Insider 10-26-2011

As I mentioned in my last blog, I will be using my Insiders to explore our characters and my thoughts about writing them. This time let’s take a look at Thagrosh, once the Prophet and now the Messiah of Everblight.

For me, the characters that first appeared in Primal have a special significance, Thagrosh among them. Writing HORDES: Primal was the task for which I was hired on staff as a full-time writer. Matt Wilson and the team had already been hard at work developing the game, including drawing stunning concept art for each faction’s warlocks and models, but the characters’ stories had yet to be told. I was able to get in on the ground floor with these individuals and play a role in shaping them into what they would ultimately become. I was introduced to Thagrosh through his art, which showed his inhuman demeanor, his twisted body, and the dragon athanc stitched into his chest. It was up to me to stare into those fierce eyes and figure out what made him tick.

Thagrosh was a particular challenge, for many reasons. At first he was simply “the Abomination,” a monstrous figure who would serve as vessel for Everblight, the dragon who had annihilated the old Nyss culture (a culture I had helped create!) and who was at the forefront of a faction that seemed more of a disease or a calamity than a people. We struggled with the notion of how much of Thagrosh remained or whether he was nothing more than a shell for Everblight. What was Thagrosh?

Characters are important to us, and we decided the Legion had to be more than a “hive mind” with each warlock as a faceless extension for the dragon. Everblight would always be there in each of them, capable of acting through them when he wished, but each warlock was still a person, with a unique personality and background.

I knew immediately that Thagrosh bore a particular burden and would have an especially complex relationship with Everblight. He carried the greatest share of the athanc and had become the corporeal leader of the faction. More than the others, he would occasionally struggle with his identity and might sometimes lose track of which thoughts were his and which belonged to the dragon. He would represent Everblight, and occasionally he would actually be Everblight.

This became real for me when I was working with Jason Soles on the Legion faction introduction in Primal, which remains the most challenging faction history I have ever written. We adopted Thagrosh’s point of view to demonstrate how the dragon would sometimes take over as particular memories stirred Everblight’s emotions. The drafts for this history prompted some entertaining feedback from Jason: “The telling of this story should be excited and over the top. It is not history, IT IS AN ORGY OF DESTRUCTION.” He was referring to the moment when Everblight is reliving the destruction of the Iosan city of Issyrah, shortly before Everblight’s body was destroyed. I knew just what Jason meant and immediately endeavored to ramp up the draconic frenzy of this passage.

Every one of our characters is layered—you can peel away aspects one by one to understand the character as a whole—but with Thagrosh this concept is literally true. Beyond even the central issue of Thagrosh v. Everblight, he is a creature whose recent life has been in constant transformation. The eponymous themes of Evolution and Metamorphosis, our first two HORDES expansions, speak to the Legion generally but Thagrosh specifically.

Thagrosh’s transformation began with his first exposure to Everblight, when he was a much simpler creature. He was an ogrun wanderer, a simple nomadic hunter living day to day and with the narrow perspective of an escaped slave, all but homeless and disconnected from any family or kin. His own words show his mind was tremendously expanded and his world changed utterly when he blended his thoughts with those of a creature thousands of years old. The Thagrosh-that-is bears little resemblance to the Thagrosh-that-was.

Thagrosh became the Prophet of Everblight, fluent in dozens of languages and able to eloquently express thoughts and concepts he had never dreamed of in his old life. Simultaneously he gained mastery over tremendous blighted power. Once he might have huddled against the cold, warming himself before a meager fire, but now he can gather his will to invoke earth-rending explosions. His very blood causes fiercely loyal living creatures to spawn into being. At the same time, he is a prisoner in his own body. Thagrosh has no private thoughts, no escape from the incomprehensible and inhuman creature that raised him to this godlike state.

It was enjoyable to explore these conflicting elements of Thagrosh’s condition in Metamorphosis, when he had his second transformation into the Messiah. This change went even deeper, for as his body shifted closer to the draconic so also did his mind gain a greater measure of the dragon’s impulsive rage and arrogance. Every gift Everblight has given Thagrosh chains him ever tighter.

I find it satisfying when our most apparently monstrous and villainous characters also have the air of tragedy. Thagrosh is, on one level, the leader of his faction—yet we must wonder if he has any free will at all.