Monday, June 15, 2009

Tangent: Playing Revenants in Pathfinder

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts containing advice for integrating 4th Edition races into the Pathfinder universe. While I personally have never encountered a problem with accommodating a player who wants to try out a race that isn't outlined in the campaign guide, I understand that others might have players who want to understand more about where they came from, and who would rather not work out the details of their race's background themselves.

My strongest advice when faced with a player who wants to try a new race out is to let the player decide what that race's place in Golarion ought to be. Not only does this save you, the DM, the effort of coming up with yet another history, but it invests the player even further in his character. Of course, this assumes the player is willing to write the history of his character's race. Not everyone is up to that challenge. If that turns out to be the case, don't penalize the player by preventing him from playing the character he wants to play. Either come up with a history yourself, or hand-wave it and run with the assumption that the character is just another odd creature in a world populated by odd creatures. Over time, as the game plays out, the race's backstory will begin to naturally develop as the character becomes more fleshed-out.

If you take the above approach, you don't really need any of the advice that follows. Your game's world doesn't exist beyond your own table, so if it works for your group then you're doing just fine. If you're hunting for inspiration or aren't too concerned about tailoring a race's history to your particular campaign, considering some of the suggestions that follow.

Revenants are a new, D&D Insider exclusive player character race. In the core D&D 4th Edition mythology, they are servants of the Raven Queen, reincarnated into a half-living embodiment of her will. They have vague memories and flashbacks from their previous lives, but they owe their current existence to divine intervention, and have a new purpose.

Revenants in Pathfinder are undead created when a humanoid is murdered and an undying need for revenge remains. They are animated to enact this vengeance, and ceaselessly pursue their killer until they are destroyed or the one who wronged them is dead.

The question that needs to be resolved is how these two similar but distinct conceptions of revenants can be reconciled with one another to create a version well-suited as a player character race. I'll be outlining some suggestions on how to accomplish this.

First, it's clear that simply taking the Pathfinder revenant mythology and applying it to the revenant 4th Edition race will not produce a suitable PC. Not only are revenants incredibly single-minded (and thus ill-suited to working with a party unless the party also happens to be single-minded in its pursuit of the revenant's killer), but they cease to exist once their only goal has been accomplished. The revenant entry in The Skinsaw Murders includes advice on revenant PCs, but it's clear that the advice in question is intended to apply to a PC who would be extremely limited in action and involvement in the campaign.

Here are a couple ideas (select one of the following, or combine bits and pieces of different choices to create your own envisioning of revenants):

  • Revenants work as explained in The Skinsaw Murders...usually. Occasionally, Calistria sees fit to allow a particularly motivated revenant to continue its unlife past the death of its quarry. In such a case, the revenant's existence before its murderer's death is a kind of initiation into its new place in the universe. Following its killer's death, the revenant undergoes a final transformation into a half-living being. Though it still has a drive for vengeance and ties to its former life, its purpose can be much more diffuse - perhaps targeting a religion, kingdom or other organization rather than a specific individual. Within the framework of Rise of the Runelords, for instance, a PC revenant might find itself driven to pursue the larger forces at work in the campaign if those forces had a hand in manipulating the PC's killer to commit its crimes. These PCs might not understand why they continue to exist, or even who they are destined to hunt, but such creatures are driven by curiousity to discover these things.
  • PC revenants are not the same creatures as the revenant monster outlined in The Skinsaw Murders. Though many mistake them for the same (due to the confused nature of rumors surrounding revenants, and their superficial similarities), they are distinct, fundamentally different sorts of undead. While true revenants (the revenant monster) are revenge-loving hunters, the revenant race has a (mostly) free will. If you use this suggestion, revenant PCs work almost exactly as explained in the Playing Revenants D&D Insider article, except where you will need to substitute certain campaign-specific information (the Raven Queen doesn't have a hand in Pathfinder's revenants, for instance). Including Pharasma in your revenant's background has a lot of potential story material to work with; though she opposes undead, revenants represent a grey area between life and unlife - the creation of a revenant is equal parts death, birth, and animation. Their potential as tools of fate and prophecy might entice her to create one occasionally to maintain the proper order of things.
If you include revenants in your Rise of the Runelords 4th Edition campaign, here are a couple ideas for potential backgrounds:

  • The PC was one of Chopper's victims during the Late Unpleasantness. After Chopper killed himself, the PC discovered that his purpose lay elsewhere - his true enemy is the unseen influence of powerful forces that drove Stoot to his madness. The PC might be the infamous "ghost of Chopper" who supposedly haunts Chopper's Isle.
  • Pharasma, acting on foreknowledge of Mokmurian's actions and the deaths that would result from his bringing about Karzoug's return, brought the PC into being in order to ensure that the runelord's ultimate fate is realized. Each time the PC spies the Sihedron rune, an inkling of purpose or guidance tickles the back of his thoughts.


Phil Snyder said...

Very nice commentary Scott. A buddy of mine and I have a joke about new material that started with the goliaths in PHB2. Essentially, everything new comes from "HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGH IN THE MOUNTAINS!", hence it never having been seen before. Admittedly, when the monk article came out saying, literally, "From high in the forbidding mountains...", it's done nothing but reinforce and ingratiate the joke.

I digress. Good work Scott. I was running RotRL in 3.5, but that game fell apart due to the need to look for a job. A few of those players are in my current Darkmoon Vale 4E game, and I can't wait until they get sent to Turtleback Ferry and pick up the campaign.

Scott said...

Hahaha, that's excellent.

Some cultures and races are pretty simple to hand-wave like that, and don't present any real continuity issues. Others, like the Revenant, come into direct conflict with material that's already been created.

Let me know how your campaign unfolds!