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Know Your Lore: The evolution of Azeroth's creatures

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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.

Were you one of the players who subscribed to the World of Warcraft magazine? While the Warcraft magazine had a limited run, for those who chose to subscribe, it presented a valuable wealth of information, particularly in the lore department. Sadly, the magazine is no longer in publication, but the information provided in the magazine shed a lot of light on the various questions that players had regarding lore in the Warcraft universe. And one of the hottest of hotbed topics was the question of origins. Where did the races of Azeroth come from? Which were related? Who came first?

The final issue of the Warcraft magazine answered almost every single last one of those origin-related questions in a piece supposedly scribbled down by one Brann Bronzebeard. Brann's known for exploring, and although his adventures as detailed in the Warcraft RPG books may or may not be canon, the notes he's taken in the Warcraft magazine are official. Even though we may not know the answers to questions like Elune's origins or the ultimate purpose of the Titans, we can certainly take a look at the origin of the species, Azeroth-style.

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Troll evolution

The troll race began with the Zandalari, the same Zandalari who are now seeking to rebuild the great troll empires as they were thousands of years ago. Of course, thousands of years ago there weren't any other assorted species who could stand up to them like there is today. Part of the reason the Zandalari are so desperate to rebuild is because many of the assorted races and tribes of trolls around the world are either dead or dying, which paints a grim future for the troll race.
  • Jungle trolls These trolls originally settled in the jungles of the world prior to the Sundering, when Kalimdor was just one massive continent. The primary tribe of the jungle trolls is the Gurubashi. However, when the Sundering ripped the world apart, some of these jungle trolls found themselves stranded in harsh deserts, which is where the sand trolls like the Sandfury tribe originated from. As for the Gurubashi Empire, it was relegated for the most part to Stranglethorn Vale. The Darkspear, Bloodscalp, Skullsplitter, and Shatterspear tribes all fall under the former Gurubashi Empire, as do the Hakkari and the Atal'ai, worshipers of Hakkar.
  • Forest trolls As for the trolls of the forests, they made up the mighty Amani Empire and stayed to the north. The majority of these trolls also live on the Eastern Kingdoms these days, although they populate the northern half rather than the southern. The Revantusk, Mossflayer, Shadowglen, Witherbark, Shadowpine, Vilebranch, Firetree and Smoulderthorn trolls were all formerly part of the Amani Empire and all fall under the forest troll designation.
  • Ice trolls As for the trolls of the icy north, there are very few tribes that we know of. The Drakkari tribe of Northrend was easily the largest group of ice trolls, although two smaller branches eventually moved south to the lower continents after the Sundering. These two tribes are the Winterax and the Frostmane. Ice trolls are in a steady decline, the Drakkari of Northrend have mostly died off at this point, in part due to going mad and trying to eat their own gods.
  • Dark trolls Easily the most secluded of all, the dark trolls are also the tallest race of trolls. As their name suggested, they are a nocturnal race of trolls, primarily living in cave systems in the mountains of Hyjal. One tribe of these trolls, the Shadowtooth, allied with the night elves during the Battle for Mount Hyjal. However, it's reported that the Twilight's Hammer completely wiped out the tribe when they invaded Hyjal during Cataclysm. But the dark trolls aren't quite dead. Their descendants live on. In Warcraft magazine, it was confirmed that the night elves originally evolved from the dark trolls, and the Tribunal of Ages, Freya, and Cenarius all confirmed it.
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Elven evolution

All elves and subsequent evolutions of elves originated with the dark trolls, but the first race of elves to appear on Azeroth were the night elves of Kalimdor. It was later that the kaldorei split and the various other races branched off.
  • Night elves Otherwise known as the kaldorei, the night elves live on Kalimdor. They were responsible for the Sundering that split the world and also resulted in the evolution of several other races now common to Azeroth.
  • Satyr The satyr were created during the War of the Ancients by the Burning Legion. The Burning Legion found loyal followers of Azshara and transformed them into the satyrs we know today. The first of these was Lord Xavius, high councilor to Queen Azshara. All others came after him.
  • Naga The naga were created after the Sundering split the world. As Azshara's former palace sank into the ocean, she heard voices that promised great power for obedience. Azshara agreed, and she and the most loyal of the Highborne were transformed into the naga, presumably by Old Gods.
  • High elves The high elves are an offshoot of the night elves. Banished from Kalimdor for continuing to indulge in forbidden arcane arts, these former night elves found themselves changing in a dramatic physical fashion -- shrinking in size, their skin paling to what we see today.
  • Blood elves The blood elves are primarily the same as the high elves. They were created when the Sunwell was destroyed in the Eastern Kingdoms. Kael'thas Sunstrider dubbed the survivors of the horrific scourge attacks blood elves in reference to the thousands that gave their lives trying to protect the Sunwell. Later, the blood elves took up siphoning fel energy in an effort to sate their magical addiction, which caused their eyes to glow green. The only real demarcation between a high elf and a blood elf is the eye glow, signifying their origin.
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The Ancients and their progeny

