Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Greyhawk Needs Skaven

So yeah...Earlier this year I fell into the abyss that is Warhammer Fantasy Battles. In this table-top minis war game, I tend to like playing quirky, dirty, evil armies (like Orks in Warhammer 40k) so naturally I was a good fit to play the Skaven. Now for much longer than this new hobby, I've been involved in Games Workshop games for a long time, including their RPG and one thing has always struck me about Skaven that I've been reminded of since buying into this monstrous race: the Greyhawk setting would be an awesome fit for Skaven.

"The Skaven are a race of bipedal ratmen that are so rarely seen that many deny their very existence. The majority of the man-sized vermin are slight of build and, if they abandoned their slinking haunched gait, stand bewteen four to five feet in height...Skaven are covered in close fur, save for their ears, muzzle, hands, and fleshy, worm-like tails. The eyes of the ratmen gleam red in torchlight and their mouths are lined with wicked teeth..."

First point to get out of the way, it's my belief the "Old World" of Warhammer and the gritty World of Greyhawk of Gygax's creation have always been contemporary publications and so hold alot of similarities in theme and mood. Heck, it's probably the reason why GW's Carl Sargent was brought over to add his grim touch to Greyhawk in 2nd edition.

Second, you can argue that D&D and thus Greyhawk does have ratmen already in the form of wererats. Wererats have been around since the beginning along with more lycanthropes than I can count. These however don't count in my book because they don't go far enough to be true Skaven. Wererats are cursed humanoids whereas the Skaven are a race-born unto themselves. Also, in D&D wererats are also not portrayed as the shadowy horde in waiting that is the Skaven...

"Although not regularly seen by surface dwellers, the Skaven are arguably the most numerous of all races. With a population of titanic proportions, the Skaven remain hidden away underneath unsuspecting nations."

The Skaven are more than a nest of monsters lurking in Greyhawk City's sewers ready to steal your purse. Yes indeed they can do that, but there is more to the Skaven than surface dwellers realize! The Skaven practice a blend of sorcery and science, a mockery of their hated enemy the dwarves and also quite similar to D&D's DerroThus, you'll see strange, warpstone powered warmachines and many lesser contraptions built to bring ruin and slaughter to the surface world. Other clans specialize in the spreading of pestilent plagues or the alchemical manipulation of their own kind into frenzied killers and altered into monstrous brutes like rat-ogres. Just as numerous and easily more cunning than D&D kobolds, the fastest of the Skaven of course, are masters of stealth and assassination with their poisoned weapons.

How's this work good for Greyhawk? Well as stated before they are similar to both Derro and Kobolds which are staples in Greyhawk but neither of which have the gravitas to be a true threat on an epic scale (unless you count the module Doomgrinder, yes I went there). The Skaven could be the power behind common wererat sightings, and a precursor to a much worse infestation to come. Muse over these scenarios:

Opportunistic Incursion: The Greyhawk Wars have just winded down and all the nations of the Flanaess are tired and low on resources. Suddenly bursting from beneath the ground of several key nations comes the coordinated attacks of a well-armed and endless horde of Skaven...

Congratulations On Clearing Zagig's Ruins: The heroes have killed all the monsters, taken all the treasure and returned to the city to celebrate. A year later the Skaven fill the void, scavenge what magic is left behind and stage a surprise attack on all nearby civilizations, perhaps even tunneling all the way to Greyhawk City itself!

A New Nation To Deal With: Iuz has been the omnipresent threat in the Flanaess for generations so who would suspect a new evil arising from below? Without warning things begin crawling out from under an unlikely region (such as Ket or Riftcanyon) and the Skaven soon have a foothold in order to attack both good and evil lands alike.

Vault of the...Skaven? Here's a twist for your campaign. The heroes have braved many miles of caverns and corridors and soon anticipate a big throw down with the dreaded, yet popularly known Drow. Only, they were too late. The Skaven got to Erehli Cinlu first and now they are going to track the PCs back to where they came from!


JasonZavoda said...

I'm just finishing up the first Gotrek and Felix omnibus and have to say that the skaven would be a fun mix in the WoG, but they are a highly technological race (and Warhammer Fantasy contains far to much guns and technology for my liking) and some definite changes to the skaven may need to be made. If not, then it will be a much different WoG than many are used to.

For myself I prefer a Gygaxian Greyhawk with some CAS and HPL thrown in for good measure. Fritz Leiber's verminous society is a bit more to my liking (one of the inspirations for the Skaven, and Leiber is one of the sages whose work tells the unwitting human world of the Skaven menace).

Zenopus Archives said...

Quest for the Silver Sword (TSR, 1992) for the Thunder Rift setting has a Ratling humanoid race. Here's some discussion of them vis-a-vis Skaven:


Darva Shriver said...

I realize that a large chunk of your limited readership here might become unhinged, but, go to canonfire and search for author chatdemon. This stuff's all been covered before.

