The following passage is taken from the dreams of Bilfar the Diviner, who believed that secrets fled their sleeping masters every night:
A small, crawling form itched into the back of my brain, and I dreamed of its words. My dreams had caught the secrets of one called the vishkar, and it said:
Fear me. Fear my coming. What others know of me is a mask that hides my true might. They think I am vermin, those rats whose brains pulsate with bilious light. They do not know I see through the thousand eyes of my body. My body lives among them, and they do not see me.
Upon waking I had the image of the cranium rat, commonly seen in the dark corners of pestilent villages, locked into my mind. But my dream was this creature, and yet it was not. Perhaps I will dream it again.
Indeed he did dream it again, but Bilfar never lived to publish his stolen secrets. A month after he penned these words, he was dead. Perhaps his dreams caught another, darker secret, for his servant found him one morning, bled dry from a hundred tiny wounds.
COMBAT: While dangerous and unpleasant, the cranium rat in not an aggressive creature. Like most vermin, it avoids open attacks in favour of flight or ambushes. Indeed, in the latter action the cranium rat shows a cunning skill.
Cranium rats usually move in packs of ten or more. They hide in garbage or the crack of a wall until a victim ventures close and then swarm out and strike, but even then they won’t fight for long. If the victim cannot be slain or crippled in a just a few rounds, they break off and scatter in all directions, making pursuit almost impossible. Still, these actions are no different than those of most other vermin, and they are not what make the cranium rat truly dangerous. It is the slight mental prowess of these creatures that makes them truly menacing.
Individually, these creatures are little more than clever vermin, but cranium rats are seldom encountered singly. They’re many creatures and one creature all at once, as they possess a type of group mind. A cranium rat is automatically in telepathic contact with every other such creature within 10 feet, which allows them to share not just thoughts, but also brain capacity – every five rats in contact generate 1 point of Intelligence. Thus, one to four rats have no more than animal intelligence (1 point). Add another rat and the group becomes semi-intelligent (2 points). Fifty rats in a single area have the intelligence of an average person (10), while 100 rats in close quarters would be frightening (20 Intelligence)! Theoretically there is no upper limit to the group mind, but no packs have been found with an Intelligence higher than 20 or so. Perhaps with overpopulation comes metaphysical insight, such that these creatures ascend to a higher level of existence. Or perhaps overpopulation brings about a sudden decrease in their numbers. With increasing Intelligence comes increasing powers.
HABITAT/SOCIETY: So continues Bilfar’s notes:
The vishkar’s secrets flee it at night, arriving piecemeal for my studies. Where they come from I cannot tell – there are too many images of too many places – but in all of these there is a common thread. It is a pulsing green vein that is the cord to a master who steals secrets from others. I am forced to guess that the vishkar is an agent of Ilsensine, the great god-brain of the illithids. Vishkar is the eyes and ears of its lord, gathering in all it sees and hears to please that ravenous power. A thousand eyes gather a thousand scenes all at once.
Curious, I inquired with travellers and caravan masters about the extent of the cranium rat. I myself have seen them in Sigil, and I am told they are not uncommon in the Lower Planes.
I have seen myself in my own dreams, asking and re-asking these questions. There are also dreams of packs searching me out. Are these the dreams of my mind, or secrets I have captured? Even my philosophies fail me here, but I think precautions are necessary.
ECOLOGY: Cranium rats subsit on a diet only slightly more carnivorous than the normal rat. The extent and purpose of their powers and held closely secret, lest Ilsensine’s instruments be exposed. Those who discover the true purpose of the cranium rats are under sentence of swift and terrible death.