Pandaren and politics
According to the RPG books, the pandaren race is an elusive one, but the other races of Azeroth are aware of its existence. Pandaren are quiet, gentle creatures who value honor, friendship and discipline above anything else. They have no affiliation with either faction, though their ideals seem to mesh closely with those of the Alliance -- but as we've seen with Chen and his offer of assistance, they can be just as quick to ally with the Horde. Pandaren are nomads for the most part. Those who choose to travel Kalimdor rarely stay in one location for long, choosing to keep moving in search of the next elusive ingredient for whatever brew they happen to be concocting.
Chen Stormstout may have allied with the Horde, but during the blood elf campaign in which Kael'thas Sunstrider and his forces sought to escape to Outland, players encountered another pandaren reference. Included among Garithos' army of fighters was a troop of mercenary pandaren, suggesting that the race is willing to ally with either side. The leader of these mercenaries was another pandaren brewmaster who bears a resemblance to the Pandaren Monk pet. According to the RPG books, these pandaren were allied with the dwarves of Bael Modan, though no reference is made to this alliance in World of Warcraft.
However, according to the books, the pandaren have a very good relationship with the dwarves -- the only other race known for their exceptional brews. They hold an appreciation for the dwarves both as brewmasters and researchers. It's little wonder that the dwarves, originators of the Explorers League that seeks out information about the past, get along with the pandaren; the pandaren believe that knowing where one comes from is an important part of living a full and rewarding life. In addition to the dwarves, the pandaren like most of the other independent races that they've met, as they themselves prefer to stay neutral and out of any conflicts.
While the pandaren are friendly to both Alliance and Horde, they believe the Alliance gives too much weight to politics and arcane magic -- the same arcane magic that drove the pandaren to dissolve their alliance with the night elves centuries ago. As for the Horde, while the pandaren have an appreciation for the Horde's spirituality, the pandaren view the Horde races as being in the midst of healing, and think that they need to find themselves before they can allow anyone else to join their fold.
Pandaren in World of Warcraft
Given their neutral stance, it is highly unlikely we will ever see a race of playable pandaren, as they are much like the furbolgs and other neutral races of the world -- they simply don't feel strongly enough about one side or another to choose one. This did not, however, stop people from making assumptions prior to The Burning Crusade's launch, when the new Alliance race was still shrouded in mystery. In addition to rampant rumors, the following screenshot appeared on the web:
Many took it as absolute proof that the pandaren were going to be the new Alliance race. Reports flew around the web, people claiming that they'd been to the Blizzard studios and seen concept art for the "new race" and that the screenshot was actually a valid one. While Alliance players were delighted, Horde players were incensed that the pandaren, a race previously shown to have allied with the Horde in Warcraft III, were now going to be available to Alliance players.
And yet again the world fell for what was an elaborate April Fools joke. Ian McConville, the artist for Mac Hall and Three Panel Soul, created the pandaren screenshot as a prank. Instead of putting together the image in Photoshop, McConville actually created a workable pandaren model, placed in-game armor textures on it and then lit the model to match a screenshot, creating something that looked startlingly real and managing to fool a good chunk of WoW's player population.
The draenei were later revealed to be the new Alliance race, and all talk of playable pandaren fell into obscurity. With the introduction of Cataclysm, the brew-loving race wasn't even mentioned as a possibility for either faction's new race, leaving the story of the pandaren and their as-yet undiscovered island home untouched.
Other stories and rumors have surrounded the pandaren's absence from World of Warcraft, mainly the insistence that Chinese law prohibits any depiction of violence against pandas, even if it's simply in a video game. There is no such law, and there are games in China that do depict playable races of pandas; however, during a discussion panel at BlizzCon 2009, it was stated that the pandaren have not had an increased presence mainly due to legal issues with China. Whether this is due to the Chinese law that doesn't exist or perhaps Blizzard's struggles with getting World of Warcraft released in China is unknown; however, it seems unlikely that playable pandaren will be available any time soon.
The island of Pandaria and its inhabitants continues to remain a mystery for now. Although the upcoming Cataclysm has shattered the world and laid waste to many areas of Azeroth, it doesn't seem to have stirred the pandaren or revealed the location of their remote home. While we may continue to see references and clues regarding their existence, it seems that the pandaren will continue to play no part in Azeroth's upcoming upheaval -- and with the political situations flaring to a head for both Alliance and Horde, it's unlikely we'll see the brewmasters wandering the world anytime in the near future.
Instead, we're left to celebrate Brewfest and remember the traveling pandaren and their brews once a year, when the students of the elusive brewmasters share their knowledge with the rest of Azeroth. While the pandaren may have originally been nothing more than a prank, their race and their legacy continues to live on, and some players still hopefully wait for the day when we will at last encounter the pandaren and their island home.
For more information on the people, places and history mentioned here, check out other Know Your Lore columns, such as:
- Current Alliance Politics: The night elves, part one and two
- Elven evolution
- The Third War
- History of the Shen'dralar
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.