifices, honey, blood) are common in her culture.

Tiresias tells Odysseus the future during a necromantic ritual in The Odyssey.
Tiresias tells Odysseus the future during a necromantic ritual in The Odyssey.

Crypt Regeneration: When the revenant is underground, she is able to regenerate 1hp per turn (of any damage save fire damage, or damage with silver or magical weapons) as long as she is making direct contact with the the ground or walls.

Soul Eating: The Revenant can rip the life energy directly from other undead. She is capable of absorbing up to double her normal hit points from other Revenants. Requires a bare-handed touch (successful hit roll), and the Revenant can steal 1d4hp a turn per level of the Revenant.

Barrow-Beast Communication: Once per session, the Revenant can communicate with a specific animals associated with death in her culture—crows, snakes, and rats are common examples. She may ask them to perform favors for her, but she cannot compel them to obey her. That said, they are usually willing to cooperate if offered a reward, or if the Revenant shows evidence of absolute desperation.

Call for Aid: The Revenant can call out for aid; the lingering spirits of the dead, recognizing one of their own—and eager to feel bone and flesh encase them once more, if only briefly—rush to help her in her cause. The Revenant can effectively cast Animate Dead once per game session, on a maximum of 1 corpse per two levels. The corpse must, however, consist of more than bone (zombies, not skeletons), and is only animated for 2 rounds per level of the Revenant; for each round of combat after the second round, the Revenant must make a Wisdom check to prevent each reanimated corpse from abandoning whatever activity the Revenant commanded of it, and wandering off to attend to its own business.

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