This review was written using a review copy of Battletome: Skaven given to us by Games Workshop.
Why Play Skaven?
Do you like high risk, high reward? Skaven are the army for you. Skaven are a horde army (naturally) who all have subpar statlines that make up for that with their numbers. Many units can risk it big to amplify their strength but if you roll poorly, they blow up! It’s fine though, there’s always more rats. If you’re the type of person who laughs when their own army gets destroyed as often as the opponent, maybe try Skaven.
The army is one of the few who survived The End Times mostly intact, so while the models are pretty old there’s a charming cartoonish quality to them, and you have a lot of variety so you can try on different hats. Run hordes of clan rats or elite Stormfiends. Eshin Assassins and Skyre Wizards, the world is your oyster.
Where is Path to Glory?
As usual, there is a lot to cover here, so we will cover Path to Glory next week in a standalone article.
What’s Inside the Book?
- Battle Traits for Skaven in all 3 modes of play.
- 19 new Command Traits and 18 new Artefacts for your army.
- 6 spells for your wizards
- 3 prayers for your Plague Priests
- 6 clans that can be mixed and matched in listbuilding.
Five Best Things About the Book
- Complete reorganization of battleline – The absolutely nightmarish “Battleline if” from the old book has been scrapped. Now everything is in a much clearer to understand format.
- The new subfaction system – Eschewing the traditional defined subfaction of other books, Skaven can mix and match traits to suit the taste of the player. It’s likely no two lists will ever be the same.
- Stronger Warscrolls – Skaven were built on the idea that they were a faction of weak units that could luck their way into rolling hot. The problem is even if you rolled well they tended to still underperform. Most units have had their warscrolls given a sizable glow up, making them stronger than before.
- Didn’t fix what wasn’t broken – The fixes here are very deliberate and targeted, fun and fluffy rules have been maintained while a few of the more onerous ones were cleaned up.
- Protect your heroes – Tons of ways to protect your (incredibly) vulnerable heroes between bodyguard rules and faction traits to retreat mean you’ll always have a way to escape danger.
Strength in Numbers
For every 10 models in a unit, gain an extra inch on your attack (maxing out at +3″). Skaven tend to rely on units of 10 or more for many of their units, they’re largely cheap and have a lot of below average attacks. As such they need to get in every attack they can, this basically removes the need to ever measure and just assume all your attacks get in.
Lead from the Back
Despite the name, this actually is more useful when your leader gets caught out in front. You essentially gain Look Out, Sir! in melee, taking -1 to hit in melee when you’re within 3″ of a friendly unit with 3 or more models.
Pairs well with Lead from the Back, when nominating a Hero who isn’t a Monster to fight, you can choose to just retreat instead. This is especially important if its a hero you really don’t want in combat, like a Wizard or one who is on their last legs. Just always leave yourself an exit, if you get surrounded (or your own troops box you in) you’re probably done for, your guys are not tough.
This also forces your opponent to prioritize your Heroes, as you may run away if they don’t. This can be useful if you have some disposable hero to send in to tie up the enemy for a turn. Either they have to focus on the unit they actually wanted to kill, letting the Hero escape and wasting their turn or focus on it, so the stronger unit gets a chance to fight.
There are a lot of command traits, 19 in total. Devious Adversary is available to all Heroes, and grants them 2 extra attacks in combat if the enemy hasn’t fought yet. Really good on your Verminlords and even the Deathmaster. After that there are 3 for each clan, which is far too much to go into for each one, so I’ll do a grab bag of one from each clan, to give you an idea of what you’re working with.
For Masterclan you can take Supreme Manipulator to reroll the die on Heroic Leadership. As a side note there is one poorly considered choice, Masterclan also has the Master of Magic warlord trait, which is a better version of the one in the core book (it applies to all spells instead of just the first), despite sharing the same name. An FAQ is probably going to want to change that.
Clans Moulder has Cunning Mutator to make their monsters their bodyguards on a 3+, and bodyguards are always well appreciated. Clans Moulder monsters can certain weather a few blows much better than your common rats will.
