Inquisitive Mage in the Dragon Age

When Dragon Age: Inquisition first came out in 2014, this third game of the Dragon Age series excited fans with its responsive, realistic, refined graphics as well as its inclusion of (positive) modern queer politics and positionalities in a fantasy realm, goals that BioWare really strove for during development. What was less expected from the company and many fans, however, was how adaptable a game with its own lore and histories involving magic would be for technopagans practicing through social media.

Decoding the Codex

Players are equipped with a “codex,” a collection of readings players gather as they play and explore, accessible through the in-game menu. The codex is initially sparse, which means a person using the lore of the game in their practice needs to play some of the game first to unlock the magical world of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Mages in this game pull magic from the energy of different realms, sometimes called the Veil, more times referred to as the Fade, apolitical entities that don’t seem to come with a set of morals (balancing of “good” and “evil” or even a reactionary function). The products of the Fade/Veil are tools for the magic-wielders of Thedas and beyond.

While the player is limited to Thedas for physical play, many locations and nations are represented in the characters met. Humans in Thedas who belong to the Chantry (some warrior groups called “Seekers” and “Templars” as well as the leaders of a monotheistic religion with titles like “Divine” and “Mother”) control Human and rarely Elven mages, who occupy the Circle of Magi, who are rebelling. The game begins with leaders from the Apostates (also referred to as the Rebel Mages) meeting with Chantry authorities to negotiate some sort of peace, albeit uneasy.

To the north of Thedas, another Human nation endures, named Tevinter which is extremely supportive of mages. Tevinter and Thedas are at odds for two reasons. First, the Tevinter follow the same religion but believe that magic is the crux of divinity. Second, the extreme hierarchy of Tevinter society produces very powerful mages rushed to the upper levels of privilege—and enough of these mages also have world domination as their objective, enough that Tevinter is marked as a threat.

In this world of Humans, there are also Elves, Dwarves, and Qunari (giant people with grey to green skin and elaborate horns) who interact with magic.

Elves, often from lower classes, come from a magical history that stems from an ancestral home in the forest. Elven playable and party characters have access to some of the most unique (and highly powerful) magical equipment. Solas, discussed a little later, is eager to tell players about Elven history and magic.

Dwarves and the Qunari have a more limited relationship with magic. Because of their high magic resistance, Dwarves can’t be mages. As the game goes on, though, the products of Dwarven society are shown to influence the surging amount of phenomena in Thedas, from the material Lyrium to the mostly mundane Dwarven puzzle box. The Qunari, on the other hand, have access to magic and can be mage trained. The Qunari have the Qun, a debatable mage state that influences both the duties of individual Qunari and the connectivity of the society (which is something players can discuss in great depth with companion the Iron Bull). Also, they have an intimate affinity for dragons, which is pretty great.

Throughout the game, entities similar to those worshipped on our plane appear. Various types of dragons appear in many locations in Thedas, all with their own histories and a group that reveres them. Constellations, presented as puzzles, also have their own stories (and lead players to treasures buried deep in the earth or caves). Codex entries and the profiles of companions presented to the player before entering a location (for customizing the best party for adventuring the world) are displayed as tarot cards, which warrants a lot of fantastic fan art.

The codex is a great, permanent resource allocated to players that not only outlines the presence of magic and nature-worshipping cultures; it turns finding out about these cultures its own game! Who said learning about other cultures had to be so solemn?

Playing the Mage as an Avatar of Hope

The best way to understand mage cultures in Dragon Age: Inquisition is to play a mage, although players start with one mage they can take on adventures and can acquire two more at their discretion. Playing a Human, Elven, or Qunari mage in the Human-dominated, magic-leery nation of Thedas opens up more dialogue options and puts the player in a unique position in a society dependent on a magic-exclusionary faith to save the day. No matter what class (Mage, Warrior, or Rogue) the player is, however, everyone starts with the Apostate Solas as a resourceful Rift mage (channeling the raw Fade) in the camp that can’t be dismissed or inspired to leave. A Knight Enchantress named Vivienne, one of the last loyal (non-rebel) mages, is retrievable after the player visits her home in Orlais, the capital of Thedas. The eloquent Tevinter Necromancer Dorian is available at different points of the game depending on how the player handles Templar or mage politics. Even if the player never takes these mages on adventures with them, they remain in the main camp (unless inspired to leave) and offer the player insight into the state of magic-users in this era of their world.

For this part, though, I’m focusing on the four spell trees a person can access by playing a mage (although Warriors and Rogues have magic-like abilities that bolster their stats). The “spell trees,” or schools of magic, are Fire, Ice, Spirit, and Storm. A player can mix and match between the schools, although sticking to one is rewarding as spells become more complex and powerful. The trees of Fire, Ice, and Storm are dedicated to dealing damage to opponents (although Ice and Storm have spells that also impede the movement of attackers) while Spirit protects player and party, packed with abilities that can revive party members that have fallen to enemies. (Mages with Spirit skills are the only healers in the game!) It’s important to diversify the skills of mages, especially if the player decides to have a multi-mage party, although two is the maximum to depend on (which is half the maximum party a person can bring)—resetting skills can be rather expensive.

