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Origins of the PCs: Nezumi

Perhaps no other race, short of gully dwarves or kender could be considered as much of a general nuisance as the nezumi. Introduced in Oriental Adventures, the nezumi, or ratlings, as they're called derisively by humans, are a race of rat-like humanoids. Originally conceived as part of the Legend of the Five Rings setting, they were brought over in Oriental Adventures as part of that book's attempt to create a new default Asian fantasy setting for Dungeons and Dragons.

The nezumi once possessed a small empire, far to the south of those the humans would one day create, but it had been destroyed by a monumental event. They now survive as scattered tribes who eke out an existence as thieves, mercenaries and scouts in the twisted landscape where they once thrived.

Their inability to express measures of time beyond the simple concepts of yesterday and tomorrow (meaning any time in the past and in the future respectively), their primitive culture and their penchant for theft makes them appear to be uncultured pests in the eyes of humans. This could not be further from the truth. Nezumi possess an incredible tenacity, a strong sense of tribal history and they might just be the only race in existence with a tradition of truename magic.

The nezumi were first detailed in Oriental Adventures, and later supplemented with additional rules in the Legend of the Five Rings Campaign Setting. These supplements introduced new rules for the nezumi race, along with several tribes, who all possess different racial abilities. For the purpose of this article, we will be examining only the generic nezumi from Oriental Adventures, and treating it as a race that could be inserted into any Asian fantasy setting. No material from the Legend of the Five Rings Campaign Setting will be used until we examine the nezumi specific to that setting in a future article.

Nezumi Strengths

  • High Constitution scores
  • 40 foot base speed
  • Bonuses to Hide and Move Silently checks
  • Bonuses to saves against poison and disease
  • Access to natural weapons
  • Ability to take the normally restricted Scent feat

Nezumi Weaknesses

  • Low Charisma scores
  • Their immunity to Shadowlands Taint is worthless in a non-Legend of the Five Rings setting
  • May only use their natural weapons for one attack per round

Playing a Nezumi
You might find it easier to consider the nezumi to be the equivalent of the halfling race. That's not to say that halflings are exceptionally rat-like, it's just that both are exceptional at hiding from sight. With their quick speed and skill bonuses, nezumi make natural hit-and-run artists, and are experts in the art of setting an ambush.

Beyond this, nezumi are consummate survivors. If they become disarmed, they can still fight, literally tooth and claw for their own lives. Skilled nezumi can actually sniff out their targets, even if its just to hunt for their next meal. Finally, their bodies are hardy and can resist poison, disease and a terrible wasting known as the Shadowlands Taint.

As a nezumi character, you're not likely to be beloved by those you come across. More likely than not, you will be simply tolerated, and only for as long as you are useful. Your strange customs and your rat-like appearance are off-putting to humans. Most nezumi living apart from their tribes must learn to be self-reliant because of this. You may be a loner, living on the fringes of society, or you might be an artful thief who steals from those who revile him. Whatever your case, you will likely never want for food and drink just because a tavern-keeper barred you from entering his establishment.

Finally, unless you are playing in the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting, the nezumi's immunity to Shadowlands Taint has no value at all. Dungeon masters may want to change this ability to work against similar degenerative effects, like madness, corruption or depravity. Examples of these alternate rules can be found in the Rules Compendium and Heroes of Horror.

Class Suggestions
The quick speed and skill bonuses that a nezumi character possesses push them naturally towards the rogue. A nezumi rogue can easily wait until their allies are occupied by combat, then sneak around the battle and flank to deliver devastating sneak attacks. Even unarmed, they can be a force to be reckoned with thanks to their sharp claws and teeth.

Another natural path for the nezumi race is the scout (Complete Adventurer). The speed bonuses that the class provides allow them to easily outdistance most opponents. Hit-and-run melee combat should be the norm for this combination, and feats like Spring Attack allow them to be effective in combat, yet remain a safe distance from harm.

When considering combat, the raw power of the barbarian class works quite well with the nezumi. Their higher Constitution scores allow them to rage for longer, and the barbarian's speed bonus stacks nicely with the nezumi. Due to the primitive nature of nezumi culture, most of their skilled warriors are likely to be barbarians rather than fighters or samurai.

Nezumi who wish to become more in touch with nature should consider the ranger class. The nezumi's ability to take the Scent feat, which is normally unavailable to players, allows the character to hunt their quarry more effectively. In addition, many of the ranger spells that normally would only affect their animal companions, like Magic Fang can also be used on themselves in a pinch.

Since wizards are not generally available in Asian settings, the standard arcane class for the nezumi is the sorcerer. Although they have lower Charisma scores, their Constitutions provide them with more hit points. This trade-off, of weaker magic, but the ability to take more damage, makes a more battle-oriented sorcerer a stronger option, especially when paired with an alternate class ability like Stalwart Sorcerer (Complete Mage).

