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.
There will be spoilers for patch 5.4 in this post
If you remember last week's column, you know the basic premise of this series: covering the ways that the Horde and Alliance, post Hellscream's downfall, can mess things up and prevent an era of peace from coming about. On paper, things look to be about as promising in terms of Horde/Alliance relationships as they have been since the Third War - both the surviving Horde factions and those of the Alliance were united in an uneasy truce by their shared rage towards Garrosh, both worked together in the Barrens and in the invasion of Orgrimmar. If what we've gleaned from data-miners is true, then there will be a new Warchief appointed, with Varian Wrynn allowing it and withdrawing the Alliance from Orgrimmar.
This doesn't, however, really deal with the issues that caused the war between the Alliance and Horde this time around. The Horde, in need of vital resources, invaded and conquered Azshara, pushed deep into Ashenvale, besieged Gilneas and used plague weapons to drive its populace into exile and totally annihilated the Alliance presence in Alterac. These situations haven't changed, and further, there are other problems among the peoples of the Alliance.
So let's explore each of the nations of the Alliance and how they might react, or what they have on their plates to occupy them following the fall of Orgrimmar.
The Humans of Stormwind
Frankly, Stormwind is probably at once the least and the most threatening to any chance for peace between the Alliance and the Horde. While he has no love for the Horde (especially the orcs who invaded his home and murdered his father when he was a small child) it's clear that King Varian Wrynn isn't interested in a protracted battle with the Horde right now, and it isn't surprising - his own kingdom (one of the largest, claiming dominion over Westfall, Elwynn, Redridge and Duskwood as well as part of Northern Stranglethorn and bases in the Blasted Lands and Swamp of Sorrows) is simply beset with concerns that have nothing to do with the conflict with the Horde.
The war with the Lich King exacerbated problems caused by Onyxia during her time as Lady Katrana Prestor. Between her manipulating the military situation to leave the various parts of the kingdom exposed and alone, her manipulation of the House of Nobles causing the creation of the Defias Brotherhood (and the death of Queen Tiffin), and her role in the disappearance of King Varian (which led to many complications, such as the massive ransom paid for the king's return, levied in the form of a huge tax the people had to endure) have led to Stormwind suffering staggering costs. Quite frankly, the war in Northrend couldn't have come at a worse time, and the effects of Deathwing's attack on the world made a bad situation worse. The large kingdom Varian controls reels under the crises he's had to deal with. It's not surprising that the leader of the last remaining human nation would rather turn his attention to his own people for a while. There's much to fix.
This same series of problems could make Stormwind in turn a threat to the Horde. Quite frankly, Horde forces in Stranglethorn, Stonard and the Blasted Lands are either imperiling communication between human settlements or sitting on resources Varian could use to help restore his nation. STV in particular, especially with the decline in the fortunes of the Gurubashi trolls, is a prime target for human colonization. With the north of the Eastern Kingdoms infested with the Forsaken, south is the only viable target, and while it may be initially unappealing swamps and forests, there's lumber and exotic plants to be extracted as well as potential farmsteads to be hewn out of the untamed wilderness. If Varian was to start dedicated colonization, he'd have a lot of displaced people willing to make the effort in exchange for a new start. Could the fractured Horde muster up enough force to stop him?
The dwarves of Ironforge
Ironforge has no real horse in the Horde/Alliance conflict at present - no lands claimed by the dwarves came under attack by Horde forces, and aside from some minor (to the dwarves, anyway) conflict with the tauren in the Barrens and Mulgore, there's simply no real animosity between the dwarves and the races of the Horde. Sure, they don't like them, but in most cases they're isolated by geography (even the forsaken, expanding as they are, haven't reached any dwarven territories yet) or inclination. Sure, there are orcs in the south of the Eastern Kingdoms, but there's humans between them and Ironforge. Same with the Forsaken to the north. The blood elves used to be distant allies, and while that's gone there's no particular feeling of animosity between them either. Dwarves have no love for trolls, but again outside of the Hinterlands no particular history of conflict.
However, the dwarves as a people have several tendencies that make them quite disruptive - they tend to do things like dig up people's ancestors without asking, plunge into ancient ruins and awaken old gods, and otherwise upset the applecart. Also, while they aren't currently in close proximity to Sylvanas, all she has to do is cross the Thandol Span, and she'll be breathing down their necks. With the Horde establishing a base among the Dragonmaw in Cataclysm it's conceivable that the dwarves could also make a move in the Twilight Highlands.
