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Know Your Lore: The tol'vir

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.

We've talked about the tol'vir before Cataclysm launched. While what we learned about them then was tantalizing, what we've learned about them since has helped develop our understanding of them quite a bit. Proud, ritualistic, formal, feral, the tol'vir are a race bound by their ancient task and pinned between their duty and their desire to return to a state of existence they see as more perfect than the one they currently inhabit.

The last remaining bastion of free tol'vir on the surface of Azeroth is the mysterious land of Uldum. Created eons ago by the Titans, Uldum is part of the planetary monitoring system that once girdled the ancient continent of Kalimdor alongside Ulduar and Uldaman. While Ulduar seems to have been intended to imprison the ancient Old God Yogg-Saron, and Uldaman perhaps served as a manufacturing center for earthen (although it may also have served other purposes), Uldum's purpose was linked to Ulduar in a very real and direct way. Ulduar was where Algalon would come to make his judgment about the fitness of the Azeroth experiment if the prime designate Loken was destroyed. And Uldum?

If one thinks of Algalon as the means by which a world is judged, then think of Uldum as the executor of his will. Ulduar is where Azeroth would have been condemned, and Uldum is how the sentence would have been carried out. The tol'vir of Uldum, therefore, have the most important task of all the Titan's creations, as they maintain the world-destroying engines and keep their power out of the hands of those who might otherwise use them. Unfortunately for the tol'vir, those who would undo the Titan's work for their own ends have often subverted or corrupted these last guardians of Titanic secrets in order to gain access to what they guard.

Accursed Flesh

Once, the tol'vir guarded Titan sites throughout the world. Alongside the mechagnomes, earthen, vrykul and giants, the tol'vir performed as maintenance and protection to lore repositories and ancient secrets. It seems likely that they were creations of Norgannon the Lorekeeper (the same one who left the Discs of Norgannon in Uldaman that pointed to Uldum's location, which makes one wonder if there were once tol'vir in Uldaman, and if so, where they went). It's interesting that there are prowling panthers in Ulduar when one considers that there are no cats anywhere else in the Storm Peaks. Since we know the tol'vir were susceptible to the curse of flesh, were these cats their descendants?

What we do know is this: Following the great war between the ancient Aqir and the troll empires, the Aqir made their way north and south, ransacking former Titan complexes on the order of their dread master, the Old God C'thun. While C'thun itself lay underneath the ancient Titan fortress covering most of southern Kalimdor and thus could direct his creations more closely as they created Ahn'Qiraj out of what was once a sister city to Uldum, the ancestors of the nerubians were further away. Closer to the Old God known as Yogg-Saron, and at times divided in their loyalties (even at times seemingly more afraid of the Old Gods and their servants than loyal to them), the nerubians invaded and destroyed another Titan lore repository and enslaved the tol'vir who dwelt there, much as their qiraji cousins did, but for their own ends.

These tol'vir were kept isolated from the curse of flesh, because their massive, stony bodies made them effective weapons of war against the enemies of these two disparate empires founded by descendants of the aqir. Indeed, another reason to suspect Norgannon of being involved in the original creation of the tol'vir is the use both the nerubians and the qiraji put them to. Obsidian destroyers like Moam can actually consume magic. Norgannon the Lorekeeper is the one who empowered Malygos, the recently deceased Aspect of Magic, in the first place. This fact, and the fact that the tol'vir were entrusted with safeguarding places where secrets and lore were held in trust, makes the connection seem more obvious, but it's just speculation at the moment. We only know that the Titans were their creators, that they were originally stone constructs, that the servants of the Old Gods can somehow remove the curse of flesh from them (as seen above when Deathwing's minion Siamat removes the curse of flesh from tol'vir in Uldum).

The tol'vir in Northrend are apparently all gone, used as living weapons by the nerubians against the Scourge during the War of the Spider and then, after that war was lost, used again by the now undead nerubians at the Lich King's demand. It's possible a few remain deep underground either as obsidian destroyers or even as uncorrupted tol'vir, but as yet, none have been seen. The tol'vir who may have inhabited Uldaman are even more mysterious; the only reason we even have to speculate about their existence is the fact that the discs of Norgannon pointing to Uldum's existence were found there and the presence of lions and other large cats in the heraldry of Stormwind and other human nations despite there being almost no lions currently alive in the Eastern Kingdoms. Lions are frequent companions and allies to the tol'vir.
The modern tol'vir remaining in Uldum are divided into two main tribes. One is the Neferset led by Dark Pharoah Tekahn, who have allied with the air elemental forces of the Vortex Pinnacle and, through them, Deathwing himself. The other is the Ramkahen under King Phaoris, who resist Deathwing and his followers and attempt to keep to the old ways of their people, defending Uldum from those who would seek to use its ancient secrets against the will of the Titans. With the destruction of Orsis by servants of Al'Akir the Windlord, Ramkahen is the last remaining bastion of tol'vir who are neither enslaved by nor corrupted by the Old Gods and their lieutenants.

Pinned between duty and perfection

Heroes who explore Uldum fully can work alongside the Ramkahen to defeat and drive the Neferset back as well as raid their strongholds in the Lost City of the Tol'vir and the Halls of Origination. There are also Neferset tol'vir to be found in the Vortex Pinnacle itself. Eventually, these heroes aid the Ramkahen in laying siege to Neferset City, laying waste to the forces of the Dark Pharoah and aiding King Phaoris as he kills Tekahn. While this doesn't end the Neferset threat in Uldum proper, it does give the Ramkahen a much stronger position and keeps them safe from Deathwing's minions for the time being.

It's interesting that our first introduction to the tol'vir is the enslaved Prince Nadum, brother to Phaoris, who is captured by the Neferset when he is betrayed by members of his own people who seek a return to a stone form. There are clearly those among the tol'vir (including the majority of the Neferset) who see the stone body of the ancient tol'vir as a perfect state. Whether or not they would be willing or able to become obsidian destroyers is unknown, although among the stony tol'vir of the Neferset, we see figures like General Husam who have either grown or regained wings similar to those of Moam and other obsidian destroyers. Strangely enough, although Siamat is clearly seen altering the three Ramkahen traitors in exchange for their betrayal, the Neferset of the Lost City seem to have the djinn imprisoned somehow. It's not clear why these willing servants of Deathwing would need to hold one of his servants captive.

The tol'vir of Ramkahen are surprisingly polite to complete strangers, even beings like orcs and draenei who they could barely have ever heard of, considering that they resided behind a Titan shield for untold thousands of years. The shield of invisibility that protected Uldum is likely the only reason these tol'vir didn't end up like the ones in Ahn'Qiraj and Azjol-Nerub, which makes the decision of some among their number to willingly submit to a similar fate at Deathwing's talons all the more interesting. Did the tol'vir of Northrend go willingly? Were they, like the vrykul, so fearful of the curse and its degenerating effects that they submitted to the aqir to regain what they saw as perfection? We see it happening in Uldum now, so we can't dismiss the possibility.

The tol'vir are a race greatly diminished, trapped between their ancient duty and the curse that has utterly changed them as a people. Once they lived across the world; now, only a remnant population endures in Uldum. Is this their end or is it a new beginning for them? Is it better to hold fast to your old oaths and die a mortal or live forever as stone by betraying everything you ever held dear?

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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