Remixing the Black Empire


Okay, so, let’s unpack this a bit. The core element here is that we’ve got three primary strains of the Aqir between the mantid, nerubians, and the qiraji. The silithid are a drone-worker race that don’t have sentience but have been bred and trained by the qiraji to suit a variety of specialized roles. Along the same lines, the nerubians have non-sentients in their ranks (spiderlings, enslaved arachnathid, and fliers) and the mantid have really only got HUGE FUCKING NUMBERS OF MANTID and the kunchong.

What’s weird about the qiraji is how much more humanoid they mostly are:

  • Vek’lor and Vek’nilash (model name: qiraji emperor) use a night elf male skeleton and aside from having carapace-looking bony bits everywhere (which is played up far better in their Hearthstone card art) it’s hard to tell exactly what insectoid qualities they’ve got.
  • Qiraji gladiators are more overt with the big pincer hands and insectoid faces, but the otherwise bipedal appearance is weird.
  • Qiraji battleguards looking a whole lot like human women with wasp wings and some other random bug bits tacked on like bad cosplay is probably the biggest oddity of the lot.
  • And meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got the qiraji prophet (Prophet Skeram, Harbinger Skyriss) which is much more in-line with the nerubian viziers as a cognate.

With the nerubians, you’ve got the baseline nerubians and the viziers with the humanoid upper body (which is nonetheless still more monstrous than human) while the spiderlords are basically a beetle-spider hybrid. And the mantid are much more homogeneous, with only the Empress having an appearance that deviates from the normal humanoid-ish shape of the swarmborn mantid (and, by the way, the mantid queen model is just a modification of the nerubian vizier model).



Consider the idea that the different groups of the Aqir are really a product of experimentation and evolution by the Old Gods that resulted in several specialized strains, utilized throughout the history and eventual destruction of the Black Empire.

The nerubians are the oldest of the races. That’s a declaration I’m making as a basis for this headcanon, the purpose of which should be clear by the end of it. In terms of their intended designs:

  • Nerubians (and the spellcasting we see expressed as viziers) were well-suited to subterranean area control, between web production (for all of its varied uses) and improved locomotion in caves. Given the Old Gods’ malignant advancement into Azeroth’s deep places, the nerubians would have been useful for exploration and identifying exotic materials for extraction.
  • Nerubian spiderlords are an armored variety, bred for burrowing and intended to take a lot of punishment, including perhaps a degree of heat resistance. These qualities would have served well when the Old Gods worked to subjugate the elemental lords of fire and earth.
  • Spiderlings and fliers are effectively bestial offshoots from the core design, likely unintended but probably useful to the nerubians as companions and/or fodder.

The qiraji represent several of the strains developed by the Old Gods in response to the assault of the Titans and their titanforged armies.

  • Qiraji prophets are a refinement on the nerubian viziers, with greater spellcasting ability combined with a bulkier carapace. While the prophets sacrificed the mobility of the nerubians in general, their ability to manipulate magic and minds was key for maintaining control of the drudge silithid hives and coordinating qiraji forces as officers.
  • Qiraji battleguards could be considered a prototype for the mantid, as a highly mobile aerial scout. More on this shortly. (On reflection, the notion that they could have been useful against Al’Akir can’t be ignored.)
  • Qiraji gladiators were, to a certain extent, a mass production replica of the c’thraxxi, designed to face off against the titanforged on the battlefield. Pincer arms would have been useful for dismembering or disarming the enemy constructs. A bipedal shape is more compact, less vulnerable, and has arguably better leverage against a similarly bipedal opponent.
  • The qiraji emperors would have represented the pinnacle of the Old Gods’ design for modifying the Aqir to execute their will remotely. As powerful agents of both physical and magical prowess that had all of the strength and leverage to go toe-to-toe with the titanforged AND command the Aqiri swarms, they would make excellent lieutenants for the c’thraxxi generals on the field while also having the independence to lead if the c’thraxxi were taken down.

The mantid represent a strain that didn’t see deployment before the Old Gods were defeated and sealed away, but came about gradually, and largely outside the view of everything that remained of the Black Empire.


The original mantid queen was an experimental prototype. Take a qiraji prophet (maybe modified to have the more compact and less-armored design of the nerubian vizier), but add in the reproductive faculties of a silithid queen. Great magical power, and the ability to produce massive amounts of troops which she could then direct psychically, but requiring time and space to do so.

Now consider the possibility that this original queen prototype escaped the notice of the titanforged. Also consider that this prototype was positioned in the southern central reaches of Ancient Kalimdor. When Y’shaarj was torn free of the world by Aman’thul, the lifeblood of the nascent Titan spurted forth, collecting in certain places on the continent. These places became testbeds for the Titan Eonar to experiment with the life that sprang forth in response to contact with this magical blood. The area that would come to be known as the Vale of Eternal Blossoms was one of these testbeds…


To cut to the chase, the kypari trees that dot the Townlong Steppes and the Dread Wastes may have been a product of the blood of Azeroth impacting life on the surface. The mantid consider kypari amber to be the “lifeblood of the earth” and a critical component of how they have shaped their culture and survived over the millennia. Hence, what we have is a largely off-the-wall experiment of the Old Gods in this mantid queen, but she then begins to experiment with the kypari amber herself and is able to draw on its power.

This original mantid empress then begins the great cycle of the mantid swarm: the overwhelming majority of the offspring she produces over the course of a century are male mantid swarmborn. When the swarm reaches an appropriate critical mass, the empress sings to drive the swarmborn into a battle frenzy. Whatever mantid that survive this assault return to strengthen the swarm as a whole, and the cycle begins again. When the empress approaches the end of her life, she produces a single female offspring that, when hatched, will become the new empress and perpetuate the swarm’s objective anew.

