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Know Your Lore: The Troll Wars

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.

The past is prologue.
Melodramatic, perhaps, but it bears stating. The world of Azeroth, known to us for the three most recent wars, has in fact seen many -- the War of the Ancients, the War of the Shifting Sands, the war between the ancient troll empires and the aqir. One of these wars went far to set the stage for the First and Second Wars by creating, in effect, three of the major players in those conflicts. Without the Troll Wars, there would today be no Silvermoon, no human nations (and thus no Forsaken), and the troll nation of Zul'Aman would rule all of northern Lordaeron, perhaps all the way south to Khaz Modan.

The Troll Wars were named by their victors. To the trolls of Zul'Aman, they never really ended. Pushed back by the elves of Quel'Thalas and their human allies, the once-great northern troll empire receded but never actually died. Technically, even after repeated raids by outsiders, the Amani still hold onto their ancestral home. But all around it, the direct descendants (barely two elven generations) of their conquerors hold the Ghostlands, forests scarred by the Scourge during the Third War. War seems to never leave the gates of the troll kingdoms.

However, to be fair, it's not as if the trolls are shy about warring on others, either.

Invaders may not die

It can be debated when the Troll Wars actually started. The trolls themselves had been expanding across what is today known as the Eastern Kingdoms following the Sundering of the Well of Eternity, conquering and colonizing a great deal of the north. The southern mountainous region of Khaz Modan acted as a natural barrier, keeping the Amani well away from their distant cousins, the Gurubashi to the south.

When the high elves finally arrived in Lordaeron, they first landed in Tirisfal Glades. In that place, isolated from much of the rest of the north of their new continent, the high elves went unnoticed by the trolls. It was just as well for them, as they were a beleaguered band of refugee exiles driven out of Kalimdor by the kaldorei druids. Desiring to use the arcane magic they had wielded as the Highborne servitors to the fallen Queen Azshara, these elves had raised a mighty storm with their arcane power. In so doing, they forced a final split that led them to land on this distant new shore.

Although they stayed in the Glades for a time, they were soon forced to move on by something they couldn't explain. Changed, shrunken in height, their skin rendered a pallid pink hue, their hunger for magic still palpable, they fled Tirisfal for a natural convergence of ley lines to the north. Upon that site they began to build Quel'Thalas and the Sunwell. Sadly, that site was claimed by the forest trolls of Zul'Aman. Dath'Remar had no intention of allowing his people to be driven from yet another home, and the trolls had no intention of letting any elves of any hue survive. Negotiation wasn't even attempted. War was joined almost as soon as the two groups came into contact.

However, by this time the elves had regained their inherent pride and had in the Sunwell a new font of power. If the trolls had found them in Tirisfal, they might have had a chance. Attacking them in their new capital led to their defeat at the spells of the high elven magisters, many of whom had fought against the Burning Legion itself during the close of the War of the Ancients, like Dath'Remar himself. Veterans of that horrific conflict, survivors of the long exile, they were mages to be feared and respected. The trolls had nothing that could stand against them and so fled back to their walled city of Zul'Aman in defeat.

Meet the new savages

Thousands of years would pass before the trolls decided to press the issue again, so devastating was the magical response the high elves launched to the troll attacks. Generations of trolls would live and die in that time, until the stories of elven magical puissance faded into tales. Even for the long-lived elves, at least one generation had lived to adulthood, and Dath'Remar was no longer alive when the shadow of war again threatened the high elves.

While preparing to do battle with their hated elven neighbors, the trolls had also been expanding south and east again. In so doing, they'd come into contact with disparate tribes unlike anything they'd ever met before. These beings were taller than elves or dwarves, although shorter than trolls, and of a more robust and primitive culture. Being warlike by nature, the trolls attacked these scattered tribes, expecting them to fight defensively and cautiously the way the longer-lived elves did.

Instead of finding easy prey, however, the trolls soon found that they were fighting an enemy willing to burn down forests to win battles, willing to sacrifice villages to secure victory. Before their unbelieving eyes, these strange newcomers made war on each other (just as trolls often did), but the end result of that war was unity. One of these humans (as they called themselves) was a warlord named Thoradin, ruler of a tribe called the Arathi. Tired of suffering troll raids, Thoradin's general and friend Ignaeus conquered his own people tribe by tribe until all of humanity existed under a single banner.

Humanity proved even shorter-lived and more aggressive than the forest trolls, while at the same time eschewing the ritualistic barbarism of cannibalism that trolls espoused. The human even built a walled capital similar to Zul'Aman, which they called Strom. It endures today as Stromgarde.

