Warhammer: Vermintide

By Reason of Hunger: Conjectures as to the Skaven Worldview

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"To understand the weltanschauung, or worldview, of any race is to be given fundamental insight into the dynamics of their society."

–Emil Darkheim, "The Exigencies of the Soul", or "Towards a New Understanding of Human Society", University Press, 2100 IC, page 113

War as an Expression of Skaven Fecundity

It would not be overstating the case to say that hunger, and with it the ever-present threat of famine, are the two most important realities of the Skaven world, the two immutable constants on which, ultimately, their entire society is built. Given that the high birthrate among the Ratmen has already been established, as has the fact that a single Skaven female can produce as many as a hundred offspring in a year, the reader will see at once that any society gifted with so prodigious a fecundity must always live in fear of the effects of rampant overpopulation, and all the problems that it brings.

Even granting that the constant warfare, competition and strife among the Ratmen all but guarantees that few will live to the full extent of their years, it can be seen that population growth among the Skaven does not follow the same arithmetic and demographic models usually applied to the growth of human populations. Rather, the growth of population among the Ratmen follows what might be termed an explosive model.

Based on their high birthrate and the usual scholarly estimates of the ratio of the numbers of rats to each human being, it may be supposed that the Skaven population may well outnumber that of mankind by thirty-to-one or more. Further, given favourable conditions, the size of that population may grow exponentially, putting ever-greater stresses on the resources of the Skaven world–stresses likely to lead inexorably to famine.

Eventually, a crisis point is reached, whereby the Ratmen have no choice other than to expand their resources by right of war, or face the threat of a lingering death by starvation. It is in such times that they emerge to war upon the surface world in vast, hungry hordes, attacking until they have either seized the resources they need, or else suffered so many losses that the population pressures, which compelled their assault, are relieved. Thus it can be seen that, at its root, war for the Ratmen is not only a matter of cultural antagonisms or territorial imperatives, rather it is simply the ultimate expression of Skaven fecundity–that the Ratmen must go to war in order to control their population.

Given that same fecundity, it can be seen that conflict between the Skaven and Man is inevitable until either one or another of our races is destroyed. For just as their can be no trusting the good intentions of a wolf, so there can be no peace with a hungry rat.

A Society of Hunger

The influence of birthrate and metabolism coupled with the corresponding threat of overpopulation and famine would seem to go no small way in accounting for the constant conflict which, as we shall see later, characterizes the interaction between all levels of Skaven society. Living as they do in the shadow of the ever-present threat of starvation, is it surprising that the Ratmen are constantly at each other's throats?

Theirs is a society of hunger–a world red in tooth and claw, in which each individual must be ever ready to look to his own survival, and in which every living thing is automatically judged by its potential as either food or threat. Theirs is a world without pity, mercy of compassion, where only strength and cunning are respected, a world in which there is only one law, one maxim, which holds sway: the law that says kill-or-be-killed, eat-or-be-eaten. The law of the survival of the fittest. The law of the wilderness.

And above all else, the law of the rat.

IV. An Empire Below: The Lairs of the Ratmen

It has been said already that the Ratmen as a species are superbly adapted to life underground. What may not be quite so clear yet to the reader, however, is the precise nature of the Ratmen's natural "habitat". For rather than the rough-cut dens and pre-existing caves that we might expect, were we to believe those who claim the Ratmen are but a dismal race of primitives, instead the Skaven domain takes the form of a vast and labyrinthine network of tunnels, warrens, burrows, and even underground cities. An "under-empire", if you will, resembling nothing so much as an unholy mirror image of our own beloved Empire. And, as distasteful as it might seem to use such a term in connection with the Ratmen, empire is indeed the only word for it.

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As evidenced by the fact that reports of the Ratmen come from places as far afield as the Southlands, Araby, Lustria, even legendary Cathay, the kingdoms of the Ratmen stretch to every corner of the known world. Theirs is a world spanning empire, larger indeed in terms of territory than that of any other race. The dark tentacles of that empire extend from beneath our great cities to the main strongholds of Estalia and Bretonnia, from the onion-domed spires of Kislev to the kasbahs and caliphates of Araby, even from beneath the doughty Holds of the Dwarfs to the sombre necropolises of the Land of the Dead. Put simply, both in the lands known to us already and whatever unknown lands which one-day we may discover, the Ratmen are everywhere.

Granted, some may wish to dispute these claims, refusing to believe that the lands of the Ratmen could in fact be greater in scope than those of Man. Others, perhaps including some who have encountered the Ratmen on the surface in the past, and noticed their tendency to use even the most structurally unsound of buildings as shelters, rather than create their own surface dwellings, may reject my claims on the grounds that the Skaven lack the technological sophistication to construct such an empire.

To adopt either position, however, is to demonstrate a refusal to see the facts as they are. As said previously, the Ratmen are a subterranean race whose true territories are hidden from our sight–a race that would no more think of erecting permanent structures on the surface of the world that mankind would of taking steps on either of our moons. Further, to attempt to dispute the size of the Skaven empire is to have failed to grasp its even more terrifying implications. For by virtue of his own civilisation, Man is not content to merely build his own works on the surface. Rather, some of his works in the shape of sewers, cellars, mines and the like are built underground. And, by intruding into the world of the Ratmen, we give these foul creatures easy access into our own.

Hence, using our own network of cellars against us, the Ratmen are allowed to come and go in our world as they please. Who is to say that cloaked figure you may see walking along the streets or passing by your window at night is not a Ratman? Worse, even as you read these words, who is to say that the Ratmen do not lurk but a few feet away from you, hidden in the shadows and darkness of their world underground, biding their time to strike? From the palaces of our kings to the most rude and ramshackle hovels, nowhere in the human world is safe from the menace of the Ratmen.

How many apparently motiveless atrocities in the past may have come to pass because human beings, in their unthinking hubris, strayed to close to one of the entrances to the Skaven domains? Truly, as said before, the Ratmen are everywhere. And, if we would make war on them and defeat them once and for all, it is not enough that we would fight the Ratmen only when they emerge onto the surface. Rather, we must make unstinting war upon them and cast down their works forever.

It is with this in mind that I call upon all the scholars of the world, not least those experts in the disciplines of cartography and geology, to join together with the aim of mapping the true geography of the Skaven realms. An important first step would be to correlate all existing records of Skaven attacks, with a view to establishing some preliminary idea of the real boundaries of their world. Next, in the company of armed men, expeditions should be mounted into the Under-Empire itself for scouting purposes.

It will be no easy task. Not least because to attempt such a task at all would require the coordinated efforts of scholars from many different nations and races. Moreover, it is a task with little hope of success, unless backed with sufficient will by all the governments of those same nations and races. And so it must be. Given the enormous nature of the Skaven threat, none of us can stand alone against it. We must put aside our differences and combine our efforts, combine them in the name of brotherhood and common purpose. In the name of victory.

And, if nothing else, in the name of our continued survival.

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