The Nezumi are a ratfolk race native to either of two settings; the more detailed race is that native the land of Rokugan, the setting of the Legend of the Five Rings CCG and RPG. The other is that native to the plane of Kamigawa in Magic: The Gathering.
Nezumi PC stats appeared in the L5R RPG sourcebook "Way of the Clans #13: Way of the Ratling", the L5R D20 "Rokugan Campaign Setting" sourcebook, and in the 3rd edition Oriental Adventures sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons.
The Nezumi, also known as Ratlings, are the 2nd Great Race of Rokugan. Originally a non-sapient race bred as livestock by the Naga, they evolved into sapience and established their own great empire, long before the rise of the Clans of Rokugan. Known now only as "The Before Time", it lives on in the oral traditions of nezumi Rememberers, but it once stretched from the southern reaches of Rokugan all the way to what is now the Deep Shadowlands.
Distorted by generations and the cultural indifference to accurate preservation of the past - history is less important than the present, in the eyes of the modern nezumi - the tales still speak of the nezumi accomplishing great things. Tales allude to the subjugation and even enslavement of the ogre, goblin and troll races, and the building of a great city from which the Chief-of-Chiefs ruled.
That all ended when Fu Leng fell from the heavens; the spot where he landed, and the birthplace of the Shadowlands, was the center of the nezumi empire.
Devastated by the destruction of their homeland, the nezumi were reduced to scattered tribes, eeking out a comparatively pitiful existence amidst the ruins of what were once their home.
The culture of the nezumi is, fundamentally, tribal, with a loose caste-esque system (called "Niche") revolving around the various roles needed to keep the tribe surviving. They are a communal-focused people, who prioritize the good of the tribe above the desires of the self. Everything the tribe has is shared equally, all deeds undertaken should benefit the tribe. This makes exile the worst punishment in nezumi society.
The most central concept of nezumi culture and behavior is the concept of "Name". This is hard to translate, but is somewhat analoguous to a combination of Honor and Soul. It conveys a nezumi's sense of identity, its strength of character, its role within the tribe, and the deeds one has accomplished.
This is so important because the nezumi don't have a concept of an afterlife; the spirit lives on only so long as its Name is remembered - either as a symbol of the great things they accomplished in life, or as a reminder of the wrongs they did. Mediocrity is thusly a path to "true" death in the eyes of the nezumi, whilst having "Bad Name" is an inspiration for many nezumi to take up wild quests in pursuit of redemption.
Incidentally, this means that seppuku baffles the nezumi; to destroy yourself, to take your own life? That is the sign of a pitifully weak Name, one worthy of being remembered only as a lesson of what not to do, especially if you did it because somebody else told to do it. Even the rare nezumi who seek to understand the Code of Bushido usually think seppuku is nonsensical, they just have the respect to keep their opinion to themselves.
As mentioned above, nezumi tribes are communalistic, placing no value on personal possessions; the belongings of a tribe's members are expected to be shared for the good of the tribe, and stealing or hoarding are bad deeds that demand punishment.
This doesn't mean that nezumi don't understand what theft is, as many Rokugani assume. Instead, the nezumi view of theft is based upon their pragmatism and tribal culture: stealing from outsiders is no crime - getting caught doing so, that's another story. Furthermore, having no belief in either afterlife or kami, the Rokugan beliefs of grave-goods and shrine offerings make no sense to the nezumi; the dead don't need physical goods anymore, and the gods certainly don't need material goods. As such, they have no qualms about looting the dead or shrines.
That said, practicality rules; nezumi "scrounge" only what they need and then move on. Furthermore, they rarely steal from allies; friendship is a far greater benefit to the tribe than a few physical goods. Nezumi only openly steal from friends or allies if that friendship comes to an end.
Unlike the Rokugan and their obsession with lineage, the tribes of nezumi take a more practical viewpoint; leadership of a tribe stems from tribal consensus, meaning that the boss is whoever is seen as wise & skillful enough to do the job right and who manages to get the other nezumi to like him or her enough to respect that. In large tribes, this leads to "pack chiefs" or "bosses", secondary chiefs who represent distinctive sub-groups within the tribe and form a council that the chief depends on to keep the tribe functioning.
