The NPC Races of WAR - Skaven
"...I'm tellin' you, they DO exist! Don' believe the authorities! The rat-men are among us! Yes, Skaven, they'll destroy us all!"
- Gert Weiler, Explorer & Traveller, executed for demagogy
"Silly men-things killing chaos-things, stupid-stupid, but good-good for the mighty Skaven, so it's few enemies and a lot of food."
- Askwiek, Claw Leader of the Clan Wusieker
The Curse of Thirteen
The origins of the Skaven are at the heart of many legends. Rumors spread rapidly where facts are not accessible, and how the Skaven came to plague the world, no one knows for certain. The Skaven themselves have no permanent written history, and their very existence is vehemently denied by the Imperial scholars. Those who profess their existence are prosecuted as heretics by the Inquisition; therefore, we must turn to other more difficult to obtain sources to learn about the Skaven.
In the Dwarfen Books of Grudges, only the greenskins are mentioned more often than the Skaven. The fights between Skaven and Dawi date back to the times of the Beard War; and the Skaven also made significant contributions to the fall of the giant stronghold city, Karak Eight Peaks, by staging underground attacks. To this very day, one of the biggest Skaven structures, Pillar City, is located underneath Karak Eight Peaks. The Dwarfs have different theories as to how the Skaven came into existence but do not like to discuss them, as one theory establishes a direct connection to the Dwarfs themselves.
"Don't matter where they come from. Sure they're not a sort of Beastman. Sure they're not mutated rats. Sure they are creatures of Chaos. The important thing is that we want to settle a lot of grudges and my axe is thirsting for their blood."
- Tarhek Stonebeard, Ranger at Karak Varn
The existence of the Skaven is now accepted as fact in Tilea and Estalia, after long battles and a devastating outbreak of redpox, which was triggered by the Clan Pestilens Skaven.
The ancient folk tale 'The Doom of Kavzar,' also known as 'The Curse of Thirteen,' originates from this Old World region. There is talk of an ancient city, where the Men on the surface and the Dwarfs underground lived together in peace and ever-increasing wealth. The Men of the city decided to build a special temple for the gods as a memorial of the city's good fortune. The tower of this temple was said to be so high that it reached up into the sky and pierced the clouds. But after many years passed, the construction work came to a standstill, and hopes began to fade. That was when a veiled stranger came to offer his service. He said he would finish the temple within one night and that it would be done before midnight. All he asked for in return was the right to put up a sign in honor of his own god within the temple.
When the men returned to the tower at midnight, they indeed found it finished, and at its very peak there was a great, horned bell – and the stranger was nowhere to be seen. The bell began to toll and its heavy sound got louder and more unpleasant with each ring. On the thirteenth stroke, the sky opened up, bolts of lightning flashed, and Morrslieb, the Chaos Moon, stood green and threatening above the city.
In the weeks that followed, the city and the surrounding land were devastated by heavy rain falls and blackened hail. The halls of the Dwarfs were flooded, while massive rats attacked the inhabitants and consumed all of their provisions. The remaining survivors finally sought refuge deep underneath the city, until they found themselves surrounded by countless pairs of eyes, and perished.
Nowadays, the whole region is a deadly swamp. In the center of these foul marshes is Skavenblight, the giant capital of the Skaven, a place that members of the other races only ever see as slaves – and they never survive there long enough to tell anyone about it.
Eat and be Eaten
The Nature of the Skaven
Skaven society is based on very simple principles. It is formed exclusively by male Skaven who are born into different clans. All that counts in their society is the law of the jungle and the power of each individual member. Those who show any sign of weakness are recklessly subjugated and enslaved – or end up as food when food stocks become scarce. For the ambitious Skaven, this is simply the natural order of things and not worth thinking about. And every Skaven is of the opinion that one day his superiors will have to recognize his outstanding skills, and will reward and support him until he is ready to replace them. Every clan is headed by a Warlord and the most powerful of them form the Council of Thirteen, which controls the fate of all Skaven.
Very little is known about the reproduction of the Skaven. The sparse few who have ever set eyes on the female Skaven, known as Breeders, recall those incidents reluctantly and report seeing huge bodies among a plethora of new-born Skaven. It can only be assumed that the act of reproduction is a privilege that is only granted to special Skaven, but one thing is certain: Skaven reproduce at an astonishing rate. This is, at the same time, their strength, their weakness, and their main motivation for every conquest. The incessant arrival of large numbers of new soldiers is, of course, very helpful for building huge armies, and the fears of possible losses can be ignored – not that any Skaven leader would ever care about the survival of his subjects. But this huge population also needs to be provided for. The huge number and permanent hunger of the Skaven – who, for instance, use eating breaks as a unit of measurement – is the reason for all the internal strife among them. This is a blessing for the rest of the world as a totally united Skaven race would have taken over the world long ago.
