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hwd
02-09-2013, 10:44
Hi all,

I've been a warhammer player for a good 20 years or so now and i've only just got round to being interested in Skaven.
I got hold of the army book and gave that a read, which has given me a good start in getting to know them.

What i'm wondering though is; what was gw's inspiration for the Skaven? Do they have a literary or pop-culture inspiration which eludes me, and so on?

Particularly their "creation myth", which has echoes of the Tower of Babel and a bit Pied Piper perhaps...

Surely there must be someone on this most esteemed site who might know this?

Ta

Hwd

Moshes
02-09-2013, 16:05
Thatīs a fine question sir,

Well, letīs take a look into the archives. Skaven werenīt present in the 2nd edition, but appeared in force with the 3rd. This means that the ratmen were developed in the second half of the 80s. Their fluff was allmost the same of nowadays, that is, the got the "clan" society, the 13 Lords and the iconic Eshin, Pestilens, Moulder and Scryre "clans", with all the associated troops. What is amazing is the fact that they started designed in toto, with very few alterations in later editions. In a case similar to the dwarfs the troop choices were the same as the incumbent edition: slaves, stormvermin, globadiers, gutter runners, clanrats, jezzails, and so on. The only later editions additions were increasingly big machines and kits. And this is the most surprising because the skaven is the only major army of WH that is not a direct rendition of a fantasy race, like the broo of Runequest.

I think the skaven is a true amalgamation of concepts well beyond the scope of classical fantasy literature, including derivative products like D&D. The first monster manual hadnīt anything similar, but with the 2nd ed. you got the wererat. Sadly, they were human shapechangers instead of true, stable and unique race that we know. Discarded a dungeonesque inspiration, what can be the source of skaven? Maybe they are an ex professo mix between easily recognisable races and a large amount of history bits.

If this is true I propose a receipt which includes: gnolls, kobolds, ottomans, afghan tribesmen, boxers (from China), Jim Henson, Brueghel, Bosch and rodents of inusual size, among others.

I hope this digression could help you.

de Selby
02-09-2013, 17:34
Fritz Leiber's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Swords_of_Lankhmar (1968) has a city infiltrated and over-run by intelligent rats, complete with a council of thirteen etc. The main difference is the humans have to be shrunk to rat size to investigate the under-empire, which wouldn't work in warhammer, so Skaven are man-size.

I recommend Leiber to warhammer fans, sword and sorcery at its best.

Host Tar
02-09-2013, 18:08
Great question, & I don't have an answer :P

But, from a personal standpoint, when getting into WHF, I loved redwall as a kid, so for me skaven were an obvious choice. I'm not sure where I got the idea from, but I've always seen skaven as a more traditional mortal opposite to the human armies, taking the worst vices to extreme.

Scammel
02-09-2013, 19:32
The main historical inspiration for the Skaven is pretty clearly Italy and the Papal States. The College of Cardinals, use of Pavises, Censers, Carroccio Standard/Screaming Bell and even their geographical location. Alessio Cavatore wasn't their greatest fan for no reason.

Lars Porsenna
02-09-2013, 20:01
I think the skaven is a true amalgamation of concepts well beyond the scope of classical fantasy literature, including derivative products like D&D. The first monster manual hadnīt anything similar, but with the 2nd ed. you got the wererat.

Hi,

The first Monster Manual definitely had Wererats in it. They were on p.63 under the heading of Lycanthrope, including an illustration of one in hybrid form holding a sword. THis is from an edition published in 1978. I just looked.

Damon.

Voss
02-09-2013, 20:05
Fritz Leiber's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Swords_of_Lankhmar (1968) has a city infiltrated and over-run by intelligent rats, complete with a council of thirteen etc. The main difference is the humans have to be shrunk to rat size to investigate the under-empire, which wouldn't work in warhammer, so Skaven are man-size.

I recommend Leiber to warhammer fans, sword and sorcery at its best.
Yep, entirely correct. Most of the skaven society and concept came from Leiber, with a touch of Moorcock for the added Chaos angle.

Moshes
02-09-2013, 20:44
Damon, your right, I just checked out the index, thus missing it. But the description is almost word by word the same as the 2nd edition, and they are still shapechangers. Sorry for the misquotation.

