It was...Rat Nazis!
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
It was...Rat Nazis!
Children of the Horned Rat is one of the most interesting books for the WHFRP2e line. It is probably overall the weakest of the 'enemy splat' books; we'll get to the mechanics after the requisite huge pile of Hams fluff but they're not very well thought out and most of them are kind of a mess. Despite this, it's very good at one thing: Telling you how to think like a shrieking, furry little nazi rat. Which is actually extremely helpful for writing them as villains! It also includes the tremendous novelty of playable Skaven, who are intended for all your Rat Nazi Paranoia with Friend Horned Rat needs, which can be really fun, though it takes a certain mindset to embrace the level of failure and blame passing necessary to play a Rat Nazi game.
Now, why do I keep calling them Rat Nazis? Because they are. The Skaven are a parody of fascism (well, less a parody and more an accurate representation): A bunch of murderous little assholes with an economy based on slavery and exploitation, living in misery and distracted by squeaking about racial superiority. They love expensive, impractical wunderwaffen. They're led by a bunch of preening, strutting jackasses who are very happy to make thousands (millions) of others die for their ideas about heroic struggle. The most important part of Skaven governance is climbing over one another to build (and piss on) little fiefs within their labyrinthine struggles of petty jackassery and rivalry. So yes. They're Rat Nazis. Just want to get that out of the way at the beginning before we go further into the book. Who doesn't want to punch Rat Nazis?
They also have a really unhelpful little bit of fluff, which we start the book with: The Empire (and ONLY the Empire, this is one of the problems) doesn't believe they're real. It's a running joke that sounds funny until you actually try to write missions and adventures with Skaven in them and then doing the 'oh no the Skaven are real' dance for the third time gets really fucking old. Especially when, again, every other nation and every other race in the setting absolutely knows, admits, and acknowledges the Rat Nazi issue. If I was going to change up one thing in Skaven fluff, I'd change it from 'They're REAL!?' to 'They have GUNS!?' and make it so that the Empire knows Skaven are real, it just thinks they're like other Beastmen, because they so rarely manage to stop knifing one another long enough to pose a real threat. Having everyone think of the crazy little rat-fascists as a joke and ignore them and leave them to the Ratcatchers still leaves you room to have wild-eyed agitators trying to warn people of the 'truth' of how the little fuckers have rifles and mustard gas.
To start us off, we get a pamphlet by a Priestess of Verena trying to warn the Empire of the impending Skaven threat, imploring you to believe her despite the way every force in the Empire tries to cover up their existence. Again, this would probably work better if it wasn't for the fact that Tileans know they're real. Estalians know they're real. Kislevites know they're real. Bretonnians know they're real. Dwarfs know they're real. Elfs know they're real. EVERYONE KNOWS except the Empire. Even in the section on how the Empire doesn't know, we'll have a bunch of people saying 'Oh, those? They can't be Skaven but yeah those are real.' It's just an annoying little song and dance after awhile, and not the good kind of Bretonnian dance.
Anyway, our first Legend of the Skaven is the Legend of Emperor Mandred Skavenslayer (skaven aren't real!) and the Incredible Cheese, wherein the future Emperor and then Graf of Middenheim is besieged by hoards of rats and makes the decision to gather every bit of cheese in his city and cook it, driving the rats into an insane frenzy of hunger. He then orders the dwarfs to cause a massive flood of the undercity when all the rats are within, charging for the delicious cheese. This kills the rat. This is a legend to explain why on the 14th of Ulricstide, Middenheim always has a grand cheese festival where they cook pots of cheese and sausage to celebrate Mandred Skavenslayer (who was later assassinated by ninjas). This is a popular legend in Middenheim that mentions Skaven by name, in honor of Emperor Mandred Skavenslayer. Again, the Skaven Aren't Real thing wears kinda thin.
Our next Rat Legend is an anti-wizard and anti-mutant polemic about a boy born with six toes who is stolen by wizards after his parents refuse to kill him for being a mutant. The wizards, naturally being in league with the devil as all wizards are, give the boy to the Skaven as a present and they hook up warpstone to his foot to start turning him into a Skaven. Then they bolt a box of rats to his back and make him run around putting rats in things to kill them with plague. He comes to kill all the boys who made fun of his six toes and hides from his parents and becomes an evil devil rat, with the moral being that wizards are evil and all mutants have to be killed as soon as they're born. Normal sort of Imperial polemic, but again, it mentions the Skaven by name.
Our selection of 'Common Views' of Skaven are mostly 'they aren't real' and 'I saw a rat walking like a man once, can't be Skaven, but, uh, kinda seemed like 'em'. Though we have one awful little bit about a scholar complaining that the Ar-Ulric has asked him to 'teach the controversy' on rat nazi existence, making a joke comparing 'Skaven are Real' to the batshit insanity that is the controversy over evolution in public schooling in the US, specifically as it has the scholar whining that it's insane that he's asked to 'teach the controversy' because 'now we'll never move beyond our benighted age' and the tone of that for that specific joke pisses me off a bit. We also get the view of a soldier who has had to regularly fight armies of Skaven, talking about how those can't be that 'Skaven' thing but how he prefers fighting them to Beastmen because they're smaller, weaker, and run like hell once you chop a couple.
We get into the scholarly view, that 'everyone knows' Skaven exist even though no-one will admit it. I get what they're going for, but when you have the Empire actively sending Hunters out to tell people the rats aren't real/punish people for talking about them, you're going a little past the normal Bretonnian dance of 'we all pretend this is the case' and get into something really annoying instead. I've always thought the Skaven Aren't Real thing was meant to be a bit of a take on UFO paranoia, with the government trying to conceal the existence of a technologically advanced race that kidnaps people for cruel experiments and uses lots of glowing green rocks and ray cannons, but again: It's really annoying in play and in practice. The Sigmarites get up to enough counter-productive stuff without suddenly having them be employed en-masse to scream that a major threat to the Empire isn't real. In fact, it's even completely counter to how Sigmarism normally does things. They're not really big on covering up the existence of threats to the Empire; they might not want you to know too many details about them, but they do want you to know Chaos, Vampires, etc are all problems
. The more I think about it, the less sense it makes that Sigmarism would pass up another existential threat to talk about, given their tendency towards a siege mentality.
Now, the bit on people who deal with the ratmen, this makes more sense. Imperials who learn a lot about them often start to think of them as a joke, and as something they can employ against rivals. After all, these are silly, squeaking little coward-rat people, right? They can't possibly be that dangerous. You can point the exploding little assholes at someone you don't like and watch the carnage, secure that you're getting the better of the bargain until the symptoms from the pox kick in or the ninjas burst through the door to shut you up. The Imperial spy dismissing them as any kind of threat in the Scholar's View section as he talks about how excellent they are as allies in matters clandestine? That's a good tack to take. I'd much prefer 'we don't understand the Rat Nazis are dangerous' to 'we try to pretend they're not real', as you still get the same plot arcs but it's less awkward and stupid to deal with. Plus, well, everything he's saying about them is still sort of true, even if they are a threat. He says those he's spoken to will all probably be dead from backstabbing soon enough, and that the rats are extremely prone to betrayal and backbiting, as the main thing that makes them not a threat. He's wrong that they have 'no culture or learning', and he's obviously getting played (who could possibly observe 'man, they're really good at assassinations' and then also go 'man, this is never going to come back and cause me trouble' in the same paragraph) but he ain't wrong that the Skaven are very prone to, uh, friendly fire.
The section on 'lands beyond the Empire' is a cavalcade of 'every other nation acknowledges the Skaven are real'.
You can tell the difference between Skaven and Beastmen primarily by the fact that Beastmen break everything when they attack. A town taken by Beastmen is going to be leveled to the ground; they are forces of Chaos and destruction and they hate the way things are A: Alive and B: Intact. Skaven attack towns primarily for the population, and they like to plan their assault such that they'll be able to capture as many people as slaves, experiments, and self-preserving food supplies (living meat doesn't rot, after all) rather than just burning the place to the ground. Skaven and Beastmen both prefer to avoid fighting hardened targets that fight back, but Beastmen are much more up for it if they get caught while Skaven will usually run away if things are more difficult than they expected. Skaven are also much more prone to using poison, sabotage, and large scale distractions. A town attacked by Skaven will usually be intact, but missing any signs of bodies or the population.
Part of the reason Skaven don't leave bodies is that they eat anyone they kill. Skaven are constantly, insanely hungry. The need for food is one of the biggest drivers of why Rat Nazi culture goes how it does. They'll eat their own, too, of course, which explains why they don't leave their own dead behind unless they were driven off the field entire.
The biggest sign an assassination was carried out by Skaven is if it seems to have been done by ninjas. I'm not kidding at all. There are actually literal rat ninjas, sure, but there's also the way Skaven love to climb and scamper, know a lot about hidden passages and tunnels, and use little shurikens with poison on them. The more an assassination seems to have been done by ninjas, the more likely it was rats. Also, the worse things smell, the more likely it was rats; skaven have a very, ah, olfactory culture and so have a lot of different and horrible musks that they unconsciously release.
Our pamphlet urges people who discover signs of the Skaven not to hunt them alone; they want to outnumber you. Also don't go to the Watch, they won't believe you and no-one will help you. This bit is fine, this is standard operating procedure for PCs as it is. There's a bit on duping Adventurers into fighting Skaven (never pay them in advance, by the time they realize how much danger they're in they'll need the money enough to finish the job), insisting Adventurers are generally the best way to deal with the rats. They tend to be the right mix of expendable, competent, and weird to somehow come out on top, and since they move around a lot, they'll evade the official crackdown on information about rat-people by wandering off to get into trouble elsewhere when they're done.
Also the section on Skaven Hunting has A: A grimdark super-strong hobbit who loves to snap Rat Nazi necks after he escaped their mines and B: A dwarf explaining that you have to talk to humans a lot about how you're just 'ratcatchers' so that they don't get out of sorts and actually pay you properly for hunting Skaven for them. 'Always get paid in advance, otherwise the humans will pretend what they hired you to kill doesn't exist and then stiff ya', says the dwarf. It doesn't really take anything special to murder a Skaven once you hunt them down. Of course, the greatest threat to the Skaven Hunter is that Skaven Don't Exist and the Empire will, of course, have you executed if your profession comes to light and blah blah let's make this material harder to interact with.
A Ratfighter's equipment sounds like equipment any high level combat PC wants: Handkerchief soaked in herbs to ward off the smell, plate armor to keep the little rat-knives out of you, halberd, brace of pistols, symbol of Sigmar (rats don't fear holy symbols, it's for you, not them), lantern, long coat, nice hat or helmet. The only odd thing is the clay, to hide your own scent. Remember what I said about olfactory culture? The rats have keen noses and they work as much by scent as they do by sight. In a dark tunnel where they can already see you better than you can see them, letting your smell stand out is only going to make things worse.
Next Time: The form and function of the common Rat Nazi
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Our next bit is an extensive in-universe dissection of rat people. Our scholar narrator had several bodies found by a tunnel crew trying to expand the cellar of a town hall, and had them delivered to a medical doctor for dissection and analysis. Yep, Skaven Autopsy! Complete with some pretty interesting art of Skaven on the dissection tray. The average rat is about 5 feet tall, but seems shorter since they usually stand hunched over. One rat in the bunch had very large, curving horns and white fur, and seemed to be more important and better fed than the others. The final body was an immense, muscular creature that the scholar took for a dead Rat Ogre; we'll be getting to our dear friend Roger (I will be calling all Rat Ogres Rogers, I've played a lot of Vermintide) in time, but suffice to say Roger is a wonderful example of evil corporate work at its finest. Two of the other rats was a bit bigger than the others, had black fur, and was carrying more weaponry, denoting a warrior class. Fur color is hypothesized as an important social signifier among the rat people, which is completely correct. White Rat on top, Black Rat below, Brown Rat at the bottom. No sure how the author determined the brown rat was the 'common' Skaven if the 5 rat party was a Grey Seer (wizard rat lords), two Stormvermin (Black Skaven warriors), a Roger, and a single brown rat, but hey.
Rats have fine, thick fur that protects from the cold, and that exudes a slight oil like an otter. From this, the author postulates (again, correctly) that the rats are good swimmers and frequently encounter water. The rats also possess extensive and complex scent glands, which seem to serve some kind of social function. From the presence of urine in the rats' fur, the author also posits that the rats piss on one another as a social marker, which is also correct. Skaven piss on everything, it's what they do. The rats are surprisingly scarred, suggesting very violent lives and a lot of old injuries. All the rats were slightly diseased, and the author suggests that infectious disease and pox must be a persistent problem for the ratmen. She also notes ritual scarring in a three-pointed triangle, suggesting a holy symbol and the presence of rat religion, which terrifies her! Rats shouldn't have religions.
Skaven are built to jump, climb, and scamper, with very powerful back legs (they run faster than humans) and the hunched posture suggesting adaptation to tunnels and a tendency to pounce on things. The rats are physically weaker than humans in anything but short bursts of activity, which the author posits is why most of them don't wear armor. They're very good climbers and jumpers, run quickly, and are very mobile, with sharp teeth and natural claws designed to rend and kill with the whole body. Everything about their physique is designed for short, hyperactive bursts of raw energy, probably accompanied by a lot of frantic squeaking and squealing. Everything about them is also just plain filthy, because these are not pet rats, these are wild rats who also got into fascism. An interesting extra is that Skaven have prehensile rat-tails, which are actually muscular enough that if one of them has the proper training, they can wield a weapon with 'em. The most horrifying revelation for the author is that the rats had guns with them. Guns they were dexterous enough to use. Guns she suspects they built. Guns that fire depleted (not depleted) wizard uranium (warpstone). Even worse, the white rat had warpstone in his belly, suggesting the little bastards can eat the stuff without catching fire or exploding. She also discovered undigested gold jewelry in the belly, suggesting the rats' stomachs could digest bone but not the gold jewelry worn on it. Another curious note: The rats have very small stomachs, and this might be part of the reason they need to eat constantly. The nose and ears are very developed, indicating the rats have good hearing and an excellent sense of smell, on par with a dog.
The most unnatural part of the Roger dissection was the realization that it was not a random mutation. Stitching and evidence of surgery suggested that the huge Rat Ogre was a designed organism, intended to be this huge and distended muscle-rat. Armored plates and metal stamping keep portions of the biology from ripping themselves apart from overpressure and strain, and natural weapons surpassing the normal strength of a Skaven have been implanted into the body. Evidence of spellcraft and flesh-moulding are everywhere on Roger. This is because, unknown to the author, Roger is a mass produced monster made by an evil megacorporation. I am excited to get to Clan Moulder in time. The author is frightened by the 'hostility of the world' evidenced by the existence of ratmen adapted to fight, kill, squeak, and chew their way across the world. Considering Goatman Prime is probably watching from the bushes as she writes this, I'm not sure how much of a revelation this really is. It's not like the world isn't already full of things that hate it. Her difference between Beastmen and Ratmen is the uniformity of the latter, with the Ratmen being relatively intelligent and able to build their own weaponry and armor rather than just being the eternal auxiliaries/jobbers of Chaos like Beastmen. All Imperials tend to assign the Ratmen to one of the Chaos Gods, and she assumes these guys are Tzeentch in his aspect as the Mutator, despite having just said they're best defined by the way their biology is in no way randomized.
Our main author now tells us, of course, that the authors of this, and indeed the authors of almost every scholarly work on Skaven, have been killed to death by ninjas. Usually after being condemned by the church. Our author then enters a short rant about 'I am very sane! Remember, reader, copy this pamphlet and pass it on, in case I, too, am KILLED TO DEATH BY NINJAS!' That said, I actually quite like the Skaven Autopsy section. It's a neat in-universe way to get at one of the most important parts of the rats: Their biology. They could probably be a lot more chill if they weren't constantly on the verge of starving and driven to hyperactivity and aggression at all times by that simple fact.
Our normal author takes over again, writing up how the Skaven sense of smell actually allows for the coordination of large units of squeaking little jerks much faster than simply talking. This makes moods spread fast among rats, though, which is where their tremendous reputation for panicking and running away comes from; once a couple start to squirt the musk of fear in the face of an angry Slayer, there's no stopping the rout. The rats cannot fully stop themselves exuding musk, which means a rat (or a Hunter) with an exceptionally good nose is going to be very good at reading their moods. We get a sidenote from a dwarf soldier saying you'd best wash your gear immediately after killing rats, because their blood mixes with and sticks with the musk and goddamn you're never getting that stuff off your axe if you don't clean it after every dozen you chop.
The rats are just big enough to 'hide under hood and cowl' and pretend to be human, the author assures us, which means EVERY BEGGAR COULD BE A RAT I'M SANE I TELL YOU NINJAS! but I digress. The thing they can't hide when trying to pretend to be human is how they walk. They scamper. They cannot but scamper. Their legs are crazy powerful and designed wholly for scampering. There's a lot about how they're so dangerous and stealthy but it all disguises the fact that they're about 5 feet tall and fairly easily smashed, which our dwarf buddy is happy to cut in with.
Rats will eat anything. Absolutely anything. They are always starving, and very bitey. Even an unarmed Skaven will try to drag a person down and get on their back so they can claw and bite. Our dwarf friend notes this is hard to do with dwarfs, and that it's better to have a lower center of gravity when you fight Rat Nazis. Wounds inflicted by Skaven need quick treatment because they're filthy little bastards with curved and jagged swords that are constantly covered in rust. If you don't see to rat wounds, you'll get rat infections, which are really the worst kind.
The best defense against the rats is armor. They love to use poison, especially the ones with the cool little throwing stars and face masks, and combined with the filth it's best to just not let them touch your precious blood. As an added bonus, the rats have a sense of technology but no concept of quality or craftsmanship, so their jagged little swords are usually prone to falling apart when they hit solid plate. Rats are actually very good at guns, so never fight them at long range if you can. If you let the rats control the field, you'll get picked apart by rifles, because Skaven Jezzails are about on par with Hochlander rifles and they tend to have a lot more of them. Get close to rats, spook them, and chop 'em, the dwarf agrees. If that wasn't bad enough, the little bastards have flamethrowers. The rats have weapons technology that exceeds human wisdom, with an emphasis on 'exceeds' and 'wisdom', given the likelihood of all these crazy wunderwaffen blowing up and killing the rats, or misfiring and killing the rats, or the rats deciding to shoot into melee and mostly killing the rats. Our author claims their weapons are superior to the dwarves, which obviously pisses off our dwarf commentator, who notes that dwarf crafted weapons don't blow up and kill their own user. Rats also like to use disease as a weapon, or to throw globes full of a sort of 'poison-wind'. If you see rats covered in robes and thick masks, this means you've got globadiers. Shoot that little bastard first.
Next Time: But what do they eat?
Industrialized Rat Babies
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Industrialized Rat Babies
Alright, let's get this out of the way. Skaven, according to our author, have industrialized the breeding process and have made the females of their race into giant mutated brood-mares that exist to do nothing but reproduce. Yep. On one hand, the Nazi connection kinnnnd of plays that out, given the Lebensborn program and a lot of their weirdness. On the other, this kind of stuff is usually a realllly bad idea in RPGs. This comes from the wargaming fluff, so there's no blaming the RPG authors specifically for it, but it's also the kind of thing that probably shouldn't come up in your game often. 'Horrible bloated broodmother rat' is just something I'd prefer to leave off the table and not talk about. There are very few Skaven women, and they aren't born very often, leading to this insanity. What could have checked their population numbers instead became a drive to brutalize the shit out of the female rats and produce more soldiers and workers. Skaven only take 3-5 years to reach physical and mental maturity. Very few live past 20.
Something else to note about our author: Because of the in-universe nature of this entire extremely long section, we're getting the author's breathless terror at the thought of fighting rat people for pages and pages, and she rather, uh, overestimates the rats. They are not nearly as physically dangerous nor as impervious to calamity as our author likes to rant about; she talks about the damn things like they were the goddamn perfect being because she's afraid of them and possibly going a bit nuts. The bit about 'they breed so fast they could survive endlessly on eating their own offspring' is obviously hyperbole, as is her idea that they must be immune to all diseases (they are not) and poisons (they are definitely not, rat poison will kill them). They eat anything they can get their paws on, it's true, but if what they eat is poisoned or completely rotted they'll die all the same as anyone else. She claims every single Skaven has to eat their own body weight in raw meat every day. Given the little guys are almost the size of humans, this would mean they're eating 80-100 pounds of flesh every day, which is obviously impossible, especially with the earlier fluff about them having small stomachs and generally eating small meals many times. The drive for food is one of the main things driving Skaven culture; they never know where their next meal is coming from, and many of their invasions are actually attempts to seize livestock, food stores, and other edibles. Their rapid metabolisms and high octane crazy make them hungry hungry hungry.
Skaven actually live in huge cities underground, where they live in terrible little warrens and ramshackle buildings. There's no idea of permanence among the rats, is the impression I get; you build something to live in it now, you don't really care if it's standing in a couple years because you might be dead. Skaven partly hate dwarves so much because dwarves are also tunnelers, and they fight over the best and most livable tunnels. In addition, Skaven feel much safer underground, knowing that humans and elves don't operate very well in hunched tunnels; that goes out of the window when a bunch of bearded badasses with shotguns, riot shields, and extremely heavy armor are bullying a bunch of rats around the tunnels. They build mines, transport networks, underground farms, and giant nurseries full of squalling baby rats; they actually need infrastructure way more than 'we have infinite supplies and just magic up an army' types like Chaos. You can, in fact, go in and wreck up the Skaven's shit; they actually need to keep themselves supplied and most of the infrastructure they use for it is very volatile because it's all powered by warpstone.
Skaven keep attacking the surface, our author claims, because they are the only race in the setting that can't imagine being annihilated. There are so many of them, and they breed to quickly, that they instead worry entirely about the individual rat. Every single rat is constantly pondering where their food is coming from, how they'll stay safe, and how they'll move up. This actually leads to the unique thing about the rats: They might be a squeaking horde of fur and rusty daggers, but they give a shit. They really
give a shit about dying. Every individual rat tends to think they're the most awesome rat that ever squeaked, and they will do everything they can to live through fighting your PCs. The author posits that this sense of self-importance, plus their overall sense of insane security (who could ever imagine the Under Empire exploding?) is why every rat is looking at the rat to his left and the rat to his right and plotting how to make sure they're
the one that gets their throat torn out by your small, but vicious dog. She reasons it's similar to how the Empire ends up in civil wars whenever Chaos isn't attacking them for a couple decades, but writ across the entire history of the Under Empire.