Apart from ambition and personal gain, there is another factor that can influence the life of a Skaven: the colour of his fur. While new-born Skaven usually have a brownish coat, there are exceptions, and these Skaven are immediately separated from the others and given a special, privileged education.
If a Skaven has black fur – often combined with a strong build – he will be raised with special care, receive intensive military training, and will eventually become a member of the elite troops: the Stormvermin.
Grey fur is a sign of being blessed by the Horned Rat. They, too, are separated from the other Skaven at birth and receive a special education. These Skaven are destined to be Grey Seers, priests of the Horned Rat, powerful wizards and leaders.
Skaven selfishly strive to ensure their own safety, while they have absolutely no regard for the lives of other Skaven. Their leaders know that the best position in battle is the back row, and are especially quick in tactical retreats. They are rarely anxious with regard to losses among their subjects and have no scruples about shooting at their own troops if there is the slightest chance of killing enemies at the same time – a concept known as "Life is Cheap."
"Why, cowardly is of course clever-wise; no-one has a better view than one who's at the back. Really important to keep an eye on everyone, even one unable slave can ruin all your seemingest-bestest plans, yes, yes! And back is also good-good to survive and come back then."
- Qiekkor, Claw Leader and only survivor of his pack
All Skaven share the belief that they are destined to rule the world, which is sometimes accompanied by a wonderment as to why the world is not yet as it should be, and the lower races are not yet crawling at their feet. But thanks be to the Horned Rat, this is not for them to worry about, and other envious Skaven that either did not understand their own brilliant plans, or somehow thwarted them, are the ones to blame.
The Horned Rat
Skaven only worship one god: the Horned Rat. The nature of this deity, with reckless actions, a tendency towards complex intrigues, and the knowledge that everything is bound for decay, is similar to that of the Skaven. Some scientists regard the Horned Rat as a god of Chaos, even though every Skaven knows that this god is unique and much more powerful.
There are various aspects to the Horned Rat, which are emphasized in several different ways by the Skaven Clans. The Clan Pestilens, for instance, focuses on the decay that it spreads with epidemics and plagues. Other Clans reject this focus and prefer different ways to lead their enemies into disaster. The holy number of the Horned Rat is thirteen.
Apart from its portrait, the Horned Rat is often symbolized by three simple lines that overlap and form a triangle balancing on its tip.
This conventionalized symbol of a rat bearing horns can easily be put together using three boards, or similar objects, and is a sure sign that Skaven are, or were, nearby.
In their own way, Skaven are very religious. They know for certain that the Horned Rat exists, which has also manifested itself as a rat demon in our world. And they fear it, for the hunger of the Horned Rat is as insatiable as the hunger of the Skaven themselves, and needs to be kept at bay by constant sacrifices. In addition to the daily ceremonies, with compulsory attendance in the temples that are found in every Skaven structure, the Skaven also invoke the Horned Rat during their daily work. These are quick prayers full of hate, resentment, and malice, and are intended to achieve the ruin of their enemies or to further their own progress in the world.
As these prayers are often answered, no Skaven would ever dare to question the existence of the Horned Rat.
Even though many inhabitants of the Warhammer world, be they noblemen, mages, explorers, alchemists, or rogues, desire and search for warpstone, there is no other race whose whole life revolves around it, as is the case for the Skaven.
According to the Elves, warpstone is not a real part of the world. Indeed warpstone in every form is a powerful substance, worth several times its weight in gold, but it bears a high risk for the user. For humans, close contact with it will, almost without fail, result in a cruel death by the most peculiar mutations.
"It may be hard to believe for you, but the Aethyr surrounds all of us without actually being a part of our reality. Nevertheless it enters our world at certain places. Usually, its energy is broken down there, like the light in a prism, and forms what you humans call the Winds of Magic. The stronger energies, however, are not broken down but form the substance known as warpstone, which assumes shape in our world. But never forget that exactly this energy is the basis of the Chaos—corrupt and destructive to the core."
- Ceraid Lightshine, Archmage in Ulthuan
Skaven are only slightly affected by these effects; they search for, collect, and exploit warpstone wherever they can. Many of their structures, like Skavenblight or the Hell Pit, are in the middle of big stocks of warpstone, and when a part of Morrslieb (which is known to consist of pure warpstone) fell down on Mortheim, Skaven were among the first on site to secure these giant warpstone sources.
