Did I Really Not Have Any Free Will?

Story Forum
When it comes to the average Forsaken, I'm of the understanding that they were essentially under powerful mind control. As the Lick King lost power, his grip on them waned, and so more and more of them were able to exert their own will over the his will, hence breaking free and regaining control of their actions.

With the Death Knights, though, I don't really understand how it went down. This is how it felt for me:

Running around the starting zone, we Death Knights are proving ourselves and committing mass homicide while the Lich King whispers sweet nothings in our minds about having no mercy and killing everyone. Presumably this is a sort of brainwashing tactic in addition to whatever mind control is being used. This part made sense to me, as to be especially functional, it seems Death Knights would have needed to be at least a little willful and intelligent, as opposed to mindless BRAINS TASTES GOOD zombies.

So my fellow Death Knights and I go around doing all sorts of sinister, violent things, absorbing those sweet nothings into our subconscious minds and believing that pretty soon we're going to go curbstomp a bunch of paladins at Light Hope's Chapel.

And we believe this because we can believe in things. We can think, analyze, draw conclusions. In fact, while we're running around being naughty, we have independent conversations with each other, form plans and carry out a rescue mission, all without any funky mind-commands going on in our brains.

What is even more interesting, is that the Lich King is even bothering to lie to us in the first place. If we don't have free will, if we're all being mind controlled, then he doesn't need to lie to us. He just needs to will us to do what he wants us to do, like the less than impressive corpses charging alongside us.

It keeps getting weirder, though. We all meet up to burn down a church and blast Slayer music in the background, but we're expected to pass a loyalty test. I have to go kill a Draenei prisoner just to prove that I'm really in this necro gang for the long haul. But why does the Lich King have to worry about my loyalty threshold? He's mind controlling me, after all. Not like I'm doing this of my own free will.

I mean what is this guy so worried about? Whispering to me all the time, telling me lies about what a bad*** I'm going to be at Light Hope's Chapel, and now a loyalty test.. It's not like we Death Knights can just turn on him whenever we feel so oblig-

Oh wait, here we are at the big battle. It's not going so well. We're actually getting steamrolled pretty bad, so bad that our boss just showed up. And it turns out, he tricked us all.

However, that doesn't matter, because we're all being mind controlled, so who cares about anything.

Now Darion Mograine does have this touching memory with his ghost dad, but I'm not having any childhood memories right now. I'm strewn over some bushes missing an arm, and the rest of my Death Knight buddies are just crouching and laying around in pretty bad shape, too.

After having this ghostly flashback, Darion gets really ticked off and starts spouting off at the Lich King: You... betrayed me. You betrayed us all, monster!

You betrayed "me". Well yes, he lied to you and told you that you were going to win a fight against some Argents, and now you know. So now you're mad.

But, this implies that everything was coolio until you realized you were actually meant as bait and fodder, Mr Darion.

But hey, thanks for raging on my behalf, too, since the Lich King did trick all of us into coming here. Since he had to trick us, since I guess we might have refused to be sacrifices. Since, you know, you can refuse to do stuff when you're being mind controlled.

Now I know some of ya'll are thinking, okay but Darion had a touching flashback of his childhood.

But, uh hello, I killed an old friend of mine after he rambled for five minutes about the time we spent together and tried pleading to my *true* self. Didn't make a difference to me, I cut him in half. Guts everywhere, was glorious.

Oh snap, Tirion just smacked the Lich King with the Ashbringer. I think I heard a "screw you guys I'm going home" and then my boss vanished.

Now Tirion is rambling at all of us. Trying to spot where my arm landed.. might still be able to get out of this.. Wait what? We are going to join forces?

Looks up at really scary Silver Hand guy staring me down.

Uh, why YES, that sounds FANTASTIC. We were mind controlled the WHOLE time, until JUST NOW.

