"Alone, again. I've done this before. You can't keep me
down, watch your back, Sonny . . . I'm the survivor. I'm King
-- King Rat, in King Rat by China Miéville
Scuttling about in the dank passageways of an abandoned underground complex. Lurking in the dark alleys of Victorian London, eyeing passers-by with evil intent. Skulking through the moist, overgrown forest, hiding in the shadows that cloak the moss-encrusted trees and watching the fat travelers on the high road.
A flash of naked tail, a glitter of red eyes in the dark, a hissing laugh. A foul nest in a sewer.
It's the were-rat.
Attributes: ST -1 [-10]; DX +3 ; HT +7 ; Reduced Hit Points -8 [-40].
Advantages: Acute Taste and Smell +4 ; Alertness +4 ; Cast Iron Stomach ; Faz Sense (3-hex range, -20%) ; Night Vision ; Pestilence ; Peripheral Vision ; Sharp Teeth ; Thick Fur .
Disadvantages: Color Blindness [-10]; Gluttony [-5]; Greed [-15]; Gregarious [-10]; Hidebound [-5]; Hideous Appearance [-20]; Incurious [-5]; Kleptomania [-15]; Miserliness [-10]; Poverty (Dead Broke) [-25]; Reduced Dodge [-15]; Short Arms [-10]; Sleepy (50%) [-10]; Social Stigma (Barbarian) [-15].
Skills: Survival (Plains, Swampland, Urban or Woodlands, specialized)-IQ+2/IQ+8 .
Template Cost: 33 points.
Were-form Cost: 48 points.
This is the traditional humanoid were-rat -- bipedal, fully- functional hands, with a long, pointed face and mobile ears. It stands about 4½ feet tall, with heavy fur on its entire body except for its long, naked tail. While this were-form is loosely based on the Giant Rat template found on p. BE110, it is equally shaped by decades of gaming tradition. While physically weak, it's often cunning and is possessed of a natural thiefly instinct.
As an Involuntary Shapechange, it makes an excellent (and entertaining) curse-form for a person with High Social Status, a strong Code of Honor, Honesty or Pacifism. As a regular were- form, it's a great "ace-in-the-hole" for a apparently weak character, particularly one whom an adventuring party would dismiss as unimportant or useless. For a more "epic" use, entire packs can lurk in the sewers of cities ranging from walled fantasy redoubts to 21st century Manhattan, turning the tunnels into their own particular kind of fortress.
When they appear en masse, their numbers traditionally come from the lowest levels of society: the penniless, the homeless, those who already lurk in the shadowy forgotten corners of civilization.
The were-rat, possibly more than any other variety of were-creature, is driven by its urges. This does not mean that the were-rat is stupid. Far from it -- were-rats are often incredibly cunning and capable of complex thought and planning, as many adventurers will attest. But given an opportunity, a were-rat thinks of his stomach and his possessions before anything else.
When the populace at large is aware of them, were-rats often have a reputation as thieves. This is not entirely fair. Were- rats are not automatically thieves. They are, however, greedy and given to hoarding objects of value. This can lead them into a habit of relieving other people of their belongings, either by casual pilfery or by force of arms. Were- rats from the upper levels of society often sublimate these urges by becoming lawyers, financiers or venture capitalists, when the level of cultural sophistication allows.
Even when the were-rat does not turn to turn to theft, he is likely to accumulate a hoard of "treasures." Most of the time these will have some real value, but the less educated a were-rat is, the more likely his "collection" is to contain balls of aluminum foil, scraps of automobile chrome and other worthless but glittery objects.
When circumstances allow, were-rats prefer working and living in groups, although solitary were-rats can and do operate with no difficulties in almost any environment. Still, some faint echo of their template's swarming instinct seems to reverberate through them, and when two or more were-rats prowl the same area, they are far more likely to be part of a community than independent of each other. Whenever possible, these communities build lairs in whatever dark, enclosed space is available; their members often abandon human society entirely to live there on a permanent basis. This is not always possible for the were-rat who comes from a culture's upper strata, but many were-rats come from the lowest classes, people who could vanish and not be missed in most cultures.
