Monday, April 16, 2012

Heavy Lies the Crown: Observing the Unfortunate Implications of the Warchief and His Expectations

When I made my post lamenting the decision to restore the mantle of Warchief to Thrall, I got some very interesting feedback; feedback which has been echoed across the multiple forums that host the debates that send people to this site.
Thrall is the only orcish leader who wasn't a despot, or one corrupted by power, because the orcs are a race that becomes corrupted easily if given to much of it. Thrall is the only one who can survive that because he thinks outside the normal orcish way of thinking...

Also, I vote for him as returning warchief. Vol'jin is NOT AN ORC. Saurfang is TO[sic] OLD TO LEAD. THERE ARE NO OTHER ORCS CAPABLE OF TAKING THE MANTLE.
Inevitably, most of the people who think that Thrall should return as Warchief claim that either there are no other suitable candidates, either because of oddball age and race restrictions, or because Thrall's just got that certain je ne sais quoi that lets him succeed where all others are doomed to failure. This is an extremely narrow minded viewpoint, and one that's constricting the narrative, preventing it from exploring it's potential. I've already talked about what this kind of mindset says about Thrall, but let's flip it around: let's take a look at what this viewpoint says about the Horde.

Whenever you're constructing a story, and you've got two major elements of your narrative interacting, you've got to look at the relationship from both sides to ensure that in your attempt to elevate one element in the interaction, the other element isn't denigrated in ways that you didn't intend. These problematic inferences occur on two levels, in universe, and out of universe.

In universe, these situations are destructive to future narratives, unless monitored and properly accounted for. A good example in WoW is Varian Wrynn's slavery at the hands of the Horde. What was intended to give proper motivation to Wrynn's hatred of the Horde also had the side effect of completely undermining the idea of the Horde as an entity that respects individual rights, and more directly made Thrall look like a tool whenever he raged about his own past enslavement.

Out of universe, it's not as dangerous to the story, but it's potentially hazardous to the author. These occur when the creator draws too heavily on stereotypes in their characterization, and then place those stereotypical characters in situations that run a little too close to comfort to modern hot button issues. Blizzard's one "pound of flesh" comment from their race of former slaves with huge noses and an insatiable avarice away from a visit from the Anti-Defamation League.

While this scenario has the potential for both, let's look closely at the in universe implications, because if they offend someone in real life, then it's a completely different problem, and one that I may or may not cover in a separate post at the time that it becomes and issue.

Let's look first at the comments that only Thrall can lead the Horde, and any other candidate would succumb to their baser impulses and threaten both the Horde and their neighbors with ruination, as Garrosh's regime has done. What does that say about the Horde, and orcs in particular, when the only orc that can lead the orcs successfully is the only orc that was raised by Humans? Are the orcs so inept at basic social conduct that even Adelas Blackmoore, generally considered one of the worst human beings to set foot on Azeroth, is a superior parent to every orc in existence? If Durotar and Draka had had their shot, would Go'el be just another bloodthirsty orc who wars with everything that comes within reach of his axe?

So far, there have been eight orcs that have claimed the title of Warchief to one degree of legitimacy or another, not counting the ancient warchiefs that predate the Draenei Genocide. Blackhand the Destroyer, Orgrim Doomhammer, Ner'zhul, Thrall, Garrosh, Kargath Bladefist, Rend Blackhand, and Mor'ghor.

Blackhand the Destroyer was the first Warchief of the Horde in the Warcraft era. He ruled the Horde from just before the opening of the Dark Portal, until his assassination at the hands of his subordinate, Orgrim Doomhammer. Some of the highlights of his command: The consumption of Mannoroth's blood, the use of fel magics to steal the youth from orcish children in order to grant the Horde more soldiers, the invasion of Azeroth, and the Corruption of Draenor. He consumed the blood of Mannoroth, and was, in general, not a great person.

Orgrim Doomhammer succeeded Blackhand, via assassination. He ruled the Horde from the Siege of Stormwind until the Battle of Blackrock Mountain at the end of the Second War, where he was defeated and captured by Turalyon. Some of the key points of his reign: Torture and murder in the sacking of Stormwind, the use of necromancy to create Orcish Death Knights such as Teron Gorefiend, the use of fel magic to corrupt the runestones of Quel'Thelas to warp his Ogres into Ogre-Magi, the Burning of the forests of Quel'Thelas, and depending on which source you consider cannon, the cowardly ambush of Anduin Lothar under the auspices of parley. It was under Orgrim's command that the Horde became so corrupt and decadent that Eittrig fled in shame. Orgrim did not partake in Mannoroth's Blood, so his decisions fall upon his own head. Thus far, Orcish Warchiefs are 0-2.

