Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition: Timelines, timeways, and Karazhan

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|11.17.13

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Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition: Timelines, timeways, and Karazhan
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.

What is time, in Warcraft? Is it a straightforward line, or a tapestry of events that can be changed or altered with a simple pluck of a thread? While the bronze dragonflight may be masters of the various pathways of time, we mortal players are most definitely not. We've been sent through the pathways of the Caverns of Time on more than one occasion, but always at the behest of the bronze flight, to complete the tasks they have set and keep the timelines pristine.

But this mysterious maze of time wasn't left unexplored prior to our travels through Tanaris. Obviously the bronze dragonflight has been up to a great deal over the thousands of years that it has existed -- Nozdormu's long absence predated even our first journeys through the Caverns of Time. And for one player in the next expansion, time had absolutely nothing to do with the dragonflights, and much more to do with the mysterious home of his enigmatic master, Medivh. So how does it all weave together?

More importantly, when is time travel not really time travel at all, as the developers seemed to be so insistent on saying at BlizzCon?

Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition. The following contains a small amount of speculation on datamined material. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.

Warlords of Draenor

The announcement of Warlords of Draenor had several people confused right off the bat, including myself. Here we are in an expansion in which Garrosh supposedly went back in time, taking advanced technology with him in order to beef up the old Horde before it ever really became the Horde that we knew -- the blood-crazed savages that were the product of the Burning Legion's influence. Yet we're being told that we aren't traveling in time. The events on Draenor don't affect anything. We will not be running into dual versions of any of the characters from our current timeline, as odd as that may seem.

So how does that work? It was explained at BlizzCon, but it's incredibly difficult to wrap one's brain around. Here's the short of it: We aren't going back in time. Time is moving forward to us. We will be traveling through the Dark Portal to Draenor, but that Draenor no longer exists in the past. It's been moved forward in time to present day, and when we step through the portal, we're simply stepping into an alternate reality of sorts.

And if that's giving you an immediate headache, I've put together a diagram of this bizarre phenomenon that might clear things up just a little bit.

We aren't traveling into the past, the past has come to meet us, courtesy of Garrosh Hellscream. He's the one that's done the time-traveling, and the results of his time-traveling are something that we can interact with here in the present. Imagine if you will that someone decides to use a time machine to go back to Elizabethan England. They then grab a chair, and bring that chair forward to our time. We can sit in the chair, we can poke at the upholstery, we can wreck it with an axe if we'd like to -- but that chair exists in our present. We didn't time travel to get it, it was brought forward to a place where we can now touch and interact with it.

The Draenor of Warlords is a time-bubble, an anomaly that does not affect our current timeline at all. It's a splinter created by Garrosh's interference, and doesn't really exist as part of our own timeline. Our history is still our history, our past is still our past -- there's just this errant, weird time-bubble that is threatening us in present day. Which leads us to the very natural next question: How the heck did Garrosh Hellscream manage to move a bubble of time, much less travel back in time in the first place?

That's a very good question. And since it has so far been left unanswered, one can only assume it involves a very important plot point we'll see in Warlords.


Another interesting point about the new expansion is that in the list of all the orcs and draenei on the official site is one lone, solitary human -- Khadgar. The former apprentice of Medivh, Khadgar was there when the orcs originally poured through the Dark Portal in our current timeline. In fact, he discovered that Medivh was the one responsible for opening the Dark Portal in the first place, and he was there when Medivh met his end, beheaded by Anduin Lothar. Khadgar destroyed the Dark Portal after the Second War, and later journeyed through it, to Draenor, with the Alliance Expedition.

It was there that Khadgar stayed, trapped beyond the Dark Portal. Thought dead, he was discovered alive, well, and in Shattrath during Burning Crusade, acting as an advisor to the naaru A'dal. While Khadgar's presence in Shattrath was interesting, he didn't really do much during the expansion other than provide us with a tour of Shattrath, and later, a way to obtain the key to his former master's home -- Karazhan. When Khadgar was stranded in Outland, he broke his key to Medivh's tower into three pieces, and players had to find the pieces to put them back together again.

Once that was accomplished, players were sent to the Caverns of Time and the Black Morass, where Medivh was left eternally trying to open the Dark Portal. Upon showing him the key, Medivh took it -- and handed players his own key instead. According to Khadgar, this didn't create any anomalies in time, suggesting it was meant to happen this way all along. Khadgar was very much involved with the original Dark Portal, so one has to wonder -- what's his role with an alternate Draenor?

Well ... maybe it's not so much about the wizard as where he came from.


The tower of Karazhan has a long history that is by and large a mystery in lore. Stories tell tales of the tower that appeared from nowhere -- nobody remembers how it was built, or who built it. It existed before Medivh moved in and called it home. According to stories, Deadwind Pass itself was created by an explosion, although the origins of that explosion were never explained. It not only carved the pass into the land, it also tore the very fabric of reality in the region -- becoming a place of incredibly strong magical energy.