If the wu jen (Complete Arcane) class is available in your setting, nezumi characters are more likely to become wu jen than sorcerers. Not only are they better off with the wu jen's Intelligence-based casting, but the spirit abilities (and related feats), and spell secrets the class provides can be extremely appealing.

In the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting, nezumi are one of the few races with strong knowledge of name magic. Although the truenamer class (Tome of Magic) was not originally available at the time of Oriental Adventures' release, that doesn't mean that nezumi characters shouldn't have the option of taking it. Nezumi truenamers may act as shamans for their tribes, who use the power of name to strengthen their warriors or destroy their enemies. Nezumi truenamers, are much like wu jen and benefit from the additional speed and natural weapons that help them to defend themselves when enemies get too close.

More sinister nezumi characters might wish to consider the ninja class (Complete Adventurer). Much like with the rogue class, their higher speed and bonuses to Hide and Move Silently are useful, and since the ninja is not proficient with armor, the additional hit points provided by the race's higher Constitution score can come in handy. The ninja's abilities, especially those that provide benefits to the Climb, Jump and Tumble skills allow the character to better move around, helping them to set an ambush or to simply scout the area.

Nezumi wishing to wield divine magic will want to look at the shaman (Oriental Adventures). The class provides a potent combination of the abilities of both a cleric and a druid, which provides a wide range of useful abilities. The nezumi's lower Charisma score means that their ability to turn undead and the effectiveness of their spirits' favor abilities will likely be hampered somewhat. The trade-off is that the nezumi's higher Constitution score allows them to better take advantage of the class's unarmed combat options. Characters wishing to use this combination should note that there was a 3.5 edition update to this class provided in Dragon Magazine #318 that should be referenced. It provides changes to the class's unarmed strike ability and their list of bonus feats.

Feat Suggestions
Nezumi come well equipped to handle a variety of dangerous situations without necessarily requiring equipment. Although they have no racial feats of their own, there are still a number of feats available that can help improve their natural abilities.

Any nezumi with a Wisdom score of 11 or higher should consider taking the Scent feat (Dungeon Master's Guide). Normally restricted from players, this feat allows a nezumi to track by scent and follow their quarry. Nezumi rangers should find this feat to be indispensible. The Improved Scent and Uncanny Scent feats (Savage Species) can help improve this ability further by improving the nezumi's scent range and allowing them to pinpoint the source of a scent at a much greater distance.

The nezumi's racial abilities specifically state that although nezumi have both two claws and a bite attack, they may only make one attack with their natural weapons per round. That means that a feat like Multiattack (Monster Manual) will unfortunately not be useful. Improved Natural Attack (also Monster Manual) is a better option, as it increases the damage dealt by either the claw or bite to 1d6.

Nezumi scouts, barbarians or any other combination looking to get a bit of extra defense might want to consider the Expeditious Dodge feat (Races of the Wild). The feat provides a bonus to Armor Class when the character moves at least 40 feet in a round. For most races that would mean taking a full-round action to move, but a nezumi character can make that as a single move action. Couple this feat with Mobility and Spring Attack to keep yourself from harm while making hit-and-run attacks.

If your nezumi character uses martial maneuvers, specifically those from the Desert Wind school, consider the Desert Fire and Desert Wind Dodge feats (both from Tome of Battle). These feats provide additional damage and a bonus to Armor class when the character using them moves at least 10 feet in a round. Since dodge bonuses stack, you can combine these feats with Expeditious Dodge (see above). If you add in the skirmish ability granted by the scout class, you quickly find yourself in possession of an extremely dangerous warrior who is very difficult to hit.

Prestige Class Suggestions
Nezumi can do well in a wide variety of roles, but tend to work better from the shadows. Most prestige class choices will be based on the nezumi's class selection, but below are a few options that you may find appealing for your character.

Bloodclaw Master (Tome of Battle) - If your nezumi character is a martial adept, or even if they know a few Tiger Claw maneuvers through feats, this prestige class will be an attractive option. While the ability to shift isn't as useful as it would be to a character that didn't already possess a claw attack, every other ability, especially those that allow them to make powerful two-weapon attacks. Of particular note is their access to the scent special ability, removing the need for the character to spend a feat to gain it.

Dark Hunter (Complete Warrior) - Nezumi who find themselves spending much of their time underground will want to consider the dark hunter. Rangers and rogues will find this the most attractive, but all will be able to appreciate the darkvision, sneak attack, and stealthy abilities this class provides. Also of interest, is the ability to make a death attack, something normally reserved to evil characters.

Dread Commando (Heroes of Battle) - Scouts and rogues will find the tactical qualities of the dread commando to be appealing. Not only does it allow the character to wear heavier armor without penalty, but it also provides the ability to move quickly while trying to be quiet, bonus damage against unaware targets and they can provide their allies with a bonus to initiative.

