I didn’t know if I’d come back to it after On The Forsaken. I know that I’d said:
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.
But the reality turned out that I wasn’t ready to hit Silverpine yet. I’d finally given voice to some strong opinions on the Forsaken, finally articulated what it was that bothered me about them so much – so I needed to step back and let the project lie fallow for a bit.
I couldn’t tell you why I decided to pick my Forsaken Warlock up again about a month ago, but I did, and sent her off to finish the last few quests in Trisifal before heading off to Silverpine Forest, to see what the Dark Lady had in store for me.
Obviously, I will be talking about the events in Silverpine Forest a lot in this post. This is a long post – a really long post, with a lot of different topics – which will only make sense if you’ve played the zone. Spoilers will abound. I also wrote it under CFN rules, so when I say long, I mean long.
Consider that several warnings, all rolled in to one.
LILIAN VOSS AND THE DAUGHTERS OF LORDAERON
Lilian Voss is the key figure in the final quests of Trisifal Glades, accompanying you to steal your kills and present what is perhaps the most interesting, dramatic, traumatic storyline in Azeroth. She is the bridge between the worlds of freedom and slavery; the convergence of indoctrination, willing subordination to authority, loyalty to causes greater than our ourselves, and our struggles to find places for ourselves in this world.
Not to put any more pressure on Ms. Voss, of course.
This is a mighty burden to put on a single character in lore, but it was only after Silverpine that I realized how absolutely critical Lilian is to the heart and soul of the Forsaken story. Everything that comes after depends on her, because she frames the Forsaken dilemma in stark purple flames.
Are you free, or are you a slave?
The questline is relatively simple: High Executor Derrington sends you off to find Lilian Voss, who you’d met when you awakened. You find her, this strange young woman possessed of tremendous power, in the middle of a camp of slaughtered Scarlet Crusaders. You accompany her to visit her father, her father who had ordered her slain as soon as she returned to him.
Lilian’s story was discussed by Rades in his speculative post Why I would love to see Heroic Scarlet Monastery and Anne Stickney in The Unfortunate Tale of Lilian Voss, both of which cover the details of how she came to be here, in Trisifal, and why you help her kill her father. She doesn’t really need much help, but it’s through the player’s agency which we see these events unfold, and her revenge illustrates the choice Forsaken characters face.
What happens when you resolve your debts from your lifetime? What happens when your life’s purpose is fulfilled, and endless days stretch before you filled with horror and despair?
The question of purpose in the face of death and horror occupies the Forsaken; the strength of the Banshee Queen’s cause is that she gives the Forsaken that purpose. Choose to serve her, and find purpose in that servitude. The cause of the Forsaken people – of Sylvanas – becomes your own.
Catulla’s wonderful short story about Lilian Voss, Daughter of Lordaeron, captures this question perfectly:
Satiated at last of her need for vengeance, Lilian felt herself gripped by terror as it was replaced by a void demanding answers she could not give. Who am I now, without someone to kill?
Who is Sylvanas, now that Arthas is dead? Who am I, if I reject the Dark Lady? Alone, bereft, hunted by friend and foe alike, no one to turn to, no one to trust?
I spoke before about how the story of Trisifal Glades was getting you to accept the cult of personality around Sylvanas; I remember that I went along with the indoctrination campaign with a raised eyebrow and assurances to myself that I would betray the Forsaken at my first opportunity.
But it’s here, in the final quests of Trisifal, where you’re presented with what will actually happen to you if you choose to not go along with the Banshee Queen. Alone at best, but most likely hunted by those who want to use your power.
Keep Lilian in mind. We’re going to talk about her again.
KNEEL BEFORE YOUR QUEEN, CYNWISE
Holy shit, Silverpine Forest is epic. Epic. You report for duty at the Forsaken High Command and Lady Sylvanas is there. But I was impressed at how quickly the story moved you from the Dark Queen as a object of veneration for a cult of personality to her as a presence in your story.
I was stunned when I delivered a report to Sylvanas and interacted with her for the first time. She greeted me with the following:
Kneel before your queen, Cynwise.
… and at that moment, I was struck by role-playing paralysis.
Do you kneel, or not? That is the only question, and the story pulls no punches here. This might be a throwaway greeting of a quest giver, but if you care about the story to this point it’s huge. Before 5 quests have passed, Silverpine delivers the crisis point that Trisifal has primed you – are you ready to become one of the Forsaken, or not?
The phrase ‘kneel before your queen’ has so many wonderful layers. With the arrogant poise of royalty, she’s already assumed that you are one of her subjects and that you will render her obeisance without question. This isn’t the paternal Cairne or relatively genial Lor’themar here, nor the military Warchief. This is the Dark Queen, and when you approach her you fucking get on one knee and look down at the ground before you speak.
I’m not going to lie; I stopped there for a few minutes, just looking at that screen, trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I was really glad Rades was in the game at that time, because I needed to joke about it with someone who would understand that I couldn’t just accept this quest. I either had to kneel, or not kneel.
