In the background of the setting the Skaven are described as a clan-based society in which the number 13 holds important significance. All Skaven pay homage to the Horned Rat, their only deity, whom they worship primarily out of fear of retribution. Skaven are portrayed as sneaky, conniving, selfish, cowardly and backstabbing. They are also closely linked to plague and disease (particularly the Skaven clan Pestilens). The Skaven believe themselves to be superior to all other races, especially those that live above ground.
Despite its large population, the existence of an organised Skaven society is carefully and violently concealed from humans and other races of the Warhammer universe. Even when presented with irrefutable proof, the common man regards them as an urban legend or merely another form of Beastmen, although there is no direct link between the two species. It is a widely held belief that if the Skaven could put aside their in-fighting and distrust of each other, they could potentially take over the world: fortunately their innate paranoia and deceitful, treacherous natures make such an occurrence all but impossible.
Skaven were officially introduced into the tabletop wargame Warhammer Fantasy Battle in the Spring 1986 issue of the Citadel Journal magazine. They were billed as "a new Chaos race". However, the race had appeared a few months earlier as a free 'giveaway' Blood Bowl team in an earlier 1986 issue of White Dwarf magazine.
Jes Goodwin sculpted the original 1986 Skaven range of Citadel Miniatures. Goodwin also provided the original background found in the 1986 Citadel Journal. This background introduced core elements of Skaven lore, including clan structure, the Council of Thirteen, Grey Seers, and the Skaven God - "The Horned Rat".
The miniatures proved very popular, and the range was expanded by Goodwin over the next few years. Today, they are one of the main fifteen armies of Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
Skaven also formed the core opponents of Games Workshop's popular Advanced HeroQuest adventure game, released in 1990.
Skaven comprise one of the two armies of the 2010 Island of Blood starter set released for Warhammer 8th edition.
Skaven in Warhammer
The background and character of the Skaven race in the Warhammer setting has been developed by various authors since their introduction in 1986. The most significant additions were made by Andy Chambers in the army list for the fourth edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
The origins of the Skaven are for the most part unknown. The only background information provided in Games Workshop literature is a poem called "The Doom of Kavzar" which loosely describes how the first Skaven came to be. It is presented in a myth-like fashion, detailing a building project by dwarves and men which is cursed by a mysterious stranger, resulting in a warpstone shower which mutates the rats of the city, and new-born humans, into Skaven. The rats proceed to exterminate or enslave the human and dwarf population of the city, remaking it into the Skaven capital of Skavenblight.
The introduction of the Skaven supplement to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay answers these questions with the dogma of the Horned Rat, although Skaven philosophers have questioned the nature of the mysterious stranger, wondering whether this entity is indeed a deity or a merely a Daemonic entity.
Appearance and culture
Skaven are described as a cross between a rat and a man. They worship a deity known as "The Horned Rat," who is also often referred to as simply "The Horned One." Skaven have the appearance of large bipedal rats and possess a conniving and distrustful intelligence. They can make tools, converse in a developed language and develop and use advanced weaponry. They often steal technology from other races and improve upon it which usually involves warpstone. The Skaven wizards will consume warpstone to boost their power to great heights. The Skaven centric Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay supplement "Children of the Horned Rat" gives the average Skaven an expected lifespan of about 20 years, asserting that, were it not for the (often violent) internal competition of their species, they might live well past 50. More powerful members of Skaven society such as the dreaded Council of Thirteen tend to live far longer, even hundreds of years, due to the use of drugs, of magic, or frequent use/exposure to the unstable magical substance, warpstone.
Skaven represent the worst aspects of humanity, with none of its redeeming features. All Skaven are selfish, spiteful, paranoid, cowardly, treacherous, greedy and hateful. Concepts such as love, loyalty, self sacrifice and honor are alien concepts to the ratmen. From birth to death all Skaven attempt to climb the rungs of power by backstabbing, cheating and killing to gain any position ahead of their rivals.
