Know Your Lore: The origin of goblin and worgen death knights

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|11.07.10

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Know Your Lore: The origin of goblin and worgen death knights
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.

Most of Cataclysm seems solid from a story standpoint, but a few plot holes continue to pop up here and there that cause people to wonder exactly how certain elements and creatures fit into lore. One question that seems to come up more often than anything else is the origin of goblin and worgen death knights. After all, these guys didn't even exist during Wrath of the Lich King -- the Greymane Wall isn't coming down until Cataclysm hits, and the Bilgewater Cartel goblins are still on Kezan, right?

Well, not quite. In order to understand where these guys come from -- and they do fit in lore, Blizzard managed to integrate them quite nicely -- we have to take a look at one of the continual banes of my existence: timelines. The timeline for World of Warcraft was pretty straightforward during vanilla and The Burning Crusade. However, with the introduction of the death knight class in Wrath, players were introduced to a much heavier use of phased content, including a phased version of the death knight starting zone that introduced the reason why these servants of Arthas suddenly turned on him and formed their own independent alliances with either the Alliance or the Horde.

WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for the upcoming Cataclysm expansion. If you wish to remain spoiler-free, do not continue.

As death knights in Wrath, players start at a point in the timeline just before Wrath's launch -- somewhere in the middle of that zombie infestation that had players desperately trying to avoid being infected (or in some cases, gleefully infecting others). Arthas created the necropolis Acherus, also known as Ebon Hold, with the express intent of assaulting Light's Hope Chapel and taking out the Argent Dawn. What he didn't expect was that the death knights he'd raised into servitude would eventually turn on him -- and turn on him they did, during the Battle for Light's Hope Chapel.

Once the battle for Light's Hope is completed, death knights battle to take back Ebon Hold and rid the place of the Lich King's servants, and once that is completed, they are able to rejoin the "normal" timeline, jumping in just in time to ... go back in time to the beginning of Outland and help save everyone from the Burning Legion. Say what? Right -- it's a problem that's been acknowledged by Blizzard, and while the devs have stated they'd like to go back and update all that Outland content eventually, it's not a priority at the moment. Players will just have to deal with it.

Right. So essentially, a death knight character created the day of Wrath of the Lich King's launch and a death knight character created this morning are, for timeline purposes, created at the exact same time. They both fought the Battle for Light's Hope chapel at the same point; they both took back the Ebon Hold together, even if they never saw each other. Time may have passed for you and I out here in real life, but as far as the little characters we are steering around in game, they originated at the same point in time as each other, even if for us out here in the real world, that was months or years apart.

Now that we've got that sorted out, we can see that worgen and goblin death knights, upon being created, are being created just like the rest of the death knights -- at that exact same moment in time. So these worgen and goblins were there with your draenei or troll death knight, fighting the Battle for Light's Hope just like the rest of the death knights that were created upon Wrath's launch. Confused yet? It's OK;- timelines like these are often confusing. What you need to keep in mind is that the worgen and goblin death knights were there prior to Cataclysm, all the way back at the beginning of Wrath of the Lich King, according to the timeline.

How exactly a worgen of Gilneas or a goblin of the Bilgewater Cartel managed to be present in Azeroth a few years before those events that brought their respective races into the Alliance or Horde actually occurred has also been accounted for. One of the quests death knights encounter during their assault against the Scarlet Crusade in the starting area, called A Special Surprise, asks the death knight in question to go kill one of the captives from the assault -- specifically, an Argent Dawn prisoner that the Scarlet Crusade has been holding captive.

When players go to kill their respective prisoner, they discover that the prisoner is actually someone they knew from their past -- someone who begs them to remember who they once were. Players end up killing the prisoner anyway, but presumably, the memory of that prisoner and their life before the Scourge helps to wake them up so that when the time comes, they turn against the Lich King without a second thought. In the case of worgen and goblins, new characters have been added that explain where the heck these guys came from.


A Special Surprise
Come to finish the job, have you?
You'll look me in the eyes when...
<Name>, I'd recognize that face anywhere... What... What have they done to you, <name>?
You don't remember me? We were both servants of Arugal back in Silverpine Forest. We put up with his merciless torture for ages. It was you who saved me on that fateful night when we escaped Shadowfang Keep.
Without you I would have died. YOU! The most noble worgen I ever knew.
What have they done to you, <name>? How could this have happened?
Remember the worgen you once were, <brother/sister>! You were our savior! Fight this!
Listen to me, <name>. You must fight against the Lich King's control. He is a monster that wants to see this world - our world - in ruin. Don't let him use you to accomplish his goals. You were once a hero and you can be again. Fight, damn you! Fight his control!
Knight Commander Plaguefist yells: What's going on in there? What's taking so long, <name>?
There... There's no more time for me. I'm done for. Finish me off, <name>. Do it or they'll kill us both. <Name>... Remember Gilneas, our beloved home. This world is worth saving.
Do it, <name>! Put me out of my misery!

