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Parodied on South Park, mentioned by name on How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory, thinly disguised on The Guild, played by over twelve million subscribers, the franchise started in 1994 as a single player strategy game about a war between orcs and humans leveraged a combination of a well-developed fantasy world, a design approach of taking good ideas and tweaking them, and fortuitous timing into the most successful on-line game ever made. It wasn't the first game of its kind (it's not even considered the best), but it appeals to a wide audience.
(I have to interject here that's been much more difficult to write this page: not only does WoW have a truckload of lore – not easy to boil down to the bare essentials – but online roleplaying games have layers of sociological and meta aspects that other media just don't have. ~ Also note that in order to generalize and summarize so that the character and story sections are comprehensible to anyone reading this page who isn't familiar with WoW, I'll probably introduce some of my own subjective shading and glossing over no matter how hard I try not to.)
The world is Azeroth, created millennia ago by the Titans, who also set up five Dragonflights to act as protectors/patron saints of various aspects of the world. In the "current" world two long-warring factions – the Horde and the Alliance – also fight two invading evils: the demons of the Burning Legion, and the undead of the Scourge (mindless zombies as well as not-so mindless.). As if this isn't sufficiently complex, a number of Lovecraftian Old Gods subtly seed chaos and madness here and there.
The Alliance is informally "led" by the King of Stormwind, who represents the humans. Other alliance races are the dwarves, the gnomes, the "night elves," the draenei (essentially an alien race: see Jadaar below), and the worgen (lycanthropes).
The Horde is a looser confederation of races – nominally led by the orc Warchief – which includes the Darkspear trolls, the bovinoid Tauren, "blood" elves (former high elves of the Alliance who suffered a racial addiction/withdrawal when the source of their magic was polluted), goblins, and the Forsaken, a faction of independent undead who broke free of the Scourge.
The Burning Legion, in simplest terms, is primarily a vast army of demons (currently led by the demon lord Kil'jaeden at the behest of a corrupted Titan) who swarm between dimensions looking for worlds to overrun and destroy. The Legion has had a number of complex interactions with Draenor, the orc homeworld, as well as with Azeroth.
The Scourge was initially created by the Legion during their invasion of Azeroth; this "disposable" self-replenishing undead army – led by the incorporeal Lich King Ner'zhul, who from the Frozen Throne (a magical prison in the far north continent of Northrend) commanded elite "death knights" and zombie-like rank and file minions – was meant to take out the majority of the forces resisting the Legion invasion. As it turned out, while the Legion was distracted by fighting Alliance and Horde forces on multiple fronts Ner'zhul began to subtly slip the Legion's leash, mostly by manipulating Arthas Menethil, the Prince of Lordaeron – who had an obsession with defeating the Scourge – into taking up a cursed runesword. After a long series of events Arthas lost his soul and became one of Ner'zhul's death knights. He led Scourge forces in the destruction of Silvermoon City, the high elf capital – and even worse, corrupted the Sunwell, the holy source of the high elves' magical energy. Most of the survivors became "blood elves" because of this, and either suffered horribly from magical withdrawal or were driven to "corrupt" forms of magical energy.
Why WoW is fun to play—and difficult to write for
World of Warcraft is the first MMORPG I ever played, and I have to admit that the game play – making a character that interacts with others and learns about "the world" primarily through interaction with that world, its static characters (usually referred to as NPCs, non-player characters), and other people's avatars – is satisfying on several levels. Not the least of which, for me, is the ability to actually fight evil and see tangible progress – neither of which one gets to do very much in the real world … but that's a meta-discussion again. (See, I told you I'd veer!)
Writing for a game can be an interesting challenge. First there's the task of tackling the content – a massive amount of sometimes contradictory or retconned lore contained not only in the games but also in novels and manga – and sifting out what bits to use. Then there's the decision on whether or not to reference "game mechanics" – the actual spells and attacks of the various classes. On one hand, both of these rest on the assumption that floats much of fanfiction, that you can save yourself big chunks of exposition if you know your readers are familiar with the world you're woven your story in, with how canon characters look or how major canon events went down ... but the disadvantage of using these shorthand / shortcuts is that not all readers (not even all of those who play WoW) might understand offhand references.
So, the challenge is to see if you can craft an entertaining story in between the extremes. Too little explanation and you'll lose some readers to confusion; too much and you'll lose others to impatience and boredom.
Characters I write for
Although I've written a bit of femslash and het based on prompts, most of my works are about non-canon male couples – character pairs whose relationship is open to interpretation. I find them intriguing, but none are really what I'd call an OTP.
