The Raven Queen is a mysterious entity, worshiped as a goddess of death by the Shadar-Kai and other acolytes of darkness throughout the multiverse.
From her vast citadel, the Fortress of Memories, deep within the desolate Shadowfell, the Raven Queen subtly pulls the strings of fate, collecting and hoarding the memories and souls of mortal beings.
Whether you’re interested in making your next character one of her shadow elf worshipers, in search of a deity for your next cleric to draw their power from, looking for a BBEG to form the climax of your next campaign, or just interested in the rich lore of the D&D multiverse, welcome to our crash course on everything to do with the Queen of Ravens.
“The Raven Queen is trapped by her fascination with the past. She sits in her fortress, amidst all the memories of the world, looking at the ones that please her most as though they were glittering jewels.
Many great wizards have attempted to understand her motives, but like a raven she has always remained cryptic, keeping her cache of secrets just out of their reach.”
— Alustriel Silverhand, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (pg. 58)
Who Is the Raven Queen?
Cryptic, indefinable, and unquestionably a being of great power, the Raven Queen has in recent years become one of the most iconic deities in all of D&D 5e.
This is rather impressive given the fact no one really knows what she looks like.
Her “body” is made up of a twisting jumble of stolen memories and darkness, and the elven deities Correllon and Lolth both wiped all memories of her from existence as punishment for getting in the way of their own little war for the souls of elvenkind.
Above all else, the Raven Queen is mysterious. She is a dark secret, her name whispered in furtive tones throughout halls of forbidden learning.
Even her form is unknown.
Some (who subsequently came down with a touch of the old “incurable babbling pants-on-head insanity”) claim she appeared to them in the guise of “a terrible shadow that clawed at their innermost thoughts,” a pale and regal elf who exploded into an uncountable number of ravens, a horrible shambling pile of roots and sticks, or simply “an unknown presence that pulled them into the gloom.”
Whatever she looks like (and it would appear that she can change her appearance either at will or just manifest as the deepest, most gothic fears of the individual who claps their unlucky eyes upon her), the Raven Queen is a terrifying embodiment of death.
Not evil, but a manifestation of entropy, sorrow, decay, and the long, cold sleep when the lights go out.
The History of the Raven Queen
The Raven Queen first appeared in D&D in 4th edition as a minor goddess of death, winter, and fate.
In those days, she was rumored to be a powerful human sorceress and necromancer who swore revenge against the god of death, eventually usurping him and – after a tangled web of alliances, betrayals, and power grabs went wrong – ending up exiled in the Shadowfell, reinvented as the Raven Queen.
In 5e, her story and identity are a little different. The Raven Queen is thought to have once been a powerful elven queen.
The Unnamed Queen
At that time, elvenkind was wracked by civil war: a great battle between Correllon – the original god of the elves – and Lolth, a half-spider-demon temptress who lured a sizable portion of elvenkind away below ground, where centuries spent worshiping a giant spider demon had the predictable effect of turning them into the gleefully psychopathic race of murderous slavers known as the Drow.
In a bid to provide the elven people with a better way, the unnamed elven queen began gathering followers, promising an end to the war and a way back to Arvandor (elf heaven, if we’re being reductive) in exchange for their souls to use as a kind of cosmic battery.
Strangely enough, it worked for a while. Thousands of elves – who became known as the Shadar-Kai, flocked to the queen’s side, filling her with their energy and elevating her pretty dang close to godhood.
However, as her people began the journey back to Arvandor, a cabal of evil wizards tried to siphon away the Shadar-Kai’s soul-energy for their own ends.
Mid-ritual, at the very gates of Arvandor itself, the elven queen realized what was going on and – as all new gods should get used to doing – smote the everliving crap out of the wizards.
And this is where it all started to go wrong.
The Fall and Rise of the Raven Queen
Because the elf queen was in a state of quasi-godhood, her anger at the evil (well, selfish and incurably stupid, at least) wizards twisted the ritual, catapulting the queen, her physical kingdom, the Shadar-Kai, and the wizards into the Shadowfell instead.
Now, the Shadowfell is pretty unreservedly terrible, so this had the effect of instantly killing her and annihilating her body.
However, when the dust cleared, the surviving Shadar-Kai found something else where their queen once stood: her ruined body and mind reborn as the Raven Queen.
Rising from a maze of ash, the newly formed Raven Queen immediately cursed the evil wizards, blackening their bones and warping their bodies, transforming them into the scabrous bird-like monsters known as the Nagpa – doomed to wander the dark places of the world forever.
After the banishment of the traitorous Nagpa and the fall, sheer sorrow and loss overwhelmed the Raven Queen.
She fell deeper and deeper into a divine madness as she contemplated the loss of her kingdom and the failure of her plan.
While she was having a good old sulk, the residual magic from the corrupted ritual stripped away the last vestiges of her physical form, transforming her into a being composed entirely of “symbols, images, and perceptions.”
As she felt herself slipping away into nothingness, the queen drew together all the dead memories and discarded souls from the Shadowfell, weaving them into a cloak around her.
Over the subsequent centuries, these identities and memories have fused into the being known as the Raven Queen.
