Additional Ravener Information from Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Undead Revisited
Of all the creatures of the world, few inspire fear or awe like dragons. Possessed of physical might and prodigious magical talent, and growing more powerful with each passing century, dragons seem far above the concerns of those petty humanoids who war and die at their feat. Yet in truth, even dragons age, moving steadily toward their final rest. As even the good-aligned dragons tend to be arrogant and prideful (if not necessarily wrong in their high esteem for their own abilities), few are truly comfortable with the idea of their own inevitable end. Some especially proud dragons go so far as to attempt to break the bonds of mortality, seeking by forbidden lore and vile pacts to transcend the weakness inherent even in draconic flesh. Of the few who attempt this dark transformation, a handful rise from the ashes of their own mortality as the dread undead dragons known as raveners.
This immortality is not without a terrible price. The arcane void within a ravener’s heart leaves her consumed by a maddening craving, a hunger that can only be sated by the life-essence of other beings. Each soul devoured temporarily restores a precious sliver of the draconic magic sacrificed to overcome the ravener’s mortality. But all too soon, the need to feast returns.
All raveners are skeletal, though the precise appearance of a ravener’s skeleton depends on the type of dragon she was in life. Some raveners use magic to alter their appearances, either to disguise themselves or simply to make themselves that much more threatening, while others simply modify their skeletons physically, such as a white dragon ravener who encases her bones in flesh-shaped ice or a black dragon ravener who covers her form in clinging acid. Others are visibly wreathed in their auras, such as the red dragon ravener whose very bones exude heat and flame. Yet each possesses a soul ward, a field of stolen soul energy that wreathes the ravener’s bones and protects her from harm.
As undead creatures, raveners’ ability to experience sensations is irrevocably dulled. Their hearing and vision may be matchless, but becoming a ravener demands the sacrifice of the nuances of taste, scent, and even touch, along with countless other pleasures of life. As a result, the ravener thrives on horrific excesses of emotion, for only in the heat of battle and wanton destruction or the gluttonous consumption of souls does the ravener again come close to the glorious sensations of being a living dragon.
The circumstances that give rise to a ravener are as unique as their appearances. Some barter their very sanity to the madness from beyond while others forge bargains with demon lords and still others beseech malevolent gods. (Strangely, even lawful dragons make pacts with the lords of Hell only rarely—perhaps raveners find the strings attached to diabolical contracts too convoluted and numerous for comfort.) Yet not all raveners seek aid from more powerful creatures—in fact, doing so often conflicts with the same arrogance that leads dragons to become raveners in the first place. This second group instead finds immortality in much the same way liches do, researching rare and forbidden necromantic spells to create rituals of transformation unique to each dragon. As for why raveners don’t become true liches and create phylacteries, the answer remains unclear, save perhaps that hiding their souls would seem an admission of cowardice and inevitable defeat to the proud raveners.
Raveners are self-made undead, not created or generated spontaneously in the fashion of weaker undead. As such, their nature reflects the circumstances of their transformation. Careless adventurers may well mistake a ravener for a mere draconic skeleton or zombie, an error few survive. All known raveners were dragons of at least ancient status, though it is unclear whether this is because a lesser dragon cannot master (or survive) the dark rituals of undeath, or simply because no younger dragon has the same incentive to take such an insane risk. Once reborn, raveners are effectively immortal, dying only from mishap or the powerful alliances that sometimes rise up to destroy them.
Even the most successful ravener transformation comes with a terrible price, as all of the living dragon’s natural magical abilities are burned away in an instant in the explosion of necromantic energies. In its place, negative energy floods in to infuse and enhance the ravener’s breath weapon, fuel her magical powers, and even sustain the creature’s ability to fly on skeletal wings. This magic cannot be generated or replaced as it would be for a normal, living dragons—instead, to wield magic the ravener must reap the life-energy of living victims. Raveners bind this life-energy into their soul wards, the coronas of negative energy that surround these undead dragons. The more powerful the soul, the more energy is claimed by the ravener.
No two raveners manifest their soul wards in quite the same way. Some soul wards infuse the ravener with a shadowy aura, others with the screaming spirits of the dead. Some raveners lack a visible soul ward entirely, making that part of themselves invisible to deny their opponents a complete understanding of their defenses. The energy contained within the soul ward fuels the ravener’s arcane power, guards the ravener from harm, and sustains her unliving existence. A ravener deprived of the ability to refresh her soul ward must carefully hoard her magical energy, and should she be denied victims, she slowly deteriorates and grows vulnerable, eventually crumbling to dust—though few come close to that point, with the all-consuming hunger of the empty ward driving them to death in battle long before soul starvation sets in.
Habitat & Society
Inherently solitary, raveners do not seek out the company of other dragons, least of all that of other raveners. They do not appreciate reminders of what was surrendered in their quest for immortality, nor do they allow others near the secrets of their power. Raveners with overlapping territories rarely fall into direct conflict, being all to aware that few other creatures are so capable of ending their near-immortal existences. Instead, they negotiate, posture, and scheme, each seeking to drive the other away to safer grounds. On the rare occasions when raveners do work or lair together, they were most often acquainted or mated in their mortal lives.
