The Raven Queen is seen among humans as a nameless goddess, usually depicted in the abstract or with her face hidden. While she is the god of death, she is not feared; rather she is looked upon as escorting souls to their final rest and protecting them from the ravages of undeath and infernal forces. In practical terms this means that the priests of the Raven Queen are entrusted with the preparation and funerary rites of the dead. This extends even as far as the priests of other gods, with the body being prepared by the Raven Queen’s priests and then turned over to their own faith for interment. Most large towns have temples dedicated to the Raven Queen, but smaller outposts of civilization are served by caravans of priests who travel set circuits, visiting hamlets and villages to prepare the dead and bury them before moving on. For this reason most small villages will maintain a charnel house on the outskirts of town, which will serve as a temporary resting place until the priests can attend to their duties.
The Raven Queen’s temples tend to be stark white affairs resembling the Parthenon surrounded by several layers of steps. The main building typically consists of two chambers, one for funerary rites and the other leading below to rooms reserved for the preparation of the dead or housing for the priesthood. The roof of the temple is almost completely blanketed by ravens, although the temple roof itself remains pristine. It is said the ravens light upon the buildings of the recently deceased, watching over them until they are transported to the temple, and then once properly prepared, they escort the soul to the Shadowfell where the Raven Queen presides.
The priestly vestments consist of a dark blue, white and black hooded robe, with the stylized icon of a raven’s head on the back. The hood is typically worn up and forward, keeping the face at least half-hidden in shadows. Some priests, particularly those who handle the dead, will include gloves and a mask covering the lower half of the face. High priests are typically accompanied by one or more ravens at all times, although whether these birds act as intermediaries with their goddess or simply serve as a sign of her favor is unknown.
While adventuring priests are relatively rare, it is not unusual for single priests to travel with explorers or those who visit the outermost fringes of civilization, doing what they can to serve those who are both unable to travel and off the circuits. These priests usually serve as the first line against the undead, looking for signs of necromancers and undeath.
Amongst the elves, Llolth is less accepted than the Raven Queen, and seen as much more of an oppositional figure. She is associated with assassins, poison, and spiders- and those extremists among the Drow who take it upon themselves to assassinate elves who have ‘lived too long.’ Still, it is understood that she serves a much-needed role, and treated as something of a necessary evil. Her priesthood is largely female, with few males rising to the mid-tiers of the church hierarchy. The Spider Queen is also known to take an active role in opposition to magical longevity, suppressing research and actively gathering up information to hide it from the world. One of the unique elements of Llolth’s denomination is a ritual wherein priests can undergo a transformation into half-elf, half-spider creatures called driders.
Driders are seen as a separate hierarchy within the priesthood, serving as guardians and ambassadors. While they are still considered priests, and a handful have risen to lead the faith in the past, it is far more common that they stay in more proactive roles. It is worth noting that this separate hierarchy tends to be less conscious of gender than the normal priesthood and less bias towards females.
Chronepsis is typically depicted as an immense dragon whose skin reflects an unworldly purple where light touches it directly and turns to deepest black where it does not. The dragon’s wings are torn, unsuitable for flight, and its eyes are a flat glowing white. The god is said to sleep, waking only on those rare occasions when a dragon is about to die, and appearing in spectral form, visible only to the soon dead. What few dragons have been able to describe what they see prior to their death have said Chronepsis circles in the sky, letting the dragon become aware of what is about to happen, before swooping down and through the dragon, mouth agape, and swallowing the soul in a manner identical to how a dragon hunts for food.
A single epic tells of a group of adventurers, led by a Dragonborn, who sought out Chronepsis in the Shadowfell, and found the god sleeping in a cavern whose walls could not be reached yet were lit by green balefire. The god itself could only be seen when it stirred, raising its head to speak to the adventurers. While the epic depicts Chronepsis as providing the adventurers the answers they sought, allowing them to triumph over their foes, the price was high: the Dragonborn Havskan was claimed by the draconic god of death immediately after their final victory, leaving the hero to fall untouched by spell or blade.
Urogalan is the halfling deity of death, and unlike many gods he is typically depicted as an unremarkable halfling clothed in brown and white, often accompanied by a faithful hound. While he is the god of death, he is unique in that he does not enjoy his duties and his voice is described as tinged with regret or loss. Most stories featuring Urogalan make mention of a stranger appearing on a quiet evening, accompanied by a dog, who will sit and talk over a few drinks or by the fire before finally revealing that the person he is speaking to has passed on, and in fact has been dead since before his arrival. Halflings who die in a more sudden or violent manner may find themselves disoriented and unsure, standing over their own body, ignored by their fellows, only to notice Urogalan standing nearby, ready to give a patient explanation and escort them onwards.
The dog is typically described as large and black, quiet and observant, remaining by Urogalan’s side. Black dogs are regarded by halflings as a sign of Urogalan’s presence, either signaling a recent death (often with the dog protecting the fallen) or a nearby grave. Many priests of Urogalan will have black dogs as companions, and it is not unusual to see them used as guards at barrow mounds. Some depictions of the dog say that its true form is three-headed, although this is not consistent.
Urogalan’s priesthood is also associated with a particularly strong alcohol sometimes referred to as “Halfling amber.” Its said the god shares this with those he visits, and his priesthood has long brewed it as part of helping those who are left behind deal with grief. However, those Halflings who have narrowly avoided death (particularly those who have barely survived fatal wounds or been brought back) will often find a bottle or wineskin of Halfling amber either in their effects or on their person soon after their return. This is described as a congratulatory present from Urogalan for having escaped- perhaps the most unique aspect of this god of death of all.
Vaulkana is typically described as a female dwarf wielding a large squared-off blackened metal maul and wearing red hot armor that hisses and crackles from the heat it contains. The goddess herself seems unfazed by the heat, and is said to have long ash-grey hair that hangs in braids. Not only a god of death but also a god of rebirth, Vaulkana’s presence in the mortal realm is seen a way that is both unique to dwarves and would be considered sacrilegious amongst any others. It is said that when dwarves die, Vaulkana welcomes their spirits to a feasthall lined with the corpse-stones of the fallen, each one upon an ornately-decorated plinth. The dead are invited to join in the eternal celebration as Vaulkana looks on, evaluating the spirits of each dwarf as they carouse and socialize. When she finds a dwarf’s spirit to be worthy she calls a halt to the feast, picks up her hammer and strides to the corpse-stone that belongs to that dwarf, standing atop it and calling out the traits that she finds worthy- as well as those failings she feels are most egregious. At the conclusion of the speech, the goddess swings her maul in a mighty arc, shattering the corpse-stone into multiple pieces. At this point, the soul of the dwarf is similarly broken and sent back to the realm of the living, to be reborn with each shard a new dwarf.
Its said that this afterlife is as much a reward as a means for strengthening the spirit of each dwarf in preparation for rebirth, ensuring that each new generation of dwarves is stronger of spirit than the last- once each shard of spirit regrows into a fully-formed soul, of course. In this way dwarves view each lifetime and each death as a constant process of self-improvement and refinement. Unsurprisingly, given the unique process of decay among dwarves, Vaulkana is associated with volcanoes, magma, and lava. Also unsurprising, she and Hanseath (the dwarven god of warfare and carousing) are often depicted as lovers.