Rats of Chern

[i]“GO! Don’t stop!” roared Ilya, grabbing a stumbling grey rat by the scruff of his neck and hauling him bodily past, “Stop and you die!” Ilya gripped his spear in both paws, baring his teeth at the darkness of the sewer, standing in a circle of light cast down from the manhole above. He was a black rat, bigger than the others in the foraging party, and bigger even than the three other Wardens he had with him. The spear he held was little more than a turned stick with a nail lashed onto the end - crude but effective.
“What about Ioseph?!” cried a rat as he scurried past.
“He’s dead! Forget him!”

Ilya glared over his shoulder to the tails of the running foraging party, then turned his black-eyed gaze back the way they had come, hefting his spear. Darkness was nothing to rats - they’ve lived in it forever, it was comfortable to them. They didn’t need their eyes to see in the Dark places - they could feel the stirring of the air with their whiskers, could smell everything around them, could hear how far away the faintest sound was. Darkness was safety to them… or it usually was.
“Ease back now, Inna, get after them,” said Ilya, not turning his gaze away. The small grey female glanced up to him, then turned and slung her weapon over her shoulder before darting away into the murk.

Ilya sniffed the darkness a little more, straining his senses. He could hear it, could feel its movements in the air… a sable was after them, stalking through the narrow sewer after prey. He could hear its claws skittering on stone, could smell the stink of its fur and the blood on its jaws. It wasn’t satisfied with just one, it wanted more.
He turned, slinging the spear neatly over his back as he dropped onto all fours, jumping out of the circle of light and back into the shadows. Through the sewers they ran, a dozen sets of little pink feet padding over stone, darting over rubble and around rusting pipes.
Behind them, there was a furious snarl. Ilya chanced a glance over his shoulder and just caught the sight of something crossing through the light - a flash of baleful yellow eyes and dark fur.
“It’s coming! It’s going to get us!” wailed one of the foragers. Ilya could smell his fear - the air was thick with it, from all of them.
“Shut up and run!” Ilya shouted, “Stop running and I’ll leave you as a distraction!”

The tunnel had begun to narrow, and for a hopeful moment Ilya had thought they would be able to leave the sable behind… but then he smelled the water, could feel the air on his whiskers. After only a few moment more, the group rounded a bend and could see the light ahead. The sewers had been broken open here, the far end collapsed. They’d be left out in the open, in the light.
A rightened chittering started up from the group, their pace slowing as they reached the edge of the light. They bunched up together, staring out over the rubble that climbed upwards towards the blue sky, then back into the tunnel, into the comforting darkness and the Terror that waited there. They were rats of every sort - grey, brown and black, each one weighted down with string and bags, one or two wearing small coast of old, worn cloth. On their backs and tied to their sides smaller bags, half-full of forage, lifeblood of the Colony.
“We can’t go out there!” cried one.
“Hawks! We’ll all be killed!”
“You’ll all be killed if you stay here!” roared Ilya, arriving at the back of the group, dropping his shoulder and giving the one in the back a hard shove, forcing those at the front to stumble out into the light, some squealing with fright. “Climb! Climb now, damn it!” His voice was like a hammer, and they began to scurry out into the blinding light, scrabbling up the rubble, trying to reach the lip. Ilya followed after them, gnashing his long front teeth and hissing with fury. He grabbed at the small Inna as she began to slip backwards, hauling her up a step and continuing after her. Behind, the sable was coming near, its spitting snarls echoing out the mouth of the broken sewer, driving the rats upwards faster.

They emerged not into the open street as they had feared, but in the hall of a building, its roof having collapsed. They were in the halls once built and roamed by the Titans - the unknown giants that had built the City, the beings whom had mysteriously vanished long ago. The foragers stood and stared about them, awed even in the face of certain death. Ilya scrabbled over the edge and spat at them, “Go! In there! Hide!” he shouted at them, shoving with one hand as he unslung his spear from his back with the other. The foragers swarmed through the cracked door, Ilya turned and glared down the hole. “Inna, Vasily, with me… this damn thing will not leave us be,” he said, voice growing quiet. Inna drew out her sword, peering down the hole nervously. She was young, little more than a Sniffer, but she had proven herself once before. Vasily was near the opposite - a flabby rat with fur in many different colours. He calmly pulled his flatbow from his back and set about loading it, pulling the wire string back and setting it in place before slotting a nail in front of it. Vasily never said much, and despite his rotund frame, Ilya had seen him move and fight before. He was sturdy as stone.

Words weren’t needed now. Ilya nodded to either side of himself and the three shuffled aside to either side of the pit. Vasily stuck two nails between some rocks before himself and glanced to Ilya. Inna hefted her length of sharpened steel and did likewise. Ilya pulled the string from the ends of his spear and tossed it aside. There’d be no running now.

They waited, but they did not need to wait long. The snarling black body of the sable scrabbled into view, the long, sinuous creature squirming through the tight hole, its long claws flashing as it pulled itself free. It glared up the pit to the three rats. Ilya bared his teeth and screeched at the thing. Inna slapped her sword against the stones, and Vasily took the opportunity to loose a shot. The flatbow snapped and the nail zipped down into the pit, sinking into the sable’s shoulder. The creature snarled and squirmed like a snake, then reared and started up the side.

