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Warhammer: Skaven – The Foul Ratmen

9 Minute Read
Sep 19 2023

Listen carefully for the sounds of gnawing below – today we delve into Warhammer’s 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.

Skaven History

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, to Kislev 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 Skaven Under-empire is more extensive then other races believe. It even runs underneath the seas to connect to distant Araby and Lustria.


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

Age of Myth

Legends claim that the Horned Rat brought the first Skaven into the realms in his jaws, and scattered them into the darkest corners where they quickly multiply to become the first Great Clans. As many as thirteen clans made up this initial invasion, as well as the Grey Seers of the Masterclan.  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 Verminlords teach the skaven how to create Gnawholes, each Great Clan ‘’improving’’ them in their own twisted fashion. In the Age of Myth, one of the original Great Clans, Clans Tichritt attacked Thandroa with their full strength and although the Endless Kingdom was destroyed, Sigmar and his pantheon took vengeance and annihilated them completely.

By the end of the Age of Myth, only nine Great Clans remain, and as the Age of Chaos progresses, the first great civil war rages between two Great Clans, Clans Verminus and Clans Ikk for dominance. Although Ikk is destroyed by the frothjaw plague, their animal ferocity twisted them into devolving abominations, the war rages on as Verminus tries to establish control over skavendom.


Age of Chaos

Clans Pestilens having aided Verminus, turned their attention to the Realm of Ghyran, joining with the followers of Nurgle to devastate the lands of Alarielle. Clans Skryre, ever their rival, attempted to counter their victory by a vast invasion of the Scabrous Sprawl led by Arch-Warlock Warpskreech. Skreech Verminking ended the civil war and ordered the remaining Lords of Decay to focus their attention on the other worshippers of the Dark gods of Chaos and the remaining forces of Order. The entire Clans Shyryt disappeared into a vast gnawhole in the Realm of Aqshy and were never seen again. < 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 Clans Pestilens sparked an all-consuming civil war for decades. One made far more brutal by the agents of Tzeentch. Skaven agents in the Realm of Azyr discover Sigmar’s plans to return with a new army. Clans Eshin plotted to make the best use of this information, which even the gods of Chaos were not privy to.

Age of Sigmar

Many Skaven clans were devastated by the arrival of the Stormcast Eternals, but others recieved warnings by Eshin agents. Those that were shattered by the onslaught provided plenty of new slaves and resources for the Clans Eshin.

The entire Grey Seer Order were summoned to the Chasm of Shattered Questions and spent thirteen nights and thirteen days in a hidden ritual, guarded by an array of Verminlords. Eshin agents were present during the final stages of the great ritual being enacted by Nagash at the heart of Nagashizzar. Their presence, although fatal to them disrupted slightly the intricate ritual and produced the Necroquake. The Lords of Decay had sensed the dread power being unleashed and like the other factions of Order and Chaos had sent multiple armies to stop it, but merely added to the grand melee outside the city.

As part of this effort, a huge gnawhole was launched into the Realm of Shyish to allow passage for the millions strong swarm of Things-master Snitterskritch. He emerged into the depths of the Khaphtar Sea, not only killing him and all his minions but unleashing a vast tide of undead into the heart of Blight City. The ensuing conflict was only ended by the infamous Grey Seer Thanquol.  To this day, Clans Skryre and Clans Pestilens continue to build their forces as Skavendom heads towards another inevitable civil war.


Skaven Physiology

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.


Skaven 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.


Skaven Religion

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?

Author: Larry Vela
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