When you are awakened by the Val’kyr in Deathknell, you are shown three different paths of coping with becoming Forsaken; fight, flight, or acceptance. If you accept – reluctantly or not – then you’re going to be considered one of the subjects of the Dark Queen. Up to this point, you hadn’t taken an oath, you hadn’t had to demonstrate your loyalty to her person, not just the Forsaken kingdom.
- If you don’t kneel, you take the blue pill and the zone ends. You walk away from Silverpine Forest and believe whatever you want to believe.
- If you kneel, you take the red pill, and see how far down the rabbit hole swearing allegiance to Sylvanas goes.
This is one of the big limitations of the linear storytelling model introduced with Cataclysm – you don’t really have a choice if you want the story to continue. Normally that’s a criticism, but here I think it’s actually pretty realistic.
See, it’s not just the kneeling that does it; the kneeling is symbolic for what’s going to happen throughout the entire zone. This is a zone which takes you from a new recruit to Sylvanas’s most trusted soldier, where you become an extension of her will. You will become her confidant, you will heroically advance the Forsaken cause by tackling missions no one else can complete. Through your actions you will deliver a significant setback to the Alliance, expand the borders of Lordaeron, and smash the Gilnean resistance. You will watch the Dark Lady die and come back to life through your actions.
If you try to go through Silverpine uncommitted – an angry former citizen of Lordaeron who doesn’t want to see it twisted into a mockery of what it was, an ex-Scarlet Crusader, an ex-Alliance warlock brought back to life who’s trying to be a double agent – then you won’t complete the zone. At some point you’re going to say, okay, wait, stop, now would be the perfect time for me to be a turncoat. At some point you’ll say, this is crazy, why am I doing this for an upstart Ranger General from Silvermoon?
At some point you realize that if you complete Silverpine Forest in character, you do so as one of the Banshee Queen’s most trusted servants, and that you have chosen to serve her.
For me, as a player, that moment came with that fateful command, kneel before your queen, Cynwise. It will probably be different for you, but at some point it will hit you – either you go forward or you don’t.
Are you going to make Lilian Voss’s choice, or are you going to make your own choice to serve the Banshee Queen?
Perhaps the highest praise I can lavish upon a zone is that even simple dialog boxes stopped me in my tracks to consider what had been asked of me.
PROPERTY DISPUTE: REAL ESTATE AND THE UNDEAD
I loved that so many of these quests get you right into the dispute over Lordaeron’s future. You ride with Sylvanas to The Sepulcher, and along the way she tells you why she’s doing what she’s doing.
The people who called this land their home in life, do so in death as well.
This cuts right to the root of the matter, doesn’t it? The citizens of Lordaeron are still there after the plague wiped them out, what, 8 years prior? They are still there. I’m going to set aside my arguments based on their inhuman behavior for a bit and just focus on Sylvanas’s defense of her actions.
- The citizens of Lordaeron are still here, are still sentient, and still call it home.
- They were robbed of their life and sentience by the hereditary nobility of Lordaeron, but through Sylvanas’s actions, regained their free will.
- The Alliance seeks to deprive the rightful inhabitants of Lordaeron of their land and take it for their own.
Set aside Silvanas, Princess Calia Menethil, and the kingship of Lordaeron for a moment, and just consider the claim Sylvanas presents. The people of Lordaeron are still there. The sovereign nation of Lordaeron still exists, though the government has been radically altered. Not only has it been altered through what amounts to a populist uprising, but also… uh… everyone is dead. Still functioning! But dead.
So many questions come up from this simple statement! Can dead people own property, legally? Can they enter into contracts if they’re dead? Can they form sovereign bodies, capable of self-government, if the corpus is literally corpses?
Obviously, the Forsaken are doing all of these things. There’s no question that while it might not look much like a human kingdom anymore, Lordaeron is – once again – a functioning kingdom. But does the law recognize that they should be able to do so? That they have a legal right to do so? How do Azerothian laws deal with undeath?
This place is a scholar of jurisprudence’s dream.
You could argue that when they died of the Scourge Plague, the people of Lordaeron forfeited all rights as citizens of that nation. Their property reverted to their estates, which would then go to their next-of-kin or other beneficiaries, which in turn (since everyone was dying) eventually probably reverted back to the original property holder – the King. It doesn’t matter that those people came back from the dead. It doesn’t matter if they come back as resurrected human beings or raised undead monstrosities – their property rights already passed to someone else.
I wager that most people would at least say, okay, that makes sense for a legal system where life after death is an uncommon (but possible!) thing. It’s interesting to consider what it implies for resurrection versus transformation into a horrific undead creature – one suspects that people would be more sympathetic to someone who came back whole and relatively attractive to human sensibilities, as opposed to an animated cadaver.
But let’s face it – Lordaeron fell 7 years ago in the timeline of World of Warcraft. The legal systems haven’t had time to catch up to an entire kingdom (and parts of neighboring kingdoms) getting wiped out by a plague of undeath. And Sylvanas is appealing not to Justinianic codes of law, here – she’s appealing to common law concepts of inhabitation and dwelling. Sedrick Calston may have died, but he’s still working hard on his own land to make it better.
