Plot Points in D&D Next?

The new Legends & Lore column from Mike Mearls is up, and it describes a new mechanic in the D&D Next playtest called “inspiration.” Basically, inspiration lets the DM reward a player with a “get advantage on a roll during this encounter” token for some piece of roleplaying that reflects the character’s motivations, background, flaws, and so on (as defined on their character sheet).

To me this reads as an obvious nod to/rip-off from storytelling games, a little bit of Fate Core grafted into D&D. The idea of using written-down facets of the character’s personality to pull them around in-game, and to give little mechanical rewards based on them, feels a lot like Fate’s system of aspect tags. Old-schoolers will certainly argue that it’s “not D&D,” and luckily it’s easy enough to ignore– just tell your group “we won’t be using inspiration in this game”– unless you have real power-gamers in your group who will constantly try to game the system by hammering on a few personality traits constantly in an attempt to gain advantage. I expect the only thing more annoying than a stereotypical drunken dwarf or naughty kender character will be one who plays it up even more, then looks up expectantly like a dog begging for a treat. Plus it’s one more advantage for PCs, in a game that’s already less dangerous than I’d like, so I might not use it beyond my “it’s a playtest, so we play the rules as written for now” period. Of course, for a plot-heavy, character-protecting campaign, it works nicely.

I do like, however, that there’ll be space on the character sheet for a few roleplaying/personality guidelines beyond alignment. Any GM knows that getting some players to come up with any sort of character at all is like pulling teeth, and it’s nice to have it a bit more hardwired into the character creation system to come up with at least a basic story. Plus the column promises random tables to be used if desired, which is always the right idea in every situation, so that makes me happy. They’ll be tied to the background choices you make during character creation, which have other mechanical impact, as we’ve seen for a year now.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out at the table. I’m expecting a new playtest packet right around GenCon, to coincide with the Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle adventure/rulebook thing they’re selling.

Leaving for the Crusades

Driving home from Virginia Beach yesterday, we listened to a lecture about how medieval knights prepared to leave for the Crusades (#23 on this list). Basically it involved a lot of getting your affairs in order, since you were certainly going to be gone for years and had a good chance of not coming back. There were a few specifics that stuck out as gameable for paladins.

First off, taking the Crusader’s Cross was something you did most often during a time of peace. Becoming a crusader was basically a promise that in the future, if a crusade should happen, you’d strap on your sword and join in. Apparently Louis IX took the cross while he lay gravely ill, asking God to let him live in return, and then had to be absolved of his vow after he recovered. (Although he took the cross again later and did go off to fight.) I love the idea that a paladin could have sworn a vow earlier in life that he hasn’t yet been called upon to fulfill– perhaps part of getting a paladin’s powers involves swearing that when the time comes, you’ll give up adventuring and join a holy army against whatever your god or high priest or whoever says needs killing.

Second, there was a lot of blessing of weapons before heading off. There were also many sermons written about the symbol of the sword as cross. There’s some wonderful imagery about the holy cross being the sword that defeats the devil and so forth. I love these scenes, and think they should be played out more in-game, before big fights, or even just before heading back into the dungeon. I’d also play up any particular god’s signature weapons, and the symbolism thereof. Mechanical effects are up to your discretion.

Third, apparently it was common for women to take the crusader’s cross as well. When the crusade itself came, they would “redeem” their vows by donating money to the cause. But not all women did this– some actually went on the crusade with the men. Presumably in real, boring history there weren’t many (if any) women pretending to be men and fighting heathens in the mud, but it could be very cool to include an all-male (or all-female) fighting order in-game and have a PC or NPC violate that rule.

Blog Is Short for Backlog

Wow, I have a huge backlog of links and resources that need to be made available here. It’s been many months. It may take a few posts to get all this stuff linked up. Now, what have I missed…?

More to come!


Dungeoneering in D&D Next (and Other Editions)

Dungeon-delving is much on my mind. I’ve been running a single campaign for about a year and a half now, and in all that time, I think I’ve had the most fun as a DM over the last few sessions, as the party explores a small dungeon beneath the abandoned Dyre Keep. I’ve put them in dungeons before, big and small, but Dyre Keep has been the best of them.

Part of my fun is because I’ve taken to heart all the junk I wrote about (and read while writing) on this blog. In designing Dyre Keep I tried to make every room interesting and every scenario interactable. (Is that a word? What I mean is that the players can interact with everything.)

