I am a recovering World of Warcraft addict. Actually, I’m not recovering at all considering I’m now engrossed in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Still, it’s been a few years since I ventured into the magical lands of Azeroth. I’d like to share with you my favorite thing about WoW – the twisted instance known as Karazhan.
For those who have never played an MMO or WoW, let me briefly explain what Karazhan is all about. In the game, there are group adventures, basically dungeon crawls that require a set amount of people to accomplish. These come in several flavors, from the average five man dungeons that are the bread and butter of adventurers, to the larger raid instances that are 10, 20, 25 or even 40 man instances. Karazhan is a 10 man dungeon, meaning you needed 10 players to take it on, at least when it first came out. It, like most adventures, are geared for a specific character level. It’s not a lot different from the pen and paper dungeon ancestors of these computer games, where you need a group to explore the evil castle and defeat the wizard. The difference is that the computer runs all the bad guys, and they always attack in the same ways.
Also, you can sack the evil wizard’s castle once a week and he just keeps coming back to life.
In the case of Karazhan, it’s a tower, not a castle, though it might as well be a castle. And the evil wizard has vacated the property, leaving behind a bunch of monsters, ghosts, and an extra-dimensional prince to take his place. There’s also two dragons to slay, one a giant blue monster, and the other a skeletal dragon with a bad attitude. But there’s so much more to Karazhan than just the monsters and the loot they drop. There’s and opera! There’s a giant chess game! There are whores!
Wait, what? Yes, Karazhan has a whole brothel area, and while you can’t bed any of the women there; they’re either ghosts or evil succubi, you can take out their big nasty madame, the ironically named Maiden of Virtue.
So why do I remember this place fondly? Well, basically for the same reason people remember those old pen and paper games fondly, regardless of how stupid they actually were. Karazhan is a gigantic dungeon to clear. For characters of the proper level with average gear, it was about a six to eight hour event to clear the place. Those didn’t have to be consecutive; as long as you downed the boss in an area, you could come back and run right through with no respawned monsters in that area for an entire week. However, my group always tried to do it all in one day, or at worst over two nights.
The first reason I love Karazhan is the setting. The tower is located in a bleak, gray canyon guarded by ogres and ghosts. There’s also a hidden area to the side, but we’ll talk about that later. Inside the castle itself is a stables with a very angry stablemaster and his equally angry mount, and an entry area where you can meet Berthold the Doorman. The ground floor has a lovely dining room where Moroes, the former evil wizard’s butler, keeps things tidy. He also will try to kill you and your friends. Just up from the first floor is the harem, where the aforementioned Maiden of Virtue, a twenty foot tall iron giant, waits to welcome you between her massive thighs.
As you explore the tower, you will find a library, an Escher-esq labyrinth of stairs, the ghost of the evil wizard’s father, a museum with a magical robot curator, and the skeletal dragon I mentioned, who you meet on a balcony. There is also the opera event, which is a hell of a lot of fun. The game randomly selects one of three operas; the Wizard of Oz, Little Red Riding Hood, or Romeo and Juliette. You then fight bosses based on that opera. For the Wizard of Oz, for example, you get a metal man, a lion, a straw man, a warrior women in red shoes and her little dog, and eventually a witch who commands a tornado. For Little Red Riding Hood, you fight a giant wolf, who magically transforms one of the party into a little girl who must run for her life from him. Romeo and Juliette sees you battling the two lovers and their feuding families through three different acts. The fun part is, during all of this you are on a lighted stage with an audience of ghosts watching and applauding as you fight for your lives.
Everyone loved guessing which opera we’d get. Some people would make in-game bets. Others liked running out on the stage and having their characters bow to the audience or make other emotes at them. The audience vanished and the hall turned into a desolate place once you won the event, but for the time you were there it was kind of interesting to feel like you had a true audience.
Fighting upstairs, you eventually came on the second “event” in the dungeon: the chess game. This was very simple, but still a lot of fun. You took control of chess pieces, each player picking a different one. Each piece had different powers; some were damage dealers, like the knights, others, like bishops, healed. The idea was to kill the king, but you had to move like chess pieces, and use the powers of the pieces to win. It was very easily laid out, and all you really needed to do was get a couple of damage dealers close enough to the enemy king to take him out, but it was still fun. It was almost impossible to lose, but we found a way more than once. The phrase “wiping on chess” was shorthand for being particularly bad at something.
The final boss in the tower, found at the very tip-top, was a demon from another dimension. Easily the hardest fight of all, the guy could flatten a group with ease, and you had to stand in just the right place to fight him or you were dead. plus he dropped giant meteors on your head. He was a really nice guy. But he dropped the epic fat loot, so every week we would battle our way through the tower to get to him.
In many cases, we skipped bosses to go directly to the Prince. You didn’t have to kill them all, just the ones directly in the path to him. There were several “optional” bosses, such as the two different dragons. Once the big guy was down, you might do some mop-up work and take out those bosses. They also dropped some nice loot, so it wasn’t uncommon to go back and finish them if you hadn’t said hi on the way up.
As much fun as Karazhan was for the sheer challenge and complexity, I liked the lore that went into it. The story is a little confusing and the game and written material don’t quite match, but the tower was once the home of Medihv, sort of the anti-Gandalf of the Warcraft universe. Many of the things in the tower were call backs to older events in Warcraft. There were even readable books in the library about what had happened there.
There was also the hell of the upside down sinners.
Not an official part of Karazhan, but the HotUDS was a proto-dungeon that had been abandoned by the developers and was hidden behind a locked mausoleum gate. Like many things in World of Warcraft, players figured out how to get there despite the gate. Inside was a sprawling dungeon complex that clearly was meant to be part of Karazhan but was never finished. Part of it had the spooky underwater dead.
Seriously…what the fuck was that about?
Eventually I outgrew Karazhan. I got all the loot I could ever want from it, on three different characters, and my guild moved on to harder and bigger challenges. But I always loved returning there, sometimes to help new folks out, or just to see how, once we were better geared or, after the next expansion, higher level, how easily we could clear the place, but it wasn’t our place any more. It wasn’t that weekend crawl I’d enjoyed. You can’t go home again, and apparently you can’t raid Karazhan again either.