An interesting aspect of the ongoing Ashran faction hub debate is the fear people express that their hubs will be raided by enemy players, since the new hubs are adjacent to a PvP zone. Blizzard pointed out that the hubs will be better defended by NPCs than the Shrines are now, and the Shrines currently see few serious attacks on live realms, despite their close proximity.
On most realms today, little large-scale world PvP occurs, and even fewer faction raids. Faction raids were once a huge part of the game, even on PvE realms. You couldn't kill opposing players on PvE realms if they didn't want to be killed, but you could deny them their questgivers, flightmasters, and other crucial NPCs. And we did that, on both sides, throughout classic WoW.
Easy targets like the Crossroads, Astranaar, Grom'gol, and Refuge Pointe were raided almost daily. If your faction was heavily outnumbered, like mine was on Khadgar-US back then, it could be infuriating. We had our small victories at times, as I covered in my first Archivist column. But many days, all we could do was stand by and watch as the Alliance occupied our towns for hours at a time and took away our ability to level effectively.
On our first anniversary in 2006, my guild set out for some payback. Today I'd like to share that tale of classic world PvP from the era when faction raids were serious business.
No love for Theramore
I've always hated Theramore. I had plenty of reasons. In Dustwallow Marsh, it was such a pretty seaside town compared to crude, ugly, dreary, smelly Brackenwall. It was an Alliance foothold on Kalimdor -- "my" continent. It was a staging ground for Alliance raids on nearby Horde towns. It was the home of Jaina Proudmoore, the know-it-all mage who thought she could lull our warchief into a foolish peace.
When I planned out my guild's first anniversary party for that January, I imagined a raid on Theramore as the finale. But then I realized we could accomplish even more than that if we were smart.
And we had to be smart. We were heavily outnumbered on our realm. Any attack on Alliance towns was met with overwhelming force. A mindless zerg wouldn't do because theirs was always zergier.
With no flying mounts in classic WoW, it was easier to hide an invading force. We tucked ourselves away in the hills north of Theramore and summoned everyone in the raid, a few less than 40. Discipline was key here. Any level 60 player seen sniffing around an Alliance town could trigger a chain of warnings through guilds and chat channels that would bring their full wrath down on your plans.
As it turned out, someone did spot us: a low-level Alliance player, farming ore. We summoned the rest of our team in a hurry, mounted up, and rode straight into the town.
If you wanted to murder a faction leader in classic WoW, Theramore was a good place to attempt it. Jaina's tower possessed only one tiny entrance that made for a good chokepoint. Alliance players had to fight their way up a narrow, winding staircase to save Jaina.
We stationed a small team at the entrance to take care of single players who wandered in flagged and to warn us about any large incoming force. Then we stormed up the stairs, and our tanks pulled Jaina.
She was no pushover. She summoned water elementals. She had nasty Blizzard and Fireball spells. Worst and most hilarious of all was her spell Teleport: In the middle of fighting her, you suddenly found yourself outside of the tower, falling through the air. When the Alliance showed up -- and they did -- she could drop you right in the midst of the enemy, half-dead already from falling damage.
We lost people, but we managed to kill her before the Alliance could muster enough resistance to wipe us out. She dropped a substantial amount of gold. If I remember correctly, we each earned about 8 gold apiece. That was a small fortune back then.
Escape from Dustwallow
We knew the Alliance were coming. Already, enough level 60s were around to cause problems for us. We recognized some of their guild tags, and we knew that meant many more on the way.
Keep in mind, this occurred during the era of the old honor system, when the only way to advance was to PvP 24 hours a day or as close as you could get.
Any large-scale world PvP attracted the honor grinders, especially if they could defend. Attacking a town chanced killing a "civilian" NPC and earning dishonorable kills, which were devastating to your PvP rank. Defending carried no such risk. So the grinders came (at least, the ones who weren't already in a never-ending Alterac Valley battle).
We were counting on that. You see, these players used the World Defense channel. It alerted anyone whenever a target like Jaina was under attack. Also, players who had attained a certain PvP rank (Rank 11) could speak in the World Defense channel and rally players to certain locations. But travel was not easy back then. Mages made a lot of gold hawking portals in major cities. Travel took time.
Now, you might be thinking we all set our hearthstones somewhere so we could teleport across the world. We could have, I suppose. But hearthing during a PvP skirmish is impossible for non-Paladins (of whom we had zero in classic), so we would have had to wait to unflag before we could do it. That seemed rather boring and cowardly to me.
Instead, once the Alliance brought substantial numbers to Theramore, we commandeered an Alliance boat at crossbow-point and sailed to Menethil Harbor. Any foes from the Theramore battle who caught a ride with us were quickly slaughtered.
Once in Menethil, we sent a few players to harry Menethil NPCs and alert the defense channels about our presence there. But most of us stayed on the docks. When the Alliance from Theramore arrived on the next boat, we were waiting. With surprise and lag on our side, we butchered them. (A third probably died before the server caught up and showed them we were even there.) Then we sailed for Auberdine.