You work hard your whole life, and what do you get? Killed by a plague. Then you work even harder in undeath, and what do you get? Money, yes, and a small estate with a few pesky hangers-on, but happiness? Not so much.
Common sense tells us that Sylvanas is right. Most Forsaken retain their memories of their lives. They have similar, if somewhat traumatized, personalities.
This is a land populated by its deceased inhabitants. They are still a nation, and Sylvanas is right, in some ways – the Alliance refuses to accept their claims, while the Horde accepted them as a sovereign nation.
They are not the old kingdom of Lordaeron. Riding through Silverpine Forest, listening to Sylvanas, this is a kingdom whose monarchy apparently betrayed them in the most horrific way possible, and then whose former allies turned against them when they regained their free will. The old feudal system was swept away when the reigning monarch abandoned them to become the Lich King; Sylvanas stepped into the position with massive popular support. It was a coup of the people of Lordaeron against the absent reigning monarchy.
(As players, we might know that Arthas was fighting the Lich King, but that absolutely cannot be common knowledge.)
This is the rationale of the Forsaken, what they are fighting for. This is our land. It was our land before the Scourge took it from us. It is our home.
It’s a good reason to fight for it.
EXPANSIONISM, MISOGYNY, AND CAUSES FOR WAR
The simple reasons Sylvanas gives for her defense of the Forsaken are compelling if you’ve already taken the red pill. If you knelt before her at the High Command, you’ll have no problem accepting that yes, this is good and right. If you’re playing a former citizen of Lordaeron, you better believe she’s right.
But that’s really only one side of the story. Overly simplified:
- Alliance: Crap, Scourge in Lordaeron! Kill them all!
- Forsaken: We’re free now! Don’t shoot!
- Alliance: Scourge trick! Kill them all!
- Forsaken: Well, if you’re going to be that way, we’re gong to fight back! And capture your people to torture them and experiment upon them to develop superweapons to wipe you out!
- Alliance: So, we think might have made a mistake back there, but that whole “wipe you out” thing? We don’t want you as neighbors.
- Horde: Hey. We’ll take you.
- Forsaken: Deal. Our neighbors are crazy and want to wipe us out. You probably want to wipe us out too, but you can live for now.
- Alliance: You joined the Horde? Are you fucking crazy???
- Forsaken: We did what had to be done to survive.
- Alliance: You’re totally batshit crazy and evil, and deserve to be put down like a rabid dog. And you just joined the Horde.
- Forsaken: Bring it, breathers.
I’ve already talked about my take on the moral stance of the Forsaken, but let me set that aside for a moment and talk practical politics.
What would it take for the Alliance and the Forsaken to come to peaceful terms?
Assume that that’s actually a goal worth working towards, because lord knows it’s not what you do in Silverpine. How would you do it? The Alliance would have to get over the fact that the citizens of Lordaeron are dead but still moving around, that they committed a bunch of atrocities against Alliance civilians, and that they joined the Horde. The Forsaken would have to get over the Alliance attacks against them when they were newly freed, and the subsequent events (like the Battle of Undercity). The RAS would probably need to be disbanded, or their experiments repudiated. The Alliance would have to concede a lot of strategic land to the Forsaken, and would probably insist that they leave the Horde.
That’s an awful lot of forgiveness expected from two factions which aren’t known for it.
I thought about those peace conditions a lot while working through the quests which send you into the Ruins of Gilneas, where you join the front lines of the Forsaken advance. The execution here is great. It feels like a real battle, like a battle that matters. The war engines, the Worgen commandos sneaking up, the lines of Forsaken catapults and gunners – it’s a great feeling to quest through. If you’ve taken the red pill, it’s easy to get swept up in it – FOR SYLVANAS! I really enjoyed it.
But I’d log off and find myself wondering things like, why are the Forsaken attacking Gilneas? Strategically, what does it gain them? Land? They don’t really need land, do they? A port? It’s not like Lordaeron is landlocked, and their expansion to Southshore gives them more direct southerly access.
Gilneas is a neutral country. It’s important to remember that, no matter what, they don’t actually present a clear and present threat to the Forsaken. Stormwind is the threat. Ironforge is the threat. The Alliance is the threat. Gilneas left the Alliance and is hiding behind their walls, with no indication they’re coming out.
So why am I here, amidst the siege, killing worgen, invading another country?
From Dave Kosak’s Edge of Night:
Master Apothecary Lydon ran his bony fingers through his tangle of hair. The roar from orc, tauren, and Forsaken alike overwhelmed the thunder. How does he do it? Lydon wondered. My Forsaken brothers cheer for their own destruction!
Lydon desperately tried to form the words, some last plea for sanity against Garrosh’s plan. He tried to imagine what the Dark Lady would say, how she would tamp down his bloodlust. His jaw opened, but no words came out.
