Similar to how I once manipulated the Zandalari narrative, I wanted to take some cues from Warlords of Draenor to tweak the history of politics on Draenor. Principally, it’s about trying to justify the world we see in WoD with the world we originally saw presented in Rise of the Horde, which was in turn a big iteration on how the world had been characterized during the Warcraft RTS series.
I want to start first with the arrival of the draenei, because that’s where I think the more interesting narratives for Draenor really start. So we’ll cover this section from an in-universe perspective, and then I’ll break into some analysis for why this serves the overarching narrative of Warcraft.
The War of the Exiles
The draenei didn’t intend to land on the planet they called Draenor. They’d fled their previous planet much more hastily than usual, which left D’ore, K’ure, and K’ara depleted and left the draenei with very few options on places to crash-land the Genedar. Normally they chose planets without sentient races, but in this case, they landed on a planet with a very old civilization already in place: the Gorian Empire.
At first, Velen sought to approach the ogres diplomatically, informing them of the dangers of the Legion and the inevitable invasion that was sure to catch up with them. However, the Imperator was taken with the magical technology the draenei possessed, and in typical ogre fashion tried to kill Velen in order to subjugate the aliens and take their power for himself. Velen, of course, saw this coming, and the draenei defended themselves.
The ensuing war taxed the Gorians immensely, because their magic simply wasn’t as refined as what the draenei had practiced for millennia. And that magic helped to make up for the difference in brawn and numbers between the draenei and the ogres.
In addition, the Gorian patricians had built their empire on the backs of a drudge race called orcs. Within the downtrodden orcs and their shamanic traditions, Velen saw an opportunity, and ordered his rangari to help foment rebellion against the ogres. The orcs, having been subjugated for so long that they barely had their own culture anymore, gladly joined the fray once the promise of freedom was on the table.
Between the draenei’s superior abilities and the massive numbers of the orcs, the Gorians were swiftly beaten into submission and surrendered. The draenei, to the surprise of the ogres, didn’t want to conquer them, but instead demanded that the orcs be granted their freedom, and of course that the ogres wouldn’t dare to try attacking the draenei again. The Gorians agreed, under the condition that the orcs would be given the savage northern continent where the draenei had landed as their new home.
When the orcs landed on the southern shores of Nagrand in the juggernaughts granted to them by their former captors, their first act of freedom was to set those ships on fire, ensuring they would never go back to their lives as slaves to the ogres. The draenei, seeing the fierceness of the orcs and their elation at their independence, left them to their own devices, leaving the door open for trade but not wanting to give the impression that the orcs had traded one group of masters for another.
Over the next few centuries, the orcish diaspora throughout the northern continent led to a loose clan structure. Instances of internecine warfare over local resources brought about the institution of the Kosh’harg festival as an opportunity for peace and cultural exchange. And as the clans stayed out of each other’s way and developed their own individual subcultures, that loose connectivity seemed set to continue.
All the while, the draenei kept to their holdings in Talador and Shadowmoon Valley. The rangari kept watch everywhere, but the draenei knew that when the Legion came (and come they would) they were better served to be concentrated together for the sake of safety. And no one went into Arak; the arakkoa were content to let other races have the rest of the continent, but the Spires were sacred, and otherwise impenetrable if you couldn’t fly.
The chief mechanism of this origin is to lend some additional gravity to the events that happen later on. But it needs a bit of additional context first.
On Azeroth, we saw a similar master/slave dynamic between the mogu and the other races of Pandaria, where the mogu subjugated the pandaren and basically beat the culture out of them. The pandaren, after overthrowing the mogu dynasty, had the August Celestials to offer guidance and help them establish a new culture for themselves. On Draenor, the orcs only had themselves, so the culture they created is, to a great extent, a shadow of the culture they knew under the ogres: authority comes from strength, victory and personal honor are highly prized, and it’s more important to die gloriously than live in disgrace.
Consequently, the orcs were always waiting for the other shoe to drop with the draenei. They never trusted the draenei’s altruism, because it was so incredibly alien to them; ogres never do something unless they stand to profit personally, whether it’s through wealth or food or ownership of something. To the orcs, the draenei had to have an ulterior motive. The fact that the draenei were strong enough to beat the ogres but chose not to dominate them never made any sense. And the fact the draenei stayed so aloof from the struggles of the orcs (which the draenei did so the orcs could have agency in their own destiny) was interpreted as arrogance at worst and ignorance at best.
So when Kil’jaeden (through the guise of Rulkan) convinces Ner’zhul that the draenei are surely a threat and the only way the orcs can survive is to destroy the draenei wholesale, Ner’zhul doesn’t have to work too hard to sell that narrative to most of the orcs. “They’re just like the ogres, watching us struggle and die for their own amusement. They let us believe we’re free, but they’re keeping us from realizing our destiny.”
Ultimately, the orcs aren’t inherently evil. The abuse they suffered at the hands of the ogres, however, made them suspicious, and Kil’jaeden was able to play upon that suspicion to make them his cat’s paw. And the part where he was creating a proxy army that would play into Sargeras’ plans for Azeroth was really just icing on the evil Legion cake.
As a corollary to that, Grom’s declaration that the orcs will never be slaves is representative of the orcish racial narrative more than anything else: in WoD, all Garrosh had to do was spell out that Gul’dan was selling them into slavery and that was a more compelling argument. Taking that as an inspiration for orcish culture in the MU, that offers a few important critical notes:
- Part of the lethargy of the orcs after they were beaten in the Second War stems from the group realization that they had become enslaved to warfare at large, and the Legion in particular. Aside from the physical withdrawal symptoms they suffered, there was the mental anguish that self-reflection brought on. You can see that reflected in Eitrigg and Saurfang and even Grom, to a certain extent.
- It helps to drive home how ogre-like (read: heedlessly evil) the Dragonmaw and Blackrock clans became during the Second War. Keeping slaves for bloodsport (i.e. as the Blackrock/Dragonmaw recruits did with the Theramore refugees in the Siege of Orgrimmar) and the many gross abuses of Alexstrasza and her brood show that while they had a racial narrative that was opposed to slavery, the influence of their circumstances allowed some subcultures to develop that were okay with it.
The final point: Kil’jaeden’s manipulation of the orcs was not just about using a local force to do the Legion’s handiwork, but instead a gross inversion of the draenei’s own kindness and altruism. If Velen and his followers had taken the Legion kool-aid, they would have just subjugated or obliterated the ogres AND the orcs. Choosing the “virtuous” path had just left open an avenue that allowed Kil’jaeden to visit their long-overdue doom upon them.
He’d love the poetry of that.
More remixing the history of Draenor to come. Let me know what you think in the comments.