The mantid, then, are an unintended product of the Old Gods’ experimentation with the Aqir, which in turn required the defeat of the Old Gods in order to flourish into the self-perpetuating, self-improving engine of devastation that the mantid became. The fact that the closest target of the mantid were the mogu, themselves derelict Titanforged constructs who had lost their intended purposes in the torpor of Keeper Ra, means that their history is really a constantly repeating re-enactment of the long-ceased war between the Old Gods and the Titans.

This helps to explain why the mantid were markedly less acknowledged in history while the qiraji and the nerubians were the more recognized actors within Azj’Aqir. The mantid were essentially a localized threat that chose their nearest target, the mogu, to harass, instead of assaulting other more distant enemies like the Zandalari trolls or the nascent kaldorei empire further north. When Pandaria was split off from the rest of the world as a result of the Sundering, the mantid were basically unaffected.




Here’s the elevator pitch: “Hey, you remember Grimoire of Sacrifice back when it gave you new abilities for nomming your demon? Oh, and also remember when Warlocks had a glyph that kinda turned Metamorphosis into a tanking stance? Well, those two concepts got together in my head and a nasty, nasty baby.”

Concept/Fantasy: Monstrosity (Tank)

The Council of the Black Harvest continues to co-opt the power of the enemies that threaten Azeroth in order to use them against future threats. A new innovation involves mixing some of those destructive powers together in ways previously unforeseen. This has led to the creation of a spell that allows a warlock to blend the corrupting powers of the Void, the nightmarish resilience of the Old Gods, and the destructive power of the fel and transform into an abomination dubbed the “shadow hulk.” This monstrosity is voracious for the essence of enemy forces, consuming everything in its path.

While a shadow hulk, the warlock doesn’t have a permanent demon out. Instead, she consumes the demon in order to gain an additional ability, offering a number of choices suited for different situations. Now, summoning demons is still a thing, so if you pick a talent that summons a demon, they can do their thing and you’ve still got your ability, but you can choose to consume them before they expire and switch to a new ability.

The key for the shadow hulk is dealing a LOT of damage in order to turn it into big absorption shields via the Soul Leech passive. It’s not capped at a percentage of the warlock’s max health for Monstrosity, so you can accumulate some huge shields, but they’re still only temporary, so it’s going to depend a lot on using your damage cooldowns to time your mitigation right. So this is a very aggressive, high-risk, high-reward tank that will always want at least one target to feed off of.

Warlock (Monstrosity) TL;DR

  • turn into an infernal tentacle hulk to do battle
  • use a mix of shadow, fel, and fire spells to tank enemies
  • replenishing absorbs are the key source of damage mitigation

Shadow Hulk
Transform into a Shadow Hulk, increasing your Armor by x% of your Intellect and altering many of your abilities. While a Shadow Hulk, the size of absorption shields generated by Soul Leech are no longer capped at 15% of your max health.

Replaced Abilities

Shadow Bolt –> Voidfire Bolt
Taunt + Damage

Banish –> Devour
Costs 1 Soul Shard. Target Demon, Aberration, or Elemental is unable to take any action for 30s and is immune to damage. Your single-target damage is increased by 10% during Devour and for an additional 30s after Devour expires or is cancelled.

Command Demon –> Consume Demon
Consume your active demon, gaining a different ability based on which demon is consumed. Lasts 1 hour or until another demon is consumed.

  • Imp –> Sear Wounds (deal 5% of total health in damage to restore 25% health over 10s, 6s CD)
  • Voidwalker –> Empowered Shadow Bulwark (gain an absorption shield equal to 30% of total health for 6s)
  • Succubus –> All-Consuming Ecstasy (seduces a Humanoid target and deals x damage every 3s. Any OTHER damage dealt breaks the effect)
  • Felhunter –> Inhale Magic (interrupt a target’s spellcasting, preventing casting from that school for 6s. The next spell from that school that hits you deals 50% less damage)
  • Doomguard –> Ingest Magic (consume the next offensive spell cast against you, gain an absorption shield based on the damage that would have been dealt)
  • Infernal –> Shadowflame Aura (deal AoE Shadowflame damage to all enemies within 8 yards, but take 1% total health in damage every 3s while the aura is active. Lasts until cancelled)
  • … and there needs to be some kind of fallback ability for when you consume any other random demon you’ve enslaved.

New Abilities

Grasping Tendrils 
Target area erupts with tentacles, slowing the movement speed of enemies in the area by 50% and preventing them from leaving the area while the effect persists. Lasts 6s.

Burrow through the ground, exploding upward at the targeted area. Deal X damage to targets within the area and taunt them for 2s.

Felfire Drill 
Deal x damage to the target (Targets within 2 yards of your primary target take 50% of this damage). Applies a debuff to the primary target increasing Shadow damage taken by 20% for 6s.


Tier 3-3: Paralyzing Tendrils: Grasping Tendrils now stuns targets for 6s. Enemies that die while while Grasping Tendrils is active cause you to generate a Soul Shard.

Tier 4-2: Sinister Feast
Devour no longer costs a Soul Shard to cast. While Devour is active on a target, you have a chance to gain a free Soul Shard once every 5s.

Tier 4-3: Soul Harvest
Increases your damage and your pets’ damage by 20%. Lasts 15s, increased by 2s for each target affected by your Grasping Tendrils, to a maximum of 35s.

Tier 5-3: Unending Arrogance
Unending Resolve’s damage reduction is increased to 50%. During Unending Resolve, if an attack would deal less than 5% of your maximum health in damage, the damage is ignored.

Tier 6-1: Grimoire of Sustenance
Passive: Your healing and absorbs are improved by 20%
Active: All healing and absorbs received are improved by 40% for 10s. 1m CD.

