I remember the twelfth of September, 2001. I was awake late at night, talking with friends on the internet. I’d been signed to a large book contract; my first solo book ever, and I was swapping e-mails with my editor about what he wanted me to do with it.
The first words that changed everything were on the chat channel with my friends. In all-caps, it read, “A PLANE HAS FLOWN INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER.” To begin with, there was confusion. We speculated that it could have been an accident; do planes fly past New York like that? Even then, we knew it seemed unlikely. When the second plane hit, that speculation ended. New speculation began. One of my friends was already arguing it had to be Bin Laden behind it. At the time, I had only the vaguest sense of what a Bin Laden was. I was buzzed by another friend of mine, a local. I hopped onto his chat channel as well.
If we believed everything that was reported that night, about a dozen planes got hijacked, as well as a helicopter in Russia, and (as one satirist put it) an ’84 Tarana in Yass. We knew straight away that we couldn’t believe everything we heard, especially with the relied upon sources of news down due to bandwidth. (We turned on the TV, of course, but we were all creatures of the net; websites were our currency.)
After four planes went down and thousands of people were murdered, the third wave of speculation began. One person I knew (friend of a friend, an author) said that he felt there wouldn’t be a second attack; that they’d basically “shot their wad”. Others maintained that they surely would have had a second assault planned to ensure true panic. Everyone wondered what it would be.
When anthrax started showing up in the mail, we all thought we had our answer. It was brilliant; less deadly than a plane crashing into a building full of thousands of people, but ubiquitous. Primed for fear, we began to distrust common household objects.
Eventually, of course, we learned the anthrax was unrelated. That my author-friend-of-a-friend was right, it had been a one-time assault.
We know all this now.
Now imagine it happened again.
That’s where Azeroth is right now. Bare years ago, less time than has passed between us and September 11, the Eastern Kingdoms were hit by a disaster greater than any they had ever seen. It came unexpected; at the time the main concern from Lordaeron were the orcish uprisings, and counsellors arguing that the strange spreading plague needed more attention were angrily shot down by the King. And then as the weeks progressed, whole towns died. Rumors spread like wildfire. Was it true that Prince Arthas had massacred an entire town? Had he become the enemy himself? Was it true that those who died came back as horrific undead?
And then Arthas Menethil returned. And they had their answer.
The other races fared no better. The high elves were obliterated. The orcs began a great pilgrimage to the West; and then were brutally decimated facing the true terrors down, some of whom were their own.
The point is this: Everyone knows it’s all happening again. People have now spent a terrified week locked in their houses as the zombies wailed outside their doors. Huge swathes of the population have been cut down; a large percentage of the population is in mourning. Some are furiously calling for action, for vengeance. Others are wondering whether it’s time now to get out of the cities and flee while they have a chance.
They’re now past the storm, and have entered darkness. Now is when speculation runs rampant. Now is when they wonder what will happen next. Paranoia runs rampant. More will die, killed by their own kind, suspected of treachery. Any minor event will be connected to the major one.
History repeats. But we don’t notice this. If there’s anything we learn from history, it’s that we don’t learn from history.
So what does this mean for us, as role-players? First and foremost, resist the urge to treat this as a detective story, a crime I’ve been guilty of myself. This is a full-fledged disaster, and you should treat it this way. The time for detective work, investigation and vengeance will come. (I’ve heard it’s scheduled for November 13th.) But now, your characters should be counting the dead, beating down panic, and running scared. If you haven’t acted this way yet, that’s not a problem: Chances are you were out in the Eastern Plaguelands helping the Argent Dawn anyway. But when you come back to the cities, think about your reaction.
The servers are, at least when I last checked, currently down. Part of me hopes that when they come back up, not all of the NPCs in the major cities will return. They should seem changed, people should be missing. Your characters do have friends, surely, who are not adventurers. How many of them do you think died? One in every fifty? Twenty? Ten? Five? We don’t know. You’ll need to judge this for yourself, unless Blizzard give us a Word of God answer. But the odds are good that people you know are dead, even if they were just the local shopkeeper you liked dealing with.
If your characters have family, have they checked to make sure they’re safe yet? Are they safe? Or were they victims too?
Think about the activities going on in each city now. The cleanup is underway. Bodies are being pulled out of the city. Those who died in some way that left them human are being claimed by tearful children, or parents, for burial. Most of the bodies can’t be identified, and are being burned.
The economy is destroyed. Those who have survived may have lost much of what they had. A new wave of beggars will emerge, starvation will begin. With fewer resources, the orphanages in Stormwind and Orgrimmar will receive less charity, and will make do with less.
Secondly, think about what this means to your character with regards to history. Where were you when the Scourge hit the first time? If you’re a draenei or possibly a gnome, this is new to you, and you have no freaking clue what will happen next. This will probably terrify you. If you’re any other race, you know what’s coming next. You know who’s responsible.
Does this anger you? Frighten you? Both? How is your character coping? Are they coping? There’s a lot of scope in this event for people to truly freak out.
And yet there are notes of hope in all this. One of the amazing things that occurred after September 11 was the amazing way a community pulled together. People cued up for hours to give blood. The Red Cross couldn’t even process the sheer volume of donations they received.
Tragedies destroy us, and pull us together. Right now, Azeroth is doing both. This is a crucial time, a crucial point for the World of Warcraft.
So role-play it.