The draenei are one of Warcraft's more unique contributions to the realm of fantasy fiction, the one player race without no real precedent in earlier fantasy worlds. These are not your typical elves, orcs and dwarves borrowed from Tolkien or Dungeons and Dragons; the draenei are tall, with hooves, tails, horns and even face-tendrils -- but they are noble and spiritual people, the last remnants of an ancient civilization of magic and beauty.
To begin thinking about what it must be like to live as a draenei, imagine how the human race might be many thousands of years into the future, maybe a quarter of a million years from now. Whatever technology those people might have would probably seem like magic to us. Our descendants might unravel the mysteries of biology to such a degree that they can halt the aging process and live as long as they want to. They may be able to tap on sources of power we haven't even imagined, and act with motivations and purposes we could scarcely understand.
The draenei as a people were once like this, 25,000 years before the setting of World of Warcraft. Even at that time, they were already ancient in their history and advanced far beyond what you and I might understand. Their world, called Argus, was a prosperous society full of great achievements and magical wonders, quite unlike anything we see today. They had a different name then, however -- they were called, the "eredar" -- a name which now upsets the draenei as a painful reminder of everything they have lost, the corruption, the betrayal and the near extermination of everything they have ever known and loved.
One of the first things to understand about being a draenei is how very ageless they are. Ever since those ancient days on Argus, they have lived without aging. This immortality, which some night elves desire so jealously, comes as a matter of course to the draenei -- so much so that they take it for granted. Other races might go for a long time without realizing the draenei are immortal, because it's not something they talk about very often -- it's just part of who and what they are. Just like we humans may someday use science to preserve human life indefinitely without fear of aging or disease, the "eredar" of millennia long gone had achieved this feat through mastery of magical arts, and agelessness has since become as natural and as common as breathing.
We just spoke about immortality and how hard it is to understand what being so ageless might be like in our last article in this series, but for draenei, I think our trouble in this regard can be eased quite a bit by understanding the special draenei sense of time. Draenei do not really count the years that pass them by, nore do they not celebrate birthdays. They don't even mark the passing of generations with family surnames -- each draenei only has a given name. And if you ask them how old they are, they'll probably say they don't know. You've heard the expression that "time flies when you're having fun," but with draenei you can imagine what if that saying were applied over the course of thousands of years? Draenei haven't been "having fun" all this time, of course, but they have been pursuing goals and activities that held great meaning for them. And as many older people will tell you, time just seems to go by faster the more of it you have, and little things (like, say... Tusedays) that mark the passage of time seem so much less important.
Also, to say that the draenei are a long-lived people doesn't mean that they aren't also passionate in one way or another, or youthful, or even completely ignorant about some things. There are, in fact, many things that humans and other denizens of Azeroth might know very much about, but of which draenei know very little at all. A typical draenei would be most willing to admit his ignorance with complete humility; after all, what's the point of pretending to know something you don't know? Isn't that a little... childish or immature?
If you're wondering why the draenei are so very very "nice" compared to certain other races, then you'll find the answer lies in the same place it usually does with such pleasant people: faith. The draenei have a very deep spiritual connection to the Holy Light, rather like the connection the tauren have to the Earthmother, or even a little like the infinite faith the gnomes have in science. Faith is one of the most powerful motivators in existence, and the faith of the draenei has been tested very severely over the course of many centuries spent on the brink of destruction, when faith was more or less all that sustained them.
You can trace the beginning of the draenei's abiding spirituality to their escape from the planet Argus: A corrupt god-like being of immense power named Sargeras had discovered this world in his journeys through the universe, and tempted three of its most prominent leaders, Kil'Jaeden, Archimonde, and Velen, with evil power beyond imagining. Kil'Jaeden and Archimonde accepted, becoming leaders of Sargeras' vast army of demons called the Burning Legion, but Velen had serious doubts about it, and received a vision about the evils that were to come from angel-like beings of Light called the "naaru." He helped the small group of eredar who would listen to him to escape the others with the help of naaru, thus entering into an eternal exile while the great glory and wonder of his home world was reduced to ruin under the demonic corruption. Over time, his people came to be known as "draenei," because draenei means "exiled ones" in the Eredar language.
