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“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”[1]

Basic Information

A Raven or Crow is a medium to large black bird of the genus Corvus. There are dozens of related species. Generally the larger ones are called Ravens, and the slightly smaller ones are called Crows. They are close relatives of Rooks and Jackdaws.

Corvids of all types are extremely clever birds, capable of surprisingly sophisticated tool use, and sometimes of making their own simple tools (such as bending a piece of wire into a hook or lockpick). They are about as smart as any non-human primate. They prosper very well in urban areas, relatively near to humans, and their world population numbers have increased significantly since the 19th Century. After the End their numbers will briefly swell because of all the carrion around to pick at and other easy scavenge from the collapse of civilization, but after a few years of Post-Apocalyptic Decay their population will likely crash because we won't be around littering on their behalf. Many ravens take a fancy to shiny things.

Ravens in Mythology and Folklore

Ravens have a natural creepy mystique to them, reflected in their collective terms: a murder of crows. They are battlefield scavengers when they get the chance. Ravens are one of the three animals in the nordic "Beasts of Battle" motif. If you see a Raven, and Wolf and an Eagle (or sometimes a Vulture) in rapid succession, this is a good sign that your life is a work of epic poetry, and you are about to be swept up in a war or battle. In a variety of folklores they bring bad luck, prophecy, death or strife. In Scandinavian Folklore crows are ghosts of murdered men, or are what ghosts become when you exorcise them.

But it's not always so dark. In some varieties of Native American Mythology, Raven (mythology) is a Trickster or Psychopomp figure, and Raven Tales are of great importance in the culture of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific NorthWest. In Australian Aboriginal Mythology, Crow (mythology) is a Culture Hero and trickster. The three-legged crow is a creature in various Asian Mythologies. In Norse Mythology, Odin the All-Father has a pair of faithful crow companions named Huggin and Munnin. In Roman Mythology crows bring or herald rain.

In Greek Mythology, ravens are very vain and narcissistic creatures that can be caught by leaving out a pool of olive oil - the beast will gaze at its own reflection, fall in and be caught.

Some believe the Ravens of the Tower of London protect The Crown and the Tower, and that if the six Ravens that are held captive there ever escape, it will cause bad things to happen to all of the United Kingdom.

In Game of Thrones (aka A Song Of Ice And Fire), Ravens were used as messengers, and Crows were the symbol of the Night's Watch that guarded mankind from the great evil North of the Wall.

Quoth The Raven

The Phrase Eating Crow means to have to admit to being wrong after having taken a strongly voiced/held position on a topic.

A Crow's Nest is the look-out point atop a mast of a ship.


1. Poem: The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe

Game and Story Use

  • The ubiquitous form of a crow makes a great disguise for a psychopomp or trickster character that has taken a keen interest in the player characters and wishes to observe them from a short distance.
  • After the End PCs may be competing with Ravens for scavenge. They may have to drive off aggressive murders of the birds that are emboldened by the fall of man. Or, if humans have become rare, they may find themselves followed by large overly-friendly flocks that remember that humans used to drop bits of food and pretty things all the time back in the good days.
  • A missing macguffin may have been stolen by a curious raven. At various points in the campaign, a raven tries to steal trinkets from the PCs. After chasing them off a couple times, the PCs may realize that the birds have stolen the ring of power that went missing back in the first session. Then they have to leave out some shiny bait for the bird to steal, and track it back to the nest, which is probably high up a dangerous tree. One does not simply walk into a crow's nest.
  • Ghostly ravens might be a sinister encounter in a horror game. They can be seriously creepy.
    • This arcanist was once followed for nearly two miles by two ravens. As I was walking home, one flew into the tree branch nearest me and cried out. I continued past it, and a second raven flew to the next tree on my route from out of nowhere. They then alternated trees all the way back to my home, cawing at me the whole time. At first it was really cool, but by the end it was unsettling and ominous.
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