By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Raging Swan Press is 34 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside front cover, 2 pages editorial/ToC (including the rhyme/stanza almost ever RSP-product comes with –awesome!), 1 page to help novice DMs read the statblocks, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 26 pages for the wererat-installment of the TRIBES-series, so let’s take a look at what we’ll get!
This pdf’s introduction to the tribe in question is a bit different, kicking off with a rather general approach to explaining wererats, before going into details on two sample families, the Greentail Brotherhood and house Tarmaine. As the introduction text, the lore-section offers information on wererats in general instead of specific information on the tribes. After this general introduction at hand, we get a concise page of sewer features and hazards that can serve to enrich any encounters in the damp darkness, not just ones with wererats. For your convenience, 6 encounters with patrols and the like ranging from EL 5 to 10 have been provided.
In the tradition of the customizable TRIBES-line, we of course get new material, prime of which should be considered “The Filth”, a kind of abstract deific concept of decay, grime and…well, filth. The Filthe provides a new domain/patron spell-list, two new granted domain powers centring on disease and a new hex to instantly active a dormant disease. A variant sewer druid with stench, disease and vermin-focus is also provided, though I would have loved to see a more complex archetype here. The arcanists can now obtain delightfully disgusting cockroach familiars. Surprisingly, the rogue talents (usually something rather hard do) are very cool – in animal form, wererats can meld stolen items into their forms, making for some rather cool potential scenes. The wererats also get two new rage-powers, which felt odd to me – they would have better suited some more martially inclined subset of lycanthropes. Instead, I would have loved some new mysteries for sewer oracles or even wererat inquisitors – after all, they are the most social lycanthropes, why not?
The battle feats that define the respective tactics of a given tribe are also back: 4 feats for wererats that range from bland “ignore bad terrain” to the average “Sewer Guerilla” which lets you ignore any cover of flatfooted foes while in the sewers (and has a punctuation error) to the very cool “Roach Trainer”-feat that enables you to treat a roach as if it had up to 6 tricks.
5 new spells are provided, but apart from “Lunar Memory” (forces you to remember time while transformed) I liked none of them: “Detect Lycanthrope” is another one of these pesky, stupid detect spells that slow down game and should not exist: In a world with this spell, infiltration by lycanthropes is practically impossible, as it’s only lvl 2. The same goes for “Forced Transformation”, which hits another pet peeve of mine and is just a cheap cop out for the players of mystery adventures centering around e.g. wererats.“Detect Vermin” suffers not from this infiltration problem, but is still superfluous in my opinion.
The next section of the book details new magic items, including the filth fever flail (that gets its own artwork) and the hand of inglory, a minor semi-cursed brother to the hand of glory. My favorite item, though, is the alchemical Roachmusk that makes roaches friendly and helps training them.
The amulet of control though is not my cup of coffee – it helps the owner prevent change when he/she is an infected lycanthrope. While I’m glad the amulet does not prevent change altogether, it’s still a certain kind of item I don’t absolutely need in my game. All the items come with the lore-sections that can by now be considered part of the excellent RSP-standard.
Introducing the crunch-section, we get a page devoted to the distinction between natural lycanthropes, afflicted ones, what happens to slain ones etc., a lycanthrope abc so to speak.
Next up are the statblocks and as just about every DM knows – Lycanthropes need three of them and this book provides: We get Sewer Savages (Barbarian 4, with 2 sample RSP-NPC treatments), Sewer Shamans (Druid 4, with two names and RSP-NPC-treatment, i.e. sample hooks, mannerisms, etc.), Sewer Thieves (Rogue 3, again with two extensive NPC-infos to put names of the stats). More interesting, though than the other NPCs, is the sewer trainer (Ranger 3, 1 sample personality, includes trained giant cockroach and riding cockroach).
Of course, we also get sample personalities: Dinala (monk2/witch 5) is a one-handed wererat that looks after the orphans of the city and seethes with rage for a monastic order that took her hand when she was a child. Her plan to use inglory hands to this end rocs and makes for one of the best, most engaging backgrounds that may well see the PCs allied with her rather than as her primary foes. A great lesser-of-two-evils plotline waiting to happen!
The next NPC, Mkadi Litabou, an Halfling con-artist (rogue 8) of the most devious kind is another prime example for one of the most detailed and well-written NPCs in the line as of yet, almost on pat with e.g. Villains II.
On the other end of the social scale, Lady Ladonna Tarmaine (rogue 4/cleric 5), a decadent aristocratic devotee of Filth has managed to create a huge CR 9 cockroach abomination – iconic and cool.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches or errors and the writing is concise. Layout adheres to the easy-to-read, elegant b/w-two-column standard set by RSP. The pdf comes in a regular version and one optimized for use with e-readers and both are bookmarked. The b/w-artworks adhere to the high standards we’ve come to love in RSP-pdfs.
With regards to the content:
Two hearts, alas, are beating in my breast, the one is foul, the other blessed. When I started reading this pdf, I was confused – usually, we are introduced to a distinct tribe of creatures, a conglomeration of being, that, while belonging to a race, is distinct in location, customs and personalities. In this installment, we get basic information on the race, lycanthropes in general etc. While I can see that novices might benefit from this very basic approach, I think it suffers from it as no true immersion into the customs happens. The feats, while nice don’t portrait a coherent force either, but rather feel like some general feats for sewer-dwellers. The spells and items were of varying quality, at least for me, and especially the implications of the former in any game should be carefully considered by the DM. Only one item got its representation in a piece of artwork, which is less than in previous installments of the series. On the other hand, this is a LONG pdf for the price. The new archetypes and modifications of the base-classes felt nice, though I still maintain that without a significant tribal backdrop to explain it, the barbarians are somewhat out of place.
By the time I reached the statblock-section, I was utterly underwhelmed by this offering. Thankfully, the statblock-section offers an innovation I love: While former offerings of the series have provided a lot of general statblocks for the unnamed rank and file troops of a tribe, this one also provides some sample hooks, mannerisms and names to optionally customize these stats into named NPCs –awesome idea! I hope that this cool innovation will continue to be implemented in future releases. The named NPCs thankfully also rock hard and thus provide a nice balance to the first part of the book and where the first part fails in my opinion, the second triumphantly succeeds, proving the potential of author Landon Bellavia. Thus, while I loved the second part of the book, I could scavenge not that much from the first part and never had the impression of reading a book on a tribe, much less two, but rather a collection of material loosely tied by a theme, which is a pity – the NPC-write-ups prove that the author CAN weave interesting narrative themes together and knows how to make compelling characters. Had this knowledge also been applied to the “TRIBE” to weave a cohesive tale of two interwoven cabals of wererats instead of milling again through the basics of what wererats are, I would have rated this higher. This lack of focus, in combination with the spells that might spoil lycanthropes in your campaign and the mostly rather bland feats, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.
Wererats of the Roach Run Sewers is available from: