Hearthstone introduces a wide-ranging cast of Mercenaries, including its first trans character
In Hearthstone’s Forged in the Barrens expansion, the game doesn’t focus on the Azeroth’s well-known heroes: instead there’s a new roster of mercenaries, each with their own stories. These adventurers will eventually be the stars of Hearthstone’s upcoming Mercenaries mode, due out later this year. But for now, we’re meeting the crew in a series of free single-player adventures called the Book of Mercenaries. The first adventure features Rokara, a young Orc Warrior, but each of the 10 mercenaries will have their own adventure eventually.
If you’re familiar with Warcraft lore, these stories may be a little confusing. We know that the timeline in Hearthstone and World of Warcraft aren’t identical, and the events in one are not canon in the other, and in this expansion the timeline is twisted to bring more characters into a story set before Burning Crusade. In both Rokara’s adventure, and in notes on the Meet the Mercenaries page, we learn that In the Hearthstone timeline, the Exodar has already crashed on Azeroth, the Sin’dorei have joined the Horde, King Varian is missing, and it’s about one year the heroes of Azeroth venture into Outland. In Rokara’s adventure, we quickly meet Garrosh — who, in World of Warcraft, first appeared in Outland, but in Hearthstone he is holding a position of power in Orgrimmar. This an AU story; don’t think about it too hard.
And Rokara’s adventure is a lot of fun, whether we understand what’s going on in the universe or not. As she forges her story in the Barrens, Rokara groups up with a troop of troublemakers. There’s Bru’kan, a Troll medicine man; Guff Runetotem, a Tauren Druid who’ll put them all in harm’s way to rescue a monstrous animal in need; Tasmin Roame, a Forsaken Warlock who really embodies that race/class combination; and Varden Dawngrasp, a mage who just pops up to help the group out.
Varden is the standout of the group. The flavor text on their card reads, “Varden Dawngrasp could wield fire, summon hailstorms, and morph a Night Elf into a sheep with a snap of their fingers. Knowing how malleable reality could be, certain labels felt downright trivial.” There’s significance to the gender neutral pronoun “their” and the note that labels felt trivial. The voice artist for Varden is Kayleigh McKee, who celebrated voicing the game’s first character under the trans umbrella.
Varden and the rest of the new cast show off how good Hearthstone storytelling can be, and they bring a lot of heart to the game’s newest single-player adventure.
Who are Hearthstone’s new mercenaries?
The first adventure follows Rokara, an Orc Warrior of the Frostwolf Clan, as she arrives in Orgrimmar to prove herself and join the Horde. To do that, she has to brave the Barrens and eventually face off against Garrosh, as a final test to prove her worth. Some of the game’s other mercenaries pop up along the way.
- Guff Runetotem: As she patrols the Barrens, Rokara rescues Guff. Does that name sound familiar? He’s the great-nephew of Archdruid Hamuul Runetotem. Guff is a soft-hearted creature who may care about plants and animals too much, and he’s been thrown out into the wilds of the Barrens to toughen him up.
- Tasmin Roame is the next mercenary we meet in this adventure. She was once a Human from Stormwind with a promising future. She received a letter of recommendation from Archmage Antonidas, and headed to study at Scholomance Academy — but then came the Scourge invasion. Tamsin became one of the Forsaken. She still had her magic, but there was nothing else left in her life. In her anger, all she wants to do is watch the world burn.
- Bru’kan is a Darkspear Troll Shaman and medicine man. He is up there in years and was about ready to call it quits, but he sees something in this group. He becomes a mentor to Rokara, finding hope in the future of the Horde she might represent.
- Varden Dawngrasp: Rounding out the group of Hordies is Varden. They grew up in Silvermoon, studying magic. Prince Kael’thas Sunstrider trained them, and Varden was quickly rising in ranks — but when Kael’thas left for Outland after the destruction of the Sunwell, Varden stayed behind. When it was proven that Kael’thas was a traitor, Varden was suspected as well — and with nothing left for them in Silvermoon, they set out to Kalimdor where they met up with Rokara and the others.
But this is only half of the mercenaries cast: there’s also a group of five Alliance mercenaries. As of writing this, only Rokara’s adventure is released. We don’t know how the Alliance characters unite or how their stories coincide — but their bios can be found in the Meet the Mercenaries page.
Have we met these mercenaries before?
A question has arisen about these mercenaries: Have we seen them before? In the preview cinematic for the Journey to Un’Goro expansion, Elise has four children with her — a Night Elf, a Tauren, a female Orc, and a redheaded Blood Elf. Three of the group look a lot like Guff, Rokara, and Varden. The redheaded Blood Elf appears on a couple more cards, including Choose Your Path and Fire Plume’s Heart spell cards.
Were these mercenaries the three kids all grown up? Matt London, a game designer on Hearthstone replied:
No coincidence ;-)
— Matt London 💙 (@themattlondon) March 22, 2021
But during the Rokara adventure, the three of them don’t know each other. Rokara, Varden, and Guff act like they’ve never met before. Also, Journey to Un’Goro came out in Year of the Mammoth, which was only four years ago Hearthstone time — how would they have aged so much, and have forgotten each other in so short of a time? They seem to betray their own established lore here with a single tweet.
Or perhaps this is being over-scrutinized. Hearthstone lore has always been flexible.
This is another step in the right direction for representation
Blizzard has been adding a number of LGBT+ characters to their games lately. In Shadowlands, Pelagos was assigned to the female gender in life, but identified as male and has a male form in the afterlife. In the Night Fae campaign, players help the former Night Warrior, Thiernax, rescue his husband, Qadarin. The Overwatch comic, Reflections, confirmed that Tracer has a girlfriend, Emily. These characters don’t force themselves into the narrative — they’re just here, living normal lives (or afterlives) being who they are.
Varden is another character that Blizzard has seamlessly integrated into a game. Their gender isn’t important to the story — it’s only mentioned in some flavor text on the card, and it doesn’t change the gameplay. And yet by having Varden exist in the world without comment, Blizzard shows show that nonbinary people belong in Azeroth. And as long as Blizzard continues to include pronouns, to introduce same sex couples, and to add more diverse LGBT+ characters, then it will help to keep building an inclusive world.
This kind of community is what Blizzard is striving for. Shadowlands Lead Narrative Designer, Steve Danuser was interviewed by Wowhead, who asked about Pelagos and about the relationship between Mathias Shaw and Flynn. Danuser said:
I think that one of the things that we’ve done in Shadowlands in a lot of different ways is try to really show that Azeroth as a whole represents the inclusiveness of the real world – the diversity of the real world. … I think that Azeroth is a world of magic and a world of possibilities, and one of the things that’s really important to know is that, in Azeroth, you can love who you want, you can identify yourself the way that you want, and all of those things are possibilities.
With the game’s new cast of mercenaries, Hearthstone is set to tell some very interesting stories throughout the Year of the Gryphon. The Rokara adventure is available now, and it’s completely free to play. The rest of the mercenaries — including Varden — will have their own adventures in the future, but we don’t have an ETA. And Mercenaries mode is coming some time later this year but, again, we don’t know exactly when.
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