Wednesday, February 20, 2019

REVIEW: Battletome Skaven

There's something quintessentially Warhammer about the Skaven. For me they have always been one of its most unique and iconic creations and now they finally have their own Battletome for Age of Sigmar. So, what surprises does the Horned Rat have within its pages?

The cover art on this is pretty stellar. The Grey Seers, and the Screaming Bell in particular are hallmarks of the Skaven imagery. What's more Chaosy than a half man, half rat? How about one with horns with sorcerous powers? I think this nails the Skaven aesthetic perfectly. It's a really dynamic pose and composition as well. While I like the Flesh-eater Courts cover more for its bold use of color, I still think the Skaven cover is perfectly done.

The lore section opens up with the one page introduction unique to this army that all of the books have been getting since AoS2 launched. A cool little nugget of information in here is that the Horned Rat scooped up some of its favored servants as the Old World ended and transported them to the Mortal Realms where he scattered them about to restart the great clans. The Skaven are the rat-men children of Chaos, a myth to many in the mortal realms, they surge up and tear down all around them. If you've read any fiction featuring Skaven, then you probably already know their unique, and comedic disposition. I say comedic, but they are utterly terrifying at the same time. Skaven are innately cowardly creatures and would much rather flee from a fight to live another day then risk death. When they are in sufficient numbers though they can overcome this impulse, at least for awhile. They aren't averse to a fight though, just a fair one. If there is any bit of trickery or deceit they can utilize to gain the upper hand they will do so. This deceit isn't limited to their enemies either, and they are constantly backstabbing each other, often literally, to gain power within their society. Power is the ultimate goal of all ambitious Skaven. They wish to rule the realms, and if they could ever set aside their differences long enough to cooperate, they most likely could, so vast are their numbers. This internal struggle is what sees them constantly spoiling their own plans and those of other Skaven. Plans which are more often than not unnecessarily complex.

Within the Mortal Realms they live within something called the Under-Empire. This is a complex network of tunnels and burrows which honeycomb the mortal realms, and allow them to travel in much the same way as a realmgate. At the heart of this network sits Blight City, their nightmarish capital city. Just imagine the most hellish vision of a steampunk city thats constantly falling apart and expanding and you wouldn't be far off.

The Skaven worship a being known as the Horned Rat, the newly ascended fifth god of Chaos. He takes different forms to different clans. To Clan Pestilens he's the Great Corrupter, while to Verminus he's the Great Conquerer, and so on. In truth he is all of these things, for they are just aspects of his entirety. Leading Skaven society in his name is the Council of Thirteen. Made of up of the 12 most powerful Skaven rulers plus a ceremonial thirteenth seat for the Horned Rat, they direct the efforts of the Under-Empire. These seats are constantly changing as certain clans rise and fall in power, leaders are assassinated or die in "unfortunate circumstances" or other situations. The only guarantee is that each of the five great clans will each have at least one seat at the council. Currently Pestilens and Skryre hold the most power, though in truth even they are superseded. In a secret pocket dimension of the Horned Rat's creation a second, superior council of Verminlords rule. Verminlords are basically the avatars of the Horned Rat. Though they hold more power than the other Skaven warlords, they prefer to rule from the shadows and nudge their lessers onto the paths they want, letting them think they are in control.

If you're a Skaven you invariably belong to one of the five great clans, Verminus, Pestilens, Skryre, Eshin, or Moulder. It is said that at the dawn of the Age of Myth there were in fact more great clans, but over time they have either been lost, absorbed, or completely destroyed by their rivals, for the clans are always fighting amongst each other for power. The Clans Pestilens allied themselves with Nurgle's followers and fought viciously within Ghyran, gaining much power, while Skryre further advanced its technology, which it sells to the other clans. They've recently begun experimenting with using realmstone to power their tech instead of just warpstone to much success. In different times throughout history different clans have been in supremacy, with Verminus leading them to great victories as their innumerable clanrats flooded out of the Under-Empire, or the unspeakable horrors unleashed when Moulder held control. Horrors so unspeakable that all of the other clans have pretty much agreed that Moulder can't be in ascendence anymore. During the Age of Sigmar Pestilens and Skryre hold the top spots, but the Necroquake has thrown all of that into chaos. The sitting warlords on the Council began to cycle at an alarming rate and ghasts flooded into Blight City. Now the Great Clans are poised on the brink of another great civil war.