Needless to say, this leads to a lot of internal politicking and subterfuge, as established chiefs have to constantly try and make themselves seem like the best choice.
Shamans occasionally come to rule tribes, and are unquestioned when they do so, but the irony is that the strong code of ethics needed to work nezumi magic doesn't mesh well with the underhanded political tactics needed to run a tribe. As such, shamans usually serve as neutral advisors to whoever's in charge at the moment.
That said, because of the tendency for a nezumi's life to be short, brutal and dangerous, those who survive into old age are considered valuable tribal resources. Indeed, old age is synoymous with strong Name, and the more elders that a tribe has and can support, the more successful that tribe is judged to be by other nezumi. Their advice has great impact on the decision-making of the tribe, and ignoring it, whilst allowed, is seen as reckless.
Such is the reverence that nezumi have for their elders that they strive to never leave them behind; the oldest are carried in litters, and being chosen for this role is seen as a matter of great pride - an elder's litter-bearer is, to a degree, sharing that elder's Name. As such, elder chieftains are usually borne about their tribe's bosses, whilst elder shamans are normally carried by their apprentices.
Unlike the war-glorifying, Honor-bond Rokugani, nezumi prize survival above all other things. This is not cowardice, they will fight when they must, but fighting is not seen as inherently glorious; to fight when you have a better alternative is foolishness in the eyes of the ratfolk. But when they must fight, then they fight with savage ferocity; a cornered nezumi will battle with berserk savagery, accepting that if it must die, then it is better to die killing those who might harm the tribe.
The lone exception to this attitude is when it comes to children. The nezumi have incredibly strong protective parental instincts; harming pups is seen as the vilest act one can engage in, and threatening them will immediately rouse any watching nezumi to bloody violence. Being granted permission to interact with the pups of a nezumi tribe is the purest gesture of friendship and trust that exists in nezumi culture, and saving a pup from danger? The grateful parents will often adopt the stranger who performs such a great deed into their tribe - even humans have won respect in this fashion.
Because of their belief in surviving being more glorious than battle, nezumi have a... complicated... relationship with fear. This race has no word for "coward" and in fact regards fear as a symbol of strength; bravery is good, but fear is also good, because it ensures that you know your limitations. Bravery is made more valuable because it means you have the strength to overcome your fear and act contrary to what it tells you.
There are a minority of nezumi who are born with no fear instincts; these individuals are carefully shepherded and used as nursery guards and as disposable berserkers.
The nezumi are on... uncertain grounds with the humans of Rokugan. They face huge prejudice due to their appearance, territories and culture from humanity. At best, they are reluctantly tolerated; at worst, they are hunted as monsters. Most Rokugani look upon them as being little better than - or even worse than - the ronin. The stories the nezumi tell of their past are treated almost as heresy by the average non-Crab Rokugani, for it challenges their belief in their own divine supremacy and it claims that ogres, trolls and goblins are not spawned of evil, but natural races who have been completely consumed by the Taint of the Shadowlands.
The Crab Clan is unique for having a solid, peaceful relationship. The two races fight side-by-side in the Shadowlands and on its borders, and many Crabs have earned adoption into a nezumi tribe. There are even rumors of some nezumi being adopted into Crab families, though the Crab deny them. Whilst they cannot openly challenge the Imperial attitude towards the nezumi, the Crab does what it can to ensure the protection and fair treatment of their most steadfast allies.
The Crane Clan is typical in that it regards the nezumi as barbarians at best, Tainted at worst. The Crane's wealth attracts nezumi thieves like a moth to a flame, and even the normally peaceful Asahina family has a strong distaste for the ratfolk due to their tendencies to rob graves ad loot shrines.
The Dragon Clan are on surprisingly good terms with the nezumi. Their wandering ise zumi do not judge the nezumi for their differences and have even been known to adopt some of their customs; as such, they are welcomed into nezumi lands with open arms. That said, the nezumi prefer to avoid the mountain strongholds of the Clan proper.
