If you played WoW at all during Wrath of the Lich King or spent any time at all in Dalaran, you already know of the Kirin Tor -- but they've been around far, far longer than one expansion. The Kirin Tor are an elite sect of powerful mages, and Dalaran is their city-state. A kingdom of sorts, all to its own, Dalaran's been around for thousands of years. The Kirin Tor are strictly a neutral organization, adamantly unwilling to choose one faction over the other. Both Alliance and Horde are welcome in Dalaran, but fighting is not allowed, the city being just as neutral as the citizens that live within its walls.
In order to be a member of the Kirin Tor, you must be a mage. Non-mages can gain reputation and favor with the Kirin Tor, but they are not actually a member of the organization itself; membership is strictly reserved for mages. According to the RPG source guides, the Kirin Tor was originally made up of 120 members -- however, since the RPG source guides aren't "real" canon, they're just sort of canon-ish, you can easily call your mage a member of the Kirin Tor if you'd like to.
The Kirin Tor saw a lot of action in Wrath, but they've been relatively quiet in Cataclysm, as the focus has shifted from the relocated capital city of the magi to the catastrophic events down south. This does not, however, mean that there isn't anything for a member of the Kirin Tor to think about these days.
Once upon a time, 2,800 years or so before the First War, there was a war between the High Elves of Quel'thalas and the Amani Trolls that were angry at High Elf encroachment upon sacred lands. These were the Troll Wars, and though the High Elves fought back valiantly, they could not hold their own against the Amani tides. To that end, they approached the Humans of Arathor and asked for their assistance against the Troll menace. The two kingdoms formed an alliance, with a catch -- the High Elves would teach 100 Humans the arts of arcane magic in return for the alliance. The Amani were beaten back, the High Elves rejoiced, and the 100 Humans began to learn magic.
Some time later, the assorted Human and High Elf mages founded the city of Dalaran, a place where they could practice and teach the arcane in peace. The Kirin Tor was originally a sect of mages that concentrated on cataloging and researching every piece of magic they could find -- every spell, artifact, book, anything they could get their hands on, much like the Explorer's League and the Reliquary collect objects from the past today. They didn't stay researchers for long, however. As time passed, the Kirin Tor grew to become Dalaran's ruling power.
Thus, the Kirin Tor isn't so much an organization as it is a government structure of magi, dedicated to magical research, study and preservation. Mages who belong to this group do exactly what every other mage in the world does -- they study, preserve, and protect magic, all while watching for new magic to categorize and study even further.
As far as the Kirin Tor's role in present day, it was virtually nonexistent until Wrath of the Lich King. Sensing magical disturbances to the north, the Kirin Tor uprooted Dalaran and moved it to Northrend. There were two distinct problems for the Kirin Tor to deal with -- there was the Lich King of course, but there was also the issue of Malygos' war against all other magic using races. Now, just because the Kirin Tor weren't really visible before Wrath doesn't mean that your mage was stuck in the Dalaran bubble prior to Wrath's launch. He could simply be a member that was wandering the world in search of magic rather than rebuilding the city, or he could have just recently joined the order during Wrath. Up to you!
Once Malygos and the Lich King were defeated, the Kirin Tor remained in Northrend and have yet to make any kind of major appearance in the south. But that doesn't mean that the Kirin Tor has been up to nothing of particular importance.
The death of Malygos and the rise of Kalecgos
What happened In Wrath of the Lich King, Malygos came to the forefront of the Kirin Tor's focus. After regaining his sanity, the blue Aspect came to the conclusion that magic was too dangerous to be placed in mortal hands. As a result of this, Malygos declared war on the Kirin tor and began relocating the ley lines of the world to Northrend, which was a big part of the reason for Dalaran's move. Malygos was eventually killed, and the Blue Dragonflight was without a leader until Kalecgos was chosen in Cataclysm.
How this affects your character When Malygos shifted the ley lines to Northrend, all mages were affected -- they felt a little weaker. This was pointed out in the Warcraft comics series. The mages of Azeroth have never really been in contact with Malygos; he was simply the Aspect of Magic, so his assumption that mortal mages were not worthy of using magic would also be something to think about. Lastly, Kalecgos' ascension means a new face as the leader of the Blue Dragonflight -- one who is far more interested in interacting with mortals.
What to consider How did your mage react during Wrath of the Lich King? Did he feel the shift in power? How does he feel about the Blue Dragonflight, given that the war against Malygos was likely his first introduction to that particular flight? Is he interested in learning more about the Blue Dragonflight, or is he far more interested in whatever research he happens to be currently working on? Did your mage take part in defeating Malygos? How does he feel about mortals bringing about the death of the Aspect of Magic?
We have all lost
What happened The Kirin Tor is strictly a neutral organization, much like the Argent Crusade. Both mages of the Alliance and Horde can join -- but tensions between the two factions have grown over the years during Wrath and exploded in Cataclysm. Though the Kirin Tor is still based in Dalaran and therefore largely present in Northrend, characters that are helping out during the Cataclysm are definitely down south and in the thick of things.
How this affects your character Much like members of the Argent Crusade, it's a matter of conflict of interest. Whether a member of the Alliance or the Horde, your character will need to reconcile the neutrality of the organization he belongs to with whatever he happens to feel about the opposing faction.
What to consider Is your mage extremely loyal to the Kirin Tor? How does he feel about the opposing faction? Was his homeland affected by opposing faction attacks? How does he feel about the conflicts to the south? Is he taking the side of his faction and standing in opposition, or is he trying desperately to remain neutral in a land that is fraught with war? Does he believe his faction should take revenge for what has been done to them, or does he believe that there are far worse things in the world we should be addressing?
What happened The Kirin Tor is mainly concerned with the discovery and preservation of magical artifacts. Yet in Cataclysm, we've seen the rise of another organization dedicated to an almost identical cause -- the Reliquary, a Blood Elf organization that is also dedicated to that task. It's been stated that the revival of the Reliquary was at the behest of an unknown council of Blood Elves, but whether their purpose is for good or for something more sinister is as yet unknown.
How this affects your character Unless you're a Blood Elf mage, the Reliquary is taking your job, essentially. The task of cataloging and preserving magic is something the Kirin Tor is very good at, and having anyone come in and try to usurp that territory is apt to be a little disconcerting. For Blood Elf mages, this represents another conflict of interest -- your people are trying to move in on the territory previously held by the organization you belong to.
What to consider Is your character an archaeologist? Is he one of the Kirin Tor members who is devoted to seeking out rare artifacts? How does he feel about the Reliquary? For that matter, how does he feel about archaeology in general? Does he think it serves a useful purpose, or is he horrified at the prospect of any random hero stomping through the world and retrieving magical items best kept in the hands of the Kirin Tor?
How you choose to express this with your character is fully up to you. However, just because the Kirin Tor isn't an overwhelming presence in this expansion doesn't mean you should ignore them entirely -- and if you are a member of the Kirin Tor, you should be aware of the line between magi and adventurer of Azeroth, and think twice about crossing it.
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