MYSTERY OF THE COWLED RANGER

Spoiler Warnings: This entry will contain spoilers for certain quests in Warlords of Draenor, as well as story spoilers for Christie Golden’s Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War and War Crimes. 

Anyone who’s picked up the Inn or Tavern in their garrison has probably come across this guest quest-giver by now.

So what's your name?

So what’s your name?

The Problem

If you look at the skin tone, the hair color and style, the facial markings that are visible beneath the cowl, and the dagger she’s wielding, every outward sign indicates that this is Shandris Feathermoon. Additionally, the quest reward from the initial quest is a Sentinel’s Companion, which matches with Shandris’ past role as a Priestess of the Moon (which, in WC3, summoned an Owl Scout to scout around).

WoWScrnShot_122914_104237

Harder to tell with the mask she got post-Cataclysm, but even without the facial markings for confirmation, all of the other details signal it.

 

The problem comes up when you read the quest text for both the initial and repeatable versions of the quest she offers.

“The Huntresses” quest text:

I do not wish to come out of the shadows, but I mean you no harm. My purpose here is my own secret to keep, I simply needed a warm place to bed down for the night.

I can see that you are not the type to be easily swayed into leaving. Very well, perhaps you can aid my in my search.

I am looking for someone, it is not important who. All you need to know is that I will reward you for any sign of high elven weaponry that you should come across.

Completion:

This is… it can’t be.

I must be off, here is your reward. I do not part with it lightly…

“Fate of the Fallen” quest text:

I feel that I can trust you, perhaps. You have, at least, not spoken of my secret to anyone, and for that I thank you.

I have need of your aid again, and in return, I will share some of my own information. I am here, you see, to find an elf by the name of Alleria. She was lost years ago, on Draenor. It is my faint hope that the twisting nether brought her here.

I do not know if such a thing is even possible, but do keep an eye out for any signs of high elves as you travel.

Completion:

Another one? How curious.

I may not be much closer to finding her, but these arrows bring some comfort to me, at least.

Here’s what’s weird about the quest text: it seems pretty evident that the quest-giver is someone who a) wants to keep their identity secret and b) has a personal stake in Alleria’s fate. There’s a pretty short list of people for whom those two criteria are true, and it really comes down to Vereesa and Sylvanas Windrunner, Alleria’s two surviving sisters. Moreover, Shandris doesn’t normally meet either of those criteria. She’s never even met Alleria.

And the last weird thing is this: the Sentinel’s Companion Pet Journal entry indicates that it comes from a quest called “Little Sister Lost” which doesn’t exist in the game data. The description of the pet then reads “the companion of a night elf sentinel, rarely given out as a gift.”

The most obvious bit of dissonance, then, is this:

  • The Cowled Ranger is definitely a night elf, sporting a night elf weapon, and handing out a night elven owl companion as a reward…
  • … but the quest text and the title of the non-existent quest in the pet journal both suggest that it’s one of Alleria’s sisters who is looking for her, neither of whom are Night Elves.

To put it another way: the quest-giver is deliberately intended to be Shandris in disguise, but there’s no existing justifiable lore reason why she’d be looking for Alleria.

Possible Solutions

Sylvanas in Disguise: She’s not really well-loved in the Horde right now, and she’d have to disguise herself to visit the Alliance garrison. And from a meta perspective, she’s worn a night elf body before (her original model prior to Wrath was a modified night elf), so this wouldn’t really be that much of a shift for her.

The reason this fails is because of what just happened in War Crimes: Sylvanas’ plot with Vereesa to kill Garrosh before the end of his trial failed, specifically because Vereesa lost her nerve and revealed the attempt to Anduin. The very specific quote I’m looking at comes from the end of Chapter 33 in that book: “Sylvanas Windrunner, Banshee Queen of the Forsaken, would never again make the mistake of believing she could love.” As the end-cap of a book-long plot where Sylvanas was attempting to reconnect with one of her sisters, it stands to reason that she would be less than interested in trying to find Alleria for the same reason.

Vereesa in Disguise: She’d have to disguise herself going into the Horde garrison, and while her last scene in War Crimes suggested that Anduin kept her secret, it’s possible that he informed Varian of it, making her persona non grata with the Alliance as well.

The reason this fails is because Vereesa’s not a night elf, and why she’d choose to disguise herself as Shandris Feathermoon who is in turn also traveling incognito beggars belief.

Shandris On Assignment: The solution that meets the most criteria but requires the most assumptions is this one. Recall that in Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, Vereesa and Shandris worked together while skirmishing against the Horde in Dustwallow Marsh during the attack on Theramore. They were among the only Alliance leaders to survive the destruction of the city, specifically because they were outside when the mana-bomb dropped.

