Know Your Lore: Kul Tiras and the mystery of Tol Barad

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|12.26.10

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Know Your Lore: Kul Tiras and the mystery of Tol Barad

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.

A hot topic of contention among Cataclysm players is the new PvP zone of Tol Barad and the accompanying Tol Barad peninsula zone. They features a host of new daily quests and two new factions with some truly stunning rewards -- have you seen those spectral mounts? Gorgeous!. Players were really looking forward to playing around in the new area. Unfortunately, between mechanics issues and queuing woes, few people are actually enjoying the new content.

However, Tol Barad isn't quite as "new" as you'd think -- at least not from a lore standpoint. Today, we're going to take a look at the history of Tol Barad. But before that, we need to take a look at the nation that owned it, a nation that's been mysteriously absent in World of Warcraft: the island nation of Kul Tiras, birthplace of Jaina Proudmoore and home of one of the strongest naval fleets the world had ever seen.

A very, very long time ago, before the orcs even set foot on Azeroth, primitive human beings lived in tribes rather than kingdoms. The leader of the Arathi tribe, a man named Thoradin, sought to unite all of the existing tribes into one great human empire. This was because the trolls native to the area were posing a threat that was growing larger by the day, and Thoradin knew that if the humans banded together, they could keep the trolls at bay. So the Arathi tribe went about collecting all of the various human tribes by conquering them in combat and then offering them a peaceful place in the empire that Thoradin sought to build.

The human tribes were soon united into one giant nation called Arathor, and the city Strom was founded as its capital. Years later, Thoradin was approached by high elf ambassadors from the north, who came seeking aid in their own struggles against the trolls. Thoradin agreed to offer his kingdom's support, but it wasn't without its cost -- he had the high elves teach 100 humans in the use of magic.

After the victorious end of the Troll Wars, those humans who had been taught by the high elves left Strom and founded their own nation -- Dalaran. Over time, more and more humans left Strom to found city-states of their own. Gilneas, Alterac, Lordaeron, the kingdom of Azeroth (later called Stormwind) to the south and, of course, Kul Tiras. Few were left in Strom, and the city was renamed Stromgarde, the ruins of which we can see in game today in the Arathi Highlands.

As for Kul Tiras, it was founded on an island west of Khaz Modan, in between Stormwind and Lordaeron. As an island nation, Kul Tiras thrived on exports and fishing, building up an amazing quantity of merchant fleets -- and an amazing naval fleet with which to defend their merchant ships as well as their ports. At the time of the First War, Kul Tiras was a thriving nation led by Daelin Proudmoore. One of Proudmoore's closest friends was Anduin Lothar, who coincidentally enough was also the last living descendant of the Arathi bloodline.

During the Second War, Anduin approached Proudmoore and asked him to join the Alliance, offering him the title of Grand Admiral, lord of all Alliance fleets. Proudmoore agreed and led all naval assaults against the orcs. Unfortunately, some fleets were lost to orc attacks -- including the Third Fleet, led by Proudmoore's eldest son. The Third Fleet was attacked by orcs on dragonback, and while they fought hard, they couldn't hold themselves against the might of dragons.

This is where Tol Barad comes in. Tol Barad was originally an island stronghold that belonged to Strom back in the day. The citadel's strategic location was perfect for launching attacks against the orc forces, but the orcs, led by Orgrim Doomhammer, weren't going to sit back and let the Alliance forces attack without a fight. Orgrim launched a full on invasion of the island in retaliation.

The resulting battle was bloody, brutal, and over quickly. The island forces couldn't hold off the orc attackers, and they quickly massacred anything living on the island. After all was said and done, there was little left on the island but weeds and bugs; the original fortress was razed to the ground by the bloodthirsty orcs. It was said by many that an aura of death seemed to radiate from the island even years later, after the Second War was over and done with. Tol Barad was nothing more than a bleak reminder of the Horde's unquenchable lust for blood.

According to RPG source guides, years after the end of the Second War, Kul Tiras decided that claiming the island of Tol Barad would be a really good idea. Why? The reason for the land grab isn't really stated anywhere, but afterwards, Kul Tiras built a prison on top of the old fortress's location. The prison was a magic prison, similar to the Arcatraz in Netherstorm, or more closely, Violet Hold in Dalaran. It was stated that wizards from both Dalaran and Stormwind oversaw the complex, which included not only war criminals, but also demons and undead, but nobody knew of the prison's existence. It was a well-kept secret that nobody talked about -- and the wizards running the prison didn't let anyone near Tol Barad, nor did they let anyone know that anything was on the island.