I didnīt know about Leiberīs, but the inspiration seems clear.

In the other hand, I donīt think the medieval Papal States were a clear inspiration for skaven beside the carroccio, which were common in other italian city states aswell, and by the 3rd edition many armies had some kind of portable altar. They lack famiglia heavy cavalry, pavise crossbowmen, well trained urban militia and the later swiss guard. Maybe the Papacy and the Catholic Church can work, but in a very twisted version. The fact that the skaven capital lies within Tilea is very coincidental (the Po marshes), but in the early fluff they were more connected with the brettonians and undead (la abbaye de Maisontaal), so was convenient to put Skavenblight near Brettonia. And one more thing, Alessio Cavatore became games designer in the late 90,s, when the skaven were a very stablished army.

Scammel
02-09-2013, 20:57
pavise crossbowmen

Pretty sure the Skaven are the only race to use pavises at all, bar the now-extinct DoW.


swiss guard

The Skaven elite do happen to wield halberds.


Maybe the Papacy and the Catholic Church can work, but in a very twisted version.

Everything the Skaven do is twisted. Still, 12 high lieutenants of the Horned Rat, the absent 13th member of the group?....


And one more thing, Alessio Cavatore became games designer in the late 90,s, when the skaven were a very stablished army.

Oh, of course. I'm not saying he drove them in that direction, but that he probably liked the race at least in part due to the fact that it drew upon elements of his own country's history.

I'm not arguing that the Skaven are entirely based on elements of Italian history, no moreso than any other non-human race (the design team have gone on record stating that Beastmen are partially inspired by Germanic tribes, Orcs by the Scots, Ogres by the Mongols etc) - I mean, they're a race of giant bipedal rats with crazy lightning weapons and Rat Ogres! The influences are clearly there though.

boli
02-09-2013, 21:01
Kobolds?

Unsure on the chronological of this but in d&d a sewer clan society is kobolds, sort of a furred goblin creature

Moshes
02-09-2013, 22:06
The idea of mixing pavise and jezzail is from early Mughal India, another link with the Afghan stuff. But the crossbows are absent and the skaven is not a shootier army in any case like the sophisticated and low agressive armies of the Italian Renaissance.

Halberds seem to be the default weapon of choice of units of elite/bodygards like the DE, HE, TK, DoW and OnG, beside a pretty common weapon for the rank and file. In the beginning stormvermin didnīt got halberds but 2hw (flails), nor even in option (halberds were and option for black skaven, later amalgamated with stormvermin). And the swiss guard actually carried pikes in real battle, only halberds for palace duty.

An empire ruled by council isnīt rather specific for WH, no mixing religious and civil authority. And the College of Cardinals was (and is) very numerous and variable, unlike the depicted in the fluff, with 12 fixed seats.

Maybe some inspiration was taken from massive indian armies (bumi militia), but the lack of cavalry points to the incas too (they got slings). In fact there are so many inspirations that not a single element can be traced twice from the same source. And I must insist that the skaven were designed at once and for time to come, something that puzzles me the most.

Malagor
02-09-2013, 22:22
Yeah, I tried to pinpoint the skaven to a certain historical faction but there is none that fits them really.
Maybe they are GWs actual attempt of trying to come up with something unique?

Shadeseraph
02-09-2013, 22:27
I dunno. It seems to me they picked a bunch of villiain tropes (Mad scientist in all their variants, shady ninja assasin, crazy murderous fantatic, evil slaving overlord...) and threw them together. In fact, the eshin clan kinda reminds me of TMNT with all the ninjas and the mutagenic agents.

Avian
02-09-2013, 22:35
Most of the nonhuman races are a mix of influences, like how High Elves are a mix of Athens, Macedonia, Japan, Atlantis and The Lost World ++.

Skaven have Leiber, Europe at the time of the Black Death (with all that religious doom and gloom), the lab rat concept turned on it's head and also a bit of South East Asia with the Viet Cong tunnels, martial arts and mysticism.

Lars Porsenna
03-09-2013, 00:07
Most of the nonhuman races are a mix of influences, like how High Elves are a mix of Athens, Macedonia, Japan, Atlantis and The Lost World ++.