The sneaky Clan Eshin can take Incredible Agility which not only makes them fly but they can Finest Hour twice per game. Perfect for the sneaky Deathmaster who is the sole Hero of the clan.
Clans Verminus has Savage Overlord, which allows a unit within 3″ of the Warlord who failed a battle shock test only lose D3 models. You have a ton of units and can only spend 1 command point to skip the battleshock test, so keep your troops in line.
Masterful Scavenger gives a Clan Skryre warlord 2 more warpstone sparks. These are flexible buffs you can use in many different situations, making it quite adaptable.
Lastly, Clan Pestilens can be Ridden with Pox, which lets them deal D3 Mortals to all enemy units within 3″.
Like the command traits, there are 3 artefacts for each clan, which is a lot so let’s just go through the hits. First, Masterclan with their Gnawshard can stab an enemy unit and deal 1 mortal at the end of every turn for the rest of the game. Get in a stab early and do incremental damage over time after running away.
The Foulhide for Clans Moulder gives the bearer a Wound Characteristic of 10, and automatically heals a wound each turn. Getting 10 wounds is tough since they no longer get Look Out Sir, but they do keep healing each turn, which is a solid upside.
Clan Eshins has the Gnawbomb which lets you, once per game, turn a terrain feature within 6″ into a Gnawhole for a turn. Set the trap then let your friends come in to party.
The Clawmaster of Clan Verminus can take the Shield of Distraction, making them only targettable by one enemy unit in combat per turn. Stage dive into a castle and fight with near impunity.
The crafty Clan Skyre can bring The Brass Orb which allows you to, once per game in your hero phase, remove an enemy unit 6″ away from the field on a 3+ and force them deep strike back in at the end of the turn. Before a major charge, remove your opponent’s lynchpin piece. That 5+ ward from Hallowed Knights got you down? Send Gardus on a vacation and clean up before he gets back.
Finally Clan Pestilens has the Blade of Corruption which on a 6 to hit causes the attack to become Rend -3 Damage 6. Slap that one on a Verminlord Corrupter.
There are two spell lores to draw from, one is locked only to Grey Seers, the Lore of Ruin and one to Clan Skryre, the Lore of Warpvolt Galvanism.
The Lore of Ruin was shaved down to 3 spells, but the spells are basically unchanged. Skitterleap now has the more fluffy “13 or fewer” wounds instead of 12, but otherwise works the same. Teleport a Hero more than 9″ from the enemy, good stuff and practically an auto take. Scorch still has you roll a number of dice equal to the casting roll, with each 6 doing a mortal and Death Frenzy grants fight on death. Good to tap a unit before you send them to be sacrificed.
Clan Skryre’s spells basically all return, with some of the 3.0 changes you’ve come to expect. Let’s get this out of the way because this is gonna hurt: More-more-more Warp Power! is far less impressive than its previous incarnation. Where as it previously let you reroll all hits and wounds on a unit, the caster taking D3 mortal wounds in return, it now merely gives a +1 to both rolls. +1 to wound isnt so bad but +1 to hit is plentiful, while I wouldn’t say the spell is now unusable junk its a far cry from its previous version as one of the best spells in the game. Warp Lightning Shield is basically the same as before, block 3 wounds on a unit each phase but if they take a 4th the caster takes mortal wounds. Its the most more consistent 3 wounds instead of D6 but its still simply too easy to break the shield and lose a Wizard. Finally Chain Warp Lightning just hits everyone within 18″ for a mortal wound, which generally, hurts you a lot less than it hurts the opponent but stick to Warp Power.
Overall, definitely a downgrade from before. Skitterleap is going to remain a near auto-take as teleports are always worth it but the hit to Warp Power hurts. Clan Skryre wizards aren’t too costly though so it may be worth slipping one in still, +1 to wound isnt always so easy to get.
Clan Pestilens is the only clan with priests, praying to the Great Horned Rat for guidance. All of them have a chanting value of 3 and a range of 13″. Fitting.
Disease-disease! A standard “Roll a die for each model in a unit, deal a mortal wound on a 5+” ability. Interestingly this specifically doesn’t affect Nurgle units, presumably for fluff reasons.
