Pandaren are a humanoid race which closely resemble pandas. The pandaren occupy their own continent, Pandaria, which was shrouded from the rest of Azeroth until the release of Mists of Pandaria. The pandaren were originally introduced as an April Fools' joke by Blizzard's art director Samwise Didier as a playable race in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne; in the "bonus" campaign centered around the Horde, the pandaren brewmaster Chen Stormstout is a supporting character, marking the first appearance of the race in Warcraft.
The playable pandaren in Mists of Pandaria are currently the only race in World of Warcraft that begins neutral, choosing between the Alliance or the Horde the end of the starting area, around level 10. The player pandaren hail from the Wandering Isle, a land built on the back of a giant turtle known as Shen-zin Su, and inhabited by the descendants of pandaren wanderers who ventured beyond the mists of Pandaria to explore the world. The player character begins at an academy, where they undergo extensive training in the fighting arts and the philosophies of the pandaren. Shen-zin Su remarks on a "thorn" in his side that prevents him from swimming straight, putting the Wandering Isle in danger. The "thorn" is revealed to be the crash of a flying Alliance warship carrying Horde prisoners from the initial battles for Pandaria. After rescuing the survivors, the pandaren return to their temple to "choose their destiny" - to either join the Alliance, or the Horde. The player then flies by hot air balloon to the gates of Stormwind (Alliance) or Orgrimmar (Horde) with the chosen representative(s) of their people.
From the start of Mists of Pandaria, pandaren are able to play a Hunter, Mage, Rogue, Priest, Shaman, Warrior, or Monk. Owing to timeline conflicts, the pandaren are the only race in World of Warcraft that cannot be Death Knights, as the events on their starting area of the Wandering Isle occur well after the death knights' storyline in Wrath of the Lich King.