Saturday, July 25, 2009


Last month's Dragon had a Features article on an Insider-only race, the Revenant. I've always liked the idea of a revenant, a figure brought back from the dead for a sole purpose, driven to accomplish it. The novels that introduce the well-known drow Drizzt Do'urden have him chased by a revenant (his father? It has been years since I've read them), and the MMO Ultima Online had the revenant as a summonable creature that doggedly followed its target, outsmarting invisibility and teleportation.

Allowing players to play this race is definitely an interesting idea, though not likely a choice that is going to work for a casual campaign. While I'm sure DMs would be accommodating to a player that wanted to try it out for a lark, I think the whole concept of the revenant -- the back-from-the-dead, single-minded driven creature -- requires a campaign that has this idea interwoven into the plot, instead of just something that might come up once in a while.

I think the revenant would work well for a single-player campaign, providing a great hook into why the character adventures alone, and also providing the motivation to advance through the adventure (if you have problem players that like to (jokingly?) NOT follow the hints that the module provides.) The revenant can provide a basis for a single-session game, being brought back to take down this cult stronghold or that evil warren, and upon success or failure, returning to the afterlife from whence he or she came.

Of course, it works well for a whole party, too: a whole campaign could be based around some of the ideas hinted at in the article, with the party being pawns in the games of gods, or representing a party that, in service of one deity or another, was wiped out, and brought back as a favour to the deity for another try. In fact, the idea of bringing a group's party back from the dead after a Total Party Kill works well if you really wanted to see a campaign to the end. In fact, the 3.5 Ghostwalk sourcebook was useful for this, and was a backup plan that I had had for a few adventures in the past.

One of the interesting ideas of the revenant is that you choose a race that you were before, and gain benefits based on that race, most importantly, satisfying prerequisites that require the race. This applies most directly to most of the revenant feats, which specify both "revenant" and an additional race as the prereqs, such as the "Soul" feats which let you dabble back into lost racial powers, such as the Human Soul to get a +1 bonus to your defenses, or the Halfling Soul, to use your second chance power in an encounter instead of the dark reaping one that you get as a revenant. This can be especially useful if you are playing a previous character, returning for a second time around, and got used to certain racial abilities.

The racial Paragon and Epic Destiny paths are interesting, though I'm not sure the latter compares in "strength" to other epic destinies. The Paragon path touches on your pseudo-undead nature, and the Epic Destiny sure plays on the idea of "destiny", and "fate" and how your life, such as it is, has been reclaimed for yourself, allowing some interesting bonuses to saving throws.

I'd be curious to try this race out. As it stands, I don't see race mattering too much in the grand scheme of things - the initial racial traits, the occasional use of a racial ability, and the role-playing aspect of NPCs dealing with your character's race don't amount to that much compared to class selection and power choices. This is too bad, because one of the ideas in 4e was that race was going to matter a little more. In fact, if our current party was to switch to all revenants instead of two humans, a halfling, an elf, an eladrin and a dragonborn, I wonder how much we'd notice. I think the storyline reason for playing a revenant would be the most noticeable change.


Griff said...

Much like the Tiefling, I think the Revenant would make for a nice "dark hero". Prolly not a great fit for most adventuring parties, but it would make for an interesting solo campaign.

On another note, anyone wanna wager on this DDI exclusive material rearing it's head in soon to be released computer/console games? I can see the hooks now.

"DDI subscribers get special unlocked characters when they buy NWN3/BG3 etc..."

Alexandra Erin said...

It's interesting to read your thoughts, as you don't seem to be utterly enthused by 4E but you're also not a kneejerk basher.

What I don't like about 4E's races is the proliferation of "races" that seem to have origins better suited for unique or rare beings. I'm thinking here of the Revenants, and the Devas, and the Wilden, and probably some others. Absent the framework of Eberron, we could throw in the Kalashtar and the Warforged.

It's a nitpicky thing, and one that probably boils down to personal preferences.

I'm also put off by the fact they've made Revenants into a pseudo-race with a mortal shell that's independent of the original person. I'd guess we can chalk that up to them shying away from anything that smacks of a template, but for my money, if a player came to me and said, "I want to play a revenant," I think we'd just slap the undead origin on the race they chose and call it good.

All around, I consider the Revenant a misfire, and that disappoints me because I love the archetype (cf. The Crow, in particular the original graphic novel and the first movie.)

All that said, I've got a very different experience of 4E's races. To my eyes, it's the first edition of D&D where the races aren't Human, Pointy Eared Human, Short Human, Stout Human, Tusky Human... all the core races have always seemed like re-skinned humans and a lot of the non-core ones seemed like photoshopped humans with superpowers. The addition of superpowers could make it feel less like playing a human... sometimes.

The balancing of the races does mean that there's less penalty for playing a non-optimal race/class combo... that took me a while to adjust to, but I've come to understand it not that all the races are equal, but that all first level adventurers are equal: you have truly exceptional Humans and Halflings adventuring with competent Elves and Dwarves and assembly-line Warforged. That's how I view it, anyway. But anyway, despite the fact that PCs of any race can hold up as well as each other... I really do find a different experience playing each one.

This may be something that grows with the splatbooks... in the core PHB, racial feats were pretty much just racial abilities that were pared off or pared down for balance that you could buy back at higher levels. But the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide introduced feats to recreate old sub races, and the ____ Power books have feats that create unique interactions of race and class... Dragonborn Paladins that can challenge with their breath weapons, Dragonborn Clerics that can heal with their breath weapons, Genasi and Tiefling and Eladrin Rangers whose beast companions take on some of their extraplanar nature...

I look at it like this: an Elf who doesn't touch the Elven racial feats is pretty much fully assimilated into the common culture and isn't going to be that different from a Human, or anyone else who's also undifferentiated. An Elf who takes a lot of racial feats and race/class feats and then either takes the Elven racial paragon path or a class-based path that has a racial or fey origin prerequisite is going to be unmistakably Elven.

And on the subject of fey origin, I just love the fact that the Feywild races have abilities that make it seem like "fey" means something. Gnomes and Eladrin both being able to, in their separate ways, vanish before your eyes... it's a little thing, but it's a big reason why they don't read as just being oddly shaped Humans any more.

The racial mechanics are slim, but they match the fluff, and that's a big plus for me.

Crwth said...

I completely agree with the feeling that the Revenant feels like it should be a template (and they're avoiding such things). As someone who always loved the "additive" nature of the 3.5 ruleset (and analyzed the hell out of it), the 4e rules (as I've mentioned in previous posts) bother me, and it bothers me that they seem to be avoiding it still. The few monster templates that we have been given are a start, but I never will understand (even with the article they wrote) why they didn't try to keep things formulaic.

I suppose, though, that that's why I'm impressed with the fact that they released a Monster Builder tool which attempts to calculate anything.