Friday, 1 July 2016

New B/X Class: Skaven Engineer

(I meant to write this ages ago but then the romantic fantasy series and the review got in the way, and while I was stalling James Young went and wrote his own Ratman class over on Ten Foot Polemic, so I thought, OK, now I have to do it...)

So I heard the other month that the Warhammer World had been blown up by Games Workshop. The last time I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle was somewhere around the turn of the millennium, so I'm not exactly in the loop about all the developments which have led up to this sorry state of affairs, but I still felt a twinge of regret when I heard about it. I liked the Warhammer World, especially in its 'Oldhammer' incarnations, when it was weird and grimy and still bore some tenuous resemblance to early modern Europe, at least in places. So, in honour of its passing, I offer this homage to some of the Warhammer World's most iconic residents (and, coincidentally, the army that I used to collect and play back in my WHFB days): a skaven class.

On the off-chance that anyone reading this blog doesn't already know, the skaven were the rat-men of the Warhammer world. They lived so far beneath the surface of the world that many people didn't even believe they existed, secretly quarrying out a worldwide network of tunnels that allowed them to infest every part of the globe. Wherever they went, they searched endlessly for a magical rock called 'warpstone': in humans, warpstone caused rapid mutation and painful death, but skaven had enough resistance to its effects to be able to use it as a power source. And use it they did: they were probably the single most high-tech faction in the whole of Warhammer, fielding warp-lightning generators, warpfire throwers, ratling guns, jezails firing depleted warpstone shells, mutant monsters created through deliberate warpstone exposure, artificial plagues, poison gas, and so on. But while they were technologically advanced, they were also, to put it bluntly, mad as shithouse rats; and, as a result, their battlefield exploits tended to be less a matter of crushing their enemies through the scientific application of superior force, and more about hundreds of insane ratmen charging around, gassing each other by mistake, blowing themselves up with misfiring weaponry, veering from crazy overconfidence to desperate cowardice after noticing that there were suddenly a whole lot less of them around than there were a few minutes ago, panicking, running away, and accidentally mutating into blobs of protoplasm after scarfing down too much warpstone in the hope of a quick power-up. I never won very many battles with them, but I always found them a blast to play.

This class write-up is intended to be dropped into ongoing games with a minimum of fuss, so I've written it to be very self-sufficient, without any assumption that there are going to be other skaven around: basically, you're a ratman who's somehow reached the surface world, but the rest of your civilisation is so far underground that no-one else will even believe it's there, and you probably couldn't find your way back to it if you tried. It's not 100% faithful to Warhammer lore (or at any rate to the 1990s version of Warhammer lore which is the only kind I'm familiar with), in that it heavily emphasises the 'mad science' side of the Skaven over all the other weird stuff they get up to (plague worship, black magic, demon summoning, ninjitsu, etc), but it should do for D&D purposes.

B/X Class: Skaven Engineer

To-Hit, Weapons and Armour, Saves: All as per Thief. You are also proficient with any weapons you make yourself. 

Hit Dice: As per Cleric. 

Experience Per Level: As per Dwarf.

Rat Senses: Your ears, nose, and whiskers are all amazingly sensitive, and also you can see into the ultraviolet spectrum. If something could be smelled, you will smell it. If something could be heard, you will hear it. You can't technically see in the dark, but your other senses are so sharp that you can operate in darkness without any penalties.

Warpstone Tolerance: You are able to endure the proximity of a number of lumps of warpstone equal to your level +1. (If your Constitution is 13 or higher, add 1 to this number; if your Constitution is 16 or higher, add 2, instead.) For each lump of warpstone you carry around with you above this limit, you suffer burns, weeping sores, and persistent sickness, lowering your maximum HP by 1 per lump until you get rid off the excess. If you carry excess warpstone for a full week, you have a 5% chance per excess lump of starting to mutate: this mutation has a 20% chance of being beneficial, a 30% chance of being harmful, and a 50% chance of just being weird and freakish. Any non-skaven who carry warpstone around with them are treated as having warpstone tolerance 0, and suffer double the negative effects (i.e. loss of 2 maximum HP and 10% weekly mutation chance per lump). For fairly obvious reasons, non-skaven tend to avoid warpstone like the plague.

