Since we now have something approaching definitive confirmation that Skaven will be the fourth faction in Total War: Warhammer 2, it seems like a fine time to examine their probable unit roster. Inquisition be damned, I’ll take my chances with the heresy charges.
Unlike my previous Dark Elf piece, I don’t have as much direct experience with the Skaven from tabletop Warhammer. However, I did have a semi-regular Skaven opponent and, like many players, have some fondness for the psychotic rat-men. So, my grasp on Skaven lore isn’t quite as solid as with the lads from Naggaroth, but I think I have a fair idea which units will make it into Total War: Warhammer 2 (and the announced Lizardmen and High Elf rosters certainly don’t hurt when making educated guesses).
The rat-men have the laudable distinction of being the most hate-filled and selfish set of jerks in the Warhammer universe. Not bad going when Dark Elves and Chaos exist, really. Skaven are incredibly individualistic, cowardly, treacherous, and self-absorbed; to the total detriment of any kind of co-operation. Luckily, they absolutely loath all the other races in the Warhammer world slightly more than they hate each other.
They’re organised (well, ‘organised’) in clans, and the heads of the most powerful thirteen (at any given time) are known as Lords of Decay. They form the Council of Thirteen. Skaven worship the eternally smelly Horned Rat deity and the most influential council members are positioned closest to his location at point ‘13’ on the clock-like seating plan. Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much turn-over in the Council of Thirteen. Probably because the only way to get there and stay there is to pre-emptively backstab all the other backstabbers.
The four most prominent clans are Pestilens (the quasi-religious clan and best at spreading disease), Skryre (engineers of warpstone gadgets), Eshin (assassins), and Moulder (monster breeders). Skaven crave warpstone and will scheme at length to get hold of all they can find.
Total War: Warhammer 2’s ‘New World’ setting makes the Legendary Lord selections less certain than they might otherwise be. Skaven are everywhere, of course, but the rat-men are most commonly associated with Old World locations. Their Under-Empire capital, Skavenblight, is beneath Tilea.
Thanquol and Boneripper: Probably the best-known Grey Seer (effectively the Skaven version of a mage), and his mindless rat ogre buddy. Thanquol isn’t directly associated with Lustria or the Southlands, but he’s definitely the sort of enterprising rat who’d be interested in harnessing the power of a vortex. Would probably work as a Skarsnik/Gobbla single unit (later depictions have Thanquol riding Boneripper, which I guess would also work).
Lord Skrolk: Skrolk is located in the Southlands, which you would imagine gives him more chance of being included as a Legendary Lord. He’s a legendary Plaguelord from Clan Pestilens and a one rat test of any nation’s healthcare system. Thing is, if Thanquol is filling the caster slot for Creative Assembly’s ‘one magic, one melee’ Legendary Lord system, then Skrolk can’t really make the cut. But if he’s not in from the start, he’s a pretty good bet for a DLC release later.
Queek Headtaker: A warlord from Clan Mors (well known, but not one of the top four). He’s normally busy fighting Dwarves, so there would need to be a reasonable excuse for him being sent to Lustria. The Skaven lore is probably flexible enough for the reason to just be ‘Clan Mors Council Member wants Queek to check out the vortex’ though. He’s the closest thing the Skaven have to a pure melee leader, which is why I think he may get the nod.
Ikit Claw: Chief Warlock Engineer of Clan Skryre, and creator of the Doomwheel (more on that later). He’s another caster, albeit one with dangerous feats of engineering attached to his body. Can hold his own in melee too, so he might count as a melee/caster hybrid like Malekith. Ikit would be a fun choice, but I think other casters are ahead of him in the queue, and he wouldn’t really work as the full melee Lord.
The Total War: Warhammer 2 armies that aren’t being led by your Legendary Lord choice will be headed by one of these guys.
Warlord: A Skaven chief tyrannical enough to keep his rat underlings in line through fear. Mount options will probably include a rat ogre (especially if Creative Assembly have already modelled this for Thanquol), or a giant rat. Tabletop also has a ‘war litter’ option (a platform carried by Skaven slaves) but that may not make it in.
Grey Seer: The Skaven mage option. Creative Assembly haven’t said much about the lores of magic for Total War: Warhammer 2 yet, and Skaven spells seem to have changed systems across the years. They used to use the lores of Plague and Ruin. It seems to be Plague, Stealth and Warp these days. Grey Seers in tabletop can ride into battle on war altars to the Horned Rat called Screaming Bells, which I very much hope are included (they’ll be a bit like Volkmar’s, except filthier and with a massive bell). Rules-wise, it helps drive nearby Skaven into a frenzy.
Prior roster reveals have indicated that Creative Assembly want to have a melee, missile, and magic leaning hero for each faction. With that in mind, here’s what Skaven might get.
Assassin (Melee): As an agent they’ll specialise in, well, assassination. On the battlefield they’ll probably be pretty melee focused (possibly with a bit of ranged ability too).
Warlock Engineer (Missile): Pretty much perfectly suited for sabotaging fortifications and the like as an agent. Skaven engineers have access to all kinds of bizarre ranged weapons (warplock jezzails, etc), which is why I think they’ll take the missile hero slot.
Plague Priest (Magic): If there’s any sort of ‘corruption’ equivalent with Skaven (plague, one would assume) then Plague Priests will take the role of spreading that as agents. Could also help during sieges by poisoning water supplies and pulling other pestilent tricks. On the field, they’ll take the mage role and (probably) use the Lore of Plague.