Shandris has had a history of making friends in battle pretty readily (she called Jaina Battle-sister after the defense of Mount Hyjal where they first cooperated) so it stands to reason that she might have struck up a badass sisterhood with Vereesa during their shared experience at Theramore. Assuming Vereesa was unable to travel to Old Draenor on the possibility of searching for Alleria there, asking Shandris to do it makes sense, since Shandris would have the resources to do it.

Shandris traveling incognito, however, is the only hitching point for this (if you accept all of the other assumptions). She’s a lauded commander of the Alliance. If it was a named NPC who would be a valid candidate for running the Lunarfall Garrison, she’d certainly be someone I’d put on the short list. She also worked with Thrall’s Horde just as readily at Mount Hyjal, so in a post-Garrosh world it would stand to reason she could probably waltz into Frostwall Garrison without much concern. Finally, the list of guest NPCs who make appearances in the Inn/Tavern has plenty of characters who really don’t have much reason being faction-neutral.

However, I can accept that Blizzard didn’t want to build faction-specific quest-givers for the Inn/Tavern guests, and for whatever reason, Shandris was built to be traveling in secret.

Internal Miscommunication: I can also buy the possible explanation that all of the conflicts in this quest are the result of last-minute changes internally at Blizzard, where the quest text was written to support Sylvanas and Vereesa as faction-specific quest-givers (hence the “Little Sister Lost” quest title in the pet journal) but was later changed to the night elf Cowled Ranger, which resulted in the pet reward being changed to something more appropriate to a night elf character.

Status: Unsolved

Why such attention was paid to making the model into Shandris in disguise is really the most mysterious part of the whole affair. Regardless of any reasons you could conjure for why Shandris of all people wants to find Alleria, her being in disguise doesn’t make sense when none of the other faction-aligned guest NPCs have any reason to conceal their identities. Why someone who’s in disguise as a night elf ranger would end up have all of these accouterments that suggest Shandris when there’s all of these other lower-profile night elf rangers to imitate only adds to the mystery: if it’s NOT supposed to be Shandris, why all the clues suggesting it’s her?

Maybe we’ll see something about this in a future content patch, but if it’s a seed for future content, it’s pretty well-buried. If it’s an artifact of some past design or just one of the quest-designers having fun with us, it could amount to nothing. And right now, with how the repeatable ends and with zero evidence to suggest anything Alleria-related in WoD, the likelihood that there’s nothing here is pretty high.

I personally like the headcanon that Vereesa saved Shandris’ bacon during Theramore, and as a reward Shandris is hunting for Vereesa’s sister on Old Draenor, despite the fact that Alleria being anywhere near a past version of Draenor is… well, calling it a moonshot would be a pretty terrible pun given all the circumstances. But the bottom line is that the quest hinges on players finding a silver-lined arrow in the Shadowmoon Burial Grounds, which the NPC, whoever she is, recognizes as belonging to Alleria.

Is it foreboding that we find this arrow on a grave? Is it Alleria’s grave? Or the grave of someone killed by this arrow? THE MIND BOGGLES.

I want to believe there’s something deliberate here, but hell, we all thought that Arator’s big appearance in Honor Hold was a deliberate thing, and it amounted to nothing. Sometimes, the little notes are just in there for no rhyme or reason.

 

Rulkan is the Orcish Jaina Proudmoore

Focus on a young couple. They go through a fairly traditional courtship, filled with the promise of a great future for their people. Suddenly, however, a dark threat appears over the horizon. She advises caution, but he chooses to rush in headlong, and each choice he makes draws him further and further down a path of darkness. At last she realizes that she no longer knows the man he’s become, but a timeless and fervent love still survives.

You look at that story and it’s easy to assign it to Arthas and Jaina and what they’ve been through together, but with the new narrative we’ve got in Warlords of Draenor, it’s actually something that plays perfectly well with Ner’zhul and Rulkan.

For Arthas and Jaina, the threat was the Cult of the Damned. For Ner’zhul and Rulkan, it was the Iron Horde. Both Arthas and Ner’zhul made a fateful choice that broke their relationships: for Arthas it was choosing to cull Stratholme in order to save Lordaeron, and for Ner’zhul it was reviving the Dark Star to keep the Iron Horde from slaughtering the Shadowmoon Clan. After that break occurs, both Jaina and Rulkan take the survivors into exile, while Arthas and Ner’zhul continue down a path of destruction. And ultimately, both Jaina and Rulkan are willing to put past hatreds aside in order to combat the greater threat; Jaina works with Thrall and the Horde against the Legion invasion at Mount Hyjal, and Rulkan enabled Prophet Velen and Yrel to assault Ner’zhul in his place of power at Anguish Fortress.