Rat society is structured by fur color and unbridled ambition. This section gets kinda repetitive, to be honest, and I think the in-universe stuff drags on. There's 26 pages of the agitated Verenan wailing about how rats are going to kill us all before we get to anything else. This is like a fifth of the entire pagecount. White rats are priests and wizards. Black rats are warriors. Brown rats are whatever the other rats force them to be or whatever they've managed to claw their way into being. Skaven society has dozens of levels of hierarchy beyond this, because if there's one thing the rats like more than backstabbing and eating, it's lording over every other rat they think they can get away with lording over. Skaven infighting is a little different from all the other antagonist factions of the setting in that it happens partly because the conceited little bastards think other Skaven are way more of a threat than you, in the abstract. Playing their dumb politics against one another will win you battles, probably even wars. I think the only people who can rival Skaven for self-assurance are elves, and with about as disastrous of consequences.
The rats worship a great god called the Great Horned Rat. Imperials will always immediately identify the Horned Rat as a Chaos God, and certainly GW did the same eventually because they're hacks, but it's much more interesting if it's something else. Priesthood is hereditary, with white or grey furred rats with cute little horns marking them as magically gifted, a process our author identifies as being similar to how collegiate Wizards take on aspects of their Wind. The three-scratch triangle that accompanies rat people in their wanderings is their holy symbol, and one of the few things the Skaven will actually try to protect. They can't resist putting it on everything as a show of faith to their God, because the average Skaven is very devoted to the Horned Rat. Interestingly, this makes the Skaven the only monotheists in the setting; they think the Horned Rat will eventually eat all the other Gods. The Horned Rat is basically Rat Sigmar, really; he's a manifestation of everything the rats think is cool about a person and the direct patron of their entire civilization. The problem being that while humans think things like 'cooperation' and 'protecting others' are cool (and so assign them to Sigmar) the rats think being a murderous betrayer who climbs over the piles of their former friends and allies to the top is cool, so the Great Horned Rat is all about gnawing and backstabbing and the inevitable annihilation or subjugation of all non-Skaven.
The section on Skaven tech could be summed up with 'it's powerful, but made by the lowest bidder, explodes, and Warpstone isn't safe, even for them.' The Skaven also dearly need Warpstone; if they run out their civilization will absolutely collapse. They bend as much as they can towards getting more Warpstone. They need it. It's their cocaine, their oil, and their plutonium all at once. They are also causing immense ecological damage everywhere they go. Our author is quite clear: If there can be found a way to destroy Warpstone and the supply can be cut off, the Skaven will die. Yes, that's a big ask, but at least there's an objective and a critical point rather than a dozen more books about how you can never ever fix the polar gates or otherwise stop Chaos, right?
We also get an Ulrican legend about the creation of the world as we know it, where Ulric alone tries to hold the collapse of the polar gate and Ranald runs away without warning anyone. The other Gods won't help until Verena goes to help Ulric and shames the others into making him King of the Gods and everything and he helps the humans learn to fight Chaos and they mostly contain it, etc etc. Obviously a legend in favor of the Ulricans, and told by Ulricans, but the outline is similar to many of the human myths of the Collapse. The interesting part is this legend claims the Skaven arose from the rats that ate the corpses of the first Chaos champions and infected humans. This is one of our possible origins for the ratmen.
The other, more popular (and probably true) myth is the Doom of Kavzar. See, there was a city in what becomes Tilea where man and dwarf lived in peace after the elves had been pushed off the continent. Their city was great; they lived in harmony, everything was lovely, and they wanted to thank the Gods for it. So they undertook building a great tower with a shrine to every God in the same place. They weren't able to finish their tower, and as they despaired that they'd lose the blessing of the divine, a grey-cloaked man came before them. He said he'd finish the tower immediately, if they let him place a shrine to his God on the top. Being very stupid people who forgot about how you shouldn't trust mysterious wizards talking about Gods they won't mention, they agreed. He snapped his fingers, tower was finished, and on top of it stood a great bell. They thought the bell was going to be cool at first.
The bell was not cool.
The Gods stopped listening to the people of Kavzar, and terrible storms came upon their city, as the bell kept tolling away. They locked themselves in their homes and holds, and prayed for their mistake to be undone. Instead they got positively blasted with rats. Just rats everywhere. Eating people. Turning into rat people. Sinking the entire city into a massive morass and set of tunnels built out of the destroyed dwarfhold underneath it. Given how Skavenblight (first city of the Skaven) is in Tilea, and given how the rats goddamn love bells as a major holy symbol of the Great Horned Rat...yeah, I'm gonna go with this is the one that happened. Sorry, Ulricans.
And now we finally get into the actual book proper.
Next Time: A history of rat violence.
Rat people run, run like the wind
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Rat people run, run like the wind
Remember how last chapter left it ambiguous where the ratmen came from? Yeah, we immediately start of with 'Lol the Doom of Kavzar is real, fuck the Ulricans' in a firm authorial voice, 8 'o clock, day 1. We also get a little bit on how Skaven history is a bit sketchy because the little buggers don't actually keep many records. They're so focused on the now and the near future, why would they care what happened to some loser who obviously didn't manage to take over the world 2000 years ago? When they do record history, it's almost always personal/great rat history, either as an attempt to flatter a superior by bigging him up or an attempt to leave behind a record of how cool they were. From these scraps of boasting we get the history of the vile ratmen.
However, we get a really
interesting implication here. The Skaven don't speak of Kavzar much, but their records show they call the strange grey hooded man 'The Shaper' and claim he came from 'an Older Race'. Now, Skaven are obviously not part of the Great Plan, but the direct implication in book is that the Shaper was some kind of renegade Old One. The device he installed at the top of the great tower of Kavzar was the first Screaming Bell, but it was also specifically a device to call down meteorites from the orbital junk cloud around the planet. Meteorites made of Warpstone. The terrible storms and cold seem to have been caused by a meteor strike. As does the mutation of the city's rats. Given what Old Ones did to the rest of the world's races, the idea of a renegade making the rat people post-Collapse when they were all supposed to be gone already is interesting. The Warpstone rain was so intense it even transformed the architecture of the city, turning it into a stark and hellish cyclopean mess. The Skaven were born out of the deaths and suffering of everyone in the great city of Kavzar, their birth pangs the death of a prosperous and happy civilization.
What else is interesting is the little guys were chill for a long time after eating Kavzar. They had Warpstone, they had food, and they had enough space. They spent a long time just living in the ruins, now called Skavenblight, building stuff and twitching their little noses, boggling and bruxing. Look, I had pet rats as a kid, I'm always going to think rats are a little adorable. Then they started to run out of Warpstone and started to plan what to do next. Without it, none of what they built would work! It was a divine gift from the Great Horned Rat and/or Shaper, right!? Literal manna from heaven. So they got an idea: Build a giant drill! This will solve everything! We will build a giant drill and force endless magical energy through it and then we'll build a hollow world where we can all live and get-get the Warpstone and everything will be great! Absolutely nothing could go wrong with building a massive terraforming project on an undreamt of scale and then shoving endless chaotic power through it.
Miraculously, everything worked great and the rats live a peaceful existence side by side with the world in their holl
Hahaha everything fucking exploded!
With the drill machine exploding, millions of rats died as they accidentally sank all of Skavenblight into the swamp. The idiots who had caused all this were up higher, and survived, as is the Skaven way, became the new lords of the Skaven, the Council of Thirteen, and the surviving wizards who'd fucked everything up became the Grey Seers. You're going to see a lot of this with rat nazis, where the fuckups are at the back, manage to survive, and climb over the corpses to become the leaders. RAT PEOPLE! Anyway, the rats begin a new process and a new plan, which they call the Great Sniff: We're all starving to death and the paradise made for us by someone (possibly an asshole Old One) is now in the sea/swamp. Step 1: Start the pumps. Step 2: Send rat colonists everywhere and start building wide, building tall was screwing us. This is how we get rat ninjas, but I'll come to that later. The rats then come into conflict with the dwarves, who at this time have A: Kicked the hell out of the elves and B: have a giant underground world-city. The rats do not mention how much help they got in fucking up that world-city from a certain fat idiot frog half the world away; you remember how people have gone on about how one of the Lizardmen Slaan went to war with continental drift? Yeah, that's, uh, kind of one of the big reasons we've got rat problems. Because it blew up the dwarf world-city and cut all the holds off from one another when they'd been used to being able to plan around a world-spanning tunnel network for mutual defense.
The rats, as I said, don't mention any of that and nor does their book. They just say they got to work fighting the dorfs alongside the greenskins as allies of convenience. Turns out sneaky rats and angry orcs go together like peanut butter and chocolate if deliciousness was dead dwarves, and so the war was going pretty well for our strong rat sons. They helped let the orcs into dwarfholds, let the orcs burn them down, then stole everything and ate the bodies. They had a rhythm going. Then they invaded Karaz-a-Karak, the greatest hold of all dwarfkind, and the dwarves were desperate enough to use something as yet untested: Gunpowder, originally designed to blast open new tunnels. Explosions rocked the mountains such that even the orcs were afraid, and both sides withdrew to try to figure out what the hell had hit them. Meanwhile, the dwarves would sequester this stuff to study it and try to figure out how and why that worked and test it for ages. The rats prepped for another strike to finish off the bearded ones, reasoning they couldn't possibly do that twice and that they'd run out of explosions before the rats ran out of bodies.
It went perfectly! They exterminated the dwarves and moved on to INHERIT-INHE
And then a bunch of assholes who'd gone to Lustria came home. This caused a civil war that took the rats out of the fighting, then a couple centuries later the dwarfs allied with some backwater king named Sigmar and smashed the orcs at Blackfire Pass, ending the crisis.
See, Clan Pestilens, one of the branches of the Great Sniff, had gone to Lustria. They'd discovered they really liked disease while in Lustria. And then they's
gotten their asses beaten by Sotek the serpent god
decided entirely on their own and of their own free will to come home and share how much disease was the only will of
THE GREAT HORNED RAT under their great leader Nurglitch (GEE I WONDER WHAT HE REALLY WORSHIPS). But that comes later. First the Skaven have to save the world.
I know kommy5 covered this in his partial review and it's been talked about a ton of times, but c'mon, this part has to be retold in full because it is the shining moment of ratman glory for our strong rat sons. A true supreme state of ratmind. The Skaven had a Nagash problem, you see. He objected to the existence of all these alive things in the world (because he could perfectly control the dead, so moving everything from the alive column to the dead column would mean world domination for the Great Necromancer), while the Skaven really liked being alive. He was also using massive amounts of Warpstone to build his powerful giant death pyramid and other doohickeys, and the Skaven wanted this to build their own world-ending doohickeys, because it's only fun when they do it. The Grey Seers realized they would have to beat him, but he was really hopped up on crazy magic juice and insanely powerful, and you've got to remember Necromancy was fairly new to the world at the time, so nobody quite knew how to beat it. Rather than try to attack him heroically like suckers, they instead built an insanely powerful sword, so powerful it will kill everyone (including the guy wielding it) called the Fellblade. Then they had to find someone to wield it, and the Skaven figured out a way better plan than giving it to a random rat they could sucker into it. They instead found a heroic Khemri king locked in a dungeon with a tragic backstory and gave it to him, then spun him around and pointed him in Nagash's direction. Then the entire Council and Seers backed him up, basically controlling him like a puppet, because the sword let them see through their chosen epic hero. I imagine the eventual epic battle was actually pretty hilarious, with the Skaven Council as a peanut gallery screaming 'NONO! Stab-stab!" "YES-YES! PARRY LEFT!" the entire time while the occasional Grey Seer head exploded from the magical strain of protecting their fighter from Wizard Bullshit. Nagash was hacked into so many pieces that even that bastard stayed down. The rats swarmed in to grab the Nagash bits and throw them in a fire, which is the proper way to handle this, but they missed a hand because they're dumb rat people and that's why we still have Nagash problems to this day.
Still, they almost got him. Of all the people who have fucked up Nagash, they got the closest to actually putting a stop to him. By livestreaming a random king attacking him for vengeance while they cheated like crazy to drag him over the finish line in his epic duel. It is the most beautiful moment in all of ratman history. Nagash later came back and utterly destroyed the rats who'd moved into his old digs, but they'd already mined out the Warpstone and he was sort of weak after his rebirth, so the rest of the rats didn't bother fighting him. He then wandered up north to regain his strength by crushing these primitive barbarians and their little 'Sigmar' king so that he could return to Khemri and oh dear that went really badly for him.
And that brings us to Pestilens. After all this mess, Pestilens tried to take over the Under Empire, declaring a new insane disease-based theocracy and that disease was the only will of the Great Horned Rat. They'd learned a bunch about it from stealing stuff from the Lizardmen down in Lustria, and the implication is, of course, that they'd been turned by Nurgle and were probably heretical against the Rat. When they returned home, they first demanded the Council recognize they were a legitimate priesthood of a totally legitimate branch of GHR worship. The Council ate their emissaries and said 'lol'. They challenged the Council by unleashing the first bioweapons on their fellow Skaven, killing millions of ratmen and starting the greatest civil war in the history of a species known for its amazing civil wars. For the next 400 years, rat fought rat, more than anything else, and most of the world forgot rats were a problem, because so many goddamn rats died in the fighting. Disease swept through packed rat-cities, while Warlock Engineers blew up Plague Temples with giant earthquake machines and huge armies of expendable rat nazis battled through all the dark places of the world. It was pretty metal.
Sadly, it couldn't go on forever, and the rats eventually caused the collapse of their ent
AND THEN THE NINJAS ARRIVED.
Clan Eshin returned from Cathay bearing shurikens, cute little face masks, and kung fu. They immediately swore allegiance to the Council, which rewarded them with power and pride of position, and then sent their adorable little ninja rats to start killing Plague Priests. This eventually got Pestilens to the bargaining table, with the Council swearing not to kill Nurglitch on the way to peace talks. After the unusually low number of assassination attempts failed, Nurglitch came before the Council and promised to serve as one of the Great Clans. They didn't like this idea, but then he revealed he had infected himself with a disease that would destroy all of Skavenblight and the entire Council if they didn't say yes, and suddenly they liked the idea a lot. Thus came Pestilens to the service of the Council and the Great Clans.
You remember the plagues of 1111 and the poor rule of Emperor Boris Goldgather. That was rat people (the plagues, the poor rule was a result of systemic corruption in the Imperial government). Rat people invaded the Empire after the massive plague, and would have destroyed it, except that they also invaded Sylvania because it had Warpstone. That was a mistake. A strange foreign noble taught the people of Sylvania how to raise the dead (thanks Vlad!) and massive armies of zombies proved to be a bit of a shock to the ratmen. They didn't outnumber them, they couldn't scare them, and poison didn't work. The ratmen were slaughtered, and worse, slaughtered ratmen made good zombies, too! The ratmen refused to lose to a bunch of strange-accented backwater yokels and so sent a huge army to Sylvania, tying up their forces, while meanwhile Count Mandred of Middenheim
used his incredible cheese
flooded the lower reaches of the city, then sallied forth and began destroying the rat garrisons left behind. Mandred Skavenslayer reunited the Empire and destroyed the ratmen, and ever since they've had a great hatred of Man-Things.
The last bits of history go into how rats are everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. The extent of their tunnel systems rivals the old dwarf under-way, and they live under almost every major human settlement. Worse, they've starting to build trains. In a century or two, they might have an underground rail network to let them move quicker than any other species in the setting, even more than they already do. Train Rat Nazi or the even more dangerous Truck Rat Nazi cannot be allowed to come to be
. The rats claim they almost defeated Emperor Magnus on his way home from beating Chaos in 2302, but that they just 'decided' not to finish him off for 'reasons', so I'm gonna take that with a grain of salt and assume they got sent squeaking back into their holes. They claim the same about their aid for Archaon, saying that they're just waiting for the right moment when the humans are sufficiently divided in the aftermath to actually destroy them. They DID send Rat Agent 47, Deathmaster Snikch, to go kill Valten as he recovered from failing to kill Archaon. This was a clever move that will cause serious religious disunity in the Empire. Now the rats are plotting in the shadows, thinking about maybe attacking the humans in the aftermath of the war...unless your group of 3-6 PCs and their small, but vicious dog get involved, then all bets are off and everything will end in fire and squeaking and accusations of treason.
Just another day in the Under Empire.
Next Time: Life in a totalitarian hellhole ruled by narcissistic buffoons
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
You must understand: Rats are cowards because cowardice is usually the best way for them to survive. They live in an authoritarian hellhole where resources are scarce, work is dangerous, combat is moreso, and they are eminently replaceable. Every individual Skaven is approaching life based on what will keep them alive. Skaven are born without family, kept in litters that are actively encouraged to hurt or eat one another, and told at all times that they can trust no-one and that the world is a bad and terrifying place. Add to that the constant pangs of hunger, an insanely overworked adrenal system, and a predisposition to constant, spastic nervous energy and it's no wonder the little guys are so twitchy. When they see no other way, they can be astonishingly brave, especially if there are a lot of other rats around; one of the biggest things that will motivate a bunch of these guys to go to war is going hungry if they don't.
Skaven are a weird kind of contradiction where they're deeply afraid of other Skaven, yet very, very social. They react to one another with constant suspicion and fear the (often projected) covetous designs of their clanmates and fellow workers/soldiers/mad scientists, but a Skaven is also never alone. Nor do they want to be alone. After all, you need other Skaven around so that you can blame someone else whenever anything goes wrong. No Skaven ever, EVER willingly admits to failure; it's always the other Skaven's fault, or a hidden enemy messing with his plans, or outrageous bad luck thwarting his genius. This started as a means to survive in an authoritarian state, but it's become so deeply ingrained in the lower-class Skaven collective psyche that most of them believe it. Most Skaven cannot actually imagine making a mistake; everything is a hidden trap laid by someone else. Leaders do the same thing, but theirs is more a matter of making examples of subordinates or blaming the subordinates of an enemy as a means of discrediting them. Moreover, at that level of Skaven society? Yeah, a good bit of what goes wrong really is someone trying to fuck you over. The Skaven obsession with culling the weak leads to a brittle society that has, ironically, greatly weakened itself because no-one can actually trust anyone and this makes collective action of any kind really difficult. The rat race is endless, as a Skaven who manages to rise in society has other Skaven above them still, or 'peers' (who are obviously inferiors) even at the rank of the Council of Thirteen. There is no peace for Skaven. The Skaven actually don't know how long a normal Skaven lifespan is; the richest among them live for centuries, sustained by all kinds of technological marvels, while the poor rarely make it to 20. The idea of dying of natural causes, in your bed, is beyond the ratmen.
The ideal for the rats is someone who is petty, jealous, sly, and deceitful. A great leader will take all the credit for success, while finding ways to blame others for failure, not to mention making others take the risks and do the hard work. The ideal for a Skaven is getting to do nothing while being lauded for it. Leisure of any kind is seized on, and even the most minor success will be exaggerated and retold over and over by the successful rat. Every success must be epic! Every struggle heroic! In this, again, we see the rat fascism. Every rat dreams of being lauded by their peers, yet fears attention, because attention means those peers start trying to sabotage you more than usual, and that your superior might notice you're planning to eat him before you're ready to do so. This is not true for every clan, of course; we'll get to that when we get to the clans, but some of them have a very different outlook. But your average minor Warlord Clan Skavens? Dreaming constantly of eating their boss and then pissing on all their coworkers.
Every Skaven knows all they have can be taken in an instant. No Skaven is genuinely secure in life. A Skaven fears losing status, wealth, and position, but more than anything they fear the way their co-workers will make fun of them if they do. Everyone is afraid to suddenly find themselves beneath the people they work with. The chittering laughter of a former peer as you're demoted to doing menial labor for them is the constant, total nightmare of the ratman. Thus, after fear, the most common Skaven emotion is spite. The Skaven consider all this inter-species struggle a good thing. They've convinced themselves it means only the best rise to the top, and that all the competition makes them strong, even as their history is full of 'and we had a civil war and lost all our progress on the matter'. The most powerful clans encourage this mindset, as do the most powerful rats within the lesser clans; it means that their inferiors look on them as the superior rats. Not only that, but by keeping the lower classes divided and constantly squabbling (or the lesser clans from uniting), those at the top can maintain their power. The squabbles of their lessers do most of the work for them. If the little rats ever united, they could change Skaven society, but everything in Skaven society is designed to encourage them not to do this.
When remembering how much the rats hate everyone else in the setting, it's best to remember they consider their victory inevitable. This is one of the reasons they keep turning to civil war; they're going to win and INHERIT-INHERIT whole world eventually anyway, yes-yes? So must make ready-sure the other ratman not higher than me, no-no! Also they do that little thing where they clip their sentences and repeat words for emphasis and Skaven voices are actually really hard to write without a lot of practice; I could do it fine when I was actively playing a Skaven but I definitely struggle with it now. Their speech is basically directly counter to my normal writing style anyway, so I'll be keeping the ratman talk to a minimum during the review.
That said, Skaven hate dwarves. They and the dwarves fight over the tunnels and the mining, but they also hate the dwarf-things for being dangerous at tunnel fighting, physically hardy, and very good at science and engineering. Neither would ever admit the other's engineering was superior, and they both look down on humans (Dwarves in a paternalistic sense, ratmen in a way more racist one), but they're near equals of one another. That said, the Skaven have assumed the dwarves are a solved problem for roughly the last 2600 years. They're a dying race clearly in decline who'll collapse any day now! It never occurs to the rats that they've been saying that for nearly 3 millennia at this point. They also tend to be really scared of dwarves when it comes time to actually fight them. Sure, sure, dying race, doomed in the long run, that isn't going to save you from that lot of bearded badasses with the gromril riot armor and a flamethrower.
Skaven also hate elves. They'd never admit it, but they're genuinely scared of elves. The elves have better magic than they do, and in ways they don't quite understand. Elves also don't have extensive sewer systems for Skaven to infiltrate, so they've had a hard time getting footholds to gather intelligence against them. Moreover, elves have multiple flavors of edgelord ninja that can match their own. They also hate the way you can never tell if the elves are going to show up. Take the campaign in Bretonnia after the red pox: The Bretonnians suddenly pulling out that crazy disease immune duke from Mousillon was already unfair enough, how did they also suddenly get to have a bunch of ninja murder elves and their spectacular tree buddies show up and start punting rats like footballs? That was total bullshit, say the rats! The book mentions they still
whine about that particular campaign 700 years later. Oh, rat people.
Skaven ignore halflings, like the rest of the world. Yeah, you can eat 'em, but they're too fatty to really satisfy, and surprisingly greasy. Plus, they whine about everything, refuse to work no matter how much you kick them, and generally just aren't worth the trouble to enslave. Keeping them healthy requires massive amounts of feeding for how tiny they are, too. Just not worth it.
