Usually when we think of the undead and the concept of “unfinished business,” we think of ghosts. However, ghosts — even the vengeful sort — pale in comparison to the Revenant. Slain unjustly by a mortal foe, the revenant is vengeance incarnate — an unkillable killer risen from the grave to relentlessly pursue its vengeance.
If you’re a player who incurs the curse of a revenant, the next year of your life is about to become a living hell. If you’re a dungeon master looking to include a revenant in your campaign — whether you’re looking to create a sense of true horror and dread that plays on the PCs’ backstory or actions in the game or if you just want to discourage them from murdering all those shopkeepers — you’ve come to the right place.
Revenants in DnD 5e
- STR 18 (+4), DEX 14 (+2), CON 18 (+4), INT 13 (+1), WIS 16 (+3), CHA 18 (+4)
- Armor Class: 13 (leather armor)
- Hit Points: 136 (16d8 + 64)
- Speed: 30 ft.
- CR (XP): 5 (1,800 XP)
- Senses/Languages: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 13; The languages it knew in life
- Proficiency Bonus: +3
- Size: Medium
- Type: Undead
- Alignment: Neutral
- Damage Resistances: Necrotic, Psychic
- Damage Immunities: Poison
- Condition Immunities: Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Paralyzed, Poisoned, Stunned
- Skills: –
- Saving Throws: STR +7, CON +7, WIS +6, CHA +7
Regeneration. The revenant regains 10 hit points at the start of its turn. If the revenant takes fire or radiant damage, this trait doesn’t function at the start of the revenant’s next turn. The revenant’s body is destroyed only if it starts its turn with 0 hit points and doesn’t regenerate.
Rejuvenation. When the revenant’s body is destroyed, its soul lingers. After 24 hours, the soul inhabits and animates another humanoid corpse on the same plane of existence and regains all its hit points. While the soul is bodiless, a wish spell can be used to force the soul to go to the afterlife and not return.
Turn Immunity. The revenant is immune to effects that turn undead.
Vengeful Tracker. The revenant knows the distance to and direction of any creature against which it seeks revenge, even if the creature and the revenant are on different planes of existence. If the creature being tracked by the revenant dies, the revenant knows.
Multiattack. The revenant makes two fist attacks.
- Fist. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature against which the revenant has sworn vengeance, the target takes an extra 14 (4d6) bludgeoning damage. Instead of dealing damage, the revenant can grapple the target (escape DC 14) provided the target is Large or smaller.
Vengeful Glare. The revenant targets one creature it can see within 30 feet of it and against which it has sworn vengeance. The target must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, the target is paralyzed until the revenant deals damage to it or until the end of the revenant’s next turn. When the paralysis ends, the target is frightened of the revenant for 1 minute. The frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if it can see the revenant, ending the frightened condition on itself on a success.
Festooned with condition immunities, damage resistances, bags of hit points, and a regeneration ability that would make a Troll or an Oni jealous, the revenant would be a daunting enough prospect for a 5th-level party to fight once.
The problem is that, if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself with a revenant on your trail, you’re about to spend the next year repeatedly facing an unstoppable, fearless, immortal killing machine. If you survive, that is.
A revenant doesn’t need to sleep, eat, or breathe. It knows exactly where you are at all times and how to get to you, and there’s no magic that can hide you. In fact, nothing short of a wish spell can stop the revenant’s quest for vengeance before its year is up.
If you choose to stand and fight it, the fight won’t end until you hit it with radiant or fire damage or unless it’s restrained. The revenant’s fist multiattack is already pretty hefty, but the fact that it deals an additional 4d6 bludgeoning damage to targets that it has sworn vengeance against makes it especially dangerous.
Running from a revenant isn’t a guaranteed success either, however, as their Vengeful Glare ability lets it paralyze its targets long enough for it to close the distance, meaning a revenant can permanently freeze, punch-punch (with advantage, attacks that hit count at criticals), rinse, and repeat against a single target.
And this is all before I get to the really scary bit.
