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Corruption through Luxury: Artifacts from Argus

May 2, 2011

When the Draenei were first introduced in Burning Crusade, everyone only noticed two things: Alliance shaman and the perplexing spaceship retcon. Blue posts have admitted that the draenei lore could be stronger, as the few quest hubs further the narrow vision of the Draenei as pious refugees frozen in The Burning Crusade. The Draenei had a major role as guardians of the Light that fought the hated demonic Eredar, but long ago, back before Draenor—all Draenei were known as Eredar, proud masters of both Light and Magic. On the planet Argus, the Draenei developed a luxurious and sophisticated society, and much in the same way as the power-hungry magic-addicted Highborne, grew rash and tempted by demons. Archimonde and Kil’jaeden joined Sargeras with the promise of infinite power and knowledge, destroying the culture on Argus and leading Velen to rebuild on Draenor with his loyal exiles, hiding all magical traces in his new society to avoid detection. This shift in Draenic values is echoed in the archaeology fragments that evoke a fantastical society at odds with their current austere culture.

These artifacts, flamboyantly luxurious with scathing curatorial notes, warn the reader of excessive luxury, of ornate flourishes that mar a valuable item and symbolize the disintegration of one’s character. Their creation and use can shed light on the types of eredar that decided to follow Sargeras, those that cared more about appearances than reality.

The Vault of Lights: Exodar's museum on the Burning Legion

In medieval literature, a common theme is that money corrupts. There are countless proto-fairytales that describe rich characters either outwitted by commoners or hiding their bad actions with gold. The entire premise of Das Nibelungelied, the epic poem that served as the inspiration for Wagner’s Ring Cycle, is that heroic nobility, demonstrating their power and intellect through luxurious gatherings, deceive each other in private with devastating results—civil war and death. All main characters value the elaborate processions and feudal visits except for Brunhild, a warrior -princess who values her physical strength and does not initiate the cycle of deception. In one of the most popular medieval tales, One-Ox, the poor hero outwits several rich men and their losses grow in severity. They are entranced by the fantastical stories One-Ox makes up precisely because they are tantalizingly absurd, from pursuing a donkey purported to make golden coins to believing that if they jump into the sea, they will find a fortune instead of a watery grave.* In Cassandrino the Thief by Straparola, a poor rogue outwits a sluggish priest and is handsomely rewarded with gold for his cleverness. However, he is admonished to behave in a respectable and modest manner upon receiving his monetary reward. Instead of using the gold to buy personal goods, he invests it in trade and becomes a well-respected businessman.**

Both on Argus and in these tales, the threat of corruption through luxury looms. The wealthy Eredar, unable to see the glaring flaws in their flashy and elite artifacts, were prime candidates ripe for demonic corruption because their intellect was dimmed and their judgement was poor. The resulting new culture, led by Velen on Draenor, was more modest as all traces of magic were purposely hidden. Like the Night Elves, magic served as a painful reminder of how a culture could be torn apart so easily. However, unlike the Night Elves, the Draenei did not abandon magic completely, simply practicing it in moderation.

Shabby Bed in Aldor Rise

Picturing dramatic oil paintings of Draenic nobility or elaborate crystal chandeliers seems impossible when looking at the décor of the Exodar and Blood Watch, but it’s entirely possible Velen’s subdued aesthetics was a response to the overly-ornate style of the magical Eredar, as well as a precaution against his people traveling down the same magical path. There’s a lingering sense that the Draenei, when left to their own devices, will revert to aesthetic choices not appreciated by the rest of Azeroth. While there’s some pretty unflattering armor choices in the game, the two that WoW directly critiques in-game are Queen Azshara’s Dressing Gown, a night elf artifact, and Modoru’s gown, sewn by an elderly Draenei for her grandson at Star’s Rest. While the gown is a loving reminder of his family and culture, it raises suspiscion in the night elf sentinels on duty, trained to loathe the ways of the past. Both these garments, which look perfectly normal, are subject to ridicule because they value excessive ornamentation over practicality. While it is never advisable to dismiss all of a culture’s offerings, many characters in WoW have strong feelings of hatred towards particular eras and will dismiss all aspects of a culture, good or bad, in their hate.