Like his smaller cousins, the were-rat isn't picky about what he eats. Anything from half-rotted garbage to (in extreme cases) human flesh will satisfy him. Those who live in natural surroundings -- forests, swamps and plains are the most common habitats -- are usually proficient hunters, although they have no scruples against scavenging. Those dwelling in urban settings can sometimes rely on the fauna that exists in the wainscoting of civilization (were-rats have no compunctions about eating those smaller cousins), but frequently supplement their diet with nighttime raids on storehouses, granaries and other sources of food. (In more modern settings they have been known to shoplift from grocery and convenience stores, or rob them outright.)
In those settings where were-rats form their own communities (usually those where there is a genetic component to the shift), they will mate for life with other were-rats. Solitary were-rats often do not feel that they have the option of (or the right to) a long-term relationship, and content themselves with brief liaisons. Some singletons do make a try at marriage with a non- were-rat; the success rate for such attempts is wildly variable and depends greatly on the individuals involved. Children born from such unions will usually possess the shifting gift, which may prove a surprise to the non-shifting parent -- especially if the other partner in the marriage has never revealed his secret.
Were-rat lairs usually owe more to the sensibilities of the were-rats' base form than their rat side. Instead of the great communal nests that many might imagine them to be, lairs instead tend to be small communities. Each were-rat or family has a clearly delineated space that is theirs and theirs alone, in which they nest. Where possible, they take advantage of pre-existing structures and natural formations, making the divisions between nests clear and incontrovertible. It is in these nests that most keep their hoards of stolen and scavenged items. Even though these small "territories" are fiercely defended, it is not uncommon to find were-rats pilfering from one another.
Were-rat lairs tend to be foul and noisome places, frequently permeated with the stench of rotting food. Their cunning inhabitants often lace them with booby-traps; usually nothing more sophisticated than deadfalls and pits, but they still make invasion of were-rat turf difficult all the same.
Although were-rats can function as an independent society, they really have nothing that can be described as a culture. Those who were raised by or who spend most of their time among humans will have human tastes and sensibilities; were-rats who isolate themselves in their own communities will possess at best the tattered scraps of the dominant culture's beliefs and values. They have nothing resembling a government, save for a simple pecking order based on strength and ferocity.
When raised entirely within a were-rat community, they can be almost feral in behavior and outlook. (Such characters might well possess the Bestial disadvantage, to represent how divorced they are from human society.)
The basic were-rat template given here has no pre-defined conditions for its propagation; how a person becomes a were-rat is up to the GM. As is, it makes a good generic curse, inflicted perhaps by an enchantment.
Fantasy fiction has often depicted this particular were-form as a Genetic Trait -- a dubious "gift" that runs in the blood of certain clans or family lines. These may exploit the shape-changing gift by ritualizing a child's "awakening" and specializing as a whole in some field of endeavor which can profit from the were-form (assassins, spies, thieves). Such a clan would be an exception to the assumption in the main text that a community of were-rats will be dramatically isolated and almost lacking in any kind of civilized mental life. Instead, this kind of were-rat may well have a private culture heavily steeped in tradition and ritual, emphasizing family or clan history and perhaps even teaching unique combat arts.
On the other hand, a bloodline of genetic were-rats may consider the trait a shame and an embarrassment, something to ignore; someone who accidentally activates his ability to change would be shunned by the family then, perhaps even expelled and disinherited.
A were-rat were-form with Genetic Trait would make a fine candidate for a 20-point Secret Advantage!
Spreading The Gift
The traditional Infectious Attack is always a prime method for propagating the curse, and is particularly suited for inflicting it on a player character. Unlike the genetic were-rats who are likely to profit from their gift, the infected were-rat usually is (or soon becomes) one of the dregs of society. This ties in well with the debased were-rat culture depicted in the main text. Societies that are aware of the existence of this variety of were-rat may well consider them vermin to be exterminated, especially if they hold similar views about the lowest of the lower classes.