Supplement Review: Wererats of the Roach Run Sewers by Landon Bellavia and Raging Swan Press

To paraphrase Indiana Jones for a moment… “Rats. Why’d it have to be rats?” Ok, now that my fetish for movie quotes is taken care of…

Why rats? Because they’re everywhere. Every major city with some sort of sewage system has had a pest problem, from the Egyptians fighting rat infestations in cities after the flooding of the Nile in 3500 BC to the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) of the 1300’s in Europe. Sure, they brought disease with them wherever they went, but something tells me they didn’t really care all that much. Plus somebody has to call the sewers home… you can’t have alligators in EVERY sewer, can you?

Also, rats are one of the first monsters many new players face in roleplaying games. When I started my daughters out a couple of months ago, they fought rats and giant rats to get a feel for the Dungeonslayers system and had fun taking care of an innkeeper’s pest problem while doing it.

Doing a quick search in RPGNow, there are over 121 hits for products about “sewers” and more than 1,000 hits with the word “rat” in them. So what does Wererats of the Roach Run Sewers from author Landon Bellavia and publisher Raging Swan Press have to offer that’s unique and different?

A little, but not enough unfortunately. To be honest, this isn’t my favorite of Raging Swan’s offerings. There are some new concepts, such as the idea of a wererat barbarian (the “Sewer Savage”); the use of cockroaches as pets, familiars, and steeds; and a faith built around “The Filth” as a focus of disease and pestilence. But as I read through the book it felt like a loose collection of ideas with a theme and no true application.

At the beginning of the book, you learn a bit about this underworld that exists beneath city streets. Polite society would just as soon forget it’s there, but it’s a necessary evil. And in that other world, there’s a whole different realm of possibilities. Giant rats, half-rat/half-man creatures, and immense cockroaches are just the tip of the iceberg. The trick of course is avoiding the dangers of diseases and pests lurking in every dark corner…

Beyond that there are a couple of families who seem to dominate the wererat social structure – the Greentail Brotherhood and the Tarmaine family. Get on the right side of one or the other and a new recruit or victim may survive a bit longer than those who don’t.

There are useful tidbits throughout the book. I was amused by the two sections “Sewer Features” and “Sewer Hazards,” because to my mind they’re pretty much the same thing. But seriously, if you look at the lists, there’s a very fine line between a “dangerous” ledge and a “crumbling” one. However, it is good to have these listed and described with mechanics for avoiding (or suffering from) them. And the list of encounters – from finding a wererat training cockroaches to fighting a raiding party – is equally useful, offering stats and a description for each.

There are also new feats, powers, spells, and magic items to use in sewer environments. Most of these revolve around the curse of lycanthropy and are less “sewer” themed and more about finding other were-creatures or forcing a were-creature to assume a different form. I would have liked to have seen some sewer-themed animation spells (like “Animate Slime”) or location spells if you get lost in the maze of tunnels, that sort of thing.

I was a bit surprised at the basic introduction to the curse of lycanthropy and were-creatures. Though it’s nice to see the info in one place, lycanthropy in D&D 3.5e or Pathfinder is pretty easy to find details on over the web and in the basic books. That said, the various samples of wererat barbarian, wererat shaman (with a dire rat familiar), and more were nice to have – especially with the different sets of stat blocks (human form, hybrid form, and dire rat form).
And the major wererat NPCs Drinala Greentail of the Greentail Brotherhood and the Widow Tarmaine of the Tarmaine family were also nice to have – but not all that useful without more context of a larger adventure or setting.

Perhaps this book would have worked better if there was a sample sewer map and adventure that worked these ideas into a whole where a GM would not only get some new toys for the toybox, but an easy way to introduce them to a campaign. That’s not to say that the book doesn’t offer some ideas on integrating bands of sewer-traveling wererats into their campaigns, but with no firm application beyond some encounters, it’s a loose set of parts without a picture of how they might go together.

Wererats of the Roach Run Sewers might work better as part of a larger set that works lycanthropes into an adventure setting, but by itself I found it lacking. However, with all the home runs Raging Swan has hit, they’re bound to strike out once in a while. Sorry guys, but this one is a pass for me.

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