Garrosh spurred his war wolf to the side of the army, clearing the way for a charge. “Heroes of the Forsaken! You are the point of my spear. Lift your arms; lift your voices; and do not stop until you lift the Horde banner upon those walls.” Gorehowl dropped down. “Chaaaarge!”
I found myself, a trusted soldier of the Dark Queen, kneeling in the cold mud of Gilneas for reasons I didn’t quite understand, but knowing that somehow, somewhere, Garrosh was responsible for it.
That was actually a pretty cool moment. It felt like a real war story at that point, going to war for reasons that didn’t make sense but damnit, I had orders and I was going to follow those orders.
Outside of the game, I know that the Forsaken invade Gilneas to provide an enemy in the Worgen’s starting zone. It would have been interesting to perhaps leave it as a Human vs. Worgen zone to ratchet up the internal Gilnean politics – but having the Forsaken invade adds a Horde element to the Gilnean problem, and forces the PCs to abandon the zone.
But inside the game, I’m trying to wrap my head around why Sylvanas is spending her troops, her people, this way. And of course it comes back to Edge of Night, Wolfheart, and Garrosh’s philosophy of expansionism at all costs. Ashenvale! Hillsbarad! Darkshore! Gilneas!
Sylvanas has a resource problem; no new Forsaken means that her nation will eventually wither away. With no reproduction, the Forsaken are doomed. And once vengeance is served against the Lich King, the Forsaken lose their need for revenge at all costs. So why go to war, when every soldier is irreplaceable and your main enemy is dead?
Obviously, some of this is due to the fallout from the Battle of Undercity. Garrosh didn’t fight in that battle, but the Horde did, and Sylvanas owes the Horde for it. This is an interesting political dynamic, and one that I don’t really claim to understand – how beholden are the individual member states of the Horde to the larger organization? Is this a personal debt that Sylvanas owes? (If so, wouldn’t that be to Thrall, not Garrosh?) Is this a personal grudge against the Greymane family, or did Gilneas do something to Lordaeron? (Doesn’t seem to be any interactions with Gilneas except for their withdrawing from the Alliance, and hey, the Forsaken did that too.) Strategic reasons, maybe? Nope.
Maybe Garrosh wants to punish Sylvanas and the Forsaken. Not for anything they’ve done, but because he’s afraid of them. Even before she gets the Val’kyr, Sylvanas is scary. He saw her in Northcrown (presumably) when she was hell-bent on killing Arthas. Her troops are loyal to her in a way which Garrosh can only hope to achieve.
And then there’s the scene, the scene, early on in Silverpine, when the Warchief Cometh:
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner: With the aid of the val’kyr, we are now able to take the corpses of the fallen and create new Forsaken.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner: Agatha, show the Warchief!
*The Val’kyr Agatha proceeds to resurrect fallen corpses as Undead*
High Warlord Cromush: ABBERATION!
Garrosh Hellscream: What you have done here, Sylvanas….it goes against the laws of nature. Disgusting is the only word I have to describe it.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner: Warchief, without these new Forsaken my people would die out…Out hold upon Gilneas and northern Lordaeron would crumble.
Garrosh Hellscream: Have you given any thought to what this means, Sylvanas?
Garrosh Hellscream: What difference is there between you and the Lich King now?
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner: Isn’t it obvious, Warchief? I serve the Horde.
Garrosh Hellscream: Watch your clever mouth, bitch.
Garrosh Hellscream: Cromush, you stay behind and make sure the Banshee Queen is well “guarded.” I will be expecting a full report when next we meet.
High Warlord Cromush: As you command, Warchief!
Garrosh Hellscream: Remember, Sylvanas, eventually we all have to stand before our maker and face judgment. Your day may come sooner than others…
It all comes together here.
We see Sylvanas solving the problem of her people’s survival through the only means possible. While it might not have been the val’kyr specifically, the Forsaken always needed to either find new ways to raise the dead or die out as a people.
We see Garrosh taken aback, as he should be. This is the kinda stuff that no one is really prepared to deal with. She just raised an entire field of soldiers – in game it was like 20 corpses? – and turned them into units ready for training. That is both militarily a huge advantage – you now have the power of the Lich King on your side – and very, very frightening that he doesn’t control it.
And then there’s the comment that hit me, like most people:
Watch your clever mouth, bitch.
… which is astonishing. I know the game is rated T for Teen and all that, but I really wasn’t expecting it. It really bothered me at the time, but looking back at it from the perspective of the broken Greymane Wall, it makes a little more sense why Blizzard kept it in the game.
My first reaction was that this had entirely the wrong tone, that the comment seemed wildly out of place. Bitch is not a term we hear often in Warcraft. It doesn’t fit. NPCs don’t use modern swears or insults, as befits the setting, so seeing something that’s so culturally grounded in the here and now was jarring. Genre shows like Battlestar Galactica or Firefly go to great lengths to establish a common tone with vocabulary and cursing; breaking the rules of the created world snaps you out of the story. I found Garrosh calling Sylvanas a bitch had a similar effect on me; it was so out of tone with the rest of the game I suddenly snapped out of the dialog and went, woah, what was Blizzard thinking!