Filth-filth! Can only be cast on a Clan Pestilens character, they gain +1 to wound rolls, a solid buff.
Rabid-rabid! same as the previous, but adds +1 to attacks. If you have a strong clan Pestilens unit you want to buff and send in, this is probably the one to do it with, bonus attacks never hurt.
The Subfactions (Clans)
As discussed on Warhammer Community a few weeks ago, Skaven’s clan system works very differently from other army’s subfactions. Instead of declaring a single subfaction for your army to be from, each clan you represent through the Heroes you include grants a trait. Each clan trait has two levels, you get the level 1 trait from bring 1 or 2 heroes from that clan. If you bring a third, you get the level 2 version of that trait. Since list building caps you at 6 heroes, you have a lot of options to approach this. You could hyper focus your forces, bring 3 heroes of the same clan to get the max bonus of up to 2 different clans. Alternatively you could create a veritable confederation of rats and bring one of each of the 6 clans and dip for a little bit of everything. This grants an enormous amount of freedom to tackle list building in a way that suits you.
The (supposed) architect of all the clans is Masterclan. The base trait Skilled Manipulators grants your Masterclan heroes a 3+ bodyguard save, which is absolutely crucial for your soft and delicate little boys. Maxing out the trait is…powerful. Always Three Clawsteps Ahead does 3 things, all based around movement. When you run or charge, you can pocket the result you get and any future run or charges in that phase can instead use that result. The way it’s written you can reroll your first run or charge, if you have access to rerolls, and you still get to roll for subsequent units. It’s good to know where your floor is at so if you roll snake eyes on the charge you know where you can go. It’s debatable if you can use At The Double to roll an auto 6 but I’m inclined to believe you can’t do that, since At the Double’s text says “instead of making a roll”.
The final part of the rule, when you first pile-in with a unit, all your units get to pile-in. This isn’t as immediately apparent in its usefulness as the first two, but with some practice it can be huge. You can box in your opponent early to block choke points or attempt to surround them so it is more difficult to spawn in replacements. It doesn’t say you don’t get another pile-in after nominating them, and 6″ of free moment can be huge. I’d say this trait is good enough it’s going to be worth trying to get 3 Masterclan heroes in every time.
The sneaky Clan Eshin gain Masters of Murder, which allows you to choose one enemy hero an assassination target and gain +1 to hit and to wound against that hero. The improved version let’s you do this on all Heroes. It’s not the most exciting trait, but it plays into their role as Character assassins. Utilitarian and effective.
Clan Verminus gains a heroic action Mighty Warlords that let’s a Clan Verminus hero use a heroic action to gain a second command trait for the turn. We discussed the command traits above so your mind may already be buzzing with ideas. If you took 3, you can pop it on all of the heroes, but naturally you can never double up on command traits. This does give you a lot of customization options, but shame it has been relegated to a Heroic action. You’re going to need to Rally a lot after all.
Clan Moulder are as you might expect all about enhancing their bioweapons – the Hell Pit Abomination. If you have 1 hero you can pick one HPA to get a bonus ability, if you have at least 3 then every HPA can get a bonus ability (though no duplicates and you can’t take 2 mutations on the same HPA). There’s 6 abilities to choose from, mostly the same as their version released in Broken Realms, but our personal favourites are:
- Toughened Sinews which increases their wounds to 16 and boosts their base save to 4+, giving them a sizable toughness increase, and
- Backup Organs, which let’s you reroll the dice when you use the HPA’s Too Horrible to die ability.
Clan Pestilens retains it’s great plagues from the last book, but with a bit of a supercharged feel. Firstly, a Pestilens priest will receive +1 to chanting rolls for each other Pestilens priest WW 13″ of the chanter – this is a flavourful and useful bonus that will make their prayers more consistent. But there’s more! Great Plagues now go off on a 6+ (including modifiers), so suddenly what was once a set of powerful but inconsistent abilities has become something you can actively expect to see multiple of every game if you build into the strategy.