Tier 6-3: Grimoire of Symbiosis
Passive: Amplify the damage, healing, and absorb effects of abilities gained by Consume Demon by 50%.

Tier 7-1: Harvester’s Homunculi
Costs 1 Soul Shard. Place a Homunculus on a nearby ally. Damage done by that ally provides you an absorption shield equal to 20% of the damage done for 15s. The Homunculus lasts 1m, but also fades if the ally dies or is further than 20 yards away for more than 5s. Limit 3 Homunculi.

Tier 7-2: Infernal Armory
Consumes all of your Soul Shards. For each Soul Shard consumed, a nearby ally gains Infernal Armaments, increasing their damage by 25% for 10s. The Infernal Armory persists for 30s. You cannot regain Soul Shards while Infernal Armory is active; any effect that would grant you a Soul Shard instead grants Infernal Armaments to another ally, to an upper limit of 10. 10m CD.

Mastery: Hulk’s Assimilation
Your spell casts, melee strikes, and killing blows have a chance to increase your Leech to 500% + Mastery% for 6s. Trigger chance increases based on Mastery.

Have at it in the comments.

Timewalker Rewards: Conclusion

So let’s run down that original list again to wrap this up. Note that each entry links back to the article where I go into more in-depth analysis about each subject, so if you want to see my work, that’s where to go.

  • GoldRisky as a reward because of the threat of inflation, but a little is unavoidable.
  • Experience: For the scaled character it’s not a reward, but for the player it could be a reward if tailored properly. It’s all you want until you don’t need it anymore.
  • Endgame Gear: Too risky given power-creep at the time it’s introduced; making Timewalkers mandatory for progression supercedes current content too strongly.
  • Gear Tokens a la Timeless Isle: Viable as a catch-up mechanism, especially if a content drought is coming.
  • Cosmetic GearRisky because of the asset cost in creating new cosmetic gear.
  • Loot Rolls: Dubious because it’s just a chance for gear, but also awesome because it’s a chance for gear.
  • Justice/Valor Points: Good night, sweet prince.
  • Unique Currency: As good as whatever the currency buys.
  • Reputation: As good as whatever it gates access to. Only good until you don’t need it.
  • Achievements: Foregone conclusion; everything has achievements.
  • Pets, Toys, and Mounts: Useful for collectors or for people who like the aesthetics, but otherwise useless.

All things considered, I think that the best solution is one that offers a unique gameplay experience, provides players a great deal of choice, but focuses principally on rewarding players by giving them a greater chance at getting rare drops from doing Timewalker dungeons. I think it would be simple to extend a gear strategy to this as well, but let’s cut to the chase and introduce the solution.

Introducing the Timewalkers Faction

Faction Background: Mortals of all races who’ve taken on the duty of aiding the Bronze Dragonflight in protecting the timeways. 

The Timewalkers offer a daily Timewalker dungeon quest to max-level players, directing them to complete a Timewalker dungeon. Completing the quest rewards a [Satchel of Time-Lost Artifacts], which contains the chance to acquire rare drops like mounts, pets, and unique equipment that normally drop in that specific dungeon, but at a higher percentage. For example, completing a Timewalker daily for dead-side Stratholme would give you a satchel that has an increased chance of dropping Rivendare’s Deathcharger.

Completing a Timewalker dungeon always rewards a [Mote of Time] as currency, which are used as a currency with the Timewalkers reputation vendor. Bonus motes are also a consolation prize if you fail to get any rare drops from the satchel.

At Friendly, the Timewalkers reputation vendor Llore offers a [Time-Lost Bag of Treasures] in exchange for motes. Opening this bag grants a chance to acquire a dungeon-dropped mount or pet that you don’t have, similar to the satchel, but drawing from all dungeons. At each successive reputation level, a higher-level version of the Time-Lost Bag is offered at the same price, with an increased chance for you to acquire the most rare mounts. In the event that the Time-Lost bag doesn’t reward a mount or pet, or if you’ve somehow acquired ALL of those mounts/pets available, the Time-Lost bag might reward a Seal of Tempered Fate or a lump of gold.

Hence, motes can be used the following ways:

  • Used to purchase Time-Lost Bags,
  • Used to gain reputation with the Timewalkers,
  • Used to buy unique mounts/pets,
  • Used to buy a Timeless Knowledge token, which when used grants leveling alts across the account a 10% increase to XP gain. The mote cost of the token decreases with reputation gains,
  • Used to buy a Grand Commendation that increases reputation gains by 100% for all characters on the account.

This creates a number of interesting choices: you can either choose to gamble your motes on the possibility of getting stuff out of the Friendly-level bag, or use them to gain reputation so that your bag has a greater chance of getting rewards. Unique mounts and pets are there to provide a clear grinding objective (just like the Cloud Serpent mount did with Emperor Shaohao) while the account-wide tokens are there to help mitigate the grind for the reputation itself and for experience for the characters who need it.

Ultimately, at Exalted, characters will still have a use for the motes in the form of spending them exclusively on bags for rare drops. And since the list of rare drops is long enough that it’ll take an excessive string of luck for players to acquire everything, there’s a good incentive to keep running Timewalker dungeons to get motes even once all of the other rewards are exhausted.

I think that it would be easy to add gear into this reward structure by just making it cost motes (in the form of Timeless Isle-like armor tokens), or by making profession recipes that require mote-purchased crafting materials. However, I also think that gear as a reward (in any form aside from cosmetic gear or loot rolls) has the greatest chance of turning Timewalker dungeons from a fun side activity into part of the gear progression curve, which is not where it belongs.

