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Know Your Lore: The Pandaren


The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

Brewfest is still ongoing in game until Wednesday, Oct. 6, and while the Alliance has their dwarven brewers and beer lovers behind the festival, there is a race of creatures that are not included in the festivities at all -- well, not directly. I'm speaking, of course, about the mysterious pandaren -- a race of humanoid pandas that is about as elusive as they come. Pandaren have shown up in references here and there in World of Warcraft, but for the most part, they seem to be nothing more than vague Easter eggs. However, the World of Warcraft RPG covered the pandaren extensively and provided some background into the nature-loving race.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the pandaren is the origins of the race. Of all the races in Azeroth, the pandaren are the least well known but one of the most beloved of many players of the original Warcraft games. The pandaren first showed up in Warcraft III, and from there, the loveable race of humanoid pandas grew exponentially in popularity. Though the original Warcraft and all subsequent games were carefully planned out, the enigmatic panderan began with an April Fools joke that spread like wildfire.

Back in Warcraft III, the pandaren were originally introduced as the "fifth race" for the game as an April Fools joke that many people thought legitimate. But the pandaren's origins extend back even farther than that. In the first BlizzCast in January 2008, during an interview with Samwise Didier, creator of much of Warcraft's concept art (including the first pandaren concept art pieces), Didier commented on the creation of the pandaren.
Well, it started off, you know, a bunch of years back when I had a daughter, right. And, when she was born, for Christmas I usually draw a picture for my family. Like a personal one. And so I did, for that picture, for some reason, I decided to do like a panda guy because, actually, also like "Samwise," "Panda" is my nickname because I'm kind of a big hairy bear dude, but I'm not very fearsome. So I got the nickname "Panda." So I drew a picture of a panda with a little panda cub on the shoulder and that was the picture for Christmas, that I gave to all my family. And "Oh, it's because he had a little kid. He's getting soft!" You know? Whatever. It's for the family. I had to do something that Grandma would like.

But so we put that up in there and everyone was like "Oh my God! A PANDA RACE? That's kind of cool!" And I'm like "Are you kidding me, really? You want to see pandas in Warcraft III or whatever?" So, we made like a whole fake April Fools page with different units and all that and people, you know – we thought people would be like "NO WAY!" – and everyone actually liked it and when they found out it was an April Fools joke they were like "Aw, that sucks." So we've kind of just dropped little bits of panda stuff. Like I do that all the time in my pictures. I'll hide a picture of a panda face. Like it was on Illidan's blades, back in the day, just put it on there. See if anyone noticed. And they did. Good job, guys. Two points. And ever since then it's just been kind of a thing. We're like "Oh, you're the panda guy."

Due to the overwhelming popularity of the April Fools joke, Chris Metzen began actually writing the pandaren into Blizzard lore and including them in Warcraft III -- to a degree. The first "real" pandaren was introduced in the bonus campaign "The Founding of Durotar," in which players played as Rexxar prior to his rise as Champion of the Horde. During a series of adventures, Rexxar stumbled across Chen Stormstout, a pandaren brewmaster whose travels had brought him to Durotar. After asking for and receiving Rexxar's help retrieving ingredients for a new brew, Chen decided to stay awhile and help Rexxar, in an effort to better appreciate the beautiful, rugged land he had found himself in.

As far as Chen and the rest of the pandaren's origins, they are largely explained in the Warcraft RPG books. The pandaren race dates all the way back prior to the Sundering that split Azeroth into the continents we see in game today. Originally from the central part of Kalimdor, the pandaren were actually allies of the night elves. However, the night elves' obsession with magic and the Well of Eternity caused the Pandaren Empire to sever ties and leave Kalimdor behind entirely. The race traveled to a remote island and established a new home, calling the island Pandaria. After the Sundering, a few pandaren returned to the newly shattered continent of Kalimdor to explore it, but by and large, most pandaren remain on the as-yet undiscovered isle of Pandaria.

As for the maps in World of Warcraft, Pandaria simply doesn't exist; however, the absence of the island shouldn't be taken as proof that the pandaren themselves don't exist, either. It could be simply that the island has never been discovered by explorers of any of the other Azeroth races and so hasn't been noted on any maps to date. As far as the validity of the pandaren races' existence, there are more than enough clues in World of Warcraft to suggest the race is present, even if the pandaren and their island remain undiscovered.

Chen's Empty Keg

The first of these references is found with the quest Chen's Empty Keg. The quest isn't given by any NPCs; instead, players encounter the empty keg at one of a few random locations scattered across The Barrens. While pandaren society seems to be neutral for the most part, the keg is a Horde-only quest. Examining the keg reveals the text: "Chen Stormstout -- May your spirit be raised and always raise your spirits." Players are asked to find someone who knows about Chen's Empty Keg, and the quest completes with Brewmaster Drohn, an orc located in the nearby town of Ratchet.

The role of the brewmaster is an interesting one. It's not just about making fine ale for mass consumption. Instead, brewmasters are trained to make drinks and ales that give the brewmaster and others special abilities or buffs. The most famous brewmasters all originate in Pandaria, but there are many, many other brewmasters scattered around Azeroth, Alliance and Horde alike. Most traveling pandaren are brewmasters who are looking for new ingredients and recipes for various ales, and while the path of the brewmaster is a closely guarded secret, the pandaren will still teach the craft to those that show tremendous aptitude for it.

Brewmaster Drohn was taught the craft of brewing by an unnamed mentor who in turn was taught the craft by Chen Stormstout himself, and completing the quest gives players a brew that provides a buff. An additional quest exists in the chain, which also gives players another brew with another unique buff. Drohn's work is present in the Brewfest festival, when players can choose to bark for Drohn's Distillery and sample his brews.

Other references

In addition to Chen's Empty Keg, there are a few other references scattered throughout the game. Alliance players in Stormwind can sometimes overhear the conversations between NPC children, including the comment, "It's true! People have seen them! Pandaren really do exist!" The most direct reference, however, occurs for players who purchase the Pandaren Monk pet from the Blizzard Store. The pet is delivered by mail, and along with the monk a note is included from Chen himself that simply states:
I would like to introduce you to a long-time friend of mine: you will find this kindly pandaren monk is a most wonderful traveling companion.

May he lead you to new adventures across the face of Azeroth and beyond!

Chen Stormstout
Players who do the fishing daily in Dalaran also may be treated to a rare pandaren reference. The Bag of Fishing Treasures rewarded from completing the quest sometimes contains a Fantasy Portrait that depicts an image of a pandaren. Other than these few references, the pandaren seem to be absent these days from Warcraft.

While Pandaria and the pandaren may have been an April Fools joke, these references do indicate that the pandaren race isn't quite as mythical as people assume it to be. The empty kegs scattered across The Barrens suggest that Rexxar's encounter with the Brewmaster was an actual event in Warcraft's timeline and that Chen and the others of the pandaren race really do exist, somewhere. But if they exist, why haven't they shown their faces in today's Azeroth?

Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

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