The Rat King’s Sanctum

By Emiel Boven
Self Published
Levels 1-3

A forbidden temple hidden in the sewers, unbeknown to the faithful above.

This nine page adventure details a temple in the sewers with sixteen rooms that is dedicated to the god of decay and has rats in it. Joy. It’s got very little going on. 

Someone thought this looked good. Story of my life. Let me botch, a bit, about this things. Or , more specifically, the genre of the Classic Setting. 

I don’t really know why people still write adventures with sewers and rats and temples in them. There are about a bajillion of them. This is the same as the Orcs in a Hole genre. Why are you writing this? Because it’s better than the Borshak’s? Because it’s a new take on Borshak’s? I’m guessing there some kind of Appendix N bullshit going on here. (And, you know, I’m a philistone and don’t really give a fuck about appendix N. Either my shortcoming or what makes me a Quality Person.) You read about some sewer garbage in one of those novels and then get inspired to write one. Otherwise, I don’t know how so many fucking people would want to write the fuck about temples in sewers with rats. Oh. Wow. Let me guess. Some wererats, right? *YAWN* You are inherently writing something that WILL be compared to the other 10,000 examples of its type. Is it that good? What’s new about it? I guess, I don’t know, maybe if you’ve been raised on a steady diet of 5e/Pathfinder garbage then you think it’s interesting? And, of course, I mean, you’re inspired so you want to write. But, again, are you writing something interesting, or just another entry in to the giant cesspool of Also Rans? 

Also, like, hey, I’m ot inherently down on the classics. I love the classics. They are classic tropes for a reason. They fucking work. And, you know, I love a kind of naturalistic thing. Things that feel right. Things that looks almost like tey are normal. And following a trail from your city adventure in toa sewer pipe, torch in hand, sewage, rats, fuck yeah, i could get behind that in a very naturalistic setting. Like the Sean Bean Frankenstein thing. That’s not this, of course. This is just generic fantasy filler.

So, what’s this one do differently? It’s got layout. Youknow, the Mork Bork thing where you spend a lot of time doing a layout (or, maybe it’s a template? idk.) and you select fonts and pay attention to the formatting. A clean layout, footer banners in a rever font/image. Boxes, text NICELY flowing around images. Maps with room descriptions on them. Bullet points. Little light notations in rooms. Monster stats on the same page. It is laser like in its focus on helping the DM run it. As are most of the layout-heavy adventures coming out of new school design corners of the internet. And it follows the layout gods even down to the cover font. Which is hard to read. Did you know that the ACTUAL name of the adventure is The Rot King? I didn’t. I looked at the cover and thought “Rat King’s Sanctum.” So, you know, I’m going with that. If you can’t be bothered with making a legible cover page then I can’t be bothered to go back and change all my references to Rat King to Rot King. Am I fuckwit? Absolutely. Did you produce a cover where I could make that mistake? Absolutely.  Fancy fucking fonts will burn you every time. Oh, look, it burned someone else. Wow. I’m surprised. The one guy on the internet, in the entire world, who could be bothered to review this adventure got the title wrong. 

Ok, so, layout. It’s easy to run. It’s also boring.

And I mean this in the way s that count, the evocative writing and interactivity. Neither are good. These are, again, hallmarks of the new school design movement. They do layout and then do fuck all for the actual adventure. You fight shit. That’s 90% of this adventure. Anything remotely interesting is nerfed. Shake ands with a statue and transfer your arm to it? Do it again to rever sit. And it has no meaningful impact on the adventure. None of the interactivity, what little there is, really makes a difference in the adventure. It just IS. And while I’m a big fan of things JUST BEING, it has to be done in the right way. Not just swapping your skin color from blue to normal and back again. We get a couple of prisoners in one room. One is Melvin the gnome, who doesn’t care about the other two prisoners  and then there’s “the other two prisoners.” I am inspired. That’s literally all there is. Look, Idon’t need, or want, two paragraphs, but, fuck man, give me SOMETHIGN to work with! And that’s what this adventure does NOT do: give you something to work with. It’s just the same old same old generic abstracted content for a sewer that you’ll always see. It’s fucking boring man. Five gems and a jeweled sword. Yeah! I mean, *YAWN*. “Heavy bronze doors. Screaming figures line the walls.” That’s all youre’re getting. Its not altogether bad, but, also, it’s not really good. And that writing is, generally, the exception, not the rule, for this adventure. We also get “Storage: This room contains crates with root vegetables and dried meat.” Fun!