The rest of Azeroth's races are attributed to either Titanic creation or as having evolved from the Ancients. We know of a few of these Ancients -- we even saved some of them in Hyjal -- but a large number of them are unknowns. In Warcraft magazine, there are hints of origins for some of these races but no real facts set in stone.
  • Cenarius Cenarius was the child of Elune and Malorne. While Malorne was an Ancient, there are no records of other children of the stag. However, Cenarius was prolific enough all on his own. Through Cenarius, we have the magnataur, the dryads, and the keepers, all with their own varying types. One of Cenarius's keeper children, Zaetar, was responsible for the creation of the centaur race.
  • Frog According to Brann, there is an unknown frog Ancient that was responsible for the odd marine life we see around Azeroth. Both the gorlocs and the murlocs are descended from this Ancient -- and both are far, far smarter than they let on.
  • Badger Brann's best guess for the existence of the wolvar is a badger-like Ancient. However, the entry in the Tribunal of Ages for the wolvar is corrupted, so this is merely a guess.
  • Aessina While the Ancient of the wild, Aessina, wouldn't confirm it directly, it appears that the grell are her descendants. If this is true, then it stands to reason that the various sprites we encounter may be her descendants as well -- but that's just a theory.
  • Bull It's confirmed that the tauren race existed before the Titans, but Brann points out that all of their origin stories speak of a spirit creator -- if not the Titans, then perhaps an Ancient of some sort. Brann suggests one that existed before the Emerald Dream was created.
  • Pygmies/goblins Though we know that the goblin race were originally pygmies that grew incredibly smart due to exposure to Kajamite, we don't know exactly what the originating race really was.
  • Ursoc Ursoc was the bear Ancient responsible for the creation of the furbolg race.
  • Lobster Rather than filing the makrura with the Ancient responsible for the murlocs and gorlocs, Brann suggests they evolved from a different Ancient altogether.
  • Walrus Brann presumes that the tuskarr of Northrend likely have their evolutionary roots with a walrus Ancient of some sort.
  • Agamaggan The great boar Ancient, Agamaggan, was responsible for the quillboar race and is still worshipped by the quillboar today.
  • Aviana Aviana is the Ancient that is directly responsible for the harpies. While all flying races eventually went to rest with Aviana in the mother tree G'Hanir, it's not stated that she's directly responsible for any race other than the harpies.
  • Hyena Brann also makes note that there might have been a hyena Ancient at one point, responsible for the gnolls. This also suggests that the gnolls and the wolvar aren't really related at all.
  • Pandaren Although the furbolgs were Ursoc's descendants, the pandaren are in a class wholly of their own. They existed before the furbolgs and even before the kaldorei -- that is, of course, if pandaren tales are to be trusted.
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The children of the Titans