If I start thinking about the company who created a game while playing that game, something has gone wrong.
But when I got back into the story, I realized that this is an example of misogyny that fits the character of Garrosh, for good or for ill. While I don’t think it fit the game, nor do I think it was appropriate to use for the gaming audience, I think it conveys Garrosh’s fear of Sylvanas, his realization that he is dealing with someone that he can neither control nor trust, and who is completely unlike him.
He lashes out at her feminine nature because he fears it, and seeks to undermine it and her. Don’t lose sight of the entire insult – watch your clever mouth, bitch – phrased with the threat of violence inherent in nearly all misogyny. He threatens her for her words, not her actions, because her actions frankly terrify him. He goes after her for her insubordinate tone and mocking half answer, because it was something he could let his anger deal with. He didn’t know how to deal with her admission that she essentially is the Lich King, only on his side.
It’s interesting how this exchange changes your perception of both characters. Garrosh looks like a brute, even if his general objection – WTF you’re the Lich King now? – is completely reasonable. Sylvanas inspires us, as players, to at least be sympathetic to her in relation to the rest of the Horde. Scenes like this help establish a Forsaken’s basic set of loyalties, which is Dark Queen > Forsaken > Self Horde > Everyone else. If you’ve bought into the Cult of the Banshee Queen, you’re going to want to leap to her defense after this insult.
But gender and physical violence mean nothing to Sylvanas. Not anymore. From Edge of Night again:
At that moment, nobody dared look Sylvanas Windrunner in the eye. Nobody but Garrosh Hellscream.
What he saw was a great black void, an infinite darkness. There was fear in those eyes, but also something else. Something that terrified even the great warchief. His wolf began to edge away instinctively.
“Garrosh Hellscream. I’ve walked the realms of the dead. I have seen the infinite dark. Nothing you say. Or do. Could possibly frighten me.”
The army of undead that surrounded and protected the Dark Lady was still hers, body and soul. But they were no longer arrows in her quiver, not anymore. They were a bulwark against the infinite. They were to be used wisely, and no fool orc would squander them while she still walked the world of the living.
Sylvanas invades Gilneas not because she is afraid of Garrosh, or because he called her a bitch. She invaded it because she was working to secure her people’s place within the Horde. She did it to give her people a task, a purpose now that the Lich King was dead. And she did it to expand her empire on this continent, bringing the Gilnean dead into her armies.
Did she do it because Garrosh ordered her to? It appears so, if you’ve done the Worgen starting area:
General Warhowl says: It appears you are losing control of Gilneas, Sylvanas. Garrosh fears he’s going to have carry out this invasion himself.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: You can assure Garrosh that this is a minor setback. Our victory in Gilneas will be absolute.
But from this side of the fence it looks like there’s more going on than simple Horde expansionism, the kind attributed to Garrosh’s invasion of Ashenvale (both in-game and in Wolfheart.)
Garrosh is afraid of Sylvanas. She is everything he is not as a leader. He may be a war hero, but he remains ragingly insecure about his right to be Warchief. The Dark Lady has fanatical support of her people – her people, it should be noted, who are not overly burdened with scruples or the moral codes of the living. She has powers at her disposal which are, frankly, terrifying to contemplate. Even without the Val’kyr, the Forsaken were able to soundly defeat a combined force of Horde, Alliance, and Scourge in Northrend using their superior biochemical technology.
Sylvanas is the most powerful faction leader in the Horde. She served as an interesting counterpoint to Thrall, who in retrospect managed her through diplomacy, tact, and even genuine support. Thrall could have abandoned her to the Alliance after the Battle of Undercity – but he did not.
Garrosh is no Thrall. The position of Warchief was given to him, not taken from him. Had Saurfang the Younger survived in Northrend, Garrosh would still be relegated to the frothing sidekick of the leader – but he did not. Cairne is gone. Gallywix and Lor’themar are not real threats.
But Sylvanas… Sylvanas is a threat. Not to his leadership of the Orcs, but definitely to his leadership of the Horde. And she scares the living daylights out of him. She’s a tactical genius, she broke free of the Lich King’s will, she possesses chemical superweapons, and now she has power over death itself. She claims equality with the Lich King.
And, because this entity, this powerful being of will and hate, happens to be in the body of a half-dressed sin’dorei female, Garrosh lashes out and calls her a bitch.
Smooth move, dumbass.
It’s easy enough to say, listen, the Forsaken had to invade Gilneas because the Worgen became a playable race in Cataclysm, and someone had to drive them into the arms of the Alliance. It’s more difficult to construct a plausible reason why the Forsaken would invade Gilneas for their own benefit, especially when Sylvanas was trying to solve ‘the problem of the Forsaken,’ the reproductive problem of undeath. Garrosh as a bat-shit crazy expansionist provides a convenient surface reason, but I think the more compelling reasons are deeper, darker, more sinister.
