The D&D Emporium: Pipes of the Sewers
The D&D Emporium is a series dedicated to exploring magic items found in The Dungeon Master's Guide and offering advice for how a Dungeon Master can introduce them into their campaign setting.
What Are Pipes of the Sewers?
This set of pipes resembles a pan flute decorated with images of small rodents. A character with proficiency in wind instruments can use Pipes of the Sewers up to three times per day to alter the behavior of a swarm of rats. The pipes never permanently run out of charges, but they can be used only three times per day, and they regain 1d3 charges each day.
How Much Do They Cost?
An uncommon wondrous item, the market value of Pipes of the Sewers ranges from 100 to 500 GP. If there are no magic item vendors in your world, players can craft them as a downtime activity for 500 GP in materials.
What Do They Do?
Playing the Pipes of the Sewers can have a variety of effects on normal and giant rats. The flutist can cause a swarm of rats to become indifferent, and they can summon a friendly swarm of rats to do their bidding.
Will They Break My Game?
Due to the open-ended nature of the item’s powers, creative players will likely give you a headache with a set of these, but ultimately it’s up to you as the Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters) to decide whether or not there are enough rats within range to form a swarm. Besides, the CR of a multitude of rats is only 1/4, so it’s not like they’re summoning a horde of wererats.
Where Might the Party Have Seen Them?
If you’ve run “Against the Giants” from Tales from the Yawning Portal, chances are your players have come across a set. Like the Chime of Opening, they might also be found at bardic colleges and guilds or magical music stores. In a high-magic setting, the local pest control authorities might keep the rat population in check by training and equipping their workers with this item.
Where Can They Be Obtained?
Rumor has it that centuries ago, a piper, responding to the mayor’s call for a rat-catcher, danced through the streets of the city playing his pipes, luring the rats to the river to drown. Stories about the piper abducting the city’s children when the mayor refused to pay for his services are greatly exaggerated, but the stories of a set of pipes with magical rat-controlling properties being among his burial hoard are not.
Where and How Are They Made?
The pipes illustrated in the Dungeon Master’s Guide feature a leather strap with a little rat charm connected to the end. Ingredients for Pipes of the Sewers might include a rat taxidermied by a gnomish master of the art and a strap made from giant rat leather. Perhaps the pipes themselves must be carved out of the hollowed-out bones of a legendary enormous rat.
Bardic guilds might also craft these items, assigning their lowest-ranking members to rat-catching duties. Strains of squeaky novice flute-playing can be heard from the guildhall’s basement all night long.
How About a Different Way?
In one of my past campaigns, an early antagonist of the party was the mysterious “Rat King,” a denizen of the sewers thought to be an urban legend. He merely turned out to be an indolent wizard who ferried himself around the sewers on a palanquin of rats, basically crowd surfing on the rodent swarm that he controlled with a set of Pipes of the Sewers.
There are, however, more devious applications for this item. Rats, of course, are notorious for spreading disease. An evil, musically-inclined druid who hates civilization and longs to see the cities emptied of humans (and other sentient races) and reconquered by nature could use this item to summon a swarm of disease-ridden rats to depopulate a dense urban area.
A mischievous antagonist could also use a swarm of rats to wreak havoc on a village’s food supply or to cause a riot at a crowded bazaar. Rats alone don’t pose much of a threat to an adventuring party, but they can create a great deal of trouble to people, places, and things the PCs care about.
A rival bard could also prank the party by replacing the PC bard’s pipes with Pipes of the Sewers. This said rival could also sell the party Pipes of the Sewers under false pretenses, claiming that they are just a fine set of mundane pipes. Instead of attracting customers to the local tavern, the bard’s performance will only draw a swarm of rats.
Pipes of the Sewers could also be used to give some flavor to a high-magic setting. Since the person using the pipes can issue commands to their obedient swarm, bards in a wondrously magical city might entertain the populace with a revue consisting of rats performing tricks and dancing to music.
This is just one of the many magic items in Dungeons & Dragons that is often overlooked but has a variety of applications. What are some of the creative ways you’ve used Pipes of the Sewers in one of your campaigns?