Skaven are roughly man-sized, the typical specimen being between four and five feet tall on average. Most have brown or piebald fur, although this can vary. White and grey-furred ratlings are prized among Skaven litters, as they often become Grey Seers (the Skaven equivalent of priests and wizards). Black fur is looked upon as the sign of a true killer, so the elite Stormvermin corps draw their members from black furred ratlings, it is also common for lighter colored Skaven to dye their fur. Whole Skaven clans sometime dye their fur as well to represent their clan allegiance, an example of this is Clan Volkn whose warriors dye there fur dark red. Albino Skaven are rare but not unheard of. The Stormvermin in charge of protecting the Council of Thirteen (the Skaven ruling body) are all albino.
Male Skaven are Warriors or workers/slaves. Females are called breeders and are docile, barely intelligent creatures who spend much of their lives hidden away in the nest to breed. Though they are far larger than the average Skaven (about 10 foot tall), female Skaven can't take care of themselves and rely on eunuchs to feed and protect them. Female Skaven typically produce three to five litters a year, each containing about 20 young called ratlings.
The Council of Thirteen
The Council of Thirteen is the ruling body of the Skaven race. They rule from a giant horse shoe shaped hall which contains thirteen raised diases on which thrones are placed. a 13 sided black pillar made of pure warpstone and engraved with the Horned Rat's commandments sits behind the middle one. The order for the seats from left to right is 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7. The 13th Seat (the very middle of the horseshoe table) is the symbolic seat of the Horned Rat, and it acts as a tie-breaker in votes amongst the other members, with the "Horned Rat's" vote typically being interpreted by the Seer Lord. The 1st and 12th places (the right and left of the Horned Rat)are therefore the most powerful, while seat six and seven are the weakest. The council are constantly shifting allegiances, backstabbing, cheating, lying, or otherwise trying to undermine each other, even hiring assassins to dispatch their rivals, much to the amusement of their malevolent god.
This back story helps justify why a rapidly reproducing, disease-resistant race does not rule more of the world; they are too busy fighting each other. Indeed, if not for the race's constant infighting, the Skaven could easily have the means to overrun the entire surface world. Each member of the council is open to replacement at any time. The applicant must simply challenge his rival to a fight to the death; if he wins, he takes the place of the loser on the council. Though rare, more than one member of the Council has been replaced this way. The latest council of Thirteen members however has not changed in the last century. Another mystery is how the dreaded Council members maintain such long lifespans especially when a Skaven is considered ancient at 30 years (60 years for a grey seer). It is speculated that the magical warpstone enchanted council seats might be an explanation for the unusual longevity of its occupants.
The Council chambers are guarded by mute Albino Stormvermin known as the Council Guard. The Council guard are taller than average Stormvermin and wear blood-red armour of the highest quality (as far as Skaven standards go). The guard are as loyal as it is possible for any Skaven to be and are thus immune to bribes to betray their masters on the Council of Thirteen. This loyalty comes from both the vast wealth of the Council and the fear they inspire, this led to the question asked in Skavenblight "...do the Council guard dye their fur white or did it turn white when they enter the Councils employ"
The Current know Council members (and their seat numbers) mentioned in the background are
- Seat 13: The Horned Rat
- Seat 1: Lord Kritislik the Seerlord, head of the Order of the Grey Seers . (Deceased, leaving the spot free.)
- Seat 12: Lord Morskittar Lord-Warlock of Clan Skryre
- Seat 10: Lord Nurglitch, Arch-Plaguelord of Clan Pestilens
- Seat 4: Lord Paskrit, Warlord-General of all Skavendom
- Seat 9: Lord Verminkin, Packlord of Clan Moulder
- Unknown seat: Lord Sneek, Nightlord of Clan Eshin
- Unknown seat: Kratch Doomclaw, warlord of Clan Rictus.
