Crafty, cunning, ambitious and sometimes completely insane, the goblin race was first introduced to Warcraft players back in Warcraft II as an ally for the Horde. Sometime between Warcraft II and World of Warcraft, the goblins made an about-face and declared themselves completely neutral, siding with neither side in the ongoing Alliance/Horde conflict. With the announcement of Cataclysm's release and the inclusion of goblins as the new Horde race, one of the questions that has consistently popped up time and time again is why a supposedly neutral race would choose to break that stance and ally with one side over another?
It's a good question. Why would a race suddenly rescind on an agreement that by all appearances seems to be profitable? For that matter, why are the goblins so obsessed with profit, anyway? The goblins of Warcraft have a history that goes back much farther than any player simply paying a visit to Booty Bay realizes, and that history has a lot to say about why the goblins are the way they are -- ruthless little mercenaries constantly on the lookout for an easy way to make some gold.
Please note: The following post contains all kinds of spoilers for the Kezan and Lost Isles portions of the Cataclysm expansion, as well as The Shattering by Christie Golden. If you wish to remain unspoiled, turn back, before it's too late!
While the origins of the goblin race aren't really spoken of to outsiders, goblins have been around an incredibly long time -- the first mentions of goblins dates all the way back to the forging of the Dragon Soul just prior to the War of the Ancients ten thousand years ago, and it's indicated that the goblins have been around far longer than that. Much like the tauren and the trolls, it's possible that the goblin race was one of the original races of Azeroth, prior to the Titan's arrival. However, in the new goblin starting area, a creature called the Faceless of the Deep mentions remembering when the goblins were "created" -- suggesting that much like the gnomes, goblins were possibly created by the Titans when Azeroth was "reorganized."
In Cataclysm, there's a little more light shed on the mysterious origins of the goblins -- originally the goblins weren't terribly bright creatures, and were actually slaves to the troll race that were forced to mine in small, cramped tunnels where the trolls simply could not go. The goblins discovered a strange mineral called kaja'mite, and the trolls promptly began using it for their voodoo rituals, forcing the goblins to continue mining as much of the mineral as they could find. But the kaja'mite had some unexpected side effects -- in handling and mining the material, the goblins were suddenly growing ... smarter.
So smart in fact that they began hoarding the mineral for themselves, fashioning crude weapons and armor out of it and continuing to grow in intelligence. Eventually, the goblins grew smart enough to come up with a plan to take back the island on which they'd been enslaved -- Kezan -- and free themselves from slavery. This plan was so successful that the trolls were quickly overwhelmed and now they were forced to mine the strange mineral for the goblins. The goblins established a large underground city called Undermine, and continued working on their inventions -- which grew progressively more complex and extraordinary over time.
In addition to all the inventing and mining, the goblins had a third thing going for them: greed. Pure, simple greed. Perhaps the joy of overthrowing the trolls and suddenly coming into an absurd amount of wealth as a result had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the ever-dwindling supplies of kaja'mite combined with the intelligence they'd been granted, but the goblin race was absolutely obsessed with obtaining as much stuff -- be it gold, inventions, baubles, whatever -- as they possibly could. The more stuff you had, the better your situation was, after all. And in between the greed and intelligence, a system of sorts grew -- a hierarchy of Trade Princes and those that worked below them in a giant Trade Coalition, a merchant empire that set the rules of goblin merchants everywhere. The rules were and still are noticeably lax -- smuggling? Just fine. Slavery? Hey, if it turns a profit ...
Trade Princes made their home in Undermine, from which they controlled vast armies of merchants and mercenaries who made deals with races all over the world. They did this via Trade Fleets that traveled the oceans in search of suckers -- pardon me, potential customers -- for viable trade. The first of these Trade Fleets left Undermine roughly 200 years before the First War, well before the orcs burst onto the scene in Azeroth. By the time the Second War came to pass, goblins had established themselves as some of the most powerful merchants the world had seen.
During the Second War, a Horde ambassador approached a traveling Trade Prince and asked for supplies, weapons and technology in exchange for a cut of the spoils of war. The Trade Prince agreed -- not so much because he agreed with the ideology behind the Horde, but because he figured the Horde were going to win the Second War and thus, the agreement would prove a profitable one. After the Horde's loss, the Trade Prince realized his mistake in only choosing one side to negotiate with, and the rest of the Trade Coalition followed suit. The goblins approached the Alliance in order to strike up a trade agreement:
Since then the goblins have taken neither side, no matter what war happens to be going on or who is on the winning or losing side. Instead they stay firmly neutral, selling technology and weapons to both sides and doubling their profits. In fact, they discovered that while it's profitable to sell to both sides of a war, it's much more profitable to play the two sides against each other. Goblins can and will deliberately shore up the weaker side of a conflict so that both sides of that conflict are evenly matched -- after all, the longer a disagreement or war goes on, the longer the goblins can keep their customers."No, no no no!" the green creature gasped in a strained, shrieking voice, waving his hands frantically. He stood about eye level with the breakfast table at which Trollbane and King Terenas were seated and fumbled with the monocle. "You've got me all wrong! It's not like that at all!"
"Isn't it, Krix?" The mildness with which Terenas uttered the words told Muradin that nothing of real threat was going on. The king reached for a piece of bread and began to butter it.
"No!" Krix exclaimed, looking offended. "Well. One trade prince, yes. Did. That." He coughed slightly. "Allied with the Horde. But! Only one very foolish prince, and even he came to his senses after the Second War. But the rest of the goblins have come to realize that it's much better to remain neutral. Much better, for you, for us, for everyone! Free trade thrives that way and we all benefit!"
The Steamwheedle Cartel is the largest of the goblin Trade Cartels, with ports all over the world that serve both Alliance and Horde customers. The goblins of the Steamwheedle Cartel are are quick to stop any cross-faction violence that might break out, ever mindful of their neutral reputation and not wanting to appear to be taking one side over another. The current location of the Steamwheedle Cartel's Trade Prince is unknown, however it's likely he's with the other Trade Princes in Undermine, gleefully counting his piles of gold.