The Lion Clan and the nezumi are deeply opposed to each other, for their interpretations of bravery are in complete opposition. The Lions regard the ratfolk as the basest cowards and thieves, and the nezumi, in return, will flee a Lion samurai as if they had just come face-to-face with a rampaging oni.
The Phoenix Clan is, uniquely, indifferent to the nezumi; they just don't know anything about them and so ignore them. As a whole, the Phoenix aren't even aware that there's a nezumi tribe living in their own territory.
The Scorpion Clan are the other Great Clan to be actually on very good terms with the nezumi; they've secretly been allied to some nezumi tribes for centuries. Even the Crab CLan is unaware of this, for the Scorpions have long put on a masterful show of persecuting nezumi tribes (always enemies of their own secret allies). When the Scorpions fall from grace, their nezumi allies become indispensable for their own survival.
The Unicorn Clan are another openly hostile clan, mostly because their beloved horses display an unnatural hostility to the ratfolk - what neither race knows is that this is a side-effect of the nezumi's pheromone glands. The Otaku family enjoys hunting the nezumi, and so the ratfolk avoid Unicorn territory as best they can. That said, the Ide family quietly maintain relations with a few small tribes, whose speed, stealth and endurance allows them to easily cross the open dunes of the Burning Sands and makes them a great use in communicating with the Moto and other groups from the remote lands beyond Rokugan.
Of the Imperial Families, the Hantei defined the original Imperial policy of treating the nezumi as just another Shadowlands menace, the Seppun and Otomo consider the ratfolk to be beneath notice as horrible barbarians, and though the Miya believe open relations with the nezumi might benefit the empire, they're unwilling to sacrifice the political capital it would require to change such an ancient Imperial policy.
Ronins have sometimes tried to take refuge amongst nezumi tribes, and when it happens, it can often work out very well for both sides. A tribe of nezumi offers a ronin shelter, security and muscle, whilst the ronin grants the ratfolk connections to human society that they will never have.
The Brotherhood is uncertain of what to make of the Nezumi, with arguments between the various sects. Some conservative monks argue that they are aberrations and should be ignored, others hold more positive views; the Shintao sect in particular believes that the nezumi are just like humans, where it counts.
The Minor Clans generally share the opinions of their neighboring Great Clans, with a handful of exceptions. Notably, the Sparrow Clan despises the nezumi and goes out of its way to trap and kill them, an attitude not shared by the rest of the Three Man Alliance - the Fox Clan, in particular, strongly disapprove of the Sparrows' attiudes.
The nezumi's relationship with the Naga, on the other hand, is arguably worse than it is with humanity; it's rather hard for both races to get over the fact that the naga used to eat nezumi, especially as there are some naga who still want to do so. Conflict between the two is quite frequent.
For many clans, the nezumi's true enmity is reserved for all the myriad horrible creatures of the Shadowlands. They tell stories of how these lands were once their own verdant kingdom, and despise the servitors of Fu Leng for taking it from them. They wage a constant guerilla war against these monsters, hoping to one day reclaim the Shadowlands for themselves and rebuild.
Tribes Great & Small
Unlike the Rokugani, who have strictly defined links between their Great Clans and their Minor Clans, the nezumi have no such overarching hierarchy, as befits their scattered, sundered lifestyle. Tribes such as the Tattered Ears or the Squeaky Eyeballs may be larger and more well-known, but they don't have the same level of social dominance as the Great Clans of Rokugan - they're simply luckier than others.
Particularly well-known nezumi tribes consist of:
The Tattered Ear Tribe, the largest of all modern nezumi tribes, who live a lifestyle of nomadic scavengers within Rokugan proper. Their name stems from their tribal habit of ritually notching their ears to signal personal accomplishments, such as Niche, occupation and the number of litters they have helped create. They are one of the three splintered fragments of the Forever-Racing-Tomorrow Tribe, and believe that the best way for their people to survive is by becoming openly accepted into Rokugani society. This is a path that has led to both successes - their alliance with the Crab, and friendly contact with Scorpion, Falcon and Hare - but also to failures. It was the Tattered Ears who outraged the Sparrow when, due to a mistranslation by a Kuni, an attempt at forging an alliance went disastrously wrong when a Tattered Ear shaman created a fetish from the thighbone of the Sparrow daimyo's dead brother.