Yes, Auberdine. Boat routes were very different in classic. Stormwind had no harbor and no boats, so Alliance boats sailed between Theramore, Menethil, Auberdine, and Teldrassil, along with that random island off the coast of Feralas.
At Auberdine, we didn't bother with an ambush and instead took the ship to Teldrassil as soon as it came. We spent the time summoning anyone who didn't make it. We hoped to shake off the Alliance pursuers for a little while and perhaps make them wonder about our plans.
If they thought we were done for the night, they would go back to the battlegrounds. The only way to queue for them in classic was to talk to an NPC at the battleground's entrance, and you could queue only for that specific battleground. It was a terribly inefficient system.
Darnassus proved confusing. None of us had been there before, and maps and screenshots can only tell you so much. We didn't actually think we'd make it this far without the whole raid getting spawn-camped by an overwhelming force. Suddenly we were on the doorstep of an Alliance capital. Our main goal was to kill Jaina. This was just a bonus, but now that we were so close, we wanted to take this raid all the way.
Inside, the guards were tougher than those in the other towns. We tried to encounter as few NPCs as possible, snaking our way through trees, ponds, and paths toward Tyrande's seat of power. The few who attacked us, we tried not to attack, and instead we healed the damage. But high-level players were too deadly; we had to kill them. Fortunately, Darnassus was not heavily populated. Back then, it didn't even have an auction house, so few high-level players visited. But as before, we knew they were coming. They couldn't stand idle while Horde players razed one of their capitals.
Tyrande, like Jaina, could hold her own against a large force. We engaged her as soon as we had everyone in place. She had a wicked Cleave ability in the era when cleaves hit in a full circle around a boss, ripping through melee fighters. Her Moonfire left a nasty DOT effect, Searing Arrow did high single-target damage, and Starfall did heavy AOE damage. Guards spawned on us. Players joined the fray, targeting healers. The entire area became one big cluster of flashing blades, falling stars, moonbeams, and death.
Rematch with the high priestess
"Don't rez," I said. The only chance we had now was to rez in unison and make another attempt. The Allies stood their ground. They weren't about to let us have another chance at Tyrande without resistance. We resurrected at the bottom of the ramp, out of range of the high priestess.
Many of the Alliance players made the wrong decision that night. They attacked us below, instead of making us come to them, which would have aggro'ed Tyrande in the process. We remained below and killed most of them first. Then we engaged her.
This time, with our healers free to work their spells, things went a lot more smoothly. We focus-fired players whenever they came up the ramps. And after a long, difficult fight, with our healers all running out of mana and a dozen friends dead, Tyrande fell.
We celebrated our victory over Ventrilo. We got no achievement for this, no loot, no mount -- just some honor (that didn't cover nearly what we lost from DKs) and some gold.
Faction raiding for fun and glory
While I appreciate the lack of so many interruptions in my leveling, there's a place in WoW for raiding towns and cities. With honor earned so much more easily in other ways, the rewards aren't there to motivate world PvP raids. Players today are missing out on some incredible moments.
Faction raids made Azeroth a more dynamic place. They created rich realm histories and brewed bitter rivalries among guilds. They fueled the fires of the Horde-Alliance conflagration. They got many of us hooked on WoW in a way that simple questing and group PvE never could.
When we set out that night to attack Theramore, we brought along a Rogue who was about level 35. That created some problems for us, since he aggro'ed NPCs at a much broader radius and couldn't contribute much to the fight. But he was a member of the guild and we took him. The whole thing was just for fun, after all.
He was new to the game. What he witnessed that night astonished him. The battles we waged opened his eyes to the possibilities of online gaming and MMOs. As time passed, he leveled, rose through the ranks of our guild, and eventually became a guild officer and a talented raider. He told me later it was the night of our anniversary party that inspired him to keep playing. It became a tradition. We raided Theramore -- and killed Jaina -- every year.
I wonder whether Blizzard can inspire that kind of meaning for us on Draenor. I think, to a large degree, that meaning is what is missing from the Ashran faction hubs and why players have reacted so strongly to the announcement. The original hubs of Bladespire and Karabor had meaning for us (especially the latter) and will have even more after questing in those zones. But as Anne wrote in The Queue this week, the Ashran hubs are nicely designed, so perhaps we might grow to appreciate them someday.
Maybe players will raid the Ashran hubs. Maybe the people who worry about this might find themselves wrapped up in it. To fight both for faction pride and for your very ability to accomplish things in-game is a very different feeling from fighting for valor points, lesser charms, achievement points, or any other artificial metric. It's a desperate, visceral fight. It can be a heck of a lot of fun if you give it a chance. On the other side of the coin, it's a huge rush to attempt what seems impossible -- to enter your enemy's most sacred sanctum and tear it to pieces.
Nonstop raids on your hub would be intolerable, but once in a while, in a living MMO world, it's more interesting if things aren't always exactly what you expect when you log in. We've become too comfortable in some sense, too attached to our conveniences. This game is, after all, about war, and war is never comfortable or convenient.
Especially not for you, Jaina. Sorry about your stuff.
WoW Archivist is a column by WoW Insider's Scott Andrews; it runs on Massively by permission. Every other weekend, Scott explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?