--April 2005 to October 2005
This article applies to experiences as observed on the Feathermoon US Roleplaying Server
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Light my soul to keep.
If Dead should rise before I wake,
I pray the Light my soul to take,
And spare me from damnation.
-Southshore child's prayer
The Battle of Hillsbrad refers to the most intense period of inter-faction warfare in Feathermoon history. This battle focused on the environs in and around the Horde town of Tarren Mill. It is considered by many to be the ordeal which gave rise to some of the best and worst examples of the PvP skill and decorum in the history of Azeroth.
Since the inception of World of Warcraft, the Hillsbrad Foothills has been a hotbed of inter-faction warfare and unrest. It is situated in a key strategic position, on the border between the Principality of Stromgarde (the northernmost foothold of the Alliance) and the Horde colony of Tarren Mill. After the Third War, the Kingdom of Stormwind managed to maintain its hold on the settlement of Southshore, and thus its interests in the Foothills. At the same time, the forces of Lady Sylvanas occupied the ruined Lordaerian settlement of Tarren Mill, bringing the antagonistic factions in close proximity to one another. With tensions high, it was only a matter of time before hostilities erupted.
Conflict in Hillsbrad began even before the official launch of the game, back in Beta and Open Beta. The proximity of the two settlements (and their associated flight points) made Hillsbrad one of the few regions which either faction could reach by single flight from a major city. This allowed for rapid reactions to attacks, and quick escalations of the fighting. Antagonism between the two sides, usually in the form of hit-and-fade raiding purely for entertainment purposes, continued on and off through the official launch of the game, and well into the Spring of 2005.
Circumstances were about to take a sinister turn, however.
The Balloon Goes Up: Patch 1.4 and Beyond
...More and more of them came to the attack. And sooner or later,
after one attack or two or five or ten, there would be a breach.
The exhausted Horde would be pushed back and back more, to the
edge of the town and then into it. The Deathguards would stream
out then, sometimes dozens of them, and even they couldn't always
stop the advance.
...I stood and watched the Alliance rampage through the town.
Every Forsaken died, be they guard or merchant. Every building
was stormed and plundered...Any war-flagged Horde would be cut
down on the spot. And those Horde who were not war-flagged would
often be insulted, spit upon, mocked. Truly, this was bloodlust...
-Linedan Granitehoof, Tauren Warrior
The Battle of Hillsbrad, as it is now known, is considered to have begun in earnest on 19 April, 2005. This was the day in which Blizzard launched the "PvP Honour System", in which players were able to receive titles, rank, and high-end rewards for gathering PvP kills.
While lauded by many as adding to the game's value by giving purpose to PvP combat, the Honour System (or Dishonour System, as many began to derisively refer to it) brought to light several fundamental flaws within the game itself. Most devastating was The Ratio, the simple fact that, for a variety of reasons, Horde was outnumbered by Alliance by a factor of more than 2 to 1. This allowed Alliance players to assault with impunity a variety of Horde sites, without fear of retribution.
Arguably the most prominent of these battlefields was Tarren Mill. So often was the town under attack that many Horde players turned off their World Defence channels, as the constant "Tarren Mill is Under Attack" message would often render any other channels unreadable.
After several days of such annoyance, however, many Horde players tired of being unable to interact with the NPCs in Tarren Mill, and thus began to station themselves in the town almost permanently to fight off attacks by Alliance "HK farmers".
Often outnumbered, repeatedly annihilated, and doubtlessly frustrated, the Horde combatants held out for weeks in a desperate defence which frequently did little to halt the Alliance assault. This, however, served as a "Baptism By Fire" for many Horde players. For this reason, Tarren Mill together with The Crossroads (another Horde settlement frequently assailed by Alliance raiders) are widely regarded as the two places in which the Horde's ruthless, irregular, and frequently effective PvP style was forged. By the end of this most intense period of the Battle, it was not unheard of for Horde raiders, outnumbered sometimes by a factor of three to one, to counterattack Southshore.
The Battle of Hillsbrad raged back and forth like this until mid-June, when new game developments relieved the PvP pressure on the World Stage and moved it into more "controlled" environments.
The Toys Go Winding Down: Alterac Valley and Warsong Gulch
The advent of PvP battlegrounds in June of 2005 was the climax of the Battle of Hillsbrad. While before the Battlegrounds, players interested in PvP combat were forced to seek it out on their own, now players were given discreet, balanced, and more rewarding battlefields upon which to fight.
While the fighting ceased intensifying, however, it also failed to decline. The battlegrounds, while an effective outlet of PvP aggression, were fraught with flaws. Firstly, they were inconvenient to access, with entrances in remote corners of the world. Additionally, however, they were awkward for many players due to restrictions. Warsong Gulch, while available to all players above level 20 (and later 10) was a simple, non-complex game of Capture the Flag. This was amusing but could drag on for hours of "cat and mouse", and was nearly impossible to rationalise from a Roleplaying standpoint. Alterac Valley, on the other hand, was as deep and immersive a PvP experience as any player could desire. Unfortunately, the epic scale (single games could take hours if not days) and the level restriction of 51 made it inaccessable to many players. Alterac Valley, as well, had the unique distinction of having its only gates for both Horde and Alliance poised in the highlands directly above Tarren Mill. In many cases, rather than alleviating the PvP pressure on the Mill, it actually intensified it as bored soldiers waiting in Battleground queues clashed in and around the town.