Skaven hate humans. Skaven have hated humans ever since the humans beat them in 1116. They like the way you can often convince humans to turn on other humans by giving them gold and appearing to be less of a threat, and they tell themselves the humans are weak, corrupt, and will be easily conquered as soon as they get serious. But they're still afraid of them, having lost a 'sure thing' to them after the Black Death. They tell themselves they watch the humans so carefully because they're funny, because they're useful tools, and because they make good slaves; in reality, they know humans will be one of their greatest challenges in their campaign to INHERIT-INHERIT the world. In places where humans are clearly aware of their existence, they are attacked at every opportunity; Tileans might not unite around much, but they'll come together to stomp on rat faces. To that end, they do everything they can to keep the Empire believing they aren't a threat. They say it's a matter of convenience, but the Empire is one of the few nations that could really make progress against them if it really turned its fury on the ratmen.
Whether they're born from Chaos or not, the ratmen don't like Chaos, either. See, they know what Chaos is planning, and they know it ends the same place as Nagash's plans would've, so long ago. They're not very interested in being a pile of rat skulls on Khorne's mantle, and they don't trust the Beastmen or Champions, because they don't trust anyone. They'll work with them sometimes, but they're always planning to put a knife in their back eventually. They have no interest in helping to throw some heavily armored faceless dipshit over the finish line so that the Dark Gods can destroy the world; that world is for SKAVEN. Horned Rat will eventually eat the other Gods anyway, and that includes the Big Four. The most useful partners they've had have tended to be the greenskins; they're easily duped and need the kind of help the Skaven provide. These 'friendships' and 'treaty-pledges' rarely last long-term, because in the end, Skaven can't even get along with Skaven, why would they bother making friends with anyone else?
Next Time: The Rat Life
BE THE RAT
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
BE THE RAT
I've already mentioned, but rat language repeats words for emphasis and tends to be very quick and very clipped. They don't do long sentences, instead preferring to yell out multiple short fragments at a time. Monosyllabic words are the most commonly repeated, and sometimes a word will be said, then another word like it, in rapid succession to link the two and get across that both should be emphasized. For instance, Skaven tend to repeat yes or no. They almost never just say yes or no, it's usually yes-yes or no-no. Most Skaven statements are kind of exclamatory because they're very, very excitable. Other common compound words are things like 'treaty-pledge!' or 'eat-kill!'. They have an easy time learning and even speaking other languages, but have a very hard time dropping this speech pattern, even when they want to be disguised. Also, you see how I use a lot of commas and semicolons because I like to link clauses together? Rats don't do that. Ever. Only the most pretentious and educated Grey Seers will have so much as heard of the comma, and the knowledge of the noble semicolon is completely beyond these little lunatics. Queekish (ratprattle) is very hard for humans to speak, not just because of the velocity of the language, but because it incorporates the Skaven's love of musk.
Little guys just love spraying musk everywhere. Skaven can learn to control their musks enough to fool other ratmen with their poker-scent, and very few humans understand exactly how each stink means the rats are thinking, so they don't give away as much as you'd think. Our good buddy the Musk of Fear is actually a communal warning system, and it's only secreted when the rat is scared out of his fucking mind. This is intended to warn all the other Skaven in a burrow or unit 'OH NO RATSNIK HAS NOTICED A SQUIG!'' and provoke a communal response to danger. Skaven culture having evolved as it has, the communal response is likely to be 'trip Ratsnik, run like hell'. Each individual rat has different triggers for their fear response, and all Skaven are in a constant state of anxiety, so you never know what's going to set one of them off. Once one goes off, the effect can push other rats over the edge, leading to the famous Skaven chain-rout, where all rats begin to run in all directions, screaming. In contrast, there is also the MUSK OF BATTLE, the musk saying 'alright rat people, we're cornered, we're all dead if we don't fight, bite, claw, and gnaw, until it is done!' which turns the normally twitchy and anxious rats into frenzied little survivalist murderers. This usually grows in response to a community running out of food or living space, and the concentration of murder-musk grows until the rats are sufficiently pungent to overcome their cowardice and go to war.
Skaven fucking love drugs
. Fucking love 'em. Skaven culture is surprisingly hedonistic, because if you can get away with goofing off from work and having fun somehow, you'd better do it now because you might be dead tomorrow. Most Skaven drugs are like Skaven: Designed to produce a short lived and intense euphoric delusion. Others have actual medical purposes, but more still are distributed to rats who are going into battle because the only thing faster than a Skaven is a Skaven on amphetamines. Besides, we all know nazis love amphetamines. Because the rats are so deeply tied with Warpstone, rather than just making them catch fire and die while growing eighty tentacles like humans, eating or snorting Warpstone dust is like very powerful cocaine for them. Warpstone addiction is common among Grey Seers, who use it for visions of the Horned Rat and the enhancement of their magic. In general, Skaven think of Warpstone as a divine gift from the Horned Rat that belongs to Skaven and ONLY Skaven. Even in places where a design wouldn't actually need Warpstone, they add Warpstone, because FUCK YEAH WARPSTONE.
Skaven Customs begin with Flattery. If you're the lower rat, you better know how to quickly and efficiently flatter a higher rat without appearing like you're trying to. Customary rat flattery is an actual art form among the Skaven, with an artist who is excellent at bigging up their bosses being expected to rise high in society regardless of any other merits. Skaven leaders can acquire so many titles via their fawning underlings that messages start to take awhile to deliver, oh great-mighty killer of cats, eater of cheeses, shrewd-brave devourer of man-things!
Another common custom is infanticide. You take someone else's burrow, you let the adults become slaves, but you eat the young rats. It's considered a victory party, really. Someone saw the bit where rats eat babies and decided that was going to be perfect for the spastic nazi rats. Skaven also piss on everything. Everything. They feel much more comfortable when their things smell like them, and their things include their subordinates. They also leave behind little trails of marking as they travel, not to mark territory, but to lead them home and show them where they've been.
I'm just going to quote the section on Nose Elevation in full, because it's perfect and I can't add anything:
"Body language plays a large role in Skaven communication. Posture, especially, is an indication of a Skaven's attitude towards his peers, underlings, and superiors. It is important for a lesser Skaven to keep his nose below the level of his master's. This can result in entire rooms of Skaven who seemingly bob their heads at random because each is attempting to give respect to those above him while at the same time maintaining his superiority over those below his station."
Really, that little bit says so much about our Strong Rat Sons. Another important custom is the constant verbal abuse of minions. If you aren't abusing your minions, how will they know you're more powerful than then? Not yelling at your subordinates and trying to make them feel like shit would be equivalent to acting like they're your equals, or letting them get away with leaving their nose as high as yours! Such a sign of weakness will surely be your dooooooom.
As many anxious people can attest, Skaven have all kinds of little luck rituals. Some of this is their actual worship of the Great Horned Rat, who really is watching (and laughing) at all times. He might step in to grant you exceptional luck if you please him and he thinks it would be funny, so saying little prayers constantly and wearing holy symbols is never amiss. The number 3 is lucky, for the three kinds of Skaven, and Skaven love bats because they see them as lucky kin that make cute squeaks. They hate cats. They will kill cats whenever they can, retaining an instinctive fear of kitties. They're also terrified of birds of prey, and especially owls. Verenans, you know your duty! Release the owls! Pipes are also forbidden in Skaven music because of an embarrassing incident where a human with a set of pipes (which must have been magic, the cheating man-thing!) led an entire Skaven army to drown itself. Skaven also grind their teeth, both because they're nervous, and because they're rodents. Their teeth grow constantly, so they're always bruxing, an actual thing rats do. Skaven prefer to have something to chew, whether it's food or a toy, rather than just grinding down their teeth against their teeth.
Rat worship of their God is basically the 2 Minutes Hate from 1984. All rats are expected to attend at least one short mass regularly, lest they be accused of atheism and either sacrificed to the Horned Rat ("Go tell-say he not real now, hahahAHAHA!") or just eaten. Skaven believe that younger sacrifices are better, because that means you've ruined more of the sacrifice's life by killing them. They're spiteful little jerks in their religion, and their religion is about being spiteful little jerks. Everything about the Great Horned Rat encourages the worst impulses of the ratmen, meaning he's almost as bad as the elves' Asuryan (he's still a little better, because at least he actually helps his rat sons sometimes). The Grey Seers are happy to keep the Skaven hateful and divided, but have to balance this between the necessity of stopping the masses from rising up and eating their oppressors and the necessity of allowing for mass action towards their glorious divine mandate of INHERIT-INHERIT the earth. No clan dares oppose the Seers directly, not least of which because they have the single most busted combat magic list in the RPG, but also because they are divinely blessed of the Horned Rat. He doesn't grant Divine Magic, but no Chosen rat is born without the ability to use magic. Spellcasting and warp-working are considered a divine gift among ratmen. Seers who oppose one another work to discredit each other, rather than trying to kill one another; they have so many pawns to use, why would they bother getting into a warp lightning duel? Because surviving long-term is hard even for Seers, age is one of their most important qualifiers, with the overall Seer Lord usually being the oldest rat, and sitting on the Council of 13.
Also they throw lightning like Emperor Palpatine, like, all the time. It's great.
Next Time: Skaven Government.
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Rat people being nazis and all, they love government! As long as they're in charge of it. To that end, they've developed a system where the most powerfully placed rats rule over all the others, and also live forever (until they don't). This is the Council of Thirteen. Here you will always find 4 reps from the Great Clans of Eshin, Pestilens, Skryre, and Moulder, who form a voting bloc that glares meaningfully at any of the 7 Flavor of the Month Warlord reps that squeak about making trouble or trying to move up in the world, then the Seerlord, master of the Grey Seers. The 13th seat is always left open so that the Great Horned Rat can swing buy and chill if he wants. This is literal: Every now and then the Councilors see a huge, shadowy, horned face appear in the 13th seat. They're not entirely sure it's the actual GHR, or if the way they open each session by doing lines of space coke might be fucking with their heads, but they're terrified to offend him and always do what he says when it happens.
The Council's main objective is
the harmonious and well-ordered work of the Skaven to INHERIT-INHERIT the sur-
the protection of the influence and power of the Councillors
. Individual reps, even from the various Warlord Clans, usually did an awful lot to get on the Council and Councillors can live for hundreds of years. After all, by Skaven logic, they're the strongest since they're in positions of power and obviously must have earned them by being better than their opponents, right? Competition makes us strong and certainly doesn't breed a disordered paranoiac culture of backbiting and infighting that rewards the best backbiters and infighters! Thus they get all kinds of powerful magic and medical treatment to ensure these superior rats live forever. Until someone kills them. With a knife. That's how it works.
That is not hyperbole. Warlords can challenge other Warlords who are on the Council to single combat to try to take their seat. Note this only works if you challenge a Warlord Clan rep; you try this shit with a Great Clan Rep or the Seer Lord they will destroy you and your entire clan, you will go directly to Rat Hell, everyone will have a good chortle about it. You'd think this would lead to constant challenges to personal combat, but A: You gotta hold the seat once you win it, and boy are a lot of people gonna be after your tail to take it from you and B: Skaven goddamn hate fair duels and personal combat. Actually fighting another guy, from the front
when he knows you're coming? On even footing? That's horseshit and most Warlords won't stand for it. Most Warlords would prefer the method where they destroy the entire Clan of the Council Rep, since that involves a lot less personal danger (directly). THIS is why having a seat is so dangerous; you've got to defend against all comers and the rats' whole 'competition makes us strong' thing means that the Council may cheat in your favor if they like you, but they aren't going to outright forbid people taking a swing at you. Finally, you can engineer something horrible happening to a clan or Councillor, and then when the seat is empty, the Councillors draw lots at random to see which Lesser Clan gets the honor of the new seat. This is a totally randomized and completely fair way of interpreting the will of the Great Horned Rat and no-one ever messes with it or tricks anyone about it (they all do, immediately, forever).
The Council votes on major decisions, which you'd think would make the 7 Lesser reps the strongest block by numbers, but they're always being bribed, cajoled, and threatened by the Greater Clans, and there's always the option of flipping the table and killing a couple Lesser Clans (which the Greaters can definitely accomplish, they're defined by massively outnumbering and outmaterialing any individual Lesser) which the Lesser Reps have to be aware of. In general, the only thing the 4 Greater Clans can agree on is there should probably only be 4 Greater Clans. Everything in Skaven society is set up to force the weak to work together on a level Skaven just usually don't do if they want any chance of challenging the strong. In the case of a split vote (6-6), the Seerlord interprets the Great Horned Rat's 13th vote. In practice, this means ties tend to break in favor of whatever the Seerlord wanted. Still, Seerlord, I'd be a little wary about actually claiming the will of the Great Horned Rat as your own; he's got a sense of humor and he's always watching you.
Our illustrious Great Clans begin with Eshin, the Ninja Rats who Ninja. Eshin is both critical to the Council, and smart enough to generally try to support the Council as a political institution (to ensure they continue to benefit from being part of it) rather than chasing short-sighted gains for Eshin. See, one thing all Skaven fear is death. Eshin is really good at making it hard for you to say 'I am 100% safe from death after making them mad' on a personal scale. Skaven fear being assassinated a lot more than they fear losing a battle; a Warlord is usually at the back and might get away if his army is destroyed. There's no 'run and fight another day' when someone sends Snikch at you. That's you, the leader, the important guy, dead, which means you're going to make decisions around not
having highly competent assassins dispatched to murder you. They're not infallible assassins, but they're good enough that anyone who crosses their clan now has to start accounting for 'get killed to death by ninjas'.
Eshin doesn't actually talk themselves up externally. They let results speak for themselves. They collect secrets, wealth, and power, but they don't use their blackmail. No-one is quite sure what their ninja plan is, but they've got to have one, right? There's no way Skaven would be content with just serving as a powerful, respected secret police force and spy network, right? That couldn't be it. So far, Eshin has primarily done its murdering and spying well, and unlike Pestilens, they got their position by providing a legitimate and needed service, not by taking it in a brutal civil war. Their reputation for relative honesty means that when they want to make up an accusation, people believe them. Their enemies have noticed that the Eshin can call you out as a heretic or traitor at any time and be believed, even if they got the manner of your treason or heresy wrong (let's be fair, every powerful Skaven is probably committing some form of treason or heresy).
They also really like kung fu and martial arts weapons, using little punch daggers, learning tail fighting and the deadly art of the open paw so they can snap peoples' necks, and they climb and do parkour all the time. To move up in Eshin, you actually have to accomplish things and learn new martial arts. They rent their little Night Runner mook ninjas out to other clans and Warlords, and if you learn to do a sick jump kick they promote you to Gutter Runner, where you
annoy the shit out of anyone who has played Blood Bowl
continue to master the art of silent death. If you survive your training as a Gutter Runner, you become a Master Assassin and discover that while it's still better than a human Assassin, it's also still vaguely disappointing, same as the human Assassin. No-one has ever managed to prove the Eshin have done anything overtly treasonous. Some naive Skaven even whisper they might be legitimately loyal to the Council and the Under Empire. These Skaven are suckers. Right? The only 'off' thing about them is having their own sect of hidden kung-fu treachery wizards, who are all Rat Lo Pan. This is in contravention of the Grey Seer's semi-monopoly on magic, so those who practice the Cathayan magics they've learned do their best to keep it under wraps.
Clan Moulder is a business. Clan Moulder is a very successful business. Skaven love having monsters and minions and custom bio-organic-weapons to throw at people, and Clan Moulder supplies them like a competent Umbrella Inc. The rats of Moulder tinker with the squishy bits of living creatures while occasionally screaming "NO TIME-PLACE FOR TEST-TEST! ACTIVATE PROTOTYPE! GET-GET COMBAT DATA!" in their more unhinged and unguarded moments (I mean who doesn't dream of doing that sometimes). They do this to make custom organisms who are good enough to get the other rats to buy them, but weak enough to die a lot in combat so that the other rats keep having to come back to replace them. The Rat Ogre is their signature triumph. They also rent out animal handlers and monster control specialists, while paying other clans (or their own lower ranking members) to get-bring them new specimens and samples to work with. Little guys LOVE samples. Also, aren't all little.
Moulder's motives are simple. They want to make money, they want massive prestige, and they want to build the ultimate life form. I mean really, who can object? From their home in Hell Pit up on the Empire-Kislev border, they keep making newer and more powerful monsters, only ever renting the weaker ones and concealing the truly powerful horrors, or reserving them for their own army. By integrating their living weapons into every Skaven army, and more importantly, by making every Skaven army dependent on their handlers to control them, they've put themselves in a situation where if a customer objects to performance or refuses to pay, they can just shrug and pull their handler contract. The ensuing biological horror should sort things out without the Moulder even needing to send in the troops.
Moulder has additional security from providing personal bodyguard beasts and custom pets to most of the wealthy of Skavendom. But even more importantly, Moulder are the Under Empire's doctors. They provide the anti-aging treatments all the elite of the Under Empire are addicted to. They could, of course, stop doing this if anyone questioned them too much. That would be a bad time for their customers, wouldn't it? They know they've got everyone over a barrel on business, so they don't make it obvious or push the issue. Best to keep that in their back pockets in case someone objects to the important work of IMPROVE-IMPROVE in quest for the ultimate life form, no?
Next Time: Master Exploder and actual, literal Mors Rattus
Actual Factual Mors Rattus
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Actual Factual Mors Rattus
Clan Pestilens is 'The Worst Person You Know Just Made A Great Point' except with biological warfare. No-one likes Clan Pestilens. No-one. You see, aside from the part where they were able to devastate the Under-Empire in a civil war and hold the entire Council hostage to force their way on, the rats of Pestilens have been a critical part of most of the Skaven's biggest successes. Moulder's Rat Ogres are (acceptable) weapons, but a guy with a halberd can kill those. You know what a halberd or cannon can't kill? Targeted, intense germ warfare. Sure, their plagues get out of control and wipe out entire clans sometimes, and sure, they're potentially traitors worshiping Nurgle or something (fuck the police, I'm accusing the rats of being shitty Nurglites, because you just know rats would miss the point of Nurgle because they're rats goddamnit), but they got the rats closer to INHERIT-INHERIT than they've ever been in 1111. How many other threats can say they're single-handedly responsible for wiping half the Empire's population at the height of its historical power and influence? Not many.
This is because while a normal Nurglite would be all 'blessed gifts of rot, bring beauty to these people' Pestilens is more 'Yes-yes, hemorrhage all blood in 2 hour-clocks, get-get down to 1, see if can make-build explosive effect.' They make plague as weaponry, not presents. They don't even want you to suffer, they just want you and your entire civilization to die so there'll be more lebensraum for rat nazis. They're also an insane theocracy that worships disease and decay (and without the cycle of renewal and rebirth) and who believe the rats have failed solely because everyone isn't sitting around talking about how awesome Pestilens is, not realizing this makes them surprisingly similar to most other Skaven and not that special. They plan to destroy the Grey Seers at some point because they are worshiping non-disease aspects of the Great Horned Rat and the Pestilens blame all rat failures on divine wrath.
For now, Pestilens sends their specially bred plague rats into the world to wreck havoc, but more grudgingly they accept orders to actually treat and cure plagues that are wiping out sections of Councillors' clans. They don't want to, of course; they view curing
disease as blasphemy, but they also recognize that if it's them against the other three and the Seers, they will die. Everyone else knows Pestilens are awful psychopaths (even by rat standards) and no-one likes the smelly evil plague rats who are constantly rotting and refuse to bathe. But they're really useful, so all the Great Clans tolerate them. The eventual civil/holy war will be legendary.
Clan Skryre is the non-monster-based Ratman Military Industrial Complex, combined with a bunch of steampunk robber barons. They actually run Skavenblight itself, and are widely thought of as the richest and largest of the Great Clans. This is because all of Skaven society is completely dependent on their monopoly on Warlock Engineering and Warpstone engines. So I guess they're more Warp-Punk? They are the only crazy magitek people (outside of maybe the Chorfs) in all of the setting, and that gives them a marketable edge that has allowed them to corner the entire rat nazi economy. Their Warplock guns arm vast quantities of troops, their Ratling Gun is an innovation that will change the face of war, and they build Doomwheels, which are a hamster wheel with laser cannons and a pilot so coked up on laser cannon fumes he can't think about anything but going fast and firing his laser cannons while screaming that the cannons are too awesome not to fire even if he's hitting his own guys (Doomwheels do not appear in this book, but Doomwheels are the most Skryre thing to ever Skryre so hey). They also experiment with voice communications (The FARSQUEAKER) and trains. That's right, train nazi is on the horizon. If they ever get the trains to stop occasionally going critical and taking out the entire transport tunnel/settlement they're passing through, they'll revolutionize all transport!
One curious trait of Skryre is that while they hold only Skavens understand the true science-learning of technology, they will happily plagiarize the shit out of anything that seems good. The Jezzail, as noted, is a Hochland Long Rifle that the rats stole, made faster loading, and loaded with warpstone rounds after overclocking it. The Ratling Gun and Warpfire Thrower were originally attempts to improve on dwarf weapons that were giving the rats trouble. Now that they've seen steam tanks, expect some kind of crazy nazi tunnel tank out of the rats in the near future (I bet it will have 3-6 gun turrets, one for each troublesome adventurer!).
Skryre's writeup is honestly a little boring. It's just an endless repetition of 'They build the weapons, they operate the factories, the Skaven can't do without them.' They're on top (mostly), so they don't really have room to have ambitions about climbing up like the others. They're content to keep building new exploders and exploding new enemies, while making money paw over fist by selling their highly unstable devices to everyone else. The Skaven military and economy rely on them to such a degree that they're unlikely to be unseated any time soon.
Now we get to the Warlord Clans. See if you can spot the important one by reading the writeups.
Clan Flem is a mini-Pestilens that does everything Pestilens says in hopes that Pestilens won't notice them and decide to eat them. Pestilens has noticed them and is planning to eat them.
Clan Mors is the seed of a political revolution in Skavendom. Somehow, Warlord Gnawdwell has managed to produce a clan where most of his rats (especially his actual factual Strong Rat Son, Queek Headtaker, the most spastic murder-machine in the canon Under-Empire) are actually very loyal to him and like working for him. Gnawdwell has defeated many lesser clans, and when he does, instead of eating everyone and making everyone into slaves, those who surrendered and proved themselves trustworthy just become members of Clan Mors. The influx of additional full clanrats and real soldiers has made Mors one of the strongest militaries in the Under-Empire. It's gotten to the point that Skryre is pointing at them frantically and squeaking at the others 'KILL-KILL BEFORE FIFTH GREAT CLAN!' while the others rub their little paws together and plot how to make use of this.