After the capture of Doomhammer, a large contingent of the Horde fled back to Draenor, where Ner'zhul assumed the mantle of Warchief. Leaving the atrocities the Horde committed under his command prior to the official formation of the Horde, and the atrocities he committed as the Lich King after his capture by Kil'jaeden, Ner'zhul's reign was not a peaceful one. Ner'zhul promptly turned to a visitor to Draenor for an alliance, Deathwing, the Mad Aspect of Earth. Under Ner'zhul's command, the Horde raided Azeroth once more. They destroyed Alliance outposts in Alterac, stole the Book of Medivh from the Stormwind Library. They raided Dalaran and murdered Sathera, a close friend of Archmage Antonidas, taking the Eye of Dalaran in an eerie forshadowing of the attack on Dalaran that Ner'zhul would command in his future capacity as the Lich King, which would take Antonidas' life. These items, along with the Jeweled Scepter of Sargeras, granted Ner'zhul great power. When the Alliance Expeditionary Force laid siege to Ner'zhul's bastion of power in Shadowmoon Valley, Ner'zhul panicked, and attempted to flee the world to escape his fate. The magnitude of power he unleashed tore Draenor apart, and cast him into the Twisting Nether, where he came into the cruel embrace of Kil'jaeden. Ner'zhul never drank Mannoroth's Blood, and puts orcish warchiefs at a dismal 0-3.

Following the shattering of Draenor, the Horde bifurcated into two entities, with two Warchiefs. On Draenor, Magtheridon rallied the remaining orcish clans to his banner, empowering Kargath Bladefist as the Warchief of the Horde of Draenor, commonly known as the Fel Horde. Kargath was an easily manipulated orc, far closer to Blackhand the Destroyer, than either of the two more independent rulers who directly preceded him. Kargath served Magtheridon, and warred constantly with the Sons of Lothar, who held the line at Honor Hold, in the very shadow of Hellfire Citadel. When the Illidari enslaved Magtheridon, Kargath's loyalties turned to the new ruler of Outlands, Illidan Stormrage. Kargath led the Fel Horde until the rebellion of the Ashtongue Deathsworn led to the downfall of Illidan, and without Illidari support, and with the forces of Honor Hold bolstered by reinforcements from the reopened Dark Portal, Kargath was eventually hunted down and slain within the Shattered Halls of Hellfire Citadel. Not only did Kargath drink Mannoroth's blood, but he also drank Magtheridon's blood, to the point where he turned red. Corruption ran deeper within Kargath than any other Warchief in the bloody history of the orcs. 0-4.

Meanwhile, back on Azeroth, the overwhelming majority of the orcs languished in internment camps. One Orc had a dream. A dream to reunite the disparate souls trapped under the lock and key of the Alliance. So he raided the internment camps, freeing those orcs that he could, and reached out to a downtrodden tribe of trolls to aid him in rebuilding a Horde where orcs could live free of the humans who defeated them so long ago. That orc's name was... Rend. Personally, I find Rend Blackhand to be one of the most damning, and compelling indictments of the orcs. Rend IS Thrall. A young orc was the son of a prominent clan leader who was assassinated by a fellow orc. His youth was stolen from him. Upon seeing and escaping the ruin of his race through sheer luck, he took it upon himself to free his brethren and to fight to create a place for the orcs in a world that was not their own. Personally, I'm very disappointed that Blizzard didn't take the time to explore the relation between Thrall and Rend. Rend escaped the final battle at Blackrock Mountain because his clan, the Black Tooth Grin, was tasked with reigning in Gul'dan's renegade Stormreaver Clan. After the Horde was routed, Rend and his brother, Maim, served as the rear guard for the Horde's flight back to Draenor. At the foot of the Dark Portal, the brothers fought against Turalyon himself, barely escaping with their lives as they fled into the wilderness. Thereafter, Rend declared himself Warchief of the True Horde, and freed the warriors of the Blackrock Clan and Dragonmaw Clan from the internment camps, leading them to an ancient city carved into Blackrock Spire. There, they became caught up the internal struggles of the denizens of Blackrock Mountain. The depths of the mountain was ruled by the Elemental Lord of Fire, Ragnaros, who dominated the Dark Iron Dwarves who inhabited the Shadowforge City, and sent them to purge the new alien presence within the mountain. These attacks quickly began to overwhelm the nacent Horde, and took the life of Maim. Rend's Horde was only saved from annihalation by a timely alliance with the rulers of the peak of Blackrock Mountain, Nefarian and the Black Dragonflight. Ironically, Nefarian's backing gave Rend a strong enough position that he could turn away envoys from Ner'zhul's Horde seeking the aid of the Dragonmaw who served Rend. This forced Ner'zhul to obtain his airpower from another source, an alliance with Nefarian's father, Deathwing. Rend conducted several incursions into Alliance territory, most notably in Redridge. Rend's reign finally came to an end at the hands of adventurers who slew Rend during their assault on the way to Nefarian's lair in the peak of Blackrock Mountain. He drank the blood of Mannoroth, much like the other mediocre warchiefs, and leaves the orcish warchiefs at 0-5.

