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Know Your Lore: The peculiar tale of the Headless Horseman


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.

Prepare yourselves, the bells have tolled!
Shelter your weak, your young and your old!
Each of you shall pay the final sum -- CRY for mercy!
The reckoning has come!
He was introduced with Patch 2.2.2 in 2007, his gruesome shade sending players frantically scurrying for water buckets to put out buildings he'd set on fire. The Headless Horseman has been around ever since, providing a fun holiday break from the usual Warcraft grind -- but few people knew the origins of the new boss. Other than a brief note by the orphan matron who begs players to put out the fires, the character of the Headless Horseman seemed to have little story behind him.

The Warcraft Legends manga series introduced a story about the fearsome rhyming foe in issue number 5 released in September of 2009. Though the Horseman's story had been fairly short until that point, the manga told the whole tale of the Horseman's origins, why he haunts the streets setting buildings ablaze -- and why he prefers to speak in those peculiar poems rather than simply saying what's on his mind. It's a sad story, taking place before the fall of Lordaeron, and it begins with a paladin named Sir Thomas Thomson.

Please note: The following post contains spoilers for Warcraft Legends Vol. 5. If you wish to remain unspoiled, run away little girl! Run away ...

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Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

Know Your Lore: The Council of Tirisfal and the last Guardian

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.

He was the last Guardian and one of the most influential people in Azeroth -- but he never meant to be either one. Of all of the myriad and varied heroes in World of Warcraft, there is one man who is responsible for the majority of the events we see in Azeroth today. This man was solely responsible for the presence of orcs, responsible for the Horde, responsible for the ever-evolving conflict between Horde and Alliance. He was responsible for the original destruction of Stormwind, for the death of Anduin Lothar, King Llane Wrynn and many other heroes whose exploits didn't make it into the annals of history. He was responsible, indirectly, for the corruption of Arthas and the subsequent death of King Menethil, the razing of Stratholme and the rise of the Scourge. He arguably has more blood on his hands than any other being in Azeroth.

And yet he was also responsible for the first tenuous threads of peace stretched between Alliance and Horde. He was responsible for the rise of some of Azeroth's greatest heroes -- he was the man that made Varian Wrynn who he is today, he was the man who turned Thrall from an orc with dreams of peace for his people into a leader of action. He was responsible for saving Azeroth from being razed and torn asunder by the Burning Legion. He was a man of many talents, and a man of many regrets. His name is Medivh.

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Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

Know Your Lore: Current Alliance politics -- the humans, part two


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.

So far, we've talked about human politics and the first Alliance -- the Alliance of Lordaeron, formed by King Terenas and Anduin Lothar after the fall of Stormwind and King Llane. When we left off, King Varian Wrynn had blissfully taken both the throne and a new wife who had given him a fine, healthy son. He was a staunch supporter of the Alliance of Lordaeron, having had King Terenas to look up to as a father figure and a mentor after the death of King Llane. Stormwind had been rebuilt through the efforts of the people of the kingdom, notably the Stonemasons, led by Edwin VanCleef. Varian was in love, the kingdom was happy, and prosperity blessed the land.

Of course this means that all hell was about to break loose. This is Warcraft, after all. Varian wasn't the only one that held power within Stormwind's walls -- there was also the House of Nobles, the governing body of Stormwind under the King. It was the House of Nobles that originally contracted the Stonemasons and agreed upon a sum of gold to be paid after their work had been completed. Ordinarily this arrangement would've gone well, but there was a wrench that had been thrown in the works back when Varian was crowned king. Her name was Katrana Prestor.

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Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

Know Your Lore: Current Alliance politics -- the Night Elves, Part 1

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.

While I had plenty of fun with Horde politics, I couldn't really cover the Horde side of the game without giving equal time to the Alliance half as well, so the next few weeks will be catching up on Alliance politics. Admittedly the Alliance hasn't had quite as tumultuous a time as the Horde, but there are still several factors coming into play that haven't previously been addressed. Varian Wrynn may make an ... exciting and explosive new leader, but the rest of the Alliance we see today is still fairly new as well. Today we'll be looking at the Alliance race with the largest impact on both the Alliance, and Azeroth both past and present day -- the night elves.

While the events of the War of the Ancients and the Sundering are well known, the events surrounding the night elves' allegiance to the Alliance are still a little cloudy. Was it simply gratitude to the Alliance for their help during the Third War and the events at Hyjal that caused them to join? If so, why did they turn away from the Horde, when they were present at Hyjal as well? For the night elves, the answer boils down to this: It's all about the trees.

