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.
We always hear about the big-name characters in Warcraft lore. Whether it's the heroic exploits of Varian Wrynn or the continuing saga of Thrall, big-name NPCs have been a constant in Warcraft novels and stories and in the game itself. But what about those lesser-known NPCs, the ones who aren't great heroes -- the bread vendors or the ones who send us to the ends of the earth for zhevra hooves? Do they just sit around all day, waiting for our inevitable return?
Yes and no. World of Warcraft isn't simply a game; it's a micro-world of characters who have their own day-to-day lives. The game itself has made considerable strides in incorporating lore and storylines through quests and in game cutscenes. But what few realize is how many strides those lesser characters have taken right along with everything else. Today we're going to take a look at some of this NPC evolution -- the steps taken to give World of Warcraft the feel of a living, breathing world.
NPCs in classic World of Warcraft
When World of Warcraft was first introduced, it wasn't expected to take off as quickly as it did. Players loved the feel of the world and the unique flavor of quests and exploration -- and they also loved the cheeky NPCs hiding here and there. Whether it was the crazy cat lady in her isolated shack in Elwynn Forest or the bizarre cockroach vendor hiding under the stairs in Undercity, NPCs seemed to have a life of their own. ... sort of.
The main issue with vanilla WoW was that while NPCs breathed life into the cities where players spent a lot of time, those NPCs didn't really go anywhere or do anything beyond that. Little Donna eternally chased William around for her dolly; the Kargath Expeditionary Force in Kargath made a constant circle around the perimeter of the encampment. But nothing really happened. For new players just entering Azeroth for the first time, these NPCs were a breath of fresh air -- yet over time, they began to lose their shine.
Reginald Windsor Enter Reginald Windsor and The Great Masquerade. Instead of simply being a static NPC, Windsor traveled with the player, to a degree. Players first found Windsor imprisoned in Blackrock Depths. A Dark Iron raiding party ambushed his party while they investigated the Blackrock Orcs in the area. In game, players are sent to find Windsor -- but the poor man is terribly depressed. His notes lost, never to be found again, Windsor had no intention of going anywhere.
That is, until players returned to Blackrock Depths and found A Crumpled Up Note. Returning the note to Windsor cheered him up immensely, and after finding a few more pieces of information, Windsor was feeling cheerful enough to be broken out of jail. Once free, Windsor took off for the gates of Stormwind, asking players to meet him there.
What took place next was one of the hallmark moments of vanilla WoW. Reginald Windsor asked players to escort him through the city to Stormwind Keep. Suddenly, NPCs came to life. As Windsor made his way through the city, guards fell to their knees; Windsor and General Marcus Jonathan shared an exchange, and above it all, the outraged shrieks of Lady Katrana Prestor could be heard.
The final confrontation in the throne room was all about Bolvar Fordragon and his heroic fight against a dozen dragonkin, but it was Reginald Windsor who left the last impression. Mortally wounded, Reginald managed to gasp with his dying breath the key to defeating Onyxia in her lair and put an end to Prestor's duplicity once and for all. Though Windsor died, his efforts were not in vain.
Players loved this. As a vanilla WoW player, I cannot adequately express how enthralling the Stormwind escort was, to both see or participate in. It wasn't just the dramatic showdown; it was the moment when all NPCs suddenly stopped what they were doing, their circular lives interrupted for an extraordinary moment. In those few minutes, Stormwind came abruptly to life.
But like all good things, even Windsor's march through the capital palled in due time. It was Windsor's destiny to go to Stormwind; it was his destiny to die. And like every other NPC in Stormwind, Windsor dutifully played out his part, a pawn in a never-ending game of chess.
The Burning Crusade
Enter The Burning Crusade, World of Warcraft's first expansion. Suddenly, players were transported to Outland, an alien world full of new vistas to explore and new NPCs to see and interact with. A dramatic change from vanilla was the introduction of Shattrath City, a neutral point in Outland where both Alliance and Horde were equally welcome by its shining master, A'dal.
But Shattrath City wasn't just a city for players. It provided a home for countless NPCs who lived their daily lives both in the upper spires and in the lowest dredges. Players encountered named NPCs, vendors and quest givers alike who all seemed to have their own reasons for coming to Shattrath. It wasn't until later that players realized these NPCs didn't just exist -- they had stories that progressed as time, and patches, went on in The Burning Crusade.
The saga of Cro ThreadstrongCro Threadstrong has to be one of my favorite NPCs of all time. He's the leatherworking vendor in Shattrath City, tucked away in his own little stall down in Lower City. But Cro had an issue that players were immediately alerted to after spending any small amount of time in Shattrath. See, Cro had his wonderful stall, but a cart filled with fruit blocked the stall from passersby. Cro, being a reasonable Orc, attempted to solve this issue as any reasonable Orc would: by yelling about it. Repeatedly.