But, you know, it didn’t have to be bad. Maybe a little city lead in investigation thing, to get the party in t the sewer, in a mundane Frankenstein kind of way. Inside there’s a Gravelight Candle, that lets you be invisible to undead under 2HD; that’s a good item! And a room full of mushrooms with a body buried underneath it. Hey man, you didn’t go far enough. A whole body farm, with them sticking out, and mushroom garden with weird shit and msome reason to interact and dig in the room. That wouldh have worked! And, why not include an order of battle for the cultists? So they can react to incursions. Doesn’t have to be complicated, a sentence or two. 

Instead, I went out with a boy who died. 

Snag a copy on itch:

Let us all agree that we don’t deserve each othe

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26 Responses to The Rat King’s Sanctum

  1. Mithgarthr says:

    A module that bills itself as being designed for OSR rules, but then instructs a STR save in the first room is dubious…

  2. Sevenbastard says:

    JB over at B/X Blackrazor did a Rat Themed adventure contest. Not sure if this is one of the entries but we might see rats flood the OSR adventure scene for a bit.

  3. OSR Fundamentalist says:

    Now I want to write a rat/temple/sewer adventure but with tiddies and Lovecraft references

  4. Ken McKinney says:

    I think I’d love a sewer rat temple adventure if it was well done. I don’t care if it’s been done before, it’s a classic trope, like the B2 Module. So, thanks for taking one for the team and filtering out this one as being sucky.

  5. Gus L says:

    I had some hopes for this one, the cover looks nice and I like rat cults I guess?

    It strikes me that the NSR or Post-OSR or whatever we wish to call it is often relearning or reinventing the same things that the OSR struggled through for 2006 – 2019. Often the starting place is 5E or indie culture not 90’s TSR adventure paths, but the same questions arise: “How far can you deviate from the cliches of D&D?”, “How much control does the designer need and what can be safely placed with the players?”, “How much detail is too much or too little?”, “How dangerous should the adventure be?”

    Now I suspect I’m known for having little time or love for nostalgia around old D&D, but it really does seem like so much of the knowledge and expertise that was hashed out and developed during the OSR years — either new or distilled from the old tomes — just isn’t getting passed on to the newer generation of designers, even those that claim to use AD&D with rigor, and that’s a shame.

    Oh well.

    I hope folks will figure out how to run/write a procedural dungeon crawl again for my 50th birthday and hopefully the answers will be different then those of 1976 or 2012 in an interesting way.

    • Kubo says:

      I recently ran 2 games at a convention in which I converted an OSR adventure that I wrote in 1989 to 5E. The 12 players were highly enthusiastic about it. There were a lot of off beat challenges in it that they liked which weren’t all tied to magic and they actually enjoyed having to fight a dragon in it (which is unfortunately too rare in D&D adventures). I think the 5E players are craving to get away from these rat sewer dungeons and pure hack & slash stuff generally out there. So much of the 5E stuff feels more like Shadowrun (modern setting/culture with fantasy tropes dropped in it) vs. AD&D (ancient/medieval setting/culture with fantasy tropes). Although the Romans had sewers, an extensive sewer system dungeon feels more like something from the 19th century onward to me. I enjoy playing the game, but it does not transport me to a different place in time the same way that exploring a castle does.

      • Gus L. says:

        It’s always good to hear stories of 5E folks enjoying dungeon crawls and problem solving, and I think there’s a desire for it within the Contemporary Traditional space … the crawl has a lot to offer. I also agree that many players (5E or otherwise) want to get away from the WotC’s Gygaxian vernacular, anodyne fantasy, and orc (or rats) in a hole style setting. The thing that’s making me feel jaded is that so much of the design knowledge and experimentation of the OSR (whichever part you like – revival, renaissance or even rate of return) just doesn’t seem to be getting passed on.

        Some of it goes down to the toxicity of scene: gatekeeping, bad actors, etc driving people off or making them dismissive.

        Some of it is an understandable desire by newcomers to make things their own way.

