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.
If you're a troll, you owe your current faction to them.
If you've leveled in Elwynn Forest, or on Bloodmyst Isle, or the Ghostlands, or the coast of Darkshore, or even in Durotar, you've heard their battle cry. If you've adventured in Northrend, you've learned that they can indeed speak and display intelligence, and in the upcoming Cataclysm, you'll discover that they suffer from the depredations of their ancient neighbors, the naga. Whether you've seen them in Serpentshrine Cavern, fought to free them on the Isle of Quel'Danas or tried to wipe them out in Blackfathom Depths, one thing is for certain.
They are murloc.
Murlocs may indeed be one of the oldest native races on Azeroth. It's clear that they are not one of the "seed races" created by the Titans or descended from said Titanic creations. No curse of flesh seems to be inherent in their origins. Like trolls and tauren, there is no known explanation for the existence of these aquatic folk. They simply are. Interestingly, murlocs are susceptible to the plague of undeath, but at least in one location, said murlocs retained their free will much as the Forsaken do.
Beyond this part be spoilers for Cataclysm. For indeed, these piscean folk have many secrets to share and much wisdom to impart.
It's pretty easy for your average adventurer to hate murlocs. After all, wherever you first encounter them, they almost always seem to share the same characteristics.
- They seem to like to pack fairly tightly together, usually around quest objectives.
- They blend in well with wherever they happen to be so that often you don't notice one until it attacks you.
- They run away when you almost have them killed, usually right into others of their kind, making a fairly controlled fight transform into utter chaos at the slightest notice.
- They make that sound when they attack or run away. You know the one I mean.
While the upcoming Cataclysm will disrupt the world, it will also bring with it new opportunities to see the world the way the murlocs see it. It would be a folly to assume all murloc tribes share a single culture or religion, but at least one tribe, the Rockpool, apparently suffered greatly from Deathwing's recent destruction of the balance between the elemental forces. The Rockpool apparently lived in peace for untold generations with the naga, until (as the deceased chief Neptool relates) the naga turned against them and their god, Neptulon the Tidehunter (the elemental lord of water), seeking to replace Neptulon with Azshara, the queen of the naga.
Since we see similar use of murlocs by naga in locations as distant as Outland itself (Serpentshrine Cavern, ruled by Lady Vashi, contains many murlocs seemingly obedient to the naga) and the Isle of Quel'Danas, it seems safe to assume that the naga have been enslaving murlocs from a great many tribes. It may be the rise and spread of the naga in recent years that has also caused the murlocs to begin their colonization of the shores of Azeroth. It may well be that some murlocs seem to escape while others deliberately accompany the serpentine host of the naga.
What we see here is that murlocs have displayed sufficient intelligence to communicate with the other races in areas ranging across the globe. Their cultures, while hardly uniform, share similar elements. They have lived alongside naga for eons, seemingly peacefully, before the recent rise of the subjects of Azshara. They now often serve as slaves to entities such as the Sea Witch who once attempted to enslave the Darkspear Tribe.
The murlocs seem to have a semi-animistic society, worshiping whatever entities in their nearby environment are powerful enough to compel said worship. While this often leads them into the servitude of powerful entities (such as the makura, the naga, even elemental forces), it also seems to allow them to adapt themselves to a region fairly quickly. Local murlocs might worship a powerful naga witch until said witch is defeated, wherein they immediately switch their veneration to whatever defeated it or remains in the area. How this fits into the Rockpool's worship of Neptulon is unclear, but there's no reason to assume they feel constrained to worship anything exclusively. (The pen-and-paper RPG mentioned a "Deep Mother" for example, which could be a deformed version of Therazane as seen through the eyes of an aquatic people who spend a great deal of time in underwater caves.)
Murlocs are extremely widespread, especially in the world's oceans and bodies of water. They can be found on all three of the known continents of the world. In addition, they seem highly adaptive and mutable, as we know for sure that deep sea murlocs differ greatly from coastal murlocs, who themselves are very different from gorlocs. Powerfully mutated murlocs have been encountered in the Wailing Caverns; murlocs have joined pirate crews, lived alongside the Twilight's Hammer, and can even descend into the same fel-touched madness that created the chaos orcs.
Murlocs are far more complicated than their initial appearances suggest. Wild murlocs have been released into Outland, they thrive throughout Azeroth, and their ancient cultures are just now beginning to be understood. The deepest lairs in the oceans have yet to be explored. Their ancient knowledge is as yet only dimly understood. They rise, unhurried, ancient and unfathomable as their watery homes.
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.