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Aiding the Alliance: The idle Varian Wrynn

Alex Ziebart

I'll admit up front, I'm one of those players who has cried Horde favoritism! from time to time when it comes to the World of Warcraft. I discuss the topic with both the WoW Insider staffers and the WoW community at large frequently. Everybody's thoughts on the subject are a little different, but it always seems to come back to faction leaders and the point of contention isn't always Thrall's rise to greatness.

The Alliance faction leaders are simply ... boring. They don't do anything. They are tight springs of potential that are never given the opportunity to leap forth and act. What I've decided to do today is begin a series wherein I lay out what I as an Alliance player feel is lacking in my faction's heroes. There will be no faction fairness here, only what your average Alliance player sees, perceives and experiences and how I feel that can be improved.

Today we look at Varian Wrynn, King of Stormwind.

Who are you?

I love Varian Wrynn. I really do. In his current state, however, he's 100% pure wasted potential. He needs some serious help in a few key places.

First, looking strictly at World of Warcraft, we know absolutely nothing about him. He didn't appear in any of the previous games, either. This man's story, past and present, takes place entirely in extended media -- comics, novels, and so on. Who is he? Why does he deserve to be High King of the Alliance? Why does he deserve our respect? What sort of combat experience does he have? The Trials of the High King quest chain that was discussed at BlizzCon sounds cool and a very good way to get this information to players, but those Trials need to portray real, actual issues Varian is dealing with. Don't just give us Kill 10 Pigs, Kill 20 Cowpigs, Kill 30 Orcpigs. Show this man as someone who is wise and worthy to rule.

If the writers don't want Varian to be intelligent, give him the capability to know when he needs to call on people who are intelligent. Varian Wrynn's being able to say Tyrande, what's your take on this? is an admirable trait. Every leader needs to be able to do that. Varian's being boiled down to I will hit you with my sword so hard!! is not admirable whatsoever.

Smoldering with generic rage

Speaking of hitting things with swords, can we deal with Varian's rage issues once and for all? Or find a better way to approach it? His anger management problems have been addressed at least three times in varying degrees. Back in the comic, everybody thought he would get better when he cobbled his two halves back together. That didn't do it. In his faction leader short story, we thought his self-realization about his problems would fix it. It didn't. In Wolfheart, he goes through a magical healing process. Will that fix it? Man, I hope so -- but didn't the Blood of Our Fathers short story take place after Wolfheart? So no, I guess even magical cleansing can't help Varian. How many more times do we need to go through this with him?

Seeing Varian pull himself out of his blinding rage only to fall back into it reminds me of an alcoholic -- and in fact, he is an alcoholic in Wolfheart, or at least a horrible drunkard.

Alcoholism is not heroic. Domestic abuse is not heroic. That's the kind of thing that darkens your opinion of a man forever. Anduin is an incredibly brave kid, getting himself away from Varian and departing for the Exodar. There is very little room for second chances when it comes to alcoholism and abuse, and it looks like Varian is on the road to needing his fourth and fifth chances. Just shelve that anger management thing. Give Varian the opportunity to make up for his mistakes and then it's dealt with, it's gone, just ... forget it. Don't turn our High King into a violent deadbeat. Characters like that have their place in fiction, but don't expect readers to respect those people, as we are expected to respect Varian.

Direct his rage at the Horde. Don't inflict it upon the Alliance, and certainly not his own son.

If the creators of this character see his rage issues as one of his defining traits and it's here to stay, he needs a foil. He needs a character at his side who can rein him in before things get bad. He needs a partner who can say Varian, cut that crap out! before he starts hitting people and spittling in their faces, and Varian needs to respect that person enough to listen to them. There is room for an angry, intense, kill-or-be-killed leader, especially when it's a character who has lost as much as Varian has in his lifetime, but he needs someone to play off of. For example ...

Jaina Proudmoore
Varian buddying up with Jaina Proudmoore full time after the destruction of Theramore would do wonders for both of those characters. Those two would make a wonderful pair. On one hand, you have Jaina. She's a capable fighter, she'll be ready for war post-Theramore, but she's still an incredibly intelligent character. She can keep Varian on an even keel. Jaina can tell Varian to stop thinking with his biceps. On the other hand, there's Varian, a character willing to wield his rage and who can tell Jaina that it's OK to be mad sometimes. He can tell her it's OK to fight back when you've been pushed too far.

While Varian tells Jaina to stop crying and do something, she can tell him that ... sometimes it's okay to cry. Varian and Jaina wield great potential together. They'd become better people through one another's flaws, and they'd be a lot better off helping each other out.

Does their relationship need to be romantic? No, of course not. It could be, sure, but Varian and Jaina are old friends by now. They knew each other when they were kids. Varian was there in Lordaeron when Arthas and Jaina first met. After this many years seeing some seriously dark stuff together, it's perfectly reasonable to expect them to have built strong bonds between one another. Heck, until Genn Greymane resurfaced, Jaina and Varian were the final living rulers of the entire human race. That's significant.