- Unknown seat: Vrisk Ironscratch of Clan Skurvy
- Unknown seat: Griznekt Mancarver of Clan Skab
- Unknown seat: Warlord Gnawdwell leader of Clan Mors
Kritislik occupies seat number 1 on the Council, Morskittar seat 12 ; hence these two are the most powerful of the Lords of Decay. Although Kritislik being the SeerLord gets two veto votes (one for his position and one for the absent Horned Rat) making Kritislik the most powerful member of the council
Below the council in the fictional hierarchy of the race are the Grey Seers, prophets of the Horned Rat himself, and powerful sorcerers. Grey Seers have prophetic powers and are usually grey-furred; hence the name. While the Grey Seers are often physically weak, they make up for this in cunning, guile, and the use of magic. Most other Skaven fear and hate Grey Seers in equal measure. The most feared symbol of the Seers is the "Screaming Bell," a massive, horned bell mounted on a carriage and pushed into battle, the daemonic chimes enthusing the Skaven hordes. This holds a fairly unique place in the game as it is based like a monstrous creature, but fielded within a unit of Skaven troops, granting bonuses to both the unit, and the larger army with its effects.
The rest of Skaven society is organized into innumerable clans. Four clans are traditionally more powerful than the rest: Clan Pestilens, Clan Moulder, Clan Eshin, and Clan Skryre. These four are collectively known as the Greater Clans, and dominate the back-story of the race and of most army units.
In prior editions of Warhammer (and now restored in the most recent edition), the Skaven at times would be led by daemonic beings called Vermin Lords. Believed to be some sort of Avatar of the Horned Rat, Vermin Lords were greater daemons that even the Grey Seers feared and acquiesced themselves to. Grey Seers often threaten to summon a Vermin Lord to ensure obedience, but in truth, they are loath to do so as these creatures are more powerful and cunning than any living Skaven and their lust for power and love of betrayal are legendary.
Clan Moulder is based in the far north extremely close to Troll Country. Their stronghold is known as Hellpit and is where Master Moulders use warpstone in a mad combination of alchemy and genetic engineering to breed all sorts of monstrous beasts for war. They are a very wealthy clan, and rent out their beasts for other Skaven to use in battle. Their war-beasts are reflected in the game by wolf-sized Giant Rats and the enormous Rat Ogres, to an Ogre, what a normal Skaven is to a man. To reflect their lower intelligence, they are led by Packmasters on the battlefield, and suffer severe penalties if the Packmaster is killed. A recent creation of Clan Moulder is the Hell Pit Abomination: a huge deformed Blind Wyrm that has been mutated beyond recognition and grafted with multiple rat ogre parts, used to both dig new tunnels and as a terrifying beast of war. Clan Moulder is the wealthiest of the four Greater Clans.
Clan Pestilens is based in the southern part of the world, and has been the cause for both of the two Skaven civil wars (the first war was caused by their demands for wealth and position following their resurgence, and only ended after the activities of Clan Eshin assassins forced Pestilens to sue for peace, while the second war was caused by Clan Pestilens trying to seize power after the Council of Thirteen ousted them, and only ended after the Grey Seers summoned the Horned Rat itself to restore order). The clan was considered lost in the jungles of Lustria, but when it resurfaced, it was changed. The rats of the clan had become completely devoted to The Horned Rat in his role as the harbinger of disease and plague. They are immune to most diseases and use the very plagues they worship as deadly biological weapons against the other races. Due to their diseased bulk, their plague monk troops are extremely tough, and deliriously fanatical in combat, providing a needed role of holding up powerful enemies without breaking in the relatively low-leadership army of the Skaven. They also use rats infected with various foul contagions, and the deadly plague censers, flails laden with burning warpstone, that emit lethal poison gas. Clan Pestilens also use catapults that fire their foul diseases upon the enemy ranks. Their own leaders are subject to the diseases and includes the plague Priests which can preach to their demented followers from a top a Plague Furnace, a foul wheeled carriage that spreads disease in its wake. The current leader of clan Pestilence is Plaguemaster Nurglitch, which may refer to the pestilent chaos god Nurgle.
