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.
Since I talked about Gilneas last week, it only makes sense to continue the discussion with one of the most worgen-centric places in all of the World of Warcraft, namely storied Shadowfang Keep. It debuted in vanilla WoW as a brooding ruin infested with those dastardly worgen and the angry, unquiet ghosts of their victims. Now, some six years on, it's a brooding ruin infested with those dastardly undead, led by three traitors to both the Forsaken and Gilneas itself, also jam-packed with the ghosts of its former worgen masters and their victims.
In short, time hasn't done much to improve Shadowfang Keep's general disposition. Well, unless you like your keeps to be atmospheric, top-filled with raging monstrosities and jam-packed with the loots -- in which case, the former estate of Baron Silverlaine awaits you.
Yes, before it was a dungeon, Shadowfang Keep was the ancestral home of Baron Silverlaine, a noble who owed allegiance to Gilneas and whose ancestral lands lay just outside of where the Greymane Wall would be erected. Ruling over the settlers of neaby Pyrewood Village, the Baron seemed a relatively capable leader... until, of course, the coming of the Scourge.
The death of a thousand shambling hands
Gilneas did not build its famous wall to protect it from the Scourge. The wall was built after the Second War, when Genn Greymane decided to pull his nation from the Alliance of Lordaeron and determined that his people were self-sufficient enough to run their own affairs and protect their own borders. The decision did not go unopposed, and figures like Lord Darius Crowley who had estates and roots on both sides of the wall in what is today Silverpine and what was then a borderland between Gilneas and Lordaeron were not at all happy with the decision. It seems likely that Baron Silverlaine would have been Crowley's direct vassal, holding his lands and title from the man. As a result, when Crowley's rebellion failed and the Greymane Wall sealed shut, the northern possessions of Gilneas were left to fend for themselves.
For a while, this wasn't much of a difficulty. The land was good enough for farming and had plenty of game. The scattered Gilnean settlements could trade with their Lordaeron neighbors to the north (centered around the fortress of Fenris Keep) or the Dalaran-claimed town of Ambermill. It's likely that after an initial period of hardship, the people of Pyrewood and Baron Silverlaine might even have come to like the autonomy from their Gilnean overlords and found the situation agreeable, as an overlord who is shut away behind a wall can't exactly demand taxes. There was some limited contact between the sides (as Greymane kept in contact with Archmage Arugal, a member of the Kirin Tor originally from the Gilnean areas of Silverpine), but in general, Pyrewood and its environs were free from Gilnean oversight.
Then came the Third War. Lordaeron was destroyed by its own prince, who unleashed a monstrous wave of undeath upon his own people as well as their neighbors to the north in Quel'Thalas. Arthas Menethil of the Lordaeron Royal Family then went even further and with the aid of the necromancer and risen lich Kel'Thuzad (formerly of the Kirin Tor) summoned forth Archimonde the Defiler, battle leader of the Burning Legion, onto Azeroth. In so doing, he released countless demons and demonic servants into the already ravaged countryside of what had been humanity's greatest nation. Archimonde himself proved more than a match for all the wizards of Dalaran proper, destroying the city with a great magical rite and scattering the surviving mages.
Arugal made his way home to the northern lands of Gilneas, the holdings of Baron Silverlaine. It was here that he would destroy what was left of what he wished to save.
The hour of the worgen
Arugal was many things: unquestionably talented, a patriotic Gilnean, steeped in the lore of his magical order. Seeing the Scourge and their demonic masters rampage through what was left of Lordaeron and Dalaran, he became convinced that there was nothing too dire to be invoked in the defense of his people. Bolstered by King Greymane's desire to defend Gilneas from the Scourge before it could find a way past the Wall, Arugal made use of the Book of Ur, a tome of mystical lore and studies of other dimensions and states of reality.
While Ur was a skilled mage and a knowledgeable scholar, he lived before the resumption of relations between Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, and as a result, he knew almost nothing of druidic lore and the cosmology of the Emerald Dream. His half-educated glimpses of the worgen (former druids sworn to Goldrinn the wolf ancient who began to go astray during a battle with ancient satyrs known as the Lords of the Emerald Flame) painted them as nearly mindless beasts, not as potent druids trapped between forms. He did not grasp the nature of the Emerald Dream as a realm where dreamers exist. As a result, Arugal could not control them when he summoned them forth from their sleep and quickly lost the ability to direct them. (See the ongoing Curse of the Worgen comic series for more details.) The worgen served to blunt the Scourge advance, it's true, preventing them from reaching Gilneas.
They also ran wild through Pyrewood, and somehow their curse was now spread to the former people of the village. They even broke into Silverlaine's keep and slaughtered or transformed everyone they came into contact with. The keep went from a place of refuge to a bloodbath, and Arugal from a concerned Gilnean patriot to a broken, guilt-ravaged survivor who believed himself to be some sort of father to the worgen he had unleashed. While he could not control their fury, they seemed somehow disinclined or unable to destroy him. So in his madness and despair, seeing the world broken down into either walking corpses or raging worgen, he chose the side of the ultimate survivors and declared himself lord and master of the Shadowfang Keep and father of the worgen therein.