Highland Stalker (Complete Adventurer) - If you want to swiftly hunt your prey in difficult terrain, then consider the highland stalker. Nezumi highland stalkers may even want to splash in a few levels of ranger to gain the combat bonuses the class provides. Of particular note is the class's ability to move swiftly in rough terrain, allowing them to make skirmish attacks in more situations than a scout would.

Primeval (Frostburn) - Nezumi barbarians might find the ability to regress into the primal form of a dire rat, or similar creature appealing and become a primeval. While they aren't as subtle as other nezumi, they are extremely powerful physically and very difficult to put down.

New Material

Ratling Sneak

Swiftly from the shadows, it moves like a blur, taking position in a small nook along the wall. The ratling sneak waits in silence for his prey: a drunken samurai, stumbling home in the moonlight. Darting out, the sneak rushes the warrior, catching him unaware. Knocking the man to the ground, the nezumi lands on the samurai's chest and leans close. No words. The nezumi has no need for them. A swift cut across the man's throat silences him before he can cry out. Stopping only long enough to locate a scroll in the samurai's obi, the sneak goes on the move again, back into the safety of the shadows. His quarry is dead, and his prize is in hand. The nezumi allows himself a smile; tonight has been most profitable.

The ratling sneak is a master of speed and silence. Although they are formidable warriors, most find their way as thieves and advance scouts. It is said that a ratling sneak can find danger wherever it may hide, while others derisively claim that the nezumi bring trouble upon themselves.
    Most ratling sneaks are scouts, ninjas and rogues, although occasionally rangers are drawn to this path as well. Few spellcasters can find much appealing from the skills of a sneak, although the occasional illusionist takes up the path to help augment their magic.
    NPC sneaks can often be found in nezumi warrens, acting as the eyes and ears of their tribes. Those who travel can easily find work as an advance scout for an army, or they may be simple thieves, making their way in large cities.
    Hit Die: d6

To qualify to become a ratling sneak, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.
    Race: Nezumi.
    Skills: Hide 8 ranks, Listen 5 ranks, Move Silently 6 ranks, Spot 5 ranks.
    Feats: Dodge, Improved Initiative

Class Skills
The ratling sneak's class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Balance (Dex), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Disable Device (Int), Escape Artist (Dex), Jump (Str), Hide (Dex), Listen (Wis), Move Silently (Dex), Open Lock (Dex), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Spot (Wis), Survival (Wis), Tumble (Dex) and Use Rope (Dex). See Chapter 4: Skills in the Player's Handbook for skill descriptions.
    Skill Points at Each Level: 6 + Int modifier.

Class Features
    Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Ratling sneaks do not gain proficiency with any weapons nor do they gain proficiency with any armor or shields.
    Hide in Plain Sight (Ex): Ratling sneaks can use the Hide skill, even if they are being observed. The ratling sneak loses this benefit when wearing medium or heavy armor, or when carrying a medium or heavy load.
    Quick Reconnoiter: One of the first lessons a ratling sneak learns is to take in everything around them at a glance. At 1st level, they receive Quick Reconnoiter as a bonus feat (see Complete Adventurer). If they already possess the Quick Reconnoiter feat, they gain a different bonus feat of their choosing.
    Fast Movement (Ex): Beginning at 2nd level, the ratling sneak gains a +10 foot bonus to her base land speed. This bonus is lost when wearing medium or heavy armor or when carrying a medium or heavy load.
    Sneak Attack (Ex): Ratling sneaks deal an extra 1d6 points of damage when flanking an opponent or at any time when the target would be denied its Dexterity bonus. See the rogue class feature in Chapter 3: Classes of the Player's Handbook for more information. If a ratling sneak gets a sneak attack bonus from another source (from the rogue class for example), the bonus damage stacks.
    Darkvision (Su): As a ratling sneak becomes more accustomed to the shadows, they learn to see in the dark without the benefit of light. At 3rd level, they gain darkvision out to a range of 60 feet.
    Evasion (Ex): Starting at 3rd level, if a ratling sneak makes a successful Reflex saving throw against an attack that normally deals partial damage on a successful save, she instead takes no damage. If the ratling sneak is helpless, they do not gain the benefit of evasion. This bonus is lost if the ratling sneak wears medium or heavy armor or is carrying a medium or heavy load.
    Stealthy Movement (Ex): As the ratling sneak improves her skills, she becomes better able to remain hidden, even when on the prowl. Starting at 4th level, you take no penalty to Hide or Move Silently checks when moving up to your normal speed. When running or charging, you take a -10 penalty on Hide and Move Silently checks, instead of the normal -20. The ratling sneak loses this benefit when wearing medium or heavy armor or when carrying a medium or heavy load.

Table 1-01: The Ratling Sneak
Level Base Attack
1st +0
Hide in plain sight, quick reconnoiter
2nd +1
Fast movement +10ft., sneak attack +1d6
3rd +2
Darkvision, evasion
4th +2
Stealthy movement
5th +3
Sneak attack +2d6

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