Welcome to October, folks. Just realized that we have begun our deep dive into Weres here in spooktober. I would like to say that it was a massively planned multi-media event, but it just seems that the stars have aligned for this day and time. Anyway, we are working toward our first published adventure, MANIFESTO OF THE WHITE WOLF, which just so happens to be an adventure meant for a pack of all weres. It will not be out this month unfortunately, but the build to this and our Patreon should be a fun one.
As with all we do at The Magic Tavern, this is a community effort. We bring to you’re the studies and thought process to a lot of what we intend to publish. In the end, we expect to bring you a useful and unique addition to your table.
Today we narrow the scope a bit. The subject is still weres, but now we’re looking specifically at wererats. And as for the title, if you don’t already know, they call a group of mice, a MISCHIEF.
Now the bare bones of what you will find here you can access in almost every Monster Manual for every edition along with some supplements from Dragon Magazine #251, Dungeon Magazine #62 and some great Ravenloft material especially Van Richten’s Guide to Werebeasts. But, as always, we’re not here to simply just regurgitate the facts. Our job is to take the facts, look beyond and bring to you our unique perspectives and several creative ways to use the info in your next game either as a player or DM.
CHARACTER QUICK FIX
Ok, to begin with, let’s look at the best character options for the wererat.
According to the 5E Monster Manual, either starting the game as a wererat or becoming one automatically gives you a 15 Dexterity. Now, on the forefront, that doesn’t seem as big a boon as, say, the Werebear gets with his 19 Strength. But, if your character has a low dex when bit, the 15 will help. Even better, while building a wererat for the bottom up, you can use dexterity as a dump stat and concentrate on other aspects of the character like strength, wisdom or charisma. It’s a cheap way to replace one of those low numbers you just rolled, but, if you feel that bad, talk to the DM about sporting one of those handy flaws (like those listed below).
There are three classes that leap out automatically.
ROGUE has always been an obvious for the wererat. They’re shapeshifters that can intermingle with those in the upper city, dex is one the base stats for the rogue, they can communicate inaudibly without thieves cant and they’re notorious for swiping treasures and trinkets and retreating back to their secret undercity base. It just screams rogue. They are easily built into a thief’s guild since there are probably at least one in every city run by a wererat. Because it’s what they do. You could easily fall into any of the Rogue subclasses. A SCOUT could work to either protect the warren or track down your teams’ next big job. An ASSASSIN would be a natural for a wererat seeing as they already deal with weapons tainted in filth and disease. It’s not that far a stretch to add poisons or just spread disease via short sword. THIEF is easy. But your wererat could totally take commanding role of a thief’s guild or have experience of doing so as a MASTERMIND.
Now, for an unusual bend for a wererat, you could use that dexterity boon to build a MONK. Of all the weres, wererats are the most organized and communal. I could totally see them building a monk way and gathering in monasteries deep under the city. It’s still possible an optimum build while still doing something outside of the box.
Now, of course, all of the other classes are still viable and would lend to some interesting gameplay and roleplaying. Wererats would make good FIGHTERS as they are more prone to strike you with a melee weapon than bite you. WARLOCK would bring some great options for Patrons with just about any deity or power concerning plague and disease would match perfectly as would a CLERIC with the same type of god. WIZARDS would be unusual although, coming from an ordered society, it could make sense. SORCERERS make a bit more sense as they are still on the verge of being a feral mess. I could see a DM drop a wererat BARD into a pack seeing as they can communicate almost inaudibly to the others and inspire them into a frenzy. Seeing that wererats live under cities in an almost sub-urban society, I have a harder time seeing a BARBARIAN among their midst, but maybe your wererats are different and live in the wild.
IN A FAMILY WAY
As stated before, wererats are the most communal and civilized of the weres. Their size and weakness compared to the other weres have driven them to scavenge from under the city. And, although concepts of love and marriage are foreign to them, the idea of the WARREN as family and clan are paramount. Their cohesiveness as a society protects them all; it is their strength. They tend to trust no one outside of this structure although it doesn’t mean they won’t turn on one another.
The WARREN (or their nest) for the wererat becomes more that just a social construct for them. It has become over the ages an almost cultish and highly selective in who they bring into their midst. Unlike the other weres, their teeth being outside of their mouth lends less passing of the curse via bite unless they wish it to. To them, the turning of a humanoid into one of them is almost a sacred event. It means they are becoming one of them and it isn’t done without thought or reason. Strangely enough, you are more likely to become cursed via their equipment and weapons than any bite of their small teeth. This is due to the fact that they live in their own filth and everything they wear and the weapons they use is coated with their own refuse. This passes on not just the curse but all matters of disease like FILTH FEVER. This is why I could see a pack of wererats turning this part of their being into a religious contract with a god attributed to disease or poison. It also makes the ASSASSIN ROGUE make sense for them.
