Those of you who’ve read my fiction pieces on CBM (especially Homecoming) know that my main character has issues with the Scourge and the Forsaken. Cynwise’s issues with the Forsaken are less poltical and more personal than simply that they’re the bad guys of the Horde; Homecoming gives a personal reason to hate, but her disgust stems from many of the events she went through in Wrath; the Wrathgate, the Battle for Undercity, and fighting in ICC. She doesn’t see a lot of difference between the Scourge and the Forsaken, and she’s pretty much in support of any campaign to rid the world of either or both of them. (She and Greymane would get on fabulously together.)
That’s my main character, though – not me, Cyn. While much of my own attitues are reflected in her behavior, I’ve struggled to keep separation between player and character. I’m not a mercenary in real life (though I tend to be somewhat nonemotional in business transactions.) I switch between factions without compunction, though I am more familiar with playing Alliance, I don’t look at them as a morally superior choice. There’s the Blue team and the Red team, the game is designed so that they look to be about equivalent as faction choices, play what you like.
But in this case, I share Cynwise’s very real dislike for the Forsaken.
It all started with Cynderblock, the Ambassador, and over 10 years of playing Vampire: the Masquerade.
For a while, ‘block was a Tauren Warrior, a sweet-faced cowgirl who enjoyed bashing in the heads of the enemies of the Horde. I enjoyed being a Tauren, to be honest; there’s a certain moral simplicity to the race, simplicity coupled with depth. I found it easy to flow along with the stories of Mulgore and the Barrens, Eversong and Ghostlands.
But it was in Undercity that Cynderblock met Theresa, the mindslave.
That’s how she appears in game: <Gerald’s Mindslave>. I watched her go back and forth between Gerald and Lazarus, Gerald prattling on about how he was able to completely enslave this woman to his will, to break her spirit and leave her completely dominated. Torture, invasive surgery (while she was awake), alchemy – all in the name of utterly possessing someone.
I watched Theresa go through her eternal motions, and let the impact of what I was feeling wash over me. It’s not just that the Forsaken keep living, sentient creatures caged to experiment upon, or enslave them – it’s that they were willing to go further than mere slavery. They are willing to completely destroy someone’s free will, to leave them aware of what has been done, screaming silently in horror through the end of her days, but unable to change any part of it.
I watched Theresa pace back and forth. Mere feet from the throne room, captives wailed as the RAS continued their experiments. Back. Forth. Slavery, unending. Complete domination of free will.
It was then that my peaceful Tauren knew the rage of the Brujah. If she could have, she would have assaulted Gerald right there. She would have stopped at nothing to tear down the Forsaken, allies of the Horde or no.
The Brujah are one of the original 13 clans of Vampire: the Masquerade, a game I started playing in 1994. I played the LARP version – Mind’s Eye Theater – with over 100 people in a large, independent game which ran for more than 10 years (and is probably still running, in a smaller format.) And I played a Brujah.
The Brujah are a study in contradictions. They were originally the scholars, the intellectuals, the rational and logical thinkers – but due to their curse, as their bloodline thinned they turned into the brutes, the thugs, the anarchists. Their particular weakness is anger – overwhelming anger, barely contained at times by the most placid elder, often left unchecked by the young.
But no matter if they are old or young, the Brujah prize freedom above all else – sometimes to the point of absurdity. Intellectual freedom, freedom of action, freedom of expression – freedom is essential to understanding the Brujah ethos. The Brujah are often misguided, easily led astray, and deeply flawed – but their hearts burn with the idea of Freedom.
The Brujah are one of many clans in V:tM, where the central tenet of the game is monsters we are, lest monsters we become. You do bad things to prevent worse things from happening. You have to go out and feed, and you try to feed in such a way so that you don’t freak out and slaughter a shopping mall – and blow everyone’s cover. Vampire is a horror RPG, not fantasy, and the central struggle is always between your character’s humanity and the Beast, of resisting the base urges of your condition. The more powerful you become, the harder it is to hold on to your humanity, and later, even your sanity.
This is the backdrop with which I view the Forsaken; not just through the eyes of the Tauren, or citizens of Stormwind, but rather through the eyes of Vampire. The horror of undeath is magnified by retaining free will and memories of your life. You are you, but you are this rotting, undead … thing, cursed for eternity. How do you deal with it? How do you spend the long nights, stretching through the years? Is it a curse, or a blessing?
