Warhammer Lore: The Foul Skaven



Listen for the sounds of gnawing below – today we delve into the insidious and foul ratmen – the lords of entropy – the Skaven.

The Skaven are an insidious, malevolent race of humanoid rat-men and one of the most prolific. They follow an irregular cycle: they fight amongst themselves, expand their Under-Empire, multiply their population and surge to the surface to unleash sudden havoc. Eventually the Skaven weaken, often due to the violent treachery of the clans and sulk back to their lair. They are decay and entropy made manifest.


The World That Was

In the World-that-was the Skaven inhabited its caves, tunnels, mines, and sewers. They controlled a vast Under-Empire which reached from the Southlands toKislev and from Estalia to the Far East.

Little is known about the origins of the Skaven race. However, it is probable that they were created in the ancient city of Kavzar by a mysterious stranger who completed the unfinished temple of the gods and hung a great horned bell from the top of the tower. As the bell rang for the thirteenth time lightning lit up the sky and dark storm clouds gathered. As the weeks went on the rain never stopped and the vermin of the city grew bigger and bolder until they overwhelmed the inhabitants of the city.

Over the next two hundred and eighty years or so the newly born Skaven race grew rapidly. There was pressure to expand the tunnels under the city, as the surface world was too dangerous for the Skaven. Eventually they began work on a huge device that they thought would open up large rifts beneath the ground for the Skaven to inhabit. Unfortunately for them the great warpstone-powered machine failed catastrophically – releasing huge waves of magical energy across the globe. The Worlds Edge Mountains – still recovering after the Great Realignment of the Slann – were hit hardest. Tunnels opened up beneath the Dwarf holds through which lava from deep beneath the earth spilled up.


Back in Skavenblight, as Kavzar had been renamed, only a single building remained undamaged. The doors of the Temple of the Great Horned Rat opened and twelve grey-clad ratmen emerged. They called themselves the Lords of Decay and said that they were to lead the Skaven out of Skavenblight. The Skaven were divided into twelve groups, each of which set out to expand the Under-Empire. This is called the Great Migration

The rest of Skaven history is largely divided into the various wars fought with other races or among themselves. The most important of these are:

The Age of Sigmar

Since the End Times, the Skaven’s capital Blight City was merged into the Realm of Chaos, when their god, the Great Horned Rat, ascended into the pantheon of the Dark Gods. However their use of arcane machinery went wayward and Blight City sank to the edges of the realm, straddling reality. From this position they could gnaw tunnels into the Mortal Realms and beyond.

The Skaven were important to Chaos victories during the Age of Chaos, especially during the Allpoints War and the Red Century. Because of the sudden increase of lands and slaves the internal rivalries and the unexpected rise of Clan Pestilens sparked an all-consuming civil war, one far more brutal, thanks to the agents of Tzeentch.



Skaven are usually around four to five feet tall when they stand up straight, although the largest can reach six feet tall. Fur covers their bodies except for their ears, muzzles, hands and fleshy rat tails.

Fur colour indicates a Skaven’s role in society. Most Skaven are brown or piebald. White or grey is rare and indicates leadership, intelligence and especially sorcerous ability. Those with black or dark brown fur tend to be the largest and the colour is considered the mark of a born killer, and most dark furred Skaven become elite warriors or assassins.

Skaven are twitchy, agitated creatures. Their metabolism allows them to burn energy at an incredible rate, boosting their agility and speed to unnatural levels. This effect also gives them an enormous hunger, which after heavy exertion can be so bad that the Skaven visibly weakens and dies. As a result the Skaven will feast on the dead of either side after a battle.

Female Skaven are rare and, at most, semi-intelligent but are capable of giving birth to huge litters very frequently. This means that the Skaven are probably the most numerous of all races.


Organization & Society

Skaven society is divided into thousands of different Skaven clans, all of which are subject to the authority of the Council of Thirteen. There are four powerful clans, known as the Great clans, which dominate the countless weaker Warlord clans.

The Great clans are highly specialised and have become an established part of the greater hierarchy of Skavendom. The Warlord clans, innumerable and expendable, also have a role in the greater scheme of things. The Clanrats of the Warlord clans make up most of the warriors in the armies of the Skaven, with the Great Clans lending their specialised support.

Warlord clans have a definite hierarchy, although the positions are in no way fixed. Skaven advance as far as their cunning, ruthlessness, treachery, ambition and strength take them. Skaven within the Clan constantly struggle to ascend as well as to defend their positions from would-be usurpers. At the very peak of each Clan is the Warlord. In some of the larger clans there will then be a second rank of lesser Warlords. The next level is formed by the Chieftains, followed by a warrior class composed of Clanrats and the elite Stormvermin. At the very bottom of Skaven society are the teeming masses of the Skavenslaves.

Skaven society is a lawless world where the strongest and most cunning rise to the top, while the weakest are eaten or enslaved. Every Skaven is constantly fighting for supremacy, whether to advance, or to defend his position from would-be usurpers. Fights are usually not to the death, but any Skaven who is maimed will quickly be dispatched by the victor. Treachery is not seen as dishonourable in any way, indeed it is the traditional way of advancing in Skaven society.