And to the Death Knight next to me, well the half of him that is next to me, next to the bushes, we've gotta agree this is actually going to work out okay. The Lich King IS a jerk. He was going to get us all killed (again!) and lied to us about the whole thing, so hunting his butt down and killing him sounds pretty great right about now. And as long as we can keep up the "I was totally mind controlled the whole time" schtick, these paladins won't bathe us in holy fire.

Did anyone else get the same vibe from this whole questing experience?

And for RP's sake, did I have any free will or not? Was it just a little bit?

The closest thing I can think of, metaphorically, is that maybe it was like being drugged up, like I knew what was going on, so I can feel bad about it now, but I don't really recall why I punched that guy in the face and took his car keys. So I don't really deserve to go to jail because someone drugged my margarita.

Sorta like that?
The Helm of Domination was constantly putting out a signal that said to Scourge "Kill all the living!". It's a pretty strong compulsion even if you are a self motivated go getter DK.

Also, even if you break the MC, your body might still be under direct control.

Remember the 4 Horseman DK in Naxx who screamed the whole time he couldn't control himself and the heroes needed to run away or his body would kill them?
The Helm of Domination was constantly putting out a signal that said to Scourge "Kill all the living!". It's a pretty strong compulsion even if you are a self motivated go getter DK.

Also, even if you break the MC, your body might still be under direct control.

Remember the 4 Horseman DK in Naxx who screamed the whole time he couldn't control himself and the heroes needed to run away or his body would kill them?


All true, yet there we were, chatting away with each other, having our loyalty tested, believing in lies and so on. It doesn't seem like any of that would be necessary if we were just being mind controlled (or body controlled, like the 4 horsemen in Naxx).

The questing really gave me the impression that we had all been persuaded, not forced. Sure, we'd had our minds messed with. Probably a touch of dark magic plus the voices in our heads, and we'd also been promised a lot of power and told we were going to totally own at Light Hope's Chapel.

But it wasn't like our bodies were possessed. We weren't running around going OH GOSH IM SO SORRY MAN while we killed people. Koltira and a few others were just like yep let's do this.

Of course, I doubt my Draenei buddy (the one I cut in half) was just making stuff up. He knew my name, after all. I probably was a good person before I was turned into a Death Knight.

So, I don't think there was a total absence of mind control shenanigans.

But it seemed like there was some free will going on. Was just confusing.
My understanding is that the death knights aren't dominated, they aren't mind-controlled, but there is an element of coercion. Our DKs seem to exist on more than one plane. You get a glimpse of it when you do the quest to get your horse, and the Horde sees it in Dragonblight with the last quest they do for Koltira. In that place there are. . . some kind of shades and they're definitely evil and they'd really like to give you pain and suffering and torment. The Lich King was "protecting" his death knights from them but it might be the kind of protection your low-scale Boston bar gets from the Westies. That place might be WoW-hell, it's not really clear.

Anyway, there is a clear and obvious stick the Lich King used to keep his death knights in line. Koltira's quest shows that now they're working against the Lich King they have to protect themselves and it's not easy. And it's possible the whole thing is a metaphor for their addiction to sadism. It's also possible that the sadism is merely a way to get the power to hold the shades off or that their frenzy of bloodshed when they don't engage in sadism is a reaction to the shades or whatever they are finally getting to them. The death knights probably also suffer from the same sort of soul-necromancy related emotional and moral problems we know the Forsaken have so it's not like they had a big problem doing evil deeds.

Mystaerica will tell you that all death knights at Light's Hope had a big "finding and accepting the Light as their personal Lord and Savior" moment at the end of the battle because there's apparently some sequence I don't really understand shown from Thassarian's perspective in the Death Knight manga but it doesn't seem to alter his behavior at all and I try and ignore the manga as lore sources, they're the sort of writing that also gave us Med'an. Absolutely nothing of the sort is shown or referred to by the phased Assault in-game regardless so it's a retcon if it is accepted lore.
Main reason I'm wondering is because I was writing up some first-person material for a DK character, sort of immersing into the mind of the fictional character, and the topic of guilt came up.

But I wasn't really sure how much free will *I* (i.e. the DK) had even had throughout that whole ordeal.

