The Under Empire
Ratfolk 95%, various other assorted slaves 5%.
Council of 13. Consists of the Twelve most powerful Clan leaders, including the four major Clans and leader of the Gray Seers, and are known as the Lords of Decay. The position of seat thirteen is filled by Pyremius, the Ratfolk deity. At his immediate right and left are 1 and 12, considered the two most important positions. Then come the remaining pairs in the following order of importance: 2 and 11, followed by 3 and 10, 4 and 9, 5 and 8, and finally the positions 6 and 7 who are the furthest away and the least important ones.
Faced with a proposal a council member may vote in favor, against it, or abstain; in the last case he vetoes the vote of his numerical counterpart.
This state-of-affairs ensures that higher ranking members of the council usually need the support of some of the lower ranking members, and vice versa. All of this leads to manipulations, bribes, rivalries, backroom deals, shady agreements, favoritism and conspiracies, resulting in simple political corruption. Assassination attempts among the members of the council are considered rather too crude (and simply non-effective). Its members usually try to manipulate the greater circumstances to force an appropriate resolution of the council. These manipulations often involve the realms of men and the kingdoms of Dwarfs.
The god of the Ratfolk is Pyremius. Its sacred number is thirteen, and so thirteen is an important number is Ratfolk society. For example, there are 169 Grey Seers (13 × 13). Vermin Lords are Demons of Pyremius, and can be summoned by a Grey Seer. This is often used as a threat to unruly Warlords, although no Grey Seer would dare to summon a Vermin Lord unless they absolutely had to.
Ratfolk trade is based largely on supply and demand. The currency of the Ratfolk is warpstone, a powerful magical rock formed from congealed primal magic. Warpstone is a highly irradiated piece of rock that creates a very small wild magic zone. Warpstone is the basis of trade, and is used to purchase everything, from weapons and equipment, to slaves and monsters.
Every clan maintains a constant supply of warriors and when a clan marches to war it takes pretty much everything. Each clan is lead by a Warlord, and below him are his lieutenants. To progress in Ratfolk society, it’s not about who you know, it’s about how you can manipulate them. Promotions usually come when the Ratfolk who wants it assassinates his immediate superior.
The Council of 13 presides over all of the Under Empire, but each clan is effectively a separate state, only loosely held together by the Council. There are many civil wars fought in the Under Empire, but because the Ratfolk realm is hidden from creatures on the surface, very few are known about.
The strength is always determined by the amount of clanrats and slaves a clan can throw at the enemy. Each clan has varying degrees of weaponry and armor, and depending on how much warpstone is traded, also determines amounts of warriors and weapons from other clans.
Ratfolk are not natural wizards, and very few develop magical abilities. The only exceptions are the Gray Seers. The Gray Seers are the prophets of Pyremius, and are seen as spiritual leaders. Although they are held in high regard by other Ratfolk, they are not immune to the paranoia and backstabbing nature of the Ratfolk race. Many a Gray Seer has found themselves on the receiving end of poisoned blade when a Warlord has felt their position is threatened, and repercussions are usually few and far between.
There isn’t much information to be found about the Ratfolk’s history, although they are known to have come into existence a long time after the birth of Man and Dwarf. The most that can be gleaned about their history is from the story ‘The Doom of Kavzar’. According to this story, the human and dwaven inhabitants of Kavzar lived the good life, the humans harvesting the fruits of nature, whilst their dwarf neighbors mined the large amounts of ore to be found beneath the city.
One day, the people of Kavzar decided to build a tower in honor of their gods, a tower that would reach towards the sky and pierce the clouds. However, work on the tower was slow, and eventually, the people of Kavzar despaired at the thought of ever completing the tower. In this time of despair came among the people a man who claimed that he alone could complete the tower; all he asked in return was the right to add his own dedication to the gods to the top of the tower. The people, seeing that they had nothing to lose, agreed to the mans proposition.
The next day, the people came back to the tower, to find that it had been completed. The tower stretched on and on into the sky, piercing the cloud themselves. At the top of the tower hung a hugh, horned brass bell. As the people continued to gather, the bell at the top of the tower began to toll, its horrible, booming sound reaching into the very souls of the people. Thirteen times the bell tooled, and upon the thirteenth toll a baleful moon appeared above the tower, casting the tower in a foreboding greenish light. Frightened by the demonic sounds of the bell, the people fled to their homes.