As for the great plagues themselves, they’re the same set from the previous book but mostly cleaned up in wording or slightly improved, with one notable exception – the Bubonic Blightplague. This behaves much the same as it did before, but the original target takes 2d6 Mortal wounds instead of 1d6, and it scales down to 1d6 for next unit if first one is destroyed, then down to d3 if you’re a lucky enough rat to kill 2 units with the plague. This is a powerful (if short ranged at 13″) effect that can really tear chunks out of any unit unlucky enough to be caught out near the priest.
Finally we have Clan Skryre, whose powerful Warpstone Sparks ability is largely unchanged from their previous iteration, with only one major change to point out: If you have 3 Skryre heroes, you start off with d6+3 sparks instead of d3+3. The combat phase oriented ability to buff up a melee Skryre hero has also changed to simply add +1 to hit and wound for the phase, rather than hit rerolls as it had previously.
In an unusual but thematic move, the grand strategies here are 5 variants of the same thing: Keep 3 heroes from your starting army alive, in any combination of Masterclan and <chosen clan>. To explain what I mean, here’s an example: Masters of Execution states that you must keep at least 3 Masterclan or Skryre heroes alive until the end of battle, whereas Clawmasters is identical except you swap Skryre for Verminus.
As for their potency, when you consider that the generic set of Grand Strategies in the new GHB are significantly more challenging to complete, these become quite compelling GS choices if you’ve built an army with say 5-6 heroes of 1 clan + Masterclan. There’s a ton of abilities in this book to help you keep your heroes alive, and that synergises well with what’s on offer here.
Only four to select here and they’re a bit of an unusual bag. Restore the Beast requires you to heal a Rat Ogor model that has taken at least 3 wounds back up to full by the end of the turn, which is an achievable if oddly specific choice. Deathmark continues this trend by asking you to pick an enemy hero with 10 or more wounds that isn’t wounded and destroy it by the end of the turn with attacks made by Clan Eshin units. Fire-fire! More-more! is perhaps the most generic of the bunch, acting as a sort of Bring It Down! substitute that can only be scored by shooting with Clan Skryre units, which; let’s face it; is the preferred solution when dealing with monsters anyway. Finishing up our options is the Pestilens themed Crescendo of the Diseased Choir, which is scored if you are successful with at least 3 Prayers chanted by Clans Pestilens heroes that turn.
To see just four battle tactics here and for all of them to be hyper specific is a little odd in light of the generic options in GHB 2022 becoming more challenging, but this is perhaps an indicator of a trend going forward.
Lets open up with Thanquol, who was one of the favorite characters in Skaven and basically an auto include in most lists. His attack profile is the same as before but thats not really why you have him. First, his Staff of the Great Horned Rat now gives a +3 to casting at max health, putting him ahead of most every other caster in the game but the big change is Power Behind the Throne. No longer is it a free At the Double (Good, but not stellar), he can issue the same command ability to two seperate units, and the second doesn’t use a command point. For Skaven who often have more units on the field than their opponent, being able to spread coverage of All Out Attack or to skip battle shock tests is essential. He only went up 10 points, too.
The Grey Seer on Screaming Bell was covered a few weeks ago on the Skaven vs Sylvaneth box set, but what about the foot version? Unchanged, and that’s ok, he doesn’t need to be. He’s fine the way he is, especially at a 15 point discount. Well he got two more attacks (don’t put him in combat).
Jumping over the Clan Skryre casters, the Arch-Warlock, Warlock Engineer and Warlock Bombardier also didn’t change much. Ironically, some variance was taken out, such as the Arch Warlock’s spell other than his spell doing 2xD6 damage on failure instead of D3xD6. The engineer gets a few more shots from his gun and the Bombadier’s ranged damage is a flat 3 but he rolls D3 attacks, making the net damage gain much higher.
Clan Pestilens has the Plague Priest in On Foot and on Plague Furnace qualities. Both have the Poisonous Fumes trait which reduces the wound roll of attacks against them by 1, pretty solid. They also both have the Pestilence-pestilence! prayer which does D3 mortals to every unit within 3″ of a point within 13″, but now instead that damage to other Clan Pestilens units. The Plague Furnace itself is greatly improved (But it does come with a 100 price increase). It’s a Totem now, and has a 5+ ward. The Rusty Spikes are now more consistent, doing a flat number of attacks that decrease with damage. The Ward, keeping the battleshock immunity and being a totem makes this a pretty convincing take now if you want to slide a priest in. If you need it on the cheap though, foot is fine.