The Draenei have learned, better than other cultures, to embrace balance instead of pushing towards an extreme. Draenei buildings are large, sparse, elegant, and just a touch otherwordly with their supernatural purple accents. Luxury is not absent, but used sparingly to create stunning architectural effects. While Scryer Rise in Shattrath City is in much better condition than Aldor Rise, the Draenei quarter has more awe-inspiring architecture even though the bed in the inn is falling apart with a tattered cover and leaves for a mattress. Telredor in Zangarmarsh is a town dramatically built on top of a tall mushroom. The views are breathtaking and the inhabitants know it, constructing alcoves and balconies with reclining chairs in addition to luxurious nooks next to utility bedrooms with bunkbeds. 

Several Draenei artifacts hint at a luxurious society beneath the recent sorrow. The Anklet with Golden Bells is described as follows: “This slim loop of purple metal is adorned with seventeen tiny bells and larger yellow beads of blown glass. It might have been worn by a dancer or a young socialite.” While the Draenei do have jewelry on their tails, personal appearances are not emphasized in any of the quests. When WoW does depict socialities in game, namely Harris Pilton and Ricole Nichie, they use blood elf models while the Draenei serve as the butt for fashion jokes, such as Modoru. Yet in some long-ago time, Draenei too participated in an elitist society, building a culture around wealth and family status instead of communal and religious rituals. The appearance of the jewelry reveals great craftsmanship but also flamboyance in the description of numerous bells and bright beads. There is also some ambivalence as the curator cannot tell whether the owner was a pampered socialite or a trained dancer, both types apparently serving a similar function as a decorative object to be gazed at during parties.

Telredor: Playful architecture for a town of exile

Another artifact of great craftsmanship is the Fine Crystal Candelabra, described as “This piece once held a full dozen candles. It is virtually dripping with blue and purple crystals connected by fine chains and ornate scrollwork. The artisan’s initials are engraved on the bottom: ‘V. T.’” The Draenei’s love for purple-hued things is apparent in Azeroth today, but the appearance of ‘fine chains,” “ornate scrollwork,” and elaborate crystals tangled in the dripping candles is decidedly Baroque. Ornamentation instead of practicaltiy has won out. Currently in Shattrath or Exodar, there are no such candelabra–simply dazzling purple curtains, large glowing crystals, or ropes of pure light hanging from the ceiling.

Current oversized crystal lighting in the Exodar

In other Draenei artifacts such as the Dignified Portrait, Baroque Sword Scabbard, Strange Silver Paperweight, and Carved Harp of Exotic Wood, the descriptions of craftsmanship have sinister implications. The Dignifed Portrait is described as follows: “This is a very serious oil painting of a very serious draenei gentleman. While the artwork overall is flattering, you get the sense that the artist thought his subject was quite the jerk, because you can see at the very bottom edge of the frame that the gentleman was not painted wearing pants.” As with the Candelabra, the player learns that Draenic culture had a subset of skilled artisans that were proud of their craft. In this portrait, the player also learns that the artisans may be at odds with their patrons. Certainly the painter behind the Diginfied Portrait was, in drawing his subject without pants.As the artwork remained in relatively good condition, the painter’s revenge must have gone unnoticed by the unobservant sitter and his circle of friends, who probably would have destroyed it if he had noticed. (Or as vidyala suggested–perhaps the painter cleverly hid it underneath the frame!)

The inclusion of the Baroque Sword Scabbard confirms the hypothesis that some archaeology fragments were meant to include and critique life-before-Draenor since magic, a key component of society on Argus, was hidden by Velen on Draenor to avoid notice from the Burning Legion. The flavor text reads: “This sword sheath is almost distasteful in its ornamentation. Every bit of exposed surface has been carved, gilded or inscribed upon. It is likely the weapon this scabbard once carried was highly magical or ceremonial in nature.” The unknown curator assumes that the scabbard was carved precisely because the wielder knew it held magical powers. However, decorating the scabbard was ineffectual–it has lost its magical powers and now looks ridiculous. The player can infer that on Argus, magic and ornamentation were entwined together even though it didn’t lead to the best long-term results. Flashy displays of magic signaled to the Burning Legion that the Eredar were hungry for more knowledge without reflection.

