Every race has its rogue elements, a group that will make a player fight NPCs of his or her own race. Humans have the Defias, Orcs have the Burning Blade, Dwarves have the Dark Irons, Gnomes have the Leper Gnomes, Blood Elves have the Sunhawk devotees of Kael’thas, and Draenei have the Auchenai fanatics. The rogue elements among the Night Elves mostly got turned into Satyr and Naga in the aftermath of the Sundering, though some deviant true Night Elves can be found in the Wailing Caverns. Darkspear Trolls are the rogue element among the Trolls, as far as almost all of the other Troll tribes, save the Zandalai and the Revantusk, are concerned. Likewise, the Forsaken battle all other Undead. Even the Tauren, generally considered the “good guys” among the Horde, are not without their rogue element: the Grimtotem tribe.
Grimtotem Tauren have always been black-furred; in an LK-era patch they began using warpaint to further distinguish themselves from the other Tauren tribes.
When I decided to make a Tauren Death Knight, having her come from a Grimtotem background seemed pretty obvious. What other sort of Tauren would willingly choose to serve the Lich King? (Well, I guess the same sort of Tauren who would go off and join the Twilight’s Hammer 😛 ) Her story still has some bits that I haven’t fully worked out, though, because despite having read several times the Grimtotem tribe Wowpedia page, which summarizes the expanded lore from the tabletop RPG version of WoW, I’m still not sure I fully understand what’s going on with the Grimtotem in general.
The primary motivation for Grimtotem activities seems to be an intense territorialism, verging on xenophobia.
A Tauren character’s first exposure to the Grimtotem is generally in Thunder Bluff, where Rahauro, the right-hand man of Magatha Grimtotem, the leader of the tribe, informs you that Magatha sent an embassy to the troggs in Ragefire Chasm. This embassy was brutally rebuffed, but word got back to Magatha that her ambassadors discovered something rather interesting before they perished. Of course, when you turn in the lost satchel, Rahauro doesn’t tell you what it was that they found
The first time you encounter Grimtotem outside Thunder Bluff is in Stonetalon Mountains. Here you discover a tragic story — the Grimtotem of Greatwood Vale turned inexplicably on their neighbors at Camp Aparaje and slaughtered them. Only two survived, a young woman who was held captive by the leader of the Grimtotem village, and her father, who escaped out to the border with the Barrens. This establishes very quickly that the Grimtotem are Bad News, particularly because we don’t know why they did it.
If you follow Seereth Stonebreak’s questline to cleanse Windshear Crag of the Venture Company, you learn that Magatha Grimtotem seems to be the patron of the Forsaken presence in the Pools of Vision. This is also implied by one of the tablet quests from Azshara.
In Thousand Needles the Grimtotem have been up to no good again. Arnak Grimtotem proposed marriage to a girl from one of the other tribes, but when she refused, he kidnapped her and killed her brother. (Perhaps something like this was responsible for the attack on Camp Aparaje as well?) The Tauren of Freewind Post have therefore put a bounty on his head. These events have led the leaders at Freewind Post to be suspicious of everything happening at Darkcloud Pinnacle, especially the visits from mysterious messengers.
You are requested to steal the secret notes, which read:
Secret Note #1:
Our plans must be kept secret at all costs! It will be disastrous if the other Tauren tribes discover our affiliation.
Secret Note #2:
Working together, our forces will be more powerful than all of the Tauren tribes put together! Yet, we require your total obedience. Remember, your people will be rewarded only after our plans come to fruition.
Secret Note #3:
Our agents from Lordaeron will meet with your delegates. Soon. We will notify you once we’ve found an appropriate location for our summit.
Who is Agasham? There is no Agasham in the game. The name anagrams to Magasha, but the leader of the Grimtotem is Magatha, and Magasha is a Troll at Swamprat Post in Zangarmarsh.
Who are the Harbingers who wrote these notes? Are they Scourge, like the new allies of the quilboar in Razorfen Kraul and Razorfen Downs, or are they Sylvanas’s people?