The filth that they live in could also come up during the party’s infiltration of their warren. It would be totally within the right of the DM to ask for CONSTITUTION saves while entering this nasty lair and, upon failure, exacting disadvantage on every attack or action. If they critically fail this save, there may be a disease tacked on also.
I mentioned that a wererats society is on an almost cultish level. Not only are they selective about who they turn, they are not comfortable with the concept of the lone wererat and, if you’re playing an adventuring wererat, without the blessing of the warren to be doing so, they will most likely hunt you down and kill you. In other words, there is only one real way to leave the warren: Death. This, along with their very selective membership rules, makes them the perfect setting for a cult. Just plug a god of filth and/or disease in and you’re ready to worship.
The same way a werewolf may run with the pack, wererats live in a community at peace with all sorts of rodents especially rats, Dire and Giant Rats. They can speak their language and the vermin are drawn to them. Once again, this can be worked into the cult idea. Unlike the animalistic nature of the other weres, wererats are averse to the idea of procreating with their own kind. They will do it, but it’s not something they want. It may be more like a community responsibility. Strangely enough, they have been known to procreate with other humanoids. If a wererat male copulates with a female humanoid, the worst they get is a runt of the type of humanoid in the relationship. BUT, if a female wererat has a child with a humanoid male, she produces what is called a RATLING. Ratlings look like a large rat, but, as it ages, will prefer to stand up on its back legs. You will find those serving amongst the wererat ranks also.
GODS OF THE UNDERWORLD
As a more community driven folk, the wererat has developed their own version of ‘civilization’ under the cities of the other humanoids. Unfortunately, there will never be healthy symbiotic relationship between them. Wererats are parasites of the highest order. They don’t produce anything. They do not make anything. On the contrary, they steal what they need from the surface and, much like the Kenku who takes the higher ground, don’t have much originality about them.
This fact lends to some pretty interesting treasure hoards. You’ve heard it said that treasure is in the eye of the beholder? Well, this has never been truer than with the wererat. A DM making out the treasure for an adventure deep in the warren should probably make most of it what adds up to junk in the eye of the adventurer. But the DM should also make available at a harder DC to find some awesome treasures; maybe even treasures and weapons that peak a bit above to the character’s and wererat’s level. This is because in the midst of the little hoarders ‘trash pile’ of a hoard, you have a better chance to find something extraordinary. The wererats are packrats and will hoard anything without carrying about its usefulness. If it’s shiny, it goes in the pile. It’s totally in the realm of reason to find a high level magic item and even a Wonderous Item just laying around. But, because of all the junk, it will take a pretty high roll.
One of the nasty habits that gets these little bottom feeders in trouble the most (besides their sticky fingers) is their taste for humanoid flesh. Normally, this would be normal and understandable, but seeing that they are coexisting with civilization, this gets the attention of the powers that be really fast. Adventure hooks like missing people or citizens dead in the street are common and commonly spell the end to a warren.
NERVEOUS NELLYS WITH HINDSIGHT JUST BEYOND EARSHOT
There are, of course, pros and cons to being a wererat. One of the big drawbacks CAN be their eyesight. Although the 5E writeup in the Monster Manual doesn’t mention it, both a roleplaying boon and bane can be their eyesight or lack of it. In the footnotes of an article in DRAGON MAGAZINE #251 stated that eyesight in the daylight was reduced to 15 feet and in lowlight it extended to 30 feet. As far as I can see, wererats (or any other were for that matter) didn’t get darkvision until 3E. It’s more a roleplaying engine, but you could totally take this as a flaw along with the ability that the wererat monster gets, Keen hearing and smell. It may be semantics, but having the wererats traveling the dark sewers by smell and hearing makes things a bit more interesting.
Another trait of the wererat that may be more of a hindrance than a help is their nervous nature. Wererats are described as being twitchy with eyes darting around as if paranoid they’re going to be attacked (which is totally fair). Once again, it may be just note in the roleplaying of the character, but this could make deception or persuasion hard.
