Rat King’s Sewer

By Ken Spencer
Necromancer Games
OSR Levels 4-6

Eastgate is a bustling city at the mouth of the Amrin River. As most of the adventure takes place in the sewers, and nearly all of it in an urban setting, wilderness orientated characters might find themselves at a disadvantage. Then again, the sewers are a maze and filled with all manner of deadly creature, the ability to talk to cockroaches might just prove useful.

This 28 page adventure is in a sewer with about 35 rooms to explore there and in a fey-landish/underdarkish area at the end. It’s filled with the signature “dont give a fuck” style of the Frogs, with sloppy editing, boring rooms, and an overall malaise, and not in a good way, of the writing. 

Pretty cool to see a new necromancer title, eh? It got me all worked up and excited. Necromancer did some cool things back in the day and seeing a new one got my notice. And then I opened it and it turned out to just be another Frog God title. It’s got Necromancer all over it, in name, but the house style and people involved are all Frog God. I have no idea why tey switched brands.

There is some crazy convoluted backstory about a lady coming back from the opera, attacked by thugs who kill her bodyguards. She kills all of the thugs, but loses her necklace and a rat steals the largest jewel. Turns out its a wererat who wants it to crate a portal so him and his buddies can get back home. Everyone in town goes down to the sewers to find the jewel, it says, so I’m thinking this is gonna be like Gone Fishin, but, no. The entire backstory is unrelated to the adventure at hand, it’s just a sewer crawl with a portal at the end. I have no idea why the backstory is even there, but, it is. So, whatever. What does piss me off is the sloppy integration of it. It references shit all the time in the adventure that seems to contradict the backstory, like the jewel being of little use to the rats (they critically need it for the portal?!) and them being willing to negotiate for it?! There’s also mention of a ransom request, just thrown in the text in a block of other text, that makes no sense at all?! The entire text is full of this confusing nonsense, one thing contradicting another. Even the most casual perusal reveals it, so I’m not sure what “Editing” really means in the context of a Frog God title. Err, sorry, Necromancer title. It goes on and on. The “Parfiegs” are mentioned. Out of context with little to go on. Evidently you are chasing the rats and they’ve gone through the portal already? I have no idea. I think they are a clan of humans living in the fey/underdark area? 

But, what we do get it long and extensive backstory thrown in willy nilly. “The Snarl Fangs, of the Order of the Swift Paw” …. Uh, ok. And a basilisk and gelatinous cube all get histories and backstory. That’s fucking wild. Its like the adventure is explaining WHY there’s a Cube in the sewer. Justifying it. It’s a crazy choice on how to spend your word count and creative energy. On shit that is absolutely meaningless to adventure at the table. But, no doubt perfect for people reading the adventure. 

The actual adventure is not much. The room descriptions are essentially barren, a minimalistic style that is ten expanded by providing very little meaningful information. Backstory in the rooms abound, but the actual descriptions of the environment, or creatures, is almost nonexistent. Thus there is no evocative environment, or encounter. This goes on, room after room. And it uses the Frogs house style, which is paragraph based, which makes scanning the text for actual useful information very difficult. Just a room with a sewer monster in it. Repeat. “The sheriff’s plan certainly worked; the smugglers were trapped in the tunnel. Slowly, they died of starvation or disease, but not before the leader and his closet followers had turned to cannibalism. Their corpses resurrected as a ghast and 4 ghouls.” Great. So a ghast and four ghouls. 

There’s just not much here at all, and what there is, in the larger context, is confused and makes little sense. And it’s $14. They’ve certainly made an art form out of living off of a brand a charging for it.

It’s unlikely I will review another Frog God/Necromancer title, unless I hear things have changed.

This is $14 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages, showing you the table of contents and backstory and no encounters. Joy.


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27 Responses to Rat King’s Sewer

  1. Artem of the Floating Keep says:

    “Wererats in a sewer” is just the upper-lower-level version of “orcs in a hole”. Both adventure types are predicated on misguided naturalism, have been done to death in the last 40+ years, and need to be retired for at least a decade or so.

    • Yeah, that’s old and overall not in a “bringing back a classic” sort of way. Not to mention that half the time the “were” part gets either forgotten and they end up as rat-themed humanoids. Or ridiculously overdone where every person underground might as well be a wererat AND rogue just waiting for an opportunity to backstab you.

      With MAYBE some creativity and theming it might perhaps get interesting or at least entertaining – but no one being creative starts with “Wererats in a sewer”, right? Least of all Frog God folk trying to trick customers under a different label…

    • OSR Fundamentalist says:

      Just because a lot of people make shitty hamburgers (like my grandma) doesn’t mean hamburgers are bad and need to be retired

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      How about “wererats in a caravan?”

      Or “wererats in a carnival?”


      • Beoric says:

        There are 3 reasons to use a lycanthrope in a module:

        (1) they are hidden, and the challenge is to figure out who is a lycanthrope;

        (2) the risk of the curse of lycanthropy, which drives play if somebody might have been infected;

        (3) you want a regenerating combat opponent and the party is too low level for trolls.