The other big part of my fun, though, is that in March we switched from 4th edition D&D to the D&D Next playtest. And it’s just a better system for dungeon-crawling.

It’s well-tread territory to say that 4e is all about big setpiece encounters. My campaign started as an experiment to see if 4e could be used for a true sandbox (read: West Marches ripoff). The answer, in my mind at least, was a resounding no. Not that it couldn’t– any system can be used for anything, pretty much– but that it just wasn’t really fun to do it. The main reason for this was that combat takes such a damn long time. If you’re rolling random encounters during exploration, and you only have about two and a half hours for your session, you can easily pass the whole game in two combats with random, unchallenging monsters and not really get anywhere. I just stopped rolling random encounters after a while, because they just sucked up time without challenging the party at all.

D&D Next, on the other hand, is a far, far lighter combat system. I’ve been running it generally without minis (though some of my players really hate this, to the point that we often draw sketch maps and put minis down to show positioning). That saves a lot of time, as does the decrease in off-turn actions and power choices. I don’t feel like such a time-waster every time I roll for wandering monsters in Dyre Keep, because the fights are usually over pretty quickly.

The other main reason Next has been better for dungeoncrawling is that it’s more dangerous than 4e. Not by a whole lot, actually (although the fact that we swapped characters over at 12th level probably has something to do with that; 1st-level Next PCs may be a lot squishier) but by a bit. Enough that the party has almost been TPKed twice, both times by threats half their level: a lurker above (they now look at every ceiling everywhere) and a gaggle of apparitions pulled from the Tomb of Horrors bestiary.

The latest Next update (from late last night) also changed the death & dying rules to be much more dangerous. During the apparation near-TPK, everyone was possessed except the rogue, who was dying. Losing 1d6 HP on a failed DC 10 check isn’t exactly threatening– but having a nearly equal chance of stabilizing and dying is. Of course, the fact that you have to have three to six turns come around before you know whether you die or not means there’s still a boatload of time to get healed. So again, not supremely dangerous, but a step in the right direction.

Two weeks ago, I got the chance to play Adventurer Conqueror King for the first time. Now that’s a dangerous goddamn RPG. It’s based on B/X, obviously; it’s not like Alex Macris made up these combat rules. But still– here’s a system built for dungeoncrawling. It’s lethal and it’s fast. We got into a handful of combats and I think all but one was a wandering monster. They were over in a few rounds, each of which took only a couple minutes. Each one was an “Oh shit, is this the end?” moment for our first-level characters, since basically any foe can take out any character in one or two hits at that level. We lost most of the party inside two hours. It was awesome.

I immediately bought both ACKS books and plan to run my next campaign using it. I’ve never been big on designing Combat Encounters, but that’s what it takes to make combat interesting in 4e and to a certain extent, in Next. Why? Because the way to remove swinginess in combat is to give everybody enough HP to let the law of averages play out. That means long combats, with more HP for everybody, so one lucky roll in either direction won’t botch the whole thing. With far fewer HP all around, ACKS combat is incredibly swingy. One lucky or unlucky die roll is all it takes. But that’s what makes it fast– you don’t have to slog through loads of HP.

Anyway, just some random thoughts. Lighter, faster, more dangerous systems are better for dungeoneering. Or at least the way I want to do it.

More thoughts on ACKS to follow, maybe?

EDIT: Clarified the last paragraph, which was written hastily.

New Life

I won’t do the usual how-long-has-it-been hand-wringing seen so often on dormant blogs. Suffice it to say that for a good long while I was happy letting folks come here for the megadungeon resources but not worry about content otherwise. Well, I’ve pondered my options and I think that while the site will remain dedicated to megadungeons, the blog itself can survive as more of a catch-all for my thoughts on gaming.

Frankly, this whole site started as a way for me to compile information as I learned about megadungeons. I’m not an expert– that’s exactly the point. So it’s no surprise that my posts attempting to add to the canon of megadungeon resources didn’t do too well. And in fact, I generally skip over blog posts that are just new monsters, magic items, classes and that sort of thing (though I love new traps). I like to read analysis– what works, or doesn’t work, and why? And that’s what I like to write, as well.

So henceforth this space will contain more than just dust and cobwebs. I’ll throw out a few copper pieces into the room, and if I’m lucky, some gold as well.

Belated Con Report: GMX

It’s been a long November, with various personal-life disappointments coming my way, so I’m rather tardy in posting my report on Nashville’s biggest con, GMX. The short version is that I spent the whole weekend in the Analog Gaming room, mostly running various versions of D&D but also playing Fiasco and a cool dinosaur-themed board game called Evo, and watching my lovely fiancee win the Dominion tournament.

