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.
Once upon a time in vanilla WoW, there was a very different view regarding the ongoing Alliance vs. Horde debate. To Horde players, the Alliance storylines were interesting, complex, and contained epic moments that had to be seen to be believed, like the original reveal of Katrana Prestor's true identity in Stormwind. The Horde had no equivalent to this, and thus it was assumed that there was undue Alliance favoritism going on.
It sounds weird given today's somewhat more balanced treatment of both Alliance and Horde stories, but there it was. And when you look back at the original release of WoW and the story behind it, you'll see where that viewpoint came from. Even though the Horde had their own storylines, those stories were basically branching off from the far more epic (in the opinion of some players) Alliance versions.
What was the Horde all about in vanilla WoW? ... oddly enough, the Alliance.
Back story you should know
Warchief Thrall came into power during the events of Warcraft III. He was the son of Durotan, chieftain of the Frostwolves ... although he knew nothing about his past as he grew up. Durotan and his mate Draka were assassinated by spies of Gul'dan, their bodies left to rot in the woods. And a very tiny Thrall was left to die as well, his helpless cries echoing in the forest.
He was found by a human named Aedelas Blackmoore, who decided to take the baby back to Durnholde Keep and raise him to be a gladiator. Thrall grew into an orc that had the strength and natural battle prowess of the finest orc warriors, but due to his upbringing by humans, he also possessed an intelligence and keen knowledge of strategy that rivaled the smartest of human combatants. And Thrall didn't want to remain a prisoner for the rest of his life.
When Thrall escaped Durnholde Keep, it was his intention to find out what he could of his past. And when he discovered his roots, indeed the roots of all orcs that were tired, listless, and imprisoned in interment camps, he decided to break them free. He wanted to re-create the orcish days of old, and restore honor and glory to the orcish race, uniting them all. Over the course of freeing the orcs, Thrall inherited the title of Warchief from Orgrim Doomhammer upon Doomhammer's death.
True to his word, Thrall freed the orcish race from their imprisonment. Thrall left a message for the Alliance -- leave us alone, give us land to live on, and we will never trouble you again. If the Alliance chose to do so, perhaps one day the orcs and humans could engage in trade agreements and work out some form of peaceful negotiation. But any who chose to ignore the message and fight the orcs would find they'd made an enemy far stronger than they'd ever seen.
It worked, for the most part. By and large, the orcish race was left alone. But before they could get too settled, Thrall received a message in a dream that bade him to take the orcs to Kalimdor, to seek out a new destiny. He did so, and on the way found more members for his Horde than just the orcs. The Darkspear tribe of trolls and the wandering tauren also took their places by Thrall's side.
Four years passed after the triumphant defeat of Archimonde at Hyjal Summit, but the tentative alliance between Horde, night elf and human had all but fallen apart. This did not mean that Warchief Thrall had given up on the idea of peace, however. And unlike Lady Jaina Proudmoore, Thrall was actually the leader of the Horde faction, so he had more clout as far as the attitude of his people was concerned.
Thrall may have had an idyllic vision for his people, but life for the Horde was anything but easy.
Factions unite: The Horde
In those four years, the Horde had evolved from just the orcs, to a collaboration of races. The Darkspear joined when Thrall sailed from the Eastern Kingdoms to Kalimdor, and the alliance between troll and orc had solidified into friendship. The Darkspear leader, Vol'jin, served as an advisor to the Warchief, and the two grew into fast friends. As for the tauren, Cairne Bloodhoof owed a debt of gratitude to the Warchief because he saved the life of Cairne's son, Baine.
The orcs were working to regain that which they'd lost on Draenor and the early years on Azeroth -- that deep spiritual connection to the earth that existed in the practice of shamanism, and the sense of honor and dignity that went along with it. The blood haze that originally corrupted the orcish race and severed their ties to the elements had been lifted in the last actions of Grom Hellscream. That path that the orcs sought was one that both troll and tauren race were familiar with, so there was a certain camaraderie between the three races.
But the Horde had one new addition, and it was a surprising one. The Forsaken were formerly Scourge that had regained their free will. Led by Sylvanas Windrunner, the Forsaken were outcasts, unable to return to their former lives. Perhaps it was because Thrall understood what it meant to be an outcast, or perhaps it was because he wanted at least a small presence on the Eastern Kingdoms, but Thrall invited Sylvanas and her Forsaken to join the Horde, which they accepted.
Sylvanas and her Forsaken had their own agenda, but whatever it was, it remained a mystery to Thrall and the rest of the Horde. The Forsaken by and large managed to keep hold of their small corner of the Eastern Kingdoms, although they had to contend with the maurading forces of the Scarlet Crusade, the remnants of the original Scourge, and the human settlements that dotted Hillsbrad to the south.