The truth is, the Great Clans are a bit afraid of Gnawdwell. They're not sure how on earth he's gotten Skaven to (somewhat) work together. They don't understand his dark arts of 'not being total shit to people all the time' and 'occasionally use positive reinforcement' or this mad innovation of 'if someone kills their superior and their superior was really good and helpful, execute them for murder'. They assume it's a drug, or a spell, or a trick. They have no conception of the fact that Gnawdwell is something even more dangerous: He's a fascist who has discovered the language of heroism and the idea of 'benefits for my guys, murder and theft for everyone in the outgroup'. Gnawdwell is constructing an actual state in Mors rather than a series of warlord clans, on the hopes that he can be the true agent of the Great Ascendency and cause the INHERIT-INHERIT to finally happen. The Grey Seers are currently intrigued by Mors; they want to know how they keep the Skaven together, because it seems like it might be a useful thing towards taking over the world. They don't understand that things like 'promote on merit' are key to Gnawdwell's success, and think they can get the secret of how to rule Skavendom out of him. Meanwhile, the others are ambivalent or want Mors destroyed for being a threat to their oligarchy.
Warlord Gnawdwell would be a great main campaign villain for an anti-Skaven game. He's smart, he's innovative, and he's got his Strong Rat Son to stand in front of him and take hits. You could totally take on Gnawdwell in a mech-suit with dual miniguns after you've killed his Hans Grosse esque son Queek, the one brave rat. He actually has a touching little scene in canon where he tells his son he's proud of his courage and doesn't think he's a freak for being willing to fight on the front lines. This should not stop you putting a pipe through his head.
Clan Skaab's schtick is that they have more Black Skaven, and thus by the mechanics coming later would be militarily invincible. They rent their Stormvermin to others or use them to crush and rob other clans.
Clan Skaar are rich mining magnates but don't have much of an army. They've survived because neither Moulder nor Skryre wants the other to get Skaar. Sooner or later, Skaar is going down in a hail of warpshot or tentacles and their shit will be taken, because they don't have their own army.
Clan Skaul is on the Council and NO-ONE KNOWS WHY because they're an entire clan of hedonistic stoners. Somehow they produce more Chosen (Grey Seer candidates) per capita than other Skaven. They're either on the Council because of this, or because they know all the best Rat Drugs
Clan Sleekit run the underground rivers. This is important until Train Rat Nazi gets off the ground.
Clan Verms is on the Council so everyone else can look down on Clan Verms. Seriously, says right here they're on the Council because they're a joke that all the others can feel superior to. They think it's because of their 'cool' gimmick where they like spiders and giant insects in addition to rats. Giant insects!? Breeding underground!? Can it be they exceed human wisdom!? Progress faster than science is impossible! I'm sorry I'm just imagining Skaven causing Warhams EDF now and I want it. I want it so much.
Next Time: Who runs Rat Town?
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Rats build cities. The idea that the rats just live in squalor is, uh, actually completely correct, but it's highly advanced squalor where they're crushed by mindless industrial work all day. Totally different from just squatting in caves. They build massive public dormitory-nests and little factories where little rats get crushed in little gears and build little widgets all day. They tend to build their cities where they have fresh water, warpstone, food, and man-things above their heads to menace; they like building into the massive overlarge sewer systems the humans got the dwarfs to build them.
We get a lot on the populations of Skaven cities and warrens and nests but like Sigmar's Heirs, they're too small. For instance, Skavenblight itself, the teeming capital of the race of numberless ratmen whose squeaking hordes choke out the stars themselves...has 250,000 rats. Alright, authors, I gotta ask: Do you just not know that Constantinople, at the time of the first Crusades, may have had a population of a million people? Or is it a matter of 'we got official numbers down in Sigmar's Heirs so uh just put like twice that many rats in, that'll do'? Genuinely curious. Either way most of the stuff on exact numbers of rats is a waste of time, same as it was in Sigmar's Heirs.
Skaven urban planning is undermined by several things: One of them is the actual undermining. Skaven prefer to steal warrens and nests rather than build new ones, and when they build new ones, they tend to be thrown together and prone to collapse. If you can't steal a nest from your neighbors, many Skaven will instead try to hollow out the area under their rivals out of spite to eventually cause the floor and roof to collapse. Skaven nests built entirely by Skaven are close-packed and tight, to let the rats huddle together for warmth more easily and to get the task of building done with faster. Skaven nests for important Skaven are usually built by captured dwarven and human architects, who do things like 'build a foundation' and 'allow for proper ventilation'. Skaven cut corners so much that there's an actual architectural bias against the concept of the right angle in Skaven design.
Temples of the Horned Rat are the only building project Skaven dare not skimp on. These impressive structures are built as prestige projects; donating to a Temple of the Horned Rat shows you have great status and wealth and lets you hold your nose slightly higher in dealings with other Rat Nazis, and this is one of the few things wealthy Skaven will throw money at. Every true temple must be built with a thirteen story bell tower, to honor the destruction of Kavzar, and then a cute little rat maze underneath. The maze is sacred to the Horned Rat, and Grey Seers will run the maze as a way to meditate on his will. The maze is also used to initiate apprentices, because if they can't find their way out they deserve to die; the Horned Rat guides all brave rats who make their way through mazes!
Skaven have no sense of privacy. Privacy is only desired by the very powerful, and even then it's more as a bulwark against assassination (can't be stab-stabbed if no other rat, no-no!) rather than an actual desire to be alone. Skaven are intensely social. Every moment of their life is spent with other Skaven, even if they hate all other Skaven. They built big communal sleeping nests where all the rats get together in a big pile and sleep in whatever shredded cloth, paper, and other soft bedding they could manage to put together. The more important of a rat you are, the higher on the top of the sleeping pile you go.
One interesting bit in the demographics of the Skaven settlements given here is that population is split between the various Great Clans. Also, every settlement gets an adventure hook intended for a Skaven party (generally, some of the settlements built under particularly important human settlements get human plot hooks). I won't be giving all of these because I won't be covering every settlement, but it's good to have this kind of thing; late line WHFRP2e was really consistent about including lots of 'how to use this material in a game' material and it's one of its best features. I missed it in Sigmar's Heirs. The city descriptions are very brief, but that's understandable; they have a lot of 'em.
The City of Pillars, once known as Karak Eight Peaks, should be familiar to anyone playing Total Warhams. Queek is pretty obsessed with the Pillar City, and he should be, because it's the home of Clan Mors! This mighty, massive metropolis of teeming ratmen held by one of the most powerful and largest Warlord Clans has, uh, 95000 rats. In total. As it was stolen from dwarves, the City of Pillars is actually very well built. The plot hook for the Pillar City is sadly not Pillar Rats, enormous muscular rats who possess superhuman powers of posing, but instead a plot about a Warlock Engineer who has left the employ of Skryre in violation of his non-compete clauses in his contract. Your team of
Rat Nazis are hired by Skryre to go see what he's building, steal it if possible, blow it up if not, and, ah, 'enforce his NDA', so to speak.
Hell Pit is far in the north of Kislev, despite earlier work implying it was close to the border with the Empire, and it is the home of Moulder Inc. This is where the magic happens. The squishy, icky magic. They make all kinds of horrible monsters in the labs up here in their quest for the ultimate lifeform. The plot hook here is the obvious 'traitor-mice open-free the monster-cages!' plotline, where you have the Umbrella approved 9 'o clock viral outbreak and the PCs are drafted into running about with Things-Catchers trying to scoop abominations against God back into their cages. Your goal is to clean up the outbreak before the Master Moulders notice. If you let it inconvenience them (or Horned Rat forbid, any of the actual rats with rat PHDs get eaten) there will be hell to pay on your performance review.
Mousillon has evil rat people under its streets, trying to conceal themselves as the black knights above all go about their constant villainy and sing FIE ON GOODNESS, FIE. They have been mostly successful. The plot hook here is that Pestilens gets a little too trigger happy and sends out some plagues that risk non-Mousillon knights coming into the city in force and discovering the rats below, which would lead to them and the black knights teaming up to curbstomp the rats. As you don't want to fight swarms of angry badass french people, your PCs now have the choice between finding a way to obfuscate the presence of Rat Nazis, or alternately, make sure the knights find out so that they can sit back from a safe distance and drink some cocaine-laced tea while enjoying the sight of french people curb-stomping their Pestilens rivals.
Skavenblight is like turn of the 20th century Rat Detroit. Machines are everywhere, the place is like a constant Rat World's Fair showing off the excellent advances of PROGRESS-PROGRESS, and huge numbers of rats work the factories and assist the engineers to make sure the wheels of industry never stop turning. They even have organized street-lights and cute little public rat trolleys! That are run on wizard cocaine plutonium and sometimes explode, killing hundreds, but come on! Rat trolleys! It's adorable! I bet they wear little conductor hats. It is a teeming metropolis of impossible population where so many live in- oh you know where this is going, there aren't that many rats living here by population numbers given compared to the fluff. The plot hook here is a boring little thing where a powerful magic relic is stolen from the temple maze and your rats have to go get it back (or steal it for themselves while claiming it was destroyed).
Under-Altdorf is presented as the DARK MIRRRRRRRROR of Altdorf. It has less rats (given the 120,000 population includes many captive laborers) than Altdorf has people, despite being described as 'one of the most populous settlements in the Under Empire'. There's a reference to 'go buy Sigmar's Heirs for more information', which is a lie; there is no more information on this place there. Nor is there really much in the (terrible, incredibly boring) Spires of Altdorf campaign book, which the Under-Altdorf description also helpfully recommends you buy. This is seriously all the description of the settlement, besides 'it doesn't have any warpstone': Advertisements for two other books. The adventure hook here has human PCs investigating rat-murders to find the rat-ninjas killing people to death, fairly standard stuff.
Next Time: Under-Delberez and the Big Squeak.
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Our example detailed Rat City is Under-Delberz, which is basically a large Skaven truck stop on the subterranean route from Altdorf to Middenheim. The local economy is booming because Moulder Corp's come to town, here to prey on the dispossessed human refugees camping out near the town of Delberz. Skryre and Mors both want the town, and there have been slightly more murders in the street than would be normal for a Skaven settlement of late. Meanwhile the Grey Seers are trying to calm them all down and keep them from alerting the humans to the location of the nest with their infighting. The first plot hook has a Moulder lose control of a Rat Ogre and it goes up to eat a bunch of refugees, with the fear that it will be captured or killed and will lead the humans down to destroy the nest. It's interesting just how much Skaven fear discovery; they're afraid of a medium-sized Imperial town.
The Squeak-Kill Burrows are the public housing of the settlement, called such because there isn't enough space to keep all the clanrats of different clans separate. This means there's an awful lot of squeaking, and slightly more killing, than would be normal for a Skaven tenement. I said the place is a truck stop; there's a lot of traffic between Altdorf and Middenheim these days, so the public barracks have to serve thousands of soldiers as they stop for a short rest while scurrying about their post-war assignments. There are no actual beds in the Squeak-Kill Burrows, that would take up too much space. Instead, each unit's least-liked and lowest-nosed clanrats are used as living pillows and mattresses by their betters.
Oh boy. Breeding Pits. Look, I gotta report what's there, right? An example of what they actually do with the breeder fluff is a good time to talk about why you could pretty much excise it but what you'd need to make sure you keep in its replacement. Skaven have to pay, fight, or bully their way in to get the right to breed. Skaven think it's very important that only 'suitable' males get to do so. The Pits are the most important piece of infrastructure in the settlement; without them Under-Delberz would die. There's also the 'Ratwives' and you know, feminizing the name is actually extra shitty; these are neutered Skaven who had a talent for medical science and narcotics design, who are snipped to prevent them 'taking advantage' of their position tending to the health and drug levels of the breeders. They are, of course, considered the lowest of the low. The critical parts to keep if you were going to excise the Breeder fluff is A: Skaven need some way to delude themselves into doing eugenics and making sure that 'passing on' is only done by 'proper' Skaven of excellent (to Skaven) character and health and B: That whatever the Skaven do to reproduce is absolutely the critical point of infrastructure in every settlement and extremely hard to replace, giving the Adventurers a way to break Skaven nests. Those are the two critical thematic points, and if you want to remove this stuff (which is totally understandable) the replacement should cover those. Tuberats made in rat tubes out of blood samples of wealthy Skaven and warpstone exposure? Would work fine if you prefer.
Master-Leader nests are embassies. Big embassies for big clans, these are available to any dignitaries who pay enough in bribes to get one built. These are luxurious nests with freshly shredded paper and cloth to sleep on, and all the other amenities due to dignitaries of the Skaven. Each Great Clan has built their Master-Leader nest to show off. Moulder advertises its Rat Ogres with two especially big specimens (I like to imagine they put them in cute little dress uniforms!) on intentionally thin chains, such that if anything gets them too excited they'll break free. Pestilens relies on the horrible smell of disease and fear to keep people away. Skryre has built a light-show of Warp Lightning coils and Warpstone to put on a show for the locals. It will also vaporize anyone who does not have a valid pass-ID who tries to enter, a process that makes the light-show even more spectacular and greatly delights passers by. Mors is boring and just has a bunch of Stormvermin in fancy kit out front, because they don't have a cool light show.
The Dreg Pile is the Kowloon Walled City that is the 'average' Skaven residential district. There are no building codes, no standards, everyone knows how to dig, everyone is a spiteful rat, and they live in their little burrows and try to cheat (but surprisingly, usually not stab) one another as they try to make it through another day. The Dreg Pile is actually unusually well built and pleasant by Skaven standards, with collapses fairly rare and birthkin generally living in little nests together. Violence between the common rats not affiliated with the Skryre-Mors gang fight is uncommon. More common to see little rat-peddlers setting up their tables to hawk their wares to their neighbors (their wares are substandard) while others go to work in the foundries.
The MOST HIGH GRAND COUNCIL is made of the 11 rats who are best at bribing, threatening, wheedling, and cajoling. No-one is actually sure how the election process works, but election time is bribe time, so all major businesses look forward to it. A new election happens whenever a councilor dies or vanishes, something Moulder has used to take over the local council with a mixture of making people vanish (into a Moulder monster) and being incredibly rich, letting them rule the settlement via its quaint little village council. No bodyguards or monsters are permitted within the chambers while the Council is in session, which means that rats having a heated argument and then getting into a little legislative rat-fight in the chambers is actually a surprisingly common cause of death among Councilors.
Clan Sleekit operates a little dock here to mirror the rivers above-ground, sailing their tiny rickety little rat-boats up and down the underground rivers. Silly little boatrats.
THE BIG SQUEAK is the center of town. This is the vibrant town center of Under-Delberz, where civic announcements are given and political speeches are made. The Big Squeak is so named for its tendency to be full of Newsqueakers, Skaven scampering about screaming "EXTRA-EXTRA! HEAR-SEE ABOUT IT!" at all hours. I wonder if they wear little newsie hats? This is also where all the amazing public executions are held, so it's always a popular place with the rat who has a moment's respite from work.
Skrawl Market is just your ordinary market, but with rats and Warpstone and slaving. Nothing too interesting about it.
The Thing-Killer barracks are where the 'elite' fighting forces of the Clanrat Militia live. They like to puff themselves up, and the job is popular with any rat looking for some cheap authority and an excuse to bully others in uniform as a ratcop, which is to say the job is popular. The militia has to be careful, though. Firstly, their barracks has been burned down several times by citizen mobs after the bullying and bribery got intolerable. Secondly, if they big themselves up too much, a bunch of rat dock-workers will curb-stomp them. Thirdly, if they step to Mors or Skryre or whatever, they will be murdered. It's a fine line, finding the people a rat-cop can pick on and feel big about without getting their shit kicked in, but the brave rats of the Under-Delberz Clanrat Militia are utterly dedicated to making their uniform count for every ounce of kicking they can get in.
The Whelp Pits are where rats are put after they're popped out. They grow up here, until they're big enough to knife fight for themselves, unless they're Black or White Skaven, in which case they're valuable and immediately taken off to be inducted into either the Rat SS (complete with showboating and overblown reputation!) or the Grey Seers. Otherwise, they're taught to knife one another and eat the dead until they're old enough to knife for themselves.
The Under-Delberz slavemasters are unusually wise. The Slave Pens are in mostly okay condition, and they prefer to work slaves to death in the mines rather than kill them for sport. Even in a 'better kept' slaving pen like this, conditions are so unbearable that even Clanrats wouldn't stand for them. The people here are worked until they're used up, then thrown away, in a testament to human misery and a reminder that for all their little antics and cute hats, the rats are Nazis.
The Temple of the Horned Rat is pretty standard; big tower, cute little rat maze, etc. But I do like the detail that the Grey Seers like to throw around their magic at prayer ceremonies, believing that a little Palpatine action (even if they're just showing off the lightning, not actually hitting anyone with it) is key to inspiring faith and keeping the populace in line. They also hold corrections services for the un-civic-minded among their rat-flocks. These usually result in the victim being on the altar, getting stabbed by the Grey Seer while the other rats of the congregation squeak and screech at them like the Two Minutes Hate.
Finally, the Slave-Thing Place is where the foreigners who aren't soldiers stay. It's even worse than the Squeak-Kill Burrows. The ratcops don't even patrol it, preferring to let the foreigns sort things themselves; who cares if they die?
And that's our example Skaven house. BIG SQUEAK is the best name for a town square.
Next: Creating Clans and Warbands, The Kinds of Rules No-One Uses
Who are these rules for
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Who are these rules for
It's no secret by now that I believe randomization can actually be really fun for concept generation. But the upcoming rules are a good example of the bad kind of randomization, much like the stuff on generating Beastman herds back in ToC. The rules for generating a 'random Skaven warband' aren't very clear on what to do with the huge table of random Skaven units that you roll d10 times on. Let's make an example warband real quick so I can use that to explain the weirdness of this all.
I get a 7, for 7 random units to make up the angry squeaking tide. A 32 on the big d100 table indicates some Eshin scouts: 2 gutter runners (real actual ninjas) and 1-5 (I roll a 1) nightrunner mooks. So it's 2 actual ninjas and Dumb Teddy, the Ninja Intern. A 31 means more ninjas. 2 more gutter runners, and, uh, another lone intern. Next, a 90 indicates a Skryre Heavy Weapons Team, with 2 skirmishers to run the gun and d10 Clanrats to carry ammo. 4 Clanrats. A 17 adds a Clawleader (sergeant), 2 Stormvermin, and 2d10 clanrats (13, auspicious!). An 8 adds a 'Skaven Assault Team', of a second Clawleader and 2d10 Stormvermin (20). A 47 adds a Clan Mors Assault Squad, for another Clawleader, 1-5 Stormvermin (1), and d10+5 Clanrats (11). And a 01 adds in a Clan Chieftan, 2 more Clawleaders, a GREY SEER, and d10 more Stormvermin (10). So overall, this rat 'warband' intended for combat with the players has an HMG team, several dozen normal rats, 4 elite ninjas, dozens of elite stormtroopers, a third tier fighter with one of the most busted fighting careers in the game, several second tier sergeants, and a very powerful wizard.
And most of the list is like this. Is this for random encounters? Is this for long-term combat with this warband? If so, is knowing the exact number of the enemy really that important? Are your adventurers slowly picking off the enemy one Stormvermin at a time and checking them off the list like in Seven Samurai? These units will usually be too large for the normal game/combat rules. There's just no purpose to these rules. In general, I'm against purely random encounter generation as it is; who wants to have a TPK because the GM couldn't bother to think about an encounter, rolled 'd10 Rat Ogres' and said 'this is fine'? Plus fights are more fun when they're tailored to the campaign and the PCs. But this doesn't even work for random encounter generation. It's also much too overstuffed with elite units, and moreover many of these units don't have bestiary entries. Stormvermin, for instance, don't get generic stats until Terror in Talabheim, which was written shortly after Children of the Horned Rat. Also, uh, 20 of the TiT Stormvermin would be a problem
for any group (WS 65! SB and TB 5! Halberd! Armor! 17 Wounds! Only saving grace is they're only A1 and the armor isn't great. Still, they're stronger than Chaos Warriors!). Similar, no actual rules for a Clan Chief or generic Grey Seer, so am I supposed to make both of those? And they'll be even more insane to consider once we're done with the classes and magic and you see how ridiculous the Clan Chief is (Seriously, were it not for Virtues, they'd be a better fighter than a Grail Knight. As it is, the Skaven Chieftan is superior to a Dwarf Demonslayer).
So this part is a waste of time. What's next? Clan generation, for if you want to make a minor Skaven clan! It's too cursory to really be useful, but I'll talk about it and we'll make a clan of squeaking, squalling ratmen.
First, we roll a d10 for population. This ranges from a 20% chance for d10x100 rats, to 20% for d10x1000 rats, 30% for d10x10,000 rats, 20% for d10x100,000 rats, and 10% for d10x100,000 +1,000,000. So let's roll. Our clan has d10x100,000 (700,000) rats. Big clan. The squeaking will drown out the tides.
Next we roll to see how politically powerful the clan is. Clans with less than 10,000 members get -1 on the table, clans with over 100,000 get +1. We get a 9, +1, for d10, which is 'Excellent', the highest result. Our Strong Rat Sons are well regarded by their peers, being especially powerful and fawned over. They're the kind of clan that tries to get onto the Council before Mors kills them so it can keep its seat.
We then roll for holdings and settlements, at -4 if No Influence, -2 if Shunned, -1 if Low, +0 if Moderate, +1 if Good, +2 if Excellent like our Rats of Distinction. This determines how many holes we have and how freshly lined they've been with shredded up newsheets and pamphlets screaming that the Skaven are among us. We get a 2, modified to 4, for 'one holding'. Our clan only has a single stronghold, with 'd10 nests' (whatever that means), which instead should mean we have all 700,000 of the rats in one giant rat city. Everyone loves our Strong Rat Sons and they are many, but they are all smooshed into one cavern.
Finally, you randomly roll for what special thing your clanrats get if you use this clan to make a Skaven PC. We get a 10 on d10, Warped, which means all our Skavens start with 1 random mutation from ToC. This could be hilarious, or terrible. The other options were '+5% to Animal Training' (lol), 'Frenzy' (lol), Schemer (Useful for rat things, +10 to rolls about intrigues), Resistance to Disease (Fair enough), Savvy (+5 int! Good at mazes!), Aethyric Attunement (All have Aethyric Attunement, which is useless without having Magical Sense and Channeling. Every class that grants those grants Aethyric Attunement already), Warrior Born (+5 WS! Fightrat!), Fleet of Foot (Your Mv 5 Rat Sons getting Mv6 out of the box and uniformly is super nice), Trade (Engineering) (Meh) or our mutant sons. So we have mutant rats who all live in a little city cavern together and everyone loves them.
But there's just not enough. I can generate a plot hook about this clan, but the table itself doesn't really do it. It's just a dry list of 'population', 'influence', 'stuff', 'tiny quirk'. It's just not an especially useful randomization tool since it doesn't generate solid concepts and what it does produce isn't particularly evocative. Once again, kind of a waste of time.
