Dethroning the Bronzebeards: Dark Irons and Dwarven Women
In my previous article on Dwarven artifacts, I highlighted the traditional Titan-based artifacts favored by the Explorer’s League as well as trivial current objects that reflect Dwarven culture. Today, I’ll look at Dwarven artifacts paying tribute to the Dark Irons, a clan bound in slavery to Ragnaros. Much has been made of the controversy surrounding Moira Bronzebeard/Thaurissan’s kidnapping and subsequent alliance with the Dark Irons, both from a political and feminist standpoint; there’s additional Dwarven artifacts that complicate these analyses and present the Bronzebeard clan in a worse light. Progressive from some angles, foolish from others, the Dark Iron Dwarves are a more multifaceted clan to players now thanks to their inclusion in archaeology. History is written by the victors; with Moira the heir to the Ironforge Throne, it’s in her hands to reshape the patriarchal narrative of the Bronzebeards into one that’s murkier, but more fulfilling.
A collection of dwarven artifacts helps the player navigate through the political intrigue behind the Dark Iron Dwarves—much more subtle than the Dark Iron stealing beer during Brewfest. These artifacts also allude to the ghosts of famous Dark Iron dwarves that reside in Blackwing Descent, some of which were unknown prior to Cataclysm. The Dark Iron dwarves, exiled to Redridge after the War of the Three Hammers, later became slaves to Ragnaros and live in Blackrock Depths. Their loyalty to Ragnaros is reflected in their strange orange eyes and unearthly grey skin. More recently, the Dark Iron dwarves have become splintered. The Thorium Brotherhood, friendly to both factions, formed to maximize business profit. Some Dark Iron belong to the Alliance now, following Moira Thaurissan, the daughter of Magni Bronzebeard who was ‘kidnapped’ in suspiscious circumstances by the Dark Iron. Other Dark Iron allied with Deathwing by joining the Twilight Hammer. Since Moira has been trying to force Ironforge to accept the Dark Irons, the new interest in Dark Iron artifacts is a logical conclusion. While the Bronzebeard-led Explorer’s League may not be thrilled to highlight these artifacts, perhaps Moira’s regime would.
The epic Staff of Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan references the leader of the Dark Iron dwarves during the War of the Three Hammers. Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan was responsible for accidentally summoning Ragnaros in his desperation to reclaim Ironforge, instead leading to his death and the formation of Blackrock Mountain. In this brief description, his fierce loyalty towards his clan as well as his hot-headedness is apparent, echoed in the Spirit of Thaurissan’s special ability, which increases his damage done. It’s a surprising move that the curators of Azeroth saw fit to assign such value to a weapon owned by the Dark Iron, a tribe initially portrayed as completely villainous.
The Mithril Chain of Angerforge is a chain worn by Thane Angerforge, the descendant of the commander of the Dark Iron armies in Blackrock Depths. The flavor text is neutral, but many players bemoan their time spent in Blackrock Depths—his armies are a serious threat. There’s two additional items in-game that speak to Angerforge’s battle prowess: the trinket Fury of Angerforge that drops from t11 trash and Angerforge’s Battle Axe from General Angerforge himself. The General used to be a challenging fight in vanilla as he would summon a party of adds to aid him at low health. While it can be dismissed as a simple boss mechanic, it is reflected in the current archaeology flavor text describing his skill at leading an army. The Spirit of Angerforge’s ability is Stoneblood, an allusion to the initial stone bodies of the Earthen.
The curators are not completely neutral to the Dark Iron, as the flavor text for the Winged Helm of Corehammer reads: “Judging from the size of this helm, Thane Corehammer of the Dark Irons must have been enormous, or possibly just enormously fat.” The Spirit of Corehammer is a bit of a pushover, he’s relatively harmless compared to the others. And in Moltenfist’s Jeweled Goblet, the curator moralizes in the flavor text, noting: “Even among Dark Iron rulers, Moltenfist’s avarice was legendary. This goblet, while once of high craftsmanship, has seen better days. It has been partially melted by exposure to lava or dragon fire.” The Spirit of Moltenfist casts thunderclap on the raid. It’s unclear beyond these two references who Moltenfist actually is—but the ruined luxurious chalice is an image that is paralleled in many other Azerothian cultures where excess has led to downfall.
The Warmaul of Burningeye belonged to Iron Thane Burningeye, a fascinating hybrid. The flavor text reads: “Iron Thane Burningeye delighted in battle. He was known to wield a pair of great warhammers. You have reassmelbed one, long drained of magic. That means the other may be out there somewhere and possibly still a potent weapon.” Burningeye, in addition to swinging melee weapons imbued with magic, also has a pair of cloth healing bracers named after him. He’s a mix of contradictions and there’s all sorts of speculations on what his missing weapon could be. It’s interesting to note that while the weapon currently lacks magic, it’s still worth a fair amount, when compared to a Draenei scabbard that has lost its magical properties. The Spirit of Burningeye has a warrior-like whirlwind ability.