Stormvermin: Black-furred elites of the Skaven military. Which means they might actually be vaguely loyal for ten minutes, can be trusted in armour, and can actually fight a bit. Usually depicted with halberds.
Clanrats: The basic bulk of a Skaven army. Poorly equipped in comparison to the Stormvermin, but also much more numerous. In tabletop, the massed ranks of Skaven are more useful than their actual fighting ability. They can carry various weapons, so there might be different variants. Spears, shields, that sort of thing.
Skaven Slaves: The absolute bottom of the Skaven class hierarchy. Total cannon fodder. Often barely armed. Also tend to be numerous. They’ll basically be like a massive unit of plebs from Rome 2.
Rat swarms: If included, will be the Skaven equivalent of bats or lower-tier warhounds. Quick, useful for bogging down units, pressing a flank, or sneaking in an attack on an undefended war machine.
Slaverats with slings: Pretty self explanatory. In tabletop Skaven could ignore rules about firing on enemy units in combat with your own troops (because they don’t care about hitting allies). That neat bit of flavour doesn’t really translate to Total War: Warhammer 2, sadly, because everybody can fire into combat.
Poison Wind Globadiers: Trust the Skaven to invent chemical warfare. These gas-mask wearing rats basically lob delicate globes full of horrible toxic gases at people. In tabletop their attacks ignore armour, which could translate to Warhammer 2 fairly well.
Warplock Jezzails: Skaven with makeshift muskets that fire warpstone bullets. One such bullet was mentioned in the recent text adventure mini-game, so it seems likely these chaps will be included. Again, armour is pretty much useless against these shots.
Night Runners / Gutter Runners: Lower and upper tier skirmishers (respectively). Good chance of a vanguard deployment option. Can use poisoned weapons and tend to have a ranged option with slings (hence their inclusion here).
Utterly Ridiculous War Machines
Doomwheel: Now we’re talking. A giant hamster wheel (well, rat wheel) that careens forward in erratic fashion, while simultaneously charging up a warpstone generator that pops off shots of warp lightning all over the place. Devastating when it actually manages to roll into a unit of enemy infantry, but the semi-randomised movement means it may not manage that very often. May end up using similar rules to the ‘Feral’ Lizardmen dinosaurs in Total War: Warhammer 2 (under a certain amount of control, but not entirely).
Warp Lightning Cannon: A huge warp lighting laser on wheels, pretty much. Think of a gigantic artillery pieces from World War One and add a bit of demented Warhammer science, and you’re basically there. Like many unreliable Skaven devices, the Warp Lightning Cannon is prone to just exploding.
Warpfire Thrower: Essentially a flamethrower carried by a two-rat team. One holds the ‘barrel’ part and aims at the enemy, while the other carries a fuel tank full of incredibly unstable chemicals. So, yes, once again this device is prone to just exploding. A vital rule to implement in Total War: Warhammer 2 is that Skaven war machines can spontaneously combust at any moment.
Ratling Gun: Probably just an excuse for designers at Games Workshop to make that pun. Like the Warpfire Thrower it’s a device used by a two-rat team. Powered by hand-cranked warp-steam, it’s otherwise about what you’d expect. A makeshift gatling-type gun. Slightly less iconic to the faction than some of the above, so it may not make the cut.
Poison Wind Mortar: An expanded version of the Globadiers. The ammunition is larger, and it takes another two-rat team to load and fire the poison globes from a mobile mortar. Since mortars are already modelled in the game (for Empire, Dwarfs etc) then this could well appear for the rat-men.
Vermin Lord: Demonic manifestations of the Skaven’s Horned Rat deity. They can lead Skaven armies in tabletop, but I doubt Creative Assembly are going to go that route for a Legendary Lord in Total War: Warhammer 2 (at least, not right away). Vermin Lords are very powerful spell-casters and melee fighters, so I can foresee some kind of special summoning rules like the Green Knight for Bretonnia.
Rat Ogres: Created through Clan Moulder breeding programs that it’s better just not to think about, Rat Ogres are (as the name indicates) ogre-sized rat creatures. They generally require supervision in battle, but will cause a lot of horrible damage to things they’re pointed towards. May also end up subject to whatever rules Creative Assembly comes up with for ‘feral’ creatures.
Hell Pit Abomination: A Frankensteinian melding of warpstone glue and spare parts (both technological and biological), Hell Pit Abominations are another ‘point at the enemy and wait for results’ creation of Clan Moulder. I hope this makes it to the unit roster, just to see what kind of grotesque model Creative Assembly produce.
Giant Rats: The most adorable of horrific monsters. Giant Rats are, well, rats that are gigantic. They have Skaven herders in the tabletop game, but like goblin Squigs may end up just roaming free in Total War: Warhammer 2.
Possible Unique Rules
Skaven have a lot of scope for unique faction mechanics. One that will have to be addressed in some way is that they largely operate underground. Whether that means creating a whole separate map layer, or an expansion of the ‘underway’ type systems present in the first Total War: Warhammer will probably only be answered by the full faction reveal.
It will be interesting to see whether the studio attempt to tackle Skaven’s incredibly unstable society through mechanical means, too. Endless treachery and internal rebellion could get rather old if it just boils down to repetitive battles, but I’d like to see it represented in some manner. Likewise, the population mechanics introduced by Bretonnia in the first title could be expanded and adapted for the rapid birthrates of the Skaven and their expendable attitude towards fellow rat-kin.
The ongoing Ritual mini-games are moving towards an eventual Skaven reveal, so we’ll find out how close any of my predictions are in the coming weeks.