Rats! The bane of, well, a pretty small number of adventures probably. They are creatures common to low level adventures, but I have never seen anyone taken down by a rat before. Of any kind. Still there are plenty of ways a rat or group of rats could take out a party. Especially if the DM is using something strange and exciting. Today’s Libris Monstrum concerns the simple (and not so simple) rats of fantasy role-play! Well, some of them at least because there are many.
Rats, Dire Rats, & Swarms
The thing about rats is that that follow humans and human civilization. This has to do with how sloppy we are, especially with food storage. That and their tenacity to seek out scraps of food, grain, whatever they need. Rats, as a result, are creatures that are easy to insert into a first adventure no matter where it takes place. The wine cellar of a tavern, a farming village, or a dungeon can all hold rats clamoring for a safe space to live out their lives. Oddly enough, we hold the assumption that rats are horrid, dirty creatures because they live in dank, musty places. But this just isn’t true. Hate to break it to folks, but a rat-king will never occur because rats wouldn’t breed to such numbers. What sane animal would?
We can still utilize rats greatly. Hell I say we still use the concept of rat-king, that shit is scary. More realistically we can use regular rats. While one is not a danger, it can be a nuisance. Perhaps stealing food or making the player’s favorite tavern out of their favorite meals. With enough we can start talking swarms, and swarms are super dangerous especially to those players who have no idea how to handle a creature that is actually many. Beyond that we can do the classic D&D thing and make the animal dire! Dog size rats with spines and thick hides running rampant in the city at night? Better look out!
OK, so normal rats are great, but lets kick it up a notch. Simplest way to do this is by inserting wererats. These creatures are, obviously, not rats, but they are rat-like. They sneak around and keep below the watch of the city, often thieves and burglars, just as rats lurk around the wastes of a city. Being lycanthropic makes them that much more dangerous than your every day thieves. If it is a new group or a developing guild, you may want to give them underlings. This is the prefect opportunity to incorporate rats and dire rats. Perhaps the weres can “pied piper” the rats into stealing trinkets of importance or there are druid among their number that allow this. Dire rats act as watchdogs and swarms infest the lair. These swarms roam the lair not meaning much to the wererats, but dangerous and frightening to players.
I love these guys, who are only slightly different from their mundane cousins. Anyone will notice a cranium rat and double take the first time. They are the same size, shape, and color as normal rats, well, with one exception. The top of their head reveals an exposed mass of brain. This might just be weird for some players, but beware if a large number are found in a small area. The more of them that collect the worse it will be. Why? Cranium rats form this psychic hive mind, with the hive becoming increasingly more intelligent with every additional individual. At what point do the rats gather on purpose and realize that they can, as a group be more dangerous than expected. This is what interests me. Instead of a villain behind strange rat-based crimes, we can have the collective intelligence of an entire population of partially psionic rats!
There really isn’t much to ash rats. They are an elemental beast, existing for the pure novelty of it. At least that is how I see them. I will be honest with you I did not re-look up the ash rat and I remember very little that was written in the Monster Manual ….. 2? Here is the thing though, I cannot help but remember the image. Sitting on the shelf of a brick oven, is a rat slightly on fire and in a cloud of ash, screeching towards the “camera”. I love that image! Image disturbing a rat that exists as one with fire. Imagine disturbing a next of them! I love them because they can be nuisances or they can go so far as to create fire-based devastation. Evil druids, pyromaniac wererats, and weird wizards could all have them as pets. Or I can also imagine them as a part of a strange city ecosystem, clearing ash and coals the way an otyugh is tolerated for devouring trash.
There are more I want to talk about, but I am short on time and I plan on doing follow up entries. So, if you have more detailed ideas for these rats or more you want me to mention, comment below! If there are real-world rats that you think deserve a spot on this, tell me. I already plan on moon rats and rylkar, but there must be so many more!