Medivh surmised that perhaps the tower had been built only because whatever forces built it knew that he would arrive and take residence there at some point in the future. But the tower wasn't just a place of strong magical power -- it was also a sinkhole of visions, as Khadgar discovered during his apprenticeship. While living in Karazhan, Khadgar experienced startlingly lifelike visions, along with the half-orc Garona, who saw the moment in the future in which she would assassinate King Llane, someone she considered a friend.

These visions weren't just experienced by them. Anyone who spent any time in the tower could run into these anomalies at any given time. Moroes, Medivh's steward, wore blinders in order to avoid "seeing things." In addition, any who traveled to Karazhan, or died in Karazhan, were destined to have their spirits trapped there for eternity -- becoming the ghosts we see today. In Warcraft Legends Vol. 5, the spirit of a dead paladin named Dougan explains that time in Karazhan is not bound for the dead -- the past, present and future come and go as they please. This correlates with Khadgar's experiences in Karazhan, suggesting the place is a much larger time anomaly than previously expected. So why is all of this important? Because we might not be done with Karazhan.

A tower restored?

Datamining on the latest build of the patch 5.4.2 PTR has revealed an interesting nugget of information. It's a small piece of text, simply titled "Phase #2801 - Karazhan Restoration." What does that mean? Well ... we don't really have much to go on, so we're going to have to indulge in a little speculation, take a few shots in the dark, and see where it gets us.

Here's what we know so far: Warlords of Draenor involves Garrosh Hellscream going back in time. In this journey, he creates a bizarre, alternate reality in which Draenor was never destroyed, and the chieftains of the orc clans never drank the Blood of Mannoroth. That reality has been shifted to our present day, through means we don't really understand. But the expansion will involve Khadgar, who is tied not only to the Dark Portal, but to the tower of Karazhan as well -- a tower known for strange time anomalies and shifts.

We have assumed, so far, that the bronze dragonflight has something to do with this time-travel business due to visions we've seen via Kairoz and the Timeless Isle. Oddly enough, the Timeless Isle represents another odd time anomaly, one that is similar to Karazhan. Sometimes it is there, sometimes it isn't, vanishing and reappearing at random, just like the visions experienced in Karazhan. But here's the thing -- the bronze dragonflight wouldn't just let Garrosh go tromping merrily through a portal to the past. One of Kairoz's visions is the death of a bronze dragon, but as Kairoz explains, this is something that may have happened in the future, or just a vision of a possibility, with no truth behind it at all -- much like the other visions we see, including one of a desecrated Stormwind.

And here's where the other, more interesting, really creepy part of Karazhan comes in. It has nothing to do with the tower itself -- and everything to do with the graveyard behind it.

The Karazhan Crypt

Located just behind the tower of Karazhan is Morgan's Plot, an unassuming church with a small graveyard and a crypt. It's the inside of that crypt that has been the subject of many an exploration video over the years, and for good reason -- the place is downright creepy. Inside the Crypt are the usual caskets of the dead that one would expect to see, but there is far more hidden inside the farther you go down, and each section is named, which suggests that at one point in time, this place was meant to be used as content.

And it wasn't just a crypt. The names of the various areas -- Well of the Forgotten, The Pauper's Walk, The Pit of Criminals, The Slough of Despair, Tome of the Unrepentant, and lastly, The Upside Down Sinners -- all suggest that this was possibly, at some point in the past, a prison. One in which criminals were punished harshly. The Well of the Forgotten is merely a small hole in the ground, with scratch marks on the pavement near the hole. Falling through the hole will place you on an enormous pile of skeletons -- The Pit of Criminals. This is, of course, provided the fall doesn't kill you -- in which case your skeleton will join the skeletons of the many, many criminals left to rot deep underground.

The Upside Down Sinners is the most disturbing of these rooms. Submerged underwater are great chains ending in giant iron meathooks, with bodies tied to the various links both by feet and by neck. The general impression one gets is that either this room was filled with water after a mass hanging -- or that these prisoners were deliberately drowned alive, their floating bodies slowly strangling them as they desperately struggled to break free. Creepy, isn't it? There is absolutely nothing in lore at this point in time to explain this bizarre, unsettling crypt. There is nothing in Medivh's history to suggest that he was responsible for this place.

But it wasn't removed with the Cataclysm revamp.

It's been sealed off, inaccessible, but it hasn't been removed. Now ... wouldn't that be a perfectly terrible spot to imprison Garrosh Hellscream for life? Wouldn't that be the most horrible place you could stick a war criminal -- and in an Alliance zone, at that? And wouldn't that be marvelously convenient, that it be in such close proximity to a place known for randomly popping people in and out of time? It's food for thought. Until we see this mysterious Karazhan restoration, we really won't know for sure.

Although we don't have the specifics on the exact process of Garrosh's mad journey through time, we know enough about it from BlizzCon to know that our reality hasn't been affected at all. Draenor is simply an isolated anomaly in time that has been moved forward to our present. But while I am excited to visit this strange, new world that should bear some haunting familiarity to the Outland we saw in Burning Crusade, I have to admit I'm also incredibly interested in this datamined Karazhan restoration. Exactly how will the dark tower play into the next expansion? We'll have to wait and see to find out.

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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Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition: Timelines, timeways, and Karazhan