Sometimes it's easier to work with certain races as far as timelines go, and sometimes it gets very, very tricky. Today's subject is one of the trickiest. The draenei date back to the vanilla days of World of Warcraft -- but the draenei of Azeroth as we knew it then were most decidedly not the draenei we know in Azeroth today. While we mistakenly assumed the draenei always appeared as they do in the Swamp of Sorrows -- misshapen, deformed, and a bit ugly -- the draenei of the Swamp of Sorrows are actually mutated versions of the original race.
None of this was revealed until the announcement that draenei would be the playable Alliance race in The Burning Crusade. Once the draenei were announced, a flurry of speculation as to the race's origins and radical change in appearance appeared, as well as one of the most notorious lore snafus in Warcraft's history. If the draenei seem out of place on Azeroth, it's because they absolutely are -- they aren't even native to the planet Draenor from which their flight and subsequent crash landing on Azeroth originated. You think elves are old? Take a gander at the draenei lifetime, and prepare to be overloaded with potential for more roleplay material than you can shake a face tendril at.
Age range and life span
Unfortunately, we have absolutely no source material for the average draenei lifespan. They were written into the Warcraft story after the last of the Warcraft RPG source books came out, leaving a hole as far as referential information for draenei life spans. Therefore, we can only estimate approximate ages for draenei using references given in game, comparing them to creatures with similar lifespans.
It has been suggested that the draenei themselves are immortal, and this is not really as out-there an assumption as you'd think. The leader of the draenei, Prophet Velen, is at least 25,000 years old, predating the existence of the night elves by a good 10,000 years. Given Velen's age and then taking Velen's appearance into consideration, Velen could be considered "old" by draenei standards -- but he certainly doesn't act like a doddering old man, nor is he incapable of leadership.
That said, the draenei race were and are eredar, a race also generally considered immortal. But the draenei have spent the last 25,000 in the company of those wonderful Light-filled windchimes known as the naaru, bathing in the glow of the Light and learning the paladin arts as well as the art of healing. It's entirely possible that the effect of simply being in the presence of the naaru for that long could also have extended the life span of the draenei -- but this is all, of course, speculation.
In fact, speculation is about the best shot you've got to go with if you're roleplaying a draenei -- the extent of draenic history plus the implied length of their life span gives players an incredible amount of room to work with. If we want to make some comparisons as far as age ranges go, the rule of thumb in the Warcraft RPG source guides seems to indicate the longer the life span, the longer it takes for a character to reach "maturity." Night elves reach maturity at age 110 or so, while other races that may or may not be immortal start a bit later than that. In the case of the naga -- night elves that were magically transformed by an Old God -- they don't reach maturity until age 500, and it's unknown how long exactly they live, much like the draenei. Keep in mind that 500 years may seem like a lot to us, but to a race that can literally live infinite amounts of time, it's a bare blink of an eye.
Since you're got an infinite amount of time to work with, a quick look at known draenei history can be helpful in determining exactly what your draenei character may or may not have lived through. Unfortunately, the only mention of draenei in the official timeline is the date of The Burning Crusade, which took place in year 26. This is the year that the Exodar crash landed on Azeroth and stranded the draenei race, who promptly joined forces with the Alliance.
So it falls to the unofficial timeline listed on Wowpedia for a vague idea of the other significant dates in draenic history. While the unofficial timeline is just that, unofficial, it also represents a timeline of all recorded "important events" in the Warcraft universe, compiled from everything Blizzard has published to date. While some sources have the opening of the Dark Portal listed as happening 25 years before World of Warcraft, others state it's been 30 years; the unofficial timeline uses this 30-year standard, which is why the official and unofficial timelines may clash when it comes to precise dates.
That said, the history of the draenei starts with the eredar -- or rather, the corruption of the eredar. In year -25,000, Sargeras came to the planet Argus (the homeworld of the eredar race), looking for suitable lieutenants for his dark army known as the Burning Legion. There were three prominent leaders of the draenei at that time: Kil'jaeden, Archimonde, and Velen. Though Kil'jaeden and Archimonde agreed to swear loyalty to Sargeras, tempted by the promise of power, Velen was uncertain of Sargeras' true motives.
And it's a good thing he was. Shortly after Sargeras' appearance, Velen had a vision of the future, one in which he witnessed the Burning Legion wreaking havoc upon all of creation. Though he tried to warn his fellow leaders, they dismissed his worries -- and the eredar who swore loyalty to Sargeras were transformed into the demonic entities we know today. Velen, however, prayed for help and received it from an unlikely source: a creature glimmering with Light, the first appearance of the naaru. The naaru offered to help Velen and any others who wanted to flee.
The next date mentioned isn't even in the unofficial timeline. It's merely referenced in the novel Rise of the Horde, when a young Durotan and Orgrim Doomhammer met the draenei people in the beginnings of the book:
The unofficial timeline lists the novel Rise of the Horde as occurring from roughly year -25,000, when the draenei left Argus for good, to year -19 in the Warcraft timeline. However, there are books in game that reference these events. Kil'jaeden and the Shadow Pact mentions the first contact between Ner'zhul and Kil'jaeden and the events that bring about the forming of the Shadow Council. Kil'jaeden and the Shadow Pact is listed at -100 in the timeline, and Durotan and Orgrim are mere youths at the time.