Clan Verminus only has the Clawlord, which as far as on foot heroes go is about the best you’re gonna get, and Foot melee heroes tend to not be great in any faction. He makes a good run at it though, he’s got 6 attacks now instead of 3, and still gains more as hes injured. Thats a risky bet but along with the damage being a flat 2 instead of D3, he can put up a decent scrap. Remember, he can get 2 command traits as well which can really supe him up. Technically there is Skritch Spiteclaw but as an underworlds warband he’s just a worse version with a tax.
The leaders of Clans Moulder, Master Moulder got a fairly notable glow up. Crack the Whip is completely different, adding 3 to run and charge rolls. More still, Unleash More-more Beasts is now on a 3+ instead of a 5+. There is a slight caveat that you cant replace a unit that was already destroyed, but doubling the odds of it working once beats the odds that it likely wouldn’t have worked at all.
Clan Eshin has the new Deathmaster, which we already covered before. He’s still the same but went down 5 points, give him a good command trait and he can ping pong around the field “Nothing Personal Kid”ing the enemy.
There are, finally the Verminlords, four generics plus the named Lord Screech Verminking. They used to have some pretty wildly scaling power values but had all their points jacked up to the 350-400 area. As such you’re probably only picking one and that’s going to be based on what a lot of your army is, as their abilities tend to augment their own clan. It’d be too much to cover them all but theyre all pretty solid, if expensive at their job. They’re all Totems, Daemons Wizards with 2 castings, a pretty 5+ ward and a pretty strong attack profile. The damage has been made more consistent with Damage 2 on their main weapon and generally more attacks. It’s probably good to have one of these guys around if you bring a Grey Seer, so you can summon one in.
The only two default battleline havent changed – Clanrats and Stormvermin. We saw updated warscrolls for them not too long ago, so nothing exciting to report on that front. Clanrats are extremely crummy rats you use to screen out the enemy or hold points. They also went down a shocking 30 points to just 100 for 10. A real steal. Stormvermin are bodyguards for your Heroes with a decent punch to go with it. Their cost didn’t change, so feel free to fit them in for some of your softer foot Heroes.
All your artillery options got notably cheaper, at least 25 points per unit. Games Workshop must have felt they weren’t seeing as much use.
The favorite of many a skaven player, the Warp Lightning Cannon remains intact because it perfectly encapsulates the Skaven playstyle: You roll a die and then roll 6 dice, for each number that meets or beats that first die roll, deal a mortal. Or you can go for broke and roll 12 dice, but deal D3 mortals to yourself for each 1. That’s an average of 4 mortal wounds which is half your health but you don’t want to be a coward do you?
Warplock Jezzails return untouched, other then slightly better To Hit on your ranged attacks and on hit and wound for melee (Don’t get caught in melee). These guys are budget Longstrikes, complete with Rend -2 D2 attacks and Mortals on 6s. Not bad for some chip damage but cant field the number of shots Stormcast can.
Finally the Plagueclaw is like a bootleg Mortek Crawler. 3+ to hit and now 2+ to wound, with Rend -2 D6 damage, it can do some decent hurt. It also had its -1 to bravery changed to +2 to battleshock rolls, making a net positive of 1.
Two Behemoths that aren’t characters, first lets look at the much beloved but never seen Doomwheel. People love this model but it’s never been good on the table, it’s rules didn’t change, that 4D6″ of movement can be a real rough one. The damage just doesn’t really hash out, and it went up 20 points? I’m sorry folks who hoped to see this improved, it’s just not there yet.
The other Behemoth is the Hell Pit Abomination who has remained mostly intact. Similar to a lot of monsters in recent tomes, its first bracket doesn’t drop off as quickly so you can enjoy it at full health more. And oh boy are going to want to. Mortal wound per model on a 2+? Watch any infantry that tries to take it down disappear. At only a 5 point increase this guy is feeling pretty good.