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Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

Know Your Lore: Current Horde politics, the Trolls

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 trolls of Warcraft have a history that spans back further than any other playable race currently in the game, with the exception of the draenei. This makes it difficult to trace the entirety of their history, but fortunately the Darkspear of the Horde are one small fraction of what is a gigantic race as a whole. While the orcs, blood elves, Forsaken and tauren are all dealing with their own issues, the trolls of the Darkspear tribe are working quietly and largely by themselves to deal with a few major problems of their own.

The troll races of Warcraft were originally largely part of two major empires -- the Gurubashi of southeastern Kalimdor, and the Amani in the middle regions of the continent. There were other tribes scattered here and there, notably the trolls of Gundrak to the north, but by and large, all troll tribes fell under either the Gurubashi or the Amani empires. Prior to the Sundering, the trolls comprised a gigantic portion of the world's population, and while the Gurubashi and Amani didn't really like each other, they rarely warred, instead choosing to fight against a third empire, that of the Aqir. The two races fought relentlessly for thousands of years, and eventually the Aqir Empire split into two city-states, Azjol-Nerub to the north, and Ahn'Qiraj to the south. With the Aqir driven into exile, the trolls returned to their normal lives, though neither empire expanded much further than their original boundaries.

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Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be a Druid

This installment of All the World's a Stage is the nineteenth in a series of roleplaying guides in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well, without embarrassing yourself.

Nature is a system of life energy in constant flow, peaceful one moment and turbulent the next. All living things draw their life from it, and depend upon its balance for their existence. Druids are the protectors of this balance, who harness the energies it contains and try to live their lives according to its laws and principles. In this way, they become intimate members of the natural system, embodying the very force that they seek to protect. The druid is not merely a spellcaster who draws on nature to do cool stuff -- he is nature, in himself, completely one with it in every way. The world is his body, and he is an inseparable part of the whole.

It can be rather hard for those of us living in the concrete jungles of modern city life to get a feeling for what nature really is, or what it feels like to be a part of it. Perhaps if you have ever ventured off the paved highway into the distant reaches of the world, you will know the feeling of connection to the greatness of the natural world in which the human race evolved, long, long ago in a state of mind far, far away from billboards and electronic devices, pop culture and prime-time TV programming. It may no longer be possible for human beings to simply return to its ancient state, nor would that necessarily be a good thing. Today, people look out at the world outside the closed-off bubble of material civilization and wonder their new relationship with the ancient balance of nature could be.

To play a druid in WoW as a class in a game is one thing, but to try and get inside the druid worldview and understand what they might be thinking is something else. To start, it would help to look inside ourselves and see what sort of connection to nature exists there. Is there a balance? What would balance look like? How would it feel to be in complete harmony with the natural world? What would it be like to channel all the power of nature through your body or indeed feel the world itself as an extension of your body?

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Filed under: Night Elves, Tauren, Druid, Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Guides, RP, Classes, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be a Mage

This installment of All the World's a Stage is the sixteenth in a series of roleplaying guides in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well, without embarrassing yourself. It's also the first installment with a title that rhymes!

The Mage is the foremost master of magic in the Warcraft universe. Although all the other classes excluding the Warrior and the Rogue use magic of one sort or another with equally wonderful effects, the Mage is the class that's named after the stuff.

But what is magic? What does it feel like to harness it? Does the mage have to do a strange ritual or utter incomprehensible words in an ancient language in order to cast her spells? Other fantasy settings often have one or more of these elements together, but as far as I can tell, Warcraft lacks them.

Arcane magic in the World of Warcraft is an ever-present energy field surrounding the whole world. Mages access it by concentrating in the magic energy within themselves, feeling it rush through their body, and directing it as they please. Those spells that require reagents need an extra focusing item with magical properties of its own in order to bring about the desired effect, but for the most part, fireballs, frostbolts and arcane explosions can be created through the mere act of will on the part of a properly educated mind.

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Filed under: Horde, Alliance, Human, Gnomes, Undead, Trolls, Mage, Analysis / Opinion, Draenei, Blood Elves, The Burning Crusade, Lore, Guides, RP, Classes, Wrath of the Lich King, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

Know Your Lore: Dalaran


Welcome to Know Your Lore, where each week Alex Ziebart brings you a tasty little morsel of lore to wrap your mind around. Sweet, sweet lore. Mmmm. Have suggestions for future KYL topics? Leave a comment below!