"Many things, " Restalaan said amiably. They were passing through the gates now, and receiving curious, but not hostile, looks from the denizens of this place. "We are travelers, fairly new to your world."
"New?" Durotan said. "It was over two hundred summers ago that your people came here. We were not as we are now." -- Rise of the Horde
It's obvious where the conflicts lie in the timeline. The average age of an orc, according to the Warcraft RPG books, is only supposed to be about 100 years or so, yet Orgrim and Durotan would have been very, very old by the time the Dark Portal originally opened, were that the case. Unfortunately, a lot of lore in Warcraft has fairly ambiguous dates -- and again, trying to pin down precise dates is an absolute nightmare. However, we can gather that the draenei arrived some 200 years before Kil'jaeden on the little planet known as Draenor. In that time, they lived fairly peacefully side-by-side with the orcs, even going so far as to trade with the various orc clans.
Kil'jaeden's appearance changed all that, however. After manipulating the orc shaman Ner'zhul and then his apprentice Gul'dan, the orcs of Draenor -- with few exceptions -- drank the blood of Mannoroth and transformed from fairly peaceful, if somewhat brutal creatures into the bloodthirsty orcs of early human history. After this transformation, Kil'jaeden -- still angry about Velen's refusal to join the Burning Legion -- tricked the orcs into thinking the draenei were enemies.
The result was incomprehensible slaughter. This was at some point just before the Dark Portal opened and the orcs were unleashed upon Azeroth (year 0 in the timeline). From year 0 to year 31 in the unofficial timeline (year 26 in the official timeline), the draenei spent their time fleeing the remaining orcs of Draenor and dealing with the appearance of Illidan, the loss of the Temple of Karabor (otherwise known as the Black Temple), and the uprising of Kael'thas' blood elf forces, as well as trying to recover from the destruction of Draenor into the shattered world we know today as Outland.
Resources for draenei history
Needless to say, this is quite a bit to comprehend. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your viewpoint), there are very few resources out there for draenei history, making it a fairly quick task to get caught up. Rise of the Horde covers the events of the flight from Argus and subsequent life on Draenor in detail, and I highly recommend it to those looking for some insight on the draenei race. In addition, draenei shaman wanting to know more about the development of shaman history in regards to the draenei -- and any who want to research the effects of Draenor's destruction on the draenei race -- should definitely check out the short story Unbroken on the World of Warcraft website.
Other than that, Wowpedia remains a good source for information -- and of course, there's always the Know Your Lore column as additional research material. It doesn't seem like a lot of information to work with, but in a way this is a blessing. Those seeking to play a draenei don't really have to dig too deep for the known information regarding the draenei race, and they are left with a gigantic amount of blank space with which to fill with whatever backstory they'd like.
Though generally a peaceful race, the draenei have been through more than enough in the past couple hundred years to warrant a grimmer outlook on life. A warlike, savage draenei bent on revenge for the atrocities committed against his people is just as likely an option as one that is peaceful and wishes only to spread the message of the Light to as many as possible. In recent events in The Burning Crusade, Prophet Velen is directly responsible for the rebirth of the Sunwell -- an act that highlights the generosity of the draenei race. It also highlights the relative mysteriousness of the naaru, who saw the events of the Sunwell's recovery many, many years before.
Playing an immortal race may seem like an easy out for most roleplayers, but in actuality, it presents one of the toughest challenges roleplay has to offer. Trying to wrap one's mind around the concept that the two years or so the draenei have been present on Azeroth is merely a blink of an eye, a quick intake of breath to most draenei, is difficult to say the least. And trying to pack a draenei's background with history when known history for the race is so small and finite makes it even more difficult. Add to that the general wibbly-wobbly nature of Warcraft timelines and a lack of any real coherent dates for the events that we have been presented with, and you're looking at a real headache.
But ultimately, while a draenei may seem like a challenge, they also present one of the most fascinating races Warcraft has to offer. Unlike the orcs, who have rather firmly settled on Azeroth, the draenei are new enough to Azeroth that everything is likely to feel alien and odd. There are some similarities between Draenor and Azeroth, but the different races of Azeroth present something the draenei have never before seen. Add to that the fact that despite being from two completely different worlds, the races of Azeroth seem to revere the same Light that the draenei have been working with thousands of years before any of those races really developed.
When you put it all together, you've got a recipe for a truly fascinating history and a whole host of possibilities for roleplay. Interaction with the other races of Azeroth still presents new and interesting insights for a draenei; traveling the world of Azeroth presents new and exciting vistas, lands never seen. The story of the Lich King was something the draenei had never heard of; they weren't there for the Third War and Arthas' downfall.
And now, Cataclysm hits particularly close to home for the draenei. The world of Azeroth has shattered in a way eerily similar to the destruction of Draenor, years before. While some may be intimidated by the lack of information, the draenei have a lot to offer -- and it's well worth embracing the unusually blank canvas of the draenei race.
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