I never thought in a million years that I'd be revisiting the topic of the pandaren, but it looks like it's now something worth discussing. Earlier this week, it was discovered that Blizzard filed a new trademark for something called "Mists of Pandaria." Blizzard's done this before, filing the Cataclysm trademark back in 2009 before the expansion was announced. This has led to the assumption that the mysteriously named "Mists of Pandaria" is lined up to be the next expansion. Needless to say, this information was so far out of left field that it appeared to be coming in from the right.
But let's think about this from a lore standpoint. All expansions need a storyline behind them -- now moreso than ever, given the extremely story-driven vehicle that is Cataclysm. For a race that was originally an April Fool's joke, the popularity of the pandaren, as well as what little written word we have on the race, makes this a pretty interesting prospect. Believe it or not, there are actually potential reasons behind all of this, given what's happened so far in Azeroth to date. So let's take a tinfoil hat look at what this expansion could theoretically look like, from a story standpoint.
Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition, meaning the following is a speculative look into what has gone before and what's to come. The events presented are just theories at this point and should not be taken as fact.
Those last three words make all the difference in the world. Items in the RPG books are not canon unless otherwise stated. What does this mean, exactly? It means that instead of being tied down to what's already been written in the RPG books, Blizzard has free rein to alter and edit whatever was in those books to suit its needs. That way, we don't run into possible continuity errors -- because whatever is in those RPG books isn't really canon, anyway. It's just created for the purpose of a tabletop RPG.
Q: Are the Warcraft and World of Warcraft RPG books considered canon?
A: No. The RPG books were created to provide an engaging table-top role-playing experience, which sometimes required diverging from the established video game canon. Blizzard helped generate a great deal of the content within the RPG books, so there will be times when ideas from the RPG will make their way into the game and official lore, but you are much better off considering the RPG books non-canonical unless otherwise stated.
So pandaren are entirely possible, and they may not look at all like what was presented in the RPG books. Locations and people that were defined in the context of the RPG are also up in the air and waiting to be clarified by Blizzard. Whether or not certain locations even exist anymore is left entirely up to the creative development team. Blizzard didn't shut down the RPG books as a source of lore to spite people -- it did so in order to have the freedom to write in possible new origins and lore for races that may have been featured in those books but not in game. It's not a closed door -- it's a great big, giant question mark waiting to be answered. Got it? Let's talk Azeroth.
Here's the thing with Azeroth: We haven't seen everything there is to see. There are parts of the globe left unexplored, and it's simply ocean for now. This could be taken in one of two ways: Either Azeroth has a heck of a lot of ocean out there, or explorers simply haven't attempted to check out that side of the world. The natives of Azeroth haven't really shown any zest for exploration that we've seen. Now, before you bring up Brann Bronzebeard, let's clarify that statement.
While it's true there is an Explorers' League out there, they are concentrating on looking for clues to the origins of the dwarven race. This research and exploration has led them across the known areas of Azeroth, and they've been very successful at digging up where the dwarves originally came from. Now, they're searching for more information on the Titans -- but recent wars and of course, the Shattering, have distracted them from seeking out new land. They are focused on unraveling the past, rather than uncovering new places.
Then we have the Horde equivalent: the Reliquary. The Reliquary has actually been present in high elven history for quite some time. It was originally founded to find and seal away dangerous magical artifacts. When the Scourge rampaged through Quel'thalas and destroyed the Sunwell, the Reliquary fell apart. With the restoration of the Sunwell, the Reliquary has been reestablished. But again, we have explorers that aren't really seeking out new land; they're simply searching the land that is already known.
Cataclysm didn't just shatter the land on one side of the globe -- it affected all of Azeroth. Landmasses have shifted; the sea swallowed entire sections of the map. And it's safe to say that islands or land masses present on the other side of the globe, unknown to those of us comfortable with the known continents of Azeroth, also experienced some form of tectonic distress or another. So what, exactly, is out there?
Kul Tiras The island nation of Kul Tiras has never been seen in World of Warcraft, though it's been referenced often. Obviously, we have the Kul Tiras marines who first appeared on the coasts of Durotar in vanilla, and we've also got Jaina Proudmoore. Jaina is the daughter of Grand Admiral Daelin Proudmoore, who was the leader of Kul Tiras. While Daelin lost his life during Warcraft III, there exists the possibility that other Proudmoores are out there, leading the citizens of Kul Tiras, wherever they may be.
The only names we have for Grand Admiral Proudmoore's children are Jaina and her older brother Derek, who was killed during the Second War. However, all references to Derek list him as the "eldest son," implying that there are younger sons who simply have not been named. In the Warcraft RPG books, another son is given a name: Lord Tandred Proudmoore. Please see the first section of this article and again take note of the phrase "unless otherwise stated," if you think this means he simply doesn't exist.
Moving on, we have this tidbit of information from the first Ask a Cdev regarding the location of Kul Tiras:
We know that there is a book coming up about Jaina Proudmoore, one that will "forever alter Jaina in earth-shattering ways." Say, how about having her long-lost brother suddenly make a reappearance, politely asking for help with Kul Tiras in the wake of the Shattering and wondering where exactly his father's gotten off to?
Q: Will we be hearing from any of the old or neglected human nations in Cata, specifically Stromgarde, Kul'tiras, and the remnants of Alterac (hey, Deathwing paraded around as an Alterac noble before)?
A: With the revamp of the classic World of Warcraft zones, players will get a chance to see how the fallen nations of Stromgarde and Alterac have fared over the last few years. Kul Tiras, the island nation, will not be visible at the start of Cataclysm –- something about tectonic plates shifting it out to sea....
Zandalar Another island nation of sorts, Zandalar is the home of the Zandalari tribe of trolls -- thousands upon thousands of them. Given what we've seen so far regarding the Zandalari, their motives, and this mysterious prophet Zul who we've really heard nothing else about, it's likely we're going to have to take another look at the Zandalari at some point. We've addressed the problems in Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub, but whether or not we address the Zandalari issue and nip it in the bud at the troll's ancestral home during Cataclysm is still up in the air.
It doesn't really sound likely that we will do so, however -- not with the sheer amount of information and story we still have to get through by Cataclysm's end. Given that, Deathwing's defeat would surely spur the Zandalari into renewed attacks. Particularly if Zul is an agent of the Old Gods, who will doubtless be ... displeased if they no longer have Deathwing to work with. Anyone up for a giant troll raid? It's been a while since we've had a proper troll raid.
But there's more to explore than just those two locations, of course.