Blood & Thunder! Playing D&D in the World of Warcraft Universe pt. 1

To satisfy my addiction, I play D&D in the Warcraft universe
By reading this guide, you can become a degenerate like me
I lovingly call this initiative Blood & Thunder

The year was 2004. World of Warcraft had just released, and 9-year-old me was obsessed. I begged my mother—a mother busy raising two boys all on her own—to buy it. We couldn’t afford it. We just couldn’t. Disappointed, I continued grinding out levels on Runescape until she surprised me two years later with the World of Warcraft box set. It was Christmas and Rapture rolled into one. The thing had like six discs! It took hours, but we installed it—only to find that my toaster of a computer couldn’t handle the game. The screen flickered and the game crashed whenever I tried to launch it. I was devastated and riddled with guilt; I knew money was tight and my mother had just wasted hers on this damn game. Thus ended my adventuring career in World of Warcraft… or so I thought.

A year or so later, I was visiting my father up in Jersey. He had custody during the summer. We made it back to his place and he said to me, “Me and your step-mom have been playing this cool new game, actually—World of Warcraft. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Do you wanna check it out on my computer?”

Little twelve-year-old Wyatt shouted, “Boy, do I!” and did not sleep that night.

For well over a decade, World of Warcraft has been my obsession. It only makes sense that I would want to play D&D in the Warcraft universe—and that’s all this blog post is devoted to. I’ve ran two short campaigns in the Warcraft universe, converted its many races into playable stats for D&D 5th Edition players, and am planning to publish a free and illustrated campaign, The Culling of Stratholme soon™. Through this post, I hope to provide guidance for other DMs, or prospective DMs, that would like to play in the beautiful mess that is the Warcraft universe.

For the sake of brevity, anything in gold font is related to Warcraft; anything written in purple is related for D&D (e.g., a dwarf and a dwarf).

Starting Out: System Translation

For someone familiar with both Warcraft and D&D, it is very apparent where one influenced the other (and where both stole from Tolkien). Warcraft began in the 90s—the before-times—and D&D somewhere in a year I’ve only heard of. They’ve had plenty of time to draw inspiration from one another, as well as other fantasy staples. It goes without saying, however, that WoW is a video game and D&D is a TTRPG. The former is full of wacky mechanics, objects, and system choices; the latter must practice a much higher degree of realism. For example, a goblin has a racial ability where they can summon a hobgoblin that allows them instant access to their character’s bank accounts. This does not fly in a TTRPG system, in which physics, reality, and realism must be respected. Sure, there might be a spell that does conjure up a hobgoblin holding all your earthly possessions, but not every goblin would have it.

Forget the Faction System

I’m just going to come out and say it: the faction system sucks. It’s held roleplayers back for years and it has no place in D&D. Playing a tabletop RPG is about having the freedom to express yourself, and that is the exact opposite of what we get in World of Warcraft. Your troll does not need to belong to the Horde; your dwarf is allowed to be a fair-weather-patriot. Orcs can adventure alongside humans. You can be as affiliated with the Horde or Alliance as you wish.

When you create your character in World of Warcraft, you must choose a race, and that race determines which faction you’re affiliated with. And because you’re affiliated with that faction, it means the opposite faction’s NPCs are hard-coded to kill you on sight. You can’t complete the other factions’ quests, you can’t speak their languages, and you can’t group up with their own members. This makes sense in a video game, but it doesn’t once you’re playing by the rules of a TTRPG. It makes very little sense to kill any troll that enters Stormwind just because one tribe is associated with the Horde.

So, we get to our first issue you need to be aware of when playing D&D in the Warcraft universe: your affiliation is worn on your sleeve, until it isn’t. Not every orc is a soldier of the Horde, just as not every human is a card-carrying member of the Alliance, willing to battle any perceived soldier of the Horde. World of Warcraft makes the necessary choice to conflate individuals with nations, when, in reality, any orc could enter Stormwind. Sure, they would face scrutiny and perhaps danger, but could expect entry into the city. It is absolutely critical that you take a soft stance; it’s all right for humans to shun visiting tauren, to treat them with suspicion, but that’s not a hard rule in any world. Stick to the lore, but understand that it can bend for individuals.

