Sàlve, my friends! It is I, Lucano Volpe. A patrician of the city of Moredo and an explorer of modest fame. After returning from a sojourn to the Brilliant East, I did have the occasion to step from Midgard onto Yggdrasil itself and there met the curious squirrel-folk who inhabit the twisting branches. Herein, and with following missives, I shall relate distinctly what I beheld, and what I heard from trusted others, concerning the ratatosk. (—Lucano Volpe)
Inspired by Norse mythology, specifically the Poetic Edda, the ratatosk are celestial humanoid squirrels who dwell in the extraplanar environment of the World Tree. Ratatosks are insatiable gossips and tricksters whose joy in gathering secrets is only eclipsed by their delight in spreading those gathered morsels of gossip in mischievous ways.
The squirrel-folk build fortified towers and sprawling tree cities in secret nooks or suspended beneath the vast branches of Yggdrasil. In most squirrel-folk communities, 70% of the population is the tiny-sized ekorre(or ratatosk, see Tome of Beasts) and 25% are their larger cousins, the tradvakt(or ratatosk warlord, see Creature Codex). The last 5% are a few lesser subraces, but these are seldom seen by outsiders.
In the byways of Yggdrasil, ratatosk often act as guides, leading planar travelers, though it is not uncommon to find squirrel-folk offering their services as couriers, thieves, or even spies. The tradvakt do not possess the planar connection of the ekorre, so they prefer using their martial skills to guard the ratatosk communities or provide protection for travelers.
Ratatosk the Clever
The squirrel-folk believe they descend from Ratatosk, the first of their kind and namesake of their race. According to the myths, the wily and sly Ratatosk stole the World Tree seed from the gods and buried it at the very center of the multiverse where it grew large enough to hold the various planes in its branches.
For much of the early ages of the world, Ratatosk ran up and down Yggdrasill, carrying messages and insults between Nidhogg, the serpent gnawing at the tree’s roots, and the mighty eagle perched upon the highest branch. From time to time, the clever squirrel acted as messenger for the gods, but he rarely delivered a missive unembellished. Even today, some of the gods show great reluctance in entrusting messages with his descendants while others think it provides great comedy. The squirrel-folk continue to honor Ratatosk with an almost deific fervor.
The incessant chattering of the ratatosk is not mere animalistic nattering: it is a complex web of interconnected messages relayed from squirrel-folk to squirrel-folk. Their ability to use the message spell at will provides the core of this celestial gossip network. As described in the infamous Nine Chthonic Papuri of Heknusret the Temerarious (see Warlock 9: The World Tree), the ratatosk visit the eagle at the top of the World Tree each day to exchange the latest news, rumors, and scuttlebutt. These titbits flow from ratatosk to ratatosk and from them to the eagle itself in a never-ending cycle of gossip. Any traveler who wishes to learn the latest goings-on needs but ask a ratatosk. However, the little creatures cannot help but elaborate their news to make the stories better for their audience. This even extends to two listeners standing side by side. Each might hear vastly different accounts from the same ratatosk, which often leads to arguments, misunderstands, and even fighting.
Role in a Campaign
Ratatosks are divine figures who dwell on Yggdrasil itself, so their traditional role of messenger or guide seemingly takes on a divine countenance. They can act as the focus of a quest—perhaps a tidbit of information needed by the heroes is known to a particular ratatosk—or as is often the case, perhaps a ratatosk went just a bit too far and shared the wrong bit of gossip with the wrong person and now needs rescue. The squirrel-folk can appear at the end of a quest as well. After defeating a major foe, perhaps a ratatosk appears to deliver important information from a divine patron or a well-deserved reward from a mysterious benefactor.
If the GM needs a twist—or an amusing side story—the ratatosk can provide. Perhaps after the heroes learn some critical bit of information, a ratatosk arrives to convince them to share the lore. Of course, if denied, the ratatosk are not above nicking an importing looking scroll or item left unguarded.
There are many stories to be told of the ratatosk:
- The great Library of Friula has a squirrel problem. Ratatosk raiders plague the stacks and halls of the library, stealing books and scrolls only to return them to the shelves altered with exaggerated facts and outright lies. Keeper Lynnean Verdia is desperate. Can the PCs delve into the endless stacks to stop this scurry of squirrel-folk before the entire library is hopelessly edited?
- An audacious ratatosk thief steals a scroll of forgotten wisdom from the wrong mark. With too many foes on her trail, the sly squirrel-folk hires the PCs to escort her to the Black Cyprus World Tree, west of Verrayne. Of course, she neglects to mention the scroll’s owner is the Lord of Demon Mountain himself!
Next time, we will delve deeper into ratatosk culture and society.
Until then, my friends, stay squirrelly!