The idea that Rulkan joins the Alliance Commander as a follower is pretty much where her story stops at this point, but the commonalities with Jaina’s story up until the Battle of Mount Hyjal is something that really sticks out to me. Combine that with all the Cult of the Damned-like qualities that have been impressed upon the new Shadowmoon Clan in WoD-SMV, down to Ner’zhul summoning an Army of the Dead during his boss battle, and it really feels like Blizzard made an active attempt to align Ner’zhul’s narrative with Arthas’ as strongly as they could. I think it’s a pretty interesting turn, since it amps up the connection with the Lich King story (and Ner’zhul of all people going down in a launch 5-man really feels like a plant for future content), but it does so without really altering the existing Ner’zhul story.

Moreover, it infuses what I feel is a lot of additional character into Rulkan, who was essentially killed off introduced in Rise of the Horde as a way for Ner’zhul to get duped by Kil’jaeden. Having her alive completely shifts his state at the start of the Iron Horde narrative (one of Kairozdormu’s “blades of grass”) while also putting a strong female orc character squarely in the Alliance narrative.

I’m pretty hopeful that we’ll see more of Rulkan going forward, because I feel like her addition to the narrative was for a greater purpose than even what we’ve seen so far. Callbacks to WC3 are great and all, but I’m really interested in seeing some new story as well, and Warlords has delivered on that while setting the stage for even more. We’ll see.

A DIRGE FOR HELLSCREAM (Part 1: Fatherhood)

Even though I know that there aren’t really a lot of folks out there reading this, I feel it’s important to point out that there will be spoilers for the Nagrand questing experience in Warlords of Draenor and you should proceed with caution if you haven’t experienced that in context yet.


What’s interesting about the Nagrand finale is that it provides a single conclusion to what are ultimately two different narratives: there’s the story presented in-game of Garrosh and his rise and fall, from his introduction in Burning Crusade up until now, and there’s the whole story of Garrosh presented throughout the entire franchise, across short stories and novels in addition to the game itself. I’m going to focus on the former story first, since that’s the one most players are going to be familiar with (though if you’re reading this, you’ll probably be interested in the latter story as well.)

The first story is really all about Thrall as a surrogate father for Garrosh: when Garrosh is introduced in BC, he’s characterized as a young, depressed orc who grew up in the shadow of his father Grom’s damnation of the whole race. Thrall returns, not only telling but showing everyone on Draenor that Grom died a hero, a redeemer of his people. And Garrosh swells up with pride that his father’s legacy has been restored. Thrall, as the bearer of Grom’s legacy (and Orgrim’s, and Durotan’s, and maybe even Saurfang at this point…) becomes the replacement father for the Mag’har, all of whom grew up without their fathers’ guidance.

As we see Garrosh later in Wrath of the Lich King, he’s become Thrall’s right-hand, even if his intolerance for the Alliance races doesn’t bode well. The beginning of the echoed admonition (“You disappoint me, Garrosh”) reinforces the idea that denying Garrosh approval is intended to punish him for his bad behavior. Garrosh’ earlier exchange with Saurfang at Warsong Hold has airs of this, since Saurfang is (rightly) advising caution, but the undertone of Garrosh’ abrasive response is “Thrall put me in charge here, not you, so stop trying to be my dad by telling me what I should or shouldn’t do.” And all of this following Garrosh’ leadership challenge before the Scourge Invasion (in which Garrosh’ lines all sound like “dad, you’re doing it wrong, I can do it” and Thrall’s responses being “son you’re not ready”) sets up the Northrend campaign as being Garrosh’ coming-of-age, prove-to-me-you’re-a-man event.

There’s a constant sense of Garrosh trying to impress Thrall by being forthright, and every time Thrall is disappointed with him, Thrall’s never specific about why he’s disappointed, so Garrosh gets the wrong idea and screws up worse the next time. Because Thrall’s never had a son and Garrosh has never had a father, so neither of them quite know how to understand one another.

Cataclysm has Thrall leave Garrosh in charge of the Horde to go off and be the World Shaman, and this is where you see Garrosh slipping into a new phase of trying to impress an absentee father: by outdoing him. Thrall united the clans to bring them out of bondage? Garrosh reaches out to the Dragonmaw to bring them into the fold, and even takes Blackrock defectors like Malkorok under his wing. Thrall took a harsh land like Durotar for the Horde? Garrosh savagely grabs territory to secure new footholds for the Horde. The event in Stonetalon, taken in context (and not as Afrasiabi’s mistake, wrought by internal miscommunication) is Garrosh questioning whether or not he’s doing the right thing, but he nonetheless chooses the path of violence. The choice doesn’t matter, though: Thrall isn’t there to admonish him, or to guide him. The bottom line is that despite all the work Garrosh is doing, Thrall is nowhere to be seen. (Players seec him plenty, but Garrosh isn’t in on any of that.)

