The Zandalari are the oldest of the troll races in World of Warcraft, hailing from the hidden island of Zandalar in the Great Sea. At one time they aided players against threats like Hakkar the Soulflayer and the Drakkari tribe, but as of the Cataclysm they have turned to nefarious purposes to reestablish the Troll Empires and secure the future of all trolls.
Trolls are one of the oldest races on Azeroth, predating even the night elves, and the oldest of the troll races were the Zandalari. Building a magnificent civilization in the nation of Zandalar, the trolls became renowned for their mysticism and knowledge, but some trolls desired conquest. Leaving Zandalar, these trolls would be responsible for building the two great troll empires, the Gurubashi and Amani. Over time, the inhabitants of these empires would adapt to their environments, splitting off two distinct subraces of troll: the jungle trolls (Gurubashi) and forest trolls (Amani). The empires maintained contact with the Zandalari, who were viewed as defenders of the trolls as a whole and the seat of all troll knowledge and history.
Around 12,000 years ago, the Zandalari came into contact with another mighty empire, that of the mogu in Pandaria. Despite the mogu view of themselves as above all other races, the trolls and mogu became strong allies. When the Mogu Empire's pandaren slaves rose up in revolt, the Zandalari lent assistance, but were defeated after a long and bloody war. The Zandalari left a lasting impression in pandaren lore, becoming known as bogeymen to frighten children in stories.
The Zandalari suffered another military defeat from the night elves, who were able to defeat the trolls with their power drawn from the Well of Eternity. Trolls were driven from elven lands, enabling them to build their own civilization to rival the Twin Empires. The elves' hubris caught up to them in the War of the Ancients, resulting in the Great Sundering that tore Azeroth apart. The Zandalari used their magic to shield Zandalar from the effects of the Sundering, but the birthplace of the troll nations became an island once the disaster ended.
Allies of Heroes
Reestablishing contact with the Gurubashi Empire, the Zandalari learned their fellow trolls had been making great conquests to add to their territories, success they atributed to their god Hakkar. Soon, however, the Zandalari grew unsettled by the increasing conquests and consulted their history for clues to Hakkar's identity. They discovered that Hakkar, who was also known as the Soulflayer, was an evil deity who gained power through bloodshed and intended to bring all of Azeroth under his rule. The Zandalari allied with Gurubashi rebels who had turned from the dark god's influence to battle Hakkar's loyalists, eventually defeating him and banishing his followers. Despite this victory, the Gurubashi Empire had been dealt a death blow.
After the Third War, when the peoples of Azeroth thwarted their world's invasion by the Burning Legion, Hakkar's followers found a way to revive their god and attempt to take back their empire. Learning of this, the Zandalari returned to Zul'Gurub and aided heroes of the Alliance and Horde in fighting Hakkar once again, slaying the evil god and driving his followers back into exile.
In the northern troll kingdom of Zul'Drak, the Drakkari tribe of ice trolls had long been harried by the Scourge under the command of the Lich King. In desperation, they began sacrificing their animal gods and taking their power for their own, believing this would turn the tide in their favor. Seeing th Drakkari as having gone too far, the Zandalari again allied themselves with the Alliance and Horde in battling the Drakkari and defending the remaining gods.
Turn to Darkness
When Deathwing returned to Azeroth and brought about another worldwide Cataclysm, Zandalar was devastated by the world's upheaval. With their civilization on the verge of collapse, the Zandalari began to rethink their philosiphies and the future of the troll race. A prophet known only as Zul began gaining influence with his beliefs that the trolls faced extinction unless they banded together and rebuild their empire, purging the other races if need be. Zul and his followers began reaching out to the other troll races, many of whom were inspired by Zul's words. However, the Darkspear tribe led by Vol'jin, allied with the Horde, believed Zul and his united troll empire would pose a danger to the other races of Azeroth, and decided to lead Alliance and Horde efforts against them in Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman. The Zandalari even went so far as to try to steal power from Hakkar, but were eventually defeated.
When Pandaria reappeared, the mists that concealed it from the rest of the world having collapsed in the Cataclysm, the Zandalari under Zul were intrigued. Believing Pandaria could be a new homeland for the trolls should Zandalar itself fall, the Zandalari led a force to take the continent, coming into conflict with the pandaren once again. Seeing the Mogu Empire had totally collapsed, the Zandalar began making efforts to rebuild it, knowing they would make powerful allies. The prophet Khar'zul secured a major victory for both the Zandalari and mogu when he claimed the body of the first and greatest emperor of the mogu, Lei Shen, and brought him back to life.
The Zandalari joined Lei Shen on the Isle of Thunder off the coast of Pandaria, eager for the Thunder King to rebuild his empire and assist them in reclaiming theirs. With their forces defeated in battle with the Alliance, Horde, and Shado-Pan, it remains to be seen if and how they will recover from losing one of their greatest allies.
When they first appeared in World of Warcraft, the Zandalari appeared as typical trolls, only with a pinkish-white skin coloration. In Cataclysm, their model was updated to be the bulkier type used by the forest and ice trolls first introduced in Wrath of the Lich King, with a yellowish-tan color. Upon the release of the "Thunder King" patch of Mists of Pandaria, they were given their own unique model, with a grayish-white color, more upright posture, and glowing eyes.