During the following days, the sky darkened as a heavy rain began falling down upon the city. The people huddled in their houses, the implications of the appearance of the dark moon and the continuous tolling of the bell being to frightening to consider. Days turned into weeks, as the rain continued to fall in ever greater amounts, now accompanied by large hailstones which crushed the humans crops.
As the weeks passed, large rats began appearing across the village, consuming what food remained in the city, and, when that ran out, hunting the humans.
The humans had demanded that their dwarven allies help them in their time of need, but the dwarfs had refused to help them, citing that what food they had was barely enough to feed their own kin. Now that the humans had no food left themselves, they took up what weapons they could find and marched into the dwarfs realm beneath the city.
What they found there, however, wasn’t the food and shelter they had been hoping for. Instead, they found the dead dwarf warriors, now little more than dried husks, and the gleaming eyes of hundreds of man-sized rats. As the torchlight from their torches start to flicker and die out, the rats descended upon the humans, ripping and tearing at them with fevered fervor.
In the ruins of the once great city of Kavzar, now renamed Pyreblight by its new rulers, the Ratfolk built their capital, and from there, they started to spread to all the corners of the world.
Over the next two hundred and eighty years or so the newly born Ratfolk race grew rapidly. There was pressure to expand the tunnels under the city, as the surface world was too dangerous for the Ratfolk. This over expansion led to the physical collapse of the great city as its foundation was removed. The city sunk into the ground with the tower miraculously surviving, but now entirely beneath the surface of the planet. The Ratfolk took this as a sign and created a false surface above the city supported with such a vast network of supports that even if a city were built on top of it it wouldn’t collapse.
Society of the Ratfolk
Ratfolk society is structured into two types, the Warlord Clans which supply the basic Ratfolk warriors, and the Major Clans which provide more specialist troops. There are four Major Clans, Clan Pestilens, Clan Eshin, Clan Moulder, and Clan Skryre. As already stated, if a Ratfolk wishes to advance, murder and assassination are the most common forms of progression, and are classed as death by natural causes by the Ratfolk.
Anatomy of the Ratfolk
Ratfolk universally resemble giant rats, about as tall as a dwarf and half as broad, with about as much muscle as a human. All of the body, except the tail, is usually covered in fur (although their may be some bald patches where the Ratfolk has sustained injury or has some unnatural growth, like a horn for instance). The majority of Ratfolk are physically weak and feeble by most standards across the world. They usually come in overwhelming armies but can overrun even the most hardened veteran by sheer weight of numbers.
Appearance and culture
A Ratfolk is essentially a crossbreed of a rat and a man – in that they are in appearance large bipedal rats with intelligence sufficient to use weapons, make tools, and converse in a developed language. Most Ratfolk stand four to five feet tall and have brown fur (which darkens as their strength grows), although this can vary. White and gray-furred rats are prized among Ratfolk litters, as gray and white-furred Ratfolk often become gray seers, and black-furs often join the elite Stormvermin corps. Most Ratfolk have luminous eyes and long tails. Ratfolk with black fur are usually stronger and taller than other Ratfolk and make up a substantial part of Ratfolk armies. Albino Ratfolk are rare but not unheard of. An average Ratfolk has a lifespan of about 20 years but higher members of the Ratfolk society can live much longer (possibly owing their extended life to drugs/magic or to the effects of warpstone)
Male Ratfolk are workers and warriors. Females are docile and barely intelligent, and spend much of their lives hidden away in the nest to breed. Female Ratfolk typically produce three to five litters a year, each containing 20 or so young.
The council sits at a long table with the seats at top and bottom empty. The top seat is the symbolic seat of Pyremius. Therefore, the most powerful members sit to the left and right of Pyremius and share equal power. Each member is the equal of whomever sits opposite him. The council are constantly shifting allegiances, backstabbing, cheating, lying, and hiring assassins to kill each other — much to the amusement of their malevolent god. It is often noted that, if the Ratfolk organized themselves properly, they could probably rule the world. However, they are far too paranoid to ever band together. Each member of the council is open to replacement at any time. The applicant must simply challenge his rival to a fight to the death; if he wins, he takes the place of the loser on the council.