Another thing mentioned in the article noted above was the fact that wererats, unique among the weres, may have an odd, unorthodox weakness. Besides the textbook silver or magic weapons (although I would be careful to toss the magic weapons as a weakness), wererats may develop individual, warren-specific weaknesses. The most popular one mentioned is ‘COLD IRON’, but this opens up an opportunity for the DM to do something quite unique. Be creative. Maybe the PCs will need their weapons blessed and maybe by a specific cleric or god. Maybe their weak to healing spells like the undead (or maybe they are partially undead themselves). You could get precise like a certain wood from a certain tree. Maybe it’s a plant like wolfsbane that is needed to make the poison that will kill them. It may be something regionally exclusive.
D10 ROLLCHART FOR ALTERNATE WEAKNESSES
- Cold Iron, Silver, Adamantite, Mithral, Copper or metal forged from a certain meteorite
- Healing/Positive magic
- Weapons Blessed by the local Cleric or maybe they have to travel to a secluded monastery
- The water of a certain brook or a limb from a particular type of tree
- A plant exclusive to a nearby mountain range guarded by a dragon or monster
- The swords of the lost guard found deep in the dungeon they died in
- Weak to only Piercing or Slashing damage made by a magical weapon of a certain level
- Weapons forged by a cleric with the Forge Domain
- Weapons imbued with magic from a certain powered Mage
- It’s not a weapon after all; Radiant energy
LIVING WITH THE CURSE
Many of the wererats you meet in the undercity are usually born a wererat. As stated before, procreation is not something they long to do, but, for the good of the warren, they will do it. This means that a good many of them can’t be cured and the other part don’t want to be cured. This is despite having to live with this curse upon your life.
As stated before, they are highly selective about passing the curse to another humanoid. They can transmit it by bite, but most of the time this is done with their weapons. Part of the curse of how they live is the filth they call home. A great many times they transmit more than the curse of the wererat when they come in contact with others. They are probably carriers of all sorts of disease. A sure sign that there’s a problem under the city is when the city itself is in the grip of a plague. This is one of those things that brings the city dwellers down to the warren and will probably spell the end of the group.
Besides this, the curse can still be a bigger problem. Bloodlust, the taste for flesh are just for starters. Any were that has contracted the disease may have problems holding onto their sanity. The new wererat may loose control more and begin to forget who he once was. This is an interesting plot device where the PC struggles to hold onto who he is and is threatened with loosing his humanity to the disease. It could be one of those mechanics that, if he fails to hold on, he can become an NPC monster and the player will have to move onto a new character. This seems extreme, but the tension would make for great roleplaying.
Also, as backstory, a wererat is more inclined to hunt their own loved ones as a part of the disease. Possibly, before your character got control to their present level, there was a time where they had hunted down everyone they love; losing to the animal early on in the disease. Maybe that’s why the wererat is adventuring. Staying away from family and friends in fear of what he may do.
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE, BUT NOT THE FIGHT
One of the things I learned about wererats in this study was that they are highly competitive. If one of their own challenges them, they rise to it with a passion. Watching two wererats sparing, discussing something or playing a game, you would think that they not only hated themselves, but that they were sworn enemies. Things get quite heated when a challenge is thrown. Which also means that a lone PC wererat may problems with being challenged or gambling even. He may take it personal if challenged to do something fool hearty or as simple as unlocking the dungeon door or jumping the moat. They may forget themselves and become violent during an argument. They may even need to make a Wisdom save to keep from turning in public.
But, although they are quite aggressive when challenged by their own, when faced with invasion from outside or a head to head fight of any type, they are more likely to grab what they can and run. Wererats are commonly known to completely abandon their warren when faced with a fight with the surface dwellers. This may spill over to a PC who has a problem with irrational fear when faced with a fight. Because when faced with fight or flight as an option in any situation, a wererat’s natural inclination is to turn tail and run.
IT MAY COST YOU AN ARM OR A LEG
Another tidbit from older editions is the issue of regeneration of lost limbs. Although unmentioned in 5E, several of the other editions allowed for a were to regenerate limbs lost in combat. Of course, in the current combat rules, there is little allowance for an occurrence of a cut off hand or arm or to be injured enough to lose a leg. This will be left to the DM and the type of game you’re playing. Just keep in mind, if it comes up during game play, it may be allowed, of course.
SO MUCH MORE TO COME
As stated before, this is going to be an ongoing subject this month. If there’s something specific about weres you would like us to pursue, let us know in the comments or contact us on social media; just google THE MAGIC TAVERN. We look forward to revealing the upcoming adventure and your participation in it both with ideas and candor and becoming a part of our Patreon.
Until next time, check out the resources below for Backgrounds and Flaws to add to your PC and/or NPC wererat. And be watching for some CHARACTER REFERENCES dealing in were characters in the posts to come in the coming week.