Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling. Since the first edition of D&D players have had a wide variety of fantasy races to choose from when creating their characters. With 4e D&D the list of races is quite extensive and it continues to expand with every new version of the Players Handbook and with every monthly update of the character builder. The worlds of D&D are full of tolerant people willing to accept everyone based on deeds rather than their race. No matter what race your PC happens to be, he’s usually accepted as a hero and welcomed into villages, towns and cities. An adventuring party that consists of a Dragonborn, a Drow, a Half-Elf, a Tiefling, a Half-Orc and a Gnome doesn’t draw attention, ridicule or suspicion as they enter a tavern for the first time. We don’t question it; we just accept that this is how things work when you’re playing D&D.
The latest race to be introduced to the worlds of D&D is the Revenant. You can now create a character that is undead. Think about that for a minute. Your PC is literally a walking corpse. The description of the Revenant leaves no doubt that you are undead and look the part. As someone who loves D&D and buys in to the fantasy that racism is practically non-existent in a world made up of so many different and diverse races, I’m willing to accept and even overlook a lot of things and just accept that they are part and parcel of a fantasy world. But I think I have to draw the line with the Revenant. Unlike other monstrous races I just can’t accept an undead creature as a PC.
When Savage Species came out for 3e D&D I thought it was a new and interesting take on character creation. Until its release, the races contained within were known only as monsters. Now they were available to play as PCs when creating characters. A lot of the monsters, like Giants for instance, weren’t that difficult to see as PCs. But most of the creatures in Savage Species were humanoid and intelligent. Yes, it seemed odd that a PC playing a Troll wasn’t really given a hard time when he entered the tavern but that’s just the way things work in D&D. I know a few DMs who tried to role-play the awkwardness when these savage races interacted with the civilized world, but mostly it was just accepted.
When 4e was launched things didn’t really change that much. We got a few new core races with the promise of more to come. It’s made for a lot of interesting race/class combinations. As in previous editions, the racial melting pot still existed and the people populating the fantasy setting were still unfazed by strange new races. The Revenant will change that. Even if the PC is the holiest Cleric of the most lawful good deity in the land, he’s still undead. People always have and always will fear the undead – rightly so, in my opinion. Undead creatures are scary.
There are going to be players that don’t care about the in-game, role-playing implications of playing an undead character. They just want to role up a PC and start killing monsters. If that’s all you’re looking for then I say do it. Create the most unique or powerful PC that you can imagine. If you want to play undead then play the Revenant. But if you’re not the kind of player who’s just in it for the hack and slash then my recommendation is to think long and hard before creating a Revenant.
I totally understand the desire to play an undead character. It presents very interesting role-playing situations. Over the years, I’ve played in a few games where PCs have become vampires. The undead are cool and powerful. There’s definite appeal to being undead. But undead creatures are almost always evil. No matter how open-minded and tolerant the people of D&D campaign worlds might be, I just don’t see them accepting the Revenant. Undead is undead.
In a recent article on the Wizards of the Coast website Revenant: Spotlight Interview, game designer Matthew Sernett had this to say about the Revenant, their appearance, and the role-playing implications.
To make them [the Revenant] fit into games, they couldn’t look like hideous rotting corpses or cause people to run at first sight. That was the plan from day one. Their appearance now suits their story and mechanics, and it gives them a look that allows them to be members of normal society. It’s also not an ugly appearance, and in my experience, players prefer races that look cool, cute, or pretty.
Given their rarity, few people in the world should know what they’re looking at, and that means a revenant is just one unusual looking person in a world chock full of strange and rarely seen races. When the party rides into the frontier village of humans and halflings, the populace should be more concerned that a band of armed adventurers came in than if one of them is a half-orc, an elf, a goliath, or a revenant. But if you want to have you revenant look like a corpse or even a ghost and deal with the roleplaying repercussions, more power to you! That sounds like an exciting game.
It’s been a long running inside joke with my gaming group that people in fantasy RPGs don’t see races, they just see people. I guess it’s one more way in which D&D is a fantasy game. But no matter how blind the locals are they’re going to notice Revenant characters and it’s going to create ripples in the idyllic setting D&D is played in.
Am I way off-base with this one? Am I blowing this out of proportion and making a big deal over nothing? Put yourself in the shoes of your PC and ask yourself if you’d be willing to accept an undead creature into your adventuring party? If you owned a tavern would you welcome a Revenant as you would any other PC or would the idea of an undead creature sitting at the bar just be too strange to accept?