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Titans and Chamber Pots: The Cultural Divide Between the Bronzebeards and the Wildhammers

May 23, 2011

Brewfest, booze, and baby gryphons. That’s what most players would sum dwarven culture up as in previous expansions (also priests, if you’ve truly been playing for ages) . Painted in broad strokes, dwarven culture provided comic relief with puzzling unexplored contradictions beneath the surface. The transformation of Ironforge’s throne in Cataclysm is the most striking metaphor of Blizzard’s new approach to dwarven history. Instead of  Magni Bronzebeard giving the player a murky quest to save his daughter from the malicious Dark Iron, the familiar king is crystallized and memorialized in once-forbidden Old Ironforge, now open to the public. On Magni’s former throne now sit representatives of the quarrelling Council of Three Hammers. The tableaux may not be as iconic, but it beckons the player in to learn more.

The resulting dwarven artifacts pay homage to the material culture of previous expansions while also challenging the player’s perceptions. There’s a series of artifacts which both tell an epic tale of bravery and poke fun at the poor combat skills of the heroes. There’s infamous artifacts like the Innkeeper’s Daughter, yet another artifact that pays tribute to a powerful Byzantine queen. There’s a whole slew of weapons belonging to the nobility, yet a player can also dig up a chamber pot. Perhaps using artifacts is a misnomer—many of these objects are contemporary in nature and were gifted to the Explorer’s League instead of being dug up from the sand. (And retrieving such ‘artifacts’ would give the stodgy curators headaches…) The result is a realistic cross-section of dwarven life: the artifacts create a believable culture instead of one purely steeped in mythology.

I’ve broken this overview of dwarven artifacts into two sections. Today’s article will cover the contrast between the Titan-flavored artifacts favored by the Explorer’s League and the large array of contemporary objects preserved for posterity. The second article will analyze the Dark Iron artifacts in the context of politics and gender.

As covered in last week’s entry on fossil fragments, the dwarves evolved from the Earthen, a prototype race formed by the Titans to help shape Azeroth. After several clans of Earthen assisted the Night Elves during the War of the Ancients, they retreated to the Titan cities of Uldun, Uldaman, and Ulduar for thousands of years. Therefore, the timeframe in which to date dwarven artifacts is relatively narrow, as dwarves have only recently awaken from their long slumber. The earthen that retreated to Ulduar evolved into the Frostborn clan, while the earthen from Uldaman migrated to Ironfroge, later splitting into the Wildhammer-, Dark Iron-, and Bronzebeard-clans. These three clans uneasily co-existed in Ironforge until the death of High King Modimus Anvilmar, at which point they battled for control in the War of the Three Hammers. The Bronzebeard Clan was victorious; the Dark Irons resettled in Redridge and the Wildhammers in Grim Batol. In game, this information has been teasingly revealed to players over the expansions; Wrath introduced Ulduar, the Frostborn, and the revised tale of Muradin Bronzebeard, while Cataclysm greatly fleshed out the Wildhammer in Twilight Highlands and the political conflict between the Council of Three Hammers.

Bronzebeards: Archaeologists and Explorers

The Explorer’s League most likely collects these artifacts as they do fossil fragments, hungry for any link to the Titans. But they’ve been extremely levelheaded in collecting artifacts without bias from all three clans, in addition to making surprising value judgments on unexpected artifacts. Most dwarven artifacts are not as lofty as those featured in the Explorer League’s central gallery; there are few actual artifacts that allude to the Titans even though there are numerous Explorer’s League digsites (Whelgar’s Excavation Site, Remtravel’s Excavation, Ironbad’s Excavation Site, Bael Modan). The Explorer’s League still maintains a visible presence in Azeroth; the legends of the past just aren’t the final word on Dwarven history anymore. With the recent political upheavels, contemporary culture is worth examining as well–invoking connections to the Titans and Earthens doesn’t solve everything.