The Wrap

Thanks for hanging out with me while I try to both make a suggestion and show my work while doing it. At the end of the day, this is really something of a hard thing to tackle on my own… it smacks of something that really requires multiple perspectives and a discussion between people to really nail down the best solution. And I have to imagine that boiling things down to a “rep faction with a unique currency that lets you get the mounts/pets from old content” doesn’t sound exciting on its own, but I’d like to think that after reading through all of this, my reasoning for that solution should be more evident.

Tell me what you think. ^_^

Hellscream and the Orcish Destiny

Parallels are something that I love being able to draw out.

In the WC3 cinematic that showcases Thrall and Grom’s bout with Mannoroth (and Grom’s epic death), the first hint we get of Mannoroth’s presence is him chuckling off-screen. The same thing happens with Mannoroth in the WoD cinematic.

In both cinematics, Mannoroth is expressing his dominance over the orcs; in WC3, he states it plainly, while in WoD, he calls the gathered orcs mongrels and goads Hellscream: “did you bring [the orcs] here just to watch you die?”

In both cinematics, the first attack on Mannoroth fails; in WC3, Thrall’s assault with the Doomhammer gets knocked aside effortlessly, while in WoD, the ballista’d chain meant to pin him down so that the Iron Star could end him gets countered.

In both cinematics, Mannoroth goes down in one hit from Gorehowl. It’s much more believable in WoD, because getting an axe embedded in your skull is more certain of a killing blow than getting it in the chest, especially with as much mass as Mannoroth has. To an extent, this is something that really remarks both on the strength of a weapon like Gorehowl, which has the most mundane of origins, and on the strength of the guys who have wielded Gorehowl.

It’s where the parallels give way to even greater shifts that I get really interested.

In WC3, Grom attacks head-on after he gets taunted by Mannoroth. This sells the idea that Mannoroth knows exactly how to manipulate Grom, and the only thing that goes south for the pit lord is that Grom gets a killing blow in past his defenses. In WoD, if you’re going in with the WC3 cinematic in mind, you expect Grom to do the same thing… but instead he smiles, and you see the catapult fire coming in behind him. This younger, uncorrupted Grom is already acting with greater foresight than his older version; all of this builds to the idea that this Grom is patently more dangerous.

Grom makes sure the Iron Star gets deployed rather than just going toe-to-toe with Mannoroth. Not only does this continue building the “new/improved Grom” concept, but it also demonstrates how the Iron Horde is going to marry the brawn and determination of an uncorrupted Horde with the Blackfuse technology that the Iron Star represents. It’s foreshadowing how much more technological this Iron Horde will be in comparison to the Blackhand/Doomhammer hordes of the past.

Clearly, having Grom get silhouetted against the explosion coming from Mannoroth’s corpse is a callback to the WC3 cinematic, but it’s so important that Garrosh dives in to keep Grom from getting killed. This is a huge expression of the heroic qualities that Garrosh has; your standard villain would probably let Grom die after doing his job, but Garrosh saves him. And while people drawing Back to the Future parallels might argue that Garrosh is only saving Grom in order to ensure his own future conception (which is a self-serving villainous thing to do) that’s dependent on duplicating that franchise’s plot devices.

Garrosh saves Grom because Grom is his father. Garrosh believes in the brotherhood of the orcish people when (and only when) the orcish people are being true to his vision, and that vision is modeled after Garrosh’ perceptions of Grom as his father. Saving Grom from death is emblematic of Garrosh rescuing the orcish people from what he feels was a degradation of their culture.

The other side of it, which some folks have pointed out, is that Garrosh saving Grom represents Garrosh doing something that Thrall failed to do. Thrall’s project in Lord of the Clans was to save the orcs from their bondage, both in terms of the internment camps and the bonds of Mannoroth’s blood curse. Thrall was able to do that, but he failed repeatedly to keep any of the icons of the old Horde alive or on his team; Orgrim died, Grom died, Rend and Maim refused to join him, and the Dragonmaw and Blackrock clans both essentially stayed rogue. More specifically, it took Grom killing Mannoroth to finally free the orcs, since Thrall was demonstrated in the WC3 cinematic to be completely ineffectual against the pit lord.

Garrosh is, to a great extent, the  perfect complement to Thrall. Both of them want to embrace the old ways of the orcish people, but both are focusing on different things: Thrall wants a return to a life guided by the spirits of the ancestors and in harmony with the elemental spirits, while Garrosh wants a return to the life of orcs expressing their worth through acts of strength and valor. Both of these are facets of the pre-Legion way of life for the orcs.

Garrosh is not wrong for wanting what he wants. Where Garrosh goes wrong, and the reason he’s ultimately an antagonist instead of a protagonist, is that he wants the unified orcs to express their strength and valor against other equally heroic races. Moreover, by saving Grom and saving the orcs from enslavement, he’s ensuring that the Iron Horde will be empowered to do just that. Which ties in perfectly with Grom’s final line:

“We will never be slaves, but we will be conquerors.”

Thrall exists because of the enslavement of the orcs. Thrall’s name is a word for “slave.” It can’t get more overt than that; Thrall is a representation of what the orcs inevitably became as a result of drinking the demon blood. Grom’s statement (and you can almost hear Garrosh being the guy who planted the concept in his head, Inception-style) defies that future, defies the very idea that an orc like Thrall could ever come to pass, and instead sets the Iron Horde on the path of strength and strength alone governing their destiny.

There’s an elegance to this that I think a lot of players miss out on, and which Blizzard does little to emphasize by having so much of nuance of the game’s story outsourced to novels and short stories. There’s a nobility in the Iron Horde’s desire for self-determination that I think players are never going to see, because the orcs are going to be self-determining through butchering innocents, and as heroes, our job is to stop them. It’s a really different type of opposition than we’ve ever faced before (though there are hints of something similar with Lei Shen’s death line “I was only trying to do the work of the gods”) but I think it’s a bit sad that players are going to gravitate towards killing these guys because of their fat loot without ever questioning if it’s right to kill them.