Both Rend's Horde and Kargath's Horde had one common element, both included portions of the Dragonmaw Clan, which was split upon the collapse of the Dark Portal. One portion escaped to Draenor under the auspice of the Clan's chieftain, Zuluhed the Whacked. The remainder of the clan was trapped on Azeroth, and were led by Nekros Skullcrusher, Alextrasza's jailor. Zuluhed's portion of the clan pledged alliegence to the Fel Horde of Draenor, and Nekros' portion pledged themselves to Rend's Dark Horde. Both leaders were killed shortly before their Warchief's own deaths, and the Dragonmaw clan found itself split, isolated and alone. Zuluhed's second in command, Overlord Mor'Ghor, took advantage of the reopened portal, and traveled to Azeroth, where he seized control of the Azerothean Dragonmaw, and named himself Warchief of the Dragonmaw, and presumably the successor to Rend's Horde. Mor'ghor was by far the most impotent warchief that any orc ever had. When confronted by Garrosh Hellscream, he found himself deposed in a bloody manner in very short order. He drank the blood of both Mannoroth and Magtheridon. 0-6.

We can safely assume that Garrosh will do something even more atrocious than usual that will condemn him to be the 7th failed orcish warchief, nearly half of those failed leaders having been free of any corruption on the part of the blood of either Mannoroth or Magtheridon.

This leaves us with Thrall, the only somewhat functional leader the orcs have ever had. Like Garrosh, Orgrim, and Ner'zhul, he never partook in the blood of a Pit Lord. Like Garrosh, he was spared the horrors of the First and Second Wars. Like all the Warchiefs, he never suffered within the internment camps. Like Ner'zhul, Thrall is a powerful shaman. The only thing that separates Thrall from the multitude of failed despots that his race has produced is his upbringing among humans. What does that say about orcs? Is that really the message that Blizzard wants to send? The only time that the orcs weren't a terrible menace to everything around them is when they were kept human supervision, and barring that, the only time that they were ever within spitting distance of civility was when they were being reigned in by the most human orc in history. Great message to put out there, Blizz.

Putting Thrall back on the Throne just reinforces this ugly truth. The moment he takes a breath from the laborious job of holding back the orcish bloodlust, everything falls apart. So he must return to the throne, and resume his role as the warden who holds back the base nature that damns the orcish people. Garrosh might have asked Sylvanas what difference there was between her and the Lich King, but this plot begs the question: what difference is there between the orcs and the Scourge? The same mocking answer applies: isn't it obvious, they serve the Horde.

However, truth in fiction is malleable. The future is unwritten, and with skillful craftsmanship, anything is possible. If Blizzard wants to raise the orcs above their current depiction of the base savage, then all they need to do is find a way to write it in that fits with the narrative. Give the orcs a leader. Not someone like Thrall, who's a few broken tusks and a skin dye job away from being human, but a leader of the orcs, from the orcs, and for the orcs. Give them a leader who can coexist with their neighbors better than Thrall could, which honestly, looking at the constant skirmishing in Ashenvale dating back to prior to Thrall's formation of the Horde, shouldn't be too difficult to accomplish. It could be an older orc, to show that an orc can rise above their past. It could be a younger orc, one born in the aftermath of the Second War. An orc born just after the Battle of Blackrock Mountain would be in their mid twenties now, a young charismatic leader, perfect for deposing a despot like Garrosh. Che Guevara was 28 during the Cuban Revolution. Mustafa Ataturk was in his thirties during the Turkish War of independence. Give the Horde an icon like that, someone with that kind of charisma and magnetism, without all the baggage that Thrall has unfortunately accumulated. A young revolutionary who challenges the orcish mindset that has existed for decades, and wins. That's the leader that the orcs need. That's the leader that this story deserves. And no, that doesn't mean Med'an.

Blizzard spent two expansions building up Garrosh to take the mantle of Warchief. The overall leader of the Horde should be a well developed character. Someone that's been seen before. As many people have mentioned, there really isn't an orc that's had the degree of exposure that Garrosh got during BC and Wrath outside of Thrall and Saurfang. Thrall is a terrible choice, which leaves Saurfang, whom many write off as too old, and I tend to agree with them on that point. I do think that they could make a salvageable go at things with Saurfang in charge, I really like the idea of infusing some young blood into the orcs. With both the available candidates being sub-optimal, a question presents itself. Why does the Warchief have to be an orc?

Several reasons have been presented in arguments. The Warchief must be an orc because the warchief has always been an orc. Fat lot of good that's gotten the Horde thus far, eight Orcish leaders have managed to get the orcish population decimated, corrupted, and took them from holding nearly an entire world, to holding some deserts and blighted lands on an alien world. Some traditions aren't worth clutching to.