I had been tricked with a lie. So what if the Lich King hadn't lied to me? Why did the Lich King even need to lie to me?

I've watched other role players RP their DK toons, trying to get a feel for how more experienced RPers are tackling the lore and perspective, and there always seems to be this notion that they had ZERO choice at any point prior to Darion joining forces with the Silver Hand.

But the questing experience seemed more like a drugged experience than outright mind/body control, like as a DK, there would be potential introspection there.

So I am wondering where the notion that we were all 100% controlled came from in the gaming experience (maybe it came from elsewhere?) because I am totes confused after doing the quests.
My understanding is that the death knights aren't dominated, they aren't mind-controlled, but there is an element of coercion. Our DKs seem to exist on more than one plane. You get a glimpse of it when you do the quest to get your horse, and the Horde sees it in Dragonblight with the last quest they do for Koltira. In that place there are. . . some kind of shades and they're definitely evil and they'd really like to give you pain and suffering and torment. The Lich King was "protecting" his death knights from them but it might be the kind of protection your low-scale Boston bar gets from the Westies. That place might be WoW-hell, it's not really clear.

Anyway, there is a clear and obvious stick the Lich King used to keep his death knights in line. Koltira's quest shows that now they're working against the Lich King they have to protect themselves and it's not easy. And it's possible the whole thing is a metaphor for their addiction to sadism. It's also possible that the sadism is merely a way to get the power to hold the shades off or that their frenzy of bloodshed when they don't engage in sadism is a reaction to the shades or whatever they are finally getting to them. The death knights probably also suffer from the same sort of soul-necromancy related emotional and moral problems we know the Forsaken have so it's not like they had a big problem doing evil deeds.

Mystaerica will tell you that all death knights at Light's Hope had a big "finding and accepting the Light as their personal Lord and Savior" moment at the end of the battle because there's apparently some sequence I don't really understand shown from Thassarian's perspective in the Death Knight manga but it doesn't seem to alter his behavior at all and I try and ignore the manga as lore sources, they're the sort of writing that also gave us Med'an. Absolutely nothing of the sort is shown or referred to by the phased Assault in-game regardless so it's a retcon if it is accepted lore.


Thanks for the info and your perspective. That is sort of what it seemed like to me. Not total mind/body control, but sort of psychological tampering (like voices in their heads) and then persuasion, and now the coercion stuff you mention.

I don't think all DKs should be utterly ashamed and put down like rabid dogs, because I do take into consideration all that was done to them to get them to cooperate yet still be intelligent super soldiers.

But from a DKs own perspective, couldn't there be the perception of "I caved to the pressure" in essence?
I always felt it was more a case of thoughts and desires were controlled. You wanted to slaughter the living because the Lich King's whispers told you you wanted to slaughter the living and any thought that might counter that was supressed.

To give a different example, when Garona killed King Llane she was under a mind control that made her believe that not only did she want to do it but it was her decision to do it. This is why she wigged out so much afterwards and was afraid to raise her own child. She thought she was mad. The reasoning part of her brain simply couldn't make sense of her decision or her choices. She killed a man she had no reason to and every reason not to.

I suspect its the same with the scourge minus the part that questions the reasoning. You kill the living because you believe its what you want to do. It would be a far more insidious form of mind control because you wouldn't even really be certain of it.
I always felt it was more a case of thoughts and desires were controlled. You wanted to slaughter the living because the Lich King's whispers told you you wanted to slaughter the living and any thought that might counter that was supressed.

To give a different example, when Garona killed King Llane she was under a mind control that made her believe that not only did she want to do it but it was her decision to do it. This is why she wigged out so much afterwards and was afraid to raise her own child. She thought she was mad. The reasoning part of her brain simply couldn't make sense of her decision or her choices. She killed a man she had no reason to and every reason not to.

I suspect its the same with the scourge minus the part that questions the reasoning. You kill the living because you believe its what you want to do. It would be a far more insidious form of mind control because you wouldn't even really be certain of it.


