On the Ecology of the Rat

"The problem with rats is that they will thrive anywhere. They fill up wherever they are, until some of them end up in a corner.  Then you have corned rats to deal with. Only a matter of time." - Nunthil Van Dorminscant, Reagent-aide

Nomenclature: Rat

Description: Medium-sized, long-tailed, furred mammals

Things that are known:

  • They have poor vision
  • They live anywhere
  • The have litters of up to 20 and breed prolifically
  • They have a lifespan of up to 7 years
  • Certain infections, cults, and sorceries can grant humanoids rat-like traits or even turn them into rats themselves
  • Somewhat surprisingly, nearly every person of note ever can relate a story about how they had to clear a basement out of rats immediately before they became a person of importance.

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • Before monsters, rats were smaller
  • The rats become dire and grow to enormous size, because they broke through to the underworld, finding new stores of food and room to grow. Some grew to the size of wolves or even bears. Others feasted on the blood of demons, becoming monsters in their own right
  • Cultists worship rats because they see the wealth it has brought the rats to break into the underworld. They seek to master the dark, so that they may serve gods instead of kings. Perhaps to drink and eat of the blood and flesh of the gods instead of subsisting on moral scraps
  • Some cultists have managed to become like the rat only in moonlight or through magic, allowing a rat to consume what is human, leaving only a human skin. Others have taken what is good of the rat and grafted it to their flesh, becoming the standing rats, the man-rats, inheritors of the wealth of the new world
  • The sign of rats is sign that there is something beneath the depth. Where does the rat live? In the rat hold. That is where the secrets lie
  • The sailors of Suul say that rats are the progeny of a drowned and bloated god that came from the sea. That is why no sailor will kill a rat and why they seek the damp and dark
  • Rats are the physical manifestation of urban property, exhibit a strange gravitational energy towards other emblems of poverty: rotten clothes, empty wineskins, and the lowest value coins. 
  • Rats have grown as the world around them has been corrupted
  • Rat-kind has exploded for another reason, feeding off the magical detritus and runoff of society. Over generations of tainted meals of the dead, mutated cast-off experiments, and other arcane energies, rats have become stronger, larger, and smarter and even learned to walk and talk. The ratkin are still rats at heart, tribal, organized, using tools in their lairs
  • Rats are the physical incarnation of things badly made, or scrambled in the making. Many of them bear mutations or unhealing oozing sores. They are masters of argots and broken codes. They are drawn to tar, the stars, and the arts
  • "Radagast" is a filthy word in the slang of rats and the double secret name of their hidden shadow pontiff -- Radagast the most Reviled
  • While rats increase in size and strength, their cousins, the mice have gotten smaller and sneakier
  • The traditional guardians against rats are of no use against these smaller mice, who are too small to be pounced upon. These vermin, no larger than a grain of sand form swarms that portray locusts as cuddly pets. They have the ability to strip a grown man to bones and buckles in under an hour.
  • The alchemist's guild, sole breathers of the hellscotties, trained fire-breathing dogs, denies any rumor that they are responsible for the pipmice
  • A wererat is more dangerous and scheming than a hoard of enemies, able to blend into human societies, trading brute force for cunning, as smart as a man no matter the form they wear.
  • The teeth of rats never stop growing. They must gnaw constantly or their teeth will grow too long, killing them. This is only part of the truth. It is not the teeth, but the rats that never stop growing. Given the space and food, they grow ever larger and ever hungrier. They never stop gnawing. They never stop eating. . .
  • Wererats were not originally human. A mad alchemist wondered if lycanthropy could be reversed and humanoid animals could be created. His lab rats agreed with the procedure, but not with their situation. Investigating into the circumstances of his death make it clear he did nothing to prevent their infection from spreading
  • The ability of rats to spread and share information defies analysis, impossible to understand and control. One heretical sect of mathomages holds that rat-knowledge is both so fast and so ubiquitous that it must be a branch of god-knowledge.
  • Giant rats arrived in the belly of a ship that raided mega-fauna from a long lost land. Accordingly, when enough gather near water, it flows in the opposite direction, making them useful in the construction of pluming, river locks, and traps
