['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This week's final column (more about this in the outro!) looks at the stories behind five of the game's character races.]

hordies.jpgWorld of Warcraft's lore is an organic thing. It changes and twists with every new patch, book, or card game expansion Blizzard releases. The stories behind each of the player races, though, have remained largely static.

Each of the lengthy tales detailing how the races came to be sets up a theme that players can experience as they play through the game.

Today, following up on the guide to the lore of the Alliance, we'll explore those themes for the races that make up the might Horde: the Blood Elves, the Undead Forsaken, the Tauren, the Orcs, and the Trolls.

The Blood Elves

At one point, not too very long ago, the Blood Elves fit one of the standard fantasy tropes: porcilein-skinned, pointy eared mages, wise because of their years and dedicated to goodness and Light. Then came the Scourge, an army of undead monsters lead by the Death Knight Arthas. They burned, slaughtered, and defiled the ancient homeland of the High Elves.

That act had many consequences. It shattered the resolve of one of the Human Alliances staunchest allies. The destruction of the ancient Sunwell artifact left a people without purpose, and a deep hunger in their soul. And it left Sylvana Windrunner, a hero to her people, trapped in a mockery of unlife.

hordies.jpgOne powerful mage refused to allow his people to be destroyed. Prince Kael'thas Sunstrider sought out powerful allies to shore up his people, a group he dubbed the "Blood Elves" because of their violent past. With something like 90% of his races slaughtered, Sunstrider wasn't very picky in choosing allies. Ilidan Stormrage, the demon-tainted Night Elf that rules the Outlands, ended up offering Kael exactly what he wanted. As a result, an army of Blood Elves aids Ilidan in his rule of that hellish dimension.

The Blood Elves that find themselves adventuring through Azeroth are a different group. Realizing that Kael'thas has gone astray, the elves of Silvermoon have pledged themselves to the light and to their new allies in the Horde. Low-level Blood Elves work to fight the undead still on their doorstep, and many have hopes of laying low Kael'thas himself, a figure they see as contrary to their racial destiny.

The Forsaken

The events surrounding the "Frozen Throne" expansion to WarCraft 3 depict a number of events that would set the stage for World of Warcraft. One of those was the weakening of the Lich King's power at the hands of Ilidan Stormrage. The Lich King, leader of the Scourge, had controlled the entire undead army through his iron will. With their psychic link lessened, many undead regained a measure of sentience. One such hero was the aforementioned Sylvanas Windrunner, raised by Arthas as an undead Banshee.

Windrunner tore free of the Lich King's power, and rallied many other independent undead to her cause. Calling her new people "Forsaken", she and her allies took control of the former human kingdom of Lordaeron. Dwelling in the subterranean areas of the city, they are now allied (purely for convenience) with the member races of the Horde.

Early adventures will see Forsaken characters learning of their tragic history, and coming to understand the deadly plague that spawned them. The undead are far and away the most overtly 'evil' character race in the game; a particular early quest chain involves poisoning dwarven captives, turning them into mindless slavering ghouls.

The Tauren

hordies.jpgBy contrast, this race of beastmen are almost certainly the most purely "good" race you'll find in Warcraft's morally ambiguous world. A deeply spiritual people, they led nomadic lives on the plains of Mulgore for thousands of years, only recently settling into vast tent-city encampments.

These cities were only made possible by allying with the Trolls and Orcs of the Eastern Kingdoms, newly arrived in Kalimdor after fleeing from the Human Alliance. Together, the new Horde drove back the centaurs that had driven the Tauren almost to exctinction, and worked together during the cataclysmic battle with the demons and undead.

Today, almost all Tauren tribes swear allegiance to Cairne Bloodhoof, the leader of their proud people. In return for their assistance, Cairne's race has taught the Horde their shamanistic ways - a return to roots for both the Orcs and the Darkspear trolls. Tauren quests at low level revolve around a deep connection to nature, exploring the grasslands of Mulgore and ridding the Tauren people of the Quillboar threat.

The Orcs

The racial leaders of the Horde, the once-peaceful Orcs of Dreanor are now known throughout Azeroth as proud and vicious warriors. Hailing from the same dimension as the mystical Draenei, the Orcs were brainwashed and dominated by the horrors of the demonic Burning Legion. Led by the duped and deluded leaders of their clans, the Orcs would throw themselves time and again into battle as the Legion attempted to gain entrance to Azeroth proper.

hordies.jpgThe Third War's climactic battle between the demons, the Horde, and the Alliance was the final chapter in the race's enslavement. Now the leaders of a might force, the Orcs seek only to ensure their lands are secured against threats from without and within. Early Orc quests deal with both of these elements, subduing the harsh lands of Kalimdor while defending Orgrimaar from the machinations of the ever-present demon-worshipers.

The Trolls

As with the Gnomes on the Alliance side, the Darkspear Trolls have precious little modern backstory. In the dim history of Azeroth's past, the Trolls were the dominant form of life on the planet. They warred with the insectoid Aqiri, dominated the huge central continent of the world, and (it's rumored) even gave rise to the Night Elf race. Their two vast civilizations flourished, but were eventually dashed apart by systematic wars with the elves.

Today the trolls are little more than savages, with most being villains squatting in their ruined cities. The Darkspear are the exception, having allied with the Orc chieftain Thrall during the Second War.

Now the Darkspear share the land of Durotar with their Orcish brethren, dreaming of a better tomorrow. Though Trolls start in the same area as Orcs, soon after the new player experience ends characters are directed to a trollish village by the sea. There, players can take place in a series of threads that explores Trollish culture and mores.

['World of Warcraft Exposed' is going to close up shop in favor of some more general commentary on games and the games industry from the aweeeesome Michael Zenke. Look for The Z-Axis starting next week, folks!]