That makes a lot of sense (regarding the questing experience). Especially with the impulse-mechanic DKs are created with (needing to cause pain and kill stuff or else suffering to a maddening extent from a sort of withdrawal).

So like feeling a terribly strong need to cause pain and suffering or else you will be maddeningly pained, yourself, and then come the sweet nothings whispered into your mind about who you should be killing, and also comfortingly (in a warped way) encouraging you to give into your drug-addict-like desire to torture and kill things.

Most people would *crack* and cave to the mind-fudging pressure. It would be easier to just go with it and give in.

The sort of thing where many others might tell you (justifiably) that it wasn't your fault and most everyone succumbed, but you, like Garona, might seriously doubt yourself as a person, anyway.
01/06/2014 01:00 AMPosted by Mystaerica
Mystaerica will tell you that all death knights at Light's Hope had a big "finding and accepting the Light as their personal Lord and Savior" moment at the end of the battle because there's apparently some sequence I don't really understand shown from Thassarian's perspective in the Death Knight manga but it doesn't seem to alter his behavior at all and I try and ignore the manga as lore sources, they're the sort of writing that also gave us Med'an.

"I don't like this lore or the medium through which it is told, so you should ignore it."

Dunno why you call me out on that. I'm not the one who wrote the manga, edited it, or approved it for publication.


Well I am curious about what happened, since the general notion of no free will feels awkward for me alongside the questing experience. I will take a link if someone has it, don't expect anyone to write it all out for me (unless you're that bored, ha).
That story touched on Thassarian's thoughts before, during and after the battle at Light's Hope.

"My name is Thassarian. Once I was human. That no longer matters. All that matters now is the will of Arthas... the will of the Lich King. We have been sent here to claim the bodies of the champions buried beneath this place. In a dim recess of my mind, I know that my father, Killoren, is buried here. That no longer matters either."

Thassarian was capable of thinking and acting on his own, but he was compelled to serve Arthas.

"Nothing will turn us from the Lich King's task. Not the swords and axes of the Argent Dawn... certainly not the soft flesh behind them. The Scourge shall not be denied. Minutes into the battle, fully a third of the defenders have fallen. But then something happens... and a bolt of light blasts into my mind. For a few seconds it is like staring into the sun itself."

That manifestation of the Light severed the connection between the Lich King and the Knights of the Ebon Blade. After they surrendered to Tirion, the spirit of Killoren appeared to Thassarian (just as Alexandros appeared to Darion) and told him it wasn't too late. Thassarian initially believed there was no turning back, but after seeing the Lich King retreat he had a "what have I done?" moment.

"My mind thrums and buzzes like a kicked hornet's nest. I hear Highlord Mograine pledging himself... pledging all of us... to the death of the Lich King. At first I believe I am dreaming. It seems impossible that something I suddenly want so badly could be shared by so many others."
Very interesting, thanks for sharing it!

Makes it seem like neither their thoughts nor bodies were controlled in the typical sense, but their emotions were just completely robbed from them.

And emotion is a very powerful, significant thing.

Simply knowing the facts about a loved one being in a bad situation, in and of itself, is nothing really, as far as my actions. It's all fueled by the fact that I love them, the fear I feel that something bad will happen to them, the anger I feel at anyone who may be harming them. It's that physiological process, the adrenaline flowing, the impulsive spur to action.

So it may have indeed been a lot like being drugged.

"I know this is bad, but right now bad is just a word and words don't mean anything because I really don't care."

