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.
In the deepest parts of Blackrock Mountain, the Dark Iron toil relentlessly, slaving away at the whim of an ancient, terrifying master of flame. The Molten Core, as it is called by the denizens of Azeroth, is not this creature's home. Instead, it is the home of a dark ritual gone terribly wrong, a ritual that not only backfired, but subsequently resulted in the enslavement of an entire dwarven clan.
The 10th anniversary of World of Warcraft has some extra special goodies this year, including an updated, 40man LFR version of the Molten Core. Although many players lurked in its depths in the original iteration of the raid, the story of the area and how it came to be was scattered all over Azeroth -- because the tale begins long before there were dwarves, clans, or anyone to call Blackrock Mountain by name.
The Elemental Lords
At the dawn of Azeroth's history, the world was overrun by malignant creatures of unfathomable evil. These beings, known as Old Gods, sought only to wreak havoc and destruction, unleashing chaos and darkness on the world. When they arrived, they enslaved the elementals of the world and appointed Elemental Lords to lead their armies against each other in unending conflict. Ragnaros was the Firelord, leader of the legions of flame.
But the plans of the Old Gods were brought to a halt by the arrival of the Titans, who waged a war against these creatures of darkness, a terrible war that they finally won. Victorious, the Titans imprisoned the Old Gods within the world. As for the Elemental Lords, they were banished to the Elemental Plane, to remain imprisoned for eternity. Left to their own devices, the elements turned against each other, fighting for dominion over the Elemental Plane.
The Titans returned the world to order, created the Aspects to watch over it, and vanished. Occasionally, the elements still found their way into the world. But although they could roam the world, they were still shackled to the Elemental Plane. If defeated, the elements would never really die -- they'd simply be banished once more to the chaotic realm to which they'd been bound.
Ages later, the world would see the rise of different races and creatures afflicted by the Curse of Flesh. One such race were the dwarves, who had evolved from stone servants created by the Titans. There was originally one main clan of the dwarven race -- the Ironforge clan -- and beneath this clan, three others stood together: Wildhammer, Bronzebeard, and Dark Iron. Ruled by the High King Modimus Anvilmar, the dwarves prospered. But the High King's sudden death threw everything into contention, for his son was not old enough to rule.
Suddenly, the three clans set upon each other for the right to rule, and the dwarven race erupted into all-out civil war -- the War of the Three Hammers. Eventually, the Bronzebeard clan succeeded, and banished both Wildhammer and Dark Iron from Ironforge. The Wildhammer clan traveled north to establish Grim Batol, and the Dark Iron traveled south, building a city that their Sorcerer-thane named after himself. Thaurissan. And there, the Dark Iron bided their time, preparing.
Years later, they were ready, and they struck -- a two-pronged attack. Sorcerer-thane Thaurissan traveled with one army to Ironforge, to break the Bronzebeard clan. His wife Modgud traveled with another army to Grim Batol to take the Wildhammer clan down. Modgud was a powerful sorceress in her own right, and was able to use her dark magics to break through the gates of Grim Batol -- however, she was killed by Khadros Wildhammer, leader of the Wildhammer clan. Her death tainted the halls of Grim Batol with a lingering evil, and the Wildhammer later abandoned the stronghold as a result.
To the south, Sorcerer-thane Thaurissan fought with his armies against the Bronzebeard, but they were defeated, and fled back to their city in the south. The Bronzebeards then sent their armies north, intercepting the Dark Iron that fled from Grim Batol after Modgud's death and taking them down. The mighty armies of the Dark Iron were destroyed. The combined armies of Bronzebeard and Wildhammer then turned south to track down Thaurissan and wipe him and his clan from the face of the world.
Behold the Firelord
But the Sorcerer-thane had one last, desperate trick up his sleeve. He and seven of his most powerful Dark Iron allies worked together to summon a creature to be used against Bronzebeard and his army. He got far, far more than just a minion that would do his bidding. Ragnaros the Firelord was summoned, erupting into Azeroth, shattering the Redridge Mountains, and forming a mighty volcano that would later be called Blackrock Spire in the process. The blast killed Sorcerer-thane Thaurissan and the Seven. Horrified at what Thaurissan had unwittingly unleashed, Bronzebeard and Wildhammer gathered their armies and returned to their homes.
The War of the Three Hammers had ended, and the face of the Eastern Kingdoms was forever scarred by the conflict. In the depths of Blackrock, any remaining Dark Iron were quickly enslaved and bound to serve the Firelord, who lingered deep within the volcanic depths of the mountain ... the Molten Core. For three hundred years, Ragnaros rested below the mountain, gathering his strength. Despite his volcanic entrance, that was but a pittance of Ragnaros' true power -- the summoning did not bring him fully into the world.
In fact, Ragnaros was stuck. He was summoned to Azeroth, but he wasn't summoned fully. Because the Sorcerer-thane had perished, the Firelord could not simply return to the Firelands, his home. For three hundred years, Ragnaros was stuck -- unable to access or use the full scope of his powers, unable to retreat, forced to reside in the Molten Core and gather his loyal servants around him, attempting to prepare and gather his strength, all the while waging battle with the orcs and black dragon who had taken up residence in the upper portions of Blackrock Spire.
When Ragnaros admonishes Majordomo in Molten Core -- "Too soon, you have awakened me too soon, Executus!" -- it's not because his nap has been rudely interrupted. It's because Ragnaros hasn't finished recharging. He's not done gathering his power. The Ragnaros we fight in Molten Core, as difficult as he may be, is a Firelord with only a scant portion of his true power. And when we defeated him, we didn't kill him -- we sent him back to the Elemental Plane. Back to the Firelands. Back to exactly where he wanted to be.
In Cataclysm, Ragnaros returned. This time, he was prepared -- he wasn't unwittingly summoned to the world by a Sorcerer-thane, he was instead allied with Deathwing, and in turn the Old Gods of ages past, the Old Gods who had given him his station and title in the first place. He launched an all-out assault on Hyjal, along with the familiar names of other bosses we defeated in the Molten Core. And when we finally took the fight to Ragnaros, crossed over into the Firelands and destroyed him there, we were finally destroying him for good. We weren't banishing him to the Elemental Plane -- we were in the Elemental Plane. When we killed him, he died. For good.
The Molten Core was a mistake -- the mistake of a Sorcerer-thane who wished to be emperor, and instead brought the wrath of the Elemental Plane upon himself. It was a prison, one in which an all-powerful creature akin to a god dreamed of the day in which he would at last regain that which he had lost. And to the heroes of Azeroth, it was a place of legend, of danger, of adventure, and of glory -- the first of many, many more to come.
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.