Because WoW is a fantasy RPG, not horror, the concept of the Beast Within isn’t part of the Forsaken, either through lore or through game mechanics. Generally speaking there’s not a spiral towards evil that all Forsaken characters have to fight against, if they choose not to.
In the absence of a mechanics-mandated ravening beast of the psyche, I have to assume that the Forsaken are normal people, in full possession of their faculties, confronted with a horrific situation and trying to make the best of it.
So far, this sounds like a great place to start role playing, to be honest.
But it also provides no excuses for the behavior of the Forsaken we witness. There is no moral excuse of Blood Frenzy to explain why you killed your family. There is no special justification for inhuman acts; just a terrifying void of the horror of what you’ve become, and of acting in fear of what might be done to you in return.
I’ve played other clans in Vampire – you should see me play a Ventrue, for reals – but I’ve played that same Brujah, in some form or another, since I started the game in 1994. I’ve had a lot of time to play through that struggle with the Beast, of what it means to be free but also a productive member of Vampire society, of staying strong against those who hate and fear you and not giving in.
And it was with the righteous fury of the Brujah that my Tauren wanted to tear the bricks of the Undercity apart.
Let’s talk about freedom and the Forsaken for a bit.
The Forsaken were born out of the dead humans of Lordaeron who were raised by they Lich King to serve in the armies of the Scourge. When Illidan assaulted Northrend, the Lich King’s control over his distant armies weakend, allowing many of them to regain their free will. The Lich King sent Dreadlords to take command of the newly-freed masses of undead, but they rallied under the leadership of Sylvanas and secured their liberty.
The newly-christened Forsaken remembered what they’d done in life, and what they’d done as mindless automatons of the Scourge. Every horror they’d inflicted was theirs to bear, and the realization drove many mad.
But those who survived, sane, were the first generation of Forsaken. As a race, they tend to be fanatically devoted to their Queen and an equally fanatic desire to kill the Lich King. They had their freedom, and they would fight for their right to exist – no matter who tried to kill them, no matter what methods they had to employ, they would remain free.
Cynderblock looked at the slave pens of the Undercity, the experimental cages, the mindslave Theresa – and she saw dead humans who saw no problems with inflicting the exact same cruelties upon others as were inflicted upon them. In the name of their right to exist as free, sentient beings, they would take away that right from other living creatures. And not just take it away by killing them – they would take it away by enslaving them.
There is a difference between killing someone and enslaving them. There is a difference between degrading someone and treating them with respect. There is a difference between fighting to protect yourself and your ideals and fighting to exterminate all life.
On every single one of these moral boundries, the first generation Forsaken saw no difference. The hate, the rage, the fear of being exterminated – all of the past atrocities commited to the people of Lordaeron by the Scourge and Scarlet Crusade would be used to justify the unjustifable. Genocide was acceptable because their neighbors wanted to kill them – better develop a Plauge to be used against their allies. Physical enslavement of the living is acceptable because it furthered their genocidal research. The living are subhumans, to be experimented upon without hesitation.
Back and forth walks Theresa, a living condemnation of every value of freedom the Forsaken could hope to espouse.
Questing through the Forsaken areas in Wrath, it struck me that they wanted to kill the living not to be left alone, but at best for breathing room – and at worse simply for the joy of homicide.
I remember watching the Wrathgate for the first time, in shock at Putress.
Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven? Behold, now, the terrible vengeance of the Forsaken! Death to the Scourge! And death to the living!
Here, the aims of the Forsaken are made plain. Sylvanas would have likely been more patient, focusing on the Lich King, knowing that the Horde made useful allies against the Alliance – but while her timing was more paitent, her goals were the same as Putress’s.
Use the New Plague against the living.
Wipe them all out.
Freedom? The Forsaken aren’t fighting for freedom. They’re fighting for revenge, and they don’t care if you had anything at all to do with their current position. They will kill every living being they can, out of hate and anger. Responsibility doesn’t matter. The innocent will eventually be guilty, so they should die.
That was Wrath, though.
Maybe Cataclysm changed things up a bit.