The Warchief must be an orc because the orcs are the core of the Horde. This one has a degree of merit. As long as the orcs are the majority in the Horde, both in terms of population and military power, then the other races are second class citizens, and their voice is of minimal importance. But as I said earlier, the future is unwritten and the status quo is not god. Just because the orcs are the core of the Horde now, does not mean they have to stay that way. There's going to be open war in Orgrimmar. Garrosh is going to die. The Warchief is going to die. Do you think the core constituency of the orcs will just roll over and let it happen? Do you think he won't have supporters who will fight with him, who will die with him? No. Like any civil war, casualties on both sides will bleed the whole. I expect the Kor'kron, the Warchief's elite bodyguards, to die to a man to protect their Warchief, to protect their honor. Think about that for a minute. The finest warriors the orcs have to offer, making their final stand. How many of the rebels will they kill before they fall? We're going to watch the core of orcish military strength eat itself alive. Once that's happened, can the orcs still make the claim that they're the heart of the Horde? If the tables have turned on the orcs, and they're but a shadow of their former selves within the Horde, then what's preventing the Trolls, Tauren, or even the Forsaken for making a push for the Throne?

It was the plan all along for Thrall to come back. This is probably the dumbest defense out there. Plans can change. Bad plans should change.

Ultimately, I've become more and more convinced that not only should Thrall neither return as the Warchief, but that the orcish leader who replaces Garrosh should not also succeed him as Warchief. Sylvanas, Vol'jin, and Baine are all more established than any of the current crop of orcs, and any of them could produce more compelling stories than we would get with Thrall back at the helm. However, it would be difficult to justify a cease fire between the factions with Sylvanas running the show, which really only leaves Vol'jin and Baine as viable candidates. Vol'jin is a pretty stable character, his leadership credentials are well established, and he's already established a degree of cooperation with the Alliance. While it would be more difficult to create internal storylines with Vol'jin in charge, it would do wonders to stabilize the situation and allow Blizzard to put the focus back on external threats. Baine is a much less proven leader, and as such, it opens up a lot of potential openings in terms of internal Horde storylines with regards to his struggle to find his leadership identity, and weather he can be firm enough to reign in the disparate factions that make up the Horde. He's also the easiest to shore up the relationship with the Alliance, as he already has a friendship with Anduin and Jaina, which might help take the edge off Jaina's purported bloodlust, and Anduin is the easiest route to soften Varian.

For the crazy, out of nowhere, no chance in hell candidate... Magatha Grimtotem. The Grimtotems had already allied with the Alliance in Stonetalon, and she has all the reason in the world to want Garrosh to go down. If she were to take advantage of a poor turn in the war to return to Thunder Bluff and finish her coup, she could then withdraw Tauren forces from the conflict, holding them in reserve as the orcs and trolls take the brunt of the punishment from the Alliance forces. Once the Battle of Orgrimmar concludes, Magatha seizes the throne and uses the Grimtotems recent assistance to the Alliance to leverage Varian to withdraw his forces and treat with her diplomatically rather than risk an occupation of a hostile populace. This can create far more internal storylines than any other option. Vol'jin will likely distrust Magatha, the new orcish leader might fall on either side, Sylvanas' approval will depend on entirely how much Magatha tries to leverage control over the Forsaken, and odds are Lor'themar will fall in line behind Sylvanas. On the Alliance side of things, Varian might trust Magatha, but Jaina and Anduin, who befriended Baine, will likely be suspicious of her. I think Magatha would build quite a compelling story upon Baine's corpse. But as I said, there's no chance in hell that Blizzard would pull the trigger on that.

As for the orcish leader, there are a number of character who have had about as much development as Garrosh got in BC. I've got a couple that I think might have potential. Warlord Zaela is one of the best candidates. She's a young orc with limited ties to the Horde. She's essentially an unknown quantity to the majority of the Horde. She developed nicely in Twilight Highlands, but unfortunately, she hasn't been seen in the MoP beta yet. A more likely candidate would be Nazgrim, who went from a lowly sergeant in Grizzly Hills, to a Legionnaire in Vas'jir, to a full fledged general in Mists of Pandaria. He seems level headed, and his combat experience would make a strong case for an Ataturk or Von Stauffenberg style revolutionary. A military leader who sees the route that an increasingly erratic leader is dragging the country in, and he takes it upon himself to try and overthrown the tyrant. Ultimately, I think that Zaela is the best choice to take over the orcs, but I think that given Nazgrim's implementation into Mists already, he'd be the easiest choice to implement that wouldn't be terrible.

Forcing the orcs to step back from their primacy is the best way to allow the orcs to evolve as characters, and it's also the best way to advance the Horde's narrative. Stories need to move forward, and the return of Thrall to the Horde would force stagnation onto the World of Warcraft's story.