The Crippled Bone Tribe, a newcomer to the northern Shadowlands, aggressive and carnivorous nezumi who have been forced from their original home deeper in the Shadowlands.
The Grasping Paw Tribe, infamous amongst nezumi and humans alike for their skill at scavenging and thieving. They are particularly disconcerting to viewers for a sub-group with a unique mutated appearance; hairless, large of ears, bulging of eyes, and with pronounced fangs that make them quite hideous to most.
The Green-Green-White tribe, a mutated tribe of nezumi who have evolved into tree-ratfolk, granting them season-shifting pelts and elongated tails to better scale the trees they live in. This tribe dwells in the cold mountain forests of northern Rokugan, so adept at camouflaging their treetop-villages that the Phoenix Clan whose land they dwell upon has no idea that they're even there. Extremely xenophobic, they argue that since humans can be Tainted, they should be killed on sight - and even though nezumi can't be Tainted, they're not that much fonder of their own race. Whether or not this is responsible for their tribe's inability to produce shamans is anyone's guess.
The Chipped Tooth Tribe, a Crab-allied minor tribe related to the Third Whisker Tribe. Part of a secret experiment by the Yasuki family, they have taken to life as sailors, even going so far as to mutate the oil-heavy water-repelling pelts and webbed paws of water rats.
The Crooked Tail Tribe, a paranoid, isolated clan that splintered off from the Forever-Racing-Tomorrow Tribe. These nezumi were the first to encounter Shadow-corrupted individuals, an experience their founder narrowly survived and nearly lost his mind to. It is this terror of outsiders and their potential to be Tainted that keeps them at bay from all others, save a tentative alliance with the Falcon Clan.
The Third Whisker Tribe, a small tribe of prophets and shamans, the last splinter of the Forever-Racing-Tomorrow Tribe.
The Squeaky Eyeball Tribe, a tribe that produces some of the most avid storytellers and Rememberers of nezumi culture as a whole.
d20 PC Stats
Nezumi, D&D 3e:
- +2 Constitution, -2 Charisma
- Base Speed 40 feet
- Low-light Vision
- +2 racial bonus on Hide & Move Silently checks.
- +2 racial bonus on saving throws against Poison & Disease.
- As an unarmed strike, a nezumi can inflict 1d4 slashing damage, representing a bite or claw attack. A nezumi can only make one such attack per round.
- Keen Scent: A nezumi with Wisdom 11+ can use a Feat choice to gain the Scent ability.
- Favored Class: Rogue
In the official Legend of the Five Rings D20 setting book, the Nezumi profile was reprinted with the following tweaks:
- Immune to Shadowlands Taint: A nezumi can never acquire Taint points from any source, meaning they suffer no ill effects from exposure to the Shadowlands. Weaponized taint, such as Shadowlands creatures attacks or the Cloud of Taint spell, still affect them normally.
- Pheromones: A nezumi can use the glands near its tail to leave a single-word chemical message that can only be read by any nezumi or creature with Scent. They can also take the Improved Pheromones feat to allow them to leave complex mesages (up to twelve wors).
- Cannot learn the Void Use feat.
It also presented Nezumi subraces, representing specific tribes: all of these retain the basic Nezumi traits, except where specified.
Crippled Bone Nezumi:
Grasping Paw Nezumi:
- +2 Dexterity, -2 Charisma
Tattered Ear Nezumi:
- +2 Charisma, -2 Wisdom
- Favored Class: Any
Third Whisker Nezumi:
Comparatively little is known about nezumi of Kamigawa; unlike Rokugan, it has never received a particularly deep world-building. What little is known is that the nezumi predominantly inhabit the Takenuma swamp, although some also live on the outskirts of human cities. They have their own traditions of ninja warriors and shamanism, which they use to protect themselves, and have been known to steal from or raid humans. They are considered to be aligned with Black mana. The most well-known Kamigawan nezumi on /tg/ is probably Ink-Eyes, a female nezumi ninja who is sworn to the service of a powerful oni known as Pitlord Kuro, who taught her some basic necromancer skills.