The genesis of this post had nothing to do with some sort of deep-seated grudge against the Forsaken. It had to do with me rolling an alt on Drenden to check out the guild of some Twitter friends of mine. I don’t have a lot of Horde alts, so I figured I’d roll one, maybe move some heirlooms over if it looked like a good place to level.
I was staring at the screen, trying to decide what to roll, when I thought to myself – I should do something I don’t normally do, something new, something I have had trouble with in the past.
So I rolled a blood elf paladin.
At the time, I thought this was a good idea – I’ve struggled with Pallies for ages – but then I realized that I’ve done this before, and the last thing I need is another blood elf paly.
So I deleted her, thought some more, then realized I could roll a Forsaken.
See, the guild I was checking out is also the home of Rades, of Orcish Army Knife fame, who is a known advocate of the Forsaken. He finds them interesting, and challenging, he enjoys their lore, and finds depth in their stories. Surely, with someone like Rades around, I’d have a good chance of at least tolerating the Forsaken? Maybe finding out what it is that makes them SO popular (and make no mistake, they are very popular.)
So I rolled Cynwise, a Forsaken Warlock, shuddered at my shilouette on the screen, and started questing.
It was in Trisifal that I met two people who really helped me understand the Forsaken: Lilian Voss, and the Dark Queen.
The second generation of Forsaken are being raised by the Lich King’s Val’kyr under Sylvanas’ command. I’m going to point you over to Rades’ site for more on this, where he’s covered this in amazing amounts of detail, including a great conspiracy post which rings far too true. But, suffice to say, Sylvanas has now taken on the role of the Lich King, bringing people back from the dead to serve in her army. Like the original Forsaken, they have free will and their full mental abilities (with some exceptions), but unlike the first generation, they’ve not been slaves to the Scourge. The horror of that experience is gone, replaced by… what, exactly?
One of your first quests as a Forsaken ask you to talk to three recently awakened folks: Valdred Moray, Marshall Redpath, and Lilian Voss. Valdred reluctantly joins the Forsaken, Redpath leads an assault against them, and Lilian Voss runs away in horror.
Those are pretty much the three responses you can have – if you don’t go mad or suicide right away – flee, fight, or accept your fate.
As a PC, I found it interesting that you’d already accepted that you were going to join the Dark Lady. Listen to your conversation with Lilian – you’re calm and reasonable about being undead, while she’s freaking out. Who were you in your previous life that you can be so calm about your current situation?
You’re already one of the Forsaken, that’s who you are.
Every few quests, I listened to someone tell me about the Dark Lady in reverential tones. But who is she to me, the newly-risen dead? She’s some lady, some figure. If I died before the fall of Lordaeron, I wouldn’t know Sylvanas Windrunner from a hole in my head. If I died afterwards, I’d probably not trust her one bit – so why should I revere her?
The first generation Forsaken – I get the reverence. If nothing else, you can sit there and say, I was there, she fought for me.
But now, she’s the one who has done this to me – ripped me back from whatever resting place I had, into a shambling, decaying body. All to serve her.
The very lady who led the Forsaken out of bondage has no compunctions about putting others into it, should it suit her needs.
And her needs right now are a really, really big army.
The statue of the Dark Lady in Brill really made it all click for me.
The Forsaken is a cult of personality directed towards Sylvanas Windrunner.
I look at that big statue, and think about Max Weber’s writings on charismatic authority. About how the power of the state derives from the image of a single indivudal, giving a totalitarian regime legitimacy and focus, of assigning all that goes right to the heroic leader, and all that goes wrong to the enemies of the state.
Forsaken really love their Dark Queen. I don’t think I’m talking just about the characters, either – one characteristic about players who really like the Forsaken like the character of Sylvanas. And there’s a lot to like, in all seriousness! She’s ruthless, strong, interesting, fighting for her people’s place in the world. I think it bothers some people that she’s basically turned into the Lich King in Cataclysm with her current methods, but in other cases that’s turned into a positive, not a negative.
I looked up at that statue, and I realized what I’d seen over the last 10 levels; a systematic campaign to get me to adopt the Dark Queen as my savior and leader. Are you worthy to serve the Dark Lady? Deathguard Shimmer asks me. Dark Lady watch over you. Will you serve the Dark Lady, Lilian? Will you serve the Dark Lady, Cynwise?