  • Ratkin are descended from the King Ferdinand the Rat. They are bold, love battle, and bands of young Ratkin are nearly always raiders or mercenaries.
  • A ratkin never builds a home, only squatting once tragedies empty established homesteads. 
  • Rats and ratkin are known to build strange and beautiful piling sculptures from rubble. They eat anything and work well in a group. They are capable of executing complex tactical maneuvers with no communication, having learned such maneuvers from their oral histories and ancestors
  • Great works of ratkind are The Squeak, Dawn and We Discovered an Uneaten Sandwich. Tales of the ratkind include How David the Rat Pinned the Great Stoat and Stole Back the Sun, and Why Nettleskin Rat Kept Knives in Her Fur.
  • Rats are given a bad rap, they are really just happy, polyandrous, hippy sneaks!
  • Ratmen are immune to creature and plant based poisons
  • All rats spy for the Rat King who seeks one day to be pretty
  • Rats are the reincarnated forms of sinful people, the larger the rat, the worse the sin
  • Ratkin are the eventual results of incestuous relationships between noble families
  • The Rat King is a demi-god of filth and evolved ratman. His senses are distorted, explaining his fondness for copper
  • Ratmen are the result of children abandoned on dirty city streets, only able to regain their humanity if they find the parents who left them
  • Rats are the agents of entropy, seeking copper dipped in blood. Were they ever to collect one million pieces, it would mean the end of the world. . .
  • The remarkable nature of rats is not due to the rat at all, it is due to the fleas that infest them, resulting in many and varied mutations, from the common dire, to fire-breathing, regeneration, acid saliva, and worse
  • The swarming rats in narrow cave warrens are actually bats who found flight impractical. They retain only vestigial wingflaps, but their sonar is acute and weaponized
  • Dire rats are the result of a rat who has consumed enough of its brethren. Then when the dire rat consumes enough humans it becomes a ratkin. Ratkin perpetuate this process by feeding small human children to the dire rats
  • A dire rat is a ratking, rats pushed so closely together that they merge and become one giant rat.
  • Pungent cheese wards ratkin as garlic does vampires. Centuries of using cheese to trap rats has caused them to associate the scent with danger
  • The fleas on rats brought black death with them, but the fleas on dire rats are that much more terrible. To survive a fight with a dire rat is to die a slow tortured death, soon after.
  • As a rat's teeth always grow, so to, do the dire rats. But wood does not wear them down. Instead dire rats gnaw on stone. Ratkin gnaw on human bone
  • Some sages purport that men evolved from monkeys. The dwarvelves (hairy, bearded elves who like forging mithril and gems) hold that this is obviously not true, for there are no monkeys in the Fantastickal Lands of Middle Oerop. According to dwarvelvish lore, a Madman from the Far North, from beyond the Maw of Whitefear the Bear God and beyond the razor winds of Iron Boreas, came seven thousand years ago. 
    • The Madman, called Piripetros by the dwarvelves of Morgolindon and Petropirireis by the dwarvelves of Taudrakshka, offered to save the dwarvelven holmings of their rat plague in exchange for half their gold and half of their most beautiful princesses. The dwarvelves agreed and with his magical Fluting Alpenhorn he summoned the rats from the deep holmings.
    • But the avaricious dwarvelves then slammed their doors shut and refused to pay the Madman who howled and puffed and roared in rage. He departed into the Flat Lands of Grass with his rat horde and there gifted them with uncanny prowess and knowledge (but not wisdom) and from these rats came the plague of MEN. 
    • According to the few remaining dwarvelves, therefore, rats are the larval stage of the locust creatures known as Men.
  • There are rumors that in the old alchimitorium where the white wizards perished researching the plague dragon's corpse a race of intelligent six-limbed rats have arisen, with an additional set of manipulating hands hidden in pouches inside of their mouths
  • Dire rats acquire intelligence by eating the brains of slain creatures. Eventually they become intelligent enough to realize this and seek out areas of frequent slaughter, like dungeons that attract adventurers.
  • Ratkin include capybaras, chinchillas, nutrias, guinea pigs, hamsters, gophers and doppelgangers.
  • Rats are elemental sponges, acquiring the magical properties of their surroundings. In filthy human cities they carry diseases. In gorgeous natural elven tree-holds they poop edible caffeine berries. In dwarven duggings they accumulate "cave pearls" in their livers and are often bred on a diet of gem-dust to produce beautiful pearls which are then sold abroad.
  • In halfling communities there are very few rats because they are used to make the famous three-bite-pie.

