In 3e, shadar-kai were a race of fey who attempted to bind the material plane and the Plane of Shadow together. Their ritual was interrupted by mortal heroes and the backlash poisoned their souls, leaving them bound to the Plane of Shadow and cursed to lose them to its depths.
In 4e, shadar-kai were a race of humans who, fearing death thanks to the predations of Nerull, made a pact with the Raven Queen upon her ascension, gaining long lives in exchange for service to their mistress.
From Dragon #372:
Chris Sims wrote:Shadar-kai were once humans, native to the world. They were all members of an extended tribe who called themselves Shadar-Kai. These early humans had seen the abuses Nerull, once god of death, perpetrated on the souls who passed into his power. They also feared the unknowable reaches of death into which most souls pass even now. When the Raven Queen slew Nerull and ascended to godhood, in an age now largely forgotten, the Shadar-Kai struck a deal with her.
In 5e, shadar-kai are an elven subrace. According to the Unearthed Arcana column
, "Once they were elves like the rest of their kin, but now they exist in a strange state between life and death, their skin pale and their bodies marked by piercings and eerie tattoos."
According to Mike Mearls in the video above:
Mike Mearls wrote:"The shadar-kai obey her, they follow her, they're very faithful to her, and they're about as old as she is. How she actually came to be, there's a lot of different stories, it's not exactly clear what may have created her but it's clear the shadar-kai are somehow attached to it and they serve her will, they are tied to her. The shadar-kai were once elves and so the Raven Queen may have once been an elf herself, it's not exactly clear right now what her relationship might be. You do have this idea that Corellon Larethian, you know, the elves springing from his divine blood. And the elf pantheon essentially being the most powerful of the elves rising to godhood because they have the divine element in their blood and so there's some suspicion that she's somehow tied to that, that that might be how she might have attained this cosmic position. There's also some thought that maybe there's this kind of cosmic tragedy, that she didn't actually intend to become the Raven Queen, she intended to be something else, and something went wrong, and now she's trapped in the Shadowfell and that her weird obsession with souls and plucking souls and bringing them to her and commanding the shadar-kai might actually be in some strange way her trying to escape her predicament."
As you can see, he's pretty vague here. He doesn't say the Raven Queen was an elf, but he suggests she might have been. On the other hand, he's saying this isn't clear and there are a lot of different stories that might contradict this.
Jeremy Crawford, in this video
, is more explicit that in the particular story he's telling, the Raven Queen was originally an elven sorceress.
Big Mac wrote:Is this actually a change or is it a clarification?
Is there 4e canon that suggests that the Raven Queen was not an elf?
I don't think that's the right way of looking at it. I don't think the very different origins of the Raven Queen in 4e can be said to be clarified by the information given for 5e; nor do I think they can be said to have been changed.
Jeremy Crawford wrote:It is said there was a mighty elf queen who saw this chaos that was going on among her people, among elves, and she thought, "If I could marshal enough magical power I could not only ascend to godhood but I could help restore order to my people," an order that at that time Corellon and Lolth seemed incapable of providing.
In 4e's Divine Power
, the original race of the Raven Queen isn't specified. She was simply a mortal sorcerer-queen of unspecified race. When she died, Nerull deemed her a worthy consort and named her Nera, after himself. She discovered the means by which Nerull held the souls of dead mortals in thrall and seized this power for herself, and then by freeing almost all those souls she grew powerful enough to defeat him.
What I think Mike Mearls was saying is that this story is still true and valid for Nentir Vale, but it's not the story they tell on every world. On Oerth, Nerull is still alive and still answers his priests and grants them spells, and on Toril they don't acknowledge Nerull at all, so they don't tell a story there of the Raven Queen slaying him. Instead, they tell the story that Jeremy Crawford tells about an ancient elven queen.
That doesn't mean the Raven Queen of Nentir Vale has now been revealed to be an elf, or that they've changed her backstory so that she was always an elf. It just means that on some worlds and in some cultures, they say she was an elf, but that's not necessarily the case everywhere.
Big Mac wrote:The impression I got was that the Nagpa were supposed to be part of the Shadar-kai, and that they cast the spells or carried out the ritual that got the entire community shunted off of the Material Plane.
The shadar-kai were elves in this story. They hoped the Raven Queen would grant them a path back to Arvandor. The nagpa were evil wizards who attempted to steal power from the ritual being conducted by the shadar-kai and the Raven Queen. He didn't say these evil wizards were shadar-kai or elves.
The nagpa may or may not have been elves. The shadar-kai were a group who were followers of the Raven Queen, while the proto-nagpas were an unaffiliated group who tried to take advantage of their ritual.
According to Dragon Magazine #157's "The Voyage of the Princess Ark" by Bruce A. Heard, nagpas were created when at the climax of a civil war in the nation of Varellya one of the princes conjured an Immortal to slay his rival, but the Immortal turned on them and turned the nation into desert, cursing its citizens to be eternally reborn as twisted vulture-creatures. If you assume the unnamed Immortal they attempted to summon was the Raven Queen (or her Mystaran equivalent, such as Nyx), the story isn't necessarily that much different. My 3e conversion of the nagpa is here