The Strange Silver Paperweight is a prime example of wealth over taste. Semi-precious metal is turned into a decorative paperweight instead of being used for more practical objects such as weapons or currency. The material is left in a melted lump without any further attempt at decoration: “If this object was not used as a draenei paperweight, then you have no idea of its function. It appears to be a blob of petrified mercury with one flat side so that it can sit on a desk.” The curator’s language is hesitant, assuming it must be a paperweight that belongs to the Draenei while implying that he/she has seen nothing quite like this before in the homes of any current Draenei. Perhaps it was simply a lump of semi-precious metal left out on a table to impress visitors. Or perhaps it was a paperweight, but one used mostly for show in the home of a nobleman, that the artisan disliked.

Current Draenei knick-knacks in Telredor: far cry from the Paperweight

The Carved Harp of Exotic Wood is melodramatic, drawing the musician in with its craftsmanship and then controlling the mood. The description reads: “This small harp was held in one hand, like a lyre. It has a deep wooden sounding box with seven strings knotted around a tuning bar. It is capable of playing music, but seems to only produce sad, melancholy notes.” The skill of the musician is consumed by the exotic power of the harp, which makes anything sound sad. Small and unassuming, it hid powers inside that only the artisan would know. This is a twist on the lyre from antiquity, which was associated with Apollo, the god of balance and light. Here, the lyre is Dionysian, drawing the musician into passionate emotion and blinding the listener to cheerful reality.

Even a rare artifact, The Last Relic of Argus, has something funny about it. This hearthstone, “one of the few things the draenei were able to take with them on their flight from Argus,” teleports the player to obscure locations across Azeroth and has an extremely long cooldown, 12 hours. While Argus is still remembered fondly by the Draenei, an outsider wonders if this relic is honestly valuable. It’s magical and sentimental, but it’s not convenient. And this is one of the “simple” artifacts from Argus that was worth saving, imagine the ones left behind! The inscription on the bottom reads “I long for Mac’Aree,” possibly the grandest city in Argus according to Jessera of Mac’Aree, a homesick NPC on Bloodmyst Isle. While he has spent thousands of years in exile, temperately practicing magic, he longs for the unbridled luxury of his earlier life.

The artifacts that are free from this ambiguity come from other places besides the nobility of Argus: the Plated Elekk Goad, Scepter of the Nathrezim, and Arrival of the Naaru. The flavor text for the Scepter describes the threat of the Burning Legion in a straight-forward manner: “The Nathrezim, also known as dreadlords, act as intelligence agents and interrogators of the Burning Legion. While they are powerful foes on the battlefield, they prefer to turn nations against each other through manipulation and guile.” After reading the descriptions of the luxurious artifacts, one sees that manipulation is a key theme, that the artifact’s purpose is obscured by ornamentation or that the artisan was more clever than the recipient. The Plated Elekk Goad is the one item that does exactly what it should do, without additional fuss. It talks of training Elekks in Nagrand, alluding to a peaceful time between the Draenei and Orc before Gul’dan’s corruption.

When Velen disagreed with Kil’jaeden and Archimonde, he prayed for guidance–a crucial moment captured in the Arrival of the Naaru. The Naaru answered his prayers and revealed visions of the world under the Burning Legion’s reign as well fantastical visions of the Light. This gave Velen the strength to lead his followers into exile and to trust the Naaru, as the remaining Eredar allied with Kil’jaeden and Archimonde transformed into corrupted demons. The artifact depicts a turning point in the history of the Draenei, expressed in a simple tone fitting for its place in history. It’s equivalent to the Sundering for the Night Elves, a climatic time of betrayal by leaders and corruption by magic. With the help of the Naaru, the Draenei moved towards a healthier balance between Light and Magic.