But the Horde was kind to Sylvanas. They kept a watchful eye on her people, wary of their intentions for the most part, but not to the point of condemnation. The tauren even sought out and worked actively with the Forsaken, seeking both to understand their condition, and perhaps find a cure for their condition -- something that would return them to the living. It was a tentative alliance, but it worked.
The Original Raids
Even though the peace that existed during the end of the Third War had deteriorated, Thrall was determined to try and keep it intact and strengthen it. He sent spies to the Eastern Kingdoms to keep watchful eye on the Alliance and report any activity that might offer the Horde a diplomatic advantage. It was because of this that he discovered the kidnapping of Moira Bronzebeard. Thinking to strengthen Horde relations with the dwarves, he sent a group of players to rescue Moira.
The result was the same as the Alliance experienced -- Moira was unwilling to leave, and any thought of strengthening diplomatic relations with the dwarves evaporated. But one thing was clear; the Dark Iron were working with Ragnaros, and the Firelord had to be stopped. So Horde players were sent on the same mission as Alliance: stop Ragnaros from returning to Azeroth.
But more news came from Blackrock Spire. It wasn't just riddled with Dark Iron dwarves. The Blackrock Clan had also made a home in Blackrock Spire, and they formed a Horde of their own -- the Dark Horde. Consisting of renegade trolls, goblins, ogres, and the remnants of the Blackrock and Dragonmaw clans, the Dark Horde were steadfastly devoted to the ideals of the Old Horde. Demon worship, blood lust, and the depravity that Warchief Thrall sought to lead his people away from were all eagerly embraced by the Dark Horde.
They wanted war, and they wanted the Alliance dead. It was these orcs that attacked Redridge, and it was their leader, Rend Blackhand, who proclaimed himself the true Warchief. His actions against the Alliance were doing nothing but ruining all attempts at diplomatic relations by Warchief Thrall -- and his temerity angered the new Warchief. Thrall sent a group of adventurers to get rid of Rend Blackhand and dismantle the Dark Horde, but the adventurers discovered far more than they bargained for.
The Black Dragonflight were the true rulers of Blackrock Mountain, and the Dark Horde were merely their puppets. And the influence of the Black Dragonflight extended much farther than Blackrock Mountain -- in fact, the Broodmother Onyxia had infiltrated the very heart of Stormwind. Once flushed out by Alliance players, she fled to Dustwallow Marsh. Warchief Thrall wanted her dead, both because of her proximity to Orgrimmar, and because it was yet another chance to show the Alliance that peace was possible.
Lore and game differences
That was essentially the story of the first chunk of vanilla WoW in a nutshell. Both Alliance and Horde had to fight Ragnaros and Onyxia, but their reasonings for doing so were fairly close. And although Warchief Thrall did nothing but sit in his chambers in vanilla, it was clear through quest text that he was trying incredibly hard to cultivate that tiny spark of peace that existed during the Third War, even though that spark had been all but snuffed out. But the Alliance didn't really see any of this -- they were dealing with problems of their own, like the fact that the King of Stormwind was missing and there was a giant dragon happily living in the throne room.
Although this is what players experienced in vanilla, the lore has been re-written somewhat. When the Warcraft comics series was released during the Burning Crusade expansion, King Varian's disappearance was explained in far more detail. The comics re-wrote history to a degree, and told a tale where the king returned, but was changed. In the end of the comics, it was Varian and a group of Alliance adventurers that sought out and killed Onyxia in Dustwallow, in order to find and rescue a young and kidnapped Anduin Wrynn.
As for the Horde's participation in Onyxia's defeat, it was written out of existence -- although Warchief Thrall was still concerned with peace, leading to a diplomatic meeting at Theramore that was also detailed in the comics series. In the comics timeline, Varian did not return and Onyxia was not defeated until some point in the Burning Crusade expansion, even though both Horde and Alliance players had been killing her for years at this point.
Even though the stories differ, and the comics version is now considered the correct and canon course of events, the story behind vanilla WoW still painted a very vivid picture of what Azeroth was like during that period after the Third War. The Alliance was struggling to hold itself together, and the Horde -- or at least Warchief Thrall -- was trying to subtly encourage diplomacy between the two factions, with little success.
This is to a large degree why Horde players were unhappy with the story in vanilla. World of Warcraft was supposed to be a story of war, but Thrall didn't really seem dead-set on any kind of war at all -- and the stories behind the first raids were very Alliance heavy in story development. The Horde side of the stories seemed to simply serve what the Alliance were up to. As the years have gone on, it's clear that the story direction for Warchief Thrall was leading to his eventual departure as Warchief, but it wasn't clear at all way back then.
But Onyxia and Ragnaros were far from the only villiains players had to contend with in vanilla WoW. And this is where the stories for Alliance and Horde begin to merge into one sweeping tale as both factions discover the true leader of Blackrock Spire, the threat of something far older and far more sinister than anyone had ever imagined, and the return of the Scourge. Our story continues with the further raids of vanilla next week.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
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.