        Yet I think there’s a place for people who have been running these style games and writing these style adventures since 1989 or whenever to pass the fun of it on, to help newer designers learn how it all works … but I don’t see enough of it.

        Also – yeah sewers are a tricky thing. I think they can work, but you have to push past the Waterdeep public works and wererats sort of nonsense and either go super weird or really takes some time looking at urban sanitation and water systems. Never seen a good Qanat adventure, or one that properly referenced Cloacina, or the cisterns of Byzantium. I suspect Rat temples have much broader possibilities then just the sewers though.

        If the past three years have taught me anything it’s that times arrow is a property of entropy alone.

    • squeen says:

      Gus! You are sounding old—pining for the early OSR days and shaking your head at what the new kids are doing wrong!

      And so it goes…:P

      • Yora says:

        I mean, the glory days of OSR are already about a decade behind us.
        Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll se a Renaissance Revival. :p

      • Anonymous says:

        “Some of it goes down to the toxicity of scene: gatekeeping, bad actors, etc driving people off or making them dismissive.”

        I know. There were actors that would go onto Dragonsfoot and call random people Nazis, try to imply Courtney Campbell, a single father and bernie sanders voter was a Nazi for working with Alexander Macris, and who are still calling Melan a bigot on the Discord. Come to think of it, you are those people.

        • anonymous says:

          Macris? You mean the gamergater who managed a sieg-heiling Brietbart pundit and most recently got in the news for promoting the Jan 6th Coup?

          Melan? Not that innocent angel who thinks using pronouns will bring back the gulag and wrote a game with ethnic and antisemitic stereotypes as the races?

          So odd someone might think these folks or the people that work with them are bigots.

    • Yora says:

      I think there might be an issue with communicating the principles and discoveries to new audiences. Where are the people who have something to teach and making an effort to do so?
      They do exist, but I don’t see them frequenting the same places where new players and GMs are exchanging their ideas.
      I also think OSR had an underlying culture of “kids these days…” and “get off my lawn!”. That’s not how you get anyone to listen to what you have to teach.
      Outreach would have to take forms that reach the target audience, and approach it by promoting something to add to their play experience, not taking something away.

      • Anonymous says:

        It is exactly reversed. The current batch of new players has been conditioned to think that grognard == badwrongman by a creepy group of wanna-be luminaries and as a result the culture actively discourages interest in old games.

        • Anonymous says:

          So strange that people might think OSR was full of nasty hateful grognards even with Prince of Nothing repeatedly posting the same tired bullshit every time Gus comments here. i am so shocked.

  6. Artem says:

    Any plans for a sewer rat dungeon contest?

  7. Anonymous says:

    This person made an adventure on here before yeah? Maybe the cover art and font look super similar Deers Sanctum or something like that Seers idk


  8. oTTo says:

    This adventure was published in Knock! #2, the zine that many OSR players rave about, so I thought it had promise. I guess not all of the Knock! content is top-notch.

    • The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

      There’s too much glad handing and rump kissing in the RPG scene these days. That’s painfully evident by how many crappy adventures and supplements get 4 and 5 star ratings on drivethrurpg

  9. Adam W. says:

    Eh you would have misspelt it anyway xx.

  10. Libra says:

    Orcs…in a hole, you say? Intriguing. Now if maybe there was some sort of pit trap…

  11. Cat Or Bat says:

    To be honest, I think the format at the very least is good. The designer went out of their way to make the thing easy to run. I kinda want to run he thing simply because it seems to easy to run.

    • Cat Or Bat says:

      Also, check this out: “GRINNING STATUE. Shaking the metal arm swaps the copper arm of the statue and the arm of the PC shaking it. A living arm grafted onto the statue this way will not decay … . While grafted to a living person, the copper arm works like a normal arm.”

      Come on! This isn’t half bad.

      • squeen says:

        Bryce was saying, regarding this, is that there are no consequences of doing this. Very safe and boring.

        • Cat Or Bat says:

          I strongly disagree. At a real table, players would likely freak out first, then spend time cautiously figuring out the mechanism, and then come up with a million out-of-the-box uses for the thing.

          On the contrary, additional curses would, in my opinion, just complicate things for no reason.

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