  • Death Wizards first bred semi-intelligent dire rats so they wouldn't have so much trouble with buying fresh slaves and captives from humanoid villages.
  • A dire rat's soul is worth one fifth of a man's soul and three-quarters of a woman's soul, according to Pulchraphobos' seminal work, The Balance of Souls.
  • Orcs will buy bundles of rats at sixteen silver pence the half-dozen. Or at two silver pence for a single rat. Math is not an orcish strong suit.
  • Several species of dire rodent have prehensile tails, which can grow into a new rodent if severed.
  • Dried and ground skyforest rat gonads protect from mummy rot.
  • Ear-rats are popular familiars among wizard-scouts, who use them to listen in on distant conversations.
  • A rat is a bat without wings. Rats can crossbreed with bats, resulting in winged monkey-rats. There is no monkey in a flying monkey, just a lot of nasty rat.
  • Rat bites can cure old age. . . . or at least prevent it.
  • Dire rats are otherworldly rats that come from the domain of the Mater Milia, the rat spirit. They are her agents and children, and normally live in her halls where they "gnaw at the pillars of the universe". They may breed with normal rats and create giants rats.
  • Were-rat skins are used to make Face-masks of Animal Charming.
  • Old colonies of rats become more organized and develop group intelligence and cunning and even enslave other small species and build structures.
  • In dungeons rats scurry in between walls, under floors and through air vents. Some adventurers have tried to smash through walls to have rats swarm out and attack them.
  • A ball of rats are a colony whose tails become knotted and they act as one. Very rare in wild, in some magic rich areas dozens of these balls form. Some even form huge sphere, as large as a child or even larger.
  • Normally big rats eat smaller rats. Humanoid rat men and wererats may keep rats and giant rats as pets and food. Pony size colossal rats or larger may serve as mounts. 
  • Rats beneath an Alchemist guild in the ruined city of Gnash-Toril bred a gargantuan rat who burst up from beneath the earth and destroyed buildings before the cities wizard kings destroyed it.
  • A rat's intelligence is inversely proportionate to the amount of rats in a certain range from it. Lone rats, well out of range of other rats, sometimes even develop psionic abilities like telepathy and telekinesis. These rats normally keep to themselves and will try their best to look like their city-dwelling cousins, as far as intelligence goes, when any other intelligent creature is about.
  • Among all natural creatures and races, rats are the best at sensing magic and following residual amounts of it. In fact, this sensitivity is borderline addiction, as rats just love feeling surrounded by magic. The reason hubs of civilization tend to have quite so many rats is because the same hubs tend to house wizard's guild, or several, and those draw rats in from miles and miles away.
  • Among all creatures the ratkins have been blessed, along with the roachkins, to inherit the Earth at the End of Days. So spake Ratatushtra.
  • Ratpyres are pyrokinetic blood-drinking ratkin.
  • A ratkin that drinks a human potion of healing is afflicted with a voracious appetite and a propensity towards obesity - this is why ratkin-kings are all huge and round.
  • Rats originate from the elemental plane of filth. There, rats are easily fed and treated as a versatile domesticated creature. They can be a source of food, a pet, or bred as guard creatures. Generally, dire rats are guard creatures, giant rats are food (or sometimes pets) and regular rats are pets, trained to eat some of the more pestilent creatures of the plane.
  • When they migrate to the material plane, they tend to migrate to the places most similar to their home dimension: the sewers of large cities.

The ecology series is a crowdsourced series of articles, and contributors can be found on google+ under the hashtag #crowdecology. They are limited posts, but following me on G+ will allow you to see them. All artwork is credited where the artist could be found. Classic ecology articles from Dragon magazine are used both for reference and inspiration; the whole impetus of the idea was to create 'classic' ecology articles that are actually useful. Let's Read the Monster Manual by Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  If you're curious how to make effective use of these articles, read On the Use of Ecology


  1. A priestess of Bastet can turn rats as other clerics turn undead. They never volunteer this information (or much of anything else, really).

  2. G+ Source


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