On Faction Leaders Part 2 (Power of the Horde Edit)

We talked yesterday about how faction leaders in WoW are meant to be the centerpieces of the game’s story, but our faction leaders currently don’t get a lot of play. The Horde is at a bit of an advantage here, because they’ve had more churn in their faction leadership since launch than the Alliance has. That being said, there’s still a lot to be desired.

The Horde

One reverberating sensibility about Thrall’s Horde was that a number of outcast and otherwise disadvantaged races needed each other in order to survive. The other sensibility that drives the union of the Horde races is the sense of being a race that was once a tool of evil, but has since sought repentance for past sins. Thrall made it his business to adopt a number of races into his care, and made the Horde into a family that also happens to be a devastating military force. But while the Horde had Thrall, it didn’t feel like their other leaders (aside from Sylvanas) got much attention. In MoP that’s changed dramatically for some, but others are left out of the limelight.

  • Orgrimmar: Regardless of who becomes Warchief of the Horde, the orcs are going to need a new racial leader. Leaving aside the question of whether it’ll be a Garrosh seeking redemption for his sin of Pride, Thrall recognizing that his people need him, or even an old veteran like Eitrigg or Saurfang, the bottom line is that the orcs have got some soul-searching to do. Solution: Back when the orcs were just scattered occasionally-warring clans on Draenor, they must have had rites where they purified themselves and asked the ancestors for omens about their impending tribal battles. Why not have such a rite take place in Nagrand, where the orcs ask for direction? It’s something that channels the shamanistic origins of the orcs that Thrall aspires to, but also recalls the true history of the orcs instead of Thrall’s idealized version of it. This is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to how to make the orcish racial narrative (and thus the narrative of whoever the new orcish racial leader) interesting again, but I wanted to throw the idea out there.
  • The Darkspear: I honestly can’t think of a way to better characterize Vol’jin aside from taking one of the many amazing elements out of Stackpole’s recent novel and making a scenario out of it. The retreat from Zouchin Village feels tailor-made to accomplish this. In the interests of not spoiling the book, though, I’ll recommend you pick it up and see what I mean. Vol’jin is perhaps the character that needs the least fixing because Blizzard has clearly been working on him.
  • Thunder Bluff: For as much as Blizzard has been forthright with showing where Vol’jin wants to go, they’ve been confused about what to do with Baine. Cairne was old to start with, and looking only at the council of racial leaders around Thrall back in the day, you could imagine Cairne being the voice of wisdom that would temper Vol’jin’s impetuousness and Sylvanas’ bloodthirst. Killing Cairne made sense because it showed that the Horde was losing its shamanic guidance, between Thrall giving the Warchief job to Garrosh and Cairne subsequently dying because of that choice. This didn’t open up an opportunity for Baine, though. He’s not his father; he’s opposed to the faction war because of his relationship with Anduin, and the circumstances that Cairne joined the Horde under (fear of extinction from the centaur) aren’t relevant any more. So one path for making Baine interesting again is him questioning if the tauren still have a place in the Horde. Solution: Bring the tauren back to Red Cloud Mesa to hold council, with Baine having two competing options levied for the future of his people. Hamuul Runetotem is all about the tauren withdrawing from the Horde, while Sunwalker Dezco feels that the Horde is in need of the wisdom that the tauren bring, and withdrawing would be a disaster for all parties. The council gets interrupted by a quillboar invasion, and the players assist the tauren in fighting them off. This leads Baine to come to the conclusion that if the tauren are strong enough now to face all comers, they are strong enough to continue guiding the Horde. Hamuul and Dezco agree.
  • Undercity: Sylvanas has stuck out in the Horde for a long time, because she and the Forsaken are the faction that makes the least sense in the Horde. Thrall’s justification was always that the Forsaken were like the Orcs in that they were trying to overcome their past as evil tools of the Legion, but if anything, Sylvanas has only become progressively more evil and less repentant as time has gone on. There’s a much larger argument to be had about whether or not Sylvanas and the Forsaken still belong in the Horde, but unlike the tauren, that’s not an in-game discussion; it’s a design decision about whether or not having the Forsaken be so across-the-line evil is in the best interest of the heroic-Horde design intent. Solution: There is no solution for advancing the Forsaken narrative that I can outline briefly, so expect a follow-up in the future.
  • Silvermoon City: Contrasting the Forsaken, though, Lor’themar and the Blood Elves make a lot more sense in the Horde, since they fit better with the outcast motif that defines almost every other race. Moreover, the work done in 5.1/5.2 to show that Lor’themar has got the Horde’s best interests at heart demonstrates that he’s fully invested in what the family is all about. If Cairne brought wisdom and Vol’jin brought cunning to Thrall’s council, Lor’themar brings refinement along with a brotherly appreciation for the Horde’s never-say-die mentality, a point that was glossed over in Burning Crusade thanks to the emphasis on Kael’thas. But I would argue that this brings us the solution for giving the Blood Elves some more characterization as members of the Horde. Solution: Go back to some the initial encounters between the Blood Elves and the Kalimdor Horde, after Sylvanas arranged the meeting and lobbied to bring the Blood Elves into the fold. Show that while initially there’s some culture shock between the haughty sin’dorei and the dusty savagery of the orcs, tauren, and trolls, demonstrate what brings them together: the connection with the natural world, the survival instinct, and brotherhood in knowing that humanity rejected them. Hell, throw an archery contest. ^_^
  • Bilgewater Cartel: What’s interesting about the goblins is that they actually make perfect sense in the context of Thrall’s Horde. They’re a race that’s shunned by humanity, that acted pretty flagrantly and without good purpose in the past, but now owes Thrall a personal debt of gratitude and throws their lot in with him as a function of survival. This method doesn’t apply as well to the Forsaken and the Blood Elves as much as it does to the goblins, but it also doesn’t really need to be emphasized more than it was in the goblin starting experience. Like the gnomes, it’s better to play to the faction’s strengths: greed and comedy releif. Solution: I mentioned the idea of a Destroy Build Destroy contest vs. the gnomes in the Alliance post, and the more I think on it, the more I like it. Again, part of the scenario would involve the teams sabotaging each other, with Gallywix being fully invested in cheating to win. It would go so far to the point that Gallywix would pilot the built mecha against Mekkatorque and then call in the Horde party to help him win when the fight starts going badly for him. By contrast, the Alliance version would have the Alliance party jump in to assist Mekkatorque only after Gallywix loses control of his mecha and it goes on a rampage.
  • Huojin Pandaren: Like I mentioned yesterday with the Tushui, I don’t feel like the Huojin need any additional characterization, mostly because it would contradict what Stackpole explained about the philosophical spectrum between the two, and also because the amount of characterization we’ve received about the Pandaren in Pandaria and on the Wandering Isle already does everything it needs to do. All that being said, I always felt like we needed a more discrete scenario that shows Chen and Li Li interacting with Azeroth; however, I haven’t read Pearl of Pandaria yet, so I’m hesitant to suggest what the Stormstout World Tour would look like.

