Game: The Complete Guide to Wererats
Publisher: Goodman Games
Review Dated: 16th, February 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
The Complete Guide to Wererats is a classic example of an “on the ball” RPG product. At 32 pages long and only $11 the Guide falls safely in the budget end of the gaming spectrum. The Guide works, there’s plenty in the book that can be taken into your own campaign and so being on the budget end of the scale is a boon, not a bane. There are already well established “were” RPGs and supplements, although perhaps not so much in the d20 mechanic. There’s certainly quite a few famous ratmen in the d20 camp. Given this it would be all too easy to rehash what’s done before, scrape the barrel in search of something new or loose any really convincing wererat atmosphere or feel for the book. This would be dropping the ball. The Complete Guide to Wererats manages to give us something new and yet safely wererat, it’s focused, it’s on the ball. The size of the book acts as a safety net in some respects, it acts a cap in others. In 32 pages a tight focus is possible, for example, we’re told about different families of wererats, different broods, and there’s room for just a bit of information on each but not enough space to stray too far. On the other hand, 32 pages isn’t really enough space for the successes to become run away successes.
It all started with the Council of Flesh, so say the wererats. The Council was a group of mysterious wizards who sought perfection by blending their bodies with that of an animal. In the infamous Council meeting the debate was over which animal would be best for such a blending. The Council finally agreed that the rat was best. It wasn’t a smooth ride though; some of the wizard members disagreed and left, some quitting almost immediately and others waiting for secrets to be shared before slinking off treacherously. It’s a good creation myth and it comes with some inherent advantages. It didn’t matter which races composed the Council of Flesh, the heated debate was over the animal form. This makes it easy to explain where there’s no sign of racism amongst the wererats with regards to the apparent race of the non-rat form. The creation story also opens up two great goals for the wererats; to finally achieve the perfection that the Council of Flesh was seeking and to deal with the rebels, the other non-rat lycanthropes, for their treachery.
The wererat broods are those families that can trace their bloodlines to original members of the Council of Flesh. As such the Complete Guide to Wererats really concentrates on natural born wererats, those with wererat parents. There is room for one line of wererats, the Ravers, who aren’t really a family line at all but a collection of lycanthropy infected wererats who aren’t able to or don’t want to claim any such inheritance. The different broods have different goals and different ways to achieve them. These Ravers are most likely those wererats encountered randomly in dungeon crawls or more preciously by player characters before the DM bought the Complete Guide. I always appreciate it when the supplement makes itself easy to integrate into a currently running game. The other Broods tend to be concerned with reaching genetic perfection, by experimenting with transmutation spells or on the lycanthropy disease itself, the extermination of the other lycanthropes or the manipulation of human civilization.
Mucking around with mutation is a great excuse for new feats. The Complete Guide jumps straight in there. It is a new feat that explains the bat-like wererat on the book’s front cover. We’re told that a bat is just a rat with wings. Well, I’m not sure I buy that but perhaps the wererats do and perhaps in many fantasy worlds it is true. A different feat allow the wererat to shift down into a normal size rat rather than a dire rat and plenty of the feats get to work without hesitation on producing a whole slew of “Improved” power-ups for the race.
There’s a strange new class in the Guide. The Shifter is a ten level class but it isn’t a prestige class. It’s only ten levels by design and is described as something between a core class and a prestige class. The Shifter is open only to wererats and even then they may only take ten levels in it. Intelligently, the Complete Guide combines flavour with function and makes mention of other positions and maps these on to perfectly adequate core classes. The Ratcaller is a Cleric to the Rat god and Weavers are wizards specialised in transmutation.
The two appendices are helpful. The first provides quick access to stat blocks; ideal for busy GMs. The second finds room to include a beastiary entry for the dragon rat.
There’s an awful lot in the Complete Guide to Wererats; the book manages to squeeze that little bit extra by keeping text size down and illustrations to a minimum. The scarcity of illustration is something you’ll notice when you pick up the lightweight book and open it. Unfortunately there’s something of a brochure feel to the physical book, that’s something that stapled 32-pagers are prone too but my copy might be faring particularly badly since its devolved the habit of opening itself at pages 16 and 17 to show off the staples.
The Complete Guide to Wererats has given me very little to grumble about and a nice new line for a popular enemy race. The Guide is one of those books that make you want to use it in your games.