I was a big fan of revenants when they first appeared in Fiend Folio. The concept of a creature that crawled out of the grave to avenge its own death is a strong one. Single-minded and caring about nothing but its mission, I knew I had to use the revenant in my campaign as soon as I read about them.
The revenant presented in Dragon 376 is not that guy.
That may not be a bad thing. After all, the traditional revenant would make a horrible character race. Revenants are now very tied to the Raven Queen, the result of a dark bargain made with the goddess to return the soul to the mortal world. This bargain may not have been made by the revenant, occasionally deities or other powers make these bargains on behalf of their followers, even when revenant would rather be allowed to rest.
It should be noted that revenants are not returned to the natural world as undead horrors or even in their own bodies. Rather, the bodies constructed by the Raven Queen are tall and gaunt. Their hands and feet are scaled and clawed, somewhat like a raven. Their faces have strange, mask-like quality. While their appearance is unnerving, revenants are rare enough that only the most skilled religious scholars tend recognize them for what they are.
Anything that has a soul can be brought back and placed in the body of a revenant. That means that dragonborn, halflings, and even warforged can find themselves reborn as these strange creatures. Most of them have no more than a hazy memory of their past lives. They might have been dead for a week or millennia. Only devas, who undergo their own process of reincarnation, seem unable to come back as revenants.
It should be noted that each revenant does have a reason why it was brought back, although it may not initially know what that reason is. Some revenants desperately seek out their purpose, while others spend their strange half-lives trying to avoid it.
I know that the concept of playing a revenant will simply rub some players and Dungeon Masters the wrong way. This aversion may be the result of trying to imagine the Fiend Folio version in an adventuring party. It may also be because they have an aversion to some of the newer, admittedly weirder, character races available.
I can definitely understand that point of view. After all, I have admitted the issues I have with dragonborn and warforged as character races before. Nevertheless, I know that there are plenty of players see new roleplaying opportunities in them and who love playing these races.
I think I am in that boat with the revenant. I enjoy conflicted characters that are rife with inner turmoil. I enjoy characters that struggle against their baser natures and (possibly) triumph. I think the revenant provides a lot of potential for this type of roleplay.
In fact, I already have an idea for a revenant character. One who has flashbacks to a life where he is in service to dark powers. He knows that some evil deity bargained with the Raven Queen to bring him back, but he does not know for what purpose. He is trying to use this second chance to atone, but fears that no matter what he does that no good can truly come of his actions.
What don’t I like about the new revenant? Well frankly, there are some things about the new revenant which are a little goofy. One thing that sticks out to me is their appearance. While revenants look creepy, I find myself wishing they looked more like they did in life. Especially because they can spend a feat to gain limited use of the racial power of their former race. For example, the concept of a former dragonborn revenant using the racial breath power just seems a bit odd.
I am curious to see one in play to see how they work out. In the end though, I think that the tone that the player adopts for the revenant is much more important than the stats.