Next Time: Rat in (war) Hats
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Rat Nazis have absolutely no sense of fair play (obviously) but they do have a sense of martial glory. Something the other races have difficulty grasping is what is glorious for a Skaven. Skaven glory goes to he who wins, with the least risk to himself. A Warlord who has his rival assassinated as they prepare for their duel is better than a Warlord who had to kill his rival himself. Skaven look at the world as entirely a matter of the weak and the strong, and they will automatically and always assume others are weaker than Skaven. Like every fascist, they have a really hard time accurately and actually assessing their foes; everyone else has worse technology, worse magic, and better still, everyone else is bound by ideas like 'honor' and 'duty'. How can the Skaven possibly falter against lesser races? This puffed up pride usually lasts until it slams face-first into reality and a Clanrat finds himself running for his life with a pissed off terrier at his heels.
Skaven society cannot live without conflict. It is the one shining, uniting factor of all their little flavors of Rat Fascism. The rat will always seek to have an enemy, because their ideology of strength requires someone weaker than you to kick around. When they do not have full scale war, they instead raid and take slaves wherever they can, preying on small towns and villages or rootless travelers. At the same time as they glorify it, Skaven are terrified of war. A Skaven army only really rises up when food gets so scarce (or an opportunity arises that they find too tempting) for them to stick to small raids and enslavement anymore. Then they start to form battle lines and think about conquering something. If they're out of weaker Skaven nests nearby, they will start to think about going after the surface world. They consider this win-win, since either enough of them will die losing that they solve their overpopulation, or they'll win and take enough slaves and food to return home with it. Skaven almost never seem to try to hold territory in the surface world.
Skaven are obsessed with the idea of fear and terrorism as weapons. I suspect this for two reasons: One, the rats are scared of everything and live a life of constant anxiety. When you live in constant fear anyway, fear's a good weapon to use against you, so you naturally assume it will work on others. Two, the kinds of targets you go after to terrorize Old Worlders tend to be 'soft' targets. Skaven are much happier pulling off a showy move like kidnapping a bunch of children from a settlement to scare the people into compliance, rather than a mission that might involve fighting anyone. The Skaven believe that doing awful things will show their power and frighten their enemies. Honestly, I'd think most people in the Old World would be pretty used to shadowy assholes trying to terrorize them, and wasting a lot of time on showy terror operations seems like it'd be wasting time and operatives you could be using on something more important, like unleashing more laser cannon armed hamster wheels.
Skaven also have my favorite fictional trope in the world (I hate it): The Endlessly Clever Network of Spies Who Know Everything (according to the book). One of the flaws in the warfare section is it focuses a little too much on what the rats are good at, and not enough on where the cracks PCs can shatter the edifice of Rat Nazi power lie. The Skaven have, according to this, extensive blackmail material on many of the important people of the Empire, which they trade for looking the other way or for giving them Warpstone. They know 'every' major Imperial troop movement and all share this information with one another, apparently, so they can take advantage of it. Look, they got Ninjas, I get it. And them being twitchy little fucks who always have an ear to the ground is fine. They even have better communications tech than others in the setting (via the newly invented 'Farsqueaker'), so I can see them being able to get info back from agents to a Warlord quickly. But think about it. They can't actually go and infiltrate humans long-term, because they're rat people and trying to wear a hooded cloak is only going to get you so far. All their intelligence gathering has to be done via actually observing, directly, from the shadows. And more importantly, they're fucking Skaven, man. The idea that they carefully coordinate anything without the utmost of emergency to cause them to do so is laughable. You'd have every individual Warlord keeping their own little black books while their spies knife one another. Portraying their intelligence operation as flawless just makes it annoying, especially when there are so many reasonable limitations on their ability to watch humans from the shadows that you could bring up.
Rats' most successful wars have all been preceded by plague. The only reason Pestilens gets to stick around (besides terrorism) is because they very nearly delivered the Empire to the rats that one time in 1111. Plague is certainly effective as a weapon, but it's always been annoying to deal with in the RPG. Because the only plot it tends to lead to is 'stop those Pestilens dicks from poisoning the water hole' again, same as Nurgle. Once it's already spreading, what do your PCs do about it, exactly? It's not like they can suddenly invent epidemiology. Your adventure will generally shift to stopping whatever the rats planned as a followup instead, usually while making toughness tests. So yes, it's probably their best weapon, but it generally doesn't do a great job of creating fun RPG adventures. The rats also love poison, because hey, anything that gives you a hand in a fight.
Slave Raiding is the most common military activity of the rats. They can't resist enslavement. It's so completely central to their ideology; it proves that the owner is strong, by way of owning the weak, as well as producing wealth and labor for the ratmen. Thus, they will go after small towns, sending out large numbers of rats to try to abduct the entire population of smaller hamlets in the night. The rats are very, very casual with the lives of slaves, which creates a constant demand for more, which leads to constant slave raiding. Again, they're lacking in information about how to use this. I'd personally say it's a way to follow the rats home; the more they have to go out and grab people to make up for how many people they kill for sport, the more you've got a shot at following them, finding their nest, and bringing the hammer down on the little nazi shits.
At the last, Skaven prefer to fight in large numbers, and would rather the people they attack not realize they're coming. They will evade fair fights and alert forces, never attacking head on unless they're cornered or desperate, which I'd think a clever foe who knows their ways could use to herd and funnel a Skaven army. Or bait them. They also like to outnumber you. If they can't outnumber you, the Skaven will not fight you.
If I were writing this, I'd have probably gone into some of the weaknesses you can infer from what we know of Rat Culture. Every Skaven is expendable, yes, to every other Skaven. Not to himself. They also don't seem particularly organized. I'd imagine the average swarm of Clanrats is as concerned with making sure the guy to the left and right of them hits the enemy first, so that they'll survive the wave and take-get all the glory, rather than forming an orderly fighting line. I'd probably also mention the bit where they're generally depicted as physically weaker than humans, except that won't be born out by the eventual game mechanics. There's also the Skaven tendency to run the fuck away as soon as things go wrong, and the earlier mention of how the Musk of Fear tends to spread through the rats' ranks because it's designed as a communal warning. I just feel that a few more mentions of the cracks and weaknesses in the ways of Rat War would've gone down well, given they're definitely there in the rest of the book's material.
Next Time: A Grey Seer and a Conspiracy Theorist.
Better than stunt-things!
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Better than stunt-things!
So the next section is made up of a cute little description of each of the Skaven's units, through two commentators. One is a Grey Seer, one is a terrified human researcher like our original pamphleteer at the beginning of the book. The scholar's stuff is all 'OH WOE IS US THE TERRIBLE RATMEN ARE NUMBERLESS!' while the Seer is usually like 'Yes-yes, very good squeak-kill!' I actually really enjoy the contrast between the overwrought, panic-stricken purple prose and the rat wizard just tossing off a short little fragment about his minions. Until they get to the description of the Grey Seers, where the Seer obviously slows down and goes into great detail about how amazing they all are. Below each pair of quotes is a more normal description of the unit.
Whoever said what Eshin is selling is fear, you get a prize. That's the overwhelming focus of the Grey Seer's description of the Assassins: That all Clans fear them. As I said when we first got to them, the greatest fear for all Skaven is death. Knowing that you, the great Grey Seer or mighty Warlord, might get your throat cut in your bed or that Snikch might even now be wandering around, carefully assessing how he's going to make it look like an accident
to get a Silent Assassin rating
because he thinks that would be fun this time is goddamn terrifying. The threat of personal, targeted violence that wants you, specifically, is one of the most valuable threats the Council has in its arsenal. They are described as one of the main forces being used to maintain the status quo in the Under Empire, and more of the passage is about their role as secret police than anything else. We even get a little mention that they are perhaps a little too smug in this role, but for now they're too useful to the Council for any rival to overthrow.
The Seer is all on about how the duty of the Clanrat is to die for their betters, while our scholar describes the average Clanrat as 'fed to bursting on fear and paranoia'. Apt enough. They're the squeaking tide of expendable cannon fodder that runs when you kill a quarter of 'em. Clanrats are pathetic and easy even for non-combat 1st tier PCs; they're some of the easiest 'serious' foes in the game, only a step or two above goblins. Senior clanrats are called 'Clawleaders' and lead a 'Claw' of Clanrats as a unit champion. They are still very sad and will generally lose to a 1st tier fighter, but they might be able to beat a Ratcatcher. Might.
Clanrat Slaves are the only thing worse than Clanrats. The Seer actually waxes poetic for a bit about how Slaves are a sign of a 'strong-powerful' clan and how essential they are to society, while the scholar notes they still have ambition and even in this terrible position, most are still doing all they can to avoid their deaths. Slaves are Skaven that the Skaven want dead. They're the only thing weaker than a Clanrat: A Clanrat with almost no equipment who's malnourished and has been given a diet of daily beatings for the last couple of weeks. Sending them into battle with a pointed stick is how Skaven try to tie up more important enemies, then while they're busy killing the slaves the rats drop a laser cannon blast on them.
Globadiers are described by the scholar as the moment he realized the Skaven weren't beastmen, while the Seer goes on about how beautiful the poison mist is. These little assholes can be picked out by their big backpack full of glass globes, their adorable little gas-masks, and their full body rat hazmat suit. None of these things will actually protect them that well if they drop a globe. The globes are full of mustard gas. Like, they can call it whatever they want, the rats are running around throwing glass mustard gas grenades at people, by paw. The description (accurately) notes this is not a safe profession, and wind or bad luck can end up blowing the poison gas back into the Skaven, or a globadier can try to shot-put his big glass orb and slip and kill his entire unit. When they work, they're deadly as hell. When they don't, they're hilarious. The Skaven motto, really.
Grey Seers are described by the scholar and the Seer both as the leaders of Skaven society. The Seer speaks of how they are the ones who truly know the Horned Rat's plan, the dream of the Great Ascendancy where they will become 'master-killer' of the world. These are powerful wizard rats who run around scheming to unseat one another and scrabbling for the Horned Rat's favor. They have all survived a dangerous apprenticeship where their peers were trying their best to kill them, and every one has successfully made it through the LABYRINTH OF THE HORNED RAT (of course it's the white rats that get put in mazes) to prove he favors them. Surprisingly, none of this has anything about their magic. We'll get to it soon enough, but these little bastards are dynamite.
The scholar is all on about how deadly and perfect the Gutter Runner assassins are, while the Seer just shrugs and says 'Good for kill-kill behind enemy lines'. Oh, Skreelin. Gutter Runners are the first sort of 'serious' Eshin unit. Always sneaking and stabbing, those lot. They're fairly dangerous (you may remember how a single Gutter Runner almost got at least one of a competent 1st tier party in the Ashes material before I abandoned it) but definitely beatable, a good sort of 'early game' boss for players to fight, since these guys do the bulk of the 'delicate' work of Eshin. They're just good enough to handle serious work while being expendable and numerous enough to be a bit fire and forget for their superiors, unlike Assassins. At higher levels, your PCs might encounter whole teams of them as skirmishers and commandos. Also absolute dicks at Blood Bowl, but that's neither here nor there.
The scholar talks about the slow winnowing of the Night Runners down into Gutter Runners by seeing how many of these little ninjas in training survive long enough to make it. The Seer basically calls them puffed up Clanrats who are just a little faster and still useful. These are the ninja mooks that try to ambush you as you're coming out of the tavern and get killed en masse the minute PCs show up. They're no better than Clanrats, really, just a little quicker on their feet (which probably helps their lifespan a lot). I kind of suspect Eshin is aware of the law of conservation of ninjitsu and sends these guys out to get killed until the badasses rise to the tops in their ranks, decreasing the number of ninjas to increase their ninja power.
The scholar is, again, going on about the matchless skill of Moulder's Packmasters in handling their charges while the Seer just shrugs and goes 'Eh, they're good enough I guess'. Packmasters are the entry level Moulder unit, going in with whip and Things Catcher (a bear-trap on a stick) to prod Rat Ogres and other monsters into eating/killing who they're supposed to. Often they ignore their Packmaster and eat the Packmaster. They're actually an important critical point when fighting Moulder: Kill the handlers and the beasts will lose direction. A rampaging Rat Ogre might forget what to do entirely or turn around and attack his fellows. Shoot the little rat with the whip first!
The scholar has some histrionics about Plague Censer Bearers (Skaven Flagellants of Pestilens) while the Seer points out most die of their own poison. These guys are legitimately extremely dangerous. Also playable, but, uh, this is like a Slayer crossed with a Flagellant who is also a fanatical
Rat Nazi. They go into battle wielding a flail made out of a censer full of terrible plague juice and Warpstone vapors, screaming and swinging their flail, and they take damage pretty much every round. At the same time, the flail hits even harder than a normal flail. These Skaven are totally alien to most Skaven, because they do not fear death
and are, in fact, very excited to die from their own flail while they kill others.
The scholar talks about how dangerous it is that Plague Monks of Pestilens spread disease and how their fearless nature is surprising to people used to fighting cowardly rats. The Grey Seer instead huffs about how the stupid rats don't understand the Horned Rat or his ways, and their impudence will eventually be the death of their entire heretical clan. These guys are all diseased, and generally much braver than is normal for the Skaven. Basically Clanrat berserkers. With how poor Frenzy is, this doesn't help them that much. The most dangerous thing about them is whatever disease they're suffering from at the moment, not their little knives and ugly green robes.
Even the scholar can't work up being that scared of Rat Ogres, noting they're likely to get bored or turn on their allies if they don't have supervision. The Grey Seer calls them tough-strong, but hard to control. Rat Ogres get a big writeup here about how they're made and then made to fight one another to make only the absolute strongest and best come out on top, and it reads like a Moulder advertising pamphlet. They're not actually that dangerous. Their training 'would impart many valuable tactics and strategies, if they could remember anything for more than a day'. They are fantastically, tremendously stupid and surprisingly unskilled in combat. A PC team will likely beat one even at low levels on action economy and the Rat Ogre's poor damage resistance.
The scholar says finding and killing the breeders is possibly the only way to destroy the Skaven. The Seer puts it more simply: "There are no Skaven females. Just Skaven broodmothers." We've been over this topic and I'd rather not rehash it a third time, though there's an odd little bit in the end of their description. "So cloistered are they from the rest of their race that they do not learn their chittering speech, nor even the simplest social skills...or so the Skaven believe." Bit of an odd note, that.
The scholar buys the Stormvermin's hype, as he does for everything, describing the black-furred Skaven as the pinnacle of war. The Seer is more pleased that the Stormvermin make loyal bodyguards for his order. Stormvermin are weird
in this book. See, the thing about Stormvermin in the Tabletop Wargame is that they're 'elite' Skaven, by which I mean they're on par with an Empire Swordsman instead of being a shittier soldier, while still being just as cowardly as Clanrats. Their main selling point as elites is they have actual armor and a halberd. In this book, though? When we get to the actual rules for playable Stormvermin they're absolutely goddamn murder-machines, getting a huge Weapon Skill, Strength, and Toughness bonus and being much braver than most rats. Stormvermin are unusual in that they're raised from birth to be Stormvermin, and so much of them don't have designs on anything but raising their rank within the Stormvermin. They like to strut about and bully units of common Clanrats, to the point that this builds an actual sense of unit cohesion around their love of bullying normal rats. They still backstab all the time, but their units hold together a little better than other rats due to their love of flexing and showing off together.
Finally, the Warlock Engineers: The scholar is, as per usual, losing his shit about them. Especially the way they can make cyborgs. The Seer just says 'Warlock Engineers have strong technology, better than stunt-things.' He's wrong and he's not. Skaven tech is very powerful, as the description is right to point out. Skaven tech is also VERY unreliable. One moment, the Warlock Engineer will be shooting crazy green lightning out of his warp-halberd while his thrumming little backpack hums along nicely. Moments later the backpack has fused with his back on a conceptual level and begun The Countdown and then he and all the other rats around him are gone in a puff of green fire because he flipped the wrong safety override trying to turn on his cigarette lighter. 'These machines do not always function flawlessly', says the book. 'Many Warlock Engineers meet their doom at the hands of a malfunctioning warp accumulator', says the book. These are understatements.
Next Time: Holy shit, game rules?
Guns GUNS GUNNNNS!
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Guns GUNS GUNNNNS!
Oh hey, it's that point halfway or more through every Hams book where now we've got game mechanics. Nice.
Except they aren't very good, mostly. I'm also going to be referencing the game's Errata because there's something in it I find hilarious, and another thing that I'm sure has our boy Steve's fingerprints on from Medical chapter of WHFRP Companion.
So, at long last, let's talk about the cool toys you get for killing people as a ratman. First up, on melee weapons, we've only got a few new melee weapons, some of which are pretty cool. The Punch Dagger, the Tail Blade, the Plague Censer, the Ratclaw, and the Things-Catcher. The Punch Dagger completely obsoletes the entire Parrying weapon proficiency except the Swordbreaker (not that it was ever a useful prof anyway) by being an SB-1 Ordinary Defensive weapon with no offensive off-hand penalty. Now, nowhere does it actually say if you get a free-parry while wielding it off-hand, but given the Defensive and the fact that it's a dagger type weapon designed to be used in pairs, I'd say probably. Maybe this is something the rules should have covered (it is). The Censer is a flail, using the flail proficiency, that does an extra 1-5 damage if a target fails a -20 Tough test. Then another 1-5 damage if they fail a -10 Tough test the round after. AND causes a Mutation test at Tough+10 24 hours later. Also it causes a Tough save every round or everyone around the wielder (wielder included) just loses 2 wounds a turn while it's lit. Do not get hit with plague censers! The mutation is an extra fuck you and I'm not sure I care for it; a disease check might've been better as a less-long-term fuck you.
The Rat Claws are Knuckle Dusters that lose Pummeling but instead give +10% to climbing tests, because you've got spiked fighting claws on your hands and feet that also work as climbing pitons. They make you do SB-3 damage unarmed, without doubling enemy AV, so that's nice for martial artist ninja rats who plan to be climbing and scampering a lot. The Tail Blade is specifically meant to be used with the Tail Fighting talent (available to Eshin Assassins) and is an SB-2 Fast weapon wielded in a Skaven's prehensile tail. Tri-wielding is mostly for flavor and any ordinary weapon can be tri-wielded, so this weapon actually doesn't have a huge amount of purpose. There's also no clarification on how tail fighting interacts with the free parry rules. It's an after-thought that doesn't really do anything that was tossed in because a famous ninja rat does it. The Things Catcher is another winner of a weapon, being a Two-Handed SB+1 melee weapon that also has Snare from Entangling. Snaring someone with your last attack of the round will hold them in place and force them to spend their action trying to break free. Until they do, anyone attacking them in melee OR ranged gets +20 to hit them. As for why the Things Catcher hurts so bad, it's a bear trap on a stick. This weapon and their whip makes the Packmaster a great starting rat class to have around (especially as the errata for the game gives them the prof to actually use this thing).
For guns, we have the useless Blowgun (Uses its own special prof, does Damage 0 at short range, only useful for delivering poison, which any other ranged weapon could do) which is 'often used as a snorkel by Eshin hiding in ponds'. The Poisoned Wind Globe is where it gets complicated. It has a very short range (4 yards is the close range, 20 yards the long) and when thrown, if you miss your BS test, has a 20% chance to fall at your feet and break open or and 80% chance to scatter in one of eight directions d10 yards. It creates a small, moving AoE cloud of gas that sticks around for d5 rounds, drifting in random directions (d5 yards) every turn like the original scatter roll for a miss, with a 10% chance of staying still and a 10% chance of dispersing immediately. Anyone caught in it needs to make a Tough-10 (Tough+10 if you have a little gas mask) or take 5-14 Wounds, no reduction
. Get used to this. There's more armor ignoring (and TB ignoring) stuff in this book than anywhere else in the line and I hate it.
Next we have the most hilariously useless weapon in the Skaven arsenal. The Ratling Gun. This is, recall, the fucking gatling gun the rats bring to 17th century line engagements. This is a goddamn HMG firing warpshot at a massive rate of fire that also tends to jam or explode because Skaven. In this game? It's a Damage 3 Shrapnel weapon. Exactly the same as a cheap human blunderbuss. You fire, then everyone in a 4 yard line out to 30 yards makes an Agi test to avoid the Damage 3 hit. You still roll BS to see if the gun explodes from Experimental (2% chance, higher chance of jamming) and it's still a huge gun that needs a two rat crew to haul, load, and use. It only fires one of those attacks before needing to reload, just like a human Blunderbuss, and it takes longer to do so. It has a ten round
reload time! For the exact same effectiveness of a shitty human coach gun loaded with forks. This weapon is SO BAD that the Errata specifically had to address 'Yes, we made it act exactly like a Blunderbuss on purpose, stop asking'. How do you look at people saying 'um, are they meant to be this shit' and not realize you made them shit? I'd think it was a concern for game balance, except for all the other crazy shit the rats get like the globes and the upcoming flamethrower. This weapon is so worthless I had to make up my own, different rules for Skryre gun teams for the 'oh god we're getting blasted with rats' Vermintide-esque session I'm getting read for tomorrow.
There's also little smoke bombs the little ninjas can throw down before vanishing. They're cute. They work exactly like a poison globe except they don't kill anyone and instead reduce vision inside the cloud to 2 yards, meaning that a character stuck in the smoke cloud can't actually shoot out of it.
The Warpfire Thrower is a fucking nightmare weapon. Thankfully, just like the Ratling Gun, the two-rat team firing it gets one shot and then it'll take 10 rounds to reload. But it fires out a large cone of fire with apparently no BS test AND no test to avoid the fire. Anything hit takes Damage 4, No Armor Permitted (TB is, at least) and has to make an Agi save or catch fire. Remember fire loses you d10 wounds a round, without reduction. You can put the fire out with an Agi-10 roll or by jumping in water. Also, it mutates you like the Plague Censer. This is just plain horseshit, due to the totally unavoidable nature of the weapon; if the rats open fire, you're getting hit. At least they only get one shot, and it takes many rats to carry one flamer around. I'd probably add a Dodge chance to it since it's sort of a prototype to a Dark Heresy flamer anyway.
The Warplock Jezzail and Warplock Pistol are the mainstay firearms of the ratman armies. The Jezzail is, as came up in the thread, a very long barreled rifled musket with the reach of a Hochland Longrifle. The pistols are just 10/20 instead of 8/16 range pistols. Both do Damage 5 AP instead of Damage 4 Impact like a human firearm, giving them slightly better damage potential but making the damage less consistent than the 'roll 2d10, take best' and less likely to crit than human guns. They're solid, interesting weapons and a neat sidegrade to human firearms. The Skryre Skirmisher 1st tier starts with either a Jezzail or a small brace of pistols and they're cool. They're a good weapon that's neither too weak nor too strong.
