Game: Vigil Watch : Warrens of the Ratmen
Publisher: Sword and Sorcery Studio
Series: Scarred Lands: d20
Review Dated: 19th, February 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
It started off pretty bad. I call it “lead page syndrome” since turning the pages seems to become a Herculean task. I think it took me three attempts to sit down and actually make it past the first couple of pages. The problem was that I had discovered I was lacking all of the suggested companions for the book, four different Scarred Land texts; I wouldn’t have the basic ratman information at hand. From that point on the book started to tell me that one brood of ratman daub mud into the walls of their huts. “Reallly,” I thought, “So, they live in the marsh and actually find mud to coat their dwellings with. Interesting”. Yes, I’m awfully prone to sarcasm.
Previously if you’d said “ratman” to me I would have thought back a few years to when I was a school kid and spending too much money on Games Workshop products and would have replied with “Skaven”. Skaven are fanatical creatures, mutated by eating warp stone, led by Plague Priests and who dwell in the marsh city of Skavenblight. It was unlucky, then, that the first brood of Slitheren (Scarred Land’s name for the ratmen) were mutated through eating the flesh of a titan, spread disease, ruled by their priests, partake in religious fanaticism and who are building a kingdom in a giant marsh.
After a disappointing start things got better, by the end of the book I had been won over. The first sign of hope came from the tail end (excuse the pun) of the Diseased section. The Diseased are the main force of ratmen in the Mourning Marshes and who have mutated from the normal slitheren stock by eating the flesh of Chern, the titan who is buried below the marsh. The rituals section details the strange behaviour of the ratmen, the sort of flavour that really would spice up your Scarred Land game and it was the first time that the writing style of the book began to grow on me.
The book’s written, mainly, in the form of a report on the Mourning Marshes and the ratmen therein by agents of Vesh. This works particularly well because the book soon turns into a campaign build up as it becomes clear that a messy conflict between Vesh and the slitheren seems inevitable. It also has the advantage that any GM can decide the “intelligence reports” presented in the book are wrong, the way the report scoffs at the idea that (for example) the Foamer brood of ratmen can attack ships with giant sized slitheren is mere nonsense simply inspires evil GMs to include giant slitherens. There’s also a section in the book that lists, in some detail, the various other creatures you might expect to find the Mourning Marshes and if it wasn’t for the page references to Creature Collection entries would have been ideal material for what the players could have found in a Vesh library. I also got a laugh out of the suggestion that the miasma that clings to the neighbouring swamp and some of the marsh is actually the breath of the seawrack dragons that live in the area. Hey, maybe it is dragon breath but I preferred to think of it as a classic example of how a low science understanding (or lack of it) of natural phenomena occurs.
The Diseased receive the most attention, they are the biggest force in the marsh, but the book continues to detail all of the broods that have evolved through their contact with the titans. It is a rather convenient mechanic to have these families of ratmen who so nicely fall into different pigeon-holes. You can terrorise your players with water based slitheren first, then the magic cast and perhaps when the players think they’re getting a hang of things you can wheel out the truly strange broods. Despite the risk of cliché, I like the effect. I think it’s a great way to introduce the different domains in which the various titans had control over. If you want your campaign to focus on the titan Mesos, the sire of sorcery, as the main villain then a few scenes with the Black Pelts (the slitheren who mutated through their exposure to that particular titan) should really make your point.
If the book had purely been a listing of the various broods of slitheren I would have been disappointed – even with the extremely favourable price of the book. There’s an awful lot more in the 108-paged book.
Chapter Two is dedicated to the Mourning Marshes themselves and is rather short. It seems to consist of a few maps, a list of possible creatures and some interesting scenery – such as a wreck of boats a hundred miles inland. It is pretty much flavour text but it was my main signal that the book was going to continue on the upwards course after the disappointing start.
The slitheren chronology on page 45 is not only a great summary; it is also the start of the tension that builds up throughout the rest of the book. The chapter is dedicated to the activities of the ratmen and the chronology succinctly shows how they’ve come from nearly nowhere to become a potent force right on the borders of Vesh. It’s all expressed in the “in-game” style and reads very well as a worried intelligence agent doing is best to persuade his seniors not to under estimate the build up of the rats. Pointing out the duality of the ratmen’s mortality and spiritual connection to totally alien titans was a nice touch.
Chapter three ends with a note that the Vesh border patrols have started to augment their ranks with hired mercenaries. I was starting to think about what a wonderful adventure hook that could be even as I turned the page into the next chapter – only to discover the book comes complete with its own adventure. I don’t want to say any more about it since it’s pretty good and I can see many GMs making use of it.
I was beginning to wonder what else could be left for the book to cover. There are still a handful of pages left at this point. So begins the advice on how to roleplay a ratman character. I don’t think this is for everyone. Trying to play a slitheren in the Scarred Lands is going to throw a spanner in very many adventure ideas and although the authors throw you a lifeline in that the ratmen don’t have to be Lawful Evil you’re still left to try and play an alien rat creature with a wholly different set of believes and urges. Not all the broods are suitable for player characters either, some are just too powerful and the book just goes right ahead and says so. This is probably for the best but might leave some players pouting. The section details a couple of prestige classes just in case you have a player who manages to succeed in the challenge.
There are magic and equipment unique to the slitheren and there is room at the end of the book to put them in. There’s also a large monster section at the back too. The appendex (the mini monster manual) seems to merge with chapter six if you go by the header at the top of the page but it’s not really a book harming typo. This section makes up for my lack of Creature Collections and Relics and Rituals by providing enough unique magic and marsh-bound creatures to insure that I’ll be able to provide the right sort of flavoured encounters.
The book sticks to its style – detail, detail and detail. Although the tactic had me worrying about making a silly purchase at the beginning it slowly began to pay off. I had previously much enjoyed The Divine and the Defeated the Scarred Lands book on the Gods and the Titans and so I had the required information on the various Titans discussed and related to by the ratmen. If I’d not read the previous book then I suspect Warrens of the Ratmen would have languished in the unread section of my book collection but in the end I found it a real treat.