Raveners view most other undead with contempt, and believe them to be useful only as base servants. Even so, they have a curious affinity with the spectral dead, often creating or recruiting spectres, wraiths, and allips as spies or guardians. The fell nightshades are among the few entities raveners treat as near-equals, and at times as particularly deadly allies. Living servants are rarer still, though some canny raveners imprison live prey, the better to keep their soul wards at full strength.
Their burning hatred of life and their perpetual need for souls lead raveners to hunt far more often than their mortal kin. Within a short span of years, raveners can deplete their hunting grounds of all palatable life, forcing them to change lairs more frequently than all but the most capricious living dragons.
If anything, ravener lairs are even more inaccessible than those of most dragons, as raveners thrive in environments inimical to living creatures. Many raveners favor lairs contaminated by toxic gases, beneath the surfaces of swamps or stagnant lakes, or at altitudes where the thin air imperils breathing creatures. Some even collapse the entrances to their lairs and rely on teleportation, gaseous form, or polymorph spells for passage in and out.
Raveners work best in high-level campaigns, as creatures powerful enough to challenge an entire party, yet do not necessarily need to be the focus of entire campaigns. While raveners can certainly be “big bad end villains,” their never-ending search for new hunting grounds also makes them ideal “event monsters”—newly arrived threats to the party’s territory or the loved ones they left behind. Securing the means to combat a ravener and run her to ground in her lair can be the work of a few sessions, or a major arc within a greater campaign.
Possessed of both the instinct to hoard and an even longer lifespan than true dragons, raveners make ideal guardians for key treasures within a campaign. Nearly any magic item coveted by adventurers might be found within a ravener’s hoard, though claiming such treasures presents no mean task. For a twist, the campaign’s villain could be the one seeking to pillage the ravener, manipulating the adventurers as a distraction so that she might claim the treasure for her own.
The quest of an aged and evil dragon to become a ravener could also make for a compelling campaign arc. Throughout the campaign, the adventurers might come in conflict with a dragon’s lesser servants as she schemes to complete her pact with blasphemous powers or locate the proper components for her final ritual of transformation.
Perhaps they even encounter the dragon herself at some point, making it that much more shocking when, at the very end of the campaign, they witness her final triumphant transformation and have to face down not just the mortal dragon they expected, but a newly reborn ravener.
No less covetous than any other dragon, raveners’ lust for wealth is significantly impacted by their regular need to change lairs. Most raveners spurn the massive coin-beds frequently associated with dragonkind, favoring more portable wealth such as gems, jewelry, and objects d’art. Raveners prize magic items quite highly, particularly those they can make use of in their current undead forms. Those capable of changing form seek out items suitable for humanoids as well. When relocating to a new lair, raveners often collect items such as bags of holding, portable holes, or even ring gates that will aid them in their move. Yet even then, it’s not uncommon for a ravener changing lairs to take what she feels is worth carrying and then seal the rest in her old lair, blocking off any entrances and leaving magical wards and devoted guardians to protect what’s left. These hoards are natural bonanzas for adventurers, yet raveners’ tendency to drop by their various caches at random intervals makes ransacking them almost as dangerous as infiltrating a ravener’s current lair.
Raveners particularly value magic items that heal the undead, including potions, scrolls, and wands of inflict spells. Some even employ fabulous treasures like amulets of the planes or cubic gates that allow them to bask in the healing energies of the Negative Energy Plane, or else scour the world for other items of benefit to the undead, such as darkskulls and talismans of ultimate evil.
The process by which a dragon becomes a ravener typically involves recruiting dark powers and undertaking necromantic rituals. Some of these rituals incorporate unusual stages that can alter the resulting ravener’s powers. Two example alternative rituals are presented below—others might well exist in forbidden texts.
Nightmare Ravener (+0 CR)
Driven by fear of death in life, this ravener feeds upon the fear of others in death. The ritual to become a nightmare ravener requires bargaining with powerful entities from the nightmare dimension of Leng or with deities of nightmares. Unlike normal raveners, nightmare raveners do not inflict negative levels on a critical hit, though they keep their increased threat range. Nightmare raveners instead gain the deadly terror special attack.
Deadly Terror (Su)
Whenever a nightmare ravener scores a hit with a natural weapon against a cowering, frightened, panicked, or shaken creature, she deals an additional 2d6 points of negative energy damage. For each such hit, she also adds 1 point to her soul ward ability even if the creature struck is immune to negative energy damage. This extra damage is not increased on a critical hit.
While some raveners achieve their status through arcane study and necromantic power, others are born of a combination of blasphemous rituals and the malign influence of dark powers. Raveners of this latter group must each seek out an evil patron to feed his or her necromantic rebirth. Each patron requires sacrifices and tribute pleasing to its debased desires. The aspiring ravener must first further the patron’s schemes upon her home world and perhaps others. The dragon might be sent against the patron’s foes, tasked with obtaining lost relics, or made a general among the patron’s mortal followers. In addition, the dragon must show the depth of her resolve. For some dragons, this means slaying their parents, mates, or children; the sacrifice of their most prized treasures; the annihilation of their life’s work; or some other show of commitment. Finally, the ravener must amass sufficient eldritch power to shatter natural laws or the barriers between planes and become the conduit for her patron’s might. Should the dragon falter in her tasks or prove an unworthy vessel for the power of her patron, what remains of her shattered soul languishes in servitude to her patron until the end of days.