There was, however, a slight yet noticeable decline in PvP activity across the world. Rather than action at Tarren Mill being constant and overwhelming, it became more broken and sporadic. Rather than huge, organised raids levelling the town, the combat was reduced to pick-up groups. This would decline even further with the coming of Battlemasters.
The Final Gun: Battlemasters and Arathi Basin
While PvP action had declined slightly with the advent of the Battlegrounds in June, true de-militarisation of Hillsbrad didn’t begin in earnest until weeks later.
With the launch of Patch 1.6 in July 2005, Blizzard introduced Battlemasters to the capital cities of the factions. These Battlemasters allowed players to enter Battlegrounds queues remotely. This kept them from being forced to make a pilgrimage which was both frustrating and, frequently, brought them into contact with their enemy before they even reached the battleground. Thus, even more pressure was removed from Hillsbrad, as the scores of endgame players queuing for Alterac Valley rapidly dried up. Raids did still continue, but numbers dwindled even further and power-levels sank as the endgame players were drawn to Alterac Valley by a different means.
The “last shout‿ of the huge unit actions in the Battle of Hillsbrad was in late summer of 2005. The Battlemasters had alleviated most of the need for Battlegrounds aficionados to enter the Foothills, which removed the vast majority of the resistance upon which the “HK farmers‿ depended for their points. Additionally, the small packs which now hunted Hillsbrad for PvP kills lost many of their devotees to the Battlegrounds, thus were unable to foster the numbers necessary to flatten and dominate Tarren Mill. Many of the large-guild raids were pre-planned and thus poorly motivated; especially when fewer and fewer defenders began to show at the Mill. In the reckoning of many Horde warriors, it was better to play on the level field of the Battlegrounds than be swarmed and frustrated at Tarren Mill.
Arathi Basin, which debuted in September of 2005, seemed to mark the end of any organised combat in Hillsbrad at all. Resolving the issues that many non-endgame roleplayers had with Warsong Gulch, the Basin allowed players a strategic, involving battle which required teamwork and tactics, rather than the “attack/defend‿ linear nature of Warsong Gulch. Roleplayers also enjoyed the more believable goals and storyline of the Basin, and thus were more apt to throw their weight behind it. The number of forces available to Hillsbrad raiders slowly dwindled toward zero.
By the time patch 1.8 arrived in late November, the Battle of Hillsbrad was long since considered over. 1.8 placed Battlemasters in every city, making the queues even more convenient. With this patch, many of the most die-hard Tarren Mill attackers turned to the Battlegrounds as their primary source of PvP action.
Ripples of Victory: The Aftermath of Battle
Dey was da greatest. We saw dem as walking gods, aye. Dey stood, in da face of ovawhelmin' stren'th, wit' death all 'round dem, wit' no hope for tomorrow. An' dey say, "is dat the best you can do, mon"? We can only hope ta some-day be worddy to call dem "brotha".
*Sgian, Troll Rogue
Who won the Battle of Hillsbrad?
It's not an easy question to answer. From a military standpoint, the answer is invariably The Alliance. While the Horde managed various counter-raids on Southshore of moderate effectiveness, the Alliance response would always come, and always push them back into a desperate defense. The Alliance could, at will, dominate an entire Horde settlement. Their ability to do this never diminished. It was only the advent of new world circumstances which lifted their grip, a grip which they could likely re-tighten at will even to this day. On occasion, Alliance guilds will stage massive assaults on Tarren Mill, just to re-enforce this fact.
From a practical standpoint, however, it could be convincingly argued that the Horde were the true victors of the Battle. While the Alliance consistently came out on top of each engagement, the Horde put up more than a good resistance. The overwhelming odds which they faced fostered within them a greater sense of community and teamwork than evidenced within Alliance forces. While the Alliance could depend on the safety of numerical superiority, the Horde was forced to adapt to odds which frequently were stacked against them three, four, even five to one. These odds acted as the "Baptism of Fire" for the Horde's PvP soldiers; under such intense fire, they learned quickly. The Alliance's conquests, likewise, were futile. The world situation at present is the same, or even better, for the Horde in Hillsbrad as it was before the battle. With no noteworthy gains, and a more competent enemy to deal with, the Alliance "victory" in the Foothills seems pyhrric at best.
Hillsbrad will never be a settled region. The proximity of Southshore and Tarren Mill cause friction which still, from time to time, sparks and explodes. These explosions pale in comparison to the "scorched earth" trench warfare of April, May, and June of 2005, but do make it possible for the new generation of Alliance and Horde soldiers to relive, if only for a few fleeting hours, the chaos and mayhem which was the Battle of Hillsbrad.
-9th February, 2006