Warhammer Age of Sigmar fans, be afraid – because the Skaven are coming, with bellies full of a hunger that never ends. Their skittering masses swarm deep through tunnels that permeate reality itself, always hunting for more, always seeking power, bloodshed, and Warpstone.
Nowhere is safe from their reach, every realm is riddled with their passing. A settlement can exist one day and be torn apart in foetid ruin the next. Yes, it’s hard to sleep well in the Age of Sigmar, always knowing that the innumerable Skaven can appear at any moment.
Skaven have long been a fan-favourite throughout Warhammer Age of Sigmar and its predecessor, Warhammer Fantasy Battle. From their unique take on bipedal rat-men to their cowardly and comic nature, they’ve managed to burrow their way into many hearts. With a mysterious past that stretches back aeons, they have been integral to many key events throughout Warhammer history. Scratch the surface of anything happening in Age of Sigmar and you’ll find a Skaven there somewhere – sometimes sabotaging events for their own nefarious purposes; sometimes simply bemused and lost, such as during the Necroquake explosion.
If you’re sniffing out a new Warhammer Age of Sigmar army, then the Skaven might be the perfect fit for you. Read on, and you’ll learn all about their ratty history, who the Skaven are, and how they play in the current edition of the game. Alternatively, if you’re already creeped out, try our overall guide to Age of Sigmar armies instead.
Still here, rodent-lovers? Then let’s begin.
For the beginnings of the Skaven story, we have to look back to Warhammer’s Old World, before the End Times, before the Age of Sigmar. We will never know the true story of their race’s birth, but legend holds that it may have a seed in the fall of the great city of Kavzar.
Kavzar was to become the Skaven’s vast underground capital city, Skavenblight
Kavzar was a rare thing in the world of Warhammer: it was a near-utopia. Man and dwarf lived in harmony for many years until they decided to raise a colossal temple of thanks to their gods. Unfortunately, their ambition outstripped their abilities, leaving the structure’s giant spire unfinished. One day, a stranger appeared and promised to finish the temple in a single night – with one condition: that he be allowed to hang a horned bell from the top. The citizens of Kavzar agreed and went to sleep for the night. The next day, to their amazement, the temple was complete. The stranger, however, was nowhere to be seen.
Then the end began. The bell began to toll, dark sonorous sounds that caused the sky to crack and rain to fall. Thirteen times it tolled. Each ring of that terrible bell made the clouds darker and the rain thicker, until the streets flooded leading sewer rats to emerge from their hiding to gnaw and nip at the overworld inhabitants, spreading disease and death like wildfire.
No-one knows what happened in Kavzar, for the city was never heard of again. What was Kavzar became known as Skavenblight, a colossal city at the heart of an underground empire of tunnels, where rat-men – now known as Skaven – burrowed across the world.
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As the Skaven expanded their tunnels, they grew in power, learning how to use Warpstone to twist their forms, or unleash unholy fire on their foes. They became plague-bearers, assassins, wizards, beast-masters, and much more, as they diversified and overran the underside of the entire world. As their power grew, so did that of their god, the Great Horned Rat, a vile creature whose sacred number is thirteen.
Eventually their god became so powerful the Chaos Gods welcomed the Great Horned Rat to their number (albeit grudgingly). Now, with a Chaos God of their own, and the End Times approaching, the Skaven rose to attempt to rule the over-world as they did their subterranean empire (for a closer look at this period of Warhammer history, Vermintide 2 shows the Skaven hordes in up-close and personal detail).
The Great Horned Rat saved the Skaven from destruction in the End Times
The End Times saw the end of the old world, yet some seeds remained. As the World-That-Was splintered into void and different realms, the Skaven persisted, able to tunnel through the void much as they once did through the ground. Their god scattered them throughout the Mortal Realms as the realms became reborn, setting them the task of multiplying and conquering in his name.
Now, in the Age of Sigmar, the Skaven are a constant threat. Their numbers are hidden but truly staggering; Skaven can be found in all corners of the universe, burrowing, multiplying, and plotting. Thankfully for the other inhabitants of the Mortal Realms, the ferocity, inventiveness, and cunning of the Skaven is only matched by their individual cowardice. If they ever overcame their natural tendency to flee when isolated, it would mean dark tidings indeed.
Who are the Skaven Characters?
The Skaven have a long history with Warhammer Fantasy Battle, with many characters available for players to choose from. In Warhammer Age of Sigmar, the number of named characters with models has decreased, with some stalwarts of the battlefield such as Ikit Claw and Deathmaster Snikch currently without available models for the tabletop.