In the meantime, Azeroth went on without Tol Barad -- and without Kul Tiras, the island nation that mysteriously went silent after years of serving as the Alliance's main naval forces. After Daelin Proudmoore's death, it's presumed his younger son Tandred is now running Kul Tiras. However, Kul Tiras as a whole has been markedly absent from World of Warcraft, save for a few Kul Tiras marines along the coast of Durotar, remnants of Daelin Proudmoore's last fleet. It seemed both Kul Tiras and the island of Tol Barad were lost to time -- and a distinct lack of plot lines.

The world shifted a great deal after Cataclysm, however, and as the continents shifted, so did the island masses. The Horde caught wind of Vashj'ir's emergence along with the Alliance, and both sought to lay claim to the territory. But both factions also discovered the forgotten island of Tol Barad as well, and its proximity to the Eastern Kingdoms and Gilneas was very appealing to both Horde and Alliance alike. What they discovered upon landing on the island, however, was enough to give anyone pause.

It's unknown what happened to the mages who originally watched over the island prison; they are nowhere to be found, and nobody on the island seems to be willing to discuss what happened to them. The prisons still exist, full of prisoners -- living and demon alike -- and needless to say, none of them are terribly happy about being cooped up for 20-some odd years. Some cell blocks have nothing left but the spirits of angry prisoners that were left to rot. As for why these individuals were imprisoned in the first place ... there are no records or details.

Tol Barad wasn't just an island prison, though; there was another section to the island that was populated as well. This place was, if it was possible, even stranger than the prison to the south. Restless spirits of the original Alliance and Horde battle during the Second War continued to endlessly fight in the forgotten forests. The island appeared to be run by Farson Hold, but any recon groups sent to the hold failed to return, indicating that the keep and its residents were hostile to Alliance and Horde alike.

On top of this, a small town called Rustberg Village perched along the island shore, a village where both Alliance and Horde worked together, side by side. But there was something oddly suspicious about the little village and its inhabitants -- especially the way they reacted to Alliance and Horde troops. The whole town seemed to be made up of bandits and thieves, perhaps thieves that had escaped from the prison. Who could say, really?

But that seems to be the essence of Tol Barad -- a mystery within a mystery. What happened to the mages who originally oversaw the prisons? Why were the prisons opened up in the first place? And more importantly, why was nobody ever informed of the existence of these prisons? What's going on with the inhabitants of Rustberg Village, and why have the soldiers of Farson Hold suddenly gone a little crazy in the head? Indeed, it seems that the only thing that really makes sense on the island are the ghosts of past battles, fighting endlessly against each other.

There are a few possible theories that we can glance at here. First off, the mysterious village could just be a bunch of pirates that have made their home on the little island. It makes sense, as the island itself is in a really good spot to intersect various trade ships as they sailed from Stormwind to Lordaeron. Second, these could be prisoners who escaped their cell blocks on the southern island and moved north to try and establish a colony. This would also make sense, given that the villagers spend a lot of time stealing supplies from the new Alliance and Horde encampments -- and just as much time stabbing people in the back.

The third theory is a little out there, but bear with me -- it also addresses the apparent insanity of the residents of Farson Hold as well. Think about this for a minute: When is the last time we saw Horde and Alliance working side by side with little regard for the fact they were enemies?

Right. It's possible that Tol Barad, being a supposedly powerful magic prison like Arcatraz or the Violet Hold, captured the attention of something much bigger than a bunch of pirates or the Alliance and Horde. At the moment, it's perched in very close proximity to Vashj'ir, where the naga were making deals with Old Gods. In that case, it's possible (although probably a stretch) that an Old God lurking somewhere far below the ocean shores has affected the residents of the island. But if that's true, then there would have to be something incredibly powerful on the island to capture the Old God's attention -- and so far, we've seen nothing at all to indicate that would be the case.

On top of this, the island nation of Kul Tiras is mysteriously absent from the map altogether. What happened? There are no clues whatsoever in game, but blue poster Bornakk addressed this in a post on the old forums, saying that Kul Tiras "will not be visible at the start of Cataclysm -- something about tectonic plates shifting it out to sea ..." At the BlizzCon 2010 Quests and Lore panel, Alex Afrasiabi responded to a question regarding the fate of Kul Tiras: "We have to save something for the future patches, not now. We will deal with Kul Tiras in the future."

If Kul Tiras is exposed in a future patch, perhaps we'll see more about Tol Barad as well. For now, the island remains a mystery, as do its inhabitants. As the start of Cataclysm seems to be more focused on grabbing strategic points of land and less on asking questions, it's apt to be a little while before we see anyone asking the questions about Tol Barad that we'd like to see answered.

If you want to know more about the lore mentioned in this Know Your Lore, consult the following:

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.
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