And then we have the descendants of the Titans. These races were created to watch over Azeroth, and did not come into existence until after the Titans' arrival. Many of these races evolved over time, not due to Titanic influence, but because of the Curse of Flesh inflicted by the Old Gods.
  • Earthen The Earthen were created from stone, but the Curse of Flesh caused them to devolve. Some eventually turned into the dwarves of Azeroth -- frost, dark, mountain and hill dwarves. Others mutated into the less-intelligent and personable troggs and kobolds.
  • Vrykul The vrykul were also Titanic creations, but the Curse of Flesh caused their children to be smaller and weaker than the vrykul themselves. These children were meant to be killed, but were instead abandonded far, far away, eventually evolving into what we now know as the human race.
  • Tol'vir The tol'vir were created from stone specifically to watch over Uldum. However, the Curse of Flesh caused the tol'vir to soften from stone into the tol'vir we see today as the Ramkahen and the Orsis. In Cataclysm, agents of Deathwing agreed to turn some of these tol'vir back to stone in exchange for their servitude; these are the Neferset. In addition, the Obsidian Destroyers of Silithus are also descendants of the tol'vir race; however, they were enslaved by the Old Gods and escaped the Curse of Flesh entirely.
  • Giants There are several different types of giants in Azeroth, but the fire, ice, sea, storm and stone giants were all Titanic creations. Brann notes that although these creatures were afflicted by the Curse of Flesh, it doesn't appear to have had any effect on them at all.
  • Dragons The proto-drakes of Northrend are the first iteration of dragonkind; all dragons originally descended from these proto-drakes. However, the Aspects that lead each dragonflight were specifically created by the Titans from Galakrond, the progenitor of dragonkind. Oddly enough, the dragonkin found in various dungeons were not originally dragons; they were mortal servants of the dragons who were transformed into something halfway between mortal form and dragon. These servants didn't have to be willing to go under the transformation -- which, as Brann chillingly notes, explains black dragonkin.
  • Watchers The Titans also created various Watchers to watch over Azeroth. From these Watchers, several races originated. Mimiron created the mechagnomes to assist him, who were then afflicted by the Curse of Flesh and evolved into the gnomish race. The Watcher Loken also created several races out of iron, including the iron giants, the iron vrykul and the iron dwarves. According to Brann, all of these iron races were subsequently corrupted by the Old Gods via Yogg-Saron, although Thorim and Mimiron are working on a way to fix their ailment.
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Odds and ends

There exist a few other races that don't appear to have explanations pointing to either Titanic or Ancient origins. These races are still shrouded in mystery, and most are more conjecture than real fact.
  • Earth giants These giants are not credited as being of Titanic origin, unlike the rest of the giant races. However, it appears that the earth giants were the progenitors of the gronn, who in turn evolved into the ogres. From the ogres, Brann makes an unlikely leap to suggest that the ettin and the orcs both evolved -- and it was cross-breeding between orc and ogre that created the Mok'Nathal, of whom Rexxar is the most noted member.
  • Fungi From the fungi, we have both fungal giants and sporelings, although again, this appears to be merely conjecture.
  • Arakkoa Brann suggests that the arakkoa race someone evolved from or were created by Anzu. Anzu is purportedly a raven god, and he is now a permanent boss in Sethekk Halls and being farmed for his reins on a daily basis. So much for godhood, hmm?
  • Aqir Though records point to the Old Gods creating the aqir from some other race, we have no idea what that race actually was. However, the aqir eventually evolved into several distinct races -- the Qiraji of the south, from which it appears the Silithid and insects themselves evolved, and the Nerubians of the north, from which it appears spiders evolved. Brann notes, however, that though the Tribunal of Ages stated that spiders and insects descended from the aqir after the Old God war, there's nothing indicating how insects were around before this evolution or even if there were any insects on Azeroth at all.
Although not every race has been explained, Brann's journal presents a fascinating look into the origins of Azeroth, both before the Titans' arrival and after. A large chunk of Azeroth simply didn't exist prior to Titan intervention. An interesting note is that four of the six Alliance races currently available all have their roots with the Titans -- the humans, the humans afflicted with the worgen curse, the gnomes, and the dwarves. In fact, the only two races of the Alliance that are not Titan-touched are the night elves, who purportedly were created by Elune (and we have no idea what Elune actually is) and the draenei, whose otherworldly origins haven't really been explained beyond the eredar.

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What's really fascinating though is comparing that to the other side of the faction fence. The majority of the Horde races are simply natural creatures of Azeroth. The tauren and trolls existed prior to the Titans' arrival. Supposedly the earth giants, from which both ogre and orc descended, weren't of Titantic creation either. The trolls have been around since the dawn of time, it seems, and the goblins were created due to a mineral rather than a Titan. The roots of the blood elves can be eventually traced back to trolls, and the Forsaken exist in a realm in and of themselves -- not human anymore, but originally of human origin. This makes them the only Horde race with any Titanic root.

What it turns into is a literal interpretation of man vs. nature or the age-old argument of good vs. evil, order vs. chaos. The Titans are creatures of order, and the majority of the Alliance can trace their roots right back to these pillars of righteousness. The Horde are presented more often than not as the bad guys, but they aren't, really -- they're simply part of the wild rhythm of nature, of that chaotic state that Azeroth was in prior to the Titans' arrival.

Of course, neither side is really as black and white as good or bad would suggest. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, taking a long look at the origins of the various major races of Azeroth suggests that perhaps the steps we take, the fight we fight, Alliance vs. Horde -- it isn't simply blind factional devotion. Perhaps that fight we fight is ingrained from within, somewhere deep in our genes.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:

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: Lore, Know your Lore

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