Clan Eshin was also considered lost for a long time, having traveled to the far Eastern lands of Nippon and Cathay. When they returned, they, too, had changed. They ended the first Skaven civil war by assassinating the leaders of Clan Pestilens and their allies. They had become the assassins of Skaven society, skilled in the art of the silent kill. In the background literature, they provide a type of secret police for the Council of Thirteen. They played a large role in the back story of the Storm of Chaos worldwide campaign, as the ones who placed the Doom Hemisphere (see below) under Middenheim. They are represented in the army by Night Runners, cheap expendable units of skirmishers; Gutter Runners, who function as a scout force; and Assassins, elite close combat characters who can hide in units of regular Skaven until they strike at enemy characters. All three are described as being on one development path. The best Night Runners become Gutter Runners, the best of which become Assassins. The most feared and deadly Assassin in all of Skavendom however is Deathmaster Snikch. The current leader of clan Eshin is Nightlord Sneek (Temple of the Serpent)
Currently, the most powerful Clan is Clan Skryre. These Skaven have devoted themselves to the study of magic and blending it with insane science and engineering. Their engineers are used to explain Skaven warmachines: the Ratling Gun (a warpstone-based Gatling gun with an obvious pun on rat), the Warpfire thrower (a warpstone-based flamethrower), the Jezzail (an extremely long-ranged warpstone rifle which is so large that it has to be carried by two Skaven), the Poisoned Wind Mortar (a device that fires delicate spheres filled with poison gas upon the enemy) and the fearsome Warp-Lightning Cannon. They also employ Warlock Engineers, who harness the winds of magic to devastating effect. In earlier versions of the game, there was a Skryre machine known as the "Doomwheel", something like a hamster's exercise wheel crossed with a chariot. This was replaced by the Warp-Lightning Cannon in the sixth edition rulebook, as the team working on the (then) new Army Book explained in White Dwarf 267 that it was too blatantly a hamster wheel and wanted something more serious; however, an updated Doomwheel was recently released to coincide with the latest version of the army book.
This clan was also responsible for the creation of the "Doom Hemisphere", a device much akin to an atomic bomb, which was placed underneath the Imperial city of Middenheim. The device was intended to be detonated after Archaon's siege had either succeeded or failed, which would level much of the city and leave the Skaven to overwhelm any survivors of the blast. Fortunately for the residents, the device malfunctioned, detonating without enough force to obliterate Middenheim but resulted in a significant change to the caves and tunnels found beneath the city, as well as killing hundreds of Skaven and men in the tunnels who didn't escape the blast in time.
- Clan Mors, One of the most powerful Warlord Clans.
- Clan Rictus, known for vast armies of Stormvermin.
- Clan Skab, nearly wiped out during the invasion of Nuln.
- Clan Skurvy, possesses the largest fleet in Skavendom whose lair is Spineport.
- Clan Volkn.
- Clan Septik, has close ties with clan pestilens.
- Clan Skuttle, possess the second largest fleet in Skavendom. Arch rivals of Clan Skurvy.
- Clan Mordkin.
- Clan Gritus.
- Clan Gangrous, warriors from this clan are the most vicious tunnel fighters in the under-empire.
- Clan Gnaw
- Clan Ektrik, obsessed with harnessing and channeling warp lighting.
- Clan Vulkn, a pyromaniacal clan that dyes its fur a reddish orange.
- Clan Rigens, a clan responsible for governing and controlling Skaven Bloodbowl teams (spin-off universe)
This clan is only mentioned in the background lore for the related Warhammer-world game Blood Bowl. It is the clan to which Skaven Blood Bowl teams belong.
In the tabletop war game Warhammer Fantasy Battles, Skaven players typically bring many more models to the table than their opponents. Multiple, large units of Clanrats, Skavenslaves, Giant Rats, and Stormvermin form the bulk of the Skaven horde. Units such as Rat Ogres, Plague Monks, the Warp Lightning Cannon, and the many and varied weapon teams support these vast numbers with more raw killing power-though these devices and creatures can often lead to as many Skaven casualties as their enemy's, if not more.
For more specific tips on Skaven tactics, go to http://www.games-workshop.com/gws/home.jsp. There are also an abundance of online forums where players discuss rules and strategy, such as Warseer and Dakkadakka.
Enemies and allies
The Skaven hold the same opinion of other races as do the Dark Elves: everyone is their inferior. However, the Skaven extend this belief to include each other, with each Skaven believing himself to be the epitome of Skaven superiority. As such, the Skaven usually see no need to ally with anyone, but believe that they are always intelligent enough to manipulate their inferiors into fighting their enemies for them. Those in higher rank view their lesser kin as completely worthless and have no problem sending thousands to their deaths - many as a result of friendly fire.