While said fiancee was winning said tournament, I also sat in on the Gaming with Giants session that Robert Schwalb, one of the lead designers of the new D&D Next, was running. From what I caught, it was a standard dungeon crawl with some poison gas, fire beetles, and long ladders down chutes. What intrigued me was the ruleset he was using, which seemed to be an altered version of Basic D&D (as he put it at one of his seminars, “I won’t be running Next, or 4th edition, or 3rd edition, or 2nd edition, or original D&D… or 1st edition AD&D.” Very subtle). He was using ascending AC (hey, that’s the same change I made to my Labyrinth Lord game!) and seemed to also have people rolling saves based on the six ability scores (a la the current D&D Next rules). I wanted to pick his brain about it but didn’t get a chance. Anyway, it seemed like a good table having a great time. Also, earlier in the con Rob told me I was the most normal person he’d ever met. Not sure how to take that.

Anyway, my Midnight Mutant Madness game (also known as Palace of the Pleasure Pilgrims, the Labyrinth Lord dungeon I’ve mentioned a few times here) was a qualified success. It was a midnight game, and we had two people who were really there to play (including the manager of our local Games Workshop, who was an excellent, smart player with an old-school vibe) and two drunk guys who played hard-drinking dwarves.

I tried my best to keep things moving forward for the two serious players while also keeping the drunk dwarves entertained. The players got a few rooms into the Palace. They easily beat the cannibals in the foyer, then explored the pneumatic tube closet but didn’t quite unravel its operation. Next, the more cautious players decided to stay out of the Jungle Room, having been warned enough by the crude drawing of a pterodactyl wearing a top hat and the hissing noises coming from within– but the drunken dwarves insisted on checking it out (once they tuned back in and heard “pterodactyl with a top hat”) and might have been killed, but the elf used her Sleep spell and handily saved the day. Then they began checking out the bedrooms. They chose not to open the heavily-barred door with the “Leave him alone” sign, since the pterodactyl sign turned out to be accurate, and missed out on some treasure there. The drunk dwarves befriended a couple of cannibals gambling in one room (thanks to a very low reaction check), and decided to lead them to “a party” (read: ambush by the rest of the PCs) but somehow went native on the way. This led to a PC-versus-PC fight that closed out the night at about 2 am.

All in all, I think everybody had fun. Despite differing levels of sobriety and seriousness, everybody had a good attitude and knew this was just a one-shot con game anyway, so the fact that it devolved into a PC showdown didn’t ruffle any feathers.

Speaking more specifically to the question of dungeon design, I was pretty pleased by the interactivity of the Palace. I spent a lot of time making sure every room had something in it that could be interacted with, could teach something about the setting, or ideally both, and the players had plenty to do. There was no “Okay, nothing in this room, move on.”

The map itself needs a little bit more in the way of options. From the foyer it’s basically a funnel until you get past the bedrooms, with the option of pausing to check out the Jungle Room; the map doesn’t really open up until after that. Why? Because the other exit from the foyer is a secret door, and there’s no real reason for players to search around in a dark corner far from all the interesting stuff (robotic attendant, pneumatic tube closet, other door). If I run the Palace again I’ll make that secret door a regular one so there’s a straightforward choice right at the beginning.

Lastly, one of the serious players focused heavily on collecting objects that dealt with the pre-meltdown history of the world. This hadn’t occurred to me as a method of distributing treasure, but I think is a great idea: artifacts that aren’t inherently valuable (logbooks, old religious pamphlets, etc.) but could be sold to a collector for a good price. Interesting treasure that requires a bit of work to squeeze value from is always better than piles of coins!

I also attended one of Robert Schwalb’s seminars, which focused on adventure design. He discussed an adventure-design structure with sort of a concentric-rings shape, featuring multiple methods of approach to the outside ring that then funnel towards fewer and fewer options at each level, all leading to a single climactic encounter. He said this had been getting kicked around by the D&D Next designers, and I asked if he had seen the Orbital Path Method of Plot Design post by Patrick Benson of Gnome Stew, which had gone up just two weeks earlier, and is nearly identical. He said he hadn’t– just one of those weird coincidences of the game-design universe, I guess!

All in all, a great con, with a bustling tabletop game room and a lot of camaraderie (possibly because my gaming group, the Greater Nashville D&D Meetup, ran the game room) and very little sleep. Good weekend.

