[RPG] a “bag of rats”


I have seen the term "bag of rats" being used quite frequently (RPG.se search for bag of rats, for example), mainly, but not exclusively, in D&D. It seems to be considered a problem or exploit.

What is it, where does it come from and how do you deal with it?

Best Answer


The original "bag of rats" trick was a thought experiment in third edition Dungeons and Dragons involving the feats Great Cleave and Whirlwind Attack, which proceeded about as follows:

  • Whirlwind Attack lets you attack everything next to you once.
  • Great Cleave lets you chain a killing blow into a follow-up attack as many times as you want.
  • Therefore, if you are engaged with a difficult target and surround yourself with arbitrarily many things that are easy to kill, you can get arbitrarily many follow-up attacks when your Whirlwind Attack kills them.

The "bag of rats" was how you surrounded yourself in this way - carrying around a bag of untamed rats and dumping it out.


This takes advantage of an assumption made by the designers: that killing blows would be comparatively rare events, and therefore any mechanical benefits from striking a killing blow could be given an absolute value. In the case of Great Cleave, the benefit was a follow-up attack.

In the general case, a "bag of rats" is a collection of notionally hostile but essentially helpless targets, used to safely acquire any mechanical benefits gained from hitting or killing an enemy at a trivial additional risk.


Fourth edition D&D, with its many tactical powers and benefits on hit, ultimately just advised the DM that they shouldn't let powers grant these benefits if the PCs are trying to hit something that the DM doesn't consider a threat. That's ultimately where this has to be stopped - an arbitrary DM call with no mechanical absolutes.

You can try to intercept this at a higher level - like "that's a swarm of rats, effectively a single creature, whirlwind hits it once" - but that still leaves the door open. The benefits are there for hitting and killing opposition the DM put there, not for arbitrary player-declared targets.