Arugal was a former member of Gilneas who eventually became a member of the Kirin Tor, back before the events in Warcraft 3. When the Scourge destroyed Dalaran during the Third War, Arugal fled to Shadowfang Keep, located near the Greymane Wall. Dalaran's numbers were absolutely decimated by the Scourge attacks, and Arugal had some ideas about how the mages could bolster Dalaran's ranks and provide a defense against future attacks. His idea? Create an army of super-soldiers, savage, feral creatures that would be firmly under the Kirin Tor's control.

One of the tomes he consulted for this purpose was The Book of Ur, a book written by a mage named Ur who died during the Scourge attacks on Dalaran. This book spoke of worgen, humanoid wolves with a vicious, feral nature:
The land of Azeroth is host to no end of wonders. Flora, fauna, cultures, and magic all teem across its surface. Indeed, the curious will find limitless variety on this world. One merely has to look. But if one looks deeply enough then windows to entire new worlds are found, and each world is home to its own wonders. Just as each world is home to its own horrors.

This is the purpose of my book: to catalogue those beings, those otherworldly fiends who would destroy our lands, so that explorers who happen upon them will know what they face. So if you consider yourself a guardian of Azeroth, then read on. And know your enemy.

-- Ur
Mage of Dalaran

The fiend of which I write is the Worgen. Old, rural folklore may hearken to these creatures. For what farmer's child has not heard tales of beastly wolf-men stalking the fields and marshes outside his village? And truth may hide in such tales--perhaps they are warnings against the Worgen, veiled as myths to frighten us. But before such tales are dismissed, let me now assure the reader: Worgen are real. They may not be from our world, but avenues exist between their home and ours and powerful magic can pull them here. Such chants are best left unuttered. For where ever the Worgen tread, they bring terror and bloodshed with them.

You will know the Worgen by its resemblance to the wolves of our world. When viewing a worgen one can easily see its coarse hair, pointed ears, and long snout are akin to the wolves we know. But you will just as quickly see its differences: that coarse hair surrounds a powerful, two-legged body sporting long fangs and dagger-like claws. And behind it's howl lurks a malevolence possessed by no natural beast.

The worgen's home is a dark place, a place of nightmare. If that world fosters locations safe from the cursed Worgen, then my research has revealed no such bastions. And if one considers the ferocity and wickedness of the Worgen, it is likely that no such bastions exist. It is surmised that the Worgen are content to remain on their world, for although some Worgen possess powerful magic, they have made no attempts to reach Azeroth of their own accord. And for this, we are fortunate.

As mentioned above, some Worgen are skilled in the mystic arts, and their magic is of darkness and corruption. Curses and supernatural poisons are common, so be forewarned--those who face the worgen should arm themselves with wards against shadow.

It is my hope that no Dalaran wizard seeks out the Worgen, even if done in light conscience. For no pact may be struck, no secrets may be learned, no good can come from these beasts. They are best left to their world. For if found in ours and not destroyed, our peril will be dire...
Ur discovered the worgen and dismissed them as being far too brutal, vicious and feral for use in Dalaran's armies, but Arugal had a different idea entirely. He deliberately summoned the worgen and sought to keep them under his control. Ur was right in some aspects about the worgen but completely wrong in others; he stated the worgen came from "a dark place, a place of nightmare" -- but in Cataclysm, it's revealed the worgen were actually night elf druids who followed the Ancient Goldrinn rather than Cenarius' teachings. So this "dark place of nightmare" was in all likelihood nothing more than a portal into the Emerald Dream -- which would by all means look, to human outsiders that had never encountered it, fairly dark and nightmarish.

Arugal quickly learned the folly of his actions -- the feral worgen not only attacked the Scourge, but the weakened forces of Dalaran and surrounding villages of innocent people. The worgen turned on everyone, and in his guilt, Arugal went mad. He adopted the worgen as his "children" of sorts and retreated to Shadowfang Keep, where he's stayed since vanilla World of Warcraft. It is hinted that in his madness, he performed further experiments on his "children," torturing them and enslaving what new worgen he could find.

This new worgen death knight you create was not present for the fall of Gilneas or the sudden appearance of the Forsaken and the rest of the Horde on Gilneas waters. Instead, this worgen death knight was a servant of Arugal who managed to escape with a friend at some point during vanilla World of Warcraft, and it can be presumed that at some point, the two encountered the Scourge. One of them died -- that's your worgen death knight. The other managed to escape somehow and ended up in the hands of the Argent Dawn. That's the guy you have to kill.

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