Monday, November 1, 2010

The Taurajo Affair

If you ask me, Tauarajo doesn't look that different from what it did before it was sacked.
WARNING: Mild spoilers and serious Horde-bashing within

The Southern Barrens has turned into one of the most war-torn places in Azeroth. Unlike in Ashenvale, where the Horde is running rampant over Night Elf forces for the most part, The Alliance in the Barrens is fighting back.

(Ostensibly, this zone is an Alliance offensive. So I guess you could say the Horde is fighting back. But you get the point)

There is one key event in the Southern Barrens that supposedly shows the moral murkiness of war, that the Alliance is not purely "good" nor that the Horde is all "bad." The story is different, depending on which side of the conflict you are listening to, since we don't get to view the event itself.

But now I have played through both sides of this conflict, and I find the moral positions of the Alliance and the Horde much more solid than I was originally led to believe.

The event of course, is the sacking of the Taurajo.

Prior to the Cataclysm, we can find Tauajo on the border between the Barrens and Mulgore. It is a Tauren settlement. There's an inn there, a leatherworking trainer, a blacksmith for repairs and a few quests. It's a fairly standard small town, by WoW standards.

One afternoon, An Alliance army under the command of General Hawthorne swept in and destroyed the place.

Warlord Bloodhilt, an emissary of Garrosh Hellscream who has come to "clean up matters" explains,
They sacked Taurajo, which was little more than a hunter's camp. This "Alliance" is unmasked at last for what it really is: A renegade band of butchers."

This "butcher" theme gets a lot of traction and before too long, everybody has gathered at the aptly named Vendetta Point, and are referring to Hawthorne as "The Butcher." The implication is that this was an utter slaughter.

Tawane, a Tauren whatever, at Camp Una'fe ("una'fe" means "refuge" in Cowspeak) describes it like this.
They attacked Taurajo while our strongest were on the hunt. By some miracle, there was a gap in the Alliance lines through which myself and some others were able to carry the little ones...

There appear to be 15 to 20 refugees at Camp Una'fe, and references are made to many who were attacked by quillboar along the way. Furthermore, Horde players quest to free a number of refugees being attacked by freaky jungle that popped up over night (but that's a whole different story).

How many were killed in the sacking of Taurajo? The Horde calls it a slaughter, but another Tauren quest giver asks you to perform death rituals over the dead in Taurajo, and that number of dead is four.


Arguably, game mechanics take over here to keep the quest manageable but, Blizzard has often used the mechanic in which players diddle over the unnamed and quickly re-spawning dead. In Taurajo, there are exactly four dead.

If that's a massacre, then every player in the game are...I dunno...the ultimate war criminals, or something. I just looked up Merinna on the live servers and Merinna, who is a healer, remember... has a body count around 287,000.

I think the Horde can make an argument that Taurajo Village was not a war post. The Tauren, themselves are generally more peaceable than their cohorts as well. The fact that the hunting parties went to their usual hunt would indicate to me that Taurajo didn't think they would be attacked, and I don't think that the Alliance army just snuck up on them.

But was this a "slaughter"? Even if Blizzard is representing a fraction of the casualties from this skirmish, there are five to six times more survivors than there are dead.

Meanwhile, across The Plains of Blood, my super-speedy leveling worgen huntress finds her way to Gen. Hawthorne's encampment and asks the obvious question: "Wassup?"

Hawthorne cops to the deed:
I struggled with the implications of the decision. Taurajo was admittedly what you might call a "soft target," primarily a hunters' camp. Still it had been used to recruit, equip and train Horde infantry for many years.

He describes waiting for the strongest fighters to leave the village so the Alliance could move in with less resistance, and that their main targets were supplies, the blacksmith, and other things that would mainly serve to equip a fighting force.

And then, Hawthorne drops the bombshell about his intentions in Taurajo:
Nonetheless, during the assault, I instructed my men to leave a gap open in our lines..."Taurajo had a significant civilian population. I wanted to ensure that they could escape the fighting, and many did, finding refuge in the north.
There are some, even in the Alliance High Command, who argued that I let an opportunity slip away. That I should've taken hostages. But I don't see the value of those sort of terror-tactics.

Remember how Tawane said she got away? What she considered a miracle was in fact the decision of a human who broke ranks with his superiors to not cause a massacre.

Gen. Hawthorne continues:
Here me out, Hollye: I want this war to end someday. It won't ever stop if we butcher or imprison civilians. I just pray that there are those on the other side who see things as I do.

I'm a sucker for that kind of talk. I was ready to salute and hug him at the same time. His mission for players is to arrest looters in Taurajo who have disobeyed his orders to let the fallen village lie undisturbed. Soon after that, Gen. Hawthorne says he will meet us further south in Fort Triumph.