During their exile of many millennia, the draenei learned a great deal from their naaru rescuers, and adopted the naaru way of life as their own. The naaru foretold that one day the draenei would be part of a great "Army of the Light" that could turn back the demonic tide, and the power of the Light gave them great strength in keeping hope and civilization alive until that day came, even when it seemed all hope was lost.
At last, the draenei found a world which the demons had not discovered, and settled there. They called it "Draenor," which means "Exiles' Refuge" in their language, and they believed it would be safe. Their relations with the native orcs were peaceful at first. The orcs even considered the spot where the draenei arrived on Draenor as a sacred and holy site, though they never truly realized it was an inter-dimensional vessel powered by a naaru.
But the eredar demons found the draenei in the end, and through their magic, twisted and corrupted orcish society. The full story of that corruption can be found in my article about the orcs, so for now suffice it to say that there was a horrible holocaust, in which the orcs committed genocide against the draenei. Many of those few who escaped still suffered terrible mutation under the pollution of the environment by the orcish warlocks using demonic magic. The orcs under demonic control shattered their world with this magic and then abandoned it, after which it became known as "Outland."
But those very few draenei who survived still did not lose faith. They stayed in hiding until the orcs had moved on through the Dark Portal into Azeroth, and other powers had come to take possession of Outland. When the opportunity came, Velen led his people to take back one section of another naaru vessel that had been taken over by some evil blood elves. The battle forced them to activate the vessel's ability to jump between worlds even though it was sabotaged, and they crash landed on Azeroth, on an island not far from the night elf homeland in Kalimdor. Since then, they've repurposed the shipwrecked vessel into a kind of city, called the Exodar, and are finally trying to set down roots again with the help of great heroes who are allied with them in their struggle against the demons.
"Not all who wander are lost."
Your draenei character would have been an adult when all these things happened. If he or she is especially old, it's possible to have have been born during the time of peaceful civilization on Argus before Sargeras came, or else during the long flight between worlds aboard the naaru vessel that rescued them. More likely, however, your character's parents would only have felt safe having a child after reaching Draenor and believing themselves safe from the demons. Growing up to adulthood would have taken some amount of time... maybe 20 years? Maybe 200? It probably doesn't really matter so much -- what matters are the experiences and lessons that defined your growth process, not the actual amount of time it took to get there.
Most of your character's family and friends were probably lost in the orcish genocide against your people, perhaps including his or her own children. Some of their loved ones, young and old, may have even sacrificed themselves in order to lead the orcs away from your true location and make them believe the draenei were entirely wiped out. Your character probably partook in the battle to retake the Exodar and escape to Azeroth, and is now trying to get used to life there, quite eager to join with the noble Alliance, whom the draenei know to have faith in the Holy Light and battle against the demonic Burning Legion.
Most of what the draenei were is now gone. Much of the glorious knowledge their people once mastered is lost, and most of their loved ones have been taken from them. But one thing remains: Faith, and hope. And, whether your character is angry and bitter or positive and forgiving, faith and hope are the two things that have made the draenei people what they are, and these two qualities are what they carry into the future.
WoWWiki's information about them, as well as Dramatis Personae's quick start -- but don't stop there. The Burning Crusade website has a nice introduction to them as well, but there's a lot of special depth in the short story called "Unbroken," especially in terms of how it was to be attacked by the orcs and mutated by their demonic energies. Also, be sure to listen to a beautiful and haunting piece of audio drama about the draenei which is perfect for understanding the spirit of their people in the face of horrible disaster.
[Edit: FireDrake pointed out the possibility that the draenei are not actually immortal, but have a lifespan of 2,500 years or so. He says that people like Velen survived all those millennia between the worlds by going into a kind of "stasis" mode aboard the naaru vessel during which their aging process was temporarily halted. Others say that the extreme long life is just a gift of the Light and a blessing from having interacted so much with the naaru, and that their normal lifespan should be about 1,000 years. I think these possibilities are less likely, but the lore does not state it clearly either way. Until then, whichever interpretation you choose, I think the special draenei sense of time still stands -- if they do have a lifespan, they probably don't know exactly how long it is any more than we do.