The Raven Queen’s true name remains unknown (a piece of information the demon god of death, Orcus, would dearly love to get his hands on).
All knowledge of her and whom she used to be was wiped from the memories of mortals by Correllon and Lolth – who collectively agreed that the one thing they hated more than each other was some uppity mortal making a play for the throne.
Now, she rules the Shadowfell as a minor goddess of death and something of a mix between a patron deity and eternal tormentor for the Shadar-Kai – whose souls she still owns, reincarnating them whenever they die as either a dark gift or eternal torment and servitude, depending on how you look at it.
Meeting the Raven Queen
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes notes that the most likely way your players’ characters will ever meet the Raven Queen is in the twilight moments between death saving throws when they might find themselves suddenly standing before a vast, black throne as the air fills with the cawing of innumerable black birds.
Some adventurers (returned to life a few days later once their companions scraped together the necessary cash for a resurrection spell) claim that the Raven Queen imparted unto them a quest, whether to learn some hidden secret or retrieve an item of great power in the mortal world.
Mortals who find themselves in the presence of the Raven Queen often behold their surroundings as though from an important or traumatic memory, as the dark goddess claws her way into their subconscious to extract anything she sees as interesting.
If you’re lucky, she may also offer you a deal or a gift in the form of a memory you once thought to be lost.
What Does the Raven Queen Want?
The exact goals and designs of the Raven Queen are a matter of some debate.
All those who enter the Fortress of Memories (willingly or otherwise) are subjected to her trial: a grueling voyage through the darkest recesses of their own souls, forced to confront any and all unaddressed issues from their past lives.
More often than not, the process destroys those who undergo it.
There are a few theories as to why the Raven Queen puts people through this.
Some suggest it’s just cruel curiosity; she pecks at the psyche of mortals in the same way a child pulls the legs off flies.
Others believe the powerful emotions people experience while they go mad confronting their darkest, innermost demons actually sustain the Raven Queen, allowing her to maintain her form and even grow in power.
A few folk even suggest that she is fulfilling a more noble purpose, and that by putting souls through the wringer, she allows them to resolve the issues that prevent them from moving on to explore higher levels of reality.
A Collector of Memories
Within the Fortress of Memories, the Raven Queen obsessively adds to her collection. She – like all corvids, I suppose – covets shiny things. But what’s shiny to a goddess?
The Raven Queen is obsessed with memories, essences, and souls – whether they are from long-dead gods, mighty mortal adventurers, or great beasts like dragons.
These fragments even form the black, twisting stonework of the fortress itself; for every new trinket added to her collection, the castle grows.
The echoes of raw emotion within these fragments cause ghosts – pale echoes and memories – to appear from time to time, wandering the vast stone halls, playing out especially painful or otherwise powerfully emotional moments from their lives.
Serving the Raven Queen: Using the Goddess of Death as a Deity or a Patron
As a goddess of death, the Raven Queen can impart a fraction of her power upon clerics who worship in her name.
Clerics of the Domain of Death or the Grave Domain would make great candidates for disciples of the Raven Queen – although her obsession with collecting memories might also make her a potential deity for a Knowledge Domain cleric as well (albeit, a pretty creepy one).
In addition to directly worshiping the Raven Queen, many warlocks also end up in her service if they find their souls bound to one of the mysterious Hexblades found throughout the multiverse.
Said to be forged (perhaps by the Raven Queen herself) from the living darkness of the Shadowfell, many a Hexblade warlock have found themselves an unwitting instrument of the Raven Queen’s will.
Using the Raven Queen in Your Next Campaign
As a dungeon master, the Raven Queen is exactly the sort of entity that always finds a home in my games – enigmatic, steeped in gothic horror aesthetic, and pee-your-pants-scary-powerful.
Much like the advice I give when I talk about other gods and powerful entities like Vecna, I would probably avoid making the Raven Queen a direct antagonist of the party.
Gods aren’t very fun to fight in D&D 5e since, well, they’re gods. It won’t end well for your party.
However, servants, worshipers (cultists), and creatures that are adjacent to the Raven Queen are all great fodder for an adventure.
Perhaps The Cult of the Raven is trying to break the Raven Queen out of the Shadowfell – something with dire consequences for all of elvenkind if they succeed.
Maybe it’s smaller scale than that, and perhaps a low-level villain simply wants to gain the Raven Queen’s favor (or, more probably, some of her power) by sacrificing a bunch of people in her name – maybe sending them to the Shadowfell if you don’t want to be as explicitly gory.
Also, the Raven Queen has a lot of potential as a patron for an adventuring party – even if you don’t have a Hexblade Warlock, a Shadar-Kai, or a Death Domain Cleric making up the biggest bunch of edgelords this side of the Underdark.
A campaign that starts off with everyone dying horribly only to find themselves standing before a black throne in an infinite hall filled with an infinite number of ravens is an amazing setup.
Then, the Raven Queen could send you off to do just about anything, from recovering lost artifacts and memories to hunting down the thirteen Nagpa.
However you decide to work the Raven Queen into your campaign, just remember to play up how enigmatic and bleak she should feel.
That’s all we’ve got for you this week, folks. Until next time, happy adventuring.