Races: Converting Warcraft Races into D&D stats

Several Warcraft races already kinda exist in 5th Edition D&D. A lazy DM could get away with using these stats to represent Warcraft races. For example, a dwarf in 5e has stats quite comparable to what we could expect from an Ironforge dwarf once they’re translated from a video game character to a TTRPG character. Likewise, half-orc stats are appropriate for orcs. Humans work the same. Elves and goblins don’t quite match up. And, of course, there’s still like thirty to forty other Warcraft races without 5e approximation.

A lazy DM could get away with some of these stats and improvise thereafter—but that’s why I’m here. I’ve been converting WoW races into 5e stats for my own campaigns, and I’m ready to share them with the world. I upload them to my patreon and Instagram weekly. Patrons get to vote on which race I publish next and anyone who visits the page can see what has already been made. Likewise, I intend to include these posts here on the website with more details, such as tips on how to flesh out and roleplay a character of a given Warcraft ancestry.

Classes

Warcraft and D&D classes have much in common, but some aren’t as easily translated. Like Warcraft, D&D is heavily class-based, with much of a character’s power and identity deriving from their class. Where things take a turn, however, is the in-character treatment of class. In the world of D&D, classes are more of a meta distinction between player characters; NPCs rarely follow such builds and rules. If the Legion class halls are any indication, classes are much more recognized in the Warcraft universe.

I’ll dive deeper into classes in a later post, but one should recognize these differences between classes now:

  • Warcraft classes are restricted by race because the game assumes that your character is an average member of your people. Not so in D&D, where your character is one in a million. Be a high elf druid if you want. Be a troll paladin dedicated to her tribal loa. Be a draenei warlock. Be who you want to be—the world is big enough to justify one individual breaking the norm.
  • Warcraft classes are stratified by their available weapons and armor. Mages literally cannot wield axes; warriors cannot use a wand. No such restriction is present in 5e; although you might not be good at it, just about any character can wield any weapon or don any armor, just like you can in real life. Moreover, there are several methods to make an unorthodox character viable (although rarely optimal), such as an axe-slinging wizard.
  • Warcraft classes are further stratified into specializations. In 5e’s terminology, this is called a subclass, and there are many of them, with every class having at least four to choose from.
  • D&D classes can be mixed and matched; this is called multi-classing. A character can take three levels of paladin and two of druid, if they’ve the desire. Compare this to Warcraft, where your class choice is set in stone.

Below are D&D 5e’s official classes, along with Warcraft’s. You can see some overlap between many, but certain Warcraft classes are missing. Some have entirely different definitions; others can be recreated through reflavoring a class’s abilities or choosing certain spells. Don’t sweat the differences, though. There is so much more about playing D&D in the Warcraft universe than your choice of class.

Official D&D ClassesDescription
ArtificerAn arcane tinkerer that crafts magic items (potions, armors, et. cetera).
BarbarianA frenzied warrior that survives not by armor but rage and strength.
BardA creative soul able evoke magic through their art (singing, painting, oration, music).
ClericA hierophant of a deity (or deities) allowed to channel their divine power.
DruidA servant or native of the natural world able to shapeshift and harness the elements.
FighterA master of arms, be they mundane or magical.
MonkAn introspective ascetic that harnesses the power of ki to perform wondrous techniques.
PaladinA warrior whose conviction allows them to wield divine magic.
RangerA hunter attuned to the natural world that mixes their martial prowess with druidic magic.
RogueA highly skilled individual of many talents and lethal precision.
SorcererA mage whose magic originates from an extraordinary moment or lineage—touching a magical artifact, exposure to planar energy, a draconic ancestor, et cetera.
WarlockA mage whose magic originated in a pact with an otherworldly being—a demon, a fae lord, or even a slumbering old god, et cetera.
WizardA mage who wields magic after years of intense study and a keen intellect.
Warcraft ClassesClosest Official D&D Equivalents
Death KnightN/A
Demon HunterN/A
DruidDruid
HunterRanger
MageWizard or Sorcerer
MonkMonk
PaladinPaladin
PriestCleric
RogueRogue
ShamanCleric, Druid, or Warlock
WarlockWarlock or Wizard
WarriorBarbarian or Fighter