The Errata, however, has other ideas. I'm gonna guess this rule is Steve because it's got his favorite buddy, the 'Surgery Check' that's Heal-10. The Errata proposes something to make warplock guns 'more exciting', whereby the warpstone shot causes mutations once a week (Tough or gain a mutation) until someone with Surgery makes a Heal-10 check to remove the bullet, if they caused any Wounds at all. Yeah, I'm glad that didn't make it into the main book. These guns are nasty enough as sniper rifles and high quality high velocity handguns without that.
Clan Skryre also gets its own special gear: The Gas Mask (+20 to Toughness against gas) is quite nice. They can also get a 'superpowered Warp-Power Accumulator' to supercharge their adorable little exploder backpack, giving a Warlock Engineer's Warp Lighting Impact. However, if they get doubles on the Impact roll, the backpack goes crazy! Int-20 or the backpack explodes, destroying the item and causing Damage 5 to the engineer and everyone within 6 yards. The Upgraded Warp Condenser gives warp-powered melee weapons an extra +1 damage and also lets the Warlock Engineer use an extra casting die for shooting lightning at people. The Warp Blades are powered halberds and hand weapons that do +1 damage and let the Engineer cast Warp-Lightning through them. So a fully tooled out Engineer has a halberd (or sword and shield) that does SB+2 Impact (Or SB=2, but having the free parry) and shoots out Damage 6 Impact lightning as a ranged spell for a half action.
Except they forgot to include rules for how to use the Warp Blades to cast the spell. At all. It's in the Errata (you can cast Warp Lightning at Mag 2 if you have one, basically) but come fucking on! You forgot to actually put in the 'how do I use my magitek casting tool to cast magitek' rules!? In the section on magitek!? You put in all the fiddly shit about the upgrades you can make to your lightning projector, without remembering to actually write the rules for projecting lightning
? This is some pretty awful work, rat writers!
Similarly, all these items cost Warpstone Tokens instead of Gold Crowns, because ratmen don't use Gold Crowns. We're told to just 'work out' how much anything else costs. How much is a Hand Weapon? Who knows, make it up yourself. A simple 'for purposes of converting costs, a warpstone token is 5 GC' or whatever would have been easy and allowed a GM to easily convert material from the other books into ratmoneys. But no. Not like you paid for this book for people to make that kind of work easy on you, you're going to need to go do it yourself. Similarly, there isn't much about equipment availability in the book. For instance, Skaven are implied not to have Plate armor (because they don't in the TT game, only Imperials, Chaos, and Dwarfs do) and top out at mail. But there's nothing really reflecting this anywhere except in the fact that no career gets more than Medium armor on their trappings, so nothing stopping you putting your rats in little plate power suits or something. It's just a shoddily done section, and I'm afraid that's gonna be the pace setter for all the actual game mechanics in this book.
Next Time: The Eternal Perfect Palpatine
Plague Priest Cannot Cast Plague
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Plague Priest Cannot Cast Plague
Well, I can't sleep, so here come some goddamn rats! There's a reason the last attempted review of this book stopped about when it got to the bits with mechanics in 'em, because I'm not gonna lie. The mechanical work in Children of the Horned Rat is downright shoddy. You might've guessed that from things like 'never actually discusses what wielding an extra weapon in your tail means mechanically' or 'forgot to actually put in the rules for shooting warp lightning out of your magical bladed lightning shooter, instead only printing rules for how to enhance a base process not actually in the book', but those aren't exceptions. The book likes to randomly introduce entirely new mechanics, too; some of the spells are going to work outside the bounds of normal spell design, suddenly and for little reason. For that reason, I'm going to be a little more thorough than usual in talking about Rat Magic.
Rat Magic is very powerful, once you get past their Petty Lore. Petty Rat Magic is absolutely worthless, and an Apprentice Grey Seer would kill for...well, actually a lot of things, but very much for the spell list a Collegiate Apprentice gets. The hilarious part is an Apprentice Grey Seer actually gets Mag 2 and some Lesser Magic (and if they want, can point out the very useful Shadowblood attack spell from Night's Dark Masters is technically Lesser Magic and not actually necromancy; if they do this it gives them a great magic missile but a GM should feel free to disallow this since that spell was clearly for vampires) but their Petty magic is just awful. They get a spell that induces penalties to disease saves (eh, disease is less useful for players than for enemies, generally, except for ones that cause immediate debuffs), a spell that does Damage 1 or lights like a torch, a spell that marks a messenger, a spell that very minorly debuffs an enemy (-5%! And they get a save!), a spell that gives them a non-Skaven rat buddy (cute), and a spell that gives either +5% to their next check (eh) or steals the FAVOR OF THE HORNED RAT (We'll talk about this mechanic later; it's not good). Compare to a Collegiate Apprentice: Damage 3, solid attack spell, illusion magic, a sleep spell, and the ability to make people drop stuff? You can have and solve adventures with human Petty magic. Skaven Petty Magic is the price you pay for how batshit powerful you get after it.
Rat Magic is also Dark Magic, which means it causes Side Effects like Necromancy and Chaos. These kick in if you get doubles on a miscast's effects die, and they fucking hurt. These are permanent debuffs to your PC, all negative. Remember, these are things like '-d10 Strength or Toughness' or a permanent epileptic disorder that makes you make a WP test or have a seizure that reduces you to a half action a round and -10% to everything for d10 Rounds in every fight. Side Effects hurt like hell and are honestly overly punitive, given the high chances someone throwing around Dark Magic (for the extra unkept casting die) already causes serious Miscasts. These are in turn supposed to balance how insanely powerful Warp Magic is. Plague and Stealth are the other two Skaven Lores, being
Pestilens magic and JUTSU SECRETS OF THE NINJA respectively, and they're both good, but come with their own issues.
You see, Grey Seers start with Mag 1, and then get +1 Mag in Career 1, +2 in 2, +3 in 3 for 4 Mag at Seerlord. The other rats do not get that 1 base mag. Plague Priest is meant to be like Initiate to Priest to Anointed Priest (though it is misprinted and Plague Priest only gives +1 Mag, this would be easy to spot and change even without errata) and get up to Mag 2 at 3rd career, and their casting ability tops out there. Sorcerer, the Ninja wizard, gets +2 Mag right away and the ability to go into Master Wizard and Wizard Lord (obviously without being a Collegiate Wizard!) if they want to master Ninja Secrets. This is fine. The problem is, Lore of Plague has a lot
of high CN spells. Very few of its spells are easy to cast with Mag 2. Some are nearly impossible, requiring using the Skaven rule where they can eat a Warpstone token for +3 to a casting roll, an Ingredient, AND Channeling to even have a tiny chance to cast. Take the Plague spell, for instance, which you might expect a Plague Priest to be able to use. It's CN 26. Even eating a token (which makes miscasts 1 step worse), using Dark Magic for an extra unkept die, using an Ingredient for +3, and Channeling only gives him a chance to have it go off if he gets an 18+ on 3d10k2. This is not bloody likely. And he cannot get better at magic on his track.
This is caused partly by the fact that the Lore of the Warp actually gets Plague, too, and so it has to be balanced against Mag 3 second tier Seers running around being able to plonk it down at will. The Plague Priest is clearly meant to function more like a Divine caster while the Seers are Arcane, but they share a few spells among their lists. So they can't do the normal thing where Priest magic tops out at CN 20 (ToS broke that rule like ONCE in the whole book) and the Plague Priest also doesn't get a High Priest equivalent to give them Mag 3 anyway. It's just a mess. Also Plague isn't even that good since it just gives people Green Pox (immediate effect is only -5% to everything), which then spreads virulently through anyone they come into melee range with if the second person fails a Tough save (if they make it, they become immune to this casting). It's dangerous, but it's a plot device for spreading plagues; in an actual fight -5% is not going to stop your enemies. Not for a CN 26 spell. I think the only spell the Plague Priest can actually cast easily is a CN 6 spell that makes infected blankets (They give people a dwarf pox that gives -10 Agi and Fel and makes them spend a half action a round itching unless they make a WP save, no chance of dying of it).
So now that we've been over some structural issues, let's get to some of the standouts among Skaven Wizbiz. One of the big features of Skaven magic is an absolute hatred for the Damage Reduction system. One of their popular attack spells, known to both Plague and Warp called Pestilent Breath, hits a cone-shaped template in front of the caster for CN 16 and a full action. Everyone struck makes a Tough-10 Save. Anyone who fails takes 5-14 damage, straight up, do not reduce. Now, I think a lot of this is a function of the people designing this not thinking about what bypassing DR actually means. Yes, they get a chance to avoid the damage. But effectively you're adding the target's DR to the base damage of the spell. Say I use that on a human knight in full plate and good health, TB 4. He fails his 30% or so save and now effectively takes a Damage 13 hit. And remember, kids, this hits an AoE. Compare this to Breathe Fire from Fire. That's a Damage 8 hit in a cone for CN 25
, which is hard for even a Mag 3 character and not really 'doable' at the drop of a hat until Wizard Lord. A 2nd Tier Skaven Seer has 3 Mag and thus better than 50-50 odds to throw out Pestilent Breath without Channeling OR Ingredients OR Warpstone Token.
What can a Seer do for CN 25, for reference? They can cast You're Fucking Dead, or Flensing Ruin. For CN 25, Full Action, a Seer (who remember, can use the +3 Ingredient AND Warpstone and if he can spare an extra turn, Channel to get the difficulty to 16, so even a Tier 2 Seer can use this if he eats 1 coin) throws down 'You take 6-15 damage, no save, no resistance, every turn for Mag turns'. This spell will kill an Exalted Lord of Chaos or a Vampire Lord in one cast. The end boss tier enemies. This spell will take a huge chunk out of a fucking Dragon or even make a Greater Demon balk. You get a couple Seers together to toss this down, and a Bloodthirster is a dead man. To illustrate, let's take our good friend that we rolled up in ToC, Taurial the Bright, the flying crystal elf Slaaneshi Lord whose entire schtick was DR. She would, in her Chaos Armor, have 9 TB and 5 AV. That's 14 DR, enough to stop your average conscript with a musket completely if they can't Fury, do not pass go, do not collect dead Chaos Lord. This spell effectively hits that character for Damage 19. That's the damage of an Imperial Great Cannon. And then hits her for it again. And again. One casting will kill Taurial. Okay, so that's not impressive, though; her whole thing was DR, right? She had poor Wounds because of it. Let's take Wallach Harkon from Night's Dark Masters, who is presented as the guy who thinks he's in charge of the Blood Dragons and a campaign End Boss type. One of the most dangerous personal warriors in the setting. He's only DR 13 (8 TB, 5 Armor) but he's got 28 Wounds. This spell will still take 18 of those off him if it rolls a 1 every time and has good odds of killing him because he's taking Damage 18 hits every turn. And remember, a 2nd Tier Grey Seer can just do this. The ingredient is just a tanned scrap of sentient skin. Warpstone Tokens are just coins. Also, there's no ruling on if this spell stops if you kill the caster or something. Any PC who gets this spell cast on them is probably dead. And again, this is NOT hard for the Seer to do. I harp on this so because ignoring the entire fucking Damage Reduction system is a bad idea!
Hilariously? Warp Lightning is actually a bad spell. It's alright, I guess; Damage 5 magic missile, CN 11, Half Action, good range. But you also take a Damage 1 Hit yourself for every 1 on casting it, and it's actually harder to cast than the equivalent Lightning Bolt from Heavens (which does the exact same damage for CN 10, no self-damage). Warp STORM, on the other hand, is 'only' CN 18 (so 50-50 odds of casting it with no further bonuses at Mag 3) and throws down a big AoE of Damage 5, with Damage 3 hits hitting you for each 1 you roll. It's risky, but it's also 7 CN less than the Heavens equivalent.
Skaven also get a lot of utility magic; Stealth focuses on it. They get spells like Skitterleap (an actual teleport, for CN 8), Stickypaws (sticky paws let you climb easily, CN 12), Pelt of the Assassin (CN 16 for +30 to Concealment when holding still), and Swiftscamper. Swiftscamper introduces a new mechanic out of nowhere: It lasts an extra minute for each point you beat its 14 CN by, and gives you +Mag to movement while in effect. Nowhere else in the system does beating a CN by more give you any bonuses. Why does it do this? I dunno. I doubt the designers know, either. You can also make people float so well they can run on water (CN 6) or throw down a lightly damaging moving super-smoke bomb (CN 20, Stealth). Seers can throw out a Damage 2 Missile that stuns on Tough+10 (CN 7). CN 14 summons a Vermintide of rats that do Damage 1 to everyone in a large area and keep scampering around and repeating this for Mag rounds. I'm not even going into every spell! Skaven Magic can handle almost any situation, and their actual combat spells are some of the most powerful in the game thanks to the designers not thinking about what some of the DR ignoring stuff means. I think only Ice Witches can even come close. Maybe a Bright Wizard who can reliably pull off Fiery Blast at Wizard Lord. And the key point is Skaven CNs don't even get that high! They all hover around levels where a normal Seer can start whipping this shit out 8' o clock Day 1 after getting his 'Actually a Seer and not a Shitty Apprentice' certificate. Skaven magic is, simply put, overtuned even though it was always a strength of theirs on the Tabletop. It also combines with how powerful of a caster the Seer is to make it even moreso, which we'll get to when we get to rat PCs.
Next we get a small collection of magic items, all very dangerous for non-Skaven because they're made of pure wizard cocaine. The Amulet of the Horned One is a sacred token that gives 1 Wound of regen per hour it's worn. An ancient Seer used it to escape the consequences of his actions and rapidly recover from the knives he regularly found in his back, until the Horned Rat though it would be really funny to take it away and give it to someone else. He then slipped and fell onto 8 different apprentices' knives. Clumsy day. Nice enough, but minor. The current owner is our good buddy Thanquol the Grey Seer, because the Horned Rat thinks he's fucking hilarious and wants him to continue to narrowly survive the consequences of his actions. We don't get much on him but the name-drop here.
The Blade of Corruption is a Hand Weapon that does an extra Damage 3 hit every time it injures someone, if they fail a Tough-10 save. If wielded by a non-Skaven, it inflicts Tough-10 every time they use it, or takes a permanent -d10 off their Toughness, killing them at 0. So don't use it if you're not a rat, got it. It's an evil sword forged by Pestilens and cooled in the blood of the first Slaan they managed to drag down and ram a rusty knife into in Lustria. Killing frogs is why they managed to make the lizards mad enough to invent a god.
The Cloak of Shadows is an exquisite ninja cape forged out of the hair of the victims of ninjas. It grants a special power where anyone trying to shoot the ninja wearing it takes a -10 WP test or else they have to pick a different target. Really nice.
The Dwarf Slayer is, I believe, Queek's signature weapon. It's a Hand Weapon that does +3 damage against dwarves. Simple enough. Eats your brain if you're not a Skaven, though, inflicting 1 IP on WP-10 every time you touch it until you gain 6 IP, at which point you become a serial killer whose targets are short and have beards. You just can't resist trying to kill dwarves. Queek probably wants this back.
The Fellblade is the legendary Sword of Killing Fucking Everything, Including The Guy Wielding It that the Council gave to that Nehekaran king and pointed at Nagash. It is one of the mightiest weapons in the setting, and on the TT game, was a fucking mobile homing missile (that also probably killed the guy wielding it) that hit like a cannon mounted on a rat. Here it's...actually kind of sad. About on par with a Master Rune of Skalf Blackhammer from RoS. It does SB+1 Impact and gives +20 Str. Is that seriously all? For the Fellblade
? This thing is like a walking Plot Device Sword. Every round you use it, you make a Tough-20 save or take 4-13 Wounds, no reduction. Non-Skaven take 6-15 if they fail a Tough-30. So it kills the hell out of you and while yeah, +3 damage and Impact is pretty good, it's not that
Foul Pendants are handed out to anyone who the Council of Thirteen really likes. They're little rat-skull emblems that have powerful protective magic, giving a whopping +2 AV that stacks with any armor worn, no upper limit to AV (unlike most previous +AV items). That is a huge goddamn bonus. And they have multiple of these. This is treated like something of a trinket. This is equivalent, again, to a couple really powerful Dwarf Rune items!
Finally, we get Thanquol's stick, the Staff of the Horned One. It sucks. It gives you one Lesser Magic of your choice when you get it, which you lose if you lose it. Supposedly, this was the first magic item the first Grey Seer ever made. He clearly needed more practice, but it's better than nothing. I wonder if it counts as magical if you whack someone with it? I'd probably say it does. Thanquol got it when he murdered his first mentor, as is the way of the rat. Not sure how your PCs will get it, maybe pick it up after he drops it running away with another exploded Boneripper some time?
Next Up: Build Your Own Non-Functioning Deathtrap
Do not forget to build world ending devices
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Do not forget to build world ending devices
This should probably be in your head for this update. Because it's time to discuss how to build useless crap that explodes and wastes huge amounts of Warpstone.
So you want to be a Warlock Engineer. The idea appeals to you. It should! Warlock Engineers are cool! You have to get a to a third tier Career (Warlock Engineer) and get the Warlock Engineering talent first. After you do this, you can start building your own customized technosorcerous devices with a complex subsystem for doing so. This is the place where 'we never really established the value of a Warpstone Token' is going to get to be a really big problem. They do finally mention that '4 Warpstone Tokens can be refined from one pound of raw Warpstone', so that gives us a little bit of an idea of how much Warpstone is in a Token, at least. Only Skaven can use the items built by these rules; anyone else gets 1-2 mutations from just touching your Quick-Kill Device or whatever you called it if they fail Tough-10.
Skaven Devices tend to explode, as has been made clear in the past. Every device you build with this system has a Malfunction chance, created by adding the Malfunction chances of every component of the device together, plus d10% for every time you fail an Engineering test while making the device. You pay the full Warpstone cost of the device when you start work, and while you can give up and try again at any point to undo the Engineering failure penalties for shoddy design or overcomplicated gubbins, you have to start making the device again from scratch. Devices also cost 1/4 their original building cost every time they're activated
. You need to succeed an Engineering test for every 3 Warpstone Tokens the device would cost to build, and each Engineering test also costs you another Warpstone Token, so failures also cost you more Warpstone.
Now, the first use for this ability is building Characteristic enhancing cybernetics and exoskeletons. These can give up to +3d10 to a Characteristic, and make the Engineering test to build a device that includes them -20% more difficult. If you build a cybernetic replacement, it causes Insanity (3 for d10, 5 for 2d10, 8 for 3d10) and costs you -1d10 Toughness for losing Ratbits. No word on if this can replace a lost limb from the critical hit system. Also no word on if you have to pay Warpstone every time you use that limb or body part; the next bits are really unclearly written. If the device is an augmentation, it doesn't cause Insanity or Toughness loss. You can activate the device as a Free Action when using a test that uses the stat it boosts. I suspect the idea is supposed to be that the cybernetics have
to be used but don't cost additional Warpstone, while the Augmentations can be turned on and off, but again, the book is phenomenally unclear. Errata also pops in to say activating any stat or skill booster device gives its bonus for d10 Rounds per activation, because they didn't actually include durations in the main book. At least cybernetic Replacements only have a 1% base Malfunction, right? Stat boost junk is 5 Warpstone tokens per d10 it grants, and the Augmentations have way higher explosion chances (2, 3 and 6% for the 3 power levels) but cost less (3, 6, and 12). Augmentations also just straight give +10, +20, or +30. No d10s. This leads me to believe the Cybernetics are meant to be permanent buffs (which is kind of a bad idea for its own reasons, not least of which is rolling for your arm to explode every time you make a Strength test adds rolls) but again, no real clarity on if that also means using the limb costs Warpstone. You can also halve the malfunction chance for an augmentation by having it impose twice its bonus as a penalty to another stat, but if this would reduce a subject's stat to 0, the device crushes their head or otherwise makes them explode into rat-bits.
Skill Devices are similar. Note you can stack several skills or stats onto one device; you use the hardest difficulty among the things you're trying to build when you do so. Skill enhancers are generally cheap and easy, with reasonable malfunction chances and costs; I suspect this is the primary use for these rules that would actually get used. A little device that lets you trade 2 Warpstone tokens for +30 to a skill with a small chance of exploding for d10 Rounds is actually useful, after all. You can also use these devices to give a character a skill they don't have, and even do so at a high bonus; doing this is not a good idea, because a +30 to an Advanced Skill you don't have is like 32 Warpstone Tokens to build (so 8 per use) and +16% Malfunction. Now we don't know how valuable a Token is, precisely, but given a ratling gun costs like 12 I'd assume 8 is fairly significant. At the same time, being able to build like, a thought-siphon that pours, say, 'Academic Knowledge: Science' into the brain of a confused rat and might make his head explode is pretty hilarious so I'm going to say Skryre gets style points there. Building a device to give situational bonuses (like, say, magic goggles that grant a big bonus to Sight based Perception tests) halves the cost and makes them much less likely to explode. You can also make a device halve its malfunction chance by giving a penalty to another skill while active. So, say, you could make a Vibrating Hyper-Scamper Quick-Dodge Harness that makes a rat vibrate on frequencies that make him hard to see and hit (bonus to Dodge) but also make a loud whirring (-2xDodge Bonus to Stealth), that kind of thing. Skill Devices are quite useful and cheap enough to be worthwhile. Honestly, so are stat enhancers, they're just unclearly written and complicated.
You can also make things grant Talents a character doesn't have, at -20% to engineer. These start to get into the point where they Malfunction significant amounts of the time; the vast majority of Talents add 4 or 5% Malfunction and there's no way to offset it like with Stats and Skills. Though you can also grant Public Speaking for a 2% Malfunction and 2 Warpstone Token cost (1 per activation), which is hilarious because now you've built a tiny megaphone for your rat powered by wizard cocaine. Once again, no word in the actual book on the duration of these buffs; had to go to Errata to see they have the same d10 round duration as skills. Straight granting Talents is straightforward and potentially very useful, but I wouldn't try to combine too many into one device or you're going to destroy people. Little rat, no! Do not try to give someone Natural Weapons, Frenzy, Frightening and Strike Mighty at the same time with the Huge-Maker 5000 Serum Injector! Frenzy is still useless and that's 21 Tokens and 21% base Malfunction as it is! How does a SERUM INJECTOR explode!? What has science done!? Also, you can add a talent called 'Skaven Construct' to a person that turns them into your robot slave for 10 Tokens; it becomes permanent but there's a 50% chance they become an unreliable and mostly useless robot instead of a helpful robot. No word on how you can do this to the unwilling; do you just have to slip the Robo-Maker 900 over their neck while they're asleep or do they have to go on an operating table or what?