The timeline sections sprawls over four pages, covering from the start of the Age of Myth to the Soul Wars. Some standouts for me are the first Great Civil War, which saw Verminus and a now defunct clan named Ikk vie for power, the Warlocks of Skryre stealing Kharadron technology to create their own sky armadas, when the Skaven accidentally burrow into an ocean in Shyish which floods Blight City with both water and zombies, and Skryre conducting a submarine war against an Idoneth enclave. There's a bunch of cool stuff in here, especially the stuff about some of the older great clans that no longer exist. It also goes over the typical organization of a Skaven army, with a specific example that features all of the trickery and back stabbing you would expect from them.

Each of the Great Clans gets its own spotlight, with a cool emblem for each. If you haven't been able to tell already, I'm personally a big fan of Skryre. I just really like their wackiness and how often their inventions backfire on them as well as how deadly they are to the enemy. Basically each clan gets an exploration of how it's structured, their favored way of war, and some further detail. For those who may not know anything about them yet, Skryre are the mad scientists, creating ever more elaborate inventions and technologies. Pestilens' ranks are full of Plague Monks and they are the most religious and rabid of all of the clans, seeking to tear down the realms in decay and ruin. Verminus are the most organized and militant of all of the clans. This is where all of the Clanrats and Stormvermin come from. They are also the most numerous of all of the clans. Moulder are the flesh crafters. They're constantly experimenting on living creatures, looking to make the most terrible, and terribly effective monsters for the battlefield, with Rat Ogors being their staple. Lastly, Eshin are the most secretive of all of their clans. They are the assassins and the spies of the Under-Empire. Above all of them, and somewhat outside of them, are the Masterclan. This is home to all of the Grey Seers, the wizard mystics of the Skaven. They are the ones pulling all of the strings and directing the other clans, even though they would deny it.

The individual unit section is divided up by great clans, with Verminlords getting their own section. There are some cool bits in here, like Thanquol. I was hoping for a bit more information about this most famous of Grey Seers, but it seems he's a bit of a rogue agent, operating outside of the bounds of Skaven society. They do mention that many believe he's ancient, hailing from the world-that-was, which is nice to see. I was a bit worried his backstory would get retconned, but with the return of Gotrek I expect there's plenty more to see of this guy. Each of the units gets it's own section, some just a brief paragraph, and others taking up half a page. As the two largest clans Skryre and Pestilens get the most attention, but nothing is left untouched.

The scenic photographs in this Battletome are some of the coolest I've seen, especially the two page spread that opens up the model section. Everything is tinted with green smoke and they've done a great job of making it feel like they're set amongst the rickety warrens of the Skaven. Besides the regular examples of the 'Eavy Metal models, we also get some alternate schemes for Clanrats and Stormvermin hired out to the other great clans. The example army is all painted in the new studio scheme of blue armor and red robes, mimicking the colors used on Thanquol. I really like these colors, even though they're not something I would normally have thought of for the Skaven. The paint guide sections goes over all of the basics you would need, like step by step guides for rat skin, blue armor, different colored fur, and more specific examples like banner designs and warpstone.

