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This is my first question and I hope I didn't go beyond the scope of this forum.

I am working on an amateur tabletop role-playing game, and I'm wondering how to make clothing & architecture feel more real/plausible (within the vague constraints of the setting).


The Setting

Inspired by the mechanics of Blades in the Dark, it's going to be a heist-focused RPG set in a fantasy city inspired by late-medieval, early-Renaissance italian coastal cities, with an economy heavily based on sea trade.

However

It's also a vaguely anthropomorphized animal world. Think Mouse Guard, think Redwall. The players will play bipedal rodent characters, such as mice, rats, squirrels, etc. Humans don't exist in this world, so there aren't humans ruins or items to be found (like we see in Scurry), nor animal/human interactions (like we see in Mrs Frisby & the Rats of NIMH).

I want the animals to be as little humanized as possible, while still having access to swords, housing and clothing (and the dexterity necessary for this kind of craftsmanship); meaning I want more Watership Down than Redwall in the worldbuilding (and, to further the comparison to Watership Down, I plan to create animal cultures based on how they might emerge for these animals in the real world, but that is a question for another time). But in that resides a vagueness that may render the question unanswerable...

The Question(s?)

What kind of raw materials would these rodents realistically use for clothing?

From what I've seen in works of fiction, there are two main ways to clothe mice:

  1. The Mouse Guard/Redwall way, where fabric exists, and there is no real explanation as to why.
  2. The Mausritter way, where these kind of items are looted from human sources.

Neither really fits in my setting. So I'm trying to figure out how it may work.

I can't find a bug or mouse-sized equivalent to sheep, so I don't really see how wool clothing could happen. There might be leather, but that would mean hunting other animals for their skin, which I can't imagine mice doing (maybe rats). So all that remains is fabric: would threaded/braided/woven vegetal material be possible to create cloaks, pants, etc. Would cotton be a useful ressource? Or some kind of grass and/or vine?

Thank you very much!

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    $\begingroup$ I like the underlying worldbuilding problem here, but it is important on this site to only ask one question per question!. Pick one of clothing or building, and you can get some useful answers, but otherwise your question risks being closed as too unfocussed. $\endgroup$ Apr 22 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Thank you for your input! I've recentered the question on clothing rather than both clothing & building/architecture. $\endgroup$
    – Flocon
    Apr 22 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ Why can't you imagine tool using mice hunting other animals for leather? Real-world mice are omnivorous and hunt/scavenge meat as well as plant matter for nutrients, tool-using mice could up their ambitions considerably, the same way tool-using humans hunted bison, mammoths, whales... $\endgroup$ Apr 22 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 I thought mice were exclusively herbivores, feeding solely on grain & fruit. In the case of omnivorous mice, it would entirely make sense for tool using mice to hunt (though that would raise some questions of ethics & change what place mice have in this world: in Mouse Guard for example, though mice fight and kill animals, it's never for food or clothing but to defend themselves–they remain overall prey in a dangerous world where a lot of animals are out to get them). It highlights how poorly I researched the topic before coming here. Thanks for your much needed comment :) $\endgroup$
    – Flocon
    Apr 22 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, there are actually very few obligate herbivores out there as compared to obligate carnivores. (Obligate meaning they're biologically restricted to that sort of diet.) Some do exist, like koalas or some sloths, but most herbivores are facultative herbivores: while they largely subsist on plants, they can eat and digest meat for nutrition to a degree, and will feed on meat if they have access to it. Omnivores, in contrast, are usually considered to be animals that have basically no preference, though the line between omnivorous diets and facultative diets can be grey. $\endgroup$
    – Idran
    Apr 24 at 16:51

2 Answers 2

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As an important starting point, it should be remembered that most rodents don't need clothes in the same way that humans need clothes, on account of the fact they're already covered in a convenient layer that provides insulation and/or water resistance of various kinds. Rodents living inside their normal climatic range, and active at their normal times of year can in fact just wear their birthday suits and be done with it. Clothing seems like it would tend towards specialist environmental protection from extremes of sun and cold and wet and wind on the one hand, and looking good on the other hand, and not necessarily much in between.

For temporary use, leaves (fallen or freshly cut) seem convenient... humans don't get many human-sized leaves for this purpose, but plenty of medium-sized-leaved trees exist across wide areas of the world (eg. the maple family) that would do well in a pinch against rain or sun, though the leaves become brittle when dry and so aren't useful for longer-term use. The same goes for other unprocessed plant matter. Woven grasses and stuff are great but become dry and brittle... they might make for good parasols and umbrellas, but not so much for clothing.

That leaves the three material sources that humans use, with a few twists:

  1. Animal fibers

Hair and wool based materials will be just as useful for rodents as they are for humans, though I'm not sure of the mechanics of things like carding and spinning at mouse-like scales. The raw materials can potentially be harvested in the wild... thorny plants like briars or gorse in places where sheep and horses may be found often have quantities of wool hung up on them. The yields are low, however. Weirder stuff like silk would work just fine, for rodents in the right part of the world, and might make for easier processing than things like cotton.

Another option is to simply make do with what they have available... furry animals shed, and sleeping areas can be swept for shed hairs, which can then be sorted and cleaned and re-used, so long as the original source was relatively clean and healthy. Short hairs are awkward to weave though. If you had some other fine fabric you could use them as an insulation layer, but remember that felt is a thing. Not all animal fibers need to be woven!