All right, so there’s the Horde side of things. How would you give the Horde faction leaders a more personal story?

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4 thoughts on “On Faction Leaders Part 2 (Power of the Horde Edit)

  1. Sylvanas is an example of what I feel is Metzen’s biggest weakness as a lore writer. To be fair, I’m sure there’s a whole staff of writers responsible for the lore, but since Metzen is the head dude, he’s the name I’m using for my blame. Anyway.

    I think Metzen wrote Sylvanas into a corner. She became so powerful and dangerous that she seems primed for a Kael’thas-Garrosh-Arthas-omfg-Blizzard-loves-this-trope style “go crazy and turn into a raid boss” switch. The problem is that there are NO Forsaken characters with enough story development to step in to replace her. Lilian Voss seemed to have some potential, but she vanished after Scholomance, and without even enough closure to say whether she lived or died after that encounter. So, if you off Sylvanas, who do you step in to replace her?

    You could argue that Baine Bloodhoof appeared out of nowhere, but his introduction wasn’t hard to believe. Khairne had a son. His son is now in charge. Makes sense to me.

    Seriously, just look at how long it took Lor’themar to become anything other than a generic NPC. He was introducted in 2.1 It took until 5.2 for him to matter.

    In my opinion, that will be the telling sign that Sylvanas is going to be removed: the emergence of a new Forsaken hero to rally the players around. Of course, we saw how well the “dynamic new hero” approach worked for Varian Wrynn initially.

    So they can’t kill Sylvanas and they can’t have the Forsaken rebel and become their own faction because it would play havoc with the playerbase. This brings us to the Metzen Approach: ignore the problem.

    Seriously, how many storylines ran into snags or tough spots and just ended up getting ignored in favor of other stories? The draenei were never integrated into the Alliance beyond BC. The worgen storyline ends completely after the first zone; hell, you have to play a Forsaken through Silverpine to see what happens to Gilneas. The blood elves and their new Sunwell? Nothing. It’s not just races, either. Zone storylines fade out a lot too. Zangarmarsh? Why did Illidan want all the water? Vash’jir? What happened there? On and on.

    The easiest approach to the Sylvanas issue is just ignore it. I’m willing to bet that’s why Sylvanas hasn’t even shown up once during this expansion. Considering how she was into snarking at Garrosh before it was cool, it seems crazy to me that she hasn’t featured a single bit in the rebellion storyline. She doesn’t even have Lor’themar’s excuse that the blood elves are busy on the Isle of Thunder, because as far as I can tell, the Forsaken aren’t anywhere.

