It was screenshots of the gnomes' fallen metropolis that most piqued my interest when we started playing years ago. Gnomeregan, the fallen capital of Gnomish scientific splendor. There the gnomes had dug too greedily and too deeply, and unearthed "troggs": vicious, shambling creatures that seemed pulled from the pages of H.G. Wells. In their desperation, the gnomes had trotted out the big guns, and tried bombing them to kingdom come ... which worked out as well as you might expect. Now the city is a shell of itself, irradiated and trogg-infested, patrolled by crazed robots and "leper gnomes" - old inhabitants with their senses scrambled by radiation. The end result has a mash-up vibe, combining pulp monsters with steampunk-ish dilapidation - sort of Fallout-meets-Final Fantasy. I had made up my mind. The first character I made was a gnome, and I immediately began grinding levels to get in there to see it for myself.
And I saw it, all right ... every inch of it, ghosting back to my corpse, death after death. Gnomer is hellish ... the very excesses that had interested me in the first place are taken to their logical extreme, resulting in an instance seemingly designed to make you tear out your hair in frustration. It's bafflingly complex, constantly looping and doubling back on itself, turning the standard "kick-in-the-door" heroics of earlier instances into farcical misadventure - you might get lost, wandering in circles until once-killed monsters start respawning right on top of you. It's precipitously huge, filled with gaping drops and bridges to nowhere. Gnomeregan is full of annoying little alarm bots who scamper off to bring the whole place down on your head and mine-dropping dwarves who can blow your entire party to smithereens in an instant. These are only the legitimate ways to die - the place is also notoriously buggy, such that with one wrong step, entire roomfuls of monsters might come barreling at you.
All of this leads up to the final boss, Mekgineer Thermaplugg. A more classic villain like Edwin van Cleef might have a wide-ranging network of spies and contacts, but Mek has bombs, and bombs, and oh-god-why-are-there-so-many bombs. Any illusions I might have entertained about my own character's heroics were shattered by humiliating defeats at the hands of Thermaplugg. Once you've had your ass handed to you by a gnome in battle armor and his shuffling legion of bomb-bots, it's hard to look at yourself the same way. The final result is a Kafkaesque instance that lingers just outside of Ironforge like a stale fart.
That's pretty much it for the Gnomes - it's testament to their status as cosmic punching-bags of Azeroth that their content peaks at level thirty. The gnome's memorable /charge emote - "For Gnomeregan!" - is a bittersweet reminder that no matter where else you might go, Gnomer will always be unfinished business. This might be why the equivalent campaign, Horde-side, for the Darkspear trolls to retake their ancestral islands fails to catch my fancy. Trolls, generally, come off as fairly laid back ... they always struck me as pretty comfortable anywhere, the kind of houseguests that drop by and crash on your couch for just a little too long before shoving off again. Maybe I'm showing my bias here, but it seems like there are trolls everywhere. There are ice trolls, forest trolls, desert trolls, zombie voodoo hoodoo trolls. These guys come in 32 flavors, and, in contrast, the poor gnomes are stuck rotting in their filthy little crater, just waiting until someone wants a Hydrocane for their alt.