Garrosh is terrified of Sylvanas, so he orders her to undertake an expansionist war against a neutral country to weaken the Forsaken forces. He tries to take control of the several times with the intent of using the Forsaken as shock troops. It is his actions which, eventually, bring the Worgen into the Alliance, which in turn lead to his defeat in Ashenvale.
Sylvanas still desires the protection of the Horde, but with the addition of the Val’kyr to her forces she now has the ability to expand her forces past those created by the Lich King. Expansion serves her purpose by bringing more potential nations into her armies and following. Invasions which use up Horde resources allow her to raise more dead while weakening those who threaten her.
War serves the Dark Lady’s purposes now.
THE CHOICE OF FENRIS
Why was I fighting in the mud of Gilneas?
To expand Lordaeron. To expand the ranks of the Forsaken. To support my Queen. Because from the moment I entered Silverpine Forest, I had been under attack from the Worgen, so they must be the enemy.
From the moment that I knelt before the Dark Lady and jettisoned my old character concept, I went along with the Silverpine narrative wholeheartedly. I was a defender of Lordaeron, pushing back the invading werewolves. The story flows smoothly from assault to assault. There was no question that the Worgen are invading my land, and that what I was doing was right.
When the story takes you to Gilneas, and you ride through the walls for the first time, you’ve had an entire zone to get used to the Worgen as savage enemies. When the Alliance comes in to support their resistance movement, it’s clear that now the Worgen really are the enemies of Lordaeron.
This is a fantastic political bait and switch. I didn’t even realize it until after I’d done the zone, that my reasons for being in Gilneas were not the same as those when I started at the High Command in Silverpine, when I stormed Fenris Isle and forced the refugees of Hillsbrad to choose between lycanthropy and undeath. This was not a war fought for our land.
I was the invader, though I had no way of knowing that as a player character.
The clues start on the Isle of Fenris:
Lord Darius Crowley says: Die in battle and be raised as a servant of the Forsaken or… Drink my blood and be reborn as worgen, immune to the depravity of the Forsaken. Help us destroy the Forsaken and retake Lordaeron for the Alliance!
Magistrate Henry Maleb says: We would rather die than be turned into worgen, but seeing as how even death provides no relief from the atrocities of this war… We choose vengeance!
I thought the Isle of Fenris was a great series of quests. You take on the first mission – kill refugees from Hillsbrad and turn them into Forsaken – which leads to the refugees meeting with the Worgen resistance, where they make a terrible choice of accepting the Worgen curse instead of falling under your curse. You and your Val’kyr companion present such a threat to these people that they choose to become werewolves instead of zombies under your control.
Powerful, powerful stuff.
You don’t have enough information yet to know what these refugees have fled – the Forsaken invasion of Hillsbrad. You don’t have enough knowledge to know why the Worgen are here, stirring up trouble – because of the Forsaken invasion of Gilneas. But what you do know is that you’re acting under the orders of the Banshee Queen, and that the Alliance is trying to stop her. They are trying to take Lordaeron!
This completely validates the reasons Sylvanas gives you, a few minutes later, when riding to The Sepulcher – the Alliance doesn’t respect the Forsaken claims to the kingdom and is trying to take it away from the rightful citizens of Lordaeron. The Worgen, as agents of the Alliance, are in the wrong there.
By the time you’re kneeling in the mud of Gilneas, that’s the message you remember. The Alliance are trying to take my kingdom. Gilneas is a threat that must be neutralized.
You might forget that not so long ago, humans who fled the Forsaken, who fought against the undead, were willing to succumb to a horrible curse they considered worse than death itself in order to avoid coming under the control of the Dark Queen. The mud is cold, even on your undead flesh, and the worgen are everywhere. There is all kind of shit flying around in that battle.
You might forget that you raised corpses of fervent opponents of the Forsaken – and that they immediately defected to your side. That you watched the Val’kyr raise dozens of corpses – and they fell in line, almost uniformly.
The Isle of Fenris is a place where, as a GM of a tabletop RPG, I would have drawn out that horror longer. Much like Gilneas, too much happens too quickly there for proper role playing, because man, this is meaty stuff. You, stalking the humans, sowing fear and terror as they fall before you and your protective angel of death. Their huddled conferences, their desperate situation, the appearance of the Worgen and choice between two awful fates.
To become Forsaken, in the Hillsbrad refugee’s eyes, is to lose your free will, is to become a slavish servant of the Dark Queen. You may retain your intellect, and your memories, but do you retain your will? Can you really rebel against Sylvanas when raised?
Consider what they’ve seen – their friends and family have been turned against them. People who fought the Forsaken in Southshore and Tarren Mill now march under the Banshee Queen’s watchful gaze. You’ve seen it, too – mass resurrection of troops with little will. Perhaps we’re supposed to dismiss them as mooks, but any serious consideration of the story has to get over that trope and consider them as real human beings.