Sniff Out The Stone: You have a natural talent for sniffing out warpstone deposits. At any time, you may spend 1 hour sniffing around and make a Wisdom check; if you succeed, you sniff out a nearby lump of warpstone, accessible after just 2d6 hours of digging. (Of course, if you're in a settled area, the local inhabitants might not be too keen about you digging up their floor to retrieve the magic plague-rocks buried underneath!) If exact timekeeping isn't an issue, just assume that you are able to dig out one lump of warpstone for each full day you spend prospecting.

Desperate Measures: If you're really desperate, you can swallow lumps of raw warpstone, which is kind of like attempting to metabolise a noxious mixture of amphetamines and rocket fuel. Make a save vs. poison. If you succeed, you take 1d3 damage but also gain +2 to your melee to-hit and damage rolls for the next 1d20 minutes. If you fail, you take 1d6 damage and are incapacitated by uncontrollable vomiting for the next 1d6 rounds. Whether you succeed or fail, you have a 5% chance per lump swallowed of developing a new mutation over the next 1d6 days. Any non-skaven stupid enough to swallow warpstone gets double the penalties and none of the advantages.

Secrets of the Skaven: At level 2, and each level thereafter, your ongoing experimentation with warpstone allows you to learn one of the following techniques. Pick one each time you level up. Note that making many of the technological items described below requires access to a workshop and forge.

Depleted Warpstone Shells (requires Warplock Jezail): By subjecting a lump of warpstone to an alchemical process, and mixing the resulting 'depleted warpstone' with lead, you may cast a set of six shells, suitable for use as ammunition in a Warplock Jezail (or other guns that you may have access to). These shells count as +2 weapons. Carrying these shells around with you counts as one warpstone lump for the purposes of warpstone tolerance.

Doomwheel (Requires Rodents of Unusual Size): You can build a 'doomwheel': basically a giant spiky hamster wheel 4' wide and 8' across, powered by a bunch of giant rats running along inside it. And then you can build a seat on top of it and ride around on it while cackling madly, because you're obviously totally fucking nuts. Building a doomwheel takes a week and requires at least six giant rats to power it; it moves at the same pace as a human, but once it gets going its momentum is enormous, allowing it to smash through fences, wooden huts, infantry lines, etc: anyone it crashes into must make a save vs. breath weapons to get out of the way, or take 2d6 damage from being run over. You can also strap up to three trigger-operated missile weapons onto it, one on each side and one on the front, all of which you can operate without leaving your chair - although if you want actually aim them, you can still only fire one of them each round. The doomwheel has 24 HP and AC equivalent to chainmail, and is immune to piercing attacks.


Poison Wind Globes: You can grind warpstone up into very fine airborne powder, which you then seal inside a thick glass globe. Each poison wind globe requires one lump of warpstone and one day to make, as well as access to glassblowing equipment. When thrown they smash open to release a 5' radius cloud of noxious poison gas: everyone caught within the affected area must save vs. poison or take 2d6 damage. The gas persists for 1d6 rounds, moving with the prevailing wind (if any), before evaporating; multiple overlapping clouds do not require additional saves, but do increase the damage by 1d6 per additional cloud. Carrying these around with you counts as one warpstone lump per globe for the purposes of warpstone tolerance. Whenever you suffer a heavy impact while carrying them (e.g. taking falling damage, being whacked with a big club, etc), you must save vs. death or have 1d3 globes shattered by the impact, creating a poison gas cloud centred directly on you.

Ratling Gun (requires Warplock Jezail): You can combine a whole bunch of warplock jezails into a single, hand-cranked, multi-barrelled Ratling Gun, allowing you to fire once per round (until each barrel has been fired once, at which point you need to reload them all, which takes three rounds per barrel). A Ratling Gun can have up to six barrels, but carrying it around counts as one warpstone lump per barrel for the purposes of warpstone tolerance.

Rodents of Unusual Size: By breaking a lump of warpstone into splinters and strategically jamming them into a rat like acupuncture needles, you can force it to undergo a spectacular course of mutation-fuelled growth. Over the next 2d6 days, it grows into a 1 HD giant mutant rat; on some primitive level it recognises you as its master, and will obey simple commands as long as you keep it fed. The maximum number of such rats that you can command at once is equal to your level.