While previous Dark Iron Thanes have been described in neutral or positive ways, Iron Thane Shadowforge by all accounts was a villainous leader in the Skull Staff of Shadowforge: “The Shadowforge family has left a long stain on Dark Iron history. Iron Thane Shadowforge was by all accounts a cruel despot who tortured ad killed many of his own people. While it is generally held that he was a warlock, some accounts cling to the rumor that he was one of the first dwrven shaman.” Implying that dwarven shamanism initially took root in such a corrupt individual is controversial, as well as linking shamanism to demonic warlocks—surely that’s a new parallel! This hypothesis has evidence in the Spirit of Shadowforge, who shoots chain lightning at the raid. But perhaps there is some hyperbole in the curatorial notes. Shadowforge City, the capital of the Dark Iron dwarves, houses the Grim Guzzler, one of the most fun places in Azeroth, featuring dancing dwarves, a steady flow of alcohol, a succubus for a barmaid, and guest musical appearances by the Tauren Chieftans. Shadowforge City also houses fairly pleasant living quarters in the Domicile and is home to the renowed architect Fineous Darkvire.
Ironstar’s Petrified Shield, according to legend, was carved from an elven tree. This either shows his audacity to destroy a sacred tree of the night elves, or his diplomatic skills in convincing the night elves to allow him to do so. While he is dressed like a priest, he has a necklace and cape named after him which allude to his skill as a warrior. The Spirit of Ironstar is the worst trash mob; his special ability is Execution Sentence which marks players for death. If you kill him first, he will humorously transfer his abilities onto the remaining trash mobs, meaning you are faced with multiple paralyzed players about to die.
The Spiked Gauntlets of Anvilrage are named for one of the Dark Iron’s most powerful generals. Anvilrage amassed a large following, as “his flaming anvil insignia is visible on tabards and shields beneath Blackrock to this day. While he no longer lives to command the Dark Iron army, many soldiers still bear his name.” The Spirit of Anvilrage casts a powerful AOE stun. In addition, this artifact is worth 20 gold, slightly more than the other artifacts from the Dark Iron Thanes.
The other Dark Iron artifact that is worth 20 gold is the Pipe of Franclorn Forgewright, who was the skilled architect behind Blackrock Depths and the Stonewroght Dam. He is generally believed to be a dwarf of a good moral nature—many are surprised to learn that a Dark Iron created such iconic monuments. Players can interact with the NPC by dying and finding him as a ghost en route to Blackrock Mountain; he used to give a quest series that rewarded the player with the key to the instance. In Cataclysm, the Dark Iron dwarves have rightfully reclaimed possession of the Stonewrought Dam, but Deathwing destroys it.
But by far the most valuable artifact is the Word of Empress Zoe, which vends for 375 gold. The text reads “The Word and the Oath of Empress Zoe were once a pair of powerful magical rings. The ring you have recovered was the Word, which sadly was stripped of its magical properties when it was shattered. The Oath has been lost but may yet endure. The empress herself was a little known Dark Iron ruler. Many dwarves lost their lives humoring her obsession with dragons by attempting to steal their eggs or young.” This artifact raises several immediate questions: Why is it worth so much, especially if she is little known? Is the high price a tribute to her skills? Or is it similar to a bride’s dowry in which a woman is measured by her economic worth? Why was the ring shattered in the first place?
Not all these questions can be answered, but starting from the basics and moving upwards, here’s a crack. The Oath of Empress Zoe remains in-game; it’s an epic drop from the Lich King’s cache after completing Halls of Reflection in Icecrown Citadel, the hardest 5-player dungeon. Zoe could be a reference to the Empress Zoe in Age of Mythology and Age of Empires III, which Ghostcrawler worked on. But that reference had to evolve from an out-of-game reference, so Zoe could also be a reference to the Macedonian queen, Zoe Porphyrogenita, whose name means “born into the purple,” easily spun into a witty reference on epics. Zoe, spending the first fifty years of her life in obscurity, successfully navigated a web of court intrigue, serving as consort to three emperors. She kept herself in the public sphere, without becoming so entrenched in politics that she ended up blinded, exiled, or poisoned like her more-famous political contemporaries. Early historians had negative things to say about her rule, but other historians have pointed out how she was a fair ruler.
The Oath/Word are ironic names, if alluding to Zoe Porphyrogenita, considering the fake pledges and alliances she formed to stay ahead in society. She poisoned one husband, marrying a lover the next day. She exiled her more-talented sister to a monastery, yet later on in life shrewdly allowed her sister as well as her third husband’s mistress to hold elevated positions of royalty. Her alliances, while fickle, were also powerful with long-lasting repercussions. Zoe Porphyrogenita was charismatic and beautiful; it appears Empress Zoe was particularly convincing as well, coaxing numerous dwarves on foolish suicide missions.
