To talk about Pathfinder’s raveners, first we have to talk about the world’s oldest role-playing game’s (that’s D&D, to those of you who don’t speak Avoiding Lawyers) dracoliches.
Dracoliches started out as a great idea: dragon plus lich equals awesome. But along the way, they acquired a lot of baggage. In the Forgotten Realms setting, the Cult of the Dragon was obsessed with creating them, due to a novel interpretation of a prophecy. All well and good. Except…well, it didn’t help that the Cult of the Dragon was always portrayed as being composed of utter madmen and useless nincompoops, so how they were supposed to have convinced any dragons to make the transition was a mystery. And it didn’t help that the novels had folks like Shandril Shessair and Elminster constantly blasting them out of the sky.
Then came 2e. With demons and devils effectively banished from the roster, dracoliches were one of the only truly big bad monsters to fight, so they quickly become overused. And in 3.0/3.5 it got worse, since dragons of any age category could become dracoliches. So they started popping up in all kinds of adventures, often at ridiculously low CRs, which robbed them of their mystery entirely.
In short, dracoliches got played out. (And don’t even get me started on proto-dracoliches.)
Enter the ravener. It’s a creature born of necessity—like beholders and mind flayers, dracoliches aren’t part of the OGL, so a new creature was needed—but it goes a long way toward restoring the honor and the horror of undead dragons. First of all, the dragon must be of at least ancient age, which raises the bar significantly—even a white is no picnic at that level. The ravener gets a host of special abilities, including a breath weapon that causes negative levels (which is scary all by itself). And it gets a soul ward—a field of energy that preserves its life force, powers its spells, and which it replenishes by consuming souls. It doesn’t even have to pause in order to do this—the person just has to be within 30 feet and fail a Will save to have its soul automatically torn away. Damn.
The soul ward is also a nice touch because it gives an in-game rationale for why the ravener must be so, well, ravening. It has to consume souls in order to sustain its magical might. This means that a ravener won’t simply hole up scheming for eternity—it will rampage and feed. Russ Taylor puts it well in the “Ravener” chapter of Undead Revisited: Sure, raveners can be the big bad guys in your campaign, but they can also be campaign launchers (a reason for the party to get together) or “event monsters” that shake up the status quo. (Remember the trailers to World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion? That’s when a monster is also an event.)
This is way too long an intro (especially as I’m still on my sickbed), but the takeaway is simple: The ravener has made undead dragons scary again, and that’s a good thing.
PS: Don’t forget any true dragon can be a ravener. I made sure the primal and imperial dragons were represented here…
Copper dragons are prone to greed despite their good alignments. Bakarin was no exception, succumbing to the whispers that erupted from the flaming gas jets in the back of his cave. In the end he ransacked a city, carried off the golden roof of Melor’s temple, and sacrificed his family to the voice in the most gruesome way possible: drowning them in a vat of black puddings. Not long after his patron rewarded him with his new undead state. Those wishing to destroy the ravener must first dispatch his two sons (now roughly draconic-shaped oozes) and his shrieking spectre of a wife.
The brine dragon Vecoryx was far too proud to submit to death and eagerly chased her undead status. Now an undead ravener, she has relocated her horde from the Chalk Cliffs to the sunken sea caves deep below Lisdon. There she wars for territory with the still very much alive umbral dragon Mote, the two sending undead minions against each other as fast as they can create them.
Charged by the gods with protecting the nation of Yee Shon from invaders, over the millennia the sovereign dragon Auspicious Sunrise conflated this mission with protecting the Xian Líng dynasty, a proud line of elves. When a series of misfortunes resulted in a half-elf scion taking the throne, Auspicious Sunrise allowed hobgoblin hordes to overrun the land rather than submit to the shame of serving a half-human. Though the young half-elven emperor repelled the invasion, the cost was great, and the Celestial Panoply themselves were incensed. The gods stripped Auspicious Sunrise of his title, flesh, and life, turning him into the ravener Hungry New Moon. In his new incarnation, he is the threat the Yee Shonese rally against, and the nation is now more united than ever, no matter how muddied the lineage of whoever sits upon the throne.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 2 230–231
Thanks for bearing with the lateness of this post. I was quite sick. Kudos to syringesin for responding to my placeholder post as if this was a cop buddy movie and he was shielding me from a hail of bullets.
As mentioned above, more on raveners can be found in Undead Revisited.
Also, if you’re looking for the rat swarm, we covered it way back here, and the raven just a few days ago.