So what is a loremaster, exactly?
Call them game historians or "shadowy figures who pore over leather-bound volumes deep in the bowels of their workplaces." Whatever the case, they keep creativity on track.
Theirs may be the most mysterious job in all of gaming. They do for a living what hardcore fans have done for generations—closely monitor the history and the lore of your favorite fantasy universes.
But what exactly does a loremaster do? How does one earn such a prestigious mantle?
And, most importantly, does it involve ritual combat?
Sean Copeland, senior manager of lore at Diablo and Warcraft maker Blizzard, has described the role as someone who acts as “a repository for all Blizzard lore, providing counsel for the game development teams and the creative development story group”—but even he admits this only scratches the surface. Loremasters are involved in nearly every stage of a game’s development and evolution.
Raised by parents who dabbled in BASIC and DOS programming in their spare time, Copeland was wired to have—shall we say—an enthusiasm for technology and gaming from a young age. After getting in the door at Blizzard as a temporary game tester in 2006, he soon worked his way up through the quality assurance department, logging issues and bugs and, as it turns out, a lot of lore-related material along the way.
With that, a new pathway emerged.
I was granted audience with Copeland under the condition that I phrase my questions in rhyming couplets before the stone door of his inner sanctum rolled shut for another 10,000 years. (As far as you know, anyway.)
Is “loremaster” something you can specialize in? Or do you have to work your way into it?
In 2017 Fortune rated our job as the No. 1 “insane job” that “sounds too good to be true.” However, a true career path to becoming a professional loremaster is nonexistent. It is super rare in our industry and no one origin story is alike.
Each of us has a unique story that led to us becoming a loremaster, but none of our work experience or professional degrees trained us in being experts in franchise canon. That was something we studied in our free time. Our day jobs have been in areas like finance, retail, quality assurance, photography, film production, and others. At Blizzard, the role of historian first opened in 2005 when a lore support need was identified by [executive] Chris Metzen for his new creative development team. That singular historian role grew into an entire team as the requests and responsibilities increased over the next few years. Today it’s a six-person team.
What are the signs that someone might make a good loremaster?
To the surprise of a lot of people, merely knowing the lore of a specific franchise is just the beginning.
The best traits of a historian are being a strong communicator paired with a lack of ego, especially when helping others with story and lore. Our role at Blizzard is like being national park forest rangers, helping all the visitors to our universe navigate their way around. Helping others wade through decades of canon and being a trusted resource for them through their journey is the true north star of our team.
Are loremasters involved creatively in the development of games or new campaigns? Are you on hand to nix things early that don’t “fit” with the universe?
We are! Our little team is available for our development partners in a whole spectrum of ways—with one end being a super quick editorial check and the other end authoring a sourcebook for the entire game expansion (such as World of Warcraft: Grimoire of the Shadowlands & Beyond).
What’s an “editorial check”?
This is where loremasters are invited to troubleshoot any and all concerns someone may have on a given topic. That topic can be artwork (such as ear direction, blood color, magic color, runes, etc.), manuscripts (like timeline references, character histories), or online sources (like merchandise, cinematic log lines, and things like that).
Do loremasters typically handle more than one universe (say, World of Warcraft and Diablo)? If so, how do you keep it straight? Do you have spreadsheets? Leather-bound volumes?
Each of our franchises has a dedicated historian—a “go-to” for all lore support requests that come in for that specific universe. Each historian then has a buddy assigned to them to help offset the workload during times of high demand. We have daily meetings where we plan for the day’s work, review who’s tackling what, and see if there are ways we can help each other out.
As far as keeping all the lore straight? That’s thanks to our love for our universes and our daily efforts in supporting each one of them.
Can you recall anything that you had to spike or change dramatically because it could have threatened to derail the larger mythos of a given game?
Our team does its best not to be known as the “lore police” for any of our partners and affiliated teams. There are times when we’ve had to tackle the revision of old or problematic lore, but our historians can best be described as “lore lawyers” in those instances.
As lore experts, we identify the potential areas of concern for any story topic and provide way to apply “lore yoga” to the concerns where needed.
OK, you have to explain that.
Lore yoga is the bending—but not breaking—of established canon to accommodate a new story point or outcome.
Does being good at handling lore in one place (say, Blizzard) necessarily mean you can port those skills over to another company? Do different places handle it extremely differently? Is there a “standard” for this kind of work?
Indeed! One of the things I am sincerely proud of is founding the Lore Keeper Alliance. This alliance is a group of professional loremasters that work across various major entertainment studios that work with large-scale universes and canon. The group consists of loremasters from Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, DC Entertainment, 343 Industries, Netflix, and many more.
The group is open to aspiring loremasters, too. We aim to share what we’ve learned (within the limits of nondisclosure agreements) to inspire our cohorts.
What is your favorite piece of lore to break out at dinner parties?
The “Sean Lore” that my wife loves to share is that after 16 years of lore work, I have four canonical characters in the Warcraft franchise: Sean Copeland, Seanus Copeland, Historian Llore, and Admiral Copeland. There’s also the WoW item Copeland’s Clarity that she keeps (and refuses to disenchant) despite it being several expansions old.
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