Over the last few weeks I’ve been moving house, which has translated to minimal hobby and a somewhat erratic painting output. Normality is slowly returning, so the time is right to break out the typing machine.
The last time I properly sat down with the automated writing wotsit the rodent reveals and pre-orders were flowing fast from Mantic, and I was getting a bit concerned about how high the inevitable backlog pile would grow (it’s still growing). I’ve made no secret about how much I like the new releases. They are definitely a confirmation that Ratkin have now gnawed their way into their rightful (albeit dark, run down and icky) place in Pannithor. Getting a proper look at the range, both in images and up close and personal got me thinking about all the Games Workshop rats I’m gradually retiring (from Kings of War at least).
I think it’s fair to say that Skaven have cast a long shadow over Pannithor. GW was the only company (to the best of my knowledge) to offer a full range of warrior ratmen. I know I’m not alone in having started out as a Ratkin player in Kings of War because I had a bunch of square based rats lying around gathering dust. However, times have changed, progress has progressed and now Ratkin have more lore, a revised army list and their own swanky new miniature range. But the big question is – have Mantic banished the minions of The Horned Rat from Pannithor?
Watching Ratkin lore fill out in Halpi’s Rift has been interesting. Not least because, for me, the prospect of games returning heralds a return to battle reports. I now have a better understanding of how Ratkin integrate into the world around them. So, I need to work out what it will mean for those loveable rogues Old Mother Cinderpaw, Strayrat and Chief Warlock Sparkthrower. The Skaven character definitely influenced my portrayal of the leading lights of the clan. A rethink is required and I’m looking forward to working through what those changes will be.
The differences in lore between the races could not be more stark. Whilst from the off we knew Ratkin were slave beasts created by the Abyssal Dwarfs (as opposed to the children of a Chaos God, with their own creation myth that neatly smashes the Tower of Babel, and the Norse myth about Loki tricking a giant into building a wall around Asgard together) there wasn’t much wider context.
Theories did abound. I remember listening to a podcast where Ratkin were compared to Spartacus. It was a neat idea, and for me it kind of stuck. I liked the idea of an almost noble race planning the rescue of their kin from the nasty, angry short dudes. This was a concept that ended up shaping the Fyrefur Clan narrative and was a key motivation for my Mother Cyza proxy Old Mother Cinderpaw. However, Halpi’s Rift blew that idea away. Ratkin look down on their enslaved kin and their society embraces (maybe even magnifies) the brutality of the Abyssal Dwarfs. They are a classic case of the bullied turned bully.
There are many other differences between Ratkin and Skaven, and I’ve thought long and hard (2 beers and a generous whisky) about how best to sum it up. For me, the key difference is that Skaven are the crazy, insane super villain of the Warhammer World, terrifyingly ingenious (they built a machine that moved a moon!!), morally vacuous, paranoid, verging on insane and utterly selfish. Of course, Ratkin are no saints by comparison and many of the charges laid at the feet (claws?) of the Skaven, the Ratkin are equally guilty of. Morally vacuous, check, ingenious, check. But I don’t get the feeling they take these things to the Olympic levels (with a Doomwheel load of performance enhancing warpstone for good measure) that Skaven do.
Does this make Ratkin a bit, you know, well, boring? Maybe a bit more of a run of the mill evil race? Absolutely not. Halpi’s Rift introduces some really interesting questions about their relationship with the Abyss. Their slave rebellion was allegedly inspired by a Wicked One. The structure of their layers and the Warlocks’ experimentation all beg any number of questions about the full extent of their understanding, involvement with, and relationship to the Abyss. It’s early days lore wise for Ratkin, but some solid foundations have been laid.
As we have seen the miniature range roll out there have been some interesting commentary around their pragmatic approach to developing technology based on what they have seen in the halls of the Abyssal Dwarfs. The Death Engine is a great example of this, with its tank like exterior, powered by a dismembered night terror (because it’s easier than inventing an engine). This suggests a race that is trying to keep up in technological terms, however, I don’t think it’s as straight forward as this. Compare the results of their fleshcraft to that of the Abyssal Dwarfs, and a different picture emerges. Abyssal Dwarfs have the brutal, but fragile Grotesques (that essentially get a promotion if they haven’t fallen apart at the end of their first battle). Ratkin have managed to bodge together Mutant Rat Fiends and the Demonspawn with the incredibly awkward name, two of arguably the best titans in their respective classes. They might be C- students when it comes to engineering, but are definitely taking home easy A’s when it comes to Biology and Integrated Demonology.
Rules and Minis
I’m not going to get too much into this for now (or probably ever). Partly because I only have so much time to write, but also because I think the lore for the respective races really gets to the heart of the differences we see on the tabletop.
For both armies the basic warriors are not fantastic, and benefit from rules that use weight of numbers to sure up morale. The similarities largely end there. Skaven play to the evil genius trope bringing unstable weapons with special rules that either randomise damage and outcomes, or allow potential damage output to be ramped up, but the player runs the risk it will be applied to their own force. Ratkin have a more measured set of rules, that draw out the benefit Ratkin gain from being in large numbers through synergies and support pieces, favouring fleshcraft over machines.
In terms of miniatures, I think Mantic have done a great job bringing Ratkin to life. The World War 1 theme is undoubtedly an interesting choice. It’s not a go to for fantasy I would have gone to, but only the briefest reflection is required to see how they got there. On an aesthetic level it provides context for units like nightmares, tunnel runners and night terrors ported over from the Deadzone universe. But more importantly, for me, it underlines the brutality that the Ratkin were born from, and which permeates their continuing existence.
So, have they pulled it off?
In lore terms I think Mantic have done a great job in establishing Ratkin as a distinct faction in Pannithor. The changes in the army list from its original version to the present day give players a wide range of options and lots of flavour. I think its fair to say not everyone has enjoyed that particular journey, but I believe we’re now at a place where we know what Mantic rats are all about, and I’m a fan.
The miniature question is a slightly more nuanced one. Kings of War is a miniature agnostic game. Its part of the appeal for many people. That means we’re going to continue to see Skaven on the tables. Personally, I’m really happy about that because there are some fantastic miniatures that bring back a lot of great memories for me. However, for me, what Mantic have done on the miniature front provides a great alternative and I think new players looking to get into Ratkin who don’t have legacy armies will make Mantic their first port of call. The general view I have from my corner of the internet is the range has been very well received. Its reflective of the massive steps Mantic have taken with both their resin and plastic, and I can’t wait to get my first game in with them.