Nayenezgani, Dungeon Spirit

It’s Halloween, and that means I have to post about using horror in your game. I don’t have any particularly brilliant thoughts on this, having never run, or even played in, a horror game. The closest I came was this past Sunday at GMX, where I played a few hours of a Savage Worlds adventure called Scooby-Doo and Cthulhu Too! which was as fun as it sounds.

That being said, I want to share an amazing pic from the Halloween post on Roles, Rules, and Rolls. This is the picture:

Nayenezgani, Slayer of Alien Gods

The picture is of a Navajo dressed as the deity Nayenezgani. What’s fascinating is that Nayenezgani is apparently actually a hero in Navajo myth; his name means “slayer of alien gods,” which is just about the best, most gameable name ever. What’s more, Nayenezgani is one of a pair of brothers who represent light and darkness– and Nayenezgani is the light brother. For more awesome pictures of Nayenezgani, his brother Tobadzistsini, and other Navajo deities, check out this page. For stories of the brothers killing cool monsters with cool magic weapons see here.

Ah, I hear you say, this is just a thinly-veiled excuse to post neat pictures. What has all this to do with megadungeons? Well, keeping with the Halloween theme of scaring people, I’d think that the best way to Halloween up your megadungeon is with a sub-level that seems completely empty. After the recent discussion about agency and activity in the dungeon, I can say that my dungeon levels are jam-packed with interactive goodies that may or may not affect the game but always give the players something to do. Every empty room in my dungeons has something the players can touch or check out. So if they suddenly came to a section of the dungeon that is totally silent and totally empty, they should catch on that something weird is afoot.

Especially if one PC, and only one, starts seeing shapes out of the corner of his eye. And hearing faintly scuffling footsteps. And finally comes face-to-face with Nayenezgani (or rather, a creature illustrated by the above picture of Nayenezgani) who stands stock still and whispers the character’s name. No other PC can see or hear the creature– in fact, this would probably be best done by passing notes, so to the other players the chosen PC seems to be acting erratically as he chases down fleeting sights and sounds. If the chosen PC attacks or otherwise touches the spirit, he loses hit points or levels or Constitution or heck, loses Wisdom because none of what’s happening to him makes any sense. Bonus points for doing it to a good-aligned cleric or sensible, academic wizard (neither of whom should be able to identify this spirit).

Tie the spirit into your campaign or leave it unexplained as you wish. Personally, I think I’d use this as some sort of primordial dungeon spirit, an abstract expression of whatever force caused a massive multi-level deathtrap to grow here in the first place. Maybe the spirit’s sub-level would occur at the exact center, the “heart,” of the megadungeon. Or maybe its haunting grounds were once the site of an especially gruesome act. Or maybe it’s a warped reflection of the very PC it’s haunting, an echo sent backwards in time to warn the PC of his own death. I dunno– go nuts!

9 Rats, 2000 Coppers, and One Big Argument: The Dwimmermount Controversy

If you’re at all plugged in to the RPG blog world, you probably noticed the controversy that raged a few weeks ago over an extremely negative review of James Maliszewski’s megadungeon Dwimmermount. I’ve waited until the flames went down to cover the debate, mostly to fit with this blog’s ethos of compiling all the info you could need in one place, but also to give myself a bit of time to sift and assess the many words that were written about the issue. So without further ado, let’s jump into these choppy waters…

It all began with a post at Joethelawyer’s Wondrous Imaginings blog, with the unambiguous title “Played Dwimmermount Last Night. Sucked.” In short, Joe claims that Dwimmermount is boring. His specifics: too many empty rooms, too many features that the players can’t interact with, and too many coins in perfectly round numbers.

At various stages in the debate, others who played in this session weighed in. Michael Garcia of The Crazy GM one-upped Joethelawyer’s bluntness with a post entitled “Play report, aka Dwimmermount Blows Donkey.” Eric Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern, the session’s GM, wrote a far more measured post, ”Closing the Door on Dwimmermount,” in which he describes how he intentionally ran the dungeon as written “to be as true to [it] as we could,” and politely concludes that “[c]urrently, Dwimmermount is not a match to my gaming group’s style of play.”

