The Warlord Clans form the vast bulk of Skaven society.
At its peak a single Warlord clan could number in the hundreds of thousands and be spread across a score of different lairs and strongholds. There is no knowing how many different clans there are scattered throughout the Under-Empire, though there are certainly many hundreds, if not thousands. The larger, more powerful Warlord clans actively seek out and destroy smaller clans, absorbing their numbers as warriors or slaves, or simply gorging upon them as the unbearable rage of the black hunger takes hold. Large or strong clans (often the same thing) are less likely to be attacked by rivals and are more able to exert their will over lesser clans. The most successful Warlords effectively rule all of the surrounding clans, exacting tolls and demanding heavy tributes from them, becoming increasingly wealthy as a result. However, clans that grow too large and fractious can, if the Warlord is not aggressive enough, split into rivaling factions.[1a]
There are no equals in Warlord clans, only underlings and superiors. It is a rat-eat-rat existence where the weak are slain (and often devoured) by the strong. Considering their comparatively short-lifespan, if any Skaven is to gain rank and status he must do so as quickly as possible. The Skaven are obsessed with short-term gain and they will construct an increasingly elaborate web of false promises, imaginary wealth and dubious bargains if there is even the slightest chance that it might work out. One of the quickest ways to gain power in the Under-Empire is to secure an alliance with a more powerful faction. The price of such a pact is invariably extortionate, but for a budding Warlord the opportunity for power is simply irresistible, especially if the ally in question can be double-crossed and disposed of at a later stage.[1a]
It is rare indeed for a Skaven army to be composed of warriors exclusively from just one clan. When the time arises to attack a foe, be it an army of surface dwellers (where the greatest bounties of plunder can be found) or a rival clan, a Warlord will gather warriors and weaponry from any available source. Skaven from surrounding clans will flock to a Warlord's banner, either for a share in the spoils of war or in the vain hopes of securing an alliance of their own. Weaker clans will be coerced and threatened into sending troops (who will inevitably form the first wave of an attack) whilst stronger clans will grow fat on the profits required to purchase their aid. Skaven logic in these matters is simple; power and wealth buys (and bribes) better warriors, weapons and war-beasts, which in turn assures a higher chance of victory and a greater prospect of increasing power and wealth, and so on. One of the most prestigious and destructive sources of arms are the Great Clans, whose skills and weaponry are in much demand. It is for this very reason that the Great Clans have become so rich and powerful.[1a]
To a non-Skaven, all the hordes of the Warlord clans may look the same. However, to a keen observer, or the ratmen themselves, there are distinctive differences. Clan markings and symbols, freely interspersed with the rune, icon or visage of the Horned Rat, are often painted, scratched, daybed or smeared atop shields, banners, and pennants. Some clans are known to wear rags, clothing or armour of a specific colour, whilst others dye their fur with distinctive bindings or patterns, marking out the members of different clawpacks. Other clans brand Skaven runes or clan icons onto their skin so that their foes know who they are facing. Some Skaven are even mutilated, typically with scars and notches in ears to mark allegiance or ownership. Thus when a Skaven army musters for war, a great many banners and markings are present. However, these visual differences blur amidst the ravenous hordes, and even the ratmen tend to rely upon their own keep sense of smell to find their clanmates.[1a]