The current Lords of Decay have been in their seats for over 200 years. The current Council members include:
Pyremius – His supreme deificness. Seat 13
Lord Morskittar – Warlock lord of Clan Skryre. Seat 12
Lord Kritislik – Seerlord. Seat 1
Lord Graskk – Representative of the Stormvermin. Seat 11
Lord Sneek – Nightlord of Clan Eshin. Seat 2
Nurglitch VII – Arch-Plaguelord of Clan Pestilens; Nurglitch I brought Clan Pestilens to prominence by defeating Lord Vask for a place on the Council of Thirteen. Seat 10
Ikit Claw – Chief warlock of Clan Skryre. Seat 3
Lord Verminkin – Packlord of Clan Moulder. Seat 9
Lord Paskrit – “Warlord-General of all Ratfolkdom”. Seat 4
Kratch Doomclaw – Clan Rictus. Seat 8
Warlord Gnawdwell – Clan Mors. Seat 5
Lord Griznekt Mancarver – Warlord of Clan Skab. Seat 7
Lord Vrisk Ironscratch – Fleetmaster of Clan Skurvy. Seat 6
Below the council are the Gray Seers, prophets of Pyremius himself, and powerful sorcerers. Gray Seers have prophetic powers and are usually gray-furred; hence the name. While the Gray Seers are often physically weak, they make up for this in cunning, guile, and the use of magic. Most other Ratfolk fear and hate gray seers in equal measure. The most feared symbol of the Seers is the “Screaming Bell,” a massive, horned bell mounted on a carriage and pushed into battle, the daemonic chimes enthusing the Ratfolk hordes.
The rest of Ratfolk society is organized into innumerable clans. Four clans are traditionally more powerful than the rest: Clan Pestilens, Clan Moulder, Clan Eshin, and Clan Skryre. These four are collectively known as the Great Clans.
Clan Moulder is based in the far north, where Master Moulders use warpstone in a mad combination of alchemy and genetic engineering to breed all sorts of monstrous beasts for war. They are a very wealthy clan, and rent out their beasts for other Ratfolk to use in battle. Their most common war-beasts are the wolf-sized Giant Rats and the enormous Rat Ogres, anthropoid vermin four times the size of a man whose massive, filthy claws can take down even a heavily armored knight. Their lair, known as “Hell Pit” greatly resembles hell from Dante’s Inferno, consisting of nine levels of laboratories, a barracks, and a giant colosseum hanging from chains and a level where their most powerful creatures are kept in pitch darkness.
Clan Pestilens is based in the southern part of the world, and has been the cause for both of the two Ratfolk civil wars. The clan was considered lost in the jungles of Tian Xia, but when it resurfaced, it was changed. The rats of the clan had become completely devoted to Pyremius in a newly attributed role as the harbinger of disease and plague. They are immune to most diseases and use the very plagues they worship as deadly biological weapons against the other races. Due to their diseased bulk (and the fact that they are used to experience pain), their plague monk troops are extremely tough, and deliriously fanatical in combat. They also use rats infected with various foul contagions, and the deadly plague censers, flails laden with burning warpstone, that emit lethal poison gas.
Clan Eshin was also considered lost for a long time, having traveled to the far lands of Tian Xia to study the way of the assassin from the surface races. When they returned, they had changed as well. They were now stealthy assassins, skilled in the art of the silent kill. They are feared throughout the Under Empire as the long arm of the law. Their prices are exorbitant, but their results are unmatched. They played a large role during the Great War, although they were unseen, they contributed greatly. They field Night Runners, cheap expendable units of skirmishers. Those night runners that survive go on to learn the skills to become the veteran Gutter Runners which are far more skilled and efficient. If they survive for much longer, the very best become the elite and incredibly deadly assassins unparalleled in the entire World (save for possibly those of other worshipers of Pyremius).
Currently, the most powerful Clan is Clan Skryre. These Ratfolk have devoted themselves to the study of magic and blending it with insane science and engineering. Thus far, their engineers have created many deadly machines: the Ratling Gun (a warpstone-based Gatling gun), the Warpfire thrower (a warpstone-based flamethrower), the Jezzail (an extremely long-ranged warpstone rifle which is so large that it has to be carried by two Ratfolk), and the fearsome Warp-Lightning Cannon. They also employ Warlock Engineers, who harness the winds of magic to devastating effect. The weapons Skryre creates are just as likely to blow up as they are to shoot. A race as deeply paranoid as the Ratfolk is willing to use the weapons made by Clan Skryre for two reasons. The first being that those who aren’t the epitome of ambition, willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, have already become slaves. The second is that the majority of the time Clan Skryre has just as much to lose by making ineffective weapons as those who risk using them/giving them to their subordinates, for if the weapons always kill the wielder than Skryre would lose all of its business and power. Skryre has been careful to avoid leaving survivors in their wake from outside of the empire as to do so would risk the church of Murlynd discovering their access to guns.