Cro's cries could be heard all over Shattrath. "Does this fruit vendor not value his life? YOU ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME, FRUIT VENDOR!!" Players wondered who the heck was yelling and what on earth the problem with the fruit vendor was. Exploring Shattrath soon revealed the location of Cro and his nemesis the Fruit Vendor -- a polite, somewhat absent-minded little old lady named, appropriately enough, Granny Smith. Granny didn't quite know what that Orc was yelling about, nor did she always hear his bellows.
The situation was amusing enough, though players expressed a desire for the random shouts to go away after a time. However, things changed abruptly in patch 2.2 -- suddenly, Cro had a different series of shouts. "IF WAR IS WHAT YOU WANT, WAR IS WHAT YOU SHALL GET, FRUIT VENDOR!" People began to wonder what exactly Cro was going on about -- and whether or not the hapless Granny would ever realize exactly why Cro was so upset.
Later, more dialogue was slipped in. "Does the fruit vendor think that I am blind? Do they think I wouldn't see his ogre reinforcement?" And still later, in patch 2.4.3, Cro reached the pinnacle of his frustration:
FRUIT VENDOR!!! Your cart is still in our way! Your time is up! You have new competition in selling fruit!
It's time to deal with this fruit situation on our terms. We've been far too accomidating to the fruit vendor. Now we will simply sell the fruit. But the fruit will not be for people to eat. I forbid it! No one will eat our fruit!
HA! I CRUSHED AN APPLE, FRUIT VENDOR! NOW, YOUR APPLES WILL BE SOLD TO OTHERS FOR THEM TO CRUSH AS WELL!
We should sell these apples, but we will not allow people to eat them. Oh no! We will sell apples to our friends, and the shall bring the fight to the fruit vendor for me!
YOU HAVE RUN OUT OF TIME, FRUIT VENDOR!! NOW I WILL SELL YOUR ROTTEN FRUIT!
True to his word, Cro began to sell apples -- but they weren't for eating. Instead, using the apple caused the player to stomp on the offending fruit with a roar, sending juice splattering all over. To this day, players can still pick up Cro's Apples for 1 silver and 50 copper -- along with Cro's usual array of leatherworking supplies.
GriftahGriftah is a Troll vendor down in the Lower City -- not too far from the bellowing might of Cro. However, Griftah doesn't sell profession supplies; he's a vendor of "exotic goods," trinkets and charms that are purported to have magical effects. Griftah didn't just stand there and sell his goods, however. He talked to people. Passersby got a spiel specially tailored to them, chatting them up and suggesting they purchase his wares.
Maybe his spiel was a little too good, for that matter. Despite every object's being clearly labeled with its intended purpose, players still complained when they purchased the items and then realized they held no useful purpose whatsoever. Yet items like the Marvelous Madstone of Immortality performed just as advertised -- they just failed to mention that the advertised effect was something players could already accomplish on their own. With a name like Griftah, you'd think it would be common sense not to purchase from him, but people still did -- and demanded a full refund, which they did not receive. Players weren't amused.
In patch 2.1, Griftah was no longer alone in his stall. At his side was a Draenei named Peacekeeper Jadaar, who constantly asked him questions about the phony amulets and contradicted everything Griftah had to say to passing players.
Griftah says: Hey! Hey, ! I be havin' just the thing for ya. Ya ever see a tikbalang? Frightenin' creatures. Prone to stealin' ya away. What ya need is one of my tikbalang wards. Guaranteed to ward all tikbalangs!
Peacekeeper Jadaar says: I've never heard of a tikbalang in my life. In fact, the Scryers tell me they can't find a single mention in one of their libraries.
Griftah says: Look, man, they didn't live to be writin' about it, okay?
In patch 2.2, Griftah was nowhere to be found in Shattrath City. In fact, he was just outside the city proper -- still selling his wares, but irritated at his unfair exile. Back at Griftah's stall in Lower City, Peacekeeper Jadaar stood outside the stall, joined by Investigator Asric, a Blood Elf who checked through the Troll's inventory.
I can't believe they be chasin' me outta the city. Innit supposed to be a refuge? Ol' Griftah be a refugee! Not my fault I be an ENTERPRISIN' refugee...
This is where it got interesting -- not in the game, outside of it. Players who had been following the saga of Griftah were upset to see that he'd been relocated and thought it was due to constant complaints by players that had been conned into purchasing his goods. There was an uproar on the forums about it, and eventually Griftah's creator, World Designer Kisirani, replied to the furor:
I can say with the utmost confidence that you are incorrect. There is no ret-con occurring here, and the changes to Griftah were not done as a result of player or GM complaints. I assure you, had that been the case, his amulets would likely have been removed entirely rather than merely relocating the NPC.
