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Know Your Lore: Orgrim Doomhammer, part 1

Matthew Rossi

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.

He is the father of the modern Horde. His name became the name of the great city built by the orcs. He found in the son of his oldest friend a protegé who would lead his people, and he passed his family's greatest treasure down to ensure that prophecy was satisfied. To his people, he was one who never forsook them. No attempts to run away from the consequences of their actions, no dissembling -- simply forthright, pragmatic action. Alone of the Blackrock Clan, he refused the taint of the demon blood, yet found himself marked by it as it spread through his people. Called the Backstabber because he killed his direct superior, Blackhand the Destroyer, he ruled the Horde until its final defeat at Blackrock Mountain.

To his enemies, he was death. He beheaded his own chieftain and seized power in one brutal moment, crushing any opposition by the swift assassination of his enemies.He destroyed Stormwind and nearly brought down Lordaeron. He killed the majority of the warlocks of the Shadow Council and removed the position of Warchief from the role of a puppet ruler, leading the Horde in truth. He asked for no quarter and gave none. He countenanced the capture and forced breeding of the dragon queen Alexstrasza and her consort Tyranastrasz, using the juvenile dragons as mounts. He allowed Gul'dan to live, even though he suspected treachery, because the old warlock promised him a weapon that could counter the magics of the humans. He was never one to put his conscience ahead of what he saw as his duty; even as he suspected the orcs were being lied to and manipulated, he took part in the slaughter of the draenei. In the end, his own pragmatism cost him the victory in the Second War, as the treacherous Gul'dan proved that placing victory above all sometimes means giving someone too much rope -- Gul'dan's betrayal of the Horde in its moment of victory effectively destroyed all of the hard work of its Warchief.

Orgrim Doomhammer, last of the Doomhammer line, Warchief of the Horde, chief of the Blackrock, was an orc, give him all in all. You shall not look upon his like again.

Before the Horde

The greatest strength of Orgrim was also his ultimate weakness: his ruthlessly pragmatic nature. A brilliant tactician and skilled warrior, Doomhammer did not particularly care for the self-examination that marked the character of his best friend and rival, Durotan of the Frostwolves. Doomhammer was not a chieftain. He was not born to rule his people, but to serve them as a descendant of the Doomhammer line, gifted for generations with the honor of carrying the weapon from which they took their name. Orgrim's father, Telkar, wielded the hammer as one of the greatest warriors of the Blackrock Clan in the time before the shaman Ner'zhul first began warning the tribes of the draenei threat. Upon Telkar's death, Orgrim assumed his role in the Blackrock Clan and proved himself every bit a Doomhammer, quickly rising to an honored position as second in command to the Blackrock chief Blackhand.

Orgrim first met Durotan at a Kosh'harg festival, and the two young orcs settled into a friendly competition that became an unusual friendship, stretching as it did across clan lines. There was no rule against this, primarily because orcish society as a whole at that time had few hard-and-fast rules at all, being decentralized and nomadic -- but it was not traditional. Still, neither young orc ever broke from this friendship, renewing it at subsequent Kosh'hargs and whenever they had the chance to meet. It was this friendly rivalry that led the two youngsters to encounter the draenei, led by the warrior Restalaan (the draenei patrol helped the two orcs against an ogre), and this meeting led to an encounter with Velen, prophet of the draenei. If Velen foresaw that these two young orcs would someday help butcher his people, he gave no sign of it, receiving them warmly and spending time conversing with them about their people and the ancient prophecy of the Doomhammer itself.

Despite this cordial reception, in later years, as Ner'zhul's warnings became urgent and the various clans of the orcs became suspicious of the draenei, Orgrim ultimately made war on the draenei. While at first he merely followed the lead of his chieftain Blackhand, in truth Orgrim enjoyed the war and began to relish the opportunity to prove himself in a far more dangerous way than the contests in which he and Durotan used to engage. While he suspected both Ner'zhul and later Gul'dan of deceiving and manipulating the orcish people, unlike his friend Durotan, he didn't question the rightness of his own actions nearly so much, accepting the orders of his clan chief. It's also possible that despite his role as second in command, Doomhammer felt somewhat uncertain in his position. Not only was his friendship with Durotan unusual, his connections with the Thunderlord clan may have made him somewhat of an outsider in the Blackrock, despite being heir to the Doomhammer.

