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Travels through Azeroth and Outland, continued


Zac: In a way, humans are both the simplest and the trickiest to write. Because we're all humans, humans in fictional settings tend to be the baseline from which we evaluate non-human races. This is why many popular franchises (Warcraft included) tend to give defining traits to the other races. Orcs are warriors, night elves are nature-oriented, etc.

Humans, however, can be almost anything. I presented most humans in Azeroth as being somewhat western in their outlook, since that seems like a safe assumption based on what we see of them in game. I did try to show how cultures developed differently from kingdom to kingdom. Dalaran's cosmopolitan magocracy differed from Stromgarder militarism.


Zac: I didn't deviate too much from the standard template for dwarves. One idea I wanted to present in Travels was that each race has a unique psychology that influences their development. I tried to make this psychological definition relatively broad, since that allows for more variety.

In essence, I wrote the dwarves as being more communally minded than humans. This is coupled with a strong drive for individual accomplishment. Such a combination is both a source of stress and of motivation, inspiring dwarves to succeed both for themselves and for their families. Deadbeats are virtually unknown. At the same time, society tends to be very conservative and restrictive. The Dark Irons have extended this sense of familial attachment to their entire nation, resulting in an almost fanatical loyalty to their leader (who can be seen as the father of all Dark Irons).


Zac: The gnomes make for great comic relief, but I also wanted to show how they could be more than that. Gnomes possess some of the greatest minds in Azeroth. Greater still is the democratic and meritocratic society that they're shown as having in lore. WoW suggests that they're much more individualistic than the dwarves, as seen in the fact that many gnomes pursue their research with an almost myopic intensity.

At the same time, what happens to those who aren't that smart? Not every gnome can be a genius, after all. Gnomes who fall by the wayside aren't likely to be respected by a society that expects the individual to stand on his or her own two feet. What social avenues might be available for them to prove themselves? On a more positive note, I figured that the gnomes' relatively libertarian attitudes towards culture would make them very open-minded in dealing with other races, even compared to the more cosmopolitan human states.

Night elves

Zac: The night elves are rightly associated with the natural world. Of all the races from Azeroth, they have the longest cultural memory (trolls may predate them, but so much of their history has been lost in war and disaster). They seem as eternal as the great forests they so revere, and definitely take the long view of history. Even after losing immortality, a few centuries feel like the blink of an eye.

They're also a race that has lost the immortality granted to them in ages past. Something like that must have huge cultural repercussions, particularly for a race that saw itself in such a relatively privileged position. When writing them, I tried to explore how different elves might react to losing one of their defining characteristics. This ties in with their traditional and isolated culture finally being exposed to outside influences, which many see as a decidedly mixed blessing. However, plenty also realize that the old ways are gone.

I also looked at the night elf relationship to nature. Though very close to nature, in a way, they also live apart from it. The natural world seems to confer societal benefits on the night elves in return for protection; in-game, this usually takes the form of improved defenses (like the Ancients or treants), and I extended this to food production. This is not an advantage available to any other race, so in a way, it might not be entirely fair for the night elves to judge humans and others for exploiting the landscape. The fact that nature took care of their needs meant that the night elves enjoyed a great deal of liberty in their personal lives, and were somewhat individualistic (though still bound by tradition).


Zac: The draenei live in a utopia. Communally minded almost to an extreme, I presented them as deeply distrustful of individualism. In the Exodar chapter, I wrote about a draenic artist who expresses surprise that the humans would use art to glorify individuals. Draenic art tends to be abstract. When it is representative, I speculated that it is never of a specific individual; the draenei portrayed is a composite of different features found in the community. Unlike the family-minded dwarves, the draenei discourage familial closeness, fearing that it would distract from the greater community of believers.

I used a somewhat extreme interpretation of the Light's more communal aspects, since religion struck me as their defining in-game quality. The draenei definitely believe that they are in the right, but are unsure what to make of allies and co-religionists who take very different approaches to life. Some WoW players interpret the draenei as being intolerant or fanatical, which is certainly valid; some of the draenei dialogue in the game proper gets a lot angrier than I presented to the draenei as being. Ultimately, I liked the idea that they really were as good as they claimed, and that this makes them a bit frightening.


Zac: I never really wrote about these guys. Had I continued into Cataclysm, I would have played off their Victorian inspirations to show Gilneas as being a society with rigid class roles. How might the Curse of the Worgen affect this? I figured that the transformation might erase or rearrange social boundaries. A Gilnean noble who rules unquestioned as a human might find himself in a very different situation while in a worgen pack, where respect might need to be won in combat. What would happen when they go back to human form? Would they go back to respecting the old class lines? Or does the worgen curse completely undermine the old ways?


Zac: I wrote the orcs as being aggressive by nature. As a result, much of orcish society concerns itself with channeling this aggression, often against an outside foe. Certainly there's no shortage of those in Azeroth, but one wonders what the orcs will do if the world becames peaceful.