I'm not sure how useful bird feathers might be themselves, but down will make for excellent insulation, if you have a suitably light material to wrap it in.

  1. Plant fibers

Stuff like cotton and flax (used to make linen) and other less well known natural fibers (like stinging nettle and other good sources of bast fibers) will work just fine. Unlike humans, with their silly delicate naked flesh, coarser fibers are less likely to cause discomfort on sensibly-furred people, and so are more useful for clothing. Unlike sheep-farming for large quantities of wool, farming and processing plants will be far easier for rodents. Flax farming would also yield edible seeds and useful oil, whereas cottonseed is toxic for rodents.

Many other kinds of seeds include fluffy parts to aid in wind distribution, eg. Clematis vitalba. Most of these aren't exploitable by humans, but could easily work well for smaller things with smaller paws and sufficient patience. These might make for better insulation than woven fabrics, but all things are possible (especially with a bit of authorial handwaving).

As with humans, your peeps could make use of wax to help waterproof woven fabrics where required. Waxed fabrics appear to be relatively modern, and might require a suitable grade of woven fabric to work well, so might be anachronistic in pre-industrial setting.

  1. Leather

You probably won't be needing robust footware like many humans do, but leather makes for a good hard-wearing, long-lasting, wind and waterproof layer, and fur is obviously good for protection from the cold. Rodents aren't generally predatory, but they can eat meat and intelligent rodent might make the most of their ability to create traps and tools to expand their diets. If there are suitable small mammals to use as livestock, farming or hunting them for their fur, skin and meat would work fine. Awkwardness would arise if they were also intelligent, so that rather depends on the nature of your setting.

Rodents have predators, and intelligent tool-users seem likely to defend themselves with lethal force, and these too will be good sources of raw materials. Remember though that humans exterminated all their predators, and a world with intelligent rodents presents a probem for the long term survivability of various things like foxes and kestrels and snakes and so on. They may already be extinct, which limits their usefulness as a leather source.

Harvesting the skin of dead animals might also be a useful thing to do... intelligent things that can work together and use tools can see off large and dangerous predators if needs be. Stealing kills from larger (and hopefully less intellident) animals might be a good strategy, even if the meat wasn't eaten (and the locals might learn to let the rats cut the outside off, once they know the juicy bits remain, and the rats are hazardous to mess with).

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    $\begingroup$ I immediately leapt to silk when I saw the question mention "a bug or mouse-sized equivalent to sheep". Very glad to see you've touched on that. $\endgroup$
    – parasoup
    Apr 22 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ I completely forgot about silk but now that you say it it's so obvious! Thanks for the detailed answer, it gives me much to reflect upon. In the end, I think I asked my question way too early during the thought process, it would have been better to post once I've addressed the elephant in the room: why would my characters need clothing (other than: to look cool), and what kind of clothes in the first place? Beside armor for fighting characters, I'm not sure how to answer those. And without answer, the setting is too vague to deduce what would make sense. In any case, thank you for your time! $\endgroup$
    – Flocon
    Apr 22 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Flocon behold, I have invented the three Ps of clothing for you: Protection, Pockets and Perverts. $\endgroup$ Apr 22 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Also Perception, to keep the theme. Be seen as part of a certain group, be seen as a certain kind of person, or don't be seen at all. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Apr 23 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ they would still have at least 3 uses for clothing, belts or straps for carrying things, boots or the like to protect the feet, and and cloaks or coats to keep out the rain, mice stay warm by avoiding the worst of weather but thinking things realize there are times you still need to go out in the rain. also waxed fabric may be new but oiled fabric is a lot older and latex treated fabric is ancient, the hard part is getting the latex, but to a mouse a few milkweed plants way well provide enough for a decent cloak. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 23 at 0:51
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Frame Challenge... Sort of

I think you are asking the wrong question. You are asking what they would wear, but I think the better place to start is to ask why they would wear.

We humans wear clothes mostly to keep warm, indicate a societal role (Uniforms), modesty and function.

What does a Mouse do that would require clothing? Now for keeping warm - they already have Fur for that, so probably not an option.

Societal roles - you could have all sorts of fun with that, but you indicated you don't want to anthropomorphize them too much, so having rigid human-esque societies is probably not what you want.

Modesty - if you want to have society-critique elements, then this is a fun thing to play with - but maybe you don't - up to you.

Function - This is the main reason I asked - what would a Mouse benefit from Clothing?

  • Armored Gorgets to protect the back of the neck from a Cat's jaws (or insert other predatory animal)

  • Low friction material for a Tail covering, so as to prevent a predator for snaring them or preventing the tail getting caught.

  • burrowing clothes to help with either cave ins or collapsing tunnels or pockets for tools etc.

So, to answer your question - ask what functions your mice would need clothes for, then create your clothes to fill that function.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! You've put your finger on the problem, that I've not thought about function before materials. That's something we've started to touch on in the comments on Starfish Prime's answer, and I'm glad your answer expands on this notion. And it raises more questions for me to answer: for example, which parts of the body need to be protected in battle, and for that I need to know what fighting style(s) these rodents have, and what fighting style(s) their enemies adopt/what could pose a threat. There's a whole 'meta' for me to explore here haha! $\endgroup$
    – Flocon
    Apr 23 at 8:12

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