If it is only the Forsaken that the Grimtotem are corresponding with, why should it be “disastrous” if the other Tauren tribes find out about it? Are not the Forsaken our allies, and are they not in the heart of Thunder Bluff itself, and that by Magatha’s invitation? The contents of the second note, suggesting that Agasham is conspiring with secret allies to bring all the other Tauren tribes under Grimtotem control, are somewhat unsettling, though.
An alien egg has appeared among the nests of the wind serpents of Thousand Needles. It hatches into Arikara, severely discomfiting all the Tauren in the area. Despite the current climate of mistrusting the Grimtotem, they send you to Magatha Grimtotem for advice. Magatha claims that Arikara is stalking Cairne Bloodhoof because of all the changes to Tauren culture resulting from the alliance with Thrall and the Orcs. In the process of dispatching Arikara, you also learn that the Grimtotem tribe are the keepers of the “sacred fire of life” of the Tauren people. Thus the Grimtotem appear to have had some measure of status and respect among the Tauren people as a whole in past times, and now they are offended by having lost that degree of influence to an outsider. If this is so, then their betrayal of other Tauren in the attack on Camp Aparaje is that much more disturbing.
But if they’re so upset about the effects of the outsider Orcs on their culture, why are they conspiring with another faction of outsiders, and why would they deign to submit to a demand that “we require total obedience” from their secret allies?
At the mouth of the pass leading from the Barrens into Dustwallow Marsh lie the charred ruins of the Shady Rest Inn. Hoofprints, a Theramore deserter’s badge, and a blackened shield are the only clues to what happened here. At first, the hoofprints are thought to be centaur, as the best efforts of Rethgar Deathgate and his warriors could never fully contain the unruly Kolkar. You track down the deserter, but without results; he is killed before he can answer your questions. The shield is the most useful clue. After a little bit of legwork, Horde characters learn that the shield was made by Mosarn, a respected armorer in Thunder Bluff. Mosarn is so busy that he can’t remember any one item, but he does note that the Grimtotem are some of his best customers.
Upon returning to Brackenwall Village with this information, you are sent out to investigate a fairly recently established Grimtotem outpost in the north of the marsh, Blackhoof Village, with instructions to collect weapons for comparison with the shield and to gather any documents you can find that might be instructions to the Grimtotem in the marsh from Magatha and the other Grimtotem leaders in Thunder Bluff. You’re told explicitly that the other Tauren tribes now greatly distrust the Grimtotem because of the events you observed previously in Thousand Needles. The documents make it clear that the Grimtotem are actively seeking to displace the Humans from their Kalimdor foothold. The weapons are indeed the work of Mosarn’s shop, but are practically new. Blackhoof Village may be poising itself for an attack upon Theramore, but the Grimtotem there weren’t responsible for the burning of the Shady Rest Inn.
Next, you travel south to ask Tabetha to help you find the arsonists, in part for the political reason of making it clear to the Alliance that the burning of the inn was not ordered or condoned by the Horde. She tells you that the Grimtotem have recently built a settlement in her part of the marsh, Direhorn Post, and have been harassing her and her students. She sends you off to do unto the Grimtotem as they did unto the Shady Rest Inn. After you’ve burned the tents at Direhorn Post, she promises to tell any investigators from Theramore that the Horde was not complict, but warns that Horde leadership can’t afford to let the Grimtotem go unchecked any longer. (She doesn’t, however, say anything explicitly about the incident not having been ordered by Horde leadership when you do the Alliance version of the quest chain.)
So the Grimtotem are upset not just about the changes to Tauren lifestyle and culture resulting from joining the Horde, but also about the incursion of Humans into “their territory” of Kalimdor. The Humans comment that “the Grimtotem are the most warlike of the Tauren clans“, so it’s likely that the Grimtotem were often at the forefront of the Tauren tribes’ defense in their ongoing conflicts with the centaur, quilboar, gnolls, and harpies during their nomadic migrations. After fighting so hard to maintain Tauren territory just from indigenous enemies, it makes sense that they would be outraged that Horde leadership would not only permit, but also seemingly welcome the outsider Humans to occupy some of the land they consider theirs.