Screaming Bell: Given access to a forge, you can create a bronze-and-warpstone alloy bell which, when struck, generates an ear-splitting wave of sound capable of shattering objects and making people's eardrums burst in bloody ruin. A peal of sound directed at an object within 10' causes it to shatter, although if someone's currently holding it they get a save vs. spell to resist; a peal directed at a person's head inflicts 1d8 sonic damage (save vs. spells for half), instead. Either way, you take 1d4 damage each time you ring the bell, as blood pours from your ears and eyes in a thoroughly unpleasant way. Making a screaming bell requires three lumps of warpstone, and counts as the same number for the purposes of warpstone tolerance.

Skalm: By mixing warpstone dust with pitch you can create a horrible tarry sludge which, when heated up and poured onto an open wound, half-melts and half-glues it back together, leaving horrible black scars. Making one pot of skalm takes one day and uses up one lump of warpstone, and carrying it around counts as one warpstone lump for the purposes of warpstone tolerance. Applying it takes two rounds (one to heat it and one to pour it), heals 1d8 damage, and is horribly painful for the patient.

Warpfire Thrower: You have learned how to mix warpstone dust into a horrible radioactive sludge which, when combined with oil and tar, turns into a napalm-like substance that burns with a ghastly green flame. Given one day in a workshop you can construct a crude flamethrower to launch this stuff at your enemies, each flask of which allows you to spray an area in front of you 15' long and 5' wide. Anyone caught in the burning spray (or simply splashed with the unlit fluid and then set on fire) takes 2d6 fire damage, save vs. breath weapons for half; while someone who somehow managed to get an entire flask of the stuff poured all over them would take 4d6 damage when ignited (no save, but this is not likely to be practical in combat conditions). Making each flask takes two hours and one lump of warpstone, and carrying it around counts as one warpstone lump per flask for the purposes of warpstone tolerance.

Warp-Lightning Projector: Given a week's tinkering time in a workshop, you can construct a crude lightning generator, which uses rats running on treadmills to build up an electric charge and then channels it through a warpstone prism to turn it into a crackling wave of green electrical death. Building up a charge takes ten minutes, so this is not a weapon you can use every round, but when fired it zaps everything in a 30' line in front of you. The damage it inflicts varies based on how much warpstone you use to make it: one lump grants 1d6, three lumps grants 2d6, six lumps grants 3d6, and ten lumps grants 4d6. (A save vs. spells is permitted for half damage.) Carrying one of these weapons around counts as a number of warpstone lumps equal to the number used to make it for the purposes of warpstone tolerance.

Warplock Jezail: Given access to a workshop, you can make a gun which uses a carefully-cut lump of warpstone in place of a flint in the ignition mechanism, creating a flash of warpflame when the gun is fired. The resulting weapon deals 1d12 damage, but takes three rounds to reload. Carrying it around counts as one warpstone lump for the purposes of warpstone tolerance.

Warpstone Snuff: You have learned a technique for 'cutting' warpstone dust with other chemicals to create warpstone snuff, inhaling which is rather safer than just swallowing lumps of warpstone raw. Grinding a lump of warpstone into a dose of warpstone snuff takes one hour; snorting it has the same effect as eating warpstone, but grants a +4 bonus on your save and has no chance of causing mutations. Carrying a dose of warpstone snuff counts as one warpstone lump for the purposes of warpstone tolerance.

Warpstone Studs: You can break a lump of warpstone down into fragments, carve each of them into pointy little talismans, and then hammer them into your own flesh in order to hyper-stimulate your nervous system through controlled warpstone exposure. Each set of warpstone studs boosts either your strength or dexterity by 1, to a maximum of 18, and counts as one warpstone lump for the purposes of warpstone tolerance.

Weeping Blades: Given access to a forge, you can melt down a mixture of metal and warpstone into an alloy which you then forge into a bladed weapon. The resulting weapon constantly 'weeps' a corrosive red venom, increasing the damage it inflicts. The damage bonus granted depends on the number of lumps of warpstone melted down in making it: one lump grants +1, three lumps grants +2, six lumps grants +3, and ten lumps grants +4. Carrying one of these weapons around counts as a number of warpstone lumps equal to the number used to make it for the purposes of warpstone tolerance. 


  1. Awesome stuff, man!
    I haven't ever considered a sort of limited item crafter class, and having the number of items limited by your tolerance to its radiation is a great way to keep the number of items crafted under control.

    1. Glad you liked it! Balancing crafters is always tough, so whenever I see a vaguely-plausible in-game excuse for them only being able to have a certain number of items at once, I tend to go for it...