Terrace of Light, Shattrath City

So when Jessera Mac’Aree reminisces, “On Argus, Mac’Aree was the most sacred of our cities. Would you believe me if I told you that the walkways were lined with precious minerals? That the rivers glittered even in complete darkness? I long for those days… How long has it been? A thousand years? Ten-thousand?” it may be tempting to succumb to his vision of luxury. However, after examining the background behind these artifacts, we’re skeptical of his claims–the walkways were probably filled with cracks and the magic that fueled the glittering rivers also created years of sorrow.

* Jan Ziolkowski, Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales.

**Ed. Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2011 7:48 am

    Excellent and insightful! You’ve made me think more deeply about these things. Modern day Draenei culture is so far removed from what it was on Argus, yet as you astutely notice some draenei still “long for the old days.” I wanted to mention the now-defunct, class-related quest chain for draenei mages that had you facing the ghost of a blood elf magewraith. The quest itself (http://www.wowwiki.com/Quest:Control) is a cautionary tale against magic’s corrupting powers:
    “With every spell you must steel yourself against its seductive lure, using it only as needed for the purposes of good. Hopefully the wraith granted a glimpse of what you might turn into should you become careless–a mindless slave to magic. ” I’m sad that these quests don’t exist in the game any longer, or at least I don’t think they do. They often provided insight into the culture as well as the role. I can almost see present-day draenei mages regarded with some degree of suspicion or distrust, although I’d have to seek out more evidence of this. This isn’t necessarily an official lore-based commentary, but I once found a heavy RP guild on another server that was entirely draenei. They only accepted specific classes of draenei, though – priests, paladins, and warriors! (I had to go and find the thread… http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/2325614406#10 – they even make mention of DKs, shaman, hunters…but no mages at all). This omission interests me because it reflects the perceptions of people who play draenei and presumably think about their lore. Have magic-users become so marginalized that they hardly even exist? The enchanting and mage trainers on the Exodar would seem to suggest otherwise, still…

    I’m not sure if all of this suggests that draenei mages are looked on a bit askance or otherwise considered some sort of deviants – that society would be ‘better’ if all draenei were invested in the purer powers of the Light? But it’s interesting to me.

    I wonder from exactly when the Carved Harp of Exotic Wood dates? Has their culture (even their music) been melancholic since Argus? I’m sorry, I’m just rambling on, I really think I have to write a post about mage marginalization in draenei culture now or find some other way of channeling all the thoughts you’ve sparked! Your observations even play into some draenei RP I have done – one draenei’s living quarters being ascetic to the point of barely livable, another using the surroundings of Dalaran to reconstruct an elaborately luxurious living space. The dichotomy seems like almost a no-brainer now. Anyway, thank you for this post!

  2. perculia permalink*
    May 2, 2011 8:09 am

    That mage quest is really interesting to consider; I miss having the class quests too. I can definitely see that there would be a backlash after magic alerted the Burning Legion to the Draenei in Outlands, even if beforehand, the Draenei were doing a good job at balancing Light/Magic. There’s that iconic action figure of a Draenei mage in t6 so I don’t think Blizzard intended for Draenei mages to be completely obscure, on a level with Night Elf Mages, but I could see there being some more recent hesitation. I know it was probably a constraint of the xpac/coding initially, but I think it’s interesting still how not all class trainers have been added to the Exodar. I also picture the more Light-centric Draenei rolling their eyes and worrying that kin like Modoru or the ‘ooh shiny! bracelets!’ types are going to give them a bad rep. There’s some screenshots I took of Outlands that are a weird mix of stone floors with a few elaborate throw pillows, really playing up their contradiction in aesthetics.

    I’d be curious about the carved harp too. It could be a current object reflecting their sorrow of exile (but it would be odd to be classified as an artifact then). Or it could be from their sorrows of having to go into exile after Argus. I dated it fairly old because I interpreted ‘exotic wood’ as having received an enchantment, as well as associating the current music with cellos more so than a lyre. But it did cross my mind that it was also an honest reflection of their feelings about their culture. I also see the Draenei in general being marginalized by the other cultures of the Alliance that have been networking longer, so perhaps some artifacts simply got a curator in a bad mood.

