WoW Archivist: The Karazhan Crypt

The WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? What secrets does the game still hold? If you enjoyed Patches of Yesteryear, you're going to love this.

Contrary to what I said at the end of last week's column, we're taking a break from looking at old beta patches this week to show you precisely why we changed the column's name from Patches of Yesteryear -- some of World of Warcraft's most fascinating mysteries never appeared in patch notes at all. The Karazhan Crypt intrigued many players throughout vanilla WoW and into The Burning Crusade. By the time Wrath of the Lich King rolled around, it was almost entirely forgotten.

The Karazhan Crypt is a piece of unreleased content that is really rather grim. While World of Warcraft has images of death and downright creepy things all over the game, very little stands up to the sights in the crypts of Karazhan.


The Well of the Forgotten

Immediately upon entering the crypts, you find yourself in a sparse room called the Well of the Forgotten. On your right is a simple tomb, straight ahead of you is a hallway spiraling downwards, and on the far left you will see a large, round hole in the ground. It isn't a natural formation -- this hole was built there. It is the well for which the room itself is named. You can peer down the well's stone chute, but it is both too deep and too dark to see what's at the bottom.

Like the brave explorer you are, you say to hell with the hallway -- the well looks far more interesting, and you'd really like to find out what's at the bottom, wouldn't you? So you jump, you fall, and you hit the bottom -- hard. It was a much longer fall than you might have expected. If you'd fallen just a little further, you're sure you would have broken bones -- maybe even died on impact.

You look down, and then you realize what broke your fall: corpses. Meat. Bones. Hundreds of corpses, piled in a grotesque mound at the bottom of the well. You've fallen into the Pit of Criminals. These people had been thrown down the well, and they had no such mound of bodies to save them. They fell and they died, left in an ever-growing heap. Should you be horrified at what you've found? Or should you be grateful that their deaths ultimately saved you?

Into the labyrinth

You don't want to stay in this place any longer than you have to, so you turn away from the bone pile and run as quickly as you can through the labarynthine crypts of Karazhan. Iron-wrought gates squeal on their rusted hinges, some of them torn out of place by collapsing supports and cave-ins. You weave through the halls, coming across countless dead ends -- all of them lined with corpses in various stages of decomposition. Some of them had been laid to rest properly, during a time when these crypts were used for their intended purpose, but others clearly did not belong here. Had these people been murdered and left to rot and be forgotten? Had they died of natural causes and simply been thrown here without a care?

Eventually, you come across a stairwell leading further down into the crypts. The way down has flooded, but you haven't found a way back up to the surface yet, so you decide to explore this path, flood be damned. You take a deep breath and dive in, hoping you can reach the other end before you run out of breath.

The upside-down sinners

You've stumbled across the upside-down sinners. This flood wasn't accidental. It wasn't the result of nature having its way with these catacombs. You've found a vast underground pool with heavy, rusted chains strung up in a tangled mess throughout. Corpses, bloated and waterlogged, are tied to these chains by their arms and legs. You desperately swim to the surface, the sinners' necrotic limbs brushing against you as you try to navigate the tangle of chains.

Yeah. Pretty awesome, isn't it?

In Jeff Grubb's The Last Guardian, the novel references an inverse Karazhan -- an upside-down mirror of the tower, an exact copy of the tower that stretches far underground. Medivh's private chambers lie at the bottom. Many speculate that this was the inspiration for the unfinished crypts beneath Karazhan. While it's a decent enough theory, grounded right into the lore of the world ... it's probably wrong. The crypts don't match any description of the Karazhan tower we've ever seen. It isn't even under the tower, either -- it's a part of the village surrounding Karazhan, and the crypt itself extends beneath Duskwood. It doesn't go straight down like an upside-down tower would.

The mystique of the forbidden area

In the early years of World of Warcraft, despite this area being very much off-limits, it was easy to get into the Crypts. There was a simple gate cutting you off from getting inside. The gate produced a cogwheel on mouseover, but clicking the gate did nothing. It didn't open at all. However, there were still ways of getting through -- you could exploit Polymorph or Fear spells to clip you through the gate and into the crypt. A much easier method was for a paladin to use Divine Intervention (spell removed in Cataclysm), die on the spot, and then just run through the gate as a ghost and resurrect on the other side. That gate wasn't a very effective deterrent. Since then, Blizzard has made the gate solid and placed an invisible wall there for good measure.

Ease of entry added a lot to the mystique of this place -- everybody hears about secret, unfinished locations in the game. All old-school players have heard of GM Island, the Emerald Dream, or the pre-Cataclysm Hyjal. The Karazhan Crypt, however, was the only one that was accessible without some seriously elaborate exploitation. Dying and walking through the gate as a ghost was an exploit, absolutely, but it was one that any person who thought of it could pull off. There was no wall walking involved, no third-party hacks, nothing of the sort. Of course, just because it was easy doesn't mean it's okay.

With a little brainpower, you could enter this off-limits section of the world. You could see first-hand this rundown, abandoned crypt -- a place where even the devs dare not go anymore. It was a mystery -- one you could see yourself, not just something you heard about through a game of telephone. Experiencing something is always worth more than hearing about it.

The Karazhan Crypt still exists today, locked beneath the earth. There remains a possibility that Blizzard will utilize this space one day -- Cataclysm would have been a convenient time to remove this piece of WoW history from the world completely and save the headache of players endlessly trying to get inside, but it's still there. Even after Azeroth as a whole has been rebuilt, the Crypt remains. Is it still there as a placeholder, waiting to be utilized? Is Blizzard leaving it there as a tribute to how the place has teased our imaginations? Or maybe it's just waiting for its turn to be stricken from the records. Karazhan and its surrounding area wasn't touched much by the Cataclysm -- maybe it will be removed, but Blizzard just hasn't done it yet.

There are a few theories on why this area wasn't used. One is that the dungeon would have caused the game to exceed a PEGI 12+ rating in Europe. Rather than tone down its content, they decided not to use it at all. Another theory is that Blizzard's concepts for this dungeon ended up being used in Scholomance; the world didn't need two dungeons so similar to each other, and the concept fit the Scourge better than Medivh. My personal theory is that the Karazhan Crypt was going to be an uninstanced, outdoor dungeon and Blizzard decided that would ultimately be a bad idea. We might never know the answer to this mystery ... though it might be a good question to ask at BlizzCon 2011, hm?

The WoW Archivist examines the WoW of old. Follow along while we discuss beta patch 0.8, beta patch 0.9, and hidden locations such as the crypts of Karazhan.