World of Warcraft players often have to deal with fighting gods, monsters, and dragons, but observant fans have found a new threat brewing while we wait for the next expansion, Shadowlands. The Scarlet Brotherhood, an enemy faction dating back to the game’s launch, has returned (again) with a whole new strategy: fake news.
Players have fought the Scarlet threat in one form or another for well over a decade. At launch, these crusaders were a religious military force dedicated to killing all of the undead in their kingdom. The problem is that these undead had been freed from the evil Lich King who raised them as an army, and are now sentient beings who just wanted to be left alone. This meant the Scarlet Crusade were committing genocide, and players had to show up and stop them. Because of the Scarlet Crusade, and general human fear of undeath, Sylvanas and her undead Forsaken ended up joining the other in-game faction, the Horde.
The Crusade came back in Wrath of the Lich King, where players bested them once and for all. Since then, they’ve been a shadow of their former selves. They don’t have an army, or a ton of land. In fact, they have none of the things that usually make a World of Warcraft villain a villain, like powerful corrupted artifacts or a giant castle full of intimidating lackeys.
However, I’ve never been more scared of them, because they’ve found a new strategy: spreading fake news and conspiracies in the form of four in-world readable propaganda pamphlets, full of lines like these:
“You have heard stories that the so-called ‘Forsaken’ were killed by the Banshee. FALSE. There was no massacre. But Anduin wants you to believe there was.”
It’s also a good reminder that NPCs in Azeroth only get a narrow sliver of the truth; they aren’t queueing up for raids and getting all the cutscenes. As players, especially if we read all of the books and watch all of the cutscenes, we have a pretty good idea of what’s happening in the world, and it doesn’t match the latest propaganda.
For instance, I spent $10 to read Before the Storm, a pre-Battle for Azeroth official novel. In the book, the kind Alliance king Anduin tries to set up a reunion for living family members from the south and their undead relatives in the northern kingdom of Lordaeron. Things go wrong when Calia Menethil, the rightful heir to Lordaeron, tries to help some Forsaken defect to the Alliance. Sylvanas kills everyone she can in response, and Calia is raised into Light-based undeath by priests.
We know that Anduin didn’t want anyone to die — in fact, the boy is so good that every time he thinks about doing something bad, his magically healed bones hurt.
But the Scarlet Brotherhood, in the present day, have found out about all of this, and are putting their own spin on the story. They’re telling everyone that Anduin is secretly in love with Sylvanas, and is pro-undead. The only solution, the Brotherhood thinks, is to pull a coup, and put the racist werewolf Genn Greymane on the throne. Then, the Alliance will be down to kill all undead, and the Scarlet Brotherhood can pull a coup part two: electric boogaloo.
What’s most interesting is the Scarlet Brotherhood claims to have Calia Menethil’s child in its possession. We know from Before the Storm that Calia did, indeed, have a son that she later lost and does not know the fate of. It’s very possible that the Scarlet Brotherhood does have the technical king of Lordaeron in its possession.
This is a fascinating conflict, and one that breaks the mold for World of Warcraft antagonists. We’ve seen scheming or secretive characters in this setting before, but ultimately, they always end up being thwarted as we storm their headquarters or fight their armies. This is a campaign that we can’t stop with sheer martial might, which is a modern take on undead queens and cursed werewolves.
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