Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Bubonic Plague, Rats

There’s nothing in the BXCMI indexes about diseases (maybe it’s in those and I just missed it), nor is there in the OSRIC index. I couldn’t find anything about them in the three OD&D books, but Supplement II (Blackmoor) has some wonderful diseases referenced, thirteen of them exactly, and AD&D (1e) has about two pages in the DMG about them.

Here I’m concerned with diseases that rats can carry. Since Wagstaff and his friends have been playing with them lately (ok, “exterminating”), and since Wagstaff was bit and contracted a disease (nice work, 5% chance), I was interested in exactly what he’d gotten from the poor beast...

Although I like the generality of the 1e DMG rules, I was looking for something a little more specific, to be able to inform the player of more exactly what he was diagnosed with (if he indeed seeks professional, ie. clerical help), if for nothing else.

Blackmoor is more specific and was what I was looking for really, being generally lazy. What, if any, diseases were listed there that could be picked up from being in direct or indirect contact with these giant rats he’d encountered?

Only one, in fact, although I’ll have to remember to roll for a 1% chance of contracting “Crud” as listed there, following each dungeon experience. Bubonic plague is listed, and the chance of contracting this would be 1% too, with a 90% chance of infecting anyone he comes in contact with in the following 1-20 days or so, depending on how you read the chart there. Exposure to fleas is required, but given the carrying of the carcasses to the flour mill owner to prove their deed for payment, I’m inclined to up that number from 1% a tad, to say 10% (more?). I mean, wouldn’t those fleas just be jumping ship as soon as their host was dead? So what we have here is a potential plague in the town, all because some uppity adventuring types thought they could fulfill a request for assistance with a little rat problem. Blackmoor states that the fatality rate is 35%. Since there were 5 party members present for the rat battle and carcass carrying (why didn’t you leave them there man?!?), that means that there’s a 50% chance someone got it. And if someone got it, there’s only a 10% chance that each of the others don’t get it! Which here amounts to a 2.5% chance that someone else in the party doesn’t get it. And if they do get it, the chances of the others not getting it get even worse! Wow. I don’t know what Arneson based those numbers on, but if they are remotely accurate, no wonder the Black Plague knocked off so many people.

On the bright side, if you get it and live you’re immune for life. Yay! Best to get this early in your dungeoneering career, I imagine. The exposure possibilities should be fairly good. Anyone working for Claude probably stands a good chance of contracting this at some point.

So the chance of dying due to bubonic plague in this instance, amounts to an average of uh, what? Gods I hate math. I mean, I love it, but I in practice I hate it. I asked a couple of folks on an IRC channel about this and either got the brush off or they were stumped. Anyone? Just curious... I mean, speaking of gambling here recently, I wonder just what the party’s odds were in accepting this business arrangement, esp. given their 100gp total pay (100/5=20gp each, eesh). Sadly, they didn’t complete the job, and were paid only 50gp total, and their odds of contracting the Black Plague were not diminished relatively.

With all that said, Wagstaff was bitten by one of the rats, not infected indirectly via fleas. So maybe that’s another post entirely.


David The Archmage said...

Unless the village goes into serious lock down, everyone is going to get it from someone. So... the chances of getting it and dying are probably... 35%! This isn't taking into account any priests with cure disease, or even wizards with a cleaning cantrip to kill the fleas.

David The Archmage said...

Also this might be of interest to you - http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/2009/11/love-in-time-of-clerics.html

Don Snabulus said...

That's why I always have characters from Gamma World travel in time to force vaccinations on all D&D realms.

ze bulette said...

That's a great link over to greyhawkgrognard that I'd missed, thanks David. I like your 35% answer, someone else had said the same thing, and it makes a lot of sense unless the party is somehow locked in a room for 20 days or so. I guess it comes down to whether or not I would want to limit exposure to just the party or allow it to extend to everyone they came in contact with (and radically change the direction of the larger campaign). Who knew Pandora's box was in the basement of the flour mill?

Timeshadows said...

--I recommend Camus' The Plague


biopunk said...

Assuming the rats did have the bubonic plague, I'm thinking your rat-clearing party had a much higher chance than just 10% of infection. The hundreds of fleas would have attempted to feed on them (or their horses, if they had any...) pretty quickly after the host rats had died. 2-6 days to incubate the disease in the new host, then let the saving throws and spell casting begin in earnest!

But things aren't all gloom and doom: "...investigation of the epidemiology of plague in an early modern German town revealed curious islands of resistance among smiths and coopers. The nocturnal habits of the rat go hand in hand with exceptionally sensitive hearing; if the German evidence has been completely understood, rats avoided places where they would have been subjected to the frequent —but irregular— noise of hammering."

Praise be to the Hammer!

I gleaned that bit of info here:

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