The enemy of my enemy would be good to hide behind

While the humans were pushing the trolls back, the elves were not. Having overcome their fear of the elves' magic, the trolls were finding it less impressive than their ancestors did. In part this was due to their general state of preparedness due to their constant border raids against the humans, as well as defending against human raids. Honed by this running conflict, they were simply far more prepared for the cost of battle than the extremely long-lived, insular, self-absorbed elves.

In addition, trolls' being fecund and far shorter in lifespan meant that the 4,000 years between conflicts allowed them to rebuild their numbers. The high elves, being both extremely long-lived and desiring to avoid conflict, had barely replaced themselves. They didn't have the numbers to face the trollish invasion in full force. Years of war had Anasterian Sunstrider, the king of the high elves, seeking a way out of the trap his people had unwittingly allowed the trolls to place around them. Humans and elves had not been allies or even friendly to one another before this point. Elves saw the humans as little better than the trolls. Humans saw the elves as alien and secretive and did not trust their magical ability, which made them deceptively potent.

Anasterian ultimately felt forced to act, however. He foresaw defeat for his people in a few short years. And so he did the unthinkable and sent envoys to the humans on the principle that it was better to ally with savages than to be eaten by savages.

Thoradin, for his part, had no desire to see the elves defeated by the trolls, because without the elves to distract and infuriate the trollish hosts, the newborn nation of Arathor would have to fight all of them. So far, human ferocity had won out entirely because Thoradin and Ignaeus had managed to weld humans into a unified whole that could stand against disjointed troll warbands looking for loot, slaves and food. The trolls hated the elves so much more than they did humanity that not even the Amani could unify the forest troll tribes against mankind while Silvermoon stood as a reminder of their ancient enmity. But once the elves fell, Ignaeus advised his friend and king, there would be no stopping the trolls from turning their attention south. When they did, mankind would be hard pressed to survive.

My help will cost you dearly

Thoradin extorted a high price from Anasterian, however. Necessary or not, the alliance between the two races was one of mutual convenience and not a brotherhood. Anasterian agreed to train 100 humans in the arts of magic and furthermore acknowledged that he himself and his line would be in personal debt to Thoradin and his descendants. The humans took to this magical teaching in short order, displaying an astonishing and unexpected facility for the arcane.

Meanwhile, Arathor raised the armies of humanity. Each tribe supplied a levy, and together, the unified people of that first human nation marched to war alongside the elven forces of rangers and battlemages. Humans supplied the missing pieces that elven armies at that time simply did not have in any great supply -- heavy cavalry, infantry troops, and most important of all sheer numbers. To put it plainly, humans bred just as fast as trolls.

The combined human/elven host met the trolls in the same mountain passes of Alterac that the Horde would need to use over 2,000 years later on their way to Lordaeron. The battle was joined as the human knights rode bodily into the trollish berserkers and held them fast, fighting for days and refusing to give ground. The elves were somewhat nonplussed at the human's reckless tactics but eventually decided to reveal their human students. These first human magi dropped hell itself upon the trolls in wave after wave of fire from the sky, utterly smashing the troll forces at this display of raw magic like out of their old legends.

The routed troll forces, already broken and forced to flee into the mountains, found themselves hounded almost all the way into Zul'Aman by the combined armies. It was a defeat so total that it opened up the entirety of what would become Lordaeron and the Hinterlands to human colonization, spreading north from the Arathi Highlands. The birth of the Seven Nations of Humanity dates from this period of colonization. Without this victory, there would have been no Dalaran, no Gilneas, no Lordaeron, and eventually no Stormwind, as the royal line of Arathor emigrated south to that nation, coming to rest in the veins of Anduin Lothar.

Our worlds at war

Without the Troll Wars, not only would there have been no great expansion of humanity onto the Eastern Kingdoms as a whole, there would have been no elven debt to repay, which moved the high elves into the Second War. There would have been no human mages at all. There certainly would have been no Dalaran, no Council of Tirisfal, no Guardians and thus no Medivh, and no invasion of the orcs. Doomhammer would hardly have found the trolls such keen allies if their hatred of the elves had not endured from this shattering defeat. Would a troll nation that had beaten the elves have fought the orcs? These wars, over 2,000 years gone, set the stage for the modern shape of Azeroth. The world would be unrecognizable without them.

All because trolls and elves can't learn to share.

Next week: Let's be big damn heroes.

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.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Know your Lore

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