The Night Shade of Greyhawk and the Hallowed Revenant Amphoras
The Raven Queen
Hold no pity for those who suffer and die, for death is
the natural end of life. Bring down the proud who try
to cast off the chains of fate. As the instrument of the
Raven Queen, you must punish hubris where you find
it. Watch for the cults of Orcus and stamp them out
whenever they arise. The Demon Prince of the Undead
seeks to claim the Raven Queen's throne.
The Raven Queen appears most often in the form of a human woman, and some suggest that she had a hand in the creation of the race of humans because of this preference. She is most often depicted as a tall woman with skin as white as bleached bone and midnight-black hair, wearing either courtly dress or a long cowled robe – dressed entirely in black. Her eyes reveal her true nature: they lack whites, pupils, or irises, being instead a blackness filled with pinpoints of light, a reflection of the stars in the night sky.
She has other appearances, as well. Among the barbarians of the far north, where she bears the title Old Mother Winter, she is depicted as a crone, bent with age, dressed in white save her cloak of raven's feathers. Despite her seeming frailty, she has an unbreakable grip, and she has been known to choke the life out of even the bravest and strongest of warriors who gets lost among the snow and howling winds of the storms she brings. She is said to spin each snowflake on her loom of fate, encoding a small portion of destiny within its unique pattern, and many barbarian shamans practice the art of divination by reading snowflakes. The fiercest storms, they claim, reveal the most of the future, for those who can withstand them.
In the vast deserts of the south, where winter never comes, she is titled both Leafblighter and Peacebringer, and there she is depicted as a blind young girl in dark robes, whose footsteps cause the most fertile ground to decay to desert sand. The brush of her robe causes a living thing to die, yet the touch of her hand cures all manner of sickness and infirmity and ensures a long life. She walks among the villages and the nomadic tribes, doling out health or death as she will.
When the Raven Queen takes animal form, she usually chooses to be embodied either as a large raven, or as a white wolf.
Her weapons are the spear and the scythe, and she is fearsome in battle; one myth tells of a duel fought between the Raven Queen and Bane that went on for a full century without respite or victor – the pair chose to call a draw in order to return to their other duties.
The name of the god of death is long forgotten, but she is called the Raven Queen. She is the spinner of fate and the patron of winter. She marks the end of each mortal life, and mourners call upon her during funeral rites, in the hope that she will guard the departed from the curse of undeath.
The being now known as the Raven Queen is the second-oldest entity in the universe. In the moment of the first entity's creation, death became a possibility, and from that possibility the Raven Queen was born. She became the consort of this entity, of whom little is known other than the titles found in rare and obscure texts: the King Most Ancient or the King of Moments. And when that King died, his passing tore the universe in two, creating the Elemental Chaos and the Astral Sea from what had come before. From the failing sparks of the King's being arose the first gods and the first primordials.
It's little known that the Raven Queen is not, properly speaking, a goddess at all. She predates gods and primordials alike, and in many ways she possesses more in common with the latter, those creatures who arose from the Elemental Chaos. When the primordials formed the world, the Raven Queen was among them; it was she who first began to remove the darkest areas, setting into motion the creation of the Shadowfell, the dark echo of the first world.
When the primordials began to resent the interference of the gods and made war against them, the Raven Queen chose the side of the gods, turning against her prior allies. As the keeper of fate, she alone could divine the impact the mortal races would have upon the course of events, and, whatever she saw in her skein, it led her to battle. Wielding, variously, a spear of ice and starlight or a sickle crafted by Moradin from a piece of the night sky, she fought alongside Bane and Kord, carrying the front lines.
Some among those few sages who know of the Raven Queen's true nature argue that the gods and the primordials were, in those earliest of days, evenly matched in numbers and in power, and that it was the Raven Queen, neither god nor primordial, who tipped the balance and ultimately allowed the gods their victory. The truth of the matter is impossible to ascertain.
Following the gods' victory, the Raven Queen might have entered the Astral Sea and formed a new dominion for herself there, to dwell among the other gods. Instead, she retired into the Shadowfell, establishing her court of Letherna in the very realm she'd had such a prominent hand in creating.
The Raven Queen is a mercurial being. Sometimes she is as callous as Asmodeus himself; other times she is kind, even loving. She is as implacable as death itself, yet she has been known to show mercy, or even, on occasion, to be swayed by a mortal's plea.
At times, too, she will bargain over mortal lives; there are several tales of the Raven Queen accepting a woman's life in place of her lover's. At least one tale in this vein has a twist: in exchange for a woman's life, the Queen takes not the man's life, but his memories of her. Then, too, there are the rituals evil priests have been known to carry out, sacrificing innocent lives to the Raven Queen to extend their own. At first, these priests need only exchange a single life for their own, but as they grow older and continue to defy the bounds of fate, they require larger sacrifices to appease the Queen. And no matter how many they kill, the day will come when the Queen refuses the bargain – for she allows none to escape fate entirely.
Because of her knowledge of destiny, the Raven Queen is sometimes petitioned for information. While she will bargain for this as well, there is often a trap for the unwary in what she reveals. She might omit some important detail that was not directly asked about, or provide detailed information about an extraneous point. She will not lie, but she might mislead. She takes a dim view of those who attempt to circumvent fate, but she does delight in watching the "foreknowledge" they gain from their bargain with her ultimately lead them to the fate they had been trying to avoid.
The Raven Queen is a psychopomp, empowered to both escort the newly dead to Letherna and to sit in judgement of them. She does not always do so, however, and when she does, it's as likely to be for a common peasant as for a great hero. On the other hand, she frequently gives up the spirits of great heroes and terrible villains to the agents of other gods, and these spirits then go on to dwell in their gods' dominions.
On occasion, the Raven Queen will allow a spirit to return to mortal life even without a bargain (or the use of such intercession rituals as Raise Dead). This occurs when she determines that the creature in question has a part to play in fate that is as yet unfulfilled. Those who return in such a way are often marked by the experience, possessing a quirk of appearance or just an "aura" that makes ordinary mortals uneasy in their presence. A boon of this nature is never extended twice.
The Raven Queen's domain of Letherna is a glittering palace of obsidian and silver, located at the very center of the Shadowfell. Letherna is the place to which all of the spirits of the dead come before ultimately proceeding on to their final fate. Within its confines, they regain some semblance of form, and they pass their days in the court of the Raven Queen until they receive their final judgement. Letherna and its environs are in a constant state of winter, though the spirits who dwell there feel no discomfort because of the fact; to them, it may as well be midsummer.
The nature of Letherna has been known to change, just as the Raven Queen seems to. At times, it is a place of revelry, and its spiritual inhabitants dance and feast. Other times, it is a daunting citadel, and the spirits of the dead wage war against each other, unable to die no matter how grievous their wounds. The court might go on a hunt, pursuing some creature of the Shadowfell – or the court might become the hunted, chased down by the Raven Queen and her servants.
A particular spirit may stay at the Raven Court for a few days, or for a few centuries. The spirits swiftly lose track of how long they've spent there; time passes strangely in Letherna. A hero a thousand years dead might be encountered there, swearing he had just recently arrived, while another, dead for only a day or two, might feel a century had passed. In this way, Letherna is very similar to the courts of the fey. The Court might therefore be a very good place to obtain information about a wealth of topics – provided an adventurer could reach it without dying, or could return from the dead afterwards.