The mystery of the Shady Rest Inn is not all that the Grimtotem are up to in their new outposts in Dustwallow Marsh. While collecting weapons and documents at Blackhoof Village, you observe that the Grimtotem there have captured Theramore soldiers. Alliance players will get a quest to rescue these soldiers, of course, and also to disrupt the Grimtotem village with captured Bloodfen raptors. At Tabetha’s farm, one of her apprentices tells you of a strange totem the Grimtotem have been using as a weapon. He asks you to test it — but it doesn’t seem to work very well (the quest is extremely buggy and I don’t even bother picking it up anymore). As you are burning the tents at Direhorn Post, you encounter Apothecary Cylla, who is hostile even if you’re Horde. She is carrying a sealed letter which confirms the connection between the Grimtotem and the Forsaken.
Without the hints from Thousand Needles that the Grimtotem may be trying to overthrow the leadership of Cairne Bloodhoof, it doesn’t quite make sense to me why, if the Forsaken and the Tauren are both part of the Horde already, this evidence of the Grimtotem and the Forsaken working together closely is such a big deal. Perhaps I’m seeing it from the wrong angle — I’m trying to see this as evidence that the Grimtotem are treacherous (as well as rebellious) when really it’s evidence that the Forsaken are treacherous. And it still doesn’t make sense why, if the Grimtotem are so put out by the effects of outsiders on their lifestyle, they turn to another group of outsiders for help.
Perhaps the Grimtotem turn to the Forsaken because they’ve already alienated the only other highly developed culture which natively occupies Kalimdor. At Camp Mojache in Feralas, one of the Orcs asks you to gather Sprite Darter wings so he can make a pretty new cloak for his wife. The Sprite Darters all seem to live near another Tauren village, who have filled a large cage with them, severely irritating the Night Elves. The reason why the Grimtotem have been capturing all these Sprite Darters is unknown — though maybe annoying the Night Elves and interfering with their activities was in fact the desired outcome.
When you get back to Camp Mojache with your collection of faerie dragon wings, the Orc is all “OMBWTHBBQ there’s GRIMTOTEM here?!“. Orgrimmar’s response to the warning from Brackenwall Village that Something Must Be Done about the Grimtotem was to put out a bounty on them. Perhaps this wasn’t very well recieved by the Tauren in general, because despite the closeness of Camp Mojache to the Grimtotem Compound, which surely the Tauren must have known about, nobody seems to have bothered to tell the Orcs that there were Grimtotem in Feralas, too. Kamalia did the bounty quest with a very heavy heart while working on her Loremaster, and none of my other Tauren characters have done or will do it (characters of other races, however, are a different story).
So, the Grimtotem are making trouble because they don’t like what’s happened to the Tauren people since Kalimdor was discovered by the Eastern Kingdoms. I understand how we can distrust, dislike, and want to punish them for their apparently unprovoked attack on Camp Aparaje, for the kidnapping incident in Thousand Needles, and for the difficulties with the Alliance caused by the burning of the Shady Rest Inn. Why the correspondence with the Forsaken is such a concern eludes me. There are some elements of it which are kind of fishy… perhaps the Horde is worried that once the Grimtotem have successfully expelled the Humans from Kalimdor, the Forsaken will betray them and help the Grimtotem push out the Orcs and the Trolls, as well?
I’ve used the connection between the Forsaken and the Grimtotem as the plot hook that eventually led to Kregga becoming a Death Knight, but a lot of the things before and after that are still not fully settled. I haven’t yet firmly decided which of the Grimtotem escapades she was actually involved in, if any, or what she thinks about them. My original iteration of the story had her being appalled at them, but now I’m not sure that would really fit with her having grown up Grimtotem, or with her being now a Death Knight. And then there’s the problem that she insists that she wants to have spent some time at Ravenholdt learning how to be a ninja, and how does that fit with the general Grimtotem attitudes of brute force and dislike of Humans?