The Dark Ancients (Part 2)

Continuing from yesterday’s post on Agamaggan and Crokuta, here are two more of the Dark Ancients.

Kubo the Candlekeeper

Few remember this rat Ancient, but his efforts during the war against the Legion left a lasting impact. There once stood a great hill near the foot of mighty Mount Hyjal, and upon this hill the demons had constructed a fort from which to launch their attacks upon Cenarius and his resistance. Kubo, the Great Rat, and his children, the kobolds, labored silently but fiercely in digging tunnels under the great hill, intent on collapsing the tunnels and destroying the fort without loss of life. As fate would have it, though, the demons discovered the tunnels, and a battle raged beneath the fort between Kubo and the legionnaires. The Ancient was injured grievously, but the demons were driven back. Kubo knew that the only way to win the day was to collapse the tunnels, but he knew he could not escape due to his wounds. He ordered his kobolds to leave him with a lit brand of fire for his funeral pyre, and once they were safely away, he would bring down the great hill.

No one knew if Kubo died upon his pyre or not, but the hill fell, the land shattering into great chasms in the earth, which became called Darkwhisper Gorge. Kobolds shunned the place ever after, but as a token of remembering their patron, they always carry a lit flame with them.

Now that the Ancient of the Deeps has returned and rallied his children, no fortress that stands upon the earth is safe.


To a great extent, kobolds get the short end of the stick as enemies. They’re not exceptionally fearsome, and in a lot of cases they’re just cheerfully laboring at a mine on their own when we, as heroes, come stomping in because there’s something in the mine we want.

I also thought there was an opportunity to really explore why the kobolds insist on keeping candles on their heads: if we assume the idea that these races have dropped in intelligence and culture without the guidance of their Ancients (as evidenced with the quillboar and harpies) then it computes that kobolds might adopt a practice that might persist through the centuries but take on a different, and in this case more ridiculous form. If the kobolds have to subsist through mining, they can’t have one hand tied up holding a torch. A candle on the head is almost clever.

A couple notes: I’m aware that Brann’s documentation stated that kobolds were somehow related to troggs, which is something that never made any sense to me. Creating Kubo would constitute a retcon, but I think Kubo’s got a better story than having an offshoot of an offshoot of a professionally-designed, purpose-built race suddenly gain animal characteristics for no conceivable reason.

Nakhbet the Dirge

In the deserts of Tanaris, at the far-flung edge of Kalimdor, it was said that Death itself roosted, a great black vulture with a shadow a league wide, waiting for unwitting travelers and foolish explorers to find themselves at her mercy. When a messenger from Cenarius arrived seeking Death, she was intrigued. “It is war,” said the messenger, “and where war treads, Death must follow. You are needed.” So Nakhbet the Dirge, Ancient of Death, took wing and flew north to do her duty.

When she entered the fray, Nakhbet claimed many lives, a terror for the demons but a mercy for her allies should their wounds prove mortal. When Azshara’s Highborne saw that Nakhbet had come, they knew fear, but their swollen power gave them pride. They believed that if they could kill Nakhbet, they would ensure that Death would never find their Queen. So they laid a trap for Nakhbet, and the Ancient, intent upon her duty, was ensnared. The Highborne laughed in their victory as they prepared the killing blow, but Nakhbet’s shadow fell over them, and she spoke: “Ignorant fools. You can not escape Death. Your Queen may yet live, but in life there is suffering, and with me gone, none will there be to give her sweet release. Come with me now, and know that your Queen shall curse your names forevermore.”

When the Druids of the Flame brought Nakhbet back into the living world, she inquired as to the fate of the Light of a Thousand Moons. “She has been twisted against her very nature, and suffers still, ten thousand years after the time when I was meant to claim her for the sake of the world.”

“She shall wait awhile yet. As thanks for returning me to life, Death shall serve you. For now.”


I’ll admit that Nakhbet is really an original creation for me. I wanted an avian Ancient to round out the four I had (the boar in the front, the hyena in the back, the rat underground, and something in the air) and in keeping with the “animals with negative connotations” pattern, a crow or a vulture made the most sense. From there, a great bird that personified an ominous death through casting a great shadow wrote itself.

At the same time, I recognize that there have been many personifications of death in this franchise: the Lich King is the strongest example, but Yogg-Saron and Deathwing (in his anti-Alexstrasza “Aspect of Death” sobriquet) also played on this concept as well. As such, I wanted Nakhbet to try and represent death in as positive a light as possible: she’s destroying the Legion because for the living to die by alien hands steps on her domain, but she’s also granting a merciful death to her allies when it’s warranted. I also wanted her to treat death as a necessary sequel to life: the idea that she would find the immortality of the kaldorei as abhorrent as Azshara’s naga transformation is something I would love to play with further.

More to come later. ^_^

The Dark Ancients (Part 1)

Back during the Mongrel Horde remix, I mentioned the concept of Dark Ancients who would rise up to empower many of the mongrel races in order to make them a greater threat. I wanted to take an opportunity to expand on that concept a bit.

Some disclaimers before we get started:

  • My initial idea for the “someone” who proposes rezzing Ancients to Garrosh was Fandral Staghelm, but I’ll cheerfully admit that “Firelands was merely a setback” would be too silly. However, the Druids of the Flame as a group concept are easy to keep alive; they just need a new ringleader to be the frontman for the operation.
  • While the troggs were in the concept art for the Mongrel Horde, I couldn’t figure out how to link degraded Titan constructs with the Ancients.