  3. May 2, 2011 8:40 am

    Stone floors with elaborate throw pillows… I love it! I also hadn’t even noticed the knick-knacks you took a screenshot of. I feel as if I should go and snoop around more closely, paying attention to this stuff.

    It’s a funny thing about the “bracelets” types, given that all draenei in-game have adornment in the form of tail and/or facial tendril jewelery. I once talked with Rades about what significance the jewelry might have – religious, personal? Do some draenei eschew it or look down on it? My draenei character managed to rescue a fair amount of her own jewelry and brought it to Azeroth with her, where she used to wear it ALL at once (this was before characters like Modoru were even in-game!) I reasoned that 1) it was valuable to her and it was the most practical way of carrying it on her person, but also 2) her notion of what was an ‘appropriate’ amount of adornment was skewed. Considering their culture from the viewpoint of magical corruption, decadence and parallels with Night Elves this sheds a whole new light on this! (Mind: blown.) I have a whole new insight into my own character!

    You’ve actually raised some further questions for me (and forgive me if this is addressed elsewhere) – but who exactly IS curating these items? Of course, it’s understood that archaeology in the game is really a fetch-and-carry game, and completely disregards the significance of location, placement, etc. I imagine bringing back all these bits to Harison Jones and waiting for him to pronounce their meaning and significance. But as for the curation – it definitely seems like interpretation from outside the culture itself, which is funny when you think about it – Draenei live a ridiculously long time. If you wanted to know why a harp makes sad sounds, or whether an anklet was probably used by a dancer or a socialite, why not just ask one of them? Having been found on Draenor, most of these items were owned by someone within the last 250 years or so. The speculation and judgment hinted at in the text could be seen as somewhat problematic. “This sword sheath is almost distasteful in its ornamentation…”

    Then, I suppose the unknown curator is doing the same thing for all of the races of Azeroth, including trolls and orcs (who might be able to offer some of their own insight, much as the draenei could).

  4. perculia permalink*
    May 2, 2011 8:53 am

    I’m undecided about who actually curates. On one hand, each race has an archaeology trainer in their home city, generally in an appropriately-themed location as I’ve analyzed in the post on museums. The Horde have the Reliquary, a society that manages all archaeology operations. The night elves and humans appear to have some assistants milling about.

    But on the other hand, some of the comments, like you said, have a definite bias which would be very strange if an expert of that particular race wrote them. In my interpretation, the artifacts either go to Harrison Jones/the Reliquary for official cataloging and curatorial notes, and get filtered down through the other branches. Which are understaffed, so they do the best they can. I want to say that races which are *not* covered in archaeology do the initial curatorial writing, which could explain their biased/whee!history attitude. I’ve written several fics incorporating archaeology/material culture, and my rogue is definitely suspicious of the whole operation. She ends up filching a fair amount of the artifacts she discovered–she was a commoner when the Sundering hit, so she gets a strange pleasure out of owning items that were never intended for her.

  5. May 2, 2011 9:06 am

    Hmm, really interesting perspective. If Draenei culture on Argus was decadent and extravagant, current “relics” like the over-decorated sword sheath may have been commonplace back then? Perhaps it wasn’t an expensive heirloom or anything, but rather just an average sword that every family had. And when it was time to flee and run, it wasn’t brought with them as an priceless treasure or symbol of material wealth, but rather simply as one of countless generic weapons that they’d need to survive.

    In fact, having such reminders of their former culture around might have even served as a bitter reminder about the foolishness of embracing wealth and riches. And unlike something functionally useless such as, an elegantly woven tapestry or etc, an ornamental sword would have been very valuable to a group of refugees of limited resources. They couldn’t just throw it away to be rid of the painful memories. Being forced to confront, look at and use such a flagrant example of the society they had abandoned might have hardened their resolve and commitment to completely re-prioritize their new lives.