I have always maintained that High Elves have a very healthy dash of Michael Moorcock Melniboneans in them, with dragon riders, Lothern, etc. Some of the original HE were in fact from GW's Elric range, with the names filed off (the set I picked up had an Elric sculpt as the unit champion).

Damon.

Theocracity
03-09-2013, 04:39
Fritz Leiber's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Swords_of_Lankhmar (1968) has a city infiltrated and over-run by intelligent rats, complete with a council of thirteen etc. The main difference is the humans have to be shrunk to rat size to investigate the under-empire, which wouldn't work in warhammer, so Skaven are man-size.

I recommend Leiber to warhammer fans, sword and sorcery at its best.

Indeed, I second the recommendation. I wasn't into Fantasy for a long time, but when I started I chose Skaven because of Swords of Lankhmar.

Interestingly enough, he also inspired a lot of early D&D material - to the point where TSR put out a sourcebook guide to the city of Lankhmar :).

Avian
03-09-2013, 10:24
I have always maintained that High Elves have a very healthy dash of Michael Moorcock Melniboneans in them, with dragon riders, Lothern, etc. Some of the original HE were in fact from GW's Elric range, with the names filed off (the set I picked up had an Elric sculpt as the unit champion).
That's right. I had forgotten that.

Here's a trick.

Take Elric's name.
Take the first vowel and substitute it for the next vowel in the alphabet. E -> I
Then take the first consonant and substitute it for the next consonant in the alphabet. L -> M
Substitute C for K.

ELRIC -> IMRIK

Dragon and everything.

Praznagar
03-09-2013, 22:50
I remember reading somewhere that Jes Goodwin was partially inspired by Roland Rat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Rat).

He was very popular in the UK during the 80s and his catchphrase "It's Kevin!" may have given rise to the mysterious name of our verminous friends!

Urgat
04-09-2013, 12:44
Halberds seem to be the default weapon of choice of units of elite/bodygards like the DE, HE, TK, DoW and OnG,

Just a quick OT that won't help this topic any, but there's no halberd whatsoever in the OnG list.

Azzaphox
04-09-2013, 13:08
Good to see that there is a fantasy precedent somewhere.
i think I always liked the skaven purely because they were not the standard fantasy set of orc/elf/dwarf/human, I guess the lizardmen fit into that too, of course there are other examples, just saying they are the less obvious ones.

Balerion
04-09-2013, 14:03
I always thought there might be a subtle (maybe even unconscious) Secret of Nimh inspiration in there.

Some of the stuff in that movie (Nicodemus, Jenner, and the Guard-rat with the massive, crackling electro-halberd) could fit right into the Skaven book.

Actually, a Nicodemus Grey Seer conversion has been my dream project for a while. Only I dread the essential sculpting of long, fragile moustachios...

SSquirrel
04-09-2013, 16:22
I always thought there might be a subtle (maybe even unconscious) Secret of Nimh inspiration in there.

Some of the stuff in that movie (Nicodemus, Jenner, and the Guard-rat with the massive, crackling electro-halberd) could fit right into the Skaven book.

Actually, a Nicodemus Grey Seer conversion has been my dream project for a while. Only I dread the essential sculpting of long, fragile moustachios...

I love the Secret of NIMH so I would fully support this :)

FatTrucker
04-09-2013, 18:03
The tinkering with highly unstable fantastical machinery is very mid Victorian Steampunk. Skavenblight, slaves, poisonous environments, technological marvels, quasi religious leadership alongside more conventional military power all fit quite nicely with mid industrial revolutionary London....which of course was running alive with rats.

mjungledog
04-09-2013, 18:19
I always thought there might be a subtle (maybe even unconscious) Secret of Nimh inspiration in there.

Some of the stuff in that movie (Nicodemus, Jenner, and the Guard-rat with the massive, crackling electro-halberd) could fit right into the Skaven book.

Actually, a Nicodemus Grey Seer conversion has been my dream project for a while. Only I dread the essential sculpting of long, fragile moustachios...

This what I was exactly thinking when I read the OP.

shelfunit.
04-09-2013, 18:33
Around that time (mid/late 80's) the Redwall books were becoming fairly popular, and in the book of the same title the main villain was a bipedal rat called cluny the scourge and he had an army of rats (and other sinister) small animals. The original artist on the books was one Gary chalk, who also happened to illustrate a number of GW publications around that time.