on 12 February 2009
This is a very particular Warhammer Expansion book in so far as it is an examination of one particular monster - the loathsome ratmen. The decision to dedicate an entire book to the Skaven is indicative of their relative importance as a mythological imperative within the Old World. Putting it another way, Dungeons & Dragons has Kobolds, Warhammer has Skaven.
Drawing on historical events like the plague, and on allegories like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, the Skaven - and all the fearful, disease-ridden implications they carry - have in this sense been present in our collective memory for eons, which kind of gives them a head start over more unlikely beasts such as Squigs, Fenbeasts, and so-on. (These are covered in good depth in the Old World Bestiary).
A nice touch in the early part of the book (and echoed to a lesser degree in the O.W.Bestiary) is the use of the first person to describe the nature of these vile abominations. Interspersed with a comprehensive history of their kin, accounts with and rumours about the Skaven are characteristically personalised and gruesome. The investigative tone of the main Skaven researchers has a scientific authenticity which suggests a genuine emotional commitment by the authors.
It becomes obvious that the Skaven are singly rat-like in their behaviour; they are concomitantly afraid of (giant) snakes, forever hungry, vicious if cornered, and they reproduce at an incredible speed.
As can also be found in the first Gotrek and Felix omnibus, there're also many ways in which they differ from the common rat, chief among them their humanoid shape and size, but also most notably their cruelty towards all other races; though never explicitly stated, likely this is a thinly veiled vendetta for centuries of murderous treatment and general deep distaste shown towards the Skaven's smaller cousins.
As is to be expected of a race with vast numbers, there is a constant jostling for supremacy within the complex hierarchy of the Skaven, which can lead to all kinds complex machinations, and even more cruelty within the race itself, so they're not unlike humans in that respect.
Much is made of the Skaven's dependency on and close ties to the element of Warpstone, which functions for them as an effective combination of currency and addictive hallucinogen, notwithstanding its corruptive and mutagenic nature. The Skaven are by nature corrupt and mutated in any case, so this bond of substance to creature is hardly surprising.
Lastly in terms of character, it should be remembered that the Skaven are intended to be occasionally deeply inept, and that the timing of those occasions are critical for injecting humour into your adventures. How much you as GM decide to accent this, or indeed any other aspect of their personalities, is of course entirely up to you.
As a further note to GMs, many people in the Old World simply deny the existence of the rat-men, though this tends not to be the case amongst more hardened veterans of the battle-field.
The various clans within Skaven society are given a full briefing, along with a useful sample settlement of theirs in the "under-empire".
There is little missing from this book if you want to bring Skaven to life inside your campaign, and it includes useful notes for the players not only in fighting the Skaven, but also thorough rules for role-playing them, including comprehensive careers and advance schemes.
I was only disappointed in that the Appendices alluded to towards the back of the book are supposed to include sample stats for the various Skaven types - sadly these appendices do not exist, though it's a only simple matter of rolling from the character-creation tables and applying appropriate advances, or else look at The Old World Bestiary pages 105 - 108, or the adventure book: Terror in Talabheim, pages 91 and 92.
on 21 December 2007
I cannot recommend this book enough. It gives a full overview of the ins-and-outs of Skaven society, from politics to personality as well as giving details on each of the main clans. Like all of the good WFRP supplements it is careful not to take away the creativity of the GM, but in fact feeds it with tables and charts on how to create your own Skaven clan and habitat.
The first half of the book is done in a documentary/journal style, as if written by a scholar with the second half concentrating more on the game mechanics of the Ratmen. Especially interesting is the section of creating Skaven player characters, giving GM's the chance to let their players experience the other side of the coin and be the bad guys.
A join to read from cover to cover. *****