        “Wererats in the sewers” defaults to (3), and is overdone and not that interesting to begin with. The curse has been sufficiently nerfed in 5e that it is really not much more than an inconvenience, so (2) is no longer a serious option.

        That leaves (1) as the only remaining option that has any potential to be interesting at all. Which clearly should not take place in a sewer, since you need sufficient non-lycanthrope humanoids around for the lycanthropes to blend in. You could have an encounter with wererats in a sewer, disguised as public works workers or some such, but if *everyone* is a wererat in disguise then no wererats are really in disguise.

        It will necessarily have a strong social element. The Thing is a better example of this than most werewolf fiction.

        • Gnarley Bones says:

          I think “wereats in a sewer” is officially a D&D cliche.

          How about a secret wererat society infiltrating positions of power so they can feast off the fat of the land, essentially replacing cultists with wererats (or having the wererats themselves be the cultists worshipping some terrible deity of vermin and disease (perhaps Lankhmar’s Rat God or even Mordiggian!), led by an evil wereat cleric) – or –

          The wererats are passing themselves off servants of a funereal deity, co-opting the temple, feasting on the dead, launching empty funereal barges. Essentially, they can replace ghouls which are also over-used, with tunnels worming throughout the city’s cemeteries and cisterns as they cultivate a plague.

          Yes, I think (1) is all that works. The thrust of using lycanthropes is the hidden aspect of the monster.

          • 3llense'g says:

            Spreading a plague they themselves are immune to is a cool idea!

          • Dick says:

            You could probably do something interesting with both ghouls and wererats in the same adventure. Have the ghouls be a legit but frightening part of the city’s funeral customs, disposing of bodies so there’s no need to bury or burn them in exchange for not preying on citizenry. Then along come the wererats doing the plague-spreading plan with an eye toward driving out the survivors and building their own all-rat city. Gnawed bodies start showing up in the streets, as well as corpses of plague victims who aren’t getting funeral rites. The party needs to figure out whether the ghouls are being framed for spreading the disease so they don’t interfere with things, or if they’ve decided to co-operate with the rats because short-lived wererats will feed them even better than the current arrangement. Maybe the PCs even need to negotiate with them on the subject. Everyone loves talking with undead, right?

        • Stripe says:

          Wonderful advice! Thanks!

  2. Daniel says:

    Make a new module contest with “wererats in the sewers” being the theme. Ha!

  3. Anonymous says:

    What happened to the good Necromancer Games of Old? The guys who published great modules like Vault of Larin Karr, Crucible of Freya / Tomb of Abysthor or Lost City of Barakus?

    • All the old Stoneheart Valley stuff was actually from Bill Webb’s home campaign of many years, IIRC. So I imagine those modules had been refined over years of play! The latest stuff… probably not.

    • Anonymous says:

      Barakus and Larin Karr were W.B. Kenower, Freya/Tomb of Abysthor and original Rappan was mostly Clark Petersen I think. Bill Webb seems kinda low IQ tbh, I doubt he contributed significantly to the Necro classics.

      • Anonymous says:

        As Larin Karr was pretty damn good, even as a 3rd ed module (to the point that I’d love a S&W conversion of it), now I’m really curious as to how Barakus comes across.

  4. Anonymous says:

    As soon as I saw the title I laughed, knowing how excited it must have made you.

    You should still review The Lost City of Barakus though, as that’s old Bill Webb Necromancer material that was done up for S&W in 2014, not this newer 5th ed castoff stuff.

    • Anonymous says:

      “The Lost City of Barakus though, as that’s old Bill Webb Necromancer material”

      The author of Barakus is W.D.B Kenower, who also wrote Larin Karr. Webb contributed a couple of rather lame and dorky wilderness encounters to the S&W version of Barakus, one a wizard named “Jimmy Dean” and the other “Don’t Go Into The Tall Grass (because Bill Webb loves that phrase)”

  5. Chris Hall says:

    Aw, drag. I was hoping for a review of Frog God/Necromancer’s new redux version of Gygax’s Necropolis. The Kickstarter just fulfilled and the PDF is on DriveThru, but it’s $30 with no preview. They did a S&W and a 5e version which makes me nervous – not in combat/encounter scaling sense, but in the conversion of treasure and handling ability check-type rolls. Has anyone gotten, read, or played through it yet?

  6. Dick says:

    The opening story about the big gemstone getting carried off into the sewer may be convoluted and pointless here, but you could make a pretty decent adventure around the concept of every ne’er-do-well in the city going sewer diving in search of an easy-to-carry, hard-to-fence treasure like that. The players can get caught between competing treasure hunter groups who are behaving as badly as any PC murder hobo, heavily-armed sewer workers, and whatever normally dwells down there that’s pissed to see all these trespassers. Screw rats, go with albino gator-men. Those sewer workers aren’t heavily-armed for the fun of it.

    Shame Necromancer wasted that potential.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What a cover! The pecs on the rat king! The tits on the rat queen! What the hell…

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