Dalaran has been one of the most prominent nations in the Eastern Kingdoms since its founding, though it's actually quite small. A nation only thousands strong at its height has perhaps held more sway over world leaders in its time than any other nation, and has attracted the ire of some of the most powerful entities Azeroth has ever seen.

Dalaran, located in the heart of former Lordaeron territory, has been the center of Arcane knowledge since its creation, and could be considered the Humans' answer to Quel'Thalas, though the nation accepts Elves (and many others) in its ranks as well. Magic is Dalaran's lifeblood, and is even ruled through the strength and wisdom of its magi. Dalaran is a magocracy, a government ruled by a council of mages known as the Kirin Tor, elected by citizens of the nation. Their icon is the Violet Eye, with Violet being the motif used for the nation itself, and the color purple representing the Arcane as a whole in Warcraft (Arcane Missiles, Netherstorm).

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Filed under: Mage, Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Know your Lore, Wrath of the Lich King

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be a Paladin


This installment of All the World's a Stage is the fourteenth in a series of roleplaying guides in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well, without embarrassing yourself.

You might say that paladins are the guardians at the gates of hell -- they fight evil wherever it penetrates into their world and they take the fight to the evil's source in the hope of quenching it forever. Although they focus on guarding their people from undead and demonic forces on the rise, paladins actually stand against evil everywhere, including the evil in their own hearts.

Being a paladin means that you have a relationship of some sort with the Holy Light, that mysterious force of goodness and faith that flows to some degree within all living beings with positive intentions. Most paladins (and many priests) believe that when you do something that you believe to be good, the power of the Light increases in you and your connection to the rest of creation is strengthened, whereas doing something evil (such as acts of greed, despair, or vengeance) will darken the universe and weaken your connection to it. Whether this belief system is a religion or a philosophy is open to interpretation, and seems to depend in some part upon which race you are.

There are three sorts of paladins in World of Warcraft, aligned with the humans, the draenei, and the blood elves. All of these share certain similarities, but each has its own differences as well.

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Filed under: Horde, Alliance, Human, Dwarves, Paladin, Draenei, Blood Elves, Lore, Guides, RP, Classes, Wrath of the Lich King, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be a gnome

This installment of All the World's a Stage is the fifth in a series of roleplaying guides in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well, without embarrassing yourself.

Gnomes are probably the easiest race to roleplay in World of Warcraft. They have a strong (and mostly accurate) stereotype that people just get instantly, and there's a childlike "blank-slate" quality about them that means that they don't have to have complicated backstories.

In fact, you could define the gnomes as a race without a history to speak of. They are so very curious and inquisitive that they ask questions about everything, that they try to unravel any mysteries they encounter, and consider their personal life stories to be of little account. They've written tomes upon tomes on the inner workings of multi-polar data transfer relays and eletro-magnified parallel power circuits, but it never really occurred to them that they should write down the history of their species. They are a people always looking into the future, and whatever passes beyond the infinitely precious present becomes lost to them in the unseen reaches of the past -- out of sight, out of mind.

That's not to say they have no memory -- they make use of their superb memories in carefully constructing their world-renown masterpieces of technological craftsmanship! Rather, it would be better to say that their minds only serve up memories relevant to the inquiry at hand. So if the orcs paved through azeroth a while back and destroyed everything in their path, well that was bad and all but it was a long time ago and who wants to hold a grudge? If the monstrous troggs came from the bowels of the earth and destroyed their cherished technological city of Gnomeregan... well, they'd love to get it back, but it's no reason to be unkind or uncheerful!

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Filed under: Alliance, Gnomes, Engineering, Lore, Guides, RP, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be an orc

This installment of All the World's a Stage is the second in a series of roleplaying guides in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well, without embarrassing yourself.

If you've seen Lord of the Rings, or read any other fantasy story in which orcs are portrayed, you probably think orcs are hideous humanoid monsters charging mindlessly forward to slaughter helpless innocents. Azerothian orcs are significantly different, however, with a shamanistic culture that prides honor above all other virtues.

But unless you've played World of Warcraft or Warcraft 3, you probably wouldn't know that. The orcs of Warcraft 1 and 2 were pretty squarely in "bad guy" territory, and it is only with the story of Thrall's rise to power and return to shamanism that we find out what the orcs' true history is.