Part of the problem is the dwarves have come together for the first time in centuries, as the three clans split asunder by the War of Three Hammers (Dark Iron, Bronzebeard and Wildhammer) are now united in a Council of Three Hammers that meets in Ironforge. If Moira Thaurissan can cement the gains she's made as of the Blood on the Snow scenario, in time the Council (and her infant son, the successor to both Ironforge and the Dark Iron thrones) could rule all three clans of dwarves, and in so doing, grow more powerful and seek to reclaim both Grim Batol and Blackrock Depths. These citadels of lost dwarven power would have the dwarves ruling over an empire that stretches from the Hinterlands south through the Highlands, the Wetlands, Dun Morogh, Loch Modan and even into the Badlands, Searing Gorge and Blasted Lands. It would put them in close proximity to their human allies and create an Alliance power block in the heart of the continent. But it would require a great deal of combat to cement this - those Dark Irons not loyal to Moira would need to be removed, for instance. Could they be so united, and should they? A completely internal war of unification could definitely be a problem for the Alliance.
The night elves once ruled most of the world, but that was more than ten thousand years ago. Since the cataclysmic sundering of the world, those who remained on the continent of Kalimdor have turned away from the arcane, rejecting their brethren (who became the high elves of Silvermoon in the nation of Quel'Thalas) and turning their attention to living in harmony with the natural world and the dictates of the moon goddess Elune. Now, with the arrival of the Horde on Kalimdor, the kaldorei (children of the stars) find themselves pushed back from their ancestral lands for the first time in eons. Under this pressure from the invader orcs and trolls, the night elves have accepted membership in a new Alliance with the humans, dwarves, gnomes, and now the draenei and worgen as well. Strange enough for a race that spent ten thousand years isolating itself from other peoples.
In the past decade night elf society has undergone shifts that would seem dramatic for a people who hadn't lived for thousands of years in unchanging stasis. Their ageless immortality was lost when the World Tree Nordrassil detonated to destroy Archimonde at the end of the Third War, forcing them to come to grips with lives that would now end in death. (Granted, they had always been capable of dying from violence, and even without their immortality they are an extremely long lived race.) Since that time there was the creation of Teldrassil and Darnassus by Fandral Staghelm, the revelation of Staghelm's treachery and his attempt to poison Malfurion Stormrage, the return of Malfurion and his current role as co-leader of the night elf people, the Horde attacks on Ashenvale and conquest of Azshara, the return of the Highborne from Eldre'thalas - any one of these changes would be enough to cause discontent rippling through a society.
Looking at night elves today, their societal roles have come apart. The Sentinels are still primarily female, as are the Wardens, but males are being trained to fight and hunt. The druids have accepted females, the priesthood of Elune trains males. A society that was once almost exclusively led and staffed by women because their males were asleep for centuries at a time is now finding ways to integrate both genders into its ranks. And it is causing discontent for some, as Maiev Shadowsong's betrayal and attempted murder of the Highborne shows - Tyrande and Malfurion's leadership in the face of all the changes and calamities of the past decade is being sorely tested.
And following the invasion of Orgrimmar, it may be even more sorely tested. The night elves have very good reasons to want to keep the war with the Horde going - they have lost territory to the orcs and seen their ancient settlements stolen, their people murdered and their corpses left to rot as orcs walk over their bodies to claim their homes. Astranaar saw a concerted Horde effort to firebomb it into submission. This Horde campaign led night elves like Leyara to turn their backs on their own people out of frustration and rage at the pace of the response to Horde aggression (Leyara lost her child to the flames of Horde firebombs) and its likely that should Tyrande and Malfurion fail to make any effort to reclaim those stolen lands that their people would grow even more impatient and unhappy. Especially when the Horde is fresh from a civil war and can't really divert the time and effort to prevent the Alliance from reclaiming what it lost.
And the night elves aren't the only residents of Darnassus who might feel that way...
The Exiled Worgen of Gilneas
The worgen currently reside as refugees in Darnassus or as world-traveling adventurers, having lost their homeland of Gilneas to the plague bombs of the forsaken. They are in much the same situation as the night elves - their entire society transformed by loss and an ancient druid magic that has made them into monsters, then their entire nation taken from them.
Truthfully, though, while the worgen are extremely likely to want to take advantage of the Horde's weakness to reclaim their home, Gilneas is in the worst place possible for the Alliance to mount any sort of counterattack, as Sylvanas is likely to remain at full strength following the Siege of Orgrimmar. It's feasible that the worgen could throw their might behind the night elves in hopes that the night elves will return the favor later - the various worgen being trained by the Sentinels under Shandris Feathermoon could bring a great deal of force to bear.
Genn Greymane, for his part, remains in exile in Stormwind. He seems unlikely to be able to motivate a battered nation of humans to risk all for a people who hid behind their wall when the Third War destroyed Lordaeron.
Next week, we'll continue with a look at the gnomes, draenei, scattered territories and nations (like, say, Dalaran under Jaina) both pandaren factions, and neutral organizations. I just plain ran out of room.
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.