The most important material used by the Skaven is warpstone. It is used as an ingredient in magic, technology, mutation, metallurgy, poisons and even their currency.



The god of the Skaven is the Horned Rat. Its sacred number is thirteen, and so thirteen is an important number is Skaven society. For example, there are 169 Grey Seers (13 × 13). Vermin Lords are Daemons of the Horned Rat, and can be summoned by a Grey Seer. This is often used as a threat to unruly Warlords, although no Grey Seer would dare to summon a Vermin Lord unless they absolutely had to.


Learn More of the Nefarious Ratmen


~Which Chaos God do you think the Great Horned Rat will go after next?

  • Poosh

    The history rocks … until you get to the Age of Sigmar bollocks, gawd it’s painful to read.

    • Slite

      It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I still don’t get the whole realms thing, and how a city can sit at the edge of reality. Are the realms free moving? How can they gnaw through reality itself?

      Also, why is the horned rat a chaos god now? I know that Archeon also rejected the Horned Rats blessings as well. Its all weird.

      • Adam Murray

        It’s on th edge of reality which means the Skaven are an insidious threat to all the mortal realms. I love the old world fluff as well, I used to do fantasy roleplay back in the day and I’ve still got my map of the Empire somewhere. All of it still exists it just has an end point now. The new stuff is just new. It’s weird because it’s a different kind of fantasy than we’re used to but the story is evolving all the time. It’s never going to be as rich as the old fantasy that had 20+ years and loads of army books worth of fluff to give the armies a solid identity.

        • Adam Murray

          I don’t know if all of this means the Skaven will eventually become the Hrud in 40k. That’d be cool though.

        • Brian Brodeur

          AoS isn’t fantasy. It’s Mythology. That’s the only way ANY of it makes a lick of sense to me

          • Adam Murray

            And the Skaven made sense before? Where did all the poop go?

      • Gunther Clone C

        Horned Rat is a “Chaos God” because Slaanesh is currently captured/MIA, so he just hopped into the empty seat. Neither of the gods consider him their equal by any means, but at the same time, they haven’t told him, “No, you can’t join our club.” Archeon rejected his blessings because he shares the opinion of his benefactors.

      • Dan Wilson

        The idea is very similar to cammoragh sitting inside the webway. If you imagine gnaw holes as a parallel to the webway connecting various points in spatial reality.

      • Poosh

        it makes a kinda sense given there are no sensical rules anymore – I think – but it’s just childish nonsense at the end of the day, written without any thought. Such a pity, the Skaven prior to AoS had a great history.

        The Horned Rat is a Chaos God purely for cynical reasons and convenience. Such a pity.

        They could have easily made the new Skaven History – and AoS history/fluff in general – awesome but they didn’t, they just churned out this childish bile.

        • standardleft

          From what I’ve read AoS is using a different storytelling method.

          Where the Old World relied on history to create its world in a ‘One minute to midnight’ approach, AoS seems to using events that progress the story to build its world and characters.

          In Age of Sigmar, an example might be thewar over the Burning Peninsular, or the battle over the Realm of Life. The events move the story forward and creates boundaries over which certain factions have control.

          Fantasy has something like the War of the Beard, where it sets up a history , creates characters and traits for Dwarfs and Elves. The Story however remains as a stalemate of sorts, creating a great sense of place, but very little progression.

          Both approaches have merits and pitfalls.

          Fantasy became stagnant, where it became difficult to have any meaningful development, relying too much on creating history to tell stories.

          AoS has the problem of a vague background, which makes it hard to visualise the struggles and emphasise with races/characters.

      • standardleft

        It reads a bit like norse mythology. The realms don’t have ‘real’ boundries

        They appear to be dimensions controlled by one of the 8 winds of magic.

        I find this map of the Norse realms the best way to visualise a universe like AoS

        . http://www.germanicmythology.com/original/images/NorseComologyFrancisMellville.jpg

  • Mathew G. Smith

    Did AoS ever establish what happened to Thanquol? In The End Times he basically took over the Skaven with the help of the head Verminlord, but then he just disappeared and was never mentioned again.

    • Gunther Clone C

      I’ve been wondering the same thing, seeing that he still has a model/entry in the Grand Alliance book.

    • Dennis Finan Jr

      Ya, archaon killed him. Or so the story says

  • dave long island

    Ultimately, eventually, this will become a reality: space+Skaven=Spaven.

    • am1t

      Its already done …
      Mantic Games – Vermyn

  • Grumpy Scot

    Blight City.

    I guess Skavenblight was too old school.

    • euansmith

      Blight Lights, Big City

  • am1t

    Skavenblight = Hogwarts?

  • euansmith

    I’m not really sold on the Vermin Lords. They look too flamboyant for my liking and not really very Skaven; kind of like 80s’ hair-metal versions.

  • Anti-Gravity

    The old fluff is so much better than the trash GW is pumping out now with this sorry-ass AoS.

    I’ll be stuck in old rules editions with the old lore forever pretty much. It is superior in quality and depth, the new stuff is lazy and laughable.