  1. Another excellent article. Personally, I'd prefer to see Vol'jin take over as Warchief. It would open up new narrative possibilities for the Orcs as members of the remaining Orc political and military establishment would most certainly chafe under non-Orc leadership. Vol'jin also brings a sense of gravitas and the potential menace needed to keep Sylvanas in line within the Horde. Baine just doesn't seem to have this quality and would be overmatched by either Sylvanas' personality or the defiance of any recalcitrant Orcs.

    Under no circumstances should Thrall return as Warchief. It sets up far too many difficulties in narrative, game-play and game balance. Thrall would be the first significant Warcraft figure to return in-game from neutrality to his prior faction. It begs the question of why haven't other leaders returned from neutrality to their faction (Malfurion, Khadgar, Tirion, etc.). It would unbalance the leadership of two of the most significant neutral factions within the game - the Cenarion Circle and the Earthern Ring. Having Thrall remain as head of the Earthern Ring, giving that faction a decidedly Horde flavor would balance out the Cenarion Circle as one primarily associated with Alliance characters and lore (Malfurion, Night Elves, druids, etc.).

    Having Thrall return also throws off game-play by playing with the motivations and emotions of the Alliance player-base. How enjoyable is it for Alliance players to play through Cataclysm and then Mists to find their actions were merely to restore Thrall as Warchief? I would venture that the vast majority of the Alliance player-base would hardly see the Siege of Orgrimmar as any sort of "fist-pumping" moment to be proud of. This is probably the biggest narrative mistake Blizzard's story writers have ever done - seeing Thrall as a "world figure" within Cataclysm's narratve. He's always generally been seen as a "faction leader" first and they've compounded this error by having him return from neutrality and announcing it before the expansion is released. If he'd stayed neutral, they might have pulled this transition from faction leader to world figure off but now that the doubleback is known it makes Cataclysm an even more bitter pill to swallow for the Alliance player-base.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Excellent article, as usual :)

    I really like the idea of Nazgrim as a potential leader. He has survived his fair amount of battle, he will be in MoP, and no one expected that low sargeant in Grizzly hills to pull it off :)

    Also, a council ruling the Horde, instead of Thrall alone, would be great :)

  4. You should title this “The Thrall Series”, because all of your posts on the topic are exceptional. Unfortunately, I feel it’s all just a waste of digital breath; you’re not going to get dialogue with Metzen, the individual responsible for shoving Thrall down everyone’s throat, and he’s made the decision.

    One thing you don’t touch on in this post, which you maybe should, is that the “Siege of Orgrimmar” reinforces the point that orcs need humans (the Alliance) to sort out their problems for them.

    It’s a horrible way of telling a story, and completely devalues the Horde as an entity when it’s led by a human with green skin.

    Oh, before I forget; Nazgrel for the orcs and Vol’jin for the Horde.

    1. The Siege of Orgrimmar has a lot of problems and potential pitfalls, but if it's going to happen anyway, not involving the Alliance or having them play a secondary role is a much bigger mistake than having a subtext of the orcs needing the Alliance to fix their problems.

      Personally, I think the best way to handle it was alluded to in a previous post. Have Alliance players be part of a massive army storming the gates. Have Horde players be part of an Operation Valkyrie-like coup, trying to take down a mad leader before he leads his entire nation to ruin. Make it clear that both sides need the other to succeed to avoid marginalizing either faction.

      The way I'm imagining it is that the Alliance military is on the move, approaching Orgrimmar. The Horde conspirators hatch a desperate plan to depose Garrosh and save the city. They try to open a dialog with the Alliance, using more moderate figures like Tauren or Pandaren as proxies. Varian (and possibly Jaina, still pissed about Theramore) are not interested, but Anduin goes behind his father's back.

      I don't think the engine would support cooperative raids (nor would I think it would necessarily be a good idea), but have the final battle in the throne room involve both factions. Alliance raids have a fake Horde NPC raid represent the conspirators, and Horde raids have a fake Alliance NPC raid represent the attacking army. Don't award the kill to either side. Make it vague who gets the final blow.

      After that, make things chaotic. The Horde argues about who will become Warchief before making its final decision (as long as it's not Thrall). Have it be a process instead of having someone anointed. Make Varian intent on razing the city, and have to be talked down. Have Anduin be one of the major figures in that regard. He has much more potential to be a good "High King" of the Alliance than Varian, and having him stand up to his father would be a big step in that direction.

    2. As an addendum, in the scenario where the Horde conspirators try to open a dialog with the Alliance, get some forgotten players like the non-human Alliance races involved, too. The Worgen, Dwarves, and Night Elves would probably oppose any form of parley, but Velen is Velen and the Gnomes desperately need to have a non-comedy moment.

    3. Given fact that a lot of the people on the forums have been using my posts to illuminate the flaws in the story to the point where Zarhym's recently came out and admitted several of the problems that hypothesized over the past six months, that Cataclysm's story got cut off because they rushed it out for the deadline, that a lot of the story issues in Cataclysm derived from improper use of Thrall, that the decision to revamp the old world came at the cost of endgame content, that the revamp went largely unnoticed in terms of retention. These were all topics that I harped on explicitly, and that people have linked not only across blogs, and scrolls of lore, and MMO-Champion, but across blizzard's official sites as well. It's like trying to communicate edits via megaphone, but I know they've at least read and acknowledged my arguments and suggestions.