You can also build a spellcasting device that casts spells! This is at -30% to Engineering tests and is the hardest thing Warlock Engineers do. Every spell you program into the device adds to cost and malfunction, and the device functions as a Caster of X power level, with the malfunction and cost going up as you go from 1 to 4. Interestingly, these devices have a limited repertoire of spells available, and a bunch of the spells are Chaos magic, like Dark Hand of Destruction (the weapon summon that gives you a Damage 7 AP magic hand blade with +10 to hit. You can have a beam-saber!) and Veil of Corruption (inflicts mutation). I'm not sure why you'd build a device to cast Warp Lightning when you can just use your Warp Blade to do it without malfunction chances or Warpstone cost, but you can also build a better backpack to cast Warp Storm, which is nice. Your magic backpack cannot be set to any less than full power, and still inflicts Miscasts just like a normal spellcaster. If you wish to make other spells available to your rat technowizard, do it at the cost of 1/2 the CN in Tokens and 1/4 the CN in Malfunction. A Caster level 4 Backpack is 20 tokens (so 5 per use) and 10% Malfunction, but a level 4 wizard you can build yourself is kind of impressive.
Finally, we get to building and kitting out guns. Everything to this point has been clunky and unclear, but you can kinda see where it'd be useful. Get ready for that to end! Weapons are easy to build, at +0 difficulty. You can only work on missile weapons and guns; no building yourself a Skaven chainsword. Again, you've already got an SB+2 (potentially) Warp Blade that gives you the ability to shoot technolightning, Skryre rat. Be content. You can either upgrade an existing gun, or build your own from scratch. Upgrading a gun can range from reasonable to batshit insane. Say you want to build a Ratling Gun that isn't an embarrassment by giving it +2 damage and Impact. This would cost you 30 Tokens (10 for adding a quality, 20 for +2 Damage), 15% Malfunction, a ton of Engineering tests, and make the weapon cost 8 Tokens per shot (round up, after all). Say you want to build the ultimate sniper cannon. +3 Damage, +Impact would run you 40 Tokens, 20% Malfunction, 13 Engineering tests, and get you a Damage 8 Impact AP Jezzail that costs the entire cost of a new Jezzail (and 2 1/2 pounds of Warpstone) every shot. Just adding on something like Impact to your Jezzail isn't crazy and might be worthwhile. You can also add Range, but for every 2/4 Yards (added to Short and Long range) it costs you 5 Tokens and 2 Malfunction, so meh.
The real problem comes when you try to build your own gun. First, for every point of base damage, you double your cost and malfunction, starting at 4 cost, 2 malfunction at Damage 1. Then you get a weird trait called 'number of hits'. What does this mean? Is this how many times the weapon hits someone each time you hit? Do you get multiple attacks per attack? I don't know, they never specify. 1 Hit costs nothing, 2 Costs 8 Tokens, 4 Malfunction, double it up each step until you reach 32 Tokens and 16 Malfunction at 4. You can also make the weapon fire in an AoE, with single target costing nothing, Cone Template costing 10/5, Small Template costing 10/5, Large Template costing 20/10. You have to pay for every single 2/4 yards of range as if adding Range to an existing weapon, too, so even getting the range of a pistol is 20/8. You also pay for the Reload rate of your weapon, at 20/10 for Half Action and halving the cost and malfunction for each step past as you go to Full, 2 Full, 3 Full, 4 Full at 1/1. The weapon's proficiency is decided by the GM after you finish building it. The Hits thing seriously never gets explained. You might notice that while you can theoretically build hyper-cannons with this, doing so makes a weapon that absolutely will explode and will also bankrupt you to both build and fire. Having to pay for every single quality, step, etc of the weapon adds up so quickly that it's never worth it to build your own ridiculous gun.
Also, any modified Gun becomes Experimental. If it was Experimental before, it jams on 90+ attack rolls and explodes on 97+. That's in addition to Malfunction, which you have no way to reduce.
Malfunctions don't necessarily destroy your item. They roll on a table with the results 'Works, but +1 to future Malfunction chance', 'Sets you on fire, Agi test not to be on fire, put it out within d5 rounds or it's destroyed, +d5% Malfunction', 'Works, +d5% Malfunction in the future', 'Doesn't Work', 'Doesn't Work and costs 2xWarpstone Tokens (What happens if you only had enough to power it once on-hand? No answer)', 'Doesn't work, +d10% Malfunction', 'Hits you for Damage 3, destroyed', 'Hits you and everyone next to you for Damage 4, destroyed', and 'Hits you and everyone within 6 yards for Damage 5, destroyed'. So 30% chance to lose the item permanently every Malfunction, and almost everything else permanently makes it more unreliable with no way to reduce that.
Maybe don't trust the cybernetic limbs. The whole system is unclear, fiddly, and relies a lot on a huge monetary cost to limit abuse, while we still don't really know the value of Skaven money. Some of it is definitely fairly useful; giving yourself skill boosts and stuff is helpful. And letting weapon building get truly out of hand would've been much worse than making it too limited; +1 Damage in Warhammer is actually a fairly big deal, after all. The gear system really isn't made to accommodate lots of custom-built weapons. It's just a shame they couldn't find a good way to balance building your own ridiculous ratguns. The whole section also really needed a rewrite or two for clarity, especially on the matter of cybernetics. All in all, you'll mostly use Warlock Engineering to build buff items so you can run around in a powered exoskeleton while you shoot lightning out of your beam-halberd, which is reason enough to play a Warlock Engineer.
Next Time: Be The Rat
Be The Rat
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Be The Rat
So, this is the big selling point of this book: Playing as rat nazis in a ridiculous Paranoia-esque campaign. Normally, RPGs are pretty cooperative as a medium. Playing in RPGs that feature player vs. player conflict can get difficult, and the book acknowledges they can strain friendship. It tells players to keep a lid on the worst PVP stuff and stick to things like stealing credit from one another or trying to ensure you and you alone get the biggest reward, rather than outright killing one another. Grab for glory and stuff, and when things go wrong, if one of you is falling behind and in deep trouble, the rest of you should feel comfortable running like hell and being pleased that Stevsnik is making the minotaur stop to eat him so you can all get away. That kind of thing. Only go back for a comrade if he's got the loot. And above all, talk to your table about the level of backstabbing they think will be fun rather than annoying or frustrating.
I'm always glad when something that's going to feature heavy player competition or backstabbing starts off with 'For God's sake, all talk to one another and make sure to agree on a line you find fun rather than just going all out'.
Next we get the best section in the book: How to Play Skaven. Keeping with the theme that the fluff is good and the mechanics are not, this is a really good, concise set of behavioral guidelines and Skaven tropes. As an added aside, one of the things I appreciate about Skaven is how many actual rat behaviors they implement. Little things like being intensely curious but always wanting to have a safe place to retreat to, or being very social but liking to have a social pecking order, or even just the fact that they brux and boggle for similar reasons to actual rats? All nice details.
Step 1: Squeak. The linguistic tics of Skaven are very important, and kind of tricky to do. The advice here is to try to talk like your mouth can't keep up with your brain. Short, sharp sentences, like you're going back and correcting yourself mid stream of thoughts. Use the comma sparingly, use not the noble semicolon; these are inventions of the man-thing. Try to keep things to the essential parts of your message unless you're flattering a superior, in which case get poetic and throw in backhanded compliments. The general character of Skaven speech is more important than remembering to repeat words all the time. The pattern of rat-prattle really helps bring them across and helps with getting in character.
Step 2: Cower. You are not a noble and mighty warrior. You are not even someone pretending to be a noble and mighty warrior. Your society thinks noble and mighty warriors are fucking weird. Skaven will reconsider their odds at the first sign of trouble, and they're always looking for trouble. Always be considering your odds in every situation. Act nervous. You're not so much paralyzed by fear as it's constantly part of your behavioral calculus. If your best odds lay in doing something crazy, do it; a cornered rat can be astonishingly brave. But if you've got a chance to back out of something really dangerous without getting in trouble, consider carefully what's in it for you before you go ahead; you don't owe anyone anything, and you definitely don't owe them your life. You're important, after all.
Step 3: Sniff. As a corollary to the above, always keep your nose to the ground. Someone is always trying to get one over on you and you don't know what's around the corner; rushing in before you know what's what will only get you killed. Sniff around, be curious. Assume there are ulterior motives to everything, because there almost certainly are. Once again, always keep in mind 'what's in it for me' and 'what's in it for him' before you do anything. If the answer is 'not much', consider how you can get out of it.
Step 4: Spit. Skaven are spiteful little bastards. Every Skaven knows he's the most important ratman ever, and everything would be great if only all the other ratmen would stop fucking it up for him. The Skaven are the master race, and you, personally, are the most important and best of the greatest race that exists in all of the world. You SHOULD be back home, being fed luxuries by servants as your 'peers' scrabble around and fawn over your greatness. You SHOULD be in charge, and Chieftan, or maybe even Warlord, or on the Council. Everyone else is holding you back. The other rats are all sabotaging you because they're jealous. The surface-worlders are a tide of vermin who exist only to make things harder for the Master Race and need to be taught their place, which you'd do, except all those goddamn other Skaven keep messing up because they're idiots, not like you! It's never 'good enough' for a rat and they're all temporarily embarrassed uberratten.
Step 5: Whine. In keeping with the above, Skaven whine. A lot. Keep it from getting annoying, but when things aren't going great for you you should sometimes just sit down and have a good complain. If your squad routs, it's the fault of the Clawleader's poor leadership, not because you ran away. If your team gets lost, it's the jerk who sold you a bad map. If it's too hot, or too cold, or it's raining and you're stuck on the surface and wet and miserable, it's some damn Grey Seer trying to crush your spirit with dark magic because he knows how great you'd be if you were just comfortable enough to think, damnit. Nothing is ever your fault. It's always a plot. Always a scheme.
Step 6: Scrape. Of course, you'd never say that to your boss! You've got to know when someone is powerful and you've got no choice but to fawn and compliment and do everything you can to please them. You live in a totalitarian society full of powerful oligarchs who will happily make an example of you. Skaven generally don't question the system, because they're afraid that if they did that, they'd never get their turn on the top of the pile. Every rat who is fawning over their boss is dreaming of making that guy lick their boots some day. That guy, and all their co-workers. They aren't conditioned to want to throw off their oppressive masters, they're conditioned to dream of becoming oppressive masters. Every indignity suffered is another idea for what you'll do to these pricks once you rule everything.
Step 7: Chew. Also following from there, if you're in charge, twist the knife and abuse authority every chance you get. Revel in it. Being Important is the single greatest pleasure in a Skaven's life; it means that to some degree, others are forced to recognize the greatness you know is within you. But be careful; you're still a coward, and you still know they outnumber you and you need them for things. Play underlings against one another for your favor. Use unfairness to keep them divided. And be careful not to push them too far, or else they might actually work together and eat you. They need to fear you, they need to know their place, but they need to also think that accepting it is a better deal than taking the risk of trying to kill you.
Step 8: PREEN. The best step, having played a Skaven. Every Skaven knows they're amazing, as above, and Preening means showing it whenever possible. Show everyone your shiney medal! Tell exaggerated war-stories about your incredible achievements, minimizing the contributions of others and taking credit for everything! Just as every failure is some asshole trying to bring you down, every success is solely due to your incredible talent and rugged individualism. Take credit for everything! Show off! Besides, self promotion can make your superiors believe you're important, which means they're less likely to get you killed casually.
Step 9: Mark. Rats piss on everything. Anything a superior hasn't marked with their scent could be yours. Let everyone know what you own. In a more general sense, just be possessive and greedy. You need everything. Even if you don't need it now, you never know when you'll need it later. Grab for loot the same way you grab for glory and don't let anyone tell you it's enough!
Step 10: Devour. You are always, always hungry. Any excuse to eat something edible, take it. You should always keep in mind that every Skaven is inherently food insecure, and that a desire for food drives an astonishing amount of their society.
Step 11: Survive. You don't want to die. You'll surrender to enemies, offer to become a slave, take any indignity, so long as you live. As long as you're alive, you can get revenge. To a Skaven, nothing is worth dying for. After all, if you're dead, what reward could you possibly enjoy? As long as you're alive, no matter how deep a hole you've gotten into, you might be able to dig your way free. If you're dead, that's it, and what do you care about the other jerks who live on past you?
Step 12: Lie. Skaven lie. A lot. Never attack anyone head on or directly. Attacking directly makes it an even fight and puts you at risk. Try to bargain. Make treaty-pledges. Break treaty-pledges. Wonder why no-one makes treaty-pledges with you afterwards. Assume everyone else is lying, too. Assume everyone else thinks like Skaven. Never tell your bosses the whole truth; they don't need to know, and the more you know that they don't, the more power you have for yourself. Then wonder why none of your underlings ever tell you the truth. Never make the connection between these things.
And that's how to be a Skaven conceptually. Next will come all the mechanics as we go over the rules for making lazy, brilliant Chosen, squeaking, scrabbling Common rats, and massive, posing
Mighty Skaven. In which the mechanics get kind of weird and Stormvermin are like rat space marines.
Next Time: Make The Rat
Awaken, my masters!
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Awaken, my masters!
It is time, at last, to talk about making rats. When you decide to make a party of rats, the first thing you do is roll d10 for each player. Anyone who gets a 1 can choose what kind of rat they are. Everyone else is a Common rat. See, there are three kinds of rat: Common (brown rat), Mighty (black rat), and Chosen (white rat). They are very mechanically distinct from one another and both the Chosen and the Mighty are more powerful than the Common. If a player gets a 1 and chooses to become a Chosen, they can nominate and promote one player to Mighty in return for that player promising to be their loyal bodyguard through whatever internecine horseshit the party gets up to; Stormvermin are actually trained to be relatively loyal and to mostly only betray other Stormvermin. Similarly, a character who gets a 1 can trade away choosing their rat type to another player for similar treaty-pledges of working together once in game. If no-one rolls a 1, you're all Common rats, which is a very likely outcome. If you break these
treaty-pledges, the Horned Rat will not be happy (the GM is encouraged to set up a specific and agreed upon punishment for betrayal in this case) because this whole process is secretly part of tricking your 'backstabbing' party into still working together enough to sustain a campaign.
Naturally, part of the problem is the high chance no-one rolls a 1. Or that two players do, and you end up with two Chosen and two Mighty and no Clanrats, because while Chosen and Mighty are powerful they're a bit locked into strict 'wizard' and 'fighter' tracks. I'd have probably added a provision that if no-one does, you can come up with another way of picking your one special rat if people want one non-Clanrat.
The stat modifiers for rats are very extreme. The Chosen get -10 to WS and BS, but +5 Tough, +5 Agi, +10 Int, and +5 Willpower, plus start with Savvy and Coolheaded, so they're more effectively +15 Int, +10 WP. They also start with 1 base Mag, but only human Movement. Grey Seers are some of the most powerful mages in the game once they get through their poor first career. Until then, they'll be dependent on hiding behind their Stormvermin and squeaking out orders at the other rats to 'protect-protect me!'. They get 9-12 Wounds (like an elf) and 1-3 Fate. They are the only rat guaranteed to have Fate, which is another problem we'll talk about later.
The Mighty are the best physical fighting race in the game outside of vampires or a Chaos Lord with a lot of favorable mutations. They get +10 WS, +10 S, +10 T, -5 Int, -10 Fel. Plus start with Coolheaded, and their automatic first career, Black Skaven, will get them Very Resilient and potentially Lightning Reflexes as well. They get 11-14 Wounds and 0-2 Fate, with a 40% chance of having 0 Fate. I have played a Black Skaven, Mighty Nightfang, and he rolled well for stats meaning by a little ways into Stormvermin he was up to 64% WS, 60% Str, that kind of stuff. He had stats by a bit into his 2nd career that would've made for a decent 'normal' endgame warrior and could've dumpstered the average Chaos Champion or fledgling vamp by himself. Stormvermin are just nuts as physical fighters. Something in Careers is going to make them even crazier; we'll get to it when we get to it. Suffice to say Mighty Skaven are perhaps a little overtuned physically. Given how vain and huge they are, I tend to assume Stormvermin practice posing and preening all the time.
A Common Skaven gets -5 WP, -10 Fel, +5 Agi, +5 Tough, has 8-11 Wounds, and 0-1 Fate. Only a 30% chance of having a single Fate Point, because you're an expendable little rat. Common roll for their home clan (or pick, if you don't want to be mean to them. Be nice to the poor little rat). ONLY Commons who roll one of the Great Clans can ever go into that Great Clan's cool signature class tracks. The signature tracks are one of the biggest reasons you might want to play a Common. Eshin learn both stealth skills for being Eshin, Moulder learn Animal Training and Command, Pestilens all get Theology and Dodge Blow, and Skryre get Scale Sheer Surface and Silent Move. Mors get Command and Prepare Poison. A genuine minor clan gets nothing. Other Warlord Clans all get a single crappy skill. You want to be a Great Clan rat. If you are, and you roll Clanrat for your starting career (which is very likely) you can replace it with Nightrunner (Eshin), Packmaster (Moulder), Plague Monk (Pestilens), or Skirmisher (Skryre). All of these are better than Clanrat (though Clanrat only takes 6 advances to finish, which is a value in and of itself). Only Commons actually roll for Career. Chosen are all Apprentice Seers and Mighty all start as Black Skaven, which are a bit like Pit Fighters.
Also, unlike in human PC creation, when you replace one of your bad stats with an 11, the fluff is that when you were a pup another Skaven with the slightly better stats ate your first Skaven and you're playing that guy instead.
Now, why is not having Fate a problem? The problem with it isn't so much purely mechanical (though it does greatly weaken Common rats) as it is that managing Fate and deciding when to spend Fortune is one of the important meaningful decisions of the game's moment to moment gameplay. Your stock of rerolls is an important part of engagement in and decision making within the game. I've played 2 campaigns as a Vampire, thus having 0 Fate Points the whole time, and it changes the tenor of the game entirely. I suspect, based on that, that some of the intent in greatly limiting Skaven Fate was that having 0 Fate makes you play a lot more cautiously. A mixture of fluff about how you're probably going to die and you're not special, but also a way to encourage players not to push their luck. The problem is it engenders passivity, and part of being a Skaven is also deciding to take wild, crazy, energetic risks every now and then when your greed and ambition overcome your cowardice. Active PCs are simply more fun to GM for than people who are paralyzed with worry. But most important is that choosing when and why to use Fortune is really important to early gameplay, too; it's what makes the original 50-50 or so odds work at low levels. If I had to compromise, I'd give Skaven Fortune but say they don't have much Fate
or just fluff burning Fate as your first rat dying and being replaced by a coincidentally mechanically identical rat with a different hat and perhaps a cute little mustache.
To replace Fate, we get another rule called Favor of the Horned Rat and I hate it. At the start of every session, you roll d10, write down the number and ask the players to guess. Anyone who has precisely guessed the number has The Favor of the Horned Rat, which can be spent exactly like 1 Fortune Point. They do not know they have the Favor until they try to spend it and you tell them they don't. That takes the actual resource management aspect out of the mechanic entirely and just turns it into a 10% chance that you have any rerolls each session. Also the Chosen can steal all the Favors for himself with that 'steal the Favor' petty spell I mentioned in Magic. 'Killing a character who has the Favor grants you the Favor', except you don't know who has it, and earlier and later they're generally going to advise against straight PVP. This is a bad rule made worse by the fact that keeping it secret completely ruins the purpose of a resource management system like reroll stocks. It's a 'whacky' rule designed to produce comedic gotcha moments, which are not a good idea; better to let the rats actually be funny by being overreaching jerks in play, especially when they'll know they almost certainly don't have the Favor and act accordingly anyway.
Next Time: All four major class tracks are broken in some way
Who did the proof reading for any of this
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Who did the proof reading for any of this
So, Rat Classes. Rat Classes are actually kind of fun, but every single one of them has something bafflingly weird about it.
Let's start with Clanrat, because if you aren't a special rat you're probably going to be a Clanrat (though Common Rats can roll all kinds of other careers from the corebook, like Mercenary or Agitator). Clanrat is what most players would have imagined Peasant to be: Terrible. The very poor skills and Talents hurt because it's your starting class and you get those for free. It also only gets +5 WS and BS, +5 Agi, +5 WP and +2 Wounds for Advances. But this also means you finish Clanrat in 500 EXP (since you get 1 free advance at start). And it goes into fucking everything
. Clanrats can become the Special Track for their clan. Clanrats can become Barber Surgeons. Clanrats can become Zealots. Clanrats can become Rat Sergeants (Clawleader). Clanrats finish Clanrat extremely quickly and then can go pretty much wherever they want, and with how Career swapping works, that actually keeps that option open at any time in their advancement. This is a really interesting mechanic for a likely first career for rat mooks. Clanrats also get Sling proficiency and are still good at stealth, so they're not totally useless. Also get a shield and most of a set of leather armor!
Black Skaven are basically Pit Fighters and locked into going into Stormvermin if they want to go to second tier right away. This is fine, though, they're happy with 'good at fight'.
Apprentice Grey Seers actually have an unusually long 1st tier, having 13 advances (I'm guessing this is on purpose) to get through it. They're terrible because their Petty Magic is terrible. You play a Grey Seer to get to Actual Grey Seer.
Nightrunners are Clanrats but with better stats, Fleet of Foot (6 Movement means you can almost keep up with a barded warhorse and can potentially outrun a vampire, very important for rat), and the option to learn Throwing instead of Sling. Also actually get Dodge, which is kind of important. With +10 WS and BS, and +10 Agi, the Nightrunner is actually an okay ninja. And they can go right into Ninja Sorcerer or Gutter Runner. Eshin Nightrunner is a fun starting class.
Moulder Packmasters get a pet Giant Rat (functionally pretty equivalent to a Small, But Vicious Dog) and two useful weapon proficiency talents, plus an all new talent called Master of the Lash that gives +20 to Animal Training and Command with Moulder creations. They were originally missing Two-Handed to use their Things Catcher but it was added in in Errata. They also get Entangling. They've got a good spread of wide, minor stat buffs, good Wounds, and combined with their Clan skills, they start with Command and Animal Training at +10. Like all Skaven except Mighty, they also know stealth. They're really solid characters and having a combat pet early is very helpful. That Things Catcher they start with is mean, too. SB+1 and Snare so that you can lock someone in place for your mates to beat on them is the Skaven way.
Plague Monks are little berserker lunatics. They're good enough at melee, and with their Pestilens skills will get +10 to Dodge Blow right off the bat and oh boy they have Frenzy. Their real selling point is being a 1st Tier with Fearless
. This means they never, ever need to make Fear or Terror tests, which with Skaven WP is a really good thing for them. Otherwise, they're basically an alternate take on the human Zealot that doesn't know how to use Flails. They can go into their Plague Priest track or become a Censer Bearer if you're a lunatic who loves dying and also killing.