Mists is where we really see Garrosh finally come into his own. He blows up Theramore because he wants to take Kalimdor for the Horde and Theramore is a prominent target to demonstrate on. He invades Pandaria because he wants it for the Horde. He pursues the Divine Bell because the Horde needs the best weapons in order to survive. He starts cutting weak links like Vol’jin out of the Horde because the Horde needs to be strong. When he gets the Heart of Y’shaarj, he realizes that he now has the ultimate arsenal, which turns all the emotional energy of the Horde’s warriors into weapons. The Horde will never be tools in the hands of others again, but they will instead be the hands that wield weapons and display their strength in glorious resplendence over Azeroth. He doesn’t need to prove himself to Thrall anymore, not if he can prove that he’s made a stronger Horde than Thrall ever could. So even when Thrall himself comes to him and says to give it all up, Garrosh says “no, daddy. I’ve done good, you’re just too weak to see it.”

So at last, when we come to this final showdown between Garrosh and Thrall, there’s an overwhelming sense that Garrosh is finally fed up with Thrall acting like his dad. Especially when he’s been hanging out with his actual dad for an extended period of time.

“YOU FAILED ME.”

To an extent, I can really see where in-game Garrosh is coming from here. The Warchief title was never something that was meant to be bestowed, but instead something that was taken by the strongest orc on the field. Blackhand got it by virtue of being that strongest orc, at least in terms of public acknowledgement. Orgrim took it by killing Blackhand, and Thrall only got it from Orgrim because the Doomhammer was about to die. Grommash has it right now because no can stand up to him.

So for Thrall to say to Garrosh “here, you can have this job” instead of making Garrosh earn it through combat, it was a failure on Thrall’s part. Give Garrosh more time for dialogue and you’d probably hear: “You didn’t give me the experience I needed to earn my title. You gave me a horde that didn’t make any sense to me, and told me to protect it against a world that wants to snuff it out. I did the best I could, I pulled every trick I could come up with and it was never enough for you. So how dare you say that I failed the Horde when you set me up to fail from the start?”

“YOU MADE ME WHAT I AM.”

Thrall never praises Garrosh in-game. Thrall’s only comments to him that the players ever hear after his introduction have to do with disappointment. So Garrosh having this internal narrative where Thrall is this disappointed surrogate dad actually makes a bit of sense at the end. You might pity Garrosh for being so wrong. And when Thrall responds to Garrosh by saying that he chose his own path, the player is basically assumed to believe that Garrosh just made all the wrong decisions… but there’s another edge to it: ultimately, Thrall busied himself so much with saving the orcish people (or the world they have to survive on) that he ended up doing a sorry job of saving Garrosh from himself.

The in-game narrative for Garrosh ends without him ever seriously considering the possibility that he was wrong, convinced that he was doing what he thought was right for the Horde. Thrall, meanwhile, ends up winning because he can call the elements, and he’s convinced that HE’S doing what’s right for the Horde. And players are generally going to be go along with Thrall on this, since he’s always been a hero.

In the end, history moves in a circle. Thrall gave birth to Garrosh Hellscream, wanting him to become a hero, and when Garrosh became a villain instead, Thrall brought an end to the monster he’d created. But it’s important that Thrall starts the final fight using the Doomhammer and then has to end it using the elements; he can’t match Garrosh’ raw strength and combat prowess, but his powers as a shaman are what lets him win the day.

Thus, the in-game narrative carries forward the big Thrall story that’s been at the core since Thrall took over the orc narrative in Warcraft 3: it’s not enough to simply be strong. You also need wisdom, and you need to respect the forces that are greater than yourself. Thrall respects the elements, and they aid him in his time of need. Through his example, the orcs need to remember to respect the world around them, which Garrosh refused to do and which the Iron Horde has discarded under Garrosh’ tutelage.

The bottom line that underscores the end of Garrosh’ story, however, is this: can the orcs ever truly return to the idyllic shamanistic lifestyle they had before they were introduced to the concept of war on a grand scale? Is it even possible to abandon the Horde, regardless of the forces that created it or sustain it? Garrosh didn’t think so, and he wanted to move forward instead of backward, no apologies. Thrall is bent double to an eternal struggle of trying to get the orcish race back into a box that they can’t fit into anymore. However, because Blizzard doesn’t seem interested in letting players choose between those two paths, Garrosh has to die.


 

There’s a lot more to say on the subject, but it requires us to look at Garrosh and how he’s moved in the non-game products, especially Christie Golden’s novels and the faction leader short stories.