With all of that out of the way, enjoy:

Agamaggan the Razormane

During the War of the Ancients, the great boar Agamaggan was petitioned by Cenarius and his students to fight against the armies of Azshara and her demonic allies. Agamaggan agreed, convinced that if the demons were allowed to run rampant, the world would suffer, as would his children, the quillboar. The great Ancient of Valor tore through the demons, until he faced off with the Legion’s field commander, the pit lord Mannoroth. Their duel was so titanic that it crushed all the life from an entire prairie, leaving it nearly barren, until at last Mannoroth stood victorious over the fallen Ancient.

Raised through the efforts of the fallen Druids of the Flame, Agamaggan has been petitioned anew: the Horde have encroached upon the lands claimed by Agamaggan’s children, and slaughtered them in their holy places. The quillboar have been driven to depravity and near extinction. Even Agamaggan’s former allies, the kaldorei and the children of Cenarius, have been a party to this massacre.

The Ancient of Valor hungers for vengeance and will crush whatever stands in his way.


Part of the rationale behind Agamaggan is this: I wanted to take a familiar Ancient, one that wasn’t raised during Mount Hyjal, and show that with the proper motivation, he could be turned into an antagonistic character. There are airs of Okotto from Princess Mononoke here: namely that Agamaggan, in his absence, would return to a world filled with beings who had disregarded their pact with nature. His rage at this injustice would be matched only by his outrage over the sad condition of the quillboar; we know that Agamaggan’s spirit disapproved of Charlga Razorflank’s heinous sacrifices, but we also know that the quillboar fought to resist the Scourge in Razorfen Downs. Even if they are a bunch of savage pigs, they are a god’s treasured children, just as Ursol and Ursoc treasure the furbolg and Aviana treasures the harpies.

So to me, it makes a lot of sense for Agamaggan to be pulled back into the living world, get told a particular narrative about who the villains are, and charge off to smash the crap out of the offending parties, especially when those parties haven’t been friendly towards the quillboar.

As for the sobriquet “Ancient of Valor” I wanted to find a way to characterize Agamaggan’s heroism and his ignorance in one word. It helps that Imperius, the Archangel of Valor in Diablo 3, has the same kind of single-minded stubborness combined with matchless combat prowess.

Crokuta the Bonecrusher

Crokuta answered the call of the Ancients to fight against the Legion for a number of reasons; a curiosity for what demonflesh tasted like; a modicum of concern for her children, the gnolls; and mere bloodlust. After a massive battle in the wastelands of Desolace, she remained behind to feast on the remains of the fallen, and in her gluttony ate too much and fell asleep. That was how the demons found her, and in her sloth they made quick work of her.

Upon her resurrection by the Druids of the Flame and a reunion with her children, Crokuta recognizes that the gnoll champion Hogger was a true exemplar of what the gnolls are capable of. With sacrifices provided by her new allies, the Ancient intends to bestow gifts upon her children that will make all gnolls as dangerous as the Gnoll King.

Once it was said that the gnolls could conquer the world if they could only be rallied under one banner. The Bonecrusher’s banner has arrived.


Initially I wanted to call Crokuta the “Ancient of Cunning,” but when I realized that a cunning god wouldn’t have let herself get caught flatfooted after a meal, I figured the term wasn’t necessary.

Crokuta is female principally because of the legendary qualities of hyenas being able to switch genders; since there don’t appear to be any female gnolls in the game, I felt this was a neat way to introduce one, and spotted hyena social groups tend to be female-dominated anyway, so I figured it clicked. I can imagine drawing some lines with Shenzi from the Lion King only because it’s one of the few places in pop culture where a hyena is characterized, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s an inspiration.

The bottom line here is that having a domineering and cunning and greedy Ancient would help to demonstrate that while many of the Ancients are noble beasts, not all beasts are noble. Hyenas play a role in the cycle of nature by culling weaker animals, but are always contained by the existence of more powerful predators. As an example, I imagined a showdown between Goldrinn and Crokuta where the latter would at first put up a strong fight but by the end show her throat in submission to the more powerful Ancient.

Come back tomorrow for two more Dark Ancients.


The ReWrite: Past Scenarios

Much like the idea that player farms could have been a constant feature of the game, I’ve had some fun imagining where scenarios would have fit into the original design and the design of successive expansions. What occurs to me about scenarios is that they’re an excellent way to deliver story in a one-time circumstance, but if players want the option of completing it multiple times for rewards, that’s cool too.

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The ReWrite: World of Farmcraft

There’s a lot to be said for Blizzard’s iterative design philosophy: it means that new features are getting added to the game in each successive expansion, and it means that those features rarely get the opportunity to become stale by doing them over and over again without providing some new form of content.

All that being said, there are certain concepts that have been introduced into the game that I feel would have been really interesting to see if they’d been in the game from the very start. It flies in the face of iterative design to do that, but this is a chance for me to mix things up and that’s pretty much what I’m all about on PW:R, so here we go:

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Remixing the Mongrel Horde

During the original WoW Source interview for Warlords of Draenor, it was mentioned that one of the concepts for Garrosh’ story after Mists of Pandaria was for him to take the technology he’d developed and create a Mongrel Horde, employing a bunch of the mook races like kobolds, troggs, and gnolls. Obviously this was thrown out in favor of resurrecting the old Blackhand Horde, but I felt like the concept warranted a bit of additional thought.

The short version of why this concept dies on the table for me is because most of these mook races end up being low-ranking threats that players take out during very low-level play, and for the most part they don’t show up in higher-level zones. They get supplanted by threats like the Scourge, or the silithid, or trolls, and obviously all of the expansion threats that show up (which, admittedly, include upgraded versions of some, like snobolds and stone troggs). At its core, though, if you armor up a trogg or have a bunch of gnoll fusiliers or kobold sappers, they’re all still inherently less threatening than a horde of orcs and goblins in the same kit.