Ratfolk Stronghold and Capital
Pyreblight is the foul heart of the Ratfolk Under-Empire and the source of Pyremius’ treachery. It is located in the north eastern region of Nyrond. It has several very powerful warding spells to prevent people from finding it including an absolutely massive Aversion effect.
At the center of Pyreblight stands the twisted blighted monolithic tower to Pyremius known as the Shattered Tower. The original colors of the tower have been stained black by pollution, grime, and unholy sacrifice. Its black surface is now wet, clammy, and crumbling, an oozing eyesore capped by the cloud enshrouded bell tower. The mist clinging to all of Pyreblight is thickest here by the Shattered Tower, pouring thickly through doorways and windows, into the temple, covering the rooms in a stagnant pool of poisonous miasma. This great bell-tower is the sight of Pyremius’ temple and the place of Pyremius’ incarnation. Once past the white albino Council Guards, you enter the decaying edifice. Rats scamper along the floor, hidden in beneath the foul marshy fog. Inside are abandoned rotting chapels, obscene and dark altars to Pyremius, and great vaulted chambers that are the site of horrible services and devotions to Pyremius. At the center of the ground floor of the Temple is a blackened and baroque winding stairway that climbs up into the benighted cathedral ceiling, eventually reaching the bell-tower where the damned bells still ring, tolling each victory of Ratfolkdom.
Beyond the stairway is a massive room, the Sanctum of Pyremius. It is here that Pyremius made its appearance. The room has one main entrance, through the massive archway, and twelve smaller entrances. The twelve smaller entrances lead to silent corridors where the Grey Seers study their black arts. The Sanctum itself is a massive room, the largest in the temple. The entire floor of this circular chamber is a massive symbol to Pyremius. At the end of the room, on a massive dais, is a giant altar and pulpit. On the pulpit is a massive book, bound in brass and iron, and spread across the altar is a cloth bearing the symbol of Pyremius. Sunk into its surface is a massive brass bowl, covered in runes obscured by the dry flaking blood. Behind the dais, on a raised level, is a massive pillar of Warpstone, the Pillar of Commandments. The pillar glows with a sickening and mesmerizing inner light that seems to blur everything about it. This huge pillar has thirteen sides, each side intricately inscribed with spidery runes. This is the pillar of Pyremius.
Climbing the winding staircase to the next floor, one arrives at immense blackened iron bound double doors. The stairs continue up into the cursed bell tower. It is beyond that massive portal that the Council sits. Guarding the doors are the albino Council Guards and Rat Ogres. Next to the door is a pitted, tarnished, chipped bronze gong, massive in size that is struck by a Rat Ogre. Once beyond the doors, is the Chamber of the Thirteen. Dark and oppressive, the dimensions of the cold stone room are impossible to make out in the gloom, obscured in the shadows. In the exact center of the room is a giant circle embellished with the symbol of Pyremius. Circling about the room, on a raised dais, are thirteen thrones set out at exact distances. The most elaborate and largest of the thrones, is the thirteenth, at the apex of the circle, opposite the door and raised on yet another dais. This throne is a twisted jagged monstrosity sprouting twisted and jagged ornate spires and the symbol of Pyremius hangs above it. The remaining thrones are smaller and less ornate, and above them hang their banners identifying the throne’s occupant.
Outside of the Shattered Tower, is the decaying stone city that man had built and has now forgotten. The streets and buildings are quiet, empty, and fog enshrouded. Unseen things scamper in alleys, red eyes watch from shadowed doorways, figures pass in nearby archways. Much of the city has sunken deep into the morass, swallowing building, and it is here and below that most Ratfolk live. Under Pyreblight is teeming and writhing with countless Ratfolk. The sunken city and the burrows and warrens below are packed thick with biting scratching screeching squealing hissing Ratfolk. The Ratfolk have lived, fought, and died here for thousands of years. The stench and filth is unparalleled. The upper section is controlled and dominated by Clans and Warlords. These are fairly strong Clans, who are closely united or allied with one of the four major Clans, and provide numerous services and assistance to retain at least a small degree of control within their Clan without interference. All four of the major Clans have their own districts here. It is a series of endless labyrinths, mazes, tunnels, warrens, and burrows lit by the flickering flames fueled by methane.
