Author Topic: The Rat King (actual creature(s) with folklore reputation)  (Read 7086 times)

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Offline dr_venture

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The Rat King (actual creature(s) with folklore reputation)
« on: November 17, 2014, 04:51:08 PM »
I figured I'd share an historical creature that I haven't seen detailed anywhere before (I'm sure *somebody* must have used this creature somewhere over the years).  But it has the potential to be quite a formidable foe for a group of players, depending on the powers that are attributed to it.  I would see this as a mostly fantasy encounter.

It's called the Rat King, and is an actual "creature" or "creatures" that existed, and of which specimens are preserved.  It's weird-enough on it's own, but it's reputation in Medieval folklore gives it fantastic potential to build a series of encounters around... certainly an entire storyline.  I attached a picture of a real preserved specimen that I Photoshopped onto a log, as if it had been drawn from a village's well.

Here's what I have on my campaign's wiki about the creature:

Rat kings are phenomena said to arise when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails, which become stuck together with blood, dirt, ice, excrement or simply knotted. The animals reputedly grow together while joined at the tails. The numbers of rats that are joined together can vary.

As described by a villager in Fittleton’s Ferry:

“Tis a Rat King – a harbinger of disaster, like pestilence or disease. When such creatures are found in a town, that town is marked for disaster!

This one is dead, drawn from the well already drowned. But when alive, the Rat King is an intelligent beast, and acts with malevolence towards those from whom it steals it’s living. It controls other rats, as does a king command his subjects. Indeed, one of these rats was the ‘King Rat’, and sat on the tails of the others as a king on a throne!

“Do not underestimate the Rat King, Master Dwarf. It can see through the eyes of it’s minions. It can direct their actions, and organize them. It can be a formidable foe…”

The creatures are detailed out in a few places on line, most of my info I just interpreted from good old Wikipedia, as well as a couple of other sources:


I never detailed out the creature's stats, as it was mostly just window dressing for the story, used to draw the adventurers into the well to investigate where the drowned Rat King came from (the town well turned out to be connected to very old bricked over passages and caves, yadda yadda... but it got the story moving).  But a creature that foretells doom and/or bad omens, and acts as the center of a rat-based "hive mind" seems like a great Monster.  If the Rat King could understand the common language, it could essentially eavesdrop on an entire community, and have tiny feet at it's disposal wherever people were not located or looking for it.  If it were smarter, it could cause all kinds of mischief, stealing small but important items for ransom, intentionally spreading disease, attacking in swarms... and all the while the master "puppeteer" Rat King could be safely hid away somewhere while his rat minions died for their cause (and made new rats to replace the old.  Perhaps the bad omens that Rat Kings foretell are the result of the creature's malevolent behavior, or perhaps it can somehow curse the community that it inhabits?

It seems like really rich potential for a creature, and since I haven't even statted it out for my campaign yet (I'm running Castles & Crusades - rules lite cross between AD&D 1e and 2e if you're unfamiliar with it), I figured I'd share it and see what folks came up with.

What do you guys think?
« Last Edit: November 17, 2014, 06:57:05 PM by dr_venture »

Offline Murometz

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Re: The Rat King (actual creature(s) with folklore reputation)
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2014, 05:52:07 PM »
Aha! I actually came across the Rat-King during my daily inet search for the "weird", a few weeks back, made a mental note to do something with it, then forgot. So yeah, some great ideas here for incorporating the Rat-King into a game.

A few more...

--The Rat-King comes in times of great draught or starvation. Perhaps it's a sign of a coming plague, as one of the links mentions. Once you see one, it's probably too late...

--How about a "giant" version made of two-foot (or larger?) rats?! Bwahaha

--What if the thieves guild sees a Rat-King appearance as an omen of sorts for them in particular? A sign that a change of leadership is in order. Backstabbing treachery ensues on the streets, between all of the thieves, until a new Guildmaster is chosen after the bloody free for all.

--Why stop at rats? What about a "Cat-Queen". Maybe less creepy, but potentially an even more sinister creature. And can't you just see one fat cat, riding atop the tail knot, with an indignant look on its face?

--What if the "untying" of a Rat-King involves some sort of puzzle or mental riddle, akin to the untying of the Gordian Knot?

--Also, a spooky nursery rhyme, limerick or sing-song, sung by street urchins everywhere about the Rat-King's coming is in order me'thinks :)

--What if the Rat-King is an undead creature, made up of decomposing rats, given life somehow, by some malevolent force? An added complication.

--Finally, for some strange reason, I can picture *someone* using the Rat-King as a weapon, grabbing it by the knot (brave soul) and then spinning it overhead and tossing it at foes.

Anyway, I can keep going :P

Great stuff here, dr_venture! Lots of ways to go. Gets the ol' mind spinning. Welcome to the citadel!

« Last Edit: November 17, 2014, 06:06:10 PM by Murometz »
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Offline Silveressa

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Re: The Rat King (actual creature(s) with folklore reputation)
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2014, 11:59:13 PM »
Fascinating how the animal adapt to function as a singular organism, it woudl be a excellent creature for a post apocalyptic villain to own or even manufacture.

On a more human and positive note, here's a neat video about a pair of real life conjoined twins, for those who find such phenomena intriguing.

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