Who rebels against the Dark Queen’s control? Marshal Redpath, Lilian Voss… maybe you and me. We don’t see a lot of examples of free will in the second generation of Forsaken. It appears that the Val’kyr process does something similar to decrypting, keeping the memories and skills of the raised intact, but their allegiance is shifted to that of the Forsaken. There’s no need to persuade those you turn on the Isle of Fenris – they arise saying things like:
- “I am Forsaken.”
- “At your command.”
- “I am eternal… I am death.”
- “I LIVE!”
Some react with horror. But most accept their fate and willingly embrace their enemies.
This should be utterly, utterly chilling. The choice of Fenris is a horrible one, but understandable.
To have death hold not only the promise of unlife, but an unlife of unwilling servitude? Worse, of knowing that you will obey without question, that your body and mind will follow the commands and will of your enemy, with a tiny spark of yourself howling in outrage and horror for the rest of your unending days?
I haven’t referred back to On The Forsaken in a while, but there’s a part I think is relevant when talking about the choice of Fenris:
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.
The question of free will continues to hang heavy over Silverpine Forest. Do you, as the hero, serve Sylvanas out of free will? It looks like it, yet there is all kinds of evidence that she compells unthinking loyalty. Can you trust your own loyalty in that situation?
The Worgen of Gilneas are your enemy. They have been since Trisifal; defeating them is the ultimate purpose of this storyline. But when you look at the larger story, they are fighting for their freedom. They are fighting for their homeland. They are fighting to not be turned into slaves of the Forsaken.
Because the worgen curse prevents the bearer from being raised as a Forsaken, these two cultures will forever be polar opposites. It’s interesting to see how that plays out from both sides of the conflict.
MAKING CURSES TACTICAL
Since I’m already talking about it, let’s talk about something that really bothered me about the Isle of Fenris – the pacification of the Worgen Curse.
In the Worgen starting area, getting bitten by a worgen is terrifying. You become a feral worgen, out of control, hunting your fellow humans for weeks… months… who knows? But you lose all control until only the brilliant alchemist Krennan Aranas solves the problem, and then the Night Elves step in and perform a ritual for you to make the potion permanent.
The Isle of Fenris removes some, but not all, of the danger in becoming a werewolf. It’s presented quickly, but by drinking Crowley’s blood all the refugees become Worgen, yet retain some large measure of control (they are capable of speech, for example). We see this in other places, but this is where it stuck out – a mass conversion of people to a state which should reduce them to a state of horror, but is instead used tactically.
In many ways, this is the exact same problem that you face as a Forsaken player character. You have a horrific experience and you have to come to terms with your new existence. You appear to have free will, but there are things about your current state which indicate that might not be the case. You work through your metamorphosis over the course of a zone-long story. Yet there are others who go through the transformation in seconds, and come out the other side without any problem.
I remember this problem coming up a lot when I played Vampire: the Masquerade. Players would try to use their blood in a purely tactical manner, to create ghouls or weaker vampires with specific abilities. As a Storyteller, I’d have to balance narrative and flow of the game, so sometimes it would be as simple as a roll (“yes, you ghoul the tiger… and the monkey… and the snakes.”) and sometimes it would be an entirely separate roleplaying session, filled with dramatic tension and terrible consequences. One player ripped apart her mortal lover in a blood frenzy when trying to tactically use an elder’s blood to gain power; another found himself in the middle of a blood feud he was not prepared for.
It distresses me a bit when we see a horrifying event neutered because it’s happening so often it becomes commonplace. After you see a few hundred corpses get raised in Silverpine Forest, it’s not really a big deal. (LIGHT SHOW!) After you see a few hundred humans get turned into Worgen, okay, it’s time to man the guns, not weep for their fates.
There are often explanations for why this happens, but just because an atrocity is repeated over and over, doesn’t mean we should lose sight of the horror.
(And I’m including both werewolves and zombies here.)
SILVERPINE COMEDY TROUPE
Lest you get the wrong idea from the previous 5000 words, I really did enjoy Silverpine Forest. The quests are exciting, thought-provoking, and fucking hilarious. From Mortuus calling me Cynwisenub (that’s New Undercity Battalion to you!) to using the Sea Dogs as comic relief, I think the humor in this zone brought some much needed relief to the utter seriousness of the Forsaken predicament.
There are a lot of in-jokes for previous players in this zone. I have a note scrawled in my field notes about this – “are these only funny to gamers?” – but I don’t know how to answer this, since I’ve played long enough that my perspective is tainted. The Sea Dogs are a kind of lowbrow humor that probably would work well – the orc pup in Steel Thunder‘s lines are so good (“Dis giving me a hernia. Captain, what is hernia?”) I ran around the zone, herbing and mining with my sea pup in tow just to see what he’d say next. Putting beer on your back and rousing the troops is a nice variation on “click on friendly troops while fighting off their enemies.”
Playing the orcs for comic relief helps strengthen that sense of Forsaken self that permeates the zone. It defines a friendly Other, within the Horde, which allows you to feel superior as a Forsaken soldier. Ha ha, look at those drunk orcs! Us Forsaken aren’t buffoons like those Sea Dogs! It’s a common ploy in propaganda, and it honestly works well here.