Skryre Skirmishers are Skaven gunslingers. They come with a Jezzail or a pair of Warplock Pistols (or a Poison Wind Globe, but uh, just one and you also never learn to use it) and come with Master Gunner and Rapid Reload plus a good BS. So you're either a solid rat sniper who is good at sneaking and climbing and maintaining his gear (seriously, every Great Clan's 1st tier also gives the skills the Great Clan does so they start at +10) or a scampering rat gunslinger with not one, but two pistols. They don't lead directly into a second Skryre class, instead doing Engineer or Pistolier (depending on if you like the tech or the guns better) from the core book before going into Warlock Engineer. They're really good early on. Warplock weapons deal with early game threats really well.
Advanced Careers are where it really gets weird. The Censer Bearer won't be gone over in detail, but suffice to say they're badass second tiers who will die because of their censer, since it hurts them every round and they're not allowed to leave the career except by dying. They're a high powered dead end.
The Clan Chieftain is the glaring black hole of Skaven Classes. Almost every Career Track can end in Chieftain. Chieftain is also one of the most powerful fighting classes in the game. No, I don't know why. On the Tabletop game, a Clan Chief is a minor Hero who helps stiffen a line by having slightly better leadership and gear. A useful utility leader. Here he is the ender of worlds. At +40 WS, +30 BS, +30 S, +30 T, +40 Agi, +30 Int, +20 WP, +25 Fel, +2 Attacks, +6 Wounds, and a huge host of skills and talents, you have almost no reason to play any other class but Chief as soon as you can get to it, because whatever you want, it's in Chief. A Chief can dumpster a Demon Slayer faster than you can say 'Gotrek Gurnisson'. That's right, they made a minor Skaven hero stronger than the legendary Dwarf Slayer capstone. I do not understand the Chief's design at all. Yes, you still need to buy all those advances, but by having them all available in one place, you encourage everyone to end up a Chief as soon as they can, especially as most of the special talents and skills from another track are acquired by its 2nd class, which can then promote into Chief. Chief is badly designed and needed a lot of toning down; they should be closer to Captain in the main book.
Grey Seer and Seerlord are both very good heavy casting classes, but pretty conventional aside from the Seerlord getting +1 A and much higher physicals than you'd expect. Seerlords also get extraordinarily high Fellowship and WP to go with their +40 Int; there's a lot of power creep going on in the general class design in this book. But what really matters for a Seerlord is that they're a 3rd tier class with 4th level magic the same way an Ice Witch is. Unlike the Ice Witch, they cannot exit Seerlord. You're stuck in that career and just have to make due with Priest level combat abilities and Wizard Lord magic, poor you.
The Gutter Runner is a weird class. They're okay at ranged and melee, they're excellent at thieving and infiltration, and they're sort of a cross between a Spy and a fighter. They also get the hilarious Art of Silent Death, turning their fists into daggers, but sadly lack Street Fighting (+10 WS unarmed, +1 Damage) to really capitalize on martial arts. They promote into Master Assassins, who are...disappointing. They're much worse fighters (and worse at Agility) compared to the Chief that the Gutter Runner could've promoted into, at only +25% WS and BS. They have poor S and T for a third tier fighter. They never get Strike Mighty or Strike to Injure. Also, because you started with +10 in your stealth skills already, you probably bought them to +20 in Gutter Runner and so the option to do so by promoting into Assassin isn't very compelling. The only thing they get is Tail Fighting (which isn't mechanically fleshed out enough to be worth it) and Wall Runner, which doesn't actually let them run on walls. It lets them move faster while climbing. You will be a better assassin by promoting into Chief. That's sad. That's very sad.
Master Moulder and Master Mutator are both solid fighters (except for lacking Dodge Blow) and pet trainers who are supposed to have great physical stats comparatively, but this is let down by Chief being better than Master Mutator at everything physical because Chief is fucking insane. Moulders also get Fleshmoulding, which is its own subsystem for dangerous genetic enhancement handled later. They're great pet handlers and warriors, with the Mutator getting +2 Attacks, +30 WS, +30 Toughness, etc. They also get Surgery and the Master Moulder does learn Heal, though they don't get chances to put it up to +10 or +20 by having it at other ranks. If they'd had Two-Handed from the start (they would otherwise never actually be able to use their clan's signature weapon, the Things Catcher) they'd have been the one non-broken class tree! They're fun to play but also suffer from the all-devouring void of the Clan Chief.
I've gone over the primary issue of the Plague Priest track already, namely that they have Divine level casting stats but Arcane casting numbers that are very hard to hit, but they have another hilarious problem without Errata. They get a special ability called Brew Contagion for making plagues. It requires Trade (Brewer) tests. Can you guess what skill they forgot to give them until the Errata noticed? So they couldn't actually use either of their major class features well (magic and bio warfare). Mechanically, they're mostly just Priest-like. Except their Trappings give them a flail they never, ever learn to use but eh. The Priest also can't go into anything but Clan Chief, so they can never go into, say, a Mag 3 High Priest class.
Sorcerers are actually surprisingly good fighters for wizards, though they don't get extra attacks. They also get Mag 2 right in Sorcerer, and you can go into Sorcerer from Nightrunner OR from Gutter Runner (in which case you DO have a second attack). They can also jump into Gutter Runner to become better fighters if they started from Nightrunner, or go on to the core-book Master Wizard class to represent becoming a superior Rat Lo Pan. They're a really neat option and fun side track for Eshin.
Stormvermin is an utterly generic 2nd tier melee specialist who mostly stands out for being minmaxed to hell, getting Very Resilient, Very Strong, and Warrior Born on top of good (if quick) advances that will lead to most Stormvermin finishing their career pretty fast. From here they can go into Veteran or Clawleader for the most part, depending on if they want to be a Champion or a Chief.
Clawleaders are similarly very generic Sargent types who get +1 Attacks and some basic leadership, who are mostly a very quick second tier leader class that you guessed it, goes into Chief.
Finally, the Warlock Engineer never actually learns to throw the globes he's got, and is kind of a mishmash of a class. It can't decide if it's a fighter or totally focused on the engineering, getting a bunch of the Ranged talents and +1 A, but very little in the way of BS for a 3rd tier. It gets good Agi and Int at least. Naturally, it goes into Clan Chief. Also can never learn to use Halberds, despite a Halberd Warp Blade being a signature item for Engineers.
And that's our Strong Rat Sons. They're a mess, and Chief really, really needs to be less of the Inevitable End of All Rat Tracks. I have no idea what they were thinking with that class. Also note how many of the specialists are either weird at their job (Assassin) or needed Errata to put back something they needed to do their job (Moulder, Pestilens), or just never learn to use something despite having it (Skryre). Also they never consider that Pistolier is a cavalryman and rats don't do cavalry, and there's no advice on adapting such classes, of course. This is what I mean when I say this book's mechanical side is shoddy. It needed more attention and more thought put into it than it got, and it always feels hurried.
Next Time: Improve Improve
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Fleshmoulding is a total afterthought. For one, it's less than a page long. For two, it's got our good buddy Steve's fingerprints on it in the 'Surgery Skill' and 'Surgery Checks'; look man, we know Heal-10 is what you require for actually using this Talent at your table, but that's no excuse to forget there's an actual Heal skill that Surgery modifies and that Surgery is a Talent. Fleshmoulding is the pinnacle of Moulder science, where they just kinda lock somebody in a room with some Warpstone and then rub them with unguents and take notes on their little clipboards and nod seriously because this is how they think science works. As long as it's got enough glowing tubes and a clipboard it's real science, right? Not just randomly mutating the hell out of someone to see what happens? I'm not sure if this is intentional but I actually love the little 'trappings of science, but really not doing anything but throwing shit at the wall and seeing if it sticks' touch on our rats.
You need to expose your target to Warpstone (and unguents!) for 1 hour per 5% of their Toughness stat. You also decide how much Warpstone you're using to affect the difficulty of their Toughness test against getting mutated. 1 Warpstone per 20% of their Toughness is a Tough+30 test (you'll do this one for most subjects, honestly) up to 5 Warpstone tokens per 10% of their Toughness if you want them to make a Tough-30 test. However, if they succeed the Toughness test against treatment nothing happens. You just waste your Warpstone and their time. If they fail, they get to roll on the IMPROVEMENTS table. If they fail by 10+, they do that, but also roll d5 Mutations. If they fail by 20+, they just get d5 Mutations. If they fail by 30+, they die, waste of time and research subject. So you effectively only have a 20% chance of actually causing any Improvements (10% of 'only' causing Improvements) no matter what you set the difficulty at, since going out of bounds on failure will just kill them anyway. In fact, you're best off giving them an 80 or 90% chance to save vs. Toughness because it's more economical with the Warpstone AND you can't accidentally cook them OR accidentally fuck up and only mutate them horribly. This whole adjustable toughness difficulty thing was not well thought you. You make a 'Surgery Test' as well to reduce your Warpstone use, by 1 Token per DoS. No difficulty is given for the test. Even the errata, which tells us to use Heal rather than Surgery because Surgery isn't a Skill, Steve, doesn't actually tell us the difficulty to assign. I guess just assume it's +0?
You may think I'm being a bit mean here but the fact that we have this kind of boondoggle is really a wider indication of what's wrong with the mechanics of this book. The people doing the mechanical work just left all kinds of little holes that a GM has to fix, or that absolutely needed Errata (only some of which got it), and that's just shoddy work. An attitude of 'The GM can fix it' or 'spot ruling can fix it' is a bad sign for a game's mechanics, even if it's true; the GM shouldn't have to fix it. Anyway, our Improve-Improve table, assuming you get the 20% chance to actually get on it, is mixed. You've got a 10% chance of getting +2d10 Int, Str, and Tough, plus gaining Fearless, Strike Mighty, Strike to Injure, Natural Weapons, Frightening, and doubling
your Wounds. Chances of pulling this off are low, but you do this to a Mighty Skaven and you now have the most powerful character template in the game. Yes, I know this is mostly for making a Tyrant out of a random peasant or trying to make Roger not suck, but c'mon, you put out rules for genetic enhancement some PC is gonna toss another PC in the tubes. You get a 20% chance of +d10 Int, Str, and Tough, +50% Wounds, Strike Mighty, Natural Weapons, Menacing, Strike to Injure. You've got a 20% chance of +3d10 Str and Tough, all that good Fearless and stuff replacing
the character's normal talents, and giving them a 0 BS and a Rat Ogre's 'In Need of Direction' rule that means they need to be directed by a fellow partymate. 10% chance to give them +2d10 to a random stat, -2d10 to another. 10% chance to give +d10 Insanity. 10% chance to give d5 Mutations. 10% chance to kill them. 10% chance for 'GM's choice, I dunno, something wild happens'. The table is just completely random and not well thought out.
So yeah, a vestigial little mad science system that either results in the strongest character type in the game or just lolrandom fucks them up, weighted reaaallly heavily towards the latter. It's a good thing Moulder's whole 'physically able pet class' schtick works because actual Moulding sucks. I couldn't fit this in anywhere else, and it's too long to go ahead with Rat Campaign rules after while being much shorter than I'd normally like for an update, so that just adds even more annoyance to the procedure. Fortunately, we're not done with mechanics and can get back to the better parts of the book.
Next Time: Rat Campaign
I say again, stick together, you idiots!
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
I say again, stick together, you idiots!
"Any PC should be willing to fight the Skaven on the principle that they're an irredeemable horde of monsters that seek to dominate and enslave the world." is our first bit on a Skaven campaign. After all, who looks at a bunch of Nazis arrayed against them as their foe and goes 'Naw, don't want to punch that?' The annoying bit is it then goes into the Skaven Conspiracy as an excuse to not reward your players for fighting Skaven and to have the official authorities of the Empire (but only the Empire, remember absolutely everyone else knows Skaven are real) come after them. This is uncreative, even if you're going with 'the Empire doesn't acknowledge Rat Nazis are a problem'. You can always find some eccentric secret society of ratfighters who are willing to pay the PCs; they could be hired by a crazed one-eyed Witch Hunter who 'knows the truth' and needs 'men and women of stout character' to fight the rat, that kind of thing. Even if the Burgomeister thinks those rats are just Beastmen, people pay Adventurers to kill Beastmen all the time, too. You just end up with less warning that the little shits have rifles, and the standard gameplay loop of a lot of WHFRP already has 'Players get hired for standard D&D style quest, BUT ALL IS NOT AS IT SEEMS' as it is.
Now, as for running a game where you're playing as Skaven, one thing I wish they'd emphasize a bit more is that you're best off sticking to comedy campaigns when you play as the Rat Nazis. I will give them one big thing on playing Skaven over playing 40k Imperials: There's no long sections about how necessary
what the Skaven do is. You're a bunch of fucked up people living in a fucked up society. There's a lot more time devoted to 'these guys have machine guns and still manage to lose to muskets, because they're Nazis and that makes their Wunderwaffen unreliable as hell, their officers a bunch of preening, strutting jackasses, and generally makes them make Very Bad Decisions'. We never get an 'apology' for the Skaven Under Empire nor anything about how 'if you really think about it, perhaps they have Some Ideas' like you do with 40k Imperials.
We also get the suggestion that if you're going to do anything longer than a one-shot, you need to start thinking about ways to prevent PVP even as your rats try to contrive to get more medals than one another. Most of the suggestions center around using the inherently social nature of the Skaven and their desire to have someone else get shot instead of them to make them prefer to stick together. If everyone is useful, and if you have a powerful central figure giving them orders that has either been very profitable for them, or that they all hate and need to work together to undermine, you can keep your little team of rats together much more easily. If there are political consequences for murdering each other, you can similarly rely on the ratmen to stick together, because they aren't high rank enough to get away with going 'fuck you I do what I want' and ignoring their orders. Cultivating an 'our little in-group of PC rats against the world' mentality means you can save the final betrayals and things for the game's climax, after the rats have gone through the plot and made good and it's time to divvy up the rewards of victory.
The other issue for rats is that they're cowards. You can't really run a Skaven campaign without the PCs running off and failing and trying to pass the blame for it off on rivals; it's going to happen occasionally. At the same time, as the main characters, they're going to need to both demonstrate agency and also sometimes take pro-active action in the world. You don't want every hard encounter or dramatic moment to end with them tripping the least popular rat as a distraction and running off into the tunnels, even if it would hardly be a Skaven game without failure. The single biggest way to get rats to take risks is the promise of positive reinforcement, status, and the adulation of their peers. Rats care what other rats think about them. They want this more than money (though they also want to get-get Warpstone because that brings status) or even material comfort. The most overriding desire of almost every rat is being told they are awesome, and having their inner narrative about their personal superiority affirmed by others. Your Skaven PCs can be those so hungry for status they will actually take the initiative on their own, going out and having adventures without even being threatened so that people will ooo and awww and tell them they are the Best Rats.
Skaven fighting Chaos is also a specific and perfectly good campaign seed. Skaven may be born out of Chaos mutation, but they think the 4 Chaos Gods and their followers are, at best, cold-brain no-fur distractions that will weaken the surface world a little by standing in between it and the Skaven when they make their latest dumb headlong charge into the teeth of the forces of Good. Horned Rat is best God, will eat-kill other Gods, Chaos and otherwise. If Chaos actually seems to be winning at the moment, it's time for the rats to step in and show it its place under their boot. Similarly, if Chaos is losing, they might have to get involved and try to drag those idiots over the finish line at whatever task they needed the armored barbarian hordes to accomplish. You might also be sent to go make (and break) treaty-pledges with the dumb no-furs or their furry but stupid Beastman friends sometimes. They'll never notice you never honor those treaty-pledges! They're dumb! You can trick them easily, right? And then everything's on fire and your rats are running like hell from a flying crystal magic elf that is incredibly pissed off at them. Good times!
You'll also spend a lot of time fighting other Skaven in a Skaven game, for obvious reasons. As the Master Race, nothing is more dangerous to you than another Skaven. Other Skaven see the world properly, and even worship the powerful Great Horned Rat, the best God and the only really powerful one. That makes them a threat. Skaven don't want to see other Skaven make it. Another Skaven who sees your PCs rising in status and glory and realizes they're going to die might take a look at your rats and say 'If I going to die-die, we all going to die-die!', because they're respectably spiteful. Even more important than preparing to INHERIT-INHERIT is making sure that Ted from Accounting doesn't get to Inherit-Inherit anything because he's a jerk and you deserve everything he would've gotten. This extends to Great Clan politics, and so the more important you become and the closer you get to the inevitable Great Ascendancy, the more the clans will fall to fighting over who gets to be the top winner, something they'll hire you to help with.
Finally, you do intend to take over the world, so maybe you'll remember to fight Imperials or other normal Surface Worlders occasionally. This bit is actually a footnote in this section and I actually love that.
By the other side of the coin, normal PCs have all kinds of adventures they can have fighting Skaven, which is part of what makes Skaven popular. You can do everything from racing to stop their Doomsday Devices, to trying to stop them blackmailing human politicians and authority figures, to preventing assassinations and kidnappings or rescuing slaves, to exploring the Under Empire to look for fault lines to blow up. There are way more options for plots with Skaven than there are for most of the forces of Evil outside of maybe Vampires, because you never know what the hyper little rats are going to try next. They bring variety, and they have the fault lines and cracks to let a PC adventurer party really mess them up. The rats are funny, but they can also be run as a genuinely awful threat, depending on the ratio of explosions to actual large armies that are threatening the surface world. You can scale the rats up or down; a group of Clanrats is an easy first enemy for rookie PCs, which can clue them in to a larger plot where they encounter scarier and more ridiculous rats as they advance. And because they're so prone to falling to pieces because of one unexpected misfortune, a group of 3-6 determined badasses really can totally ruin the latest plot for the Great Ascendancy.
Finally, to round out the Campaign section, we get some stats for the various monsters that live in the Under Empire's tunnels, and a random encounter table for down there. The monsters aren't very exciting, but the encounter table has the cute detail of having a 'Heroes' result and a 'Skaven PCs result', and one of the nastiest random encounters for the Skaven party is d10 meddling Adventurers.
Next Time: The Pre-Made, and final thoughts on rats
Wait, a decent pre-made?
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Children of the Horned Rat
Wait, a decent pre-made?
Color me surprised: The pre-made adventure actually scales well and it's a good 'first encounter' style story for getting players into the spirit of fighting ratmen. They come across a small village in Wissenland that's having trouble with sheep mutilation and has recently had the sergeant of the local militia turn up dead. The local miller and his family have also gone missing. The mayor died a few months back and a shitty Sigmarite Friar and con-man (who is convinced he's a righteous shepard, even as he slides in to take over the village) is currently leading the village of Dottersbach and making defenses worse because he's more interested in staying in power as new mayor than protecting people. There are maybe a few too many subplots (the local merchant is also being threatened by the mob, the aforementioned Friar is a problem, and the newly appointed replacement militia leader is a guilt-ridden man who realizes he ducked out of the patrol that got the sergeant killed to get drunk) but they're the kind of thing you can drop or pick up as you prefer.
What's actually happening is that some Skaven slaves who escaped their masters have moved into the area to steal food and try to think of what to do next. The slaves aren't the real problem; players will probably defeat them in a short and nasty fight, only to rescue the one human Slave that was among them and learn from him that the real
problem is the slave-hunters who are coming to get them back. If the Skaven can't get their slaves back, they'll try to raid Dottersbach to take human slaves as replacements. With the militia poorly trained and equipped and the people terrorized by the odd disappearances (though you actually discover the Miller wasn't killed; he's an ex-soldier who has fought Skaven before and when he spotted one on his property he got his wife and kids and fled to the next town over. They're actually fine), it's up to your PCs to organize a defense against the incoming slave raid. The actual hunting party is highly variable, and if you want, the Tilean Mob shows up to collect from the town merchant at the same time as the Skaven attack and can even be convinced to join in and fight the Skaven (Tileans hate the damn things) at the cost of the PCs owing a mob boss a favor. There's lots of possible outcomes to the adventure and room for a lot of dramatic scenes and PCs inspiring the militia to help (off screen; the book is clear that having 8 Militiamen fighting a bunch of Clanrats with full, rolled combat will slow things down too much and so preparations should affect what the PCs personally take care of). The only really glaring issue is there's no real payment and the adventure relies wholly on the PCs deciding they're going to investigate an odd situation for no reward. They never get paid in the end, which is a bit of an oversight. If they saved the village, and especially if they helped the local merchant, you'd think someone would pony up a reward.
Still, it's actually a fun adventure with a good hook and a lot of options and ways to mess about with what the PCs have to do, depending on their characters. A party of 2nd tier characters with some good fighters might face Gutter Runners and a Rat Ogre. A party of fresh 1st tiers will just have to lead the militia against Clanrats and a Clawleader. The scalable nature of Skaven threats really helps make the adventure something you can scale up or down and the adventure leans into that, giving a bunch of suggestions of what level of ratfight to throw at them for the dramatic final conclusion.
And really, the pre-made actually being decent is a good example of why the Skaven make a good enemy for an RPG. They can be all kinds of things, and they try all kinds of plots. You can make Skaven into comic relief, serious threats, intrigue enemies, straight military enemies, monster wielding enemies, and in all these things your PCs can make a difference and ruin the Skaven in ways that the Skaven actually care about. They've got a lot of personality and energy, which also makes the prospect of playing as them in a comic campaign surprisingly fun. Their history even shows that maybe they didn't have to be how they are; there are a lot of things keeping them that way, but primarily those things are things that came out of the powerful among the Skaven making choices to keep their people miserable. Skryre's technology could revolutionize the world, but it won't, because it's being built by greedy, shitty Nazis. The Skaven happily tolerate Pestilens because they're useful for genocidal plagues. Moulder's medical technology and mastery of life could do so much, but instead it's twisted towards corporate bottom lines and biological planned obsolescence. Eshin and Mors both have a slight hint that a more honest and positive government could revolutionize the Under Empire, but they keep a lid on it for their own personal power instead. The Skaven are the Skaven because of the Skaven, as much as their God finds it hilarious and helps to keep them that way. That's surprisingly compelling when one of your other major enemies is basically reshaped into being what they are by the force of their Gods.
So in the end, this book presents a compelling, funny enemy in enough detail to do a really good job of getting across their unique personality and energy. It's just, as a friend pointed out to me, the rules feel like they're built by the rat people: They're shoddy, fall apart at the slightest kick, and they're rather unstable. With more mechanical care and attention, this could've been the best of the Enemy Splat books; as it is it's probably the weakest. There's no hidden mechanical gems here like Chaos Lord creation, and it's hard to top Warhams Vampires as enemies as it is. It's still a good book and worth using. The material's exciting and there are tons of ways to come up with fun adventures with it. Just you're going to have to do some tightening up and fixing when it comes to the mechanics, and that's always a big knock against an RPG book. End of the day, though, it's a good addition to the Warhams Fantasy line.
Next Time: Something that has nothing to do with hams