The conditional battleline system, which used to be an absolute nightmare, has been completely rewritten. Previously to have unlock specific battleline all of your army had to be of the same clan. This was a logistical nightmare and restricted choice which generally lead to people just running Masterclan to get what they wanted, as they got everything. Now, it takes a page from how allegiance abilities work and each clan has two “Trademark” units. For every Leader belonging to a clan, you may take one of their “trademark” units. So for example if you have 2 Plague Priests (who are Clan Pestilens) you can take two Plague Monks, two Plague Censure Bearers or one of each. So for the sake of ease lets go down these by clan. Remember, anyone can take these, but the proper clan leaders get them as battleline. Also Masterclan has no special battleline, since they’re leaders, not followers.
Clan Moulder gets the Giant Rats and Rat Ogors. Giant Rats are even worse clan rats, but that’s fine. It’s a cheap battleline option and they do their job at that, Rat Ogors are deceptively strong for their cost. Their Warpfire Guns can now risk hitting something with a 4+ to hit and D3 shots per model instead of a 5+ to hit and 1 shot, and a consistent 2 damage. Their melee profile is now a 3+ but it does the job, its alot of attacks! Although not a battleline, Moulder also has Packmasters for a discount price Crack the Whip and Rat Swarms for the cheapest filler chaff in the book.
Clan Eshin has the Night Runners and Gutter Runners. Night runners are pretty garbage, worse save, 2D6″ alpha deployment when Gutter Runners have a deep strike from a terrain feature. The only thing saving Night Runners is they’re 10 models instead of 5. Take Night Runners to hold a point while Gutter Runners can actually take a few things out with their throwing stars.
Next is Clan Pestilen and their Plague Censer Bearers and Plague Monks. Both are not great on their face but support each other and can be fielded in high enough numbers to actually pose a threat. Censer Bearers gain +1 to wound when close to Plague Monks, so definitely field both if you want those bearers. Plague Monks get -2 to rend on 6s and both get +1 to attack on a charge so be aggressive and don’t be afraid to lose them. They’re cheap and effective, especially when supported by a Plague Priest
Finally Skyre gets the Skyre Acolytes and the dreaded Stormfiends. Acolytes are fine, their shooting attack is a bit close range but its a damn good one at Rend -2 Damage D3. The Stormfiends have been making a showing as one of the few genuinely good units in Skaven and are now better than they were. The Loss of rerolling Hits and Wounds on More-More-More Warpower! hurts but they’re still going to be ruinously effective on the table.
Seperately, your three weapons teams are Warpfire Thrower, Doom-Flayer and Ratling Guns and they all had their rules to hide inside of Clan Rats and Stormvermin integrated into their war scroll. Both allow you to take a safe normal shot or risk it for the big prize. Warpfire Thrower was changed from rolling more dice to increasing the range to a respectable 12″ and taking a mortal wound on an unmodified 1 rather than risking on blowing it up on a 1 or 2. Doomflayers got an extra rend on their attack…not impressive otherwise. Ratling Guns saw decent play and they only got better, they got a more consistent 2D6+3, or 4D6+3 if you remove the limiter.
There’s really only one spell people care about, Warp Lightning Vortex which arguably was one of the best spells in the game at its peak. Sadly it got nerfed yet again, it stops running from within 3″ instead of 6″ now, and doesn’t stop flying. Real shame.
I gotta say I like this book a lot too. There were a lot of ways they could have approached this, the “Vibe” of Skaven as this high-risk high-reward faction was always there but it didn’t have the rules to make it happen. The units, even if you rolled well, didn’t do as well as they could and the whole thing was burdened by some pretty confusing rules on army construction.
A lot of that was cleared away and Games Workshop did an excellent job of not touching what didn’t need to be fixed and really clipping away at the things that needed it. Warscrolls were preserved where they should be, and making an legion of different clans can now be made on the player’s terms rather than awkwardly trying to fit one clan in to a list. There’s so much stuff here that it’s hard to tell how it’s going to hash out and I expect we’ll see a lot of lists tried out in the process. It’s an exciting time.
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