What's clear is that Doomhammer, like Durotan, had no desire to trust Gul'dan and was not about to drink the blood of some giant monstrosity simply because the warlock told him to. (Durotan and his wife Draka had been warned by Ner'zhul, who had found himself powerless in the Horde as Gul'dan's alliance with Kil'jaeden marginalized him completely.) Doomhammer's excuse for not drinking proved that he understood his vain, somewhat smug superior fully. He claimed to feel unworthy to drink from the same chalice as the great Blackhand, and Blackhand lapped it up. Gul'dan, however, saw right through it, as Doomhammer expected he would.

What followed was a battle of wills between the warlock who pulled the puppet's strings and the warrior who sought to cut them. Gul'dan sought the ultimate power for himself, while Doomhammer had no particular interest in power at all. He fought in the war against the draenei because it was his duty, but also because he found that he enjoyed battle and was talented at it. The aggrandizement he sought came from this long-held need to prove himself via contest, and war provided him with the ultimate chance to do exactly that. He sought to be the first among equals and could not abide the role of puppet Warchief accepted by the boorish Blackhand.

Rise of the Warchief

Following the destruction of the draenei, the orcs began a slow decline as their world became too corrupted by the fel magics of the warlocks to support life. It's clear that watching his people's slow death affected Doomhammer deeply, as all of his actions to follow were aimed primarily at securing a future for them at any cost to anyone else. Following Blackhand to Azeroth, Doomhammer watched in dismay as his Warchief Blackhand managed to quickly lose control of the invasion and was even driven back to the swamps surrounding the Dark Portal by the armies of the native people of Azeroth, these "humans." While Gul'dan didn't really care -- he'd only invaded Azeroth in the first place in order to try and trick Medivh into revealing the location of the Tomb of Sargeras -- Doomhammer quickly grew incensed at what he saw as poor leadership by Blackhand and selfish, power-hungry manipulations by the warlocks of the Shadow Council who used Blackhand as a puppet.

By this point, any scales remaining had fallen from Doomhammer's eyes. He knew the war with the draenei had been a sham and that the invasion of Azeroth was, as well. Given the choice between dying on a blasted, dead world corrupted by Gul'dan and his sycophants, or murdering every last man, woman and child in the Kingdom of Stormwind, he took the latter option. But make no mistake; Doomhammer would be no orc's puppet. As soon as Gul'dan was distracted by events (specifically, Khadgar and Lothar's raid on Karazhan that ended Medivh's life, as Gul'dan took the opportunity to try and ransack Medivh's distracted mind and got blasted into a coma for his troubles), Doomhammer struck. He beheaded his Warchief and seized total control over the Horde. As soon as Garona returned from her mission to assassinate King Llane Wrynn, he seized her, too, and tortured her until she told him where the leadership of the Shadow Council was hiding.

Then he killed as many of them as he could get his hands on. When Gul'dan awoke, he was presented with a fait accompli. Blackhand was dead, as were the majority of his warlocks. Doomhammer fully intended to kill him, too. It's a testimony to Gul'dan's skill at saving his own green behind that he managed to convince Doomhammer not to kill him -- but it's also a testimony to Doomhammer's ruthless pragmatism. He was embroiled in a war on an alien world that was, so far as he knew, the only chance for his people to survive. He'd managed to destroy Stormwind, but the humans of that kingdom had retreated to the unknown north, leaving Doomhammer in command of a military with no idea what lay ahead of it and nothing to retreat to on Draenor. Simply put, he didn't have a lot of options at this point. He had to move fast to take advantage of the momentary triumph, and to do that, he needed magic. With shamanism effectively dead, it was warlocks or nothing.

So Gul'dan created the first death knights out of the corpses of fallen Stormwind knights and his own slain warlock followers, and Doomhammer prepared to lead the Horde -- his Horde, at last -- to its destiny in the lands of the north, what the humans called Lordaeron.

Next week, we'll discuss the Second War, which could well be called Doomhammer's War, and how he came within hours of conquering the Alliance. Then we discuss the fulfillment of prophecy and how the Doomhammer came to leave the hands of the Doomhammer line. Doomhammer was large; he contained multitudes.

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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