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.
The draenei were barely a part of Draenor - despite naming it, they lived there barely a few hundred years before (in our history) the rise of the Horde ended their respite from thousands of years of fear and endless retreat across the universe. Draenor (Exile's Refuge, in the language of the draenei) ended up as a cruel, mocking joke of a name, for there was no refuge to be found there. In our history, barely a tenth of their people survived the orcs to escape to Azeroth.
Now a new history unfolds, a new day dawns, and we can follow where it leads. A new Draenor, one where the battle between orc and draenei has yet to be decided. But what do we know of the draenei on Draenor? Where did they live, how did they live? What were their settlements, what was their culture like? What, in other words, are we being given the chance to save? We can look at what we know from our trip to Outland and what we've been told.
We don't know the name for every old draenei settlement that existed on Draenor. There were quite a few of them, many of which only endured in the time of Outland's appearance in The Burning Crusade as ruins, and sometimes these ruins were renamed by their occupiers. Sites such as Eclipse Point in Shadowmoon Valley were once thriving draenei settlements - now even their names are lost. Until we make the trip through to the Draenor of Warlords, however, all we can do is examine what's left, and surmise based on it.
One settlement we haven't got even a ruin or remnant for is Telmor. At one time one of the most important cities in what was then called Talador (the region which contained Shattrath and Auchindoun as well, know on Outland as Terokkar Forest after the Arakkoa who moved north from the destroyed Spires of Arak and their dread demi-god Terokk) it appears to have been utterly scourged out of existence, either by the Horde or by the explosion of Auchindoun which created the Bone Wastes when Murmur was summoned into Outland by warlocks of the Shadow Council. The Horde invaded the city and killed its inhabitants during the war with the draenei, but as to where it was, we have no idea. This is somewhat ironic, as the city was in ogre territory, and was protected behind the magic of one of the Ata'mal Crystals, which rendered it invisible. Now, it is once again unknown.
Still, two of the major settlements in Talador are still known to us - the mausoleum city Auchindoun, and the major metropolis and museum Shattrath City, which in its prime preserved the way of life of the draenei on Argus. We know that we'll see both of these sites when we explore Draenor, and based on what we know of them, that makes sense - Shattrath was a large costal city, a major part of the river-based trade of the Talador region, and appears to have fallen to the Iron Horde in Warlords. Auchindoun, meanwhile, was the center of the draenei's reverence for their dead, and contained the sarcophagus of D'ore - many secrets about the draenei view of the Light remain to be discovered in the intact halls of Auchindoun on Draenor.
The fate of the Aldor, the priests who keep draenei sacred sites, is unknown to us - they will have avoided the near total destruction they suffered in our timeline and will have Karabor still under their control, but they have lost Shattrath and their status in Auchindoun is unclear. Still, there are many temples on Draenor, and these presumably have Aldor representatives. And it is likely that the Aldor will still be led by Velen at this time.
We now know that Talador was essentially the heart of Draenor (at least of the continent we know of), with rivers and waterways that allowed maritime trade to travel from the west to the east and back again. It seems clear that this trade was one the draenei took part in, considering how important Talador clearly was to the draenei with Shattrath, Auchindoun and Telmor all within its bounds. There are other small settlements such as Tuurem in Terokkar, which may or may not appear in Talador when we arrive on Draenor, and the importance of Tuurem is lost to us as well.
Bordering on Talador was the Tanaan Jungle, what we today call Hellfire Peninsula. There were at least two sites of importance to the draenei here before the era of the Horde, the Temple of Telhamat (which in our timeline became a base of operations as the Alliance pushed into Outland) and the Ruins of Sha'naar. Both of these sites are very close to where Hellfire borders on Zangarmarsh on Outland, meaning that when Draenor was whole and had oceans (and the majority of modern Zangarmarsh was under water, part of the Zangar Sea) these two sites may also have been coastal in their placement, much as Karabor and Shattrath both were. We know from questing in Hellfire that there are several important relics in the Ruins of Sha'naar, and so the name of the settlement (the word Sha means light in draenei) is probably a sign of its significance, just as Shattrath means dwelling of light and Sha'tar means born of light. Are both Sha'naar and Telhamat controlled by the Aldor? Were they part of Talador or the Tanaan Jungle? And what are those relics we recovered from Sha'naar?
