Add the Skaven to Warhammer 40K, you cowards

A bipedal, horned rat-like beast known as a Skaven snarls menacingly at the camera with long, yellow teeth and angry red eyes. He is holding a staff in one hand.
Image: Games Workshop

Why Age of Sigmar’s stinky rat army would fit perfectly in the grimdark future

Warhammer 40,000 is stuffed to the brim with bad guys; nearly every faction racks up atrocities on the daily. There’s the protagonist faction, the Imperium of Man, which is quite literally the most brutal and inhumane regime possible. The Chaos Space Marines are engaged in a 10,000-year-long war, using the powers of the dark gods to fuel their armies. And, of course, there’s the stupid, sexy Dark Eldar who torture and pillage their way through the galaxy. But there’s one specific kind of bad guy that’s missing from the setting, and a recent Warhammer Age of Sigmar release throws that into stark relief: I demand that Games Workshop add Skaven to 40K, you cowards.

The Skaven are a longtime presence in the Warhammer fantasy settings, including Age of Sigmar, an alternative fantasy setting introduced in 2015. The new Warhammer Age of Sigmar Skaventide box set — which went up for pre-order on June 29 — pits the Skaven, a ravenous horde of rat men who are scratching at every door and every dimension in hopes of finding something to feast upon, against the noble Stormcast Eternals. Age of Sigmar has some great villains, like the father of necromancy and all-time hater Nagash, but few are as beloved as the Skaven. They’re even the antagonist in the popular Vermintide games developed by Fatshark. You can’t truly escape the Skaven, and the only saving grace is that they’re so busy fighting each other that they sometimes forget about their mission of total annihilation.

The Skaven are bipedal critters who swarm en masse, which is obviously dangerous in and of itself, but the fact that they have a decent grasp on technology just makes matters worse. In the original Warhammer Fantasy Battles, the human empires largely denied the existence of Skaven. (There are no rats living in Altdorf, waiting to rise up and overthrow humanity. That’s ridiculous; you must be just seeing things. Do not ask any more questions about the giant rats whomst walk like men.) They worship a Chaos entity called the Great Horned Rat, who is not a literal rat, but the metaphysical manifestation of all things ratlike.

The Great Horned Rat has a furry finger in a lot of different pies, but its main objective is just keeping the rest of its horde organized and focused. In the lore of Age of Sigmar, a magical apocalypse has shattered the traditional fantasy realm of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and the setting is more of a multiverse. There are eight mortal realms, and then layers of sub-realms and alternate realities. One of these is the home of the Skaven, Blight City. The Skaven have organized themselves into 13 clans and have gnawed holes into each of the eight realms. Each Skaven thinks that they’re the best rat around, which makes for a bunch of backstabbing, betrayal, and bickering.

The Skaven are known for their use of warpstone, an extremely powerful crystal formed of pure Chaos energy, to power technology that’s highly volatile — but, also, great for doing murder. Sure, a few dozen rats might get exploded into a fine mist when getting a given McGuffin dialed in correctly, but that’s a small price for an extremely powerful auto-cannon or a far-reaching communications device.

But why would we want a faction of sentient rats in the grim darkness of the far future? Well, we mentioned that warpstone. But also? The Great Horned Rat is kind of a big deal. Traditionally, the Warhammer settings have four Chaos gods: the violent Khorne, the scheming Tzeentch, the rapturous Slaanesh, and the plague-loving Nurgle. In Age of Sigmar, the Great Horned Rat is also at the table, which is a feat that many have tried but none have managed. So why not fully elevate the Skaven to the science fiction big leagues?

As a faction, the Skaven are in an interesting place because of their inherent duality. On one hand, they’re a bunch of silly little guys scampering around and getting up to antics. On the other hand, they’re terrifying creatures who want nothing more than to flay you and then gnaw on your bones. A Hammer and Bolter episode, normally available as part of the subscription service Warhammer Plus, was recently made available on YouTube. It shows how hunting the Skaven is a difficult task.

Making matters worse, recent developments in the lore of Age of Sigmar have put the Skaven on the offensive. They’re no longer content with raiding and pillaging from afar. Archaon the Everchosen, one of the main antagonists of Age of Sigmar, teamed up with the Great Horned Rat to teleport the sub-realm of Blight City into reality. A huge chunk of Blight City showed up in the realm of Aqshy, one of the mortal realms, in an event called the Vermindoom.

For context, imagine you saw some rat holes gnawed into the foundation of your house. You’d probably be pretty concerned, driven to put down traps and call an exterminator. Now, imagine the rats smashed through the drywall and took over the master bedroom. Before long, you might find yourself barricaded in the basement, hoping that the rat men are content with raiding your fridge for cheese.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the Skaven are so popular that fans regularly demand they show up in Warhammer 40,000 as well. Let me join them in saying: Please, Games Workshop, let the rat army show up in the far sci-fi future of 40K as more than just a rare cameo. It’s what we deserve. Some antagonists are nuanced, and we’re meant to see reflections of ourselves in their own moral failings. Others are giant stinky rats with a massive cannon, and that’s great. They don’t even need spaceships — rats are infamous for hitching a ride on vessels, after all. Why not a Space Hulk?

I, for one, would be willing to bend the knee to our new sci-fi rat overlords — so long as Games Workshop can bring a decent 2,000-point army down to a reasonable number of miniatures.

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