    • This comes down to a problem of resources on CDev’s part, and to a certain extent on character bloat throughout the history of the game. More importantly, it’s not so much a matter of CDev saying “we don’t have a solution, so we’ll ignore the problem” as much as it’s the dev team as a whole saying “we’re doing all of this gameplay over here, CDev needs to justify it with story” and Micky Neilson (the Lead Story Developer) is stuck cobbling something together to make it make sense.

      That’s one of the things I’ve learned as I’ve paid more attention to Blizzard’s processes and gotten some inside information: Creative Development (the department that Metzen is VP of) doesn’t drive the story for WoW as much as the observer might think. Gameplay dictates story, and it’s mostly folks outside of CDev that are developing the gameplay. CDev has to pick up the pieces.

      This is why we’ve been seeing stuff like the Pandaria Faction Short stories (and before them the Faction Leader shorts) be the main product of CDev’s efforts: because people who want a good cohesive story aren’t really going to find it in-game. CDev works extensively with the contracted authors who come in to do shorts and novels because they’ve got a solid vision for the game; they just aren’t always able to express that story in-game because gameplay trumps story in every context.

      I know that’s excuse after excuse after excuse, but it’s also kind of the bottom line. To use a really chilling example, Christie Golden has a long history of cooperating with CDev for the novels she writes for the game, and is also really devoted to matching up what she describes in her work as what would it appear as in-game. You can see in her writing where she left the tags for the Theramore’s Fall scenario, both from the Alliance and Horde perspectives. The scenarios we got in-game were absolutely nothing like what Golden described, and Dave Kosak (Lead Quest Designer) chalked that up to them developing gameplay scenarios that were more fun to play. I’m paraphrasing here, but Kosak’s sentiment was that trying to make sure there aren’t obvious contradictions between the game and published works is a desire, but it’s not a requirement, because gameplay comes first.

      Final note: Metzen, being VP of CDev for all of Blizzard, was tied up a bunch in developments for SC2 and D3 over the last few years. My assertion, from all the resources I’ve got, say that he’s been more hands-off with the day-to-day developments on the WoW game during MoP, as he’s left that to the Story Development team to manage. He’s still the most charismatic character at Blizzard, which is why he’s the one who’s always selling the games at BlizzCon, but he’s very, very far from being an authoritative source, both in terms of having sole responsibility for the story moves of the franchise AND in terms of having authorial knowledge of every move that’s been taken previously.

      Can you tell I spend a lot of time defending Blizzard? ^_^

      • You don’t have to explain to me why you’re defending Blizzard. The fact is, I only write as much as this about these scenarios because I care, because I enjoy the product they’ve created. It’s the same when I go into a rant about Star Wars; I rant because I love. The reason you never hear me complaining about Star Trek is because, for the most part, I don’t really care about Star Trek.

        I did not mean to suggest that Blizzard’s story department is doing a lackluster job; Tides of War is, in my opinion, the best WoW novel ever written and one of the best franchise fiction pieces I’ve read. I also really enjoyed the Leader Short Stories; Lor’themar’s was particularly good. I hope they do more with that.

        Writing one’s self into a corner is the danger of producing your storyline episode by episode in the eye of the public. The novelist who realizes he’s written himself into a corner can go back and unwind things to hopefully get out of that jam. Blizzard lore doesn’t have that option. What happened before has happened. Retcon is one of those things you can only use sparingly, and only on things that were either obscure background details (the draenei and the eredar) or game aspects that weren’t well known.

        Still, I hope Sylvanas doesn’t get ignored forever. In my opinion, a redemption arc would be nice; considering how many “fallen hero” storylines we have, it’d be nice to see somebody get redeemed. I’m sort of worried that Jaina is being offered up as a sacrifice to the fallen hero altar, if only to make room for Anduin to become the “voice of reason and diplomacy,” which prior to Theramore was Jaina’s role. I have to admit, even though Tides of War was a good novel, I really miss the old Jaina. She was my favorite aspect of the Alliance.

      • I’ll agree that earnest, peace-seeking Jaina was a favorite of mine too. I think she fell as much as she’s going to in the climax of Tides of War, because I don’t Metzen can stand to kill her.

        Fun note about the Lor’themar short story: that was actually written by Sarah Pine for the Blizzard Creative Writing Contest back in ’09. Pine won the contest, and ended up getting contracted by Blizzard to write the Garrosh leader story and also the Li Li Stormstout novella “Quest for Pandaria.” I should actually dig up Pine’s original pre-Blizzard version of the Lor’themar short and see what you think of it. There’s a couple of differences in nuance, but I think you’d catch them.

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