The stupidity that’s commonly associated with all of these mongrel races is really the thing that deflates their menace.

Now, one way you could work around this problem is if you introduced a change that made all of these races suddenly much more dangerous. And I think I might have a way to do that.

Brann Bronzebeard theorized that many of the sentient races on Azeroth are descended from or highly associated with particular Ancients: the quillboar are associated with Agamaggan, the gnolls with a hyena Ancient, the kobolds with a rat Ancient. We know that some Ancients, again like Agamaggan, didn’t survive the War of the Ancients against the Burning Legion.

We also know from Mount Hyjal that an Ancient can be brought back into the living world under certain circumstances. (The furbolgs did it earlier than that when they brought back Ursoc using the power of Vordrassil in Northrend.)

So let’s go out on a limb here: let’s say that Brann is right, and that all of these Ancients were responsible for these races. But like Agamaggan, these races all lost their Ancient progenitor in the War of the Ancients, and their civilizations failed to thrive as a result. So the reason the quillboar, gnolls, kobolds and other mongrel races lack anything better than a low cunning is because they lack the guidance of their Ancients.

Now, let’s say that someone approaches Garrosh with the idea of taking the gnolls, the quillboar, and the kobolds and making a fighting force out of them. Garrosh dismisses the idea out of hand for the same reason I did (i.e. “they’re all morons”) but this someone suggests resurrecting those Ancients in order to empower the mongrel races and giving them a reason to unify.

This dude. With an army of angry boar-dudes.

This has got a variety of effects to it.

  • First, you’ve got a bunch of troops who have got a renewed reason to unify and fight, because now they’re fighting for their gods. This is what quillboar society has always been centered around (they just haven’t really had the right numbers, and there was that problem with the Scourge messing up their base), and is exactly what the gnolls would need to actually become dangerous.
  • Second, you’d have the Ancients themselves as potential weapons to throw on the battlefield; Agamaggan was a hero in the War of the Ancients, so if he was motivated to fight for Garrosh, he’d be a devastating opponent. The gnolls’ hyena Ancient is basically what happens if you cross Hogger’s menace with Goldrinn’s power, and if played right could be authentically scary. A rat Ancient doesn’t sound scary at face value, but then his minions tunnel through your walls and poison your water supply.
  • Third, you can still play with Garrosh taking Blackfuse’s technology and deploying it with the mongrel troops. Maybe an orc with a machine gun is more physically imposing than a kobold with a machine gun, but it’s still a machine gun and it’ll still kill you.

So instead of Garrosh and his time-travel shenanigans, you’d have the Mongrel Horde be an authentic threat, because not only have you got the legions of suddenly-superpowered mooks running around with new focus and direction, but you’ve got their gods as enemies too. Maybe it’s not an expansion-headlining threat, but it could certainly be on par with many of the other mutually-aggressive enemy factions in the game.


Since I’m trying to do this #Blaugust thing (which you can follow more closely here), expect something new tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll be able to throw out a new expansion concept or remix every day, but my hope is that I’ll be able to throw something every day. Keep it locked. ^_^

Zul’jin: An Overview, Part 2

Picking up from where we left off, Zul’jin joined Doomhammer’s Horde for glory and vengeance but came out of it short an arm, short an eye, and without the favor of the loa or the God-king. What’s next for the Warlord of the Amani?


When the Scourge stormed into Eversong and began to break through the elves’ defenses, he was tempted to offer his services, but refused. He never trusted the death knights Gul’dan had created, and he had no reason to think that these new death knights were any different. Besides, they paid no attention to any trolls. Why interfere?

By the end of it, when the army of the dead had left Quel’thalas in ruins, Zul’jin’s scouts told him that hardly any elves were left, save mewling children and frail women. The warriors were all dead. There was no one worth fighting.

On the one hand, Zul’jin was relieved, but on the other annoyed. He would never have his vengeance in a meaningful way, but his people had no need to destroy the elves any longer. He took little comfort in having outlasted his enemy, and sat in Zul’Aman to brood on his “victory.”

Years passed. The Scourge rose and fell without ever troubling the Amani. Well, they may have troubled Zul’Mashar, but Zul’jin didn’t care, and the shadow hunters who had abandoned him never asked for help anyway. Satellite settlements in what became called the Ghostlands eventually started reporting that the elves were beginning to build some strength again, bolstered by dead soldiers. The irony that the elves would be saved by the same kind of power that had destroyed them in the first place gave Zul’jin no end of amusement. But even with their new (old?) allies, Zul’jin felt the elves were no longer worth his attention. He let the months and years flit past, bored but complacent.

Malacrass, it turned out, had ingratiated himself to Zul’jin by always speaking simply. He never talked about the chief’s arm, or the war, or promises of glory, or anything in the future or the past. Malacrass was focused on the moment, as it were. So when Malacrass came, telling Zul’jin about something he’d meticulously tortured out of some elven whelp, Zul’jin found he was interested simply because it was so outlandish.

The elves had captured some kind of divine being from the shattered homeworld of the orcs, and had learned how to siphon its power to strengthen their newest crop of warriors, granting them abilities they never had before. At first Zul’jin was willing to ignore this, because the elves were just trying to survive, and now they might actually be worth fighting again. But then Zul’jin thought of divine beings, and thought of all the times that the loa had been invoked as though they had some great power over the lives of trolls, and how the loa had never done anything.

Now he saw a way to put the strength of the loa to work. Something tangible. Something he could SEE.

Maybe he had been too ambitious before. Bringing truth to the world? Maybe that was too much. Could he use this power Malacrass had discovered to crush the elves at last? Now that they might actually be a threat once again, he’d get some grim satisfaction from it. He heard the elves weren’t alone, that they had allies, but since when had that ever stopped the trolls from fighting them?