  5. Not sure Che is the best example there. Sure, he was a revolutionary, but hardly a role model of moral governance.

    I'd be happy with Baine or Vol'Jin in charge, preferably over Nazgrel. Nazgrel is OK, but it would be nice to see some other political flavors. Of course, Warcraft *is* "Orcs vs. Humans", so that's a hard sell. (And I'd be happy with a Dwarven Alliance leader punting Varian to the curb, but that's another story.)

    1. Warcraft has been Orcs vs. Humans. It can be whatever the writers have the talent to make compelling. They could make it gnomes vs goblins if they have the talent. By statically defining the story as X vs Y, the writers are resting on their laurels. When they took the initiative and moved away from the orc vs human motif, they got WCIII. When they slavishly adhered back to the doctrine of what warcraft "is" they got Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria.

      As for Che, I was emphasizing his charisma and his endurance as an icon and cultural rallying point, rather than his actual legacy as a despot.

    2. Isn't the legacy a big part of what we're talking about here, though?

      As to the 'authors can make the story what they want it to be' idea, well... yes and no. They do have to fight inertia and not fight audience expectations too much. That said, I agree that WCIII was a good move and that they have room to maneuver if they want to. I agree with you that they probably should.

      I know that for me, "more of the same, but slightly different" isn't going to hold my interest for long. I think we've seen that in how players drop out of the game fairly soon after an expansion hits and they have exhausted the new game content, and I think it does hold true for storytelling as well.

    3. I agree, a story has to move forwards, not backwards. It's one thing to pay homage to the story's origin, and it's another entirely to hold it in stasis. A story that never truly changes effectively stagnates and dies, and an MMO has a much shorter lifespan than a book or TV series, because it relies on players to consume the same content, over and over for an extended duration.

  6. They could make the Siege of Orgimmar the Horde analogue to the Trials of the High King. Leave the Alliance out of Orgrimmar entirely, please.

    1. While I'm agreeing that the Siege will probably turn out to be a bad idea, proposing it as an analogue of the Trials of the High King is not the best idea. Varian is not a particularly popular character, especially since he has warped the Alliance narrative in a similar fashion (though obviously not quite to the same degree) that Thrall warped the narrative as a whole.

      There have been complaints about Varian behavior being more akin to a stereotypical orc, and that the other Alliance races have been largely marginalized so more and more of the non-Horde's story focus can be directed to the Adventures of Varian Wrynn and the Humans. The Trials propose to address these complaints by having every Alliance character spend an extended questline accompanying Varian, culminating in the neglected Alliance races essentially becoming subservient to him. Apparently the proposed solution to the Alliance's narrative problems is to give them a Warchief so they can be more like the Horde.

      The Alliance need not be a democracy, but the very concept of a High King runs completely counter to the idea that the other races are humanity's allies (ie like-minded, but independent, entities who share the same goals) and not its vassals.

      Basically the Trials seem to be Blizzard's determined attempt to get Alliance players to like Varian, similar to how they tried to get Horde players to like Garrosh in Cataclysm before throwing him under the bus in Mists.

    2. I agree with this. I began WoW with a draeneï, and, well, I don't know how it was in US forum at that time, but on french, it was a lot of "Bouh, draeneï sucks, so much retcon, etc.." and ... somehow, Blizzard had hear these complaints, and they push the draeneï in a bubble, because they don't know HOW to use them. it was hard, for me, because the only reason which psuh me into WoW, was a rpg-magazine where they said that draeneï "are Archimonde's species".

      I'm a little confuse, but what I want to say is that, with the Trial of the High King, I have the impression that, well, Blizzard don't know how to use the Alliance, with her specificities, and turn her into an Horde Bis. I don't like it, but I understand why they do that : what remain of her uniques organizations ? Nothing, in fact, they turn neutral.

      When Varian was introduced in WotLK, I saw him as a back copy of the Horde. But, then come the Battle for Undercity, and i agree with him : Alliance can't let the Horde go freely as Jaina do, and I began to appreciate the character. But, in the same time, it's obvious that no faction must destroy the other. But, at least, in Cata, i'd believe that every race in the Alliance would be full of warmonger. But instead, we got Anduin Wrynn, a character that I hate more than anyone in the Warcraft universe. He is so... Mary Sue, i think; at least, out of place in Azeroth, as Velen, and a lot of the draeneï (and it's hurt me to say that, but it's the true : actual draeneï are uninteresting : a bunch ff hyppies who wait for the words of a messiah...).