Below these Clan districts, the tunnels become packed with Ratfolk bodies. With no legitimate laws or authority, life is short and brutal here. Lesser Clans bully and murder the Ratfolk here and their rivals in a fit of unfulfilled rage, acting as frustrated despots. The drainage from the districts above make this area unpleasant at best, with deteriorating walls, and any wooden supports rot and buckle. In the lower levels the water and effluence rise to the waist, and Ratfolk dig holes and nests near the ceiling for shelter. The walls and ceilings, undermined, often collapse, burying the Ratfolk or dropping them into the sewage below. Occasionally a flood will occur, and a murky torrent will rush down the dark tunnels, sweeping away the frantic hapless Ratfolk into the darker tunnels into deep underground streams or chasms.
What lies below this level is unknown. Strange, hateful, misshapen creatures crawl up from below, to silently drag any unfortunate Ratfolk below. Sometimes these things will terrorize entire sections of the lower works, or even emerge into the districts where it will take entire groups of Clanrats or Stormvermin and Grey Seers to put a stop to their rampage, as they tear apart everyone and everything in their path. Usually, though, they stay hidden in the blackness below, usually…
The Hell Pit is one of the most horrific of all Ratfolk lairs or strongholds. Dug into the walls and floor of a chasm torn into the side of a mountain in northern Ket, the stronghold is warmed by the volcanic pools that cloud the already close and stagnant air. The senses are overwhelmed by not only by the sulfurous stink of the chasm itself and its filthy occupants, but by the tumultuous din and clamor that echoes from a thousand tormented and warped throats and mouths that utter the cacophony of misery sounded out in wretched snorts, howls, squeals, screeches, screams, and shrill cries that echo along the chasm, building in crescendo until one goes mad, their eardrums burst, or both.
This blasphemous and blighted place is the breeding grounds and stronghold of Clan Moulder known as the Hell Pit. From here Clan Moulder sends out expeditions to bring in new monsters and creatures to fuel their experiments. The expeditions return with caravans of wheeled cages filled with all manners of beasts seeking to burst from their imprisonment. These creatures are brought into the Hell Pit, where they are placed in pits or cages and exposed to Warpstone, either in their food and water or directly exposed to the Warpstone itself. Often the creatures will begin to rot or melt while lying still in their excrement as they slowly die an agonizing death, venting their hatred at their tormentors through baleful glances and stretched claws. There are times though, when the Warpstone provides a superior mutation, and the altered creature is added to the nightmarish Clan Moulder menagerie.
The most abominable place in the Hell Pit is at the lower pit of the Hell Pit where all the uncontrollable experiments are tossed in with the failed and dying experiments. The predatory cries mix with the dying shrieks of their prey as they live and die amongst the piles of dead and rotting flesh and excrement scattered with the bones and skulls of dead monstrosities. The smell is so bad that none can peer over the edge, but if one were to, they would see a nightmarish landscape of bloated rotting carcasses and the wretched pale, slimy, corrupted things that tear each other apart in throes of living agony. It is through these corrupted and vile experiments that Clan Moulder gains its power and its wealth. By selling neutered and sterile monsters to the other Clans, they can gain wealth and influence. Many of their best and most foul creations they keep for their own use, to defend against the forces of Goblinoids, other Ratfolk Clans, or surface dwellers. The massive fearsome Rat Ogres, the tireless predatory Rat-Wolves, the creeping Blood-Rats, and a hundred other abominations are the sadistic creations emerging from the Hell Pit.
The Naggarond lair is the stronghold of Clan Eshin. Many centuries ago, the Clan dissapeared, and tunneled to the land of Tian Xia. There they watched assassins train, and sought to emulate theei deadliness. Combined with a Ratfolks natural quickness and keen hearing, the Ratfolk of Clan Eshin perfected the art of death, and regularly hire out there assassins in exchange for warpstone. Many a Clan Warlord has perished beneath the poisoned blades of the assassins, and the murder is not limited to Ratfolk Warlords. Many an important figure on the surface world has died at the hands of the assassin, but who ordered the killing and to what end would never be known. It is not only Ratfolk who hire the skills of the assassin, and many times humans, elves and others have sought out Clan Eshin to do their dirty work.