There were allies aside from the dead, though. They are orcs, his scouts told him, and Sen’jin’s whelp of a son from the Darkspear. Zul’jin spat at the mention of the orcs. Maybe he couldn’t put the blame for his losses entirely at their feet, but they’d proven to be less than reliable friends, and they deserved to die just as much as anyone else who’d stepped on the Amani before. And Sen’jin’s leavings? Jungle trolls were nothing more than blood-guzzling nihilists who’d sacrificed their best to an abomination, and anyone who could be cast out of what remained of the Gurubashi couldn’t be much of a threat.

Malacrass made all the preparations. On the northernmost ziggurat, they started the ceremony with Akil’zon, summoning the loa into the material world and then siphoning his essence into a mortal champion, who arose bristling with power. Zul’jin looked into the distance, and saw among the trees an Eye of Rastakhan looking balefully on as the Amani cheered the rise of their new weapon.

Zul’jin laughed again, for the first time in a long while.

“Tell de God-king, if ya like,” he said to the wind, wondering if the Eye could hear him, “tell ‘im ev’ryt’ing ya see. I don’ care. Ya can tell de whole world what ya be seein’, and it won’ change a t’ing.”

“No one gonna threaten da Amani. Come and try. We’ll put ya in da ground, where ya belong.”


Probably the biggest thing I wanted to accomplish with this was to juxtapose Zul’jin against Vol’jin. Where the former was revered by virtually all the forest troll tribes for being the baddest, meanest, most accomplished Forest Troll of all time, Vol’jin was mostly spat upon (by most trolls aside from the Zandalari) because the Darkspear got their asses kicked by murlocs. The Amani and the Darkspear had something in common when it came to allying with the Horde, but when Zul’jin did it the reason was destruction and vengeance, while the Darkspear did it for survival.

And where the Amani lacked any love or value for Doomhammer’s orcs aside from their value as cannon fodder in a bid for conquest, the Darkspear came to love Thrall’s Horde as brothers.

Maybe the biggest difference is that Zul’jin is never painted as being anything other than a warlord, while Vol’jin is a shadow hunter. Shadow hunters are as much shaman as they are warriors, when it comes to their role in the tribe; they guide the tribe, they protect it, sometimes by doing stuff the tribe itself might not really dig. Zul’jin doesn’t really seem to have anything going on aside from sheer strength and greater-than-average tenacity, but Vol’jin demonstrates not only his combat ability but his devotion to shepherding his people.

I think it’s actually fairly easy to draw a line comparing Zul’jin and Vol’jin with Garrosh Hellscream and Thrall. The former is only interested in leading through strength, while the latter is interested in guiding through a blend of battle competence and spiritual conviction. While this strengthens the rationale for why Vol’jin is a great warchief in potentia, it also reinforces why Garrosh was a bad idea: if the orcs (or in Zul’jin’s case, the trolls) focus only on strength as a tactic, with weapons escalation as their trump cards and domination as the only victory condition, they’re doomed to failure.

One of the other major elements I was aiming at, though, was this: Zul’jin and Vol’jin are both confronted by crippling physical injury, and experience a crisis of faith in the loa. While Vol’jin is able to converse directly with Bwonsamdi and is clever enough to figure out the death loa’s game, Zul’jin evidently doesn’t have that connection. The idea that he’d be willing to weaponize the loa shows a level of disregard that I think can only be born out of bitterness, and losing an arm and an eye permanently (when trolls are used to coming back from that kind of damage) would certainly engender that bitterness. So the idea that Zul’jin bulls forward, ignorant of the huge affront he’s committing against the loa because he’s just deaf to them is a good contrast against Vol’jin, who even in the eyes of the Zandalari is begrudgingly respected as someone who has an exceptional insight to the loa.

Therein lies what I feel is the critical difference between Vol’jin and Zul’jin: because Vol’jin is able to come to the realization that Bwonsamdi revoked his regeneration because he’d “forgotten what it meant to be a troll” he’s able to correct himself, become a troll again, and regain his regeneration. Zul’jin can’t come to that realization, not only because he’s not getting told that by the loa but also because he’s too proud to admit it, even after all the trauma he’s suffered.

This ties into a bigger discussion about the Zandalari, though: Vol’jin eventually gets more personal assistance from the loa than the Zandalari themselves, when the Zandalari’s entire role in troll society is being the center of culture, the high priests, the servitors of the God-king, who himself is supposed to be the MOST favored of the loa. One shadow hunter from a disgraced tribe that couldn’t survive without relying on aliens for aid shouldn’t have been such a challenge to them, and yet at the end of the Pandaria Campaign, the Zandalari are still adrift, their offensive crippled, with Vol’jin being a non-trivial part of the reason why.

So where does this leave Zul’jin? Dead and buried. Maybe he’s even vilified or just plain forgotten by whatever remains of the Amani, because he dared to abuse the loa and wasn’t clever enough to win even with those weapons. His downfall is a great contrast against the rise of Vol’jin’s star, not only as an exceptional shadow hunter, but as Warchief of the Horde. But if Zul’jin represents the stubbornness of the Amani, and the inability for the Amani to adapt to a world that hurtles inexorably towards the future, it serves as a prologue to the similar stagnation of the Zandalari; they dare not abuse the loa as the Amani and the Drakkari did, and they dare not offend them as the Gurubashi did, or ignore them as the Farraki did, but neither can they simply carry on assuming that they are still the favored servitors of the loa.

The Zandalari must adapt or die. Zul’jin failed to do that. Vol’jin has demonstrated that he is exceedingly adaptable. So the question is whether the Zandalari will figure out how to do the math.