Early in the conflict, the Cult of the Damned under the direction of Kel'Thuzad unleashed the Plague of Undeath on the northern nation of Lordaeron, tainting the grain from Andorhal, the primary distributor of grain in the northern provinces, and shipping it to outlying villages and towns. The virulent plague killed thousands throughout the provinces and raised them as mindless undead in the service of the Lich King, and caused the land to become tainted, the plant and animal life becoming diseased. A small resistance, led by Prince Arthas Menethil and Uther the Lightbringer of the Knights of the Silver Hand, were able to destroy the infected granaries and temporarily halt the spread of the plague. By the time of Arthas' eventual fall, beginning with the Culling of Stratholme and coming to its climax with the murder of King Terenas, not one living human remained in northern Lordaeron.
The Blackened Woods of Quel'Thalas, having already suffered from the effects of dragons' fire during the Second War over a decade earlier, also became tainted by the plague after the fall of Lordaeron, during the Scourge's march to the Sunwell. Seeking to give the Scourge as pyrrhic a victory as possible, the elves put their forests to the torch. Today the region is known as the Ghostlands, and is home to the major Scourge holding in Quel'Thalas, the fortress of Deatholme.
Following the Scourge's defection from the Burning Legion after the Third War and the later splintering of the Forsaken, the Plaguelands became divided between the minions of the Lich King and the new followers of Sylvanas Windrunner. To this day, the Scourge continues to corrupt the Plaguelands, spreading the Plague of Undeath from strategically-placed cauldrons that taint not only the land, but the air and the wildlife as well.
There are many others besides the Forsaken and the forces of the Alliance who battle the Scourge in the Plaguelands. The Scarlet Crusade, an organization of maddened zealots who attack anyone who opposes them as fervently as they destroy the undead, has taken control of the few surviving towns in the region, such as Hearthglen and Tyr's Hand. The Argent Dawn, formed by former members of the Scarlet Crusade who opposed its corruption, also have a major presence, striking against key leaders and locations throughout the Plaguelands.
This is where the dread citadel Naxxramas stands, looming over the Plaguelands and with it Kel'Thuzad's reign is enforced and undisputed. Among Kel'Thuzad's forces are the dreaded Four Horsemen, four once pious defenders of the light who have seen been corrupted and turned into murderous Death Knights who lead the military forces in Naxxramas. And so, with this in mind, the Argent Dawn has begun an all out assault on the fortress to defeat Kel'Thuzad, seeking to slay him once and for all. As if to own up to all of the hatred and destruction that it has wrought, the dread citadel looms over Stratholme, the city where the once great paladin Arthas Menethil began his long spiral into madness. The Dawn seeks adventurers to come to the rescue, liberating the necropolis and finally slaying the vile Kel'Thuzad, along with the rest of his forces that reside inside.
The East Plaguelands are where the scourge corruption began in the first place, and stand its most destructive forces of destruction. It was here that Arthas Menethil came head-to-head with the Dreadlord Mal'ganis at the city of Stratholme - a city whose name would forever became burned into the memories of all citizens in the Eastern Kingdoms, where the crowned prince of Lordaeron would begin his eventual slip into madness and become an agent of the scourge before becoming one with the Lich King.
The East Plaguelands are a world PvP zone, with four objectives in the form of the four towers located across the zone. Whichever faction holds all four towers (all taking some time to capture while PvP flagged) gains a passive buff for their faction which only functions in this zone and only fades when a faction no longer holds all four towers.
The East Plaguelands offer an unusual dichotomy of providing both the beginning of the endgame content (in the form of Stratholme), as well as the ending of the endgame content (in the form of Naxxramas). Players working together in groups of up to 15 players may enter Stratholme, though Naxxramas should be attempted by no less than 40. There are two entrances into both Stratholme and Naxxramas; for Stratholme the entrances are the regular entrance and the service gate, and for Naxxramas the entrances are a pair of transport towers, one inside of Stratholme and one outside -- the outside transport tower requires a player to be attuned to Naxxramas.
The West Plaguelands are where the scourge corruption spread to after Arthas Menethil's betrayal as he slew his own father, King Terenas, after being influenced by the runeblade Frostmourne. As he fled the castle, the scourge overcame him and he was turned into a Death Knight. The Dreadlords instructed Arthas to resurrect the executed cultist Kel'Thuzad, and instructed him that a sacred vessel would be needed to transport his ashes; the most suitable vessel having been the one holding Arthas' own father. Doing battle with many heroes of the alliance, especially the Knights of the Silver Hand, Arthas overcame these heroes one-by-one until he came face-to-face with his former mentor Uther the Lightbringer.
Despite his appeals and the grief that he felt, Arthas ignored Uther's pleas to return his father's urn to where it rested. Attempting to stop Arthas, Uther was struck down and slain by Arthas who then dumped his father's ashes and collected the remains of Kel'Thuzad before fleeing once more. With these ashes the dreadlords were able to create a new Kel'Thuzad and used the urn as his phylactery (a vessel used to hold the essence of a Lich to sustain them eternally and prevent a final death).
With the aid of both Kel'Thuzad and the dreadlords, Arthas' descent into madness was cemented forever, as was the death that would render Arthas a true member of the scourge. The outcome of their madness fueled campaign of destruction and undeath left in their wake the smoldering ruins of the former Kingdom of Lordaeron, the undeath and corruption of the scourge blanketing the countryside for many miles and spreading out even into the Tirisfal Glades where it is said that a great power was once found by the High Elves.
Here in the Western Plaguelands there stand four cauldrons, standing as undead beacons of power which spread the scourge corruption, those exposed to the contents of the cauldrons are forever changed and become twisted undead constructs which may attempt to destroy all of Azeroth one day.
- Tirisfal Glades
- Northern Lordaeron, a closed zone.
- Ruins of the Scarlet Enclave, technically a part of Eastern Plaguelands.
- Silverpine Forest (Note: Silverpine Forest is usually considered part of the Plaguelands, but not always, because there are many places without Scourge soldiers, but their influence is evident. Also, World of Warcraft Master Guide: Edition 2 says that the Scourge have a "loose and rotting hand" over Silverpine.)