The Titans are both references to the Elder Gods from Greek mythology as well as the Aesir from Norse mythology. In Greek mythology, the (mostly) malicious Elder Gods first shaped the Earth before the younger generation, led by Zeus, seized control. As such, the architecture of the Titans has a decidedly Greco-Roman look; arches supported by pillars, domes, geometric patterns, and mosaics and friezes for decoration. However, the altruistic nature of the Titans more closely resembles that of the Aesir, a benevolent council of Norse gods, that is locked in conflict with the giants. The in-game Titans closely resemble the Norse gods in appearance, classified as the Aesir (platinum) and Vanir (bronze.)

The Ceramic Funeral Urn, of which there are many such urns in-game, also draws parallels to Roman burial traditions, in which both inhumation and cremation were popular methods. The flavor text reads, “Some dwarves sealed their deceased in tombs. Those with a concern about the undead might have been more apt to cremate remains. This urn is chipped and cracked, its ashes long since lost. The word ‘Thunderbolt’ is visible in Dwarven printed on the underside.” Unlike other cultural artifacts, this urn is not relatively new as the ashes have been lost for a long time. There are many such urns in-game, reddish in color with Greco-Roman figures for decoration. Urns from Uldaman are featured in the Hall of the Explorers and the graphic for finding a dwarven archaeology fragment is also an urn.

Brann Bronzebeard, Explorer Extreme and model member of the Explorer’s League, appears around the world at numerous mysterious locations: Ahn’Qiraj, Halls of Stone, Uldum, Ulduar. He gets caught up in epic schemes from discovering Old Gods in Uldaur to carrying around the legendary base of Atiesh. The locations he frequents are steeped in mythology and lore of old; he doesn’t concern himself with contemporary dwarven life, which makes the emphasis in Archaeology on trivial daily archaeology items even more puzzling. He concerns himself with relics like the Reply-Code Alpha, an item that drops from Algalon the Observe in Ulduar. When a raider returns this item to Rhonin in Dalaran, Brann Bronzebeard appears and both heroes activate the monument in Dalaran, commenting that while life on Azeroth is not logical, it is worth saving.

There’s a sense of superiority among the Bronzebeards, that they are the chosen race of the Titans, much in the same way the Highborne justified their superiority via the Well of Eternity. And there is an actual race of the damned to the Dwarves: the troggs. The initial race created by the Titans to watch over Azeroth, the troggs were corrupted by the Old Gods to lead barely functional lives. They were locked away in the depths of Uldaman and forgotten until the dwarves awoke from their post-Sundering slumber. Now, they have a logical hatred towards the dwarves, a constant reminder of what they were cursed not to be. Players don’t think much of troggs as they’re easy to defeat in game, but it’s eerie to contemplate how this race was created to be highly skilled and then abandoned when cursed–it’s a cruel evolutionary joke that the gods meddled with a developed race.

Brann’s fascination with the heroic side of history can be observed in a few artifacts: the Clockwork Gnome, Scepter of Charla Razorflank, and the Belt Buckle with Anvilmar Crest. The flavortext for the Clockwork Gnome reads: “Mechagnomes were created by the titans, apparently as servants and caretakers, much like the earthen.” There’s similar mechognomes scattered around Northrend, most notably Dirkee in the Storm Peaks. The Scepter of Chargla Razorflank is a puzzling addition to dwarven archaeology: it references a recent battle in Razorfen Kraul that was not an important event in dwarven culture. But the defeat of the Quillboars was a resounding success, and as such, it’s a straightforward slice of history that Brann would enjoy. Likewise, the Belt Buckle of Anvilmar, worn by servants of the great king Modimus Anvilmar, hearkens back to a less-complicated time in Dwarven history. These artifacts, along with the types of plotlines Brann meddles in, present a simplified version of life on Azeroth. Everything is clearly good or evil, with brave heroes trying to save humanity. More recent history, unsatisfying and complex, is ignored.