Ironically, the story of the orcs is a bit like that of the horrors of modern Nazis and the lore of the ancient Jews mixed together. Imagine that the vast majority of your species came under the sway of a terrible and evil leader, utterly determined to commit genocide against your peaceful neighbors. After carrying out this deplorable task, your people sought a new enemy, and found a new world to destroy. In the midst of this conquest, however, your people's political leadership failed, the way back home was cut off, and you all ended up as slaves in exile, lethargic and utterly without hope. Suddenly, a hero appeared to unite your people, overcome your former masters, restore your ancient faith, reclaim your dignity, and establish a new homeland.

What follows is a brief account of the events most orcs know about or lived through, and a glimpse of the effects they would have had on your character.

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Filed under: Horde, Orcs, Lore, Guides, RP, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be a human

This installment of All the World's a Stage is the first in a series of roleplaying guides on every race in WoW, in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well without embarrassing yourself.

I know, you're thinking "wait a minute, I'm already a human, aren't I? Isn't roleplaying a human in WoW just like being a human in real life -- plus some sword and sorcery, minus some boring office jobs and unpleasant bodily functions?" The answer is no, it's not so simple -- there's a bit of history and culture at work in Azerothian human society that all roleplayers of human characters need to be aware of. Otherwise, it's easy to fall into the trap of inconsistency with the Warcraft lore and the roleplaying that everyone else is trying to do within it.

Suppose for example that you say "Hi! My name is Walter and I was raised on a farm. Now I've come to Stormwind to have adventures and become a hero!" You may find the never-seen-danger-before style of new hero interesting to roleplay, but it would be very unlikely to find such a human in the actual Warcraft lore: ever since the orcs first came through the portal 30 years or so prior to the setting of our game, every human nation has suffered terribly as the human race barely survived 3 huge waves of devastating warfare, with some whole nations of humans completely wiped out. No human growing up in that time would have been untouched by the conflict -- and if you want to roleplay a human, you ought to know about it.

Similar issues exist for all the available player races in WoW; there are certain details about your race's history that you need to know in order to roleplay well. So today we will provide you with the basic knowledge you need to be a human. We'll leave the in-depth lore to other columns, though -- today is just a basic roleplayer's primer on one race, with other races to follow in the future.

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Filed under: Alliance, Human, Lore, Guides, RP, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

All the World's a Stage: How to be a death knight

When you decide to roleplay, a whole new world of imagination opens up to you -- soon you realize that all the World of Warcraft is a stage, and all the orcs and humans merely players.

Last week, we took a look at how roleplaying a death knight will be different from roleplaying other classes, because death knights come pre-packaged with elements of a backstory for you to flesh out: they have, for whatever reason, at one time joined forces with the Lich King, learned from him how to be a death knight, and now are breaking free of his influence and striking out against him.

As Medeni pointed out in her comments, however, this can potentially lead to a kind of unlikable "celebrity in rehab" type of personality. Imagine, if you will, the death knight known as Marisoo: formerly a paladin of the Light, she sought to destroy the Scourge that plagued her homeland of Lordaeron, but eventually, as she was consumed with vengeance and hatred, she joined the Lich King instead of destroying him. Having learned to turn corpses into slavering ghouls and call forth armies of the undead, she eventually thought better of the whole "wickedly destroy all life" thing and decided to destroy the Lich King after all, only this time she would use his own power against him! Muahaha.

As you can see, there are some pretty obvious flaws in this idea. First of all, the first half of it is almost a direct copy of Arthas' own tale, and, while I can certainly appreciate the power of that story, and the possibility that other paladins could have gone through something similar, roleplayers who want to play a death knight character must realize that it's going to get old fast. Just as death knights aren't just human paladins, we can't all go around copying Arthas, brooding on how moody and wicked we've become. We have to come up with new ideas that fit the death knight mould.

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Filed under: Virtual selves, Lore, RP, Death Knight, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

Why all race Death Knights make sense from a lore standpoint

It seems like one of the biggest problems a lot of people have with Death Knights is the fact that they can be all races. Me, I say: Why not? The lore really isn't as bad as you might think. Sure, some of the retcons can get a little annoying, but despite the fact that non-Paladin races will get to be Death Knights, I don't think you really consider it a retcon, but rather an evolution in an ever-evolving story that opens up a lot of great story ideas and RP opportunities, and I'm really looking forward to it.

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Filed under: Horde, Alliance, Human, Night Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Orcs, Tauren, Undead, Trolls, Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Blizzard, Expansions, Draenei, Blood Elves, Lore, RP, NPCs, Death Knight, Wrath of the Lich King

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