      I can't see how Blizzard could go outside of this corner without enrage half of their fans : if the Alliance just go in Orgrimmar and help Thrall to regain his throne, it will kill the faction. In the other hand, if she destroy Orgrimmar has it should be (at least, Alliance would have ONE victory in this war against the Horde), the Horde's players will says that Blizzard murder their faction.

      I know that I could look at an Alliance fanboy who cry about territorial loses (with pencartes "We want Ashenvale back now !) but it's not the case. This article of Anne Stickney summarize perfectly my thought :

      I hope I din't make too much grammatical mistakes and that I have manages to make cross my vision of things... it's not this easy to write in another language !

    3. As someone who also started out as a Draenei, I mostly agree with this. I wouldn't go so far as to call Anduin a Mary Sue, though. All things considered, he's a pretty minor character at the moment. He certainly has the potential to be a Mary Sue, but he's also in a fairly unique position to be an interesting foil to his father.

      It's fairly obvious that Varian and Anduin have a close relationship, considering that they are the only members of their family who are left. But the Alliance intro to Twilight Highlands does show that since Anduin is the only family he has left, Varian is protective to the point of being overbearing (Anduin talks about how he's almost never allowed to leave the castle), and that there is some amount of resentment as a result. Throw in the fact that Varian is extremely militant while Anduin wants to resolve conflicts diplomatically, and you can have some conflict where Anduin feels like he has to constantly rein in his father and serve as his conscience in order to prevent anything bad resulting from Varian's recklessness.

      I'm actually fairly disappointed that Blizzard is going the Varian as High King route, beyond the fact that the concept of a High King runs counter to what an alliance is. Varian has shown time and again that he's not a good civil leader, even if the failings of his rule (ie the Defias) are not entirely his fault. He certainly could be a good military leader, but military leadership skills don't make the Deeprun Tram run on time.

  7. I haven't finished reading yet, but I have to clarify that the description you make of Doomhammer is very unfair.

    He didn't create the Death Knights, GUL'DAN did.
    He didn't ambush Lothar, the Warcraft II original lore is officialy NOT CANON (so it can't be considered a valid source).
    As for torture and that stuff.. it's expected in war.

    Doomhammer did the best he could with what he had. He couldn't finish the war by surrendering, so he moved foward, even if it meant allowing Gul'Dan to continue his dark experiments with Necromancy (a mistake he would later regret).

    Now I'll finish reading..

    1. Orgrim always had options. He explicitly chose to have the Death Knights created. Just because he wasn't the one who cast the spells doesn't make him any less responsible. And torturing the unfortunate civilians who couldn't escape the siege of Stormwind just to hear them scream isn't something that gets swept away by the "it's war" defense. Most of Doomhammer's war was nothing but idiotic decisions and unnecessary bloodshed. He could have killed Gul'dan and revealed the truth of the situation to his people and returned to Draenor. He could have stopped at destroying Stormwind and settled the Orcs there. He could have focused on one enemy at a time rather than idiotically attacking the human kingdoms and then getting a case of ADD and attacking the High Elves, thereby dragging them into the war.

      Orgrim gets painted as a hero because he helped mentor Thrall, but one of the pitfalls of the narrative that they're building from is that there are no Horde Characters from WCII that weren't complete monsters in that game. They retconned in the Blood of Mannoroth to give them an excuse to try and humanize the orcs, but explicitly not having Orgrim partake, they foist responsibility for his actions during the war directly upon his own shoulders. It's another example of how weak analysis prior to committing to an exchange in a story undermines the nature of the narrative. They wanted to make Orgrim look noble in rise of the horde so that it would match up with his characterization in Lord of the Clans, but it leaves him as having committed atrocities in the second war through his own choices, rather than coercion. Other orcs, like Saurfang and Grom committed atrocities because they weren't in control of themselves, Orgrim committed atrocities because he wanted to. He led his people to ruin through his own actions.

  8. Finished reading.

    Good analysis. I wasn't very open minded about a non-orcish Warchief, but you changed my mind.

    Unfortunately, Metzen seems too decided to shove Thrall down our throats again.

  9. A theory that doesn't quite fit with current storytelling, but hey, I like farout ideas;
    Do the Orcs need a singular leader?

    Would it be impossible for them to go back to the clan-based society they used to have? With each clan having its own Warchief?
    Had it been my call, I'd make it a major part of the story - with Garrosh dead, the Orcs are having trouble finding another singular leader to unite behind, and so are falling back to the clans of old - none of which have the power or influence to take the throne for themselves, leaving it open for Vol'jin.

    1. crap, semi-edit: Meant to write "With each clan having its own "Chieftain", not "Warchief".

      here's to hoping it doesn't cause too much confusion :)

  10. Not to mention that they decided to begin the Draenei genocide even before they'd drank the blood, so what excuse do the Orcs actually have?

  11. I've only just discovered this blog but everything I've read has been intelligent and insightful, an absolute pleasure to read. Thank you.

    I hope you continue to write these posts but even just reading them has worn me down with the futility of the whole thing.

