Tuesday, November 9, 2021

"Rat City"

White Center also garnered a new nickname during the war: Rat City. The possible origins of this name are diverse. The local wartime military establishment was called the Reserve Army Training Center or the Recruitment and Training Center, depending on who tells the story. Often the military would designate an area out-of-bounds for servicemen, and these areas were designated Restricted Alcohol Territory. Some people recall that the youth at the Southgate Skate Center were known as rink rats. Whatever the source, the name Rat City was coined and stuck, and many in White Center hang on to the moniker with pride. Rodents had nothing to do with it.

Great food, mild weather and a prime waterfront location have long guaranteed Seattle a spot among America’s top cities. Unfortunately, that appeal also extends to some less desirable neighbors, so much so that the Seattle-Tacoma region placed ninth on a 2017 ranking of America’s top 50 rodent-infested towns; specifically, rats. “Rats have been a problem forever in Seattle,” says Jeff Weier, technical director for Sprague Pest Solutions, a Tacoma-based company that proudly notes “90 years of kicking pests in the tail.” 

Weier saw rats when he moved here in the ’80s, but lately, it seems the problem has grown. “I’m not sure exactly why,” he says, though he speculates that development plays a role. “There used to be open fields and lots everywhere and they’re all being filled in with homes,” he says. In other words, rodents that once lived here have essentially been displaced. “And, of course, when we build in their environment, we invite them in, basically.

I am my own worst enemy. I throw down a challenge to folks and then I spend the next week researching rats (various species, including the "giant" Sumatran rat found in the Monster Manual...spoiler: not that giant...as well as real prehistoric monsters): gestation habits, food consumption, average nest size, etc. as I work on creating my own "adventure" for the event. After all, it's not fair to toss a gauntlet you're unwilling to pick up yourself. Need to make sure the thing is possible, right?

Normal rat skull on
the right; coryphomis 
skull on the left.
But why do I say "worst enemy?" Because what I should be doing is working on either A) my own campaign world (specifically the region my players are exploring), or B) one of the (multiple) adventure rewrites I'm already embroiled in, or C) finishing up one of my other book projects already in the hopper. Ah, how the mind wanders...yesterday I spent a good chunk of hours using google translate to painstakingly decipher a map written in German (yes, this was also rat-related). *sigh

Ah well. At least my enemy is one that I can somewhat control...that's a good thing, even if it's (at times) a frustrating one. 

White Center is a neighborhood of Seattle, somewhat located within the locale of the area known as "West Seattle" (just south of West Seattle proper). One thing people from other parts of the world might not understand is just how "broken up" the city is by various bodies of water (large lakes and the Sound). These days, of course, it's all joined together by a variety of spans and bridges, including multiple interstate highways, but that wasn't the case a century ago. The first West Seattle bridge wasn't constructed until 1924, for example, and folks who find it a bitch to get there these days (as I do) would have needed a boat or ferry to cross the water prior to that (unless you wanted to drive a hella' long way). West Seattle is still "Seattle" but it has its own population and idiosyncrasies...and its own reputation (generally a rather snobbish one given the price of the real estate). 

White Center, AKA "Rat City" also has a reputation, and not a very flattering one. Part of this has its history in being "rough and tumble" (in the neighborhood's early days, it was outside of Seattle law enforcement jurisdiction and so had a substantial criminal element). Part of it has to do with the lower income of the neighborhood's residents (compared to other parts of Seattle, property values in White Center have been low). Part of it is due in no small part to the diverse, non-white population of the area...because of the low property values, people of color and foreign immigrants from around the world have settled the area in droves, and the neighborhood's demographics reflect that (as do all the usual racist stereotypes). Of course, in recent years White Center has become yet another fast-growing, affluence-rising neighborhood of Seattle...in ten years it'll look just as gentrified and boutique as Capitol Hill or the Central District or anywhere else in this town (if it doesn't already...like I said, it's a bitch to get over to West Seattle for folks that live on this side, and I haven't been there in years). The pride some folks take in being from "Rat City" probably just comes off as bewildering to the new "tech money" that's started taking over the area.

[man, I am turning into such a crusty old-timer!]

ANYway...White Center's land area puts it on a scale comparable to a small medieval town (the walled variety...see why I need the German translations?) which...because this is D&D...makes it a good fit for my campaign and the adventure I'm writing. White Center's nickname is, of course, the inspiration that drew me to the neighborhood in the first place (duh...rat-themed, right?). Right now, I'm looking at an area with about 30 keyed areas, and (possibly) several "sub-levels" all contained in a walled village about 7 miles distant from Sea-Town proper. I'm pretty confident I can get it done by the end of the month...assuming I can pen some passable maps.

I do, however, feel some slight trepidation or nervousness at the prospect. This adventure represents my first foray into King County (the county in which lies Seattle)...an area of my campaign setting that I have, to date, avoided detailing. Heck, other than my Ravenloft-inspired vampire castle in Port Angeles, I haven't even ventured west of the Cascades...and neither have my players. Not only is there PLENTY to do in Eastern Washington (we haven't even gotten to the Red Empire of Spokane), I want to keep the greater Seattle area (and the east-siders of Hell View, er, Bellevue) a mysterious entity of rumor and speculation. Which is, I understand, ridiculous...any city that large should have multiple KNOWN facts (along with preposterous rumors) readily available to the local yokels in all parts of the region. But...well, I've been blessed with PCs who are more focused on the immediate adventures at hand, allowing me to safely backburner any nailing down of Seattle's "factuality" (is that a word?).

All right, that's enough for now. Hope folks are having a happy Tuesday. If you ARE writing a ratty adventure, best of luck to you...you still have 21 days (that's three weeks!); I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with.
; )


  1. The odd coincidence of your competition is that in the run-up of COP26 here in Glasgow there's been a political bun fight about the cleanliness of the city. Rats have featured prominently and there's been lots of heated discussions about whether we're particularly bad for them. As it turns out we are not, but that doesn't make the politics of the situation any less heated.

    Against this I'm formulating ideas about entering your competition but right now I'm struggling to come up with a big plan that's different enough. A handful of individual rat-themed encounters but no grander idea.

    1. It's tough, right? Yeah, the "original rat concept" piece is definitely the toughest part of the challenge. But I'd take "well-executed, non-boring" over originality most days of the week.

      Maybe something with whimsy? The three-headed mouse-king of The Nutcracker? Some sort of rat-vs-cat conflict? An enchanted rat fairy tale adventure (the Princess Rat!)?

      Jeez, I'd think Scotland would have SOME sort of ratty folk tale to rip off...
      ; )

  2. Speaking of maps, I actually thought that the rat skull image above was a dungeon map...

  3. This was a fun read, because I spent about two years living in Delridge, which is as far south as you can go in West Seattle before you leave the city. White Center is technically an "unincorporated urban area" so they do weird things like use plastic bags still and have fast food restaurants.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: your campaign setting sounds awesome, and Washington is very well suited to D&D!

    1. Thanks, Jason. Yeah, as it develops, I'll be sure to post more about it.
      : )

      My college girlfriend was from West Seattle (grew up down the block from the bowling alley there on 39th). I spent a lot of time over there in my 20s.

  4. I started working on a concept, but the surrounding area and it's politics would've taken up more room than the location proper. So I ditched it for a more manageable one, hopefully it hasn't been done in soe White Dwarf issue 30 years ago :D