It’s interesting that Blizzard presents the orcs this way here. By presenting Garrosh as a blustering, fearful leader, he’s hard to take seriously in this zone. I’m sorry, but the bitch comment sounds like it came from a scared, angry, low-class worker, not from the leader of one of the most powerful factions on Azeroth. The Sea Dogs are funny, but not really presented as, uh, vital allies. They aren’t playing a major role within Gilneas itself, and their scope of operations in Silverpine is limited.
It’s a problem when you play a group off for comic relief, and then you start thinking about if they were really contributing to the plot versus the story. I’d miss the orcs if they weren’t here, and think they made the zone more fun.
That’s probably all I really need to know – I laughed at them, and they raised my opinion of the Silverpine Forest questline.
Also: Inconspicuous Bears. What’s next, inconspicuous seals? Could you imagine it?
DEATH, REBIRTH AND FREEDOM
Daughter of Lordaeron, again:
“Lilian deserved a choice,” he declared, slamming his fist on the table. “That has always been our way.”
“Indeed. I am disappointed in your failure to ensure she made the right one.”
“I didn’t realize that was my responsibility.” He stood up, lifting the tent’s flap of heavy indigo canvas open. “Get out. I have more important things to attend to than debate with some grasping slip of a girl who dares to suggest I ought to share more in common with the Scourge.”
In the end, I loved questing in Silverpine Forest. Loved it. The story made me think. The story put me right in the center of actual lore events, without regard to level (which I think is absolutely appropriate.) It had absolutely epic moments. It told the story of my rise from a simple soldier in Her Dark Majesty’s Service to a trusted lieutenant and hero of the Undercity in my own right – a good mirror of the Undercity reputation bar, now that I think of it. This was more than “kill 10 rats” over and over again until you got killed of rats.
I didn’t know if Silverpine would change my overall opinion of the Forsaken. I tried to go through it with an open mind. I realized, very early on, that I needed to change my attitude and my concept of my character to make it work – so I jettisoned my previous idea and made Cynwise the Forsaken a somewhat surprised citizen of Lordaeron, instead of an ex-Alliance hero. In the end, that change let me enjoy the story much, much more – though it didn’t end up changing my opinion on the Forsaken.
The zone ends with a dramatic confrontation with the Gilnean nobles and death of Sylvanas. That you are there for it, that you fight to bring the Dark Lady back to life, is the high point of the zone. It happens so fast – in the moment of triumph, suddenly, betrayal. That’s how it should be. You prove your loyalty, as do the Val’kyr. And there are many, many questions about what happened there, that you will probably take to your grave. It doesn’t matter that this is a 10-20 zone – the events are bigger than the levels. Story trumps levels.
I think that point needs to be driven home more. Zones are enjoyable not when they tell “level appropriate” stories, but rather suitable stories for the zone. The story of Silverpine is the story of the renewed conflict between Lordaeron/Undercity and Gilneas, and is treated in a properly epic way. It’s okay to have zones which are not quite so epic – consider how Silverpine was before, where you were fighting Arugal’s feral worgen, the wizards of Dalaran, spiders and worgs and bears, oh my! That kind of scattered questing was fine, but once the Greymane Wall fell, the zone needed to change to reflect the epic conflict going on there. Epic doesn’t require max level.
If Trisifal is your introduction to the Forsaken, Silverpine is where you take your place among the heroes of the race. You come into it facing the choice of Lilian Voss, and leave it having committed to your liege lady. Silverpine is the zone which makes a Forsaken a Forsaken; before that, you’re simply a free-willed undead. I’m glad I went through it.
The events within Silverpine are profoundly disturbing. The entire zone abounds with questions of mortality and free will. Throughout I found myself wondering, am I doing this because I want to serve the Banshee Queen, or because she compels me to do it? Would I stop if I could? Or would I press on, for her glory? What does my life mean, now that I am dead?
As a player, I achieved a satisfactory separation between my own opinions of the Forsaken and my character. That speaks highly of the quality of the zone, that it could suspend my dislike of the Forsaken enough to not only let me play through it, but enjoy that play. I can respect those Forsaken caught within the grip of the cult of Sylvanas’s personality a bit more now, and understand the conflicting loyalties that reside in the former residents of Lordaeron.
But I still think the Forsaken, as a political faction and cult of Sylvanas, are evil. Not misguided, but outright evil. Silverpine Forest strengthened my conviction that Sylvanas is leading the people of Lordaeron down a very dark path, and that while there are heroes among the undead, Azeroth can’t turn a blind eye to them. The Horde condemns its own moral imperative by allying with them. Garrosh is right to fear her. The Alliance might be able to make peace with some elements of Lordaeron, but will never do so with Sylvanas – war serves her too well now.
She is, perhaps, the single biggest threat on Azeroth’s political stage now that Deathwing is gone. Both the Alliance and Horde would do well to fear her.
And yet, I now have a character who is proud to call herself a servant of the Dark Lady.
Well done, Silverpine. Well done.
Next stop: Welcome to the Machine.