Wildhammers: Everyday Players in Azeroth
The Wildhammer Dwarves, greatly expanded upon in Cataclysm, have a wonderfully vibrant culture. Initially mysterious and quiet residents of Aerie Peak, we learn in Cataclysm of their reasons for remaining reclusive and their struggle to reclaim Grim Batol. Retreating after the War of the Three Hammers instead of resettling in Ironforge, they remained removed from politics until the political changes in Cataclysm. Kurdran Wildhammer, a famed warrior of the Second War presumed dead in Outlands, returned to represent the Wildhammer at the Council of the Three Hammers, but realized he was not the ideal political representative. After both brilliant political moves and personal tragedy, he resigned, giving the position to Falstad Wildhammer, his friend who wrote the memorial text in Stormwind’s Valley of Heroes when Kurdran was presumed dead.

The Wildhammer Clan has adorable gryphons, loyal families, hilarious NPCs, and quirky traditions. Much of Twilight Highlands is spent saving Wildhammer dwarves and reuniting them with their families, culminating in setting up a wedding between the kickass Fanny and a bumbling groom, who is so starstruck he can’t even escort her out of a cave on a quest. The Wildhammer towns are also atmospheric: there’s a lot of ‘empty’ space featuring details such as gryphon roosts and cozy inns.

I don’t mean to imply that these following artifacts are all unique to the Wildhammers, rather that there’s a lifestyle contrast between the Bronzebeard and Wildhammer clans that parallels the divide between the official artifacts/digsites of the Explorer’s League and the emphasis on dwarven contemporary material culture in the Archaeology profession.

One artifact that definitely belongs to the Wildhammer Clan is the Stone Gryphon: “Gryphons have long been allies of the Wildhammer dwarves, who brought their noble steeds to the rest of the Alliance. This small figurine was expertly carved from alabaster. The talons are sharp enough to pierce leather.” Gryphons are used all over Azeroth by the Aliance; there’s even plushie gryphons available from the online store. Several touching quests detail the bond of respect and friendship between the gryphons and their handlers. Pre-Cata, a major questline in the Hinterlands was aiding the WIldhammer in saving Sharpbeak, a baby gryphon, from the Vilebranch Trolls. It was a touching questline that ended with Sharpbeak flying away with his Mom and Dad. In Cataclysm, Sharpbeak is all grown up, helping the Wildhammer launch attacks on the Vilebranch. In Twilight Highlands, Donnelly Dunwald searches for his pet hatchling Beak; he’s frantic and then overjoyed to be reunited, later bringing Beak to the Wildhammer wedding in Kirthhaven. At the wedding, Kurdran Wildhammer gifts the couple with the remaining egg of Sky’ree, his heroic gryphon that tragically died in an Ironforge fire, described in the short story Fire and Iron. The magnitude of the gift is not lost on anyone at the party.

Another component of dwarven culture is a hearty sense of humor. The achievement Blue Streak tells the tale of four brave adventurers who bravely slew the dragon Kadrigos. Three of them lost their lives. However they lost them by…being clumsy with large weaponry, eating breaths, and getting tail-whipped. The Notched Sword of Tunadil the Redeemer, similar in description to every large and awe-inspiring sword a ret pally swings, belonged to Tunadil who failed at dps and instead mortally wounded himself. It appears he also forgot to repair as “this blade was broken when the paladin fell upon it.” The Scorched Staff of Shadow Priest Anund was destroyed by fire, but it looks like fire destroyed the user as well. The text reads “This wooden staff has been thoroughly blackened by arcane breath. Such was the fate of its wielder as well.” The tank of the party, Horuz Killcrow, forgot that dragons had a tail-lash: “He stood behind the tail of the dragon. Never do that.” The only successful party member was the rogue, Krol, whose Silver Kris is “etched with the blood of the dread wyrm Kaldrigos’ dying heart. Amusingly, the stereotypical useless dps is the victor and his artifact is worth the most.

Humor aside, the inclusion of meta-commentary on everyday raiding is pretty neat. As Lani covered last week, players in WoW tend to be portrayed as heroes. Yet here are a series of artifacts celebrating the mediocrity of adventurers; their experiences could easily describe a struggling party looking to pug a healer. While most narratives in Cataclysm are sweeping and epic, it’s refreshing that there’s room in the canon to include bad players that like standing in fire. Humor is also present in the Golden Chamber Pot (“Apparently the rich and famous do all of their business in style. This piece is decorated with leaping fish and a running stream.”) and the Bodacious Door Knocker (which will also turn up in my second article on Dwarven artifacts, covering the Dark Iron and the portrayal of women.)

