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Dungeon Dossier: Wailing Caverns

by - 4 years ago

Welcome to the Dungeon Dossier! Every weekend, the Dossier dives a little deeper into the lore of World of Warcraft‘s dungeons. This week, delve into the winding, watery wonder that is the Wailing Caverns.

Wailing Caverns is one of those “you either love it or hate it” places–even after 4.1, which cut out much of its labyrinthine twists, the caverns can be confusing to the uninitiated. Which is kind of the point. The Wailing Caverns, based in the Northern Barrens, are a vast system of underground steam fissures. For lifetime Horde players, its story is likely the first time they heard of the Emerald Dream and its devious effigies.

There isn’t much to be said for the caverns between updates. Some bosses have been trimmed out or relocated, but the story is still the same. A well-intentioned shan’do (that’s Darnassian for “honored teacher”) named Naralex decided that it would be a good idea to remake the barrens into a verdant jungle, restoring it to its former glory before it became a dustbowl. To do this, he would go deep into the Wailing Caverns, fall into a deep sleep, enter the Emerald Dream, and spread its power through the steam vents. The vents would then send the Emerald Dream’s life magic all throughout the Barrens, resurging in a great swathe of wildlife and flora.

From a cursory flight over the Barrens, you’ll notice that the plant seems to have worked. There’s some green eyesores spread across regions of the badlands and grasslands–trees and vines and that kind of thing. But, in the good World of Warcraft fashion, something also went very, very wrong. The plants have gone haywire, attacking any stupid enough to go traipsing into their clutches, and the local animals have become incredibly violent.

The Wailing Caverns boils down to a few actors: Archdruid Naralex, the Night Elf who started it all, and his pupils, who followed him to help him act out this great feat of transformation. His followers, after succumbing to the corruption in the caverns, formed the Druids of the Fang cult, sporting oh-so-clever snake puns for names. All except one–Muyoh, a Tauren, who players meet at the entrance, joining forces to overcome the Fanglords and fight the corruption.


Essentially, Archdruid Naralex sought to return the Barrens to its former state of verdant life from its current state of dust and grasslands. To do so, he decided to utilize the extensive network of underground steam fissures to spread his magic quickly and evenly across the land. The source of Naralex’ magic was the Emerald Dream–a powerful source of life magic. With his pupils to aid him, Naralex feel deep asleep within the caverns to reach the Dream. But his dream turns into a nightmare, and the nightmare corrupts the very magic he sought to use, affecting everything in the caverns.

The key themes and ideas in the Wailing Caverns’ story include:

  • Hubris: It is Naralex’ fixation on his dream that makes him forgo basic considerations which play into his project’s tragic fallout.
  • Corruption: Naralex’ nightmare within the Emerald Dream is what causes everything to go bonkers, and it is what drives his dedicated pupils mad.
  • The Natural Order: Naralex destroys the existing ecosystem of the Barrens in order to create one which he believes is for the greater good–was he right or wrong?

But before we get into what’s going on here, let’s get some context. To understand why Naralex did what he did, spin the clock back to just before the Sundering, and you’ll find that the Barrens weren’t so barren, after all.

Barely Bare Barrens

A long, long, long time ago, what is now known as the Barrens was a vast and lush forest. Several Night Elf (kaldorei) villages were located here, and the region as a whole was probably not much different from Ashenvale, ancestral home of the kaldorei, just to the north.

Then, about 10,000 years ago, the infamous Queen Azshara and her Highborne Elves did a bunch of (really interesting but not relevant) magic things, the War of the Ancients ensued, the Burning Legion invaded from the Twisting Nether, and it all ended with a big bang when the Sundering split the formerly united landmass of Azeroth into its current continents. That summary that I just gave you is such reductive swill that I want to carve out my eyeballs, but the result is really what matters. The combined forces of the Burning Legion invasion and the Sundering charred the Barrens to dust and it has remained so ever since.

10,000 Years Ago…

All of this information leaves us with some remarkable motives for Archdruid Naralex to revitalize the Barrens.

First, Naralex would essentially have returned the Barrens back to its original, “natural” state circa 10,000 years ago. You know, had the nightmare not sneaked into his dream and mucked everything up.