And so things remained for years after the Third War. Eventually, the Scourge in Lordaeron broke free of the Lich King's control and under Sylvanas Windrunner declared themselves the Forsaken, but this mattered little to the denizens of Shadowfang Keep. Even as the mystical curse spread itself south, the worgen in Pyrewood and its environs continued to serve the mad Archmage who had summoned them. Some fled and escaped, but for the majority, the Keep was home.
Then came Arugal's downfall. Insane, surrounded by monsters, he simply made too many enemies. Both the distant Alliance forces and the far closer Forsaken had reason to hate him, and in the end, despite his "children" and his own magic, a band of assassins from one of his many enemies made their way to his keep. They battered their way through his worgen, put down many of the angry ghosts of Silverlaine's time (if only temporarily) and stormed Arugal's chamber, killing the Archmage. While this defeat was relatively temporary (as servants of the same Arthas Menethil who destroyed Arugal's former life by sacking Dalaran and summoning Archimonde would pull Arugal back from death to serve) it did leave the keep deserted for some time, held only by unquiet ghosts.
This, too, would pass.
No rest for the angry dead
Shadowfang Keep may have remained a ghost-choked footnote if not for the Forsaken, who decided to placate their Horde allies by invading Gilneas in earnest. Even as tools of the new Warchief, however, the Forsaken could not be fully controlled, and Sylvanas took steps during the invasion that outpaced Garrosh Hellscream's directives. As Gilneas entered into the first real invasion it had ever faced, Genn Greymane was forced to reveal to his own vassal lords that he, too, had been cursed and become a worgen, holding onto control via alchemical concoctions and his own ferocious iron will.
As a result of this revelation, one of Greymane's closest and most loyal supporters, Lord Vincent Godfrey, turned on his king. It's not entirely fair to say Godfrey was disloyal. He'd served Greymane and Gilneas faithfully even during Crowley's rebellion, even despite the fact that Greymane obviously favored Darius Crowley over Godfrey. When Crowley was released from prison during the Forsaken invasion, Godfrey stayed loyal. Even when a local hero became one of the cursed worgen, Godfrey didn't turn up his nose at using a monster to stop monsters. But he drew the line at bending his knee to a slavering monstrosity. What was the point of fighting to preserve Gilneas from the Forsaken but allowing a worgen to rule it? How could the good men and women of Gilneas trust a king who was a ravening beast, a ripper, tearer, slasher, gorger?
Godfrey and his closest associates hatched a plan that they believed could save their country. If they could capture Greymane and hand him over to Sylvanas in return for a promise to leave Gilneas, two birds could be killed with one stone. It didn't work. Godfrey's associates Baron Ashbury and Lord Walden were killed by one of Genn's pet worgen, and upon realizing the failure of his plan, Vincent Godfrey did the only thing he felt he could and took his own life rather than serve a monster.
Then Sylvanas had him raised from the dead, and he ended up a monster himself. Pulled from his grave alongside Ashbury and Walden, Godfrey seethed with hatred of the so-called Banshee Queen, and while pretending to serve her as a faithful rotting lackspittle (as most Forsaken raised by the val'kyr Agatha and her sisters seem to be), he hatched another plot. As with his scheme to betray Genn, it went well at first. Godfrey used Sylvanas' machinations to his own ends, driving Darius Crowley and his worgen supporters out of Silverpine and then turning on Sylvanas and killing her in a surprise attack. If not for the val'kyr, both the worgen and the Forsaken faction of undead would have been driven out of Silverpine entirely, leaving the whole land for Godfrey and his supporters to rule.
However, Sylvanas' val'kyr pets raised her from her second death, and a frustrated Godfrey was forced to retreat to the strongest defensible position in Silverpine ... namely, Shadowfang Keep. From there, he and his allies bully the local ghosts into servitude while planning to make the whole area, and eventually both Gilneas and Lordaeron, their own. Driven mad by his own forced conversion into a horrible deliquescent obscenity, Godfrey hates everyone -- his former king, his former people now cursed as worgen, Sylvanas and her ilk, and even himself -- and only in a naked lust for power does he find any comfort, cold though it is.
As its masters, so has Shadowfang Keep been over the years. A fairly humble place under the living Silverlaine, a howling pit of madness and despair under Arugal, and now a seething corpse racked by hatred and hunger for power under Godfrey. Its future will no doubt be just as contentious. Pursued by Ivar Bloodfang and his Bloodfang pack for their actions in driving Crowley out of Silverpine and the Forsaken for Sylvanas' death, there's nowhere left for Godfrey to run and no place he can hide. Now it comes down to open war.
If you want to know more about the lore mentioned in this Know Your Lore, consult the following:
- A history of Gilneas
- Worgen and goblin death knights
- Sylvanas Windrunner
- Horde Politics: The Forsaken
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.