In many areas, warpstone is the basis of any Skaven action; it serves as currency, as a source of their magic and technology, and has many more uses. Grey Seers consume little bites of warpstone to be better able to channel the magic of the Horned Rat; the Clan Moulders use warpstone to conduct their mutation experiments, and to create their dreadful creatures; warpstone is also the basis on which the Clan Skryre produces weapons like the Jezzail, the Warp Lightning Cannon, the Poison Wind Globes, or other projects like the Distancechitter. Also, most of the Skaven artifacts, like the dreadful Grimblade they used to take revenge on Nagash, are created from warpstone.
It can certainly be claimed that the social system of the Skaven would collapse if all warpstone could successfully be kept from them. And indeed, this may well be the only way to save the world if one day the Skaven succeed in settling their internal differences and dedicate themselves fully to achieving world domination.
Council of Thirteen
The lives and undertakings of the Skaven are ruled by the Council of Thirteen, which is based in Skavenblight. The Council consists of the eleven most powerful warlords – including the representatives of the four major clans, Clan Skryre, Clan Eshin, Clan Moulder, and Clan Pestilens – a high-ranking Grey Seer, and a symbolic seat for the Horned Rat (whose will is interpreted by the Grey Seers at the casting of votes). As many warlords seek the personal patronage of a Grey Seer in order to secure the good will of the Horned Rat, and therefore avoid the popular accusation of heresy, the influence of the Grey Seers in the Council is rather significant.
What might well look like a democracy or a theocracy to outsiders is, in reality, nothing more than a morass of intrigues, hidden power struggles, and secret arrangements that are breached as quickly as they are made.
On more than one occasion, the votes of the Council ended in fights or even civil wars. The last civil war started over the failed attempt to ban Clan Pestilens from the Council by claiming they were heretics, as they had been becoming too powerful. This war lasted over 400 years and could only be settled by summoning the Horned Rat himself at the time when the great Chaos invasion was about to start. He suspended his gnawing at the foundation of the world in order to bring his commandments to his followers.
For the moment, the members of the Council, who have not changed since the Horned Rat visited, are more or less at peace. While there are still intrigues and clans trying to secure a seat in the Council of Thirteen by gaining power or eliminating other clans, the clans are, in general, currently working together. Their common ambition as Skaven is to please the Horned Rat, obey his orders, and rule all other races as predestined.
As their jealous divinity forms an important part of the daily life of the Skaven, one can imagine how much power and influence their priests, who also occupy two seats on the Council, have on them. In Skaven society, those powerful priests are the Grey Seers. They are destined by birth to be among the most powerful leaders, and the Horned Rat has blessed them with terrifying magic. Their grey fur sets them apart from the other Skaven. In addition, they generally grow horns to further underline their status and their authority.
As they know and express the will of the Horned Rat, the order of the Grey Seers exerts a great influence on the governing of the Skaven. In order to get into that powerful position, though, Grey Seers have to survive merciless rivalries during their training, just like any other Skaven. That is why, in the school of their order, they are always eager to stand out of their group, please their superiors, and get ahead of their envious and inept rivals. As they are well versed in the magic of the Horned Rat, these fights are somewhat "special," and those who survive this tough training are likely to become ruthless leaders who are willing to send their inferiors on missions that serve the general good – even, or especially, when those missions are dangerous.
The Grey Seers live considerably longer than common Skaven. It has been proven that they eat prepared warpstone in order to be able to cast stronger magic, and warpstone has a different effect on them than it would have on most other living things; however, it is also known that some of the Seers become addicted to warpstone.
The Grey Seers are also among the very few Skaven who do not always go to battle on foot. The only other Skaven known to have used machines, the so-called 'Doomwheels,' to drive into battle to face their enemies, are the engineers of the Clan Skryre. The Grey Seers, on the other hand, are pushed into battle on top of the massive structure supporting one of the ‘Screaming Bells.’ These Bells are modeled after the Bell from the legend of the Skaven’s origin. Their dissonant sounds instill fear and terror among their enemies, and fuel the fury and hatred of the Skaven. Leading the clans into battle, the Grey Seers will stand on top of these massive structures and let their devastating magic rain down on their enemies.
The Most Important Skaven Clans
Most of the Skaven clans are normal warrior clans who fight their enemies with commonly used weapons and their sheer number; however, there are four clans that have specialized in certain areas, and as a result have gained special power and influence.