A bit of extra backstory (continued from above): The Lich King Ner'zhul and Death Knight Arthas – still nominally serving the Legion by commanding the Scourge - had problems. The Legion, who no longer trusted Ner'zhul, sent forces to Northrend to dispose of him, while Arthas came under attack by Sylvanas Windrunner (an elf who Arthas had tortured, killed, and then raised into undeath). Arthas rushed to Northrend to protect Ner'zhul, but during the battle Sylvanas and many undead in Lordaeron broke free of the Lich King's control and became the Forsaken.
Arthas ultimately defeated the forces in Northrend, destroyed the Frozen Throne, and fused with Ner'zhul to become the new Lich King. As leader of a Scourge that now considered the Legion his enemy, Arthas was immensely powerful, but he lost control over all most of the death knights he had created when he sent them to Light's Hope Chapel as bait for Tirion Foldring, a supreme champion of the Light. Tirion and other holy paladins drove Arthas back, in the process freeing most of Arthas' death knights from his control.
These freed death knights formed a new order – the Knights of the Ebon Blade – dedicated to Lich King Arthas' downfall. They also pledged themselves to whatever faction (Horde or Alliance) they had been in life, and this is where one WoW's most tragic and subtexty bromances comes in.
The story of Koltira Deathweaver
is a bleak one. Thassarian (on the left in the picture above) is a human death knight who, while still under Arthas' control, had killed and raised into undeath a high elf named Koltira. ~ Thassarian was the first Death Knight to pledge allegiance to the Alliance, while Koltira drifted to the Horde. (Go read the Death Knight
graphic novel! Lots of backstory :p). In short: they were enemies in life who became brothers in death and forged a strong friendship, despite how events keep conspiring to break their bond and force them to opposite sides.
I can put the blame for my interest in these two firmly at the feet of fandom. I'd noticed them as I was questing with my various characters, but hadn't seen all of their interactions (or seen the death knight graphic novel, which imo is the best of the written canon) … and then somehow as I edged into the fandom I was caught up in their story – especially when Jack of None quoted a Blizzard Q&A mentioning that death knights might be "addicted" to causing pain in the same way that blood elves were to magic, suffering escalating pangs in its absence.
I see Thassarian as a decent guy who somehow struggled to remain a decent person even while under the Lich King's control. Although forced by Arthas to kill his own mother, Thassarian is later reminded of the event, so much so that his guilt prevents him from killing Koltira's brother Faltora. ~ It is this perception of Thassarian's hesitation that causes Koltira to believe that there is more to Thassarian than just an evil, mindless undead, and which seems to be the source of the bond from Koltira's side. ~ Although Thassarian ultimately does kill Koltira, raise him into undeath, and train him as a death knight, I see continuing guilt over this as part of what drives Thassarian. ~ In key quests given to Alliance players, Thassarian either sends you to rescue Koltira, or asks you to keep secret that he and Koltira have decided to call a truce after working together to fight a common enemy.
Koltira Deathweaver's personality is quite distinct from Thassarian's. He's sardonic, almost dour, and tells you that Thassarian is an idiot for having him rescued. He's also apparently haunted relentlessly by shadows (although it doesn't seem he's the only one so affected.) ~ He wields a huge, "vampiric" runeblade called Byfrost. After the "truce" that I referred to above he's dragged off by Sylvanas, who vows that she'll break him of his compassion for Thassarian.
Thassarian and Koltira appear in A Cascade of Garnet, Comfort, Distress, Talent Mastery, and the first tale of YMMV and Other Tales. Koltira also appears in Bond, which is set before his death.
Compared to the drama and angst of Koltira and Thassarian, Asric and Jadaar are light situation comedy. Although they're Thassarian and Koltira's opposites in many ways, they do have one thing in common with the star-crossed death knights: Asric and Jadaar are also on opposite sides of the faction divide.
Asric and Jadaar were first introduced in 2007 when they were competing to get the goods on Griftah, a shady huckster selling everything but snake oil. When the investigation fell apart, they were both fired, and have spent their time since hanging out together, at first tossing blame and insults but slowly becoming less vituperative. Asric, a blood elf who seems not to mind bending the rules in service of flexible morality, calls Jadaar a pompous windbag. Jadaar, a one-eyed draenei whose people have been fleeing Kil'jaeden and the Legion for millennia, is an ex-Peacekeeper who calls Asric a brat and a dandy. (This is one of those places where I'm tempted to do a huge lore dump, but honestly, to enjoy these two knowing mostly that they bicker like an an old married "odd couple" is sufficient.)
