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Know Your Lore: The Yaungol

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.

This week we're shifting gears. The last week, both Anne and myself covered different related KYL possibilities, so for myself I want to talk about the lore of Pandaria's yaungol, an offshoot of the tauren and taunka peoples. Not every race brought along when Shaohao, the last pandaren emperor, created the mists and sealed Pandaria away for 10,000 years was ready for the Sundering. No one bothered to tell the ancient ancestors of the modern yaungol what was transpiring when the flames fell from the sky and the demonic invasion began. No one told the yaungol what to expect when the world was torn apart and the mists descended to hide them forever apart from their people. So stranded, the yaungol endured.

The culture of the yaungol is shaped by that struggle to survive. Cut off from the world, they have found a way to survive in the Townlong Steppes, a harsh land where they could no longer rely upon the cycles of the seasons and the old faith in the Earthmother. Instead, the yaungol learned to harness fire and burning oil as both fuel and weapon, and in so doing held off even the mantid swarm for thousands of years. Only recently, with the machinations of Grand Empress Shek'zeer, have the yangol been forced from their fire camps throughout the steppes and driven into the lowlands of the Kun-Lai region.

Nomads before the end of a world

Before the pandaren revolted against the mogu, there were already the ancestors of the yaungol - during the reign of Qiang the Merciless, the mogu noted that there were 'intelligent bovine hunters' to the west of the empire. (One notes that modern-day Kalimdor, where the tauren live, is both north and west of Pandaria) The mogu, who were busily crafting the Serpent's Spine to keep the Mantid out, simply extended the wall to block out these nomadic hunters as well. And that might have been the end of it, if not for the coming of the Sundering and the shattering of the ancient supercontinent of Kalimdor. Since Pandaria was the southernmost portion of that ancient continent, there was travel between regions that became impossible after.

Shaohao's act, creating the mists and linking all of the lands today called Pandaria under their protection, undoubtedly preserved those lands. But while it most likely saved the ancestral yaungol from death during the disaster, it then stranded them in Townlong with no way to leave. They couldn't sail away, both because the mists would make such travel a one way trip and because they didn't know much at all about sailing (most tauren are landlubbers, with a few notable exceptions) which left them stuck in a land with minimal options for nomadic hunters, with hostile mantid swarms constantly traveling north along the Serpent's Spine looking for weaknesses in its defenses.

Stranded by Shaohao

Culturally, the ancestors to the yangol underwent a transformation based around the harsh tactics needed to survive in the steppes. Just as the taunka moved towards a culture that compelled obedience from spirits, the yaungol forsook overt spirtuality for a culture of physical dominance, and their chief weapon was fire. While the steppes lack in many comforts, the yangol perfected the process of extracting oil from the ground, and with its flammable blessing became capable of defending themselves from even the mantid to the south. They developed tactics of deceit (for example, a traditional yaungol tactic is to light multiple campfires, sometimes more fires than they actually have yaungol, in order to give the impression of greater numbers) as well as using ignited oil as a weapon.

Yaungol dominance over the steppes thanks to their mastery of fire lasted for thousands of years. They remained nomadic, traveling the steppes in a series of Fire Camps that stopped long enough to hunt and retrieve more oil from the ground. They developed a culture based around strength both tribal and personal, yet the constant attacks by the mantid meant that traditional trials by combat had to be modified. Since the yaungol could not afford to lose warriors in battle over leadership, they developed ritual combat with padded weapons where rivals to position would fight until one was rendered incapable of continuing via exhaustion or unconsciousness rather than death.

Pressed by the mantid

Sadly, the complex culture of dominance over the environment that the yaungol have established has broken down due to outside influences. While Lorewalker Cho's observation that the yaungol will accept no law other than their own is a valid one, it's also one that means that they're terrible at coexistence, and the recent push of the mantid north into the steppes has left them with no alternative than to attempt conquest to their east. The yaungol population of the Kun-Lai region has gone up, and the new arrivals are aggressive, seeking to conquer new lands for themselves. This has led to conflict with the Alliance and the Horde, seeking to make allies in the region and sway the local pandaren to their banners. Interestingly enough, not even the Horde seems able or willing to ally with the yaungol. It may be that they've simply diverged too far from other people, even their own tauren relatives, to successfully become part of anything that would curtail their freedom of action.

At present, although the yangol retain their fierce tribal natures, they're trapped between the mantid and the other peoples of Pandaria. Many mantid have used powerful sonics to dominate the minds of yaungol, effectively keeping them as slaves manipulated for mantid gain, a fate worse than death to the proud yaungol and potentially the reason they've chose to flee rather than fight - it's bad enough to risk death when your people are so outnumbered, but to become a slave who strengthens the enemy through your toil is beyond consideration. For now, the yaungol bend their fiery tempers and mastery of burning oil and flame towards the goal of creating a safe place for themselves, no matter what it costs others.

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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