They were done in the interest of making the world a bit more interesting, and from the vast majority of responses, it appears that motivation is a success.
Wait and see. :)
And indeed, after patch 2.3, Griftah had returned to his stall, selling his old goods and one new item -- a Hula Girl Doll used by engineers to build their first flying mount. But Griftah wasn't just about the selling anymore; he offered a quest to players that sent them to find his old friend Budd near a new Troll raid dungeon called Zul'Aman.
Peacekeeper Jadaar and Investigator AsricPeacekeeper Jadaar was just a simple guard with a simple mission -- to determine whether or not Griftah was running a legal operation. Though Jadaar worked alone at first, he was soon joined by a Blood Elf Scryer named Investigator Asric, who was tasked with helping the Aldor peacekeeper with his task. Obviously the investigation didn't pan out, because Griftah eventually returned to his rightful stall -- but Jadaar and Asric didn't go away. Instead, they relocated to the World's End Tavern to bicker about who was responsible for the failed investigation.
Peacekeeper Jadaar says: How could you have lost the evidence?!
Investigator Asric says: I thought it was secure! If your peacekeepers had the clout to control the thieves of this city, this wouldn't have happened!
Peacekeeper Jadaar says: You blame the peacekeepers for your failure? You were entrusted with a simple task. The troll was obviously a fraud!
Investigator Asric says: And you're entrusted with keeping the city safe! How am I supposed to perform my simple task if the streets are thick with lowlifes? I can't spit in Shattrath without hitting some gruby burglar.
Investigator Asric says: ...not that I would spit, of course.
Peacekeeper Jadaar says: I was trying to oust one of those lowlifes you so loathe permanently! Next time, I'll be certain to specify that I require a competent investigator!
Investigator Asric says: [Thalassian] Ri osa FULO talah banthalos (Translation: Do you EVER cease prattling?)
Investigator Asric says: [Thalassian] Diel nei dorNi ala ni ethala do ala ri shar diel mandalas (Translation: That man didn't pay me enough to put up with this blowhard...)
It was assumed that Asric deliberately lost the evidence, paid off by Griftah. This was not, however, the last time we'd see the bumbling investigative duo.
The amazing adventures of Budd NedreckBudd Nedreck was the well-spoken, often snooty explorer that Griftah sent players to, just outside of Zul'Aman during The Burning Crusade. Griftah's Note was short and to the point. "Listen up, Budd! This be the last fool I send 'til ya pay me all ya be own'. No more stallin!" The player was the fool in question, and Budd had all kinds of fool's errands for the player involving Zul'Aman.
Budd was looking for treasure, and all sources pointed to Zul'Aman -- but Budd wasn't about to go in there and get it himself. Instead, he sent adventurers in to do the dirty work for him, first by retrieving a map that was lost by previous recruits ... recruits who'd failed to return from their task. Then he had players fill in the missing parts of the map, after which he sent them to dispatch Hex Lord Malacrass.
Throughout it all, Budd was obviously the brains of the operation -- insistent that one day the player would also get to partake in wealth beyond their wildest dreams. But he changed his tune once the Hex Lord was defeated, intent on stealing all the glory for himself.
Finally! Now that the light work is done, I can at last make yet another mark on history. But first, there's one small matter to attend to -- You ... I'm afraid that the time has come for me to let you go. I feel that your potential has been reached here, if not far exceeded.
Don't feel bad, though. After all, it takes an exceptional type of individual to participate in such extraordinary events and not lose their wits. And look here, I have a little something for you to remember me by.
Players who returned to Zul'Aman, killed Zul'jin and retrieved the Blood of the Warlord were entreated to return it to Budd by the quest text: "As you examine the pulsating vial, your thoughts turn to the petulant little man outside Zul'Aman. You can't wait to see Budd's expression when he sees this!" And returning the vial earned players a nice reward -- but there was more than just the reward to be enjoyed.
Budd Nedreck proceeded to take the vial of blood and toss it on a burning building, bragging about his triumphs to the sky and taking all credit for Zul'jin's demise. While ordinarily this would be irritating for players who worked so hard to progress through the raid, in this case, it was far better that he claimed credit. After throwing the blood in the fire, Budd was swept up into the air by malevolent spirits and thrown into the fire, after which he proceeded to run around ablaze.
At the conclusion of The Burning Crusade, players had triumphed over adversity, banding together Alliance and Horde alike to persevere against the might of the Burning Legion. Players these days recall the days of The Burning Crusade, and it wasn't just the new locations or the new tiers of raid content that they remember with fondness. It was also the odd, interactive world of NPCs that had taken a step forward from vanilla WoW and suddenly had little lives of their own.
And it wasn't the last time we'd see these NPCs. Next week, we'll take a look at the next step of NPC evolution, from Wrath of the Lich King to present day.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.