Dungeon Masters: Starting Your Campaign

We’re almost done. So, your players are on board and know they need to choose new classes and rely on ol’ Wyatt here to provide balanced racial stats for their characters. Now you, the Dungeon Master, want to get started on crafting your own story.

There’s so much lore and history in the Warcraft universe that you can choose to either run a sandbox campaign set in a particular region (the kingdom of Stormwind is a juicy one, replete with gnolls, undead, and the Defias Brotherhood) or playing in a certain large-scale event. I myself have ran a campaign set during the Culling of Stratholme and the Dark Iron invasion of Grim Batol. My players loved it and were able to connect to an important piece of Warcraft history. They’ll always be able to say “I played through the Culling of Stratholme; my character survived the genocide.” Years later, we still look fondly on that campaign. When we run Stratholme in Classic WoW, we point out Postmaster Malown (whom my players met), reminisce about holding Arthas off at the cathedral, and talk about how the Stone Crow Tavern burned down Sean of the Dead style.

For new Dungeon Masters, I suggest running a sandbox campaign set in the kingdom of Stormwind, Stranglethorn Vale, or even Khaz Modan. These areas are simple and lighthearted, with all manner of activities and side quests. Your players will really just delight in playing in the Warcraft universe, so don’t stress yourself out with coming up with an entire campaign.

Personally, the next campaign I intend to run will be a sandbox starting in Elwynn Forest. The players will become familiar with Goldshire, face the Defias Brotherhood, and live in constant fear of running into Hogger:

The Era of Your Campaign

Warcraft history is long and ever-changing. The era your campaign is set in determines what options the players have. A campaign set during the War of the Ancients obviously won’t have orcs; night elves wouldn’t be present in a campaign set in antebellum Dalaran; and pandaren can’t show up until after the Cataclysm. I’ll dive deeper into eras in a later post about sample campaign ideas.

I recommend setting your first campaign in a blended era of Vanilla and Burning Crusade—giving them just enough overlap where blood elves have begun to join the Horde and the draenei have just crashed onto the planet. This gives your players the choice of the first ten original races of World of Warcraft—but remember, heroes are one in a million, so consider allowing them to play something more outlandish, so long as it mostly lines up with the lore. Even if the Mists of Pandaria have yet to fall, a Jinyu from Pandaria may have washed ashore in Kalimdor or somehow teleported there.

TL;DR

Here’s the skinny of it:

  • When you play D&D in the Warcraft universe, you have to adopt realism. The faction system is nonexistant; individuals have far more freedom in travel. An orc can enter Stormwind on business (after a stiff warning from the guard who lost his father in the First War) and a human can enter Orgrimmar at their own peril. There is no hard rule that every player character or NPC has to belong to a faction.
  • Classes are restricted by race in the Warcraft universe, but that thankfully isn’t in D&D. Your hero is the exception to the rule, the one in a million. Be who you want.
  • D&D 5e’s races don’t line up to Warcraft’s, either in lore or stats. Check out my patreon and instagram for free conversions.
  • You’re adopting D&D 5e’s class system, which is vastly different from WoW’s. Stay tuned for another article on the subject.
  • You have your choice of a sandbox campaign that draws upon elements already in World of Warcraft or setting your campaign in one of its historical events. Sky’s the limit.

Interested in supporting my work? Want to keep up to date with my writing? Consider joining my patreon (yes, I’m linking it again), buying me a coffee, or signing up for my newsletter. Any and all support goes towards fulfilling my dream of becoming a full-time writer and escaping a life of poverty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s