The Skaven of Clan Skryre have completely devoted themselves to technology and the development of weapons. Their Warlock Engineers use a combination of mechanical magic and abstruse inventions and constructs to bring death to their enemies. For the most part, they use warpstone to refine weapons looted from the Empire or the Dwarfs. That is, for instance, how they built the so-called Jezzail, an extremely long-barreled rifle which uses ammunition that contains warpstone and pierces even the sturdiest armor.
Other famous weapons built by the Warlock Engineers are the Ratling Gun, the Warpfire Thrower, and the Warp-Lightning Cannon. These weapons rank among the most powerful and devastating weapons in the world, but they do have a downside – while the use of warpstone guarantees a huge amount of explosive power, it also makes the weapons highly unstable. Malfunctioning weapons causing massive explosions have taken the lives of many Skaven – a fact that, naturally, does not really concern the leaders of the Clan Skryre, as long as they stand far enough from the explosion.
Clan Moulder has its main den high up north. The so-called Hell Pit lies in a zone that is rich in warpstone. The Master Moulders and Packmasters of the clan use thewarpstone and its powers of mutation to breed warped creatures. These creatures are then selected and trained for war, after which their only desire is to kill and fight for the clan.
Their most common and famous war beasts are the Rat Ogres – enormous creatures of terrifying strength who are often purchased as bodyguards by powerful Skaven.
The members of Clan Moulder would not be real Skaven, though, if they did not take measures against suffering attacks due to their own achievements one day. That is why many of their creatures have a built-in mechanism that does not allow them to inflict damage to a member of the Clan Moulder.
Clan Pestilens are the religious fanatics of the rats, who worship the Horned Rat mostly because of his association with decay and his ability to create and spread pestilence. After a long crusade through Lustria, the clan has returned to the Old World and secured itself a seat on the Council of Thirteen.
With them being practically immune to most diseases, and having refined their ability, one could almost say that with their art of spreading the plague, the members of Clan Pestilens are extremely dangerous enemies. Usually, the great attacks of the Skaven are preceded by an outbreak of a foul plague which either kills potential defenders or leaves them weak, giving the attacking Skaven the advantage of encountering little resistance afterward.
In 1111 IC, for instance, the Black Death broke out in the Empire and nearly spelled complete doom for mankind. More than half of the population fell prey to this plague and the Skaven marauded the unprotected cities of the Empire. It was only due to the unsuccessful simultaneous attack of the Skaven against the vampire lords, and the deeds of Mandred Skaven-Slayer, that a complete defeat could be prevented. The Skaven were forced back and the Empire was saved.
Clan Eshin migrated to the East a long time ago and was then deemed lost until they returned to the Old World. When they returned, they had mastered the arts of stealth and silent murder.
Unlike the other clans, Clan Eshin rarely takes sides when the other clans are quarreling. In fact, the master assassins of the clan are used as political instruments by all of the parties, especially the Grey Seers.
Quite a few clans who had opposed the will of the Council of Thirteen were brought to heel by the sudden death of their warlords.
Equipped with partially poisoned knives or throwing-blades, and able to enter the most tightly locked rooms without being seen, the night runners and assassins of Clan Eshin are the Council's first choice when it comes to killing opposing leaders prior to an attack, or to taking vengeance for defeats suffered by killing individual persons.
Members of Clan Eshin captured the High King Kurgan Ironbeard and sold him to the greenskins, where he was freed later by Sigmar Heldenhammer—an event which led to the alliance between the Humans and the Dwarfs, and also laid the foundation of the Empire.
Assassins were also responsible for the murder of Mandred Skaven-Slayer, who had saved the Empire from the Skaven after the great plague. Mandred was Emperor of the recovering Empire at that time and was supposed to be well protected in his palace. Valten was also murdered by the assassins of Clan Eshin. Some thought he was the reincarnation of Sigmar, and in the eyes of the Council of Thirteen he was too great a threat to remain alive.
Valten will no doubt not be the last prominent victim of the clan. The next time the Skaven strike, they will be aware of the weaknesses of their enemies, and the assassins of Clan Eshin will make sure they kill as many of their enemies’ leaders as possible on the eve of the attack.
Skaven in WAR
In WAR, the Skaven are up to mischief, too. In the zones of the Empire especially, you will unremittingly come across packs of them, as they sometimes control entire buildings. You will find traces of their existence everywhere, even in Altdorf. Those who venture into Altdorf's sewers or discover the Warpblade Tunnels beneath the city will be faced with an uncountable number of these merciless enemies.
The Skaven race has one purpose, and one purpose only: they are bent on ruling the world. This should never be forgotten in any encounter with a Skaven. Even if the Skaven seems friendly at first, rest assured he will not hesitate to betray and kill you if that is in his best interest.