At that point the person's will would be very weak.
This scene took place after Arthas killed Terenas and unleashed the Scourge upon the Capital City:

Arthas: You two! That woman! Bring her to me!
A pair of ghouls grabs a woman and drags her before the prince.
Vivian: P-P-Prince Arthas...
Arthas: Aye, you have named me... and now I name you... Vivian. Wife of the fallen hero Killoren. You must meet my lieutenant. Step forward, death knight.
Thassarian: Yes, my lord? What do you require of--
Thassarian hesitates when he sees his mother.
Thassarian: --me...
Arthas: I have sensed a conflict within you, lieutenant. A tiny one... weak... but a conflict nonetheless. The perfect opportunity to prove your loyalty to me has just presented itself. Kill this woman.
Vivian: No! No, you can't!
Arthas: I drove Frostmourne through my own father's heart. This paltry show of faith and obedience is the least you can do.
Vivian: Son... Thassarian... my boy, my precious boy... whatever they've done to you, you can fight it. You have to fight it! Don't let them take away who you are!
Thassarian: I... am... a soldier.
Arthas: That is correct, lieutenant. And I order you... to take this woman's head.
Vivian: Thassarian... no... no, don't let this monster win--!
Thassarian: The will of Arthas is first.
Vivian: Have mercy!
Thassarian: And foremost.
Thassarian chops her head off, discards the amulet she gave him, and walks away.
Normally I would interpret that as Thassarian having free will, if the Lich King felt the need to test his loyalty. No need to test loyalty if your puppet has no free will.

But if the tactic for DKs, in order to maintain their intelligence and independence on the battlefield, was to rob them of their emotion and then press your will onto them in a barrage of subtle ways, then with that context the scene seems very different.

Thassarian is able to recognize his mother and know that it is her, but he is unable to feel sadness or guilt or anger about being asked to kill her. He is only able to process his thoughts. His mother was an authority figure when he was a little boy because he loved her as his mom, but now he can't feel that sort of thing. He can only *know* that the Lich King is his boss now.

But still I wonder why Arthas wanted to test his DKs that way. Was he simply paranoid? Just a sadistic jerk? Was he testing how well the brainwashing was going, in a sort of scientific method approach? Maybe all three.

And frankly, your whole "shade" thing has no significant basis in lore. Those entities are a Koltira-specific problem. None of the other Death Knights ever even mention them.


Except again, as I pointed out in that post, it wasn't the first time we saw them. Every player death knight has seen them in questing, they're included in the DK start. And since there's a decent chance that same Realm/World of Shadows is the same thing Arthas references when we kill him, we see it in literature with your constant banging on the drum for Sylvanas being consigned to WoW-hell. Now Egrem has done something you always refused to do and made clear the basis for Thassarian's "born-again" moment. Someone else touched by their angelic fallen father at Light's Hope. Now unless we posit that each and every death knight has a relative to commune with there, I suspect it doesn't have bearing on everyone. You can of course freely claim it for your DK but I don't think it's accurate to declare it general lore for all free DKs.

And frankly, your whole "shade" thing has no significant basis in lore. Those entities are a Koltira-specific problem. None of the other Death Knights ever even mention them.


Except again, as I pointed out in that post, it wasn't the first time we saw them. Every player death knight has seen them in questing, they're included in the DK start. And since there's a decent chance that same Realm/World of Shadows is the same thing Arthas references when we kill him, we see it in literature with your constant banging on the drum for Sylvanas being consigned to WoW-hell. Now Egrem has done something you always refused to do and made clear the basis for Thassarian's "born-again" moment. Someone else touched by their angelic fallen father at Light's Hope. Now unless we posit that each and every death knight has a relative to commune with there, I suspect it doesn't have bearing on everyone. You can of course freely claim it for your DK but I don't think it's accurate to declare it general lore for all free DKs.


My best bet at the starting area was that Darion's ghostly flashback freed him, and Arthas being weakened by an Ashbringer to the face was what freed me. Although I still don't understand why Darion having a memory flashback about his father freed him from the Lich King, but Thassarian was able to cut off his own mother's head while she begged him to break free and then he just walked away. Doesn't seem like the emotional triggering of a loved one (even both parent scenarios) is enough to break the Lich King's effects on a Death Knight. Yet when Darion broke free and started talking smack to Arthas, Tirion had not yet smacked Arthas with the Ashbringer. Makes my head hurt.
DKs were not mind controlled in the same way as the Forsaken. DKs minds where left. But their souls where taken and their will was subjected. They maintained their regular thought. But without a soul and bound to the Lich King's will, they wanted what the Lich King wanted. All of their personal motivations where just put below The Lich King's.