Now onto the rules, and oh man is there a lot here. The rules section in this Battletome easily takes up half the book with the number of warscrolls in it. Let's start with the allegiance abilities. There are a few that all Skaven armies have, and a few for specific clans, but they can still be used in most Skaven armies. The first one, Lead From The Back, essentially gives your heroes Look Out, Sir! even when they're in combat, representing the Skaven leaders pushing other Skaven in the way of oncoming attacks. Couple this with Scurry Away, which allows you to retreat your hero from combat instead of attacking, and you have a better chance of keeping those low wound heroes alive. Plus, both of those rules are so Skaveny it's awesome. The next two use to be on individual warscrolls in some capacity, but have now been moved to an army wide rule, meaning even more units get to benefit from them. Overwhelming Mass adds 1 to hits rolls if you have 20 or more models in your units, plus adding 1 to wound rolls if you have 30 or more models in the unit. This is great for Clanrats, Stormvermin, and Plague Monks since you'll want to take them in large blocks anyway. The last rule, Strength in Numbers gives you +2 to your bravery for battleshock tests for every 10 models you have instead of just +1 meaning those large blocks have a better chance of stick around.

Each of the Great Clans also get a special rule, along with the Masterclan. Now, these can be used by any unit in your army with the proper keyword. So if you have Pestilens, Skryre, and Verminus units in your army, they all get to use their own special allegiance ability. You don't need to have a pure Clan list to benefit from them, that just helps unlock some additional battleline for you. Masterclan have a way to generate more command points each turn. Moulder can add D3 wounds onto a Fighting Beast as long as you have a Master Moulder in your army, as well as re-rolling hits of 1 in combat. Eshin get to pick out specific enemy units to get bonuses against, like they're their chosen targets. Verminus Clawlords all get to pick a command trait, even if they're not your general. So if you have five Clawlords, then they each get to pick a command trait. Skryre and Pestilens' abilities are fairly similar to what they had in the General's Handbook, just with some slight modifications. Skryre gets Warpstone Sparks which they can spend to boost units, and Pestilens have the Great Plagues that they have a chance of manifesting with a prayer.

There's no way I can go through all of the command traits and artifacts in this book. There is a set of traits and artifacts for each clan, including Masterclan, meaning that there are 36 choices for traits, and 36 for artifacts. There is some crossover between the charts with some duplicates amongst the traits, but there are still a tone of choices. One that stands out for me for Masterclan is the Cunning trait, which allows you to try and steal your opponent's command point on a 6. An artifact I like is the Flaypelt Cloak for Verminus, which allows you to re-roll hits and wounds of 1 in combat for the bearer. Stick this on a Verminlord and go to work tearing through units.

There are two spell lores to choose from, one for Greyseers, and one for Skryre Warlocks. The Greyseer lore has six spells to choose from, with a bunch of good choices. I really liked using Plague, which casts on a 7 and has you pick an enemy units within 13". You then roll a dice for ever model in that unit and on a 5+ they suffer a mortal wound. Notice it just says within, and not wholly within. All you need to do is clip one model in a horde unit and you can potentially decimate it. The Skryre spell lore only has three spells to choose from. More-more-more Warp Power casts onto a friendly unit and gives them re-rolls to hit and wound for a turn, but also puts D3 mortals onto them afterward. This would be great on a unit of Stormfiends though.

The army has access to its own terrain feature with the Gnawholes. This is actually a set of three pieces of terrain. These are all set up within 8" of any board edge, and are done before armies are set up. If you have a hero nearby you can use one Gnawhole in your turn to transport a nearby unit over to another Gnawhole. They can't move afterward, and have to be 9" away from enemy units and wholly within 6" of the hole, but it gives your army a lot of mobility. They also count as Arcane for Skaven and Deadly to all other models. It's a good idea to have one in your own deployment zone, both for the Arcane bonus and for ease of teleporting, and then have the other two close to your opponent's deployment zone, but far enough away that you can teleport units through them early on. Alternatively you can place one right in your opponent's deployment zone and force them to keep a unit near it to prevent you from using it. There are a bunch of good options with it.

This book has two unique narrative battleplans in it. The first represents the Skaven burrowing up from their gnawholes to overwhelm the enemy, while the second has the battlefield split into three distinct segments, and the Skaven can only travel between them by using their gnawholes. Both of these do a good job at capturing what fighting a Skaven army would be like in the Mortal Realms, and the second one looks especially interesting. There's also the standard Path to Glory section with all of the followers table and rewards charts you would expect.