Female rulers in history are rare; their achievements are downplayed or they are dismissed as a ruler’s mistress. Ironforge is the only Alliance city currently to not include female guards. Modgud, the wife of Sorcerer-Thane Thassaurian, was a competent military leader that organized the assault on Grim Batol, yet she receives less attention than her husband does and no archaeological tribute. Empress Zoe probably did exert considerable power in her time; a rare feat considering the paucity of other dwarven artifacts owned by female rulers. In the hands of a vengeful curator (or a sexist one, based on the treatment of other dwarven women), her legacy could be misinterpreted, leading to the contradictory text.
A contemporary dwarven female ruler we have for reference is Moira, who left the Bronzebeards to ally herself with the more, as she claims, respectful Dark Iron clan. As the handful of known female dwarven rules were affiliated with the Dark Irons, there may be some truth to this. Treated poorly by her father, King Magni, who was disappointed his child was not a son, she ran away to the Dark Iron dwarves and married Dark Iron Emperor Dagran Thaurissan. Her escape was hushed up and described as a kidnapping by the Dark Iron dwarves instead. In Cataclysm, she returned to Ironforge with her young son to claim the abandoned throne. She further complicated issues by holding Ironforge and Prince Anduin Wyrnn hostage, requiring King Varian and SI:7 to storm Ironforge and threaten to assassinate her. As a result, the Council of the Three Hammers was formed, to guide her into becoming a fair leader (or, to hold back her power because she was a woman speaking out), as she and her son are the rightful heirs to the throne. While Moira’s recent behavior is questionable, she grew up belittled by her father for her gender. Taking any measures possible to secure respect and power was a logical choice, even if her form of power is currently limited and overly traditional.
The Innkeepers Daughter, of which much has been written about, reinforces the negative stereotypes Moira faced growing up in the Bronzebeard clan. This tale of a rebellious daughter turned into a hearthstone, with hints of slut-shaming underneath, drew much ire when first introduced. In 4.1 additional animations were added to the hearthstone; a ghostly female dwarf sometimes follows the player around, blowing kisses and disturbingly collapsing, turning into a corpse. While the presence of such an item does not mean that Blizzard supports the ignorant views of the dwarves, adding controversial items is always a risk, especially in a fantasy world that already has a disproportionate ratio of successful and famous male to female NPCs. Sadly, the attitude taken by the controlling father in the tale resonates in Moira’s story; daughters should be obedient and not stray from home, or else they face censure.
There’s some women present in a few more artifacts: the door knocker and chalice. While the Bodacious Door Knocker can be analyzed as simply a bawdy pun on the word ‘knockers,’ it furthers the virgin/whore dichotomy present in other aspects of Dwarven culture. Outside of Zoe’s artifact, women are not a political presence in dwarven archaeology. The Innkeeper’s Daughter is shamed for her sexuality, while in other sections of towns, there were successful brothels as evidenced by this door knocker. The description of the knocker is fairly intricate, implying the establishment was well-to-do in order to commission one that would be expensive. In the Chalice of the Mountain Kings, dwarven women warriors perform a sword dance, described as “part ritual and part mock battle, apparently evolved from bloody duels fought during less sophisticated times in dwarven history.” Women warriors are celebrated for their skills as entertainers off the battle field; the artifact is also a relic of “less sophisticated” times, subtly criticizing the ceremony. Women in contemporary Bronzebeard society are property: either daughters that contribute to a family’s worth, entertainers, or goods as part of a transaction.
Fortunately, Cataclysm has introduced several female characters that show that dwarven society may be changing for the better, especially with the integration of the Wildhammer Clan; their women are bold but are not shamed for their actions. (There’s even something to be made of how the Wildhammer value their gryphons: Sky’ree died protecting her nest, but she was characterized as a war hero.) Stormcaller Mylra, a Wildhammer shaman allied with the Earthen Ring in Deepholm, is a tough interrogator. She questions a reluctant ogre about the Twilight Hammer, pressuring him to respond by dangling him above a propellor. She ignores his insults about her angry attitude and short appearance, successfully getting the information she needs.
Fanny Thundermar, an eligible bachelorette in Twilight Highlands, reinvents the cliché tale she’s trapped in. Your player initially tries to marry her off to bring about a political alliance between quarreling families. Instead, she proves to be more interesting than expected. When your player goes to save her from ogres, she announces that she’s already dealt with them herself. When you go to escort her out, she runs ahead and you’re left to escort her scared fiancé. And when your player asks her about the wedding proposal everyone is suggesting, she laughs and says “You, Kurdran, Firebeard, and now my brother- everyone’s got wedding fever! Fine, fine, I’ll marry Keegan Firebeard. But only ‘cuz he’s strong and handsome, with a jaw that can cut gravel and an arse like an anvil. Not for any political reasons.” Fanny resists falling into stereotypes; she’s comfortable both planning a wedding, slaying ogres, and cracking jokes.
While players level up primarily as allies of the Bronzebeard clan, this handful of Dark Iron artifacts presents a more nuanced version of the opposition. And in some respects, the Bronzebeards come out the worst; they’ve created a culture so steeped in patriarchal tradition that it promotes legends such as The Innkeeper’s Daughter, while the cultures of the Wildhammers and Dark Irons promote more respect for women and their own choices.