When they fought at Light's Hope their souls where returned. They regained their own personal will. They where no longer bound to the Lich Kings will.
01/06/2014 02:11 AMPosted by Deathdolly
Thassarian is able to recognize his mother and know that it is her, but he is unable to feel sadness or guilt or anger about being asked to kill her. He is only able to process his thoughts. His mother was an authority figure when he was a little boy because he loved her as his mom, but now he can't feel that sort of thing. He can only *know* that the Lich King is his boss now.


That sounds about right. Thassarian felt no remorse, cared little for his past life, and was compelled to obey Arthas... but within those limitations he was capable of thinking for himself and acting as he saw fit.

Most of the intelligent members of the Scourge were likely in a similar situation, though there were a few exceptions. Kel'Thuzad served not because he was forced to, but because he was truly loyal. Sir Zeliek retained his morality, but could still be commanded to fight (which is why he urged the living to flee).

Sylvanas was in a similar situation. Arthas directed her actions, but chose not to break her will. Her thoughts were her own, and she was overcome by grief and hatred as he forced to kill. She was even permitted to speak her mind... but he could inflict terrible pain upon her if he didn't like what she said.
OP,

I think the Lich King needed to walk a very fine line with certain DK's.

Given some info gleaned from Vanilla quests in WPL (the old Darrowshire questline I believe) in which we kill ghouls to release the souls of those ghouls, we learn that possibly all Scourge are aware of what they are doing but their wills are so crushed by the Lich King that these people are passengers in their own bodies. That's why low order zombies, skeletons and ghouls are mindless.

DK's were always supposed to be commanders, champions and generals. The Lich King, in lore, did not create a DK lightly. Some, such as Orbaz Bloodbane, joined the Scourge willingly. But others needed to be dominated. These involuntary DK's still needed all of the skill and intelligence that caused the Lich King to elevate them to DK status but if too much was given then these DK's would simply rebel.

Therefore, I think the Lich King did a number of things to hedge his bets since he did not want to completely crush the wills and minds of his generals. First, he used the Hunger. Razuvious alludes to this Hunger, an incredible pain and suffering that increases until a DK kills or goes into a frenzy and wipes out a small town, pretty early in the DK starting zone. I also think the Lich King used some more traditional brain washing such as those whispers in your mind to try and control involutary DK's.

What I think happened, and this is speculation, at Light's Hope is a confluence of events and circumstances that allowed the player DK and the NPCs to break free. First, Light's Hope is in itself a powerful Holy location. The powers of the DKs and the Lich King are weaker there. Second, Darion is weilding a semi-sentient sword that, while corrupt, does not want to be. Third, DK's are not a strongly mind controlled as lower Scourge. Fourth, Tirion Fordring is one of the most powerful Paladins in history and possibly the most powerful one currently on Azeroth. Finally, we get the unliving <bleep> kicked out of us, which for some reason in Blizz worlds is great way to get someone to come to their senses.

All of these circumstances and events combine to form a unique circumstance that breaks the Lich King's milder form of mind control and free us from him.
Death Knights had a will. They just also had the best brainwashing money could by, psychological leashes to encourage them to kill things, and a connection to the telepathic empire that is the scourge. They had the freedom to make tactical decisions, and leaders were picked from those who succeeded.

Arthas allowed Sylvanas to be aware of her actions as he forced her to kill people, as a form of torture. She came to spend every moment scheming about her revenge, and as soon as the Lich King waned in control, she acted. He regretted leaving her any wit.

Meanwhile his most successful, most reliable lieutenant was Kel'Thuzad, who very willingly put himself before the frozen throne and entered servitude. If there was something Ner'zhul could count on, it's that Kel'Thuzad would see all his plans through and never betray him.

I think the Death Knights of Acherus were supposed to be a medium, an attempt at finding that balance of intelligence, control, and loyalty that just wasn't possible in ordinary ghouls, or with belligerent mind control.

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