Second, Naralex would be mending what was originally kaldorei (Night Elf) land. Being a kaldorei, you can see the obvious motive here. Just to the north, the kaldorei are already fighting tooth and nail for their lands in Ashenvale against the Horde, just a stone’s throw over the river to the east. Reclaiming the land for the forest would, in a sense, be reclaiming it for the vision of the kaldorei.

Third, Naralex would be undoing damages wrought by Queen Azshara and her Highborne magicians. There’s a lot of history that explains this, but basically the kaldorei have a historic hatred of the quel’dorei, or Highborne Elves. Queen Azshara and the quel’dorei not only ushered in the Burning Legion, but also set the stage for the explosion of the Well of Eternity, AKA the Sundering. Repairing the Barrens to its original state would be a monumental feat of healing, as well as a victory 10,000 years overdue.

A Bit Shortsighted

Of course, all of this pales in consideration to the damages Naralex actually ended up causing. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a sin’dorei fascist, but let’s count the ways Naralex did the exact opposite of instilling peace, tranquility, and life to the Barrens.

First, Naralex technically upsets the natural balance of the Barrens when he seeks to restore it to its original state. It’s been over 10,000 years since the area was originally devastated, and looking around you’ll notice that the wildlife and flora have adapted to the harsh environment akin to the African Savannah. While it might not be the original blueprint, nature has found a way, and abruptly changing that process is technically detrimental to the animals that now call it home. Naralex’ plan is actually very similar to the ethics of the Titans’ re-origination technology.

Second, Naralex inadvertently turns some of his brightest and most dedicated pupils into murderous, snake-channeling psycho-Druids, including Lady Anacondra, Lord Cobrahn, Lord Serpentis, Lord Pythas, and others (who were removed from the dungeon). And then we kill them.

Third, Naralex’ unchecked nightmare corrupts hapless creatures who called the caverns (and surrounding area) home for longer than he’s probably been alive, including Skum, Verdan, and many of the other crazed beasts you’ll encounter winding through the Wailing Caverns’ depths.

With the exception of the first point, the other two are more of a perspective thing. Obviously, Naralex did not intend to encounter a nightmare during his sleep, but the “honored teacher” did take on the risk of something going horribly wrong when he initiated the magic. He then compounded the potential for disaster by linking his spell to the steam fissures of the caverns–anything that went wrong would go wrong everywhere all at once. Honestly, if that’s not oversight, I don’t know what is.

Waking Up

Regardless of Naralex’ intentions and the results of his actions, one thing is certain: if the corruption isn’t stopped, a “great evil” (according to Muyoh) will be unleashed. Thus it follows that the heroes’ job is to kill Naralex’ hopelessly corrupted students and, with Muyoh’s druidic aid, awaken the Archdruid from his sleep. Doing this would stop the nightmare from spreading and spare the Barrens the twisted fate visited on the creatures of the Wailing Caverns.

To sum it all up, the Archdruid Naralex discovered the Wailing Caverns beneath the Barrens long ago. He later returned with druid pupils and sought to return the Barrens to its lush state 10,000 years ago. Reverting the damages of time, the invasion of the Burning Legion, and the cataclysm known as the Sundering would take immense power.

To find this power, Naralex went to sleep in the caverns to contact the Emerald Dream. Unfortunately, his hubris or shortsightedness prevented him from enacting safeguards in his spell, disrupting the natural order. When his dream turned into a corrupting nightmare, his magic warped all life in the Wailing Caverns into twisted, malicious, deviant lifeforms.

To prevent even further damages from ensuing, heroes need to venture deep into the caverns, confront Naralex’ former pupils, and wake the Archdruid with Muyoh’s help.

The Dungeon Dossier runs every weekend covering a new dungeon’s lore in detail. Tune in next week to explore the undulating, undead-infested labyrinth known as Razorfen Downs!

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Seth Harkins

PC gamer and lover of (most) things Blizzard. In his off time, he writes bad fan fiction, tends to his growing number of house plants, and enjoys a love-hate relationship with two cats.