The RP potential of a cult of personality is really, really big. The storylines it opens up, the twisted motivations it introduces in people – it’s good, meaty stuff.
But when I sit down to make a character, I’m wondering why I should go along with this. The notes ring hollow and false. I find myself more in agreement with Lilian Voss – who are you people, why are you doing this, the Dark Who?, OMG GROSS WHAT IS THAT THING – than I do with Valdred, who accepts that hey, he’s got new hands, so it can’t be all that bad.
Quest after quest, I’m told to do something that I might not have done as a human, but that the Dark Lady’s will is that I do these things. I’m a monster now, so it’s okay. If I want favor with the Dark Lady, I will do these things.
The combination of being raised by Sylvanas to serve her, and then seeing the indoctination techniques used by the Forsaken to encourage her worship, is one of the biggest problems I have with the Forsaken post-Cataclysm.
The alienization of humans by the Forsaken is really interesting to observe. Watch the languge that the Forsaken use to describe humans, and you’ll see phrases in use to (for lack of a better term) dehumanize them. “Humans are notoriously fickle creatures,” says Deathguard Shimmer on a quest where he tells you to go kill 10 farmers – because someone might come along and recruit them.
Humans are not aliens to Forsaken. No matter how the Forsaken spin it, they are mentally and spiritually still humans (or elves). That’s the horror of their situation.
This mental disassociation with their past is really interesting, and certainly at the root of their capacity for cruelty to the living. In Vampire, mortals were known as kine, a flock of animals to be fed upon. The effect of the food chain dehumanized mortal humanity in that game, moreso than the super powers granted to the Kindred.
Forsaken have none of those advantages, nor do they assume a different place in the food chain because of their condition. They are not zombies, driven to eat braaaaains. They don’t have to eat people or drink their blood to stay moving. (What do they eat, anyways?)
No, the dehumanization of their past selves is both a coping mechanism, and a societal norm to justify the hypocricy of the Forsaken movement. We must kill everyone around us, because they might turn against us. Someday.
We must develop a plague not only to kill the Scarlet Crusade, but to kill every single living thing.
Only then will we be safe.
Dark Lady, watch over me.
The near-religious reverence with which the Forsaken treat their Queen is astonishing. For people who are supposedly less emotional than their living counterparts, the Forsaken display a great deal of emotion towards her – and towards the Scourge.
The Forsaken are a bundle of contradictions; the living dead, the religious scientists, the freed slave who chooses to return to slavery.
I know why I don’t like them as a player, now. I don’t like someone who is freed from bondage turning around and enslaving people. I don’t like someone who is hurt lashing out and inflicting the same pain on other people. Saying “X did Y to me, so I am justified in doing Y to Z” makes no sense, but it is the core of the Forsaken movement.
I look at the Forsaken, and go: you were free, and you choose to enslave others. You were free, and yet you choose to return to bondage.
Why don’t I like the Forsaken? Because they turn freedom into a mockery of itself.
They may be the most interesting race in the game right now – I think they definitely have more going on than most of the Alliance races – and that if you find the dichotomy of a Forsaken interesting, then you can have a great time playing one.
But they offend this old Brujah.
After writing all this – and staying true to the CFN ethos, there will be no editing, no going back, no wondering if I should post this or not, damn the torpedoes – I am left in a quandry.
I think the best leveling in the Forsaken zones is yet to come. I have actually enjoyed my time leveling in Trisifal, and fully intend to hit Silverpine and Hillsbrad on the Forsaken Cynwise, so I can see it firsthand, with my warlock’s hunched shoulders and creepy gait. (Too many PvP instincts to suppress.)
None of this, none at all, should be a condemnation of your desire to play a Forsaken. I honestly think they’re an interesting race, and in choosing to play them I don’t somehow think you’re an evil person, or into bondage, or anything like that. I play a warlock, but I sincerely hope people don’t think that’s a reflection on me as a person – same thing holds for the Forsaken.
But I don’t like the Forsaken. I really don’t. I don’t have sympathy for them as a faction, and I have little sympathy for the followers of the Dark Lady. They are choosing their own dark path, and dragging the Horde down with them.
Time will tell if Silverpine and Hillsbrad’s story lines change my opinion on the Forsaken.