The ratmen of Southern Caheb are not – contrary to popular belief – just simple minded beasts. They do possess a lot of the attributes their former form used to possess such as learned skills and physical and mental attributes. A good tracker turned to ratman is a ratman with an above average skill in tracking. So it follows that in packs of ratmen the individual shapechangers automatically assume tasks in which they can use their skills most. There are also known cases of ratmen packs that are composed of only ratmen that excel in a particular task. That’s why there exists hunter packs and warrior packs. Some of these are formed ad hoc to meet some special circumstance and some are predominantly stable groups. All this indicates in certainty that individual ratmen and packs of them are able to share information between them and react to this information. If a large beast is threatening the land, ratmen packs might collectively form a warrior pack composed of the best combatants of each group and send that pack to finish off the beast. Although this is pure conjecture, it’s possible that a – yet to be determined – sixth sense or instinct or some such force controls the packs to co-operate.
Most ratmen have superior hearing and olfactory organs compared to humans. Although their perception is much narrower and specific. For example their brains are not really interested if a carcass has passed it’s “best before” date and as such ratmen do not find eating rotten carcasses as dangerous or repulsive. In the same vein they can smell certain natural scents from a distance far greater than any human could – be it blood, urine, smoke even sweat. When their superior senses are combined with adept skills inherited from their former selves, some ratmen are exceptionally superior trackers and hunters. To the extent that they find humans easy prey as well. Not a common incident since local human communities know how to deal with ratmen but an incident nevertheless. Something to be taken into account when moving through areas that are infested with ratmen packs.
The rat shapechangers of southern Caheb area are also collectively known as Ratmen. In actuality the creatures are not shapechangers at all. Once they have undergone the change to rat-like humanoid creatures, they stay that way until they die. Usually. There does exist reported cases throughout southern Caheb of ratmen that have somehow been cured of their ratlike state and been returned to their former shape and state. However, they are not many and the whole experience seem to be so hard on the body that they usually do not live happily ever after but instead die of some mysterious illness.
The ratmen that have been exiled from their former communities usually form packs. Some of these packs turn into nasty bunches of thieving bandits and general nuisances. These packs do not fear anything and have turned into effective and mean fighting units. Individual ratmen may not be much of an opposition to an armored knight, but a pack of dozen will rip the said knight apart and eat him alive. A pack of about two dozen ratmen have been known to develop very complex and effective combat tactics and the ratmen communicate in combat by short and high-pitched sounds not unlike the sounds made by actual rats. They are apparently capable of conveying complex messages in a very short time by using this language. Most can still speak the languages they used to know formerly, but the changes in their physiology make this speech strainous, slow and somewhat strangely intonated.
Ratmen are not lycanthropes. Their bite, scratches from their nails or saliva or whatnot does not spread a curse of shapechanging. Strangers to the land often believe them to be cursed by lycanthropy, but the locals know better. But they do spread other kinds of diseases: their teeth and nails are often a cesspool of nasty bacteria that will cause all sorts of infections to whoever they happen to wound. This is usually just a byproduct of their general uncleanliness and dietary which resemble that of actual rats. Rotting carcasses and moldy fruits are fine dining to ratmen.
The Rat Shapechangers of Caheb are not a race to their own, but former elves, humans, halflings and even dwarves. Living in the lush paradises of southern Caheb between the mountains and the sea, the creatures have been part of the land for possibly centuries – perhaps even longer. The shapechangers do not lose their intelligence, but their mental faculties are permanently altered to a more beast-like mind set. They act much more instinctively and have superior hearing and olfactory sense than their former form ever had.
Many shapechangers adorn clothing not unlike they used to wear in their original form and most use weapons and tools as good as any humanoid creatures. However, they no longer possess the patience to make such stuff so everything they have is either stolen, looted, pillaged or given to them by groups of people who worship them. It’s not unheard of that entire fishing villages are worshippers of the creatures and they give them food, weapons, clothing and other items out of either fear or respect or whatever.
The island of Myrna is the center of magical studies and magic in Cresia. Sorcerers from Myrna are without comparison in skill and in variety of magical disciplines. The reasons for this is that the island itself is a center area of magical power in Cresia. The southern areas of Caheb are similarly affected by residual magical power, but in Caheb the manifestations of this power are different, volatile, seasonally amplified and with an apparently evil streak.
The Rat Shapechangers of Caheb are just one manifestation of the powers at work. They are solely found in remote areas of southern Caheb where the mountains lower to the sea. The initial shapechanging process is unknown and mostly affects only inhabitants of smaller villages who have spent their entire lives there. In some areas fishing and farming communities may suffer even a 10% population loss due to their people turning into shapechangers. Some of the shapechangers live among their families, but most become too violent and irrational to be tolerated as part of their former community. They are rarely killed and usually just banished from their homes to live a life of solitary vagrancy. Some form packs of shapechangers that loot and pillage.