Here are the named Skaven characters with models you can get your hands on when building your own fledgling ratling empire:
Thanquol and Boneripper
Thanquol and Boneripper are a pair of names that have been woven throughout Warhammer history for centuries. Thanquol is a Grey Seer of near infinite cunning and wickedness, always with a new scheme to destroy his foes or build power for himself. Long since assumed killed in the End Times, it seems the Great Horned Rat took an interest in his most ambitious and unstable servant, and plucked him from that world, keeping him safe until the Age of Sigmar. Now, unleashed on the world to plot once again, Thanquol has found himself another colossal Rat Ogor he has named Boneripper, much like the many that preceded it.
To his dismay, Thanquol has found that he’s not the only survivor from the World-That-Was. His arch nemesis, Gotrek Gurnisson, has also survived, and is set to foil Thanquol’s plans all over again as part of their never-ending vendetta.
Lord Skreech Verminking
No Chaos God is complete without their own daemons, so when the Great Horned Rat joined their pantheon, it’s appropriate that he also gained new daemonic minions. The Verminlords are the will of the Great Horned Rat made manifest, each taking on a different aspect of their god.
Lord Skreech Verminking is first amongst all Verminlords, who constantly jockey for position and power, much as their lesser Skaven brethren do. Armed with a plaguereaper and doom glaive, Lord Skreech Verminking is a whirlwind of devastating and rot on the battlefield, killing without remorse, and infecting those who survive with deadly plagues and diseases. He is death incarnate, spreading terror and fear in his dread god’s name wherever he roams.
Playing Skaven in Warhammer Age of Sigmar
Playing a Skaven army in Warhammer Age of Sigmar is a unique proposition. Not only are Skaven capable of fielding varied units and models that are unlike any other army, they can also be uniquely customised to your desired playstyle. Under the Skaven banner, there’s a lot of leeway to play with – and only through time and experience with the skittering hordes will you learn which path is right for you.
As Skaven, you’ll want a lot of bodies to throw at the enemy
Skaven in Warhammer Age of Sigmar, like many other Games Workshop armies, play in a way that reinforces their fiction, with many aspects that define their particular role on the battlefield. The first of these is that, as a Skaven army, you’ll want a lot of bodies to throw at the enemy. Skaven are most often seen as a ‘horde’ army; compared to many other factions, you’ll be able to cover the board with bodies for comparatively few points.
The reason for this is that, taken individually, a singular Skaven doesn’t do much good. Their stats are low, they have low saves, and their Bravery is even lower. This means that, any time they’re taking damage, you’re likely to lose a swathe of your troops, and, when time comes to check Battleshock, you’ll lose even more. You will need to ensure your units are large enough to take a pounding and keep on skittering, otherwise you’re going to see ground where your army used to stand, quicker than you’d like.
Having larger units is reinforced via two key rules that all Skaven can benefit from. Overwhelming Mass sees Skaven units get +1 to melee hit rolls when they have 20 models in a unit, and gain +1 to wound rolls when they have 30 models in a unit. This turns any middling Skaven unit into an absolute beast in combat, and means your opponent will have to whittle your units down if they want to stand any chance at surviving the onslaught.
Larger groups of ratmen are also bolstered by the Strength in Numbers rule. This adds two to your Skaven’s Bravery score for every ten models in a unit, meaning that, whilst their Bravery is comparatively low, with enough bodies behind them, any Skaven becomes a hero.
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Skaven aren’t just renowned for their teeming hordes, they’re a cunning race, as inventive as they are vile. This leads them to have a certain mad-scientist outlook, which is amply reflected in their Warpstone-powered creations.
Their Warp Lightning Cannon artillery unit can be one of the most powerful ranged weapons in the entire game. Be warned, though: when playing Skaven, you should always bear in mind that everything comes with a risk. Overcharge this cannon before firing, and you’ll get 12 chances to inflict mortal wounds on your target, however, each ‘1’ you roll will see the cannon receive D3 mortal wounds. Half the time you’ll see your opponent become a smoking crater, the other half of the time you’ll curse the dice gods as your Warp Lightning Cannon blinks out of existence; that’s simply the way with Skaven.
Their mastery of Warpstone also sees Skaven develop magical abilities in new and twisted ways. Grey Seers have access to Lore of Ruin spells, and Skryre Science Wizards can take Lore of Warpvolt Galvanism spells, each stamping their own brand on the battlefield.