The division between warriors and peons is something that has always interested me, and I spent a lot of time in the travelogue examining this arrangement. The Horde is totally dependent on the peons, yet the culture allows warriors to freely denigrate them. I figured that the peons had generally internalized this attitude, to the point that they ostracize other peons who are seen as rising above their station. However, the dismissal of peons means that orcs who might possess great skill in trade, craftsmanship, or scholarly pursuits are never able to fully exploit these talents simply because they're unable to become warriors. I also tried to look at the orcs' relationship with their past. Though they claimed to be turning a new leaf, even under Thrall they named their cities after notables in the Old Horde that the Alliance would rightly see as villains. As a former human, the narrator understands why naming one's capital after Orgrim Doomhammer might upset people.


Zac: I had trouble figuring out how trolls truly differed from humans. Sure, they're tribal, but humans can also be tribal (and savage). Likewise, the trolls had once built some of the greatest civilizations Azeroth had ever seen. Maybe the underlying irony of the mutual hatred between human and troll is that, of all the races, they're the most similar. On a certain level, the trolls might be seen as being less inclined to abstraction, but that could easily be a function of their tribal society; who's to say that Zul'Gurub didn't have great philosophers during its glory days? Regeneration might influence the trolls to be more daring or aggressive (perhaps offering an explanation for the berserker racial talent).

In terms of culture, the trolls are shown as being extremely pragmatic, the consummate survivors. Satiating the gods plays a much more important role in trollish religion than it does in relatively abstract faiths like the Light. The culture is one of violence, a result of internecine tribal warfare. In the end though, I'm not sure humans would behave any differently if they lived in a similar cultural milieu.


Zac: Like the draenei, I wrote the tauren as being extremely communal. This tended to focus more on the tribe than on the race as a whole, but I figured that intertribal warfare was almost nonexistent (the Grimtotem being a notable exception).

The tauren are the other big nature-themed race, but unlike the night elves they really live in the thick of it. To them, nature is something all-powerful and all-consuming. While it is the duty of all tauren to revere the spirits and the natural world, it is the height of presumption to declare oneself nature's protector. To the tauren, the natural world is not necessarily a friend, which the night elves sometimes see it as being. The tauren do have a much closer relationship with the natural spirits than do the other races. This takes the form of a kind of sixth sense possessed by nearly all tauren. Though only shamans can speak to the spirits, most tauren are able to sense the spirits on at least an empathetic level. This means that they are quite sensitive to changes in the natural environment, particularly those caused by malign forces.


Zac: One thing to keep in mind is that the Forsaken are basically humans put in an extremely traumatic situation. To be made an undead slave, only to be released into a very hostile world (admittedly, made more hostile by Sylvanas' actions) can create a sense of persecution and paranoia. The Forsaken have also been freed from their old societal bonds. The old Lordaeronian government is nonexistent. Though the Forsaken need to eat, I got the feeling that they can sustain themselves on a few scraps of mold, which reduces their need to depend on food producers and societal reciprocity. As a result, the Forsaken are one of the most individualistic races, though the pain they've suffered tend to set them on a darker path.

This might be changing as of Cataclysm, since Sylvanas is becoming much more assertive in her control over the Forsaken. However, quests in Tirisfal show that the free undead are allowed to separate themselves from the Forsaken if they so choose. Such behavior supports my theory that the idea of free will is essential to the Forsaken psyche. Sylvanas' current government still offers lip service to the ideal, though they see nothing wrong with forcibly raising the dead, which is a rather severe violation of free will.

In terms of emotions, the Forsaken possess the same range as a normal human, but darker emotions tend to be stronger. This is not always a sure thing; I presented Forsaken who spend their time with the living as sometimes becoming more positive in their outlook.

Blood elves

Zac: The blood elves are often seen as the party animals of Azeroth, but I wanted to interpret them through a different lens. Theirs is a very old culture, one that has weathered drastic change and turmoil. I figured that servants and retinues might have accompanied the Highborne who fled across the sea. This laid the foundation for a society based off of loyalty to one's house. I showed the blood elves as taking this very seriously; loyalty might even be the essential characteristic of their culture. Nor is it a case of rapacious nobles exploiting a passive peasantry. The lords and ladies truly care for their retainers.

In terms of racial psychology, the blood elves aren't necessarily that different from the night elves, a fact that neither race likes to acknowledge. Both tend to take a long view of history (though the blood elves to an obviously lesser extent). Both also have their needs provided by an outside source; nature in the case of night elves, magic for the blood elves. This creates something of a leisure-oriented society, though the blood elf variety is more obviously luxurious. This leads to some of their more hedonistic moments.


Zac: Unlike the worgen, I actually spent a lot of time writing about the neutral goblins in the Steamwheedle Cartel. The goblins are entrepreneurs and technologists par excellence. Rather than greed, however, their defining trait in Travels is optimism. The goblin mind is one that never gives up hope. No matter how poor you become, you're going to get rich (or so you assume). It's just a matter of time. This is why goblin society is so chaotic. Because the average goblin is convinced that he or she will eventually become rich, there is no need for anything like social support for the poor. In a weird sense, they're a bit like the draenei in that they have a society that's utopian, but only for them.

One of the pen-and-paper RPG books had this great bit describing how goblins tend to find their best friends in other races, who might be regarded as more trustworthy. I used this as a basis for the goblins in Travels. This is not to say that all goblins are depraved; goblin ethics (which tend to be based off of concepts like self-reliance) do exist, and even discourage theft and coercion. However, this is a cultural quality, and I presented goblin society becoming increasingly unethical (by their own standards).

Please join us for part two tomorrow!

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