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Age of Sigmar – How to Play Skaven

7 Minute Read
Feb 10

Today we check out the basics of Age of Sigmar’s Skaven and how to play the verminous hordes.

Buried beneath the Realms, in a plane all their own called the Under-Empire, the Skaven Ratmen plot and scheme to bring about the downfall of all creatures on the surface. Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of how to play the…well, quick and dirty ratmen.

What Are Skaven?

The Skaven Clans are a horde of mutated creatures born from sewer rats feasting on the magical substance warpstone, turning them into man-sized rodent creatures with a foul hatred of the surface and insatiable hunger. The very Warpstone that led to their transformation now serves as their economy, their primary food source, and the fuel for their infernal magic and diabolic inventions. Scheming, surprisingly intelligent, and utterly devious and evil, the Skaven will not rest until their race is the only one that remains and their grand empire covers the Realms. They would likely have already succeeded in their goal if they could stop undercutting one another for just a moment.

Why Play Skaventide?

The Skaven bring a ton of creative flexibility in the form of their Great Clans. Whether you favor unstable magic, unstable Steampunk-style engineering, drowning your enemies in hordes of bodies, or condemning them to the slow death of disease, the Skaven have something for you.


  • Massive Hordes of troops that get stronger the more there are.
  • Varied playstyles that give you tons of options.
  • One of the most rewarding warmachines in the game if you’re willing to take a risk.
  • A powerful Hero Monster with tons of variants.


  • Skaven require a lot of finesse and are NOT beginner-friendly.
  • Low army-wide leadership means you either take giant units, lots of leaders, or lose.
  • Your best weapons are as likely to explode as they are to work.
  • I hope you like batch painting.



Signature Rules

Each Skaven Great Clan gets special rules of their own, even in mixed legions, but the following applies across the board to all of them.

  • Lead From The Back – The “Look Out, Sir!” rule applies to melee attacks as well as shooting attacks, meaning your heroes are going to be notoriously hard to put down so long as they stay close to their followers.
  • Scurry Away – Instead of fighting, any of your heroes can choose to retreat, just in case they get caught alone and want to skedaddle.
  • Overwhelming Mass – Any Skaven unit gets to add +1 to their melee hit rolls while they have at least 20 models and +1 to wound while they have at least 30. That can turn an already problematic unit into a real threat, especially if you’re on the charge.
  • Strength In Numbers – When you take a Battleshock test for a Skaven unit, you get to add 2 to their Bravery for every 10 models rather than 1. Again, you want to be taking your units in big blocks to overwhelm your enemy and survive the hits back.


Like most other Chaos factions, Skaven is less an army with subfactions and more a collection of several different armies. They change battleline, command traits, and artefact selections based on who leads your army and what units make it up. Skryre favors warmachines and magical science, Eshin is a clan of skirmishers and assassins, and Verminus is the Skaven empire’s military arm, to name a few. Which one you play will entirely change up your playstyle, as unlike most armies, each one is radically different.

5 Key Units

The Skaventide are varied, and it is hard to choose 5 units that are key to every list. However, these 5 units will form the majority of Skaven lists, or are at least a good starting point for a Skaven army.


Clawlord – Your main combat lord, this rat will make your already scary rattos even more powerful, and he’s no slouch himself. He has 3 attacks that hit and wound on a 3+ and deal d3 damage with -1 Rend, which is already pretty good, but the more damage he takes, the more attacks he gets as he gets more and more frantic. He also has a command ability that increases the attacks of one Verminus unit wholly within 13″ by 1. Throw this on a full-sized unit of Stormvermin and watch the fur fly.

Stormvermin – The heavy infantry of the Verminus line and probably one of the biggest melee threats in the book, Stormvermin get stronger the more of them there are. They get 2 attacks each with a 2″ range that hit on a 4+, wound on a 3+, and deal 1 damage with -1 Rend. While that might not sound like much, remember that the Skaven are empowered by their fellows, so a full-sized unit of these rats instead hit on 3s and wound on 2s! Use the Clawlord’s command ability to turn them into living blenders, and make sure you bring Clanshields to make them as durable as possible. They can also charge after retreating with a full command, meaning you can get out of a dicey combat and still go on to mince something else.

Clanrats – Basically -1 Stormvermin, these will be the mainstay unit in almost every non-Skryre Skaven army. Cheap, expendable, and still decently dangerous in great numbers, they can tie up dangerous units while you get your warmachines positioned or your heroes to safety. They are also a good target for the Clawlord’s command ability, and they should always be equipped with spears to make sure the maximum number of models get to attack.

Grey Seer on Screaming Bell – A massive holy relic ridden by a crazed rat sorcerer is exactly the sort of nonsense that makes the Skaven so much fun to play. It also helps that this guy is a powerhouse in terms of fighting, casting, and support. The Cracks Call signature spell can ruin slow units, the Grey Seer and Bell ringer can lay down a lot of damage, and the bell makes all units wholly within 13″ immune to battleshock. Basically, if you bunker this model in a Clanrat unit, that unit will never break, and the Grey Seer can lay down spells with impunity. Even more fun, the bell has 7 random effects that occur every hero phase, determined by rolling 2d6. They can either be catastrophic or phenomenal in typical Skaven fashion, ranging from the bell damaging itself to summoning a Verminlord. If you want a big target to distract from your warriors and cause some ridiculous havoc, bring this monster along.

Warp Lightning Cannon – This is one of the most iconic Skaven pieces, and for good reason. The Warp Lightning Cannon is one of the most powerful Warmachines available to the Skaven, and can devastate even the most heavily armored units. It fires 6 shots a turn, and each one dishes out a mortal wound, but in a very unique way. You don’t roll to hit, you roll a d6 to check the power (you want to roll low) and then roll 6 more dice, dealing a mortal wound for every roll that equals or exceeds that number. That can tear apart a hero, severely weaken a monster, or decimate a small high armor unit. If you happen to have a Warlock Engineer nearby, you can try to boost the power, but you risk blowing up your cannon. You should always have a couple of these in your army to remove pesky threats.


Sample Army (1000 pts)

Army: Skaven

Leader: Grey Seer on Screaming Bell. General. Command Trait: Master of Magic. Lore of Ruin: Plague.

Leader: Clawlord. Mighty Warlord Command Trait: Powerful. Artefact: Things-Bane.

Battleline: 40 Clanrats. Full Command. Rusty Spear and Clanshield.

Battleline: 40 Stormvermin. Full Command. Rusty Halbred and Clanshield.

How to Play Skaven

Skaven reward risk and sacrifice, going for broke even with disastrous consequences. Always overcharge your weapons, throw your units into battle, and overwhelm your enemy with your dead until they are buried in bodies. When things inevitably go wrong, laugh it off, and when they go devilishly right, laugh maniacally. Basically, play this army like the furry mad scientist you are and take every failure as just another cog in your grand plan.

For The Horned Rat!

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