There’s dwarven artifacts that allude to leisurely pastimes, instead of a constant parade of epic events. The Worn Hunting Knife, a custom-made blade with the initials W.G. engraved on the pommel, reveals that the dwarves engaged in hunting as a communal sport. The Bone Gaming Dice (“Dwarves love gold and dwarves love drinking, so gaming seemed like a natural fit for both.”) join the series of Decahedral Dwarven Dice, Loaded Gnomish Dice, and Worn Troll Dice. While this archaeology item does not actually allow you to roll, unlike the three other dice which are pickpocketed from mobs, it’s most likely similar to the Decahedral Dwarven Dice, a clear nod to Dungeons and Dragons. The Wooden Whistle, (“It might have been used to summon a pet or mount, or possibly used as a child’s toy. It appears to have been chewed on by an animal or young dwarf.”) is another toy, teethed on and played with by young children. So much of Azeroth is fraught with familial drama; it’s nice to see allusions to happy aspects of childhood. And of course, there’s the Pewter Drinking Cup, a formidable weapon and vessel for ale: “‘If there’s one thing dwarves love, it’s drinking. And fighting. Two things. This cup may have belonged to a minor noble or wealthy merchant.  It’s heavy enough to bash in someone’s brains, and residue suggest it may have been used for just that.” Everyone loves Brewfest, which awarded players with collectable weapon-tankards; now those same items are part of the archaeology canon.

There’s several items of civilian clothing that have been catalogued too. The Dwarven Baby Socks and Boot Heel with Scrollwork are simple clothing accessories; not used for a ceremony, it’s strange that the Explorer’s League would be wanting to save these in the first place. Yet to a dwarf commoner, it may be a reminder that in spite of all the differences between families and clans, life goes on. The formerly-magical boot may be a sublte reference to shamanism: “The ornamentation is largely abstract, but you can make out small woodland animals—squirrels, deer, perhaps a skunk – hidden within all the scrollwork and stylized knots. The Silver Necklace Torc would probably sell for a fair amount in a jewelry shop; but to archaeologists, it’s only worth 1 gold. Yet the act of including contemporary apparel items, however cheap they are, sets Dwarven Archaeology apart from the collecting habits of more traditional races.

There’s a split between the digsites favored by the Explorer’s League and the artifacts players actually dig up. The Explorer’s League unearths parallels to the Titans and epic moments in history; you find things like chamber pots and dice. It’s an apt metaphor for the current state of players in Azeroth; we participate in an epic story, yet the little things keep us going.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2011 3:32 pm

    Interesting post 🙂 I’ve never really stopped to think about the more “mundane” items in archaeology.. or the rare items for that matter – just, perhaps, the items that give achievements. Nice to see a little about Dwarven life as opposed to just heroism, for once ^^

  2. Lani permalink*
    May 23, 2011 3:57 pm

    I think the way that the dwarven story line in WoW has evolved over Wrath and Cataclysm is pretty fascinating. It took me a long time to internalize that the Bronzebeards weren’t THE dwarvs in the WoW-verse; in Vanilla especially as a new player, I misinterpreted quests as the Dark Irons and Wildhammers being small splinter groups and not their own cultures in their own right. It’s really cool how more of that history is accessible in-game via these artifacts and the new quest directions.

  3. perculia permalink*
    May 23, 2011 4:02 pm

    Yeah, I agree–the daily life artifacts are a lot of fun, especially the artifacts related to Blue Streak. Epic and realistic at once!

  4. perculia permalink*
    May 23, 2011 4:05 pm

    I viewed WoW the same way in vanilla–the Bronzebeards were THE dwarves, the Wildhammers were hermits, and the Dark Iron were evil in BRD. I think that a new player might still feel some of that, but not to the same extent in Cata. I really think it’s interesting how archaeology chose to focus on the Wildhammer/Dark Iron and skip the Titan-flavored artifacts we’ve heard so much about.

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