There are eight different warscroll battalions to pick from. Pestilens gets the most since they had their own book previously. For Pestilens there is the Virulent Procession, which is a mega battalion, and then the Congregation of Filth, Foulrain Congregation, and Plaguesmog Congregation, focusing on Plague Monks, Plagueclaw Catapults, and Plague Censer Bearers respectively. The Warpcog Convocation for Skryre is back from the Grand Alliance book, with a few tweaks. You have to take an Arch-Warlock, and then 2 - 5 Enginecovens, which are essentially the real battalions. The Arkhspark Voltik focuses on Warp Lightning Cannons, the Gautfyre Skorch is all about Warpfire, the Gascloud Chokelung has all of the Acolytes, the Rattlegauge Warplock has the Jezzails and Ratling Guns, and the Whyrblade Threshik has the Doomwheels. After that the remaining clans each get one battalion with the Claw-Horde for Verminus, the Fleshmeld Menagerie for Moulder, and the Slinktalon for Eshin. I messed around with the Claw-Horde and I really liked it since it boosts your Clawlord's command ability to affect all of the units from the battalion wholly within 13" of him instead of just one.

I'm not going to spend a ton of time going over all of the different warscrolls since you can read them for free in the App, but there have been a number of significant changes across the board. Thanquol has gotten a pretty big boost, and the Verminlords also seems very nice. I took a Verminlord Warbringer in a game and he really boosted my unit of Stormvermin with his Dreaded Death Frenzy spell and Tyrant of Battle command ability. Dreaded Death Frenzy lets a model that's slain pile in and attack with all of its weapons. So go first with whatever unit you have this on, get all their attacks in, then attack again as they're killed. It's pretty awesome. I'm also a huge fan of the changes made to all of the Skryre stuff. Pretty much anything that's Skryre now has a rule on it called More-more "something," like More-more Speed for the Doomwheel or More-more Lightning for the Warp Lightning Cannon. This basically allows you to overload your weapons and do a lot more damage, but with a pretty good chance of hurting yourself as well. For example, on the Lightning Cannon you can overload it so you roll 12 dice instead of 6 to see how many mortal wounds you do, but for each 1 you roll you do D3 mortal wounds to yourself. Messing around with rolling for several Cannons I was able to put out a ton of mortal wounds, but basically blew myself up by turn three. It's a ton of fun, can do a lot of damage, and embodies everything great about the Skaven style of play. There are so many different warscrolls in here that you really can customize this army to suit whatever style of play you enjoy most.

The three Endless Spells are all pretty good to. I know Warp Lightning Vortex has gotten a lot of attention, but I really like the Bell of Doom. It's pretty simple and straight forward, but it can make a large section of your army immune to battleshock, which is important with the low bravery and large unit size of the Skaven. Lastly you can unlock certain units as battleline if you take only units from a particular clan. So if you only take Pestilens units, then Plague Monks and Censer Bearers are battleline. Skryre gets you Acolytes and Stormfiends; Eshin gets you Gutter Runners and Night Runners, and Moulder gets you Giant Rats and Rat Ogors. This means if you take anything that doesn't have that great clan keyword, even a unit of Clanrats, then those units lose the battleline designation. The only exception to this is if you take a Masterclan hero as your general, then they're still okay. Otherwise, in a pure Skaven army your only battleline are Clanrats and Stormvermin. As far as allies, their only choices are Nurgle if you're pure Clans Pestilens, otherwise they have no allies.

This is really a beast of a book and pretty much has everything in it that a Skaven player could want. I think it does a great job at updating their lore to fit within the Mortal Realms and the rules all got a very nice bump as well. Honestly, Skaven already fit within the setting pretty well, so they didn't need anything drastic done to them. The new art that's in here is pretty dang cool as well. If you're a Skaven player then I'm sure you've already gotten this, but if you play other things and are just interested in the background it's still a really nice book.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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