Revenants are smart. Even worse: they’re charming. While a revenant may resemble a zombie (and can’t disguise its identity from the target of its vengeance), this doesn’t mean that you’re dealing with any kind of mindless shambling undead.
In fact, with the number of interesting special effects the revenant brings to the table combined with its 18 Charisma, above-average Intelligence, and the fact that “If its foe is too powerful for the revenant to destroy on its own, it seeks worthy allies to help it fulfill its quest,” the creature I’d most likely compare the revenant to is a vampire.
A revenant might start by walking out of the darkness like a T-1000, punching, grappling, and crying out for revenge, but a couple of times on the business end of a fireball will quickly persuade them to try a different tack. Revenants will recruit allies to lure their target into traps, charm the locals with stories of their unjust demise, and stalk the party as they wait for the moment when they’re most vulnerable.
How To Defeat a Revenant
Honestly… running to the other end of the universe for a nice extended vacation is probably your best bet when revenant avoidance and your survival are concerned. There is absolutely no way that the revenant will lose track of you, and the chances they convince a wizard, god, or other powerful magic user to teleport them after you is not zero. But hey, there are worse reasons to start a spelljammer campaign.
If running away isn’t an appealing option (maybe you have a pretty ironclad contract that prevents you from subletting your apartment and can’t stand to waste the space; maybe the world will end if you don’t stop it), then I have a few ideas for running down the clock on your own personal terminator.
1. Trap It
Revenants are immune to a lot of stuff, but binding them inside an iron sarcophagus and sinking them to the bottom of the ocean will almost certainly do the trick. Honestly, cutting them into a lot of pieces and then throwing those pieces attached to lead weights into the ocean certainly gets points for thoroughness.
Basically, anything you can do that takes a revenant out of action without exposing them to any radiant or fire damage — and thereby short-circuiting their regeneration — means you’re going to be able to (sort of) relax. Even locking it in a prison cell will do.
Of course, it’s not necessarily foolproof, and trapping the revenant in the first place is going to be tricky as it is, but it’s definitely the sort of adventure I’d like to run or be a part of. Or if that doesn’t work, you could just…
Okay, okay but just hear me out. “When its adversary dies, or if the revenant fails to kill its adversary before its time runs out, it crumbles to dust and its soul fades into the afterlife.” So, if you die (not even if the revenant kills you), the revenant pretty much immediately disappears as well.
Well, even at 5th level, you can have the party rogue stab you through the heart before the cleric waits 59 seconds to cast revivify — a 3rd-level spell that brings you right back to life at 1 hp. During those 59 seconds, the revenant senses its task is done and crumbles to dust. If you really, really don’t want to die, just cast feign death — another 3rd-level spell that places you in a state magically “indistinguishable from death.”
While it’s a little bit more up to the DM, I would 100% reward the creativity of any player who thought of this.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide To Running a Revenant Encounter
I’m so glad this article came across my desk at this time of year. With the spookiest season just around the corner, I (along with every other GM I know) have been looking around for fun things to do for a Halloween game.
I think that — whether you’re running a one-shot or planning the next phase of a long-running campaign — a revenant might be my new favorite monster for a Halloween one-shot spectacular because, well, it basically functions on slasher movie rules.
It always knows where you are, it never stops (not even when you “kill it”), and it serves to “punish” the guilty for their sins except instead of punishing teenagers for the sin of getting turned on by the great outdoors, the revenant is hunting its own killer.
There’s nothing I can think of that’s more chilling than a And Then There Were None situation playing out as the players and other NPCs are slowly picked off by an unstoppable assassin as they race to uncover the truth behind what’s happening to them.
Variant Rules: A More Dangerous Revenant
If the character who rises again as a revenant was a spellcaster, the revenant may know some or all of the spells they knew in life. Likewise, if they were proficient with armor or weapons, they may also use these in death.