Asric and Jadaar appear in four stories: Not Half Bad,, the followup tale The Other Half's Not Half Bad Either, One Week a Month, or Asric and Jadaar Go to the Darkmoon Faire, and Purge.
Even many long-time WoW players may go "Who?" if you mention Severin or Sky Commander Adaris. ~ In an out-of-the way corner of Outland, the members of the Shattari Skyguard – a cross faction group based in a small outpost high in the mountains above a forest – keeps watch on the nearby city of Skettis, where the arakkoa (a race of sentient avians) appear to be working to summon a dark bird-god.
Severin is the Skyguard medic. His primary actions in the game relate to be watching over/humoring the Skyguard's leader, Sky Commander Adaris, who was wounded in a clash with the arakkoa. Severin thinks that Adaris' comments about a shadow world of arakkoa are fevered delusions, but near the end of the questline Adaris is vindicated.
Severin and Adaris appear in Above the Clouds.
Kael'thas Sunstrider was the first WoW lore character I became interested in, but also the reason I put off writing WoW fanfiction for so long. A major figure in the game (and as of Cataclysm the only one you kill twice) he's an entire freight train's-worth of lore just on his own. First introduced in the RTS pre-WoW Warcraft games, he's one of the game's most maddening examples of Face Heel Turn (and therefore has many interpretations, all passionately defended.…
[The son of the high elf king Anasterian, Kael'thas (Kael for short) did not share his father's isolationism. At an early age he went to the human city of Dalaran and joined the Kirin Tor, the association of Alliance mages that had been trained by high elves hundreds of years before. While in Dalaran, Kael fell in love with Jaina Proudmoore, a human sorceress of great power, but his feelings were not reciprocated. Kael participated actively in the defense of Dalaran when it came under attack by the orcs during the Second War, and became a member of the Six, the ruling council of Dalaran. During the Third War, Kael's homeland was destroyed and his people nearly wiped out by the death knight Arthas Menethil, who also defiled the Sunwell, The source of the high elves' magic. Kael struggled to hold his people together in the aftermath of this disaster, taking more and more drastic steps to find them a new source of magical power after the Sunwell's destruction, and ultimately to a secret alliance with the Legion itself.
Kael'thas is the main character and narrator of Deceiver, and also appeared more comically in Edification, the second of the YMMV tales.
Kil'jaeden … well, where do I start? Possibly my favorite WoW character, this BAMF was the mover and shaker behind a good chunk of lore. ~ 25,000 years ago, Kil'jaeden, Archimonde, and Velen were best friends and leaders of the planet Argus, a civilization of magic users. They were approached by the Titan Sargeras, who offered them the power to unite the cosmos and spread the power of the Light. Kil'jaeden and Archimonde agreed, but Velen – who was given a vision by the naaru (beings of pure Light) of Sargeras' true aim – to corrupt the eredar and use them as his legions to destroy life everywhere. Velen made clandestine arrangements to flee Argus with those eredar; an enraged Kil'jaeden (who commands the Burning Legion at Sargeras's behest) has pursued Velen and the uncorrupted eredar – who renamed themselves draenei, meaning exiled ones – ever since.
Kil'jaeden followed Velen to the planet of Draenor. Kil'jaeden slowly corrupted the planet's native orc inhabitants into a warlike, bloodthirsty warrior race, initially by deceiving and manipulating the orc shaman Ner'zhul into inciting the orcs to attack the draenei and then – after Ner'zhul had a spasm of conscience and was sent to a torture dimension – brought to completion by Ner'zhul's amoral and ambitious apprentice Gul'dan. ~
Kil'jaeden released what was left of Ner'zhul, transformed him into the Lich King, imprisoned him in the Frozen throne in Northrend, and thus created the Scourge as the advance troops for the invasion of Azeroth by the Legion, but when Ner'zhul slipped the leash Kil'jaeden tasked Illidan Stormrage as his lieutenant to destroy Lich King Ner'zhul. When Illidan fails at this task twice, Kil'jaeden acquires the loyalty of Kael'thas, both to keep an eye on Illidan as well as to make the magical preparation necessary for using the corrupted Sunwell as a portal for bringing Kil'jaeden into Azeroth.
As you might have guess, Kil'jaeden is a key player in Deceiver.
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Written September 2010; edited 13 October 2017