  12. I'm not sure why everyone is so keen on Zaela as the next Warchief.

    I mean, OK, she had enough sense to tell the one dude not to attack the Twilights because they couldn't afford the distraction.

    But look at her reasoning. It was because they couldn't afford the distraction, not because it was wrong.

    Zaela has no problem using horrible artifacts of dubious origin to enslave sentient beings. She openly expresses Admiration for Garrosh. Her people are currently engaged very actively in attempting to wipe out the Wildhammer dwarves. They were one of the most bloodthirsty, horrifying clans of the 1st and 2nd wars and show no signs of remorse for this.

    I mean, Zaela would probably be a better candidate than Garrosh from a "slightly better head on her shoulders" POV, but if you're looking for someone with some moral fiber and/or the ability to peacefully co-exist with the Alliance, her record so far doesn't speak well to either of those qualifications.

    1. Er, that should read not to attack the Wildhammers, sorry.

  13. Again, english is not my native language. So sorry if there is mistakes.

    I totally agree that Thrall should not be the warchief again, even if he is my favorite character. The truth is that his time as a warchief is gone, and Thrall was THE warchief when the Horde was just orcs, taurens and trolls. Since Wow, he was losing power step by step. He fell in the trap of politic.

    By the way, I think the next warchief should be Rexxar. Many things are against him for the job, but I will try to explain why I think he would be a great warchief.

    First, he has the respect of the orcs, the tauren and the trolls. He even saved Bane and fought side-by-side with Cairne. Moreover, he already know the pandaren.

    Secondly, he can be trusted, and he would be respectfull with all the races. The forsaken may be a problem for him, but he would not insult them if it is Thrall who asked him to become the warchief.

    Third, he is not the leader of any of the races of the horde. so he has no interest to choose one more than another. I believe he can put aside his friendships to make the good decisions.

    The job would not really interest him, obviously, but it is why he would be good at it. To help understand my meaning, here is my version of how he become the warchief:

    -Garrosh, little by little, become hated by the races of the horde. However, the war goes on, and he lacks of warlord. He decides to call Rexxar, who accept with no pleasure to help. But when he come to the battlefield, he understand that this war is not of the same type the one he fought for the horde. This is not the kind of war he promises he would do for the Horde at the end of the campaign in W3:TFT. He left the battlefield soon after.

    -Garrosh, seeing this like a betrayal, send Korkron to kill him. They fail, and Rexxar become the ennemy of the horde.

    -The alliance is about to attack Orgrimmar to kill Garrosh. This one killed Saurcroc in a dual. Vol'jin wants to lead a commando in Orgrimmar to kill Garrosh and recall Thrall, but Baine and others people are against the idea that someone as important as Vol'jin take the risk. But someone strong is needed to lead. The discussion goes on forever. Meanwhile, Chen and the troll friend with Rexxar (I don't remember his name) find this one and asked him to come help the Horde. After many discussions, and with the help of the player, they manage to convince him.

    -Baine and the others accept that Voljin goes in Orgrimmar if Rexxar is with him. The commando leader is Voljin, helped by Chen, the other troll, Rexxar and the players. However, the commando is forced to open the door to the alliance to have a chance to take down Garrosh.

    1. -Garrosh is down, and the alliance leave the city because of a Anduin and Velen, who made a stratagem to avoid the destruction of Ogrimmar and lead to the perfect futur Velen saw.

      -Thrall is recall, but refuse, for many reasons. He does'nt want to fall again in the trap of politic.

      -A warchief must be chosen. Sylvanas, Voljin, Baine, Zaela are the main candidates. But an agreement can't be found. Someone proposes that the four rule together, but the proposition is rejected. Meanwhile, Rexxar is helping in the city. He is also send to negociate a cease-fire with the alliance, which accept for few days to take the time to have supply, and which want to strike again. Rexxar become little by little and once again a hero in heart of the soldiers of the horde, by his acts and by his charisma.

      -At least, his name is on every lips. It reachs the council which try to choose the new warchief. He is proposed as warchief. Baine and Voljin, which he saved both, have a blood debt, and agree. Sylvanas thinks she can manipulate him and that he will not see her people just like soldier, so she accepts too. Galliwyx follows the majority, Lor'themar too, because he doesn't want Sylvanas to be warchief, has many debts to the orcs, and see his vote like a good chance to have good relation with Sylvanas, who voted for Rexxar. Pandarens agreed too. Finally, Zaela agrees too, because Rexxar is half-orc and because he is a symbol of "Honor and strength".

      -Rexxar wants to refuse, but Baine shows him what the war mean for the earth. He accepts, with no joy.

      -The cease-fire with the alliance is extended, but the peace is not signed. Rexxar start as soon as possible to train someone who could be warchief as his place.

      I must admit there is some weak point in my story, but it would open many possibilities and make the horde moves on, and not backward.