Ilya raised his spear in both hands, and with one final snarl, pitched himself into the hole, Inna leaping after him…[/i]

Life for the Rats of Chern is not easy… so many dangers await them out there, so many things that prey upon them. Before the Time of Changes, they had simply been rats; living on instinct alone… but after the Day, they began to think. They found that they could talk, could reason and remember… and they could dream.

In the ruins of the Titans, these rats had discovered a world hostile to their existence. They had found science and knowledge, but they also found death, and so they called upon the strongest, quickest and bravest rats of the Colony to defend them. They became the Wardens, charged with defending those who could not, to carve safety out of danger, a place where they could thrive.

Within the ruins of Chernobyl, the rats strive.


That was a little introduction piece to a little mod I’m tinkering with for the MouseGuard RPG - The Rats of Chern. It’s what you get after reading Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents’, followed by a documentary on Chernobyl, followed by a healthy dose of MouseGuard, a spattering of memory of the old ‘Secret of NIMH’ movie, and maybe just a little bit too much spare time.

You can readily imagine the setting as essentially being a MouseGuard Post-Nuclear War sort of scenario, save that instead of mice you have rats, and instead of having naturally gained sapience, these rats are instead the product of radiation and mutation. The scenario is that there is a single colony of some thousand of the intelligent rats, living at the center of Chernobyl, Ukraine. It has been some 60 years after the accident there, and in that time these rats have formed a city beneath the ruins. They have quite a bit less technology than the Mouse Guard, but they have access to the scraps of Men that were there before, and they are expert scavengers.

All the dangers that apply to mice can apply to rats, save that they are bigger than mice and somewhat better able to defend themselves.

I’m still tinkering with the system, but basically most of it will remain the same. There are some tweaks to be one to Nature, some scenario-necessary tweaks to character creation (no home cities: everyone is born in Chern,) additions and removals of certain traits and skills, and different sorts of weapons. While the rats are certain clever and have rudimentary forging techniques, they don’t make their own stuff so much as they scavenge it - a kitchen knife cut down makes a fine sword, a nail on a bit of wood a fine spear, etc.
There is also technology to be had, and even electricity, and that is the domain of those who have the ‘Technomancer’ skill. Machines and devices also abound, the domain of the Engineers.

The lifespans of these rats will be about 8 years, with 10-year rats being extremely unusual. They measure their age in seasons instead of years. Obviously this is much longer than the lifespan of an actual rat, whom rarely live to see three years. It was another part of the radiation from the meltdown - they tend to age slower. A rat is considered an adolescent after 3 seasons, and an adult after 5.
I figure characters will mostly play as ‘Wardens’, essentially the Guard for rats, with similar duties though in a much different scenario and with much less in the way of resources.

I’m going to keep working on this, and I’ll update this post when I get more solid stuff to present, but I’d love to hear from others wiser than myself, for extra ideas, or especially questions on the scenario and such!


I don’t have much wisdom, but I’ve been wondering how to play Mouse Guard with a heavy dose of the old Gamma World treatment. I like where you’re going with this, using the starting point of the system & setting of Mouse Guard but jumping into something quite different.

FYI, my pet rats made about 7 years each… and I know a couple others whose pet rats also exceeded the Guinness record of 7y 4mo… but due to local laws outlawing rats…

Aye, but pet rats have every comfort available to them, no predators to worry about, no hardships, never wanting for food :wink: Your average rat in the wild is lucky to go past a single year, two years is incredible and three is bordering on utterly ancient. Chernite rats are living in the hardships of a ruined city and able to reach 8 to 10 years old, and remaining spry through most of it.

It’s all about the environment, :wink:

A pair of Traits I was adding to the list:

Mind of Gears
The machines of the Titans lays strewn and wrecked all around the city, far beyond the minds of most rats… but there are some few who just seem to think differently. Their minds whirl and spin constantly, always thinking of machines - how they work, how to fix them, how to make them. They are talented Engineers and have achieved many things for Chern, but they are often so distracted by their own thoughts that they become distant, their personalities and habits strange to others of a more organic mindset.

A furious rat is one who just seems angry all the time. They don’t so much have a short fuse as they always just seem to be seething in their skin, ready to explode for the slightest reason. While a decidedly useful trait for getting one’s way or for tearing some unfortunate beast limb from limb, it makes it almost impossible for a decent conversation when careful words are needed.

As for skills, certain ones are going to be snuffed out and replaced with more specific ones - for instance, no more ‘Scientist’ skill, instead it has exploded into several different ones, reflecting the difficult nature of science for Rats in the Human world.

An engineer knows machines - how to make them work for the benefit of rats. Many beneficial things have been done over the seasons for Chern by the Engineer rats - they repaired water pumps, created simple tools to assist in digging, even managed to secure an ancient Titan weapon to defend Chern; The Great Makarov - a weapon used by the Titans called a ‘pistol’. Engineers can repair and use old Titan machines, to a certain degree.

Engineer Factors:
Type: Machines, tools, simple or complex, repairs, creation.

Suggested Help:
Technomancer, Smith, Lore Rat and appropriate wises.

There are machines left by the Titans everywhere, and Engineers know how to repair and use them… but it is the Technomancers that understand the energies that make them work. Fuel and electricity, water and fire, they are what make the machines go. Of particular value the minds of Technomancers when they managed to bring electricity and light to the tunnels of Chern. These rats know how to use and control the strange energies that the Titans once used.

Technomancer Factors:
Type: Electricity, wiring, plumbing, fuel.

Suggested Help:
Engineer, Smith, Chemist and appropriate wises.

Still fleshing out more!