Magic can make the Skaven an even more mobile force
In terms of standout spells, Skitterleap from Lore of Ruin is a deeply powerful ability that lets you choose a Skaven Hero with a wounds characteristic of 12 or less and move them anywhere on the board, as long as they’re more than 9” from the enemy. Want an objective? It’s yours. Want to give your opponent the fear with a whiskered hero suddenly appearing in their backline? Go for it. Skaven are a mobile army anyway, and this takes it to ridiculous levels.
For Skryre Science Wizards, their best spell is undoubtedly More-more-more Warp Power!. This spell lets a Clan Skryre unit within 12” re-roll hit and wound rolls until the next hero phase. If you’re wanting to do one big turn of devastating damage, either ranged or in melee – or both! – then this is the big hitter you’re looking for. The only downside is that, after it’s all done and dusted, the target unit will suffer D3 mortal wounds – but who cares, if the damage is already done?
Overall, Skaven in Warhammer Age of Sigmar are a complex force to play, with many moving parts and variables to consider, such as keeping your unit sizes up, and your troops alive long enough to get into battle and do some damage.
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That said, they’re one of the most enjoyable armies to play, thanks to their unique chance-based rules, and their huge armies that simply intimidate the opposition.
Building an Age of Sigmar Skaven Army
Skaven are one of the most rewarding armies to build, not only from a tabletop perspective, but also because their models are often striking and eccentric-looking, and full of fun and character. In addition, they have a ton of classic and newer models to choose from, making them a delight to dive into and start collecting.
Clanrats and Stormvermin make up the core of your army
There are two core sets of models that any prospective Skaven army collector should look at purchasing, and purchasing in numbers. These are Clanrats and Stormvermin. Clanrats are your grunt, your generic trooper. They’re there to act in three ways: as a meat shield for your more valuable units and heroes, to deny areas of the board to your opponent, and to deal damage if enough of them survive to reach the enemy.
Stormvermin are like Clanrats, but better. More power, better stats, more wounds. They are your elite troopers, taking out foes with wild abandon. As with many Skaven units, they get better the more of them you have, so never be shy about picking up a box of Stormvermin. Or two. Or three.
For leaders, there are two that are great when building your Skaven army. The first is a Clawlord, who’ll dip and dive around the battlefield, best placed around your Clanrat and Stormvermin lines to help buff their attack and push them forward into battle.
In addition to their command abilities, Clawlords have immense power in melee, as they become stronger as they get wounded. Your opponents will have to make sure they take them out quickly, making them a valuable target that can easily draw their attention.
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The other leader for a beginner Skaven Army would be a Grey Seer, giving you access to their many spells. The Lore of Ruin is packed full of powerful abilities they’ll be able to toss out on the tabletop, and their casting power can even be boosted by gnawing on a little Warpstone.
Now you should have a formidable front line to your army – but it’s important not to neglect the rear. A Warp Lightning Cannon will see high value targets and battleline units alike shredded before its powerful magical fire (when it doesn’t explode in your face, that is). Meanwhile, Warplock Jezzails make a brilliant firing line, able to launch deadly volleys across the battlefield.
Finally, if you’re looking for something a little bigger, a little scarier, and a little tougher, then you can’t go wrong with the handsome fella in the picture above – a Hell Pit Abomination. This twisted terror won’t get many of the buffs your army naturally gets, but, with stats and abilities this good, it simply won’t need them.
You might feel a bit guilty for using this one
As is the way with Skaven, its movement can be a little erratic, but get it into melee and your opponent is going to have a very bad day indeed. With six attacks at -3 rend dealing 2 damage, followed by another 6 attacks at -1 rend and 3 damage, you’d be forgiven for feeling guilty for using it.
So why not revel in the fact that it also deals mortal wounds depending on how many enemy models are nearby, ignores any enemy spells on a 4+ roll, heals every turn, and can even explode if it dies, taking out even more troops. This is an absolute beast, in more ways than one, and, while it shouldn’t be the first model you buy for your army, it should be on the list.
Now you should have access to a powerful force that can be used to build out in a variety of ways. Maybe you want to go sneaky and incorporate Clan Eshin assassins, or pick up the Start Collecting! Clan Pestilens box to bring the panic of the plague to the field.
No matter how you proceed, your core leaders, units, artillery, and others will see you in good stead as you build your way to a truly competitive Warhammer Age of Sigmar Skaven army.