Simple inaction

Varian Wrynn needs to go out into the world more. Again, Trials of the High King will help, but he needs to be more active in general. Garrosh, over the course of Cataclysm, has been out in the field dealing with his commanders and leading the assault on the Alliance. He's been active while the Horde is on the rise. Varian Wrynn, over the course of Cataclysm, stands in the remodeled Stormwind Keep, playing his fiddle while the Alliance burns around him.

Varian could meet Garrosh in battle in the Twilight Highlands. He could rescue Sentinel Hill and drive Vanessa VanCleef away. He could aid in fending off the orcs in Redridge. Varian's inaction in this expansion made signing up with Vanessa VanCleef seem like a damn good idea, because she's completely right. The Alliance is in a miserable state, humanity moreso than anybody else. Humanity, the backbone of the Alliance, seems on the brink of extinction. That's terrifying. Varian isn't doing anything about it but alienating his friends and family.

Go, Varian. Go and do.

Imagery and aesthetic

I feel we also need to talk about Varian's imagery. Lo'gosh. The Ghost Wolf. Is that cool imagery? Yes. Is it contributing to the Alliance's dislike of Varian Wrynn and the perception of Horde favoritism? Yes. The Alliance looks at High King Lo'gosh and they think Oh jeez, Blizzard loves the Horde so much they're importing it to the Alliance now. Is that the truth? Of course not, but perception is perception. Our High King is being portrayed as an orc -- an orc-hating orc at that.

Thrall is very human, but his actions in support of the Horde speak volumes. As human as he is, Thrall is clearly orc at heart. Thrall built the Horde. Thrall was constantly working to rekindle what it means to be an orc. Varian can't say any of that. Varian doesn't have the swagger he needs to pull off the orcish human thing in the same way Thrall can pull off the opposite.

The Alliance has lacked a hero that has truly embodied the essence of what the Alliance is, humanity especially. The Alliance doesn't need a ghost wolf. Those great big pauldrons Varian wears? We need him to embody those: the lion and the eagle. If Varian can't do it, we need someone who can. As long as our High King is Lo'gosh the orcish human, Alliance players won't respect him. That's not who we are.

Varian suffers from the "world hero" concept that was outlined in a recent dev watercooler. It feels as if faction leaders and their story arcs tend to be written with the whole world in mind rather than one faction. That doesn't work in this game, and it will continue to not work. The game is set up with a clear division along faction lines. We are at war with the other team. If you don't pick a side, if you don't embody what your faction needs, you're nobody.

Neutral figures have never gone over well -- not Tirion Fordring, not Malfurion Stormrage, and certainly not Thrall. Blizzard tried to create a Varian Wrynn palatable to both Horde and Alliance players. The Alliance doesn't need that. The Alliance needs someone that makes us feel good about being who we are. The Alliance needs a representation of itself out on the front lines. Lo'gosh isn't that. Lo'gosh can't be that. Varian Wrynn, however, can be precisely that.

We need a new Lion of Stormwind. We haven't had one since Warcraft II, when Anduin Lothar bit the dust. Warcraft III showed us a catastrophic decline of humanity, and the human race has never recovered from it. We have no paladin order (Tirion Fordring went and disbanded it) or any meaningful order of warriors at all. All of our heroes exist only in the form of stone monuments scattered throughout the world. Our few heroes who are still alive have been cast out into other planets entirely. Danath Trollbane stands in his keep in Hellfire Peninsula filing paperwork. Turalyon is Light-knows-where.

You will stand trial for your crimes. You will stand in Capital City, in chains as the leaders of the Alliance decide your fate, and there you will acknowledge your full defeat. -- High General Turalyon

Bolvar Fordragon is the closest we ever came to having a Lion of Stormwind again, and that was produced almost completely by players -- Bolvar never really did much until Wrath of the Lich King realized how we envisioned him all along. Our desire for a human hero was so great that we made one on our own built entirely on his ability to clear dragons out of the throne room. Bolvar was taken from us, and he sits on the Frozen Throne now. The hero we made is gone. Varian is no replacement. The Ghost Wolf is not the Lion. Let the Horde keep their wolves; we don't want them.

Does Varian Wrynn specifically need to be the Lion? No, he doesn't, but he needs to interact with and respect whoever it is, and there must be one.

You know who would make a damn cool lion? Joanna Blueheart. That's a character who understands Alliance warfare. Pull her out of Swamp of Sorrows, slap some commendations on her, give her armor befitting her station, and put her on the Alliance's front line in Mists of Pandaria. Joanna reports to Varian. Varian respects her worth. Everyone is happy. She doesn't need to be a central lore figure. She doesn't need to participate in politics like the faction leaders do. But she needs to be someone that we see and interact with long-term and feel good about.

A better man

Varian Wrynn could be a great character. His core problem is that he's a deeply flawed character, and in no form of media whatsoever have we been given a reason to look past his flaws. He is nothing but flaws. He's at his best when his mouth is shut and he's stabbing a dragon. That's not enough for the High King of the Alliance. Move him beyond some of his flaws. He talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk. Prop him up. Make him a better man.

I want to be proud of my king.

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