Back in the Horde's fortress, called Desolation, Warlord Bloodhilt gets news that Hawthorne is on the road.
It's HIM! Hawthorne - I spit the name - he is the one who ordered the assault on Taurajo! Now we know when and where to strike him down. Quickly, follow the road north of the Battlescar and meet up with my assassin Karthog. CRUSH Hawthorne and string his body up along the road!

Players, of course, go out and do just that, though some NPCs will do the "stringing him up" part, so we never have to see it.

On the road to Fort Triumph, Hollye was intercepted by a horse-riding messenger.
"Hollye! You're alive! Have you heard? They killed him! General Hawthorne - he was ambushed on the road by Horde assassins. His body was found strung up from a tree. Those animals... Those filthy animals!"


This is all sorts of bad. A really interesting leader has been murdered. The remaining Alliance leadership in the Barrens is considering more of a "scorched earth" sort of invasion since they now think Hawthorne was too easy on the enemy. There are escalating events after this from both sides in the Southern Barrens, and as one general screams at Hollye later on, "This is personal now. Horde. Are going. To die." Meanwhile, the orc leadership is cackling away in Desolation, thinking they have the Alliance on the ropes.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what the Alliance intends for this part of the world. The Alliance is making the incursions, and whether that is right or wrong is a much bigger question than what I'd like to discuss at this time.

Was Taurajo a legitimate target for the Alliance? That's sort of a foolish question. In almost every war scenario from any age, would-be conquerors roll over innocent bystanders without a second thought. And no matter how insignificant Taurajo was, we all know that it was a Horde stopover. So, of course it was a reasonable target.

But under the leadership of Gen. Hawthorne, the Alliance was trying to be reasonable conquerors. The survivors of Taurajo have Hawthorne to thank for for their lives, not the Earthmother.

And what about Hawthorne's assassination and mutilation? That violates even the orcs' perverse idea of honor. This has always been the case with orcs: "Blood and honor!! Grr." Unless it's not so convenient, or if they feel like rationalizing away the need for it. Or if the orc in question is just too despicably evil to care about honor. Hawthorne was a respectable battle commander who undertook an action in war. No doubt, this didn't make the Horde happy. A truly honorable commander like Thrall or Orgrim Doomhammer would challenge the Alliance Commander, but they would also respect him. They would have been ashamed to have a worthy enemy ambushed like that.

The other part of all this that sorta, kinda bugs me: Why is this story told so differently between the Alliance and the Horde? All this is still just a story, but Horde players are swallowing General Bloodhilt's story about "The Butcher of Tauarajo," while Alliance see a much more nuanced take on the thing and the results of the Horde's rash violence.

At Blizzcon, in one of the panels, somebody asked about what could be done to balance out the PvP element between the Horde and the Alliance. And the panel said, yeah, we know exactly what you mean, and it's kind of a problem, but we're still working on it.

But I think writing like this plays directly into these faction stereotypes. I have quested both sides of Ashenvale now in beta. The Horde quests, without fail are pretty much "Attack this Alliance stronghold," or "Deliver this intelligence so the attack on the Alliance can go forward" or, "Deliver these supplies so we can attack the Alliance."  Meanwhile, The Alliance quests are all about "Defend this outpost," "Now, go deal with this outbreak of the Burning Legion over here." "Oh, and what's with the corrupted Furbolgs?" and "Help us find some medicine to cure this child, and then run along to Forest Song to help them build a settlement."

Doesn't this make the the attitudes towards faction warfare pretty one-sided? And really, it's pretty wide-spread. Silverpine Forest is one long invasion of Alliance held land.  The Western Plaguelands feature a battle between Horde and Alliance that the Alliance loses. Darkshore has a quest line responding to Horde aggression.  In the end, it looks to me that the battles of the Southern Barrens results in a stalemate.

It's no wonder that the Horde has most of the very PvP oriented players, since the atmosphere of the Alliance is much more "peaceful."  If developers want to even up the sides a little, start writing some Alliance offensives in which the Horde walks away with thoroughly kicked butts.


  1. Orrr, the story line will evolve that some Alliance leader has secretly aligned with Hellscream. The ambush of General Hawthorne was set up with secret information fed to the Horde by this turncoat. How could Bloodhilt find out about Gen Hawthorne being on the road, if it weren't for an Alliance spy?

    This really becoming interesting, especially after witnessing the encounter in Orgrimar, where Thrall appoints Hellscream as leader, while Thrall is off on his "noble" pursuit.

    The fact that Cairne Bloodhoof was absent from this important meeting is most upsetting. What is going to happen? What is going to happen? LOL.. It's a WOW Soap Opera.

  2. Weeeell, I neglected to mention, but Bloodhilt knows about Hawthorne's movements because the players beat the crap out of an SI:7 agent and find the communication. Heheh. It wasn't all that twisted.