  6. perculia permalink*
    May 2, 2011 9:22 am

    I agree, I think the ‘relics’ could have been commonplace and now appear as rare artifacts after all the recent upheaval caused more to be lost. I think that the culture on Argus was such that many aspired to recreate an aesthetic that was ornate, regardless of their financial situation. I think that in reflection, the surviving Draenei could have been embarrassed and toned it down in the future (like the cattle prod). I also think that having such a reminder *does* serve a purpose–the Bloodmyst NPC still is nostalgic for Argus, but having a tangible reminder makes him pause from time to time.

  7. May 2, 2011 10:39 am

    I hadn’t thought to parallel the experiences of the Draenei on Argus with those of the Night Elves before the Sundering… and it makes the irony of the first encounters between Night Elves and Draenei, when the Elves accuse the Draenei of being demons, even sharper.

    I’ve long found it interesting what the Draenei mage trainers say: “We practicioners of the arcane and elemental ways follow a never ending path of discovery.” This suggests to me that the mages are more sympathetic to the shaman than the other classes are. New Draenei shaman are (were?) explicitly told in their introductory quests that they’d chosen a very difficult and unpopular path, and one of the other NPCs in Azure Watch occasionally makes very rude and disparaging comments about the Broken shaman trainer there. (In this light, it’s rather odd how very much floorspace the shaman trainers get in the Exodar, relative to the amount of floorspace dedicated to the other classes.) I mentioned this once to Rades, and he suggested that because the mages draw their power from intensive scholarship, they just weren’t as bothered or threatened by the shaman as the priests and paladins, who draw their power from the Light. It hadn’t occurred to me that the mages of Argus might have been marginalized or oppressed in the same way as the surviving Highborne after the Sundering, but if they were, that would also explain their sympathy for the shaman.

    I’d also never thought of Draenei architecture and artifacts as being particularly austere. What austerity I did see in their culture, I perceived as having been caused by the destructive rampages of the Orcs and later the Blood Elves. Looking at the Exodar, Tempest Keep, and Draenei fashion (which I adore) I’ve always been amazed at the degree of luxury they managed to sustain through millennia of playing cat and mouse with the Burning Legion.

    Speaking of which, as Vid mentioned, Draenor was not the first world upon which the exiles from Argus settled. Perhaps the mournful Harp of Exotic Wood was created neither on Argus nor on Draenor, but on the first of those intermediate worlds, as the newly self-designated Draenei began to be homesick for what they’d had to leave behind? Not being recognizable as a native species of either Draenor or Azeroth would certainly qualify the wood as “exotic”.

    The first time I solved the Dignified Portrait, I thought the caption was so funny that I had to read it aloud to my husband, who thinks that Draenei males are incredibly pompous and stuffed-shirty. If this is a common opinion — and I think it would be more likely to be common among players who categorize themselves as very solidly “For the Horde!” — perhaps this artifact and its caption are also a bit of meta-commentary from the devs on how the Draenei are perceived by the players?

  8. perculia permalink*
    May 2, 2011 10:58 am

    Re the Broken shaman trainer: he’s also featured in Children’s Week, even more of a spotlight. In this historical context, it’s pretty powerful how the final part of the chain is to take the orphan to him and receive initial training. The more I think about Night Elf Mages and parallels to the

    I should clarify and say that I don’t see the Draenei as purely austere–just more conservative than the descriptions in some of the artifacts and I think they’re in a peaceful/confident frame of mind to build large powerful structures without the need to carve all over them, like some other current races would. When I compare their quarters in Shattrath to Scryer Rise, which is crowded with gilded ornamentation, the Draenei do look less luxurious (and that’s probably the intent–the blood elves struggled with magic addictions, the Draenei have found a healthy balance). But Aldor Rise still looks awesome in its own way–it achieves it through a ‘less is more’ effect. I think the best representation of this contradiction is a large stone room with an embroidered luxury pillow in the corner. I had some extra images of these throw-pillow areas, maybe I’ll upload some :)

    I love all the commentary on the harp. I think music/entertainment in Azeroth definitely deserves its own post. Maybe the harp was enchanted to sing a special song of sorrow so that future generations would never forget. There’s music everywhere in WoW but not that many musicians for reference.

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