Basically, if you want to scale your revenant up for a higher-level party — or just give it a few more nasty tricks that play into its backstory and help you run your encounter — this is free license. Was your revenant a powerful priest? A necromancer? An unstoppable warrior now quite literally unstoppable?
Personally, I would use a revenant’s spellcasting to emphasize its slasher-ness. Grab invisibility, magic mouth, darkness (which doesn’t matter to the revenant because they always know where their target is), and control weather (for atmospheric rain that also happens to extinguish any nearby fire). Less offensive stuff, seeing as it has some great offensive capabilities already, and more control magic.
Or just give it a great big sword and full plate armor. That’s also very cool.
If I were designing a revenant one-shot, I would want to think about the various “acts” of the story that slowly peel back the veil of mystery, first revealing the nature of the foe and then the nature of the PCs’ crimes.
The Sinners and Their Crime
First, we need a reason for the revenant to be, well, revenant-ing. While having the players all be members of a cult, adventuring party, or some other group that slew a particular villain together is okay, I think it’s more fun if the players’ ties to one another (and the nature of their crime and victim) are a little more obscured.
Besides, the bathos of revealing that “the revenant was the shopkeeper you casually murdered all those years ago” feels lazy — unless you’re literally doing an It’s Always Sunning in Philadelphia campaign and the gang finally killed the waiter.
I’d rather look at events like the Chernobyl meltdown — a series of partially related oversights, mistakes, and selfish actions that lead to the deaths of thousands — or perhaps a miscarriage of justice like the opening of Brazil, an event with lots of moving parts that lots of people had a hand in.
For example, a dangerous murderer with political connections is finally caught. The guardsman who caught him took a bribe to tamper with evidence, the judge bowed to pressure from the killer’s wealthy family, and the killer walked free, only to kill the person who would then become the revenant.
You can add as many steps as you like to the process, but as long as each PC (and some NPCs) all have a connection to the same tragic event in some way and each was partially responsible, the revenant can justify naming them in its quest for revenge.
I would use a classic Jason Cordova move here, and before the game starts, ask the players leading questions. These should let them provide color and tailor the answer to their character but also let you control their role in events. For example, “What made you decide to ignore the pleas of a young man claiming to be hunted by The Bloody Butcher of Bastenmar?”
In a long-running campaign, a revenant is a great recurring villain, able to crop up again and again in different places. For a one-shot, I would isolate the party in a single location (big enough to hide in) for at least a week. This means that, if the revenant dies, they arise again the next day. A nearby graveyard or other suitable supply of corpses is essential here.
Classic thriller and horror locations, like the mansion in the middle of the woods, on an island surrounded by stormy seas, or atop a snowy mountain as the blizzards roll in, are all great options here. Even a large ship, a single castle, or a small town can be compelling — as long as the exits are closed. Obviously, the revenant is the one who — perhaps innocuously, perhaps with sinister overtones — has lured their victims to this place.
The Main Event
Honestly, once you have all the pieces in place, the bus kind of drives itself. I would write out a few set events to happen roughly in order, and then throw them at the players whenever the pace needs a little adrenaline.
Start with little hints…
- An NPC goes missing shortly before sharing a vital piece of information.
- An NPC breaks down sobbing as they profess their guilt over their part in the very same tragedy that touched all the players.
- A PC sees the ghostly visage of the person whose death they caused watching them from an upstairs window. By the time they get upstairs, there’s nothing but a single footprint in the dust.
The players should be piecing together the mystery as they’re hunted down, and the opportunity to stop the revenant (maybe the legend of a wish spell hidden somewhere in the location) should also be presented.
Revenants are a genuinely terrifying, unique undead that can form a great recurring villain in a D&D 5e campaign or the basis of an unforgettable one-shot. They are tough to fight, keep getting back up, and are a lot smarter than your players expect. Also, they work according to interesting laws that may provide your players with a loophole to get them off their tails.
Until next time, folks, happy adventuring. And remember: mysterious invitations to island mansions should be ignored at all costs. Maybe go spend the rest of the year on the opposite side of the planescape just to be on the safe side.