The controversy really got cooking over at therpgsite, with a thread started by Black Vulmea that openly (though non-confrontationally) asked Joethelawyer what he was expecting, and where Dwimmermount didn’t deliver. Many OSR heavyweights make their opinions known, including Erik Jensen, Rob Conley, Benoist, Melan, Roger the Game Sage, Kent, and Justin Alexander. There’s some sniping and backbiting in the thread, but it mostly turns on questions of what a megadungeon needs in order to engage the players, and thus has some value as a read.

The big argument here is about Room 46, which holds 9 giant rats, 2000 cp, and some jewelry. All the treasure is hidden in the rubbish of the room. The arguments against boil down to…

  • Rats shouldn’t be paired with so much treasure for no reason
  • Coins shouldn’t come in perfectly round numbers
  • Rats and rubbish aren’t inherently interesting

The main argument advanced in Dwimmermount’s defense is that it’s up to the GM to breathe life into the necessarily sparse key of a massive dungeon, in short, to make a room of rats more than just a room of rats. Justin Alexander makes a great post (bottom of page 2) detailing how he would have written the room, turning the rats into mysterious little acolytes of some god. But he still lays the blame at Maliszewski’s feet for not doing this work ahead of time: “When I talked… about the fact that Maliszewski’s method of expanding his minimalist key mostly consisted of using more words to describe a minimalist key, this is what I was talking about.”

Anyway, the greater blogosphere began weighing in. Stephan Poag discussed the exactly-2000-cp issue in detail, assessing other options for hoard math, and ended up thinking that maybe big round numbers aren’t so bad. JD Jarvis of Aeons & Augauries advised measuring coins in pouches, chests, sacks, etc. instead of numbers (until the party had time to count). So did Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, and gave more detail in a second post. Roger the Game Sage offered 9 Rats, 2000 CP: 5 Variations on a Theme, and later, Flip That Dungeon Cliche. Greg Gillespie of Barrowmaze fame started a discussion of empty rooms, and mentioned that he enjoyed playing Dwimmermount under JMal’s GMing.

Stephan Poag also started having doubts about megadungeons in general, suggesting they were perhaps an OSR fad that is now fading due to the sporadic nature of most players’ game schedules. Naraoia leapt In Defense of the Megadungeon at the Mule Abides, discussing the demographics and quirks of the nearly-150-session Chateau D’Ambreville megadungeon campaign he plays in, but ultimately deciding that “in the end, if megadungeons were boring, none of these things would matter.” (And, incidentally, making me kind of miss living near NYC, where apparently this game has been happening for ages without my knowledge.) Gus L of Dungeon of Signs, who runs the campaign that Joethelawyer holds up as an example of what megadungeons should be, took the opportunity to opine on how to keep megadungeon play fresh. Noisms wondered if playing published modules might actually be a bad thing, “whether the effect might rather be to entrench standard practices, restrain innovation, and above all waste time.”

Finally, -C gave a nod to the controversy while describing what will set his Numenhalla dungeon apart (an interesting list of what megadungeons should strive for) and then really hit the megadungeons-are-dead meme hard as a “misrepresentation of facts,” arguing that megadungeons are still exploding in popularity, and a few rats and coppers can’t kill them. (He also links to this humble blog as an example of megadungeons’ continued popularity. Thanks!)

So that’s the roundup. The controversy seems to have died down, and my guess is that the people who love megadungeons will go on writing and running and exploring them like always. I think the greatest value to come out of the debate is a narrowing of focus on what megadungeons should contain. In all the links above it’s very tough to find a defense of Dwimmermount as written. People defend megadungeons, people argue that Dwimmermount is still a draft, people explain how they’d run Dwimmermount– but nobody really comes out and says “nine rats, two thousand coppers– it’s perfect.”

The argument really hinges on two things: internal logic and player agency.

Internal logic is a major question in megadungeon design. The anti-2000-copper people say that it simply doesn’t make sense to have coins in perfect amounts (one poster snarkily asks if the coppers were in penny rolls like at the bank). The other side replies that it’s unnecessary busywork to make every hoard 1,997 or 2,008 coppers. Unless your PC is Rain Man, he can’t tell the difference between the two at a glance, and round numbers save your players from some game-slowing arithmetic.

But ultimately this gets at perhaps the big question about megadungeons, the “fun-house versus logical-lair” argument. Is the purpose of a megadungeon just a place to exercise player skill? In that case, you can have all the traps and rooms of orcs and round coin counts you want, because you’re playing the dungeon as a game of survival and advancement. Or is a megadungeon really about telling a story, the tale of every lost culture, mad wizard, and greedy dragon that ever haunted its halls? If that’s how you play it, you should make sure your coin piles include odd counts of specific coins (97 gold iruds from Illuvia, 144 silver wolves from Mercia because Mercians are superstitious about the number twelve, etc. etc.) just as you make sure your power factions have clear motivations and trap-free escape routes. If it’s a game, give them 2,000 coppers. If it’s a simulation, give them details.

