• John J. O'Hara

Pipes of the Sewers: Why Your D&D Party Needs One


The party has recently discovered that a cult is planning an attack on the city’s bazaar. The party has been staking out the market district all week, and towards the week’s end, they spot a member of the cult lurking in the alleyways.

In order to avoid significant casualties, the party needs to clear out the bazaar immediately. The cleric, always taking the lead in these situations, hops on a barrel and begins to shout to the masses about impending doom, but he’s drowned out by the dozen or so other clerics proclaiming a similar message.

He leaps back down from the barrel and says, “We have to get their attention.”

“Even if we get their attention,” says the wizard, practical as ever, “how are we going to clear this street of hundreds of people?”

“Leave it to me,” says the bard. She digs through her bag of holding, fingers brushing over the lute, the drum, and the flute inside before finding what she was looking for: her Pipes of the Sewers.

She blows a frenetic waltz, and moments later, a wave of panic washes over the citizens gathered at the bazaar. A crush of bodies, human, dwarven, and elvenkind alike flow around the party like a stream around a stone. What’s behind the human wave? A swarm of rats.

The bard dances behind the swarm of rats as they herd the citizens to safety and the party can only stare in disbelief. Finally, the rogue breaks the silence: “I guess that’s one way to do it.”

What are Pipes of the Sewers?

If not for the rodent motifs adorning the pipes, Pipes of the Sewers would resemble any other pan flute. Up to three times per day, a character with proficiency in wind instruments can use these pipes to alter the behavior of a swarm of rats. The pipes regain 1d3 charges each day, so this item can become a permanent staple of your musical arsenal.

How Do I Craft Them?

Neither the Player’s Handbook or the Dungeon Master’s Guide provide detailed rules for crafting, so work with your Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters) to determine what exactly you need to craft this item. This Unearthed Arcana article might help. You can craft items as a downtime activity. You may be asked to complete additional quests to gather the right materials.

Those materials may include rat leather, rat bones, driftwood from the sewers, discarded musical pipes. If you get creative with possible crafting components, your QM will be better positioned to create an adventure around acquiring them.

Where Can I Buy Them?

If your Quest Master has opted to allow the purchase of magic items, your party may purchase Pipes of the Sewers for about 500 GP. Magical music stores or bardic guilds and colleges are good places to look for an item like this.

What Can I Do With Them?

Pipes of the Sewers are an extremely versatile item. You can give your Quest Master quite the headache should you demonstrate sufficient creativity. Unlike many other magic items, they don’t run out of charges, regaining 1d3 charges each day.

While a swarm of rats might not be a formidable force in combat, they are great for causing chaos and controlling space. Here are a few fun uses for this item.

Haul your stuff. Having trouble getting all that treasure out of the dungeon? Summon a swarm of rats to help you. A swarm of rats could function like a weaker version of the floating disk spell.

Shut down a restaurant. Perhaps that tavern owner who tipped you off to treasure in the Caves of Chaos was actually in cahoots with the orc tribes there and was sending you to your death. Get your revenge by playing the Pipes of the Sewers in the tavern and watch the place clear out as rats crawl out of the kitchen, bathe in bowls of stew, and crawl up trouser legs.

Clear out a crowded room. As in the example at the top of this article, the sudden appearance of a swarm of rats will certainly get that area cleared out in a hurry. Maybe, as in the above example, you need to clear out a space to keep people safe. Or perhaps you need to disrupt a meeting of the king’s advisory council or ruin an aristocrat’s ball.

How has your character made use of Pipes of the Sewers? Tell your story below!

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