Frankly, I'm disappointed here, Mort. You know the material I'm talking about exists, but like the rest of the current staff and "community" (if you want to call the grand CJ the site has become a community), choose not to acknowledge it.

Sadly, I think it's time to remove this blog from my reading list.

mortellan said...

Darva: I'm disappointed too. While I have referenced nothing in this post outside a single GW product and one lousy D&D one there was no other fan-made material referenced in difference or in place of anything chatdemon has wrote for CF.
Though the post may look polished it was never my intention to do a thoroughly researched adaptation of ratmen for Greyhawk or there would be links and stuff as I'm known to use liberally on this blog. Having played Skaven only a day ago it was fresh on my mind so I literally threw this together during lunch, and made up the hooks on the fly. Any previous work done on the subject is purely coincidental and not ignored by choice I assure you. In truth, if credit is necessary, I'm fairly certain my interest in playing Skaven stems greatly from years of knowing chatdemon online thus my reference at the beginning of the post about being reminded. But sometimes that kind of personal influence doesn't need to be acknowledged to the public.

Rich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich said...

That was phrased oddly, partly copy/pasted from chat with Darva, so I'll rephrase.

While I know there was no personal spite intended to me (chatdemon), Darva points out to me that certain gh topics have specific people attached to them in the community.

Spinecastle = Holian
Ull = You
Undersea Stuff = Aeolius
Olman stuff = Mar
Raxi, Xvarts, Rat stuff = Me

Everyone deserves credit where due, not just those who are "hip" with the cf crowd at the moment.

If you want to expand on this any, hit me up, I have much that never saw posting on cf or elsewhere.

mortellan said...

Rich, I absolutely see your point. I'm sure I'd be oddly mystified if someone else took up my pet topic of Ull and was unaware of my contribution. Since I'll be in GW rat-hell for the forseeable future I will be sure to take you up on a collaborative post when the inspiration strikes me. Here of course, not on CF. You have me intrigued about your unseen work now.

greywulf said...

I agree entirely, and coincidentally created Ratlings as a playable race for D&D Next just last week.

Great minds, etc.

Valkaun_Dain said...

I've known Mike since were pre-schoolers. There isn't a dis-honest bone in his body, and he's the most reliable person that I know. He's a great DM and I'm proud to say he's one of my best friends. I've personally witnessed this guy play Skaven, orks and all manner of other ridiculous armies and get beaten soundly in the process. Skaven are definitely Mike's thing. I'm not sure how failing to pimp someone else's work on similar (note that's not the SAME) is worthy of removing Mort's stellar work in the GH community from your reading list.

Good article Mort; I am looking forward to mowing down a ship crewed entirely by Skaven at our next Sea Princes campaign.

Scott said...

Shrill as always, Darva.

Yes, if Mike was prepping this for an Oerth Journal article, then he should have done more research first.

Yes, without a full return of the Greytalk Archives, said research cannot ever be fully completed.

Yes, there is such a wealth of fan-made Greyhawk material out there that it can be hard to know it all now.

Yes, my website directory listing Greyhawk fan authors and their areas of specialty is woefully outdated.

Anonymous said...

People looking to be offended always are.

Mystic Scholar said...

I haven't bothered researching this information and have not intention of doing so.

This is the first that I've heard of such a suggestion and I like it.

My only familiarity with Skaven and Warhammer is the Playstation game and I agree with Jason. The Skaven -- as written -- are too technological a race for my Greyhawk.

I've often spoken about my dislike for technology in my W.O.G. That said, I don't see why they can't be "scaled back" in that regard.

The Xvarts have never seemed tht great a "threat" to me and I agree that something darker and more sinister is needed. The Skaven might just be what "we're" looking for.

Archangel said...

This is the first I've heard this too. I like the idea and not because of any fan-loyalty bias.

There is no Greyhawk Mecca anymore. That was Gygax, and if we ever get to meet him in another world he can tell us all where to pucker up our lips and blow.

I have a certain amount of respect for grognardishness, but c'mon. If we had to take what has been written by fans as canon... ? I don't care how much mileage you have.

OT, for me the tech-level is akin to weird magic they may have scavenged from some planar beings or travel. Maybe their great god D'znee bequeths to them when they sing his favorite chant, "It's a small world after all" a few hundred times.

mortellan said...

I'm glad to renew the interest level in this topic. It's always been there, but sometimes an old fire needs stoked I guess.

There's plenty of evil in the Skaven without their guns and cannons. I wish D&D humanoids were given 1/10 of the colorful writeups that GW gives to their lowliest critters.

Valkaun_Dain said...

Let em keep their guns. I'll pry em from their dead paws and put em to good use.

mortellan said...

Okay dude, but your character will probably die of radiation or the plague if you use Skaven weapons.

Valkaun_Dain said...

Or get some sweet mutations!

mortellan said...

Oh yeah, I forgot who I was talking to...