I believe that the internal logic question is a matter of taste, for both the designer and the players. Player agency, however, is not. Player agency is a must. Reading the many accounts and arguments about this now-notorious Dwimmermount session, what I really hear again and again is “there was nothing for us to do.” There’s a room with ghosts playing chess, but they apparently can’t be interacted with, just watched. Ditto the statues whose heads have all been replaced by depictions of the same god. Finding the rats’ treasure is a matter of spending three ten-minute turns searching while the GM rolls for wandering monsters. And so on.

I haven’t played or read Dwimmermount. I prefer to wait for finished versions, and I can only imagine that James Maliszewski will be returning to some of his room descriptions after all this hoo-ha. But from what I’m hearing, the dungeon is low on player agency. That is to say: there’s plenty of interesting stuff to look at, and history to learn about, and things to fight, but there isn’t much for players to do. Players must be given choices to make, objects to play with, puzzles to solve. The things they find in one area should interact with the things they find in another area, not just in an intellectual way but in a physical way. It ties back to the discussion of traps as puzzles from a few weeks ago. The players– not the characters– must be challenged. Otherwise you’re just rolling dice.

I’ve been working very hard to put this ethos into action in my adventure “Palace of the Pleasure Pilgrims,” the Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future post-apoc dungeon I talked about in the traps-as-puzzles post. I keep going back to my notes and adding more things for players to interact with, more puzzles that tie multiple rooms together, and so on. The day approacheth: I’m running the Palace for the first time at midnight Friday night (Saturday morning to you purists) at Geek Media Expo here in Nashville. (If you’re coming to the con, join my game! If you’re not coming to the con, you’re a bad person who should be shunned by all right-thinking citizens!) The Palace isn’t a megadungeon– it’s a paltry 36 rooms or something like that– but everything I’m doing in it applies a hundred times over in the megadungeon. If the Palace is a bust, the players can leave and explore anywhere else in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Arcentis (well, not at a con game, but you know what I mean). If your tentpole megadungeon doesn’t challenge and engage the players with interactivity, the campaign will fold. And if enough megadungeon campaigns fold, then it really will be the end of the megadungeon.

And we don’t want that. After all, I have this domain name registered for the next year at least.

Save vs. Spam

I’ve installed a Captcha test for all comments because of a recent colossal deluge of spam comments. Some automated program must have flagged the site in the last day or two because I’ve had probably a hundred fake comments in the last twenty-four hours. As far as I can tell they text is ripped from the comments of other pages, and has at least some sort of contextual test, because a lot of the text has to do with D&D, mapping, etc. I’ll admit it took me a moment to determine whether some of them were fake. What the purpose of this is, I have no idea, but hopefully it’ll end with the new Captcha regime.

Apologies if you hate retyping text strings! Oh, and if you posted a real comment that seems to have gotten lost in the flood, just repost it, or let me know and I can find it and approve it. Thanks!

Dungeon Fauna: Rope Rats

Disclaimer: This is a half-baked idea based on a brief vision I had while in a hypnagogic state one morning. Take from that what you will.

Rope rats are like rats, but worse. They look like rats but where their tails should be, they have ropes, proper woven ropes that they can extend or retract as they see fit. Rumor has it that a rope rat can extend its rope-tail up to twenty feet or longer.

Like normal rats, rope rats live in the nooks and crannies of dungeons, eating garbage, spreading disease, and so on. What an adventurer has to be concerned with is the rope rat’s battle tactics when it gets riled up. Rope rats are highly talented at using their ropes to tie up enemies, swing across empty spaces, and get the drop on foes by descending silently on their rope-tails like a spider on its thread. They also love to twine their rope-tails together into structures ranging from the simple (a tripwire or “clothesline” attack, a makeshift bridge) to the intricate (a parachute, a bier to carry off wounded enemies). 

Some have had the idea to attempt to train rope rats. They could be used, the theory goes, to make bridges, haul treasure, and so on. But rope rats seem to be resistant to training, perhaps because they’re just meaner than regular rats. Or maybe they just like the taste of flesh more.

They also make really complex, really gross rat kings.