It should be noted that due to these views and their tendency for back-stabbing, no one (not even the minions of Chaos) ever wants to count the Skaven as their allies. Everyone who knows about the Skaven knows that there is only one rule for trusting a Skaven: don't.
While virtually all races of the Old World loathe Skaven, humans, for the most part, believe them to be a fairy tale or just another kind of Chaos Beastmen, and even cities they've attacked only hold memories of the plague for two or three generations. The only two races to hold Skaven in utter contempt are the Lizardmen, who feed them as choice offerings to their gods, and the Dwarfs who war with the Skaven constantly for control of their many tunnels and underground lairs
The only race the Skaven can generally trust is the Dark Elves, who honour their treaties because of their similar nature (except for the Skaven's enormous cowardice).
Skaven army list
Skaven forces as of eighth edition, are currently composed of the following units (for the standard army list)
- Lords and Heroes
- Grey Seer
The representatives of the Council of Thirteen, these grey-furred wizards can cast spells from both the Lore of Ruin and the Lore of Plague, as well as cast the Dreaded Thirteenth spell, which turns enemy soldiers into Clanrats. If need be, they can summon a Vermin Lord, though they only do this in times of dire need.
Warlords are the leaders of Warlord Clans, and as such usually carry the most powerful items they can carry. They are fearsome warriors, having risen through the ranks via backstabbing, petty politicking and in some rare cases duelling, and usually the only thing they need to worry about is if one of their lieutenants decide to attempt to claim the title of Warlord for themselves.
Second-in-command to the Warlord Clans, the Chieftains are a treacherous lot, betraying and backstabbing one another endlessly in the hope of becoming Warlord of their Clan.Their relative prestige means they have access to some powerful items.
- Assassin (Clan Eshin)
Assassins are the most powerful of the ninja-like warriors of Clan Eshin, who hire their services out to Warlords, Chieftains and the like. These services range from killing off a rival, to stealing a valuable item to poisoning the water supply of an Imperial village. They wear thick black cloaks, and carry all sorts of killing implements drenched in poisons.
- Warlock Engineer (Clan Skryre)
Warlock Engineers are the driving force behind Clan Skryre's inventions. Thanks to warpstone tokens, along with their insane inventions, these maniacal scientists can cast spells from the Lore of Ruin, such as shooting bolts of lightning out of their fingertips to cracking the ground in front of them, sending enemy soldiers plummeting to their doom.
- Plague Priest (Clan Pestilens)
- Vermin Lord (Greater Daemon-esque Character)
- Core Units
- Giant Rats (Clan Moulder)
- Night Runners (Clan Eshin)
- Rat Swarms
- Special Units
- Gutter Runners (Clan Eshin)
- Plague Monks (Clan Pestilens)
- Plague Censer Bearers (Clan Pestilens)
- Rat Ogres (Clan Moulder)
- Warplock Jezzails (Clan Skryre)
- Poisoned Wind Globadiers (Clan Skryre)
- Rare Units
- Warp-Lightning Cannon (Clan Skryre)
- Doomwheel (Clan Skryre)
- Plagueclaw Catapult (Clan Pestilens)
- Hell Pit Abomination (Clan Moulder)
- Special Characters
- Grey Seer Thanquol & Boneripper
- Throt the Unclean
- Warlord Queek Head-Taker
- Deathmaster Snikch
- Ikit Claw
- Tretch Craventail
- Skweel Gnawtooth
- Lord Skrolk
Most of the available choices reflect the four clans mentioned above, and some of the Special Characters are mentioned at length in the Army book as major powers in the Skaven world. These clan designations do not affect the playing of the army, though players are free to 'theme' an army around a particular clan, and alternate lists for each major clan exist, emphasizing 'their' troops.
- Warhammer Armies: Skaven. Games Workshop. 2009.
- Warhammer Grey Seer. Games Workshop. 2009.
- Warhammer Temple of the Serpent. Games Workshop. 2010.