The Raven Queen

171 raven queen

All things end. All things die. So the world turns
as it always has and always will. Death is the single
truth on which all mortals can agree, because none
can escape this particular doom. Death is the great
leveler. In the final moments, farmer and king are the
same, subject to that final moment, including the rue
and panic it creates. Both kobold and dragon must
face the realization that all that has been will be no
longer, and the great secret of what is to come will be
known soon in the great and final revelation.
Death has no name, yet it looms everywhere. One
can hear it in a mother’s wail and in the rattling breath
slipping out between spittle-f lecked lips. One can spy
it in a predator’s eyes or in the glassy-eyed stare of the
freshly slain. Its heralds screech as they wheel over
ripe fields, grown fat from war’s excesses. All who have
lost a son, daughter, spouse, or parent know death—and
they know it best as the Raven Queen.
Compared to the other gods in the pantheon, the
Raven Queen is young. Her relative youth in no way
reduces her inf luence in the mortal world or diminishes her importance to the larger cosmology. As
death’s queen, the Raven Queen is feared by mortals
because through her domain, loosed souls travel to
find the fate awaiting them. In her guise as the lady
of fates, mortals offer her prayers and sacrifices to
alter their fortunes, to make the impossible possible,
and to escape a turn of bad luck. And as mistress of
illustrations by Mark A. Nelson
By Robert J. SchwalbOc to b e r 20 09 | Du ngeon 171
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Deities & Demigods: The Raven Queen’s Misbegotten
winter, she is the killing frost, the biting wind, and
the feathery snowf lake’s gentle touch. She is the lady
of endings, and her presence blankets the world in
white, preserving it until that time when all creatures
are reborn.
The Raven Queen looms large in folklore, and most
mortals have heard tales concerning her rise to
power, her victory over the god of the dead, and her
subsequent f light to the underworld, that gloomy
realm called the Shadowfell. The particulars in
each tale vary, but the important elements never
change. Their telling and retelling cement the deity’s
place in the imaginations and fears of those who
dwell beneath her cold scrutiny. The Raven Queen
elicits loathing and love, occupying a contradictory
place, but a coherent one all the same when viewed
through a mythological lens.
Life from Death
Tales about the Raven Queen’s origin are common
knowledge for most, even if the common folk can’t
name the Lord of the Dead who preceded her. As
the stories go, the Raven Queen was a mortal queen,
a warrior, or a figure of great power, but her great
strength and achievements couldn’t shield her from
the deadly plagues Nerull, then the god of death and
the dead, unleashed to harvest more souls to feed his
unnatural hunger. He, like others since, sought to
become king over all gods. He believed the path to his
conquest would be paved with the souls taken from
the dead.
The mortal woman, however, gave him pause. In
her he saw fabulous strength, character, and ambition to match his own. He made her his queen, called
her Nera, and placed her at his side. But she would
kneel to no one, not even a god, and once she learned
to harness the souls and use their power, she led the
uprising that culminated in her captor’s destruction.
What makes this particular myth interesting is
that the Raven Queen, although struck down by an
insidious plague, proved her superior wit and resolve
by overcoming the ennui plaguing her and retaining
enough of her drive to oust a god and seize his mantle.
Other than Vecna, she is the only known deity who
attained divinity after her mortal death.
Divine Interference
By rights, the Raven Queen should have assumed
Nerull’s place, continuing as he had by binding souls
to Pluton, which could then be used and discarded as
she willed. The Lord of the Dead’s terrible reign convinced the other deities that no god or power should
claim the dead, however. The gods allowed the Raven
Queen to join their ranks, but with the provision that
she would become the god of death and not the god of
the dead like her predecessor. In this role, the Raven Oc to b e r 20 09 | Du ngeon 171
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Deities & Demigods: The Raven Queen’s Misbegotten
Queen would safeguard a soul’s passage from the
natural world to whatever lay beyond.
“Nera” believed the gods’ interference was unjustified, but the way she had exploited the souls against
Nerull, proved she was not above using souls for whatever purpose she desired. The gods acted to safeguard
mortals from annihilation. Their good intentions created a rift between them and the new god, and those
tensions persist even now.
Naked Ambition
From the moment the gods stepped in and blocked
her from claiming Nerull’s full mantle, the new deity
turned her every resource to unshackling herself from
their prohibition, going so far as to assume her current identity. She purged the world of her true name
and took to calling herself the Raven Queen, all to
circumvent the restrictions they placed on her. She
quit the Astral Sea, abandoning Pluton to raise a new
palace in the Shadowfell where she could unlock the
souls’ secrets without interference from the meddling
powers.
The Raven Queen stood apart from her peers,
taking no hand in their dramas unless she could
grow her power as a result. For example, she came to
Corellon’s side during the war against Lolth, lending
her sorrowsworn against the fallen elves and their
demonic allies. In her defeat, Lolth forfeited her claim
to the domain of fate, leaving it available for the Raven
Queen to assume as reward for her assistance. Again,
when Khala, then god of winter, sought to grow her
own power, the Raven Queen was there, fighting alongside the other gods to stake her claim to winter when
Khala was eventually cast down. One can be certain
if another divine struggle erupted in the planes, the
Raven Queen would pick over the gods’ corpses and
seize their mantles as she has before.
The Raven Queen in
The WoRlD
All mortals know and fear the Raven Queen. The
underlying dread might stem from ancient, perhaps
forgotten, knowledge of those ancient days when
Nerull the Reaper claimed the dead for himself, or
it could be from her cold, uncaring nature as death’s
manifestation. Her somber priests do little to soften
the Raven Queen’s presence in the world, and they do
much to reinforce her shadowy, often sinister reputation. Fear pervades the ranks of her followers, but so
too does respect. She might be detached and distant,
but she is not an evil figure. Few people worship her
exclusively, but all include her in their prayers and
petitions when her inf luence is desired.
The Raven Queen is far more than a death god:
She is the Mistress of Winter and Lady of Fate. Her
evolution from a powerful soul to her present state
has only grown her inf luence in the world. The three
concerns—death, fate, and winter—are related, but
the latter two are not just ref lections of her role as
death’s guardian, but ref lect a growing inf luence
over mortal matters.

The Raven Queen

Path of the Rise MarleyAmerin