Meanwhile, settlements we know about in Zangarmarsh either won't exist at all, or will be on islands in the Zangar Sea. Orebor Harborage seems likely to have existed before the draining of the Zangar Sea - it looks akin to ruins such as Sha'naar or the Twin Spire ruins, and it could well have been a small trading port connected to either the Frostfire Ridge or Gorgrond. Similarly, Telredor seems like a settlement that could have been originally on an island (or perhaps atop the same giant mushroom as it is in Zangarmarsh, which at the time may have just broached the surface of the waves) due to its construction. All we really know about these settlements is what we saw of them during The Burning Crusade, so new detail is welcome. One speculation is that the various ruins such as Twin Spire and Boha'mu were draenei monasteries on islands, deliberately placed that way for the purpose of being isolated spiritual retreats. The Twin Spire was said to be a lighthouse as well as a draenei sacred site, allowing for safe travel across the ocean.
Considering these facts, we're starting to get a picture of the draenei civilization on Draenor. let's look at their presence in Shadowmoon Valley to see if it gives any further insight. Of course, we know that Karabor (the site we know better as the Black Temple) was an important site, and one of the most important held by draenei - it's under siege in Warlords. But what's interesting is that, not only is Shadowmoon Valley on a peninsula that is completely surrounded by water, but the valley also seems to contain quite a few waterways on the map at the official Blizzard Warlords of Draenor site. And we know that besides the Temple of Karabor itself (which was clearly a coastal site, right on the very tip of the peninsula and seeming to have large docks attached according to the same map on the Warlords site) there were several other draenei settlements in Shadowmoon Valley - the Altar of Sha'tar (again, the word light) and the ruins of Baa'ri. There are other draenei ruins in Shadowmoon, with names lost to time - Eclipse Point, Illidari Point, and Coilskar Point. The last, ruled by the naga when we arrived in Outland, is interesting because the presence of the naga hints at the once rich waterways - lakes and rivers - that were destroyed in Outland by the hubris of Gul'dan when he severed Draenor's orcs from the elements.
What does this all mean? Well, we're starting to get a picture of a draenei society that built on or near the water - their major settlements in Talador and around it all appear to be on waterways of some sort, whether it's the many rivers that cut through Talador, the island cities and monasteries in the Zangar Sea, or the Shadowmoon settlements. All appear to have been somehow related to the water in some way, part and parcel of the water borne trade network. The fact that the draenei build an enormous double lighthouse that was also considered a sacred site which would easily have been visible from Shattrath, and that reoccuring word Sha, meaning light, which seems to keep popping up in places on or near the coast makes me wonder if the word had two meanings - a literal one, light, and a figurative or metaphorical one referencing the ocean and waters of Draenor. One looks at the concept art that opens this post - a picture of Shattrath on the coast, with boats pulling into its docks - and we suddenly see a living people whose culture we've barely begun to grasp.
Clearly the draenei used these waters as a means of travel, trade and communication. They wouldn't have been building giant lighthouses unless they needed to be able to navigate the Zangar Sea, and that means they were sailors. This means that information, communication, enlightenment was probably spread by means of ship, and draenei settlements could be kept in communication in this way. More evidence for this is that, since there are few if any draenei sites in Frostfire Ridge or Gorgrond (there are none in Blade's Edge) it would be almost impossible for the draenei to keep in contact with their settlements in Farahlon (what we know as Netherstorm) without recourse to either powerful magic (which, to be fair, we know they had) or ships. Farahlon was an island, after all. We even have evidence of ship travel in modern Netherstorm - a boat floating in the Twisting Nether along the southern 'coast' of the shattered region. Even the draenei settlements in Nagrand - Telaar and Halaa - are very close to water sources.
We don't know for sure, of course, but the repeated reference to Talador as a trade hub using water travel, the location of draenei settlements on what would have had to be islands in the Zangar Sea, the constant presence of draenei ruins at what would be coastal or near-coastal regions, the large amount of evidence for draenei ruins where water used to run freely in Outland, and the fact that the draenei settled Farahlon, an island with evidence of ocean travel, all seem to point to the idea of the draenei as an ocean-going people. They didn't settle in most of Tanaan, or the Frostfire Ridge or Gorgrond, areas with little to know running water or good harbors (so far as we can currently tell) and wherever we find evidence of them we find evidence of water, or its former presence.
I admit, I may be inspired by the idea of a draenei with some poetry in her soul looking out at the waters of their new home and the light reflecting off of them, and feeling a deep connection with the Holy Light, and it's possible they weren't like this at all. We'll find out soon.
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.