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The Skaven are an evil, sentient race of rat-like creatures in Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy setting. They live in a series of tunnels beneath the rest of the world, plotting for the day when they will rise up and take over the rest of the world that dwells on the surface. Humans remain mostly ignorant of the Skaven, which the ratmen take great effort to ensure continues. Those who do know of their existence tend to classify thems as merely a sub-breed of Beastman rather than as a unique race. The humans most knowledgeable about the Skaven are the "Sewerjacks", city watchmen whose job it is to patrol the sewers of Empire cities to fight criminals. As a result, they encounter Skaven often.
It is generally accepted as fact that if the Skaven were to unite as one against the world they would quickly overwhelm everyone, so great are their numbers. However, Skaven are mistrusting and paranoid by nature, which extends to their own kind as well. They constantly backstab one another for the sake of their own advancement, and care nothing for the lives of their fellows (unless they need them to overcome a scarier threat). Their society is divided into hundreds of Clans. The majority of these are Warlord Clans, standard Skaven with no unique qualities. However, not all Warlord Clans are mundane, and there are some oddities, ranging from Clan Mors, with the largest population of any Clan, to Clan Rictus, with the largest concentration of Stormvermin (elite Skaven). There are also four Greater Clans who have reached an unparalleled place in Skaven society above the rest.
Clan Pestilens is based in the southern part of the world, and has been the cause for both of the two Skaven Civil Wars. They were considered lost in the South, but when they resurfaced, they were changed. They had become completely devoted to the Skaven god, the Horned Rat , in his aspect as the Bringer of Disease. They are immune to most diseases and use the very plagues they worship as deadly biological weapons against the other races.
Clan Eshin was also considered lost for a long time, having travelling to the far East to the lands of Nippon and Cathay. When they returned, they had changed as well. They were now stealthy assassins, skilled in the art of the silent kill. They are feared throughout the Skaven Kingdoms as the long arm of the law. Their prices are exorbitant, but their results are unmatched. They played a large role during the Storm of Chaos .
Currently, the most powerful Clan is Clan Skryre. These Skaven have devoted themselves to the study of magic and blending it with insane science and engineering. Thus far, their engineers have created many deadly machinations ranging from the Ratling Gun (a warpstone-based gatling gun) to the fearsome Warplightning Cannon.
One of the most famous Skaven is Grey Seer Thanquol, a character in the Gotrek and Felix novels.
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