Playing a mage is a great experience, whether trying to create magic or just play a game, and with that I find BioWare a kind developer. For those newer to games or who want to enjoy/interact with the story more than the combat, there is a “casual” mode that decreases the pressure on players. The difficulty goes from “casual” all the way to “nightmare,” so those craving a more corporeal, sweat-inducing experience are also included. The display can be overwhelming, with lots of wheels on the screen (from the map to the “hotkey” (a cheatsheet players have that show what spells are assigned to which button or key), but a friendly tutorial at the beginning and stored in the codex leads players through some of these mechanics. Fortunately, the buttons and keys for jumping and interacting with objects or people are different than those assigned to attacking (a bigger problem associated with the programming of console games) so that, along with a patterning of the controller/keyboard that is likely to be more familiar to those who play games, there are less interruptions and relearning of buttons/keys and more immersion in the story.

What helps the most with story immersion, and magical interconnectivity, is the stunning customization system players use at the beginning of the game to create their avatar. I was enthused when I created myself in the game (researching for this article, of course), stretching my perspective of walking between worlds as I explored in one and played in another, which anchored me in the intriguing world while making me consider the meaning of communication between a physical world and a structured, expanding digital world, both presumably pre-formed, both objective, both containing at least one person trying to break norms about how magic should be used and mages should present. Really makes me feel magical.

Rite of Requisitions

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a very well-built game that can provide a lot for Pagans who practice magic and energy-raising. Before barreling into it as a resource, however, it’s very important to know that 1) the developers of this game were conscientious but not about Pagan practicality and identities, 2) those who made this game worked hard to make it emotionally immersive, so it may become draining for those magicians using it as narrative snowballs to its end, and 3) this game is extremely time-consuming and is not recommended for casual players or short spells. With that disclaimer, here are some spell ideas for Pagan players who enjoy this game.

The music of the game is absolutely enchanting. Composer Trevor Morris and lyricist Raney Shockne’s music, music performed by singer Elizaveta Khripounova and guitarist Nick Stoubis, did amazing work transforming the songs (some from previous games, others completely original) into permeating chants that inspire emotional responses from players. One spell I found based on the Chantry hymn “The Dawn Will Come” was for encouragement, especially for those with depression. The spell melds the act of singing with environmental additions (primarily candles) to boost the self. I’m more privy to the song “I Am the One” (performed here) which alone has a mellower, more gripping sound that involves more of the body and requires less set-up.

In-game spells are also places spellcrafters draw inspiration. Even with many spells and schools focused on blasting away enemies and completely offensive improvement, Tumblr Pagan orriculum managed to turn the Spirit spell “Mind Blast” into a workable spell in the physical realm. Instead of shoving back attackers with a huge expense of energy, this more applicable version of the spell works as a ward against negative energy, giving the magician enough time to redirect or transform this energy or source.

Because of its welcoming, rustic, realistic fantasy aesthetic and the astounding writing that went into characters, performing magic usually reserved for between people is totally applicable in the case of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Although there are many ways to employ this kind of magic, I suggest using this spell of courage, based on the brave ex-Templar character Cullen Rutherford, because of its skillful incorporation of game and real elements. The romance/culmination (sexual) mechanics of the game are interesting to work with, too, although those using this magic need to keep in mind the interface of these sequences (the only action players control is dialogue) and the presence of sexuality on the screen (with some characters having fast fades to black while others express full-frontal nudity, although no explicit sexual action is shown) before determining if sex and body magic are even valid.

The lore and politics of the game can be overwhelming for those new to the game, not to mention those new to games. In May of 2016, Corc Hamr started a YouTube series where he played through the game while discussing, from a neo-Pagan animist lens, the relationship between the game and Celtic Pagan religions (as well as talking about video games and their elements). The first episode, Dragon Age: Inquisition – A Pagan Playthrough, part 1, which features Gaarik Daruth, is a great introduction that I’m not giving enough justice.

Ultimately, it’s easier and more functional to take an aspect of the game (character, in-game spell, dragon, animal) and create magic from it without context, later interacting with that same element in the game to provide further foundation, connection, and emotion.

 

“Enchanters! / The time has come to be alive”

as performed by the bard Maryden Halewell

retrieved from the page with the song lyrics

on the Dragon Age Wiki

About the Author

Liz (he/him/Ulysses) Tetu, the dork posing with his altar in the little icon on your screen, writes gag comics, essays, fiction, blog posts, even university assignments on sex, or Paganisms, or both. "queer norse technopagan" is how he'd describe himself, and he also does magic. He's a senior at Metropolitan State University in the Creative Sexual Communication major, double-minoring in Violence Prevention & Intervention and Game Studies. When he finds time to put down the pen, Liz picks up the controller and seduces dragons.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi! Avid fan of DRAGON AGE here! I’ve played all three games in the series, and wrote a blog post while back about the religious politics in the games. I am absolutely fascinated with the level of realism Bioware has manage to infuse in the world of DRAGON AGE.

    A note about locations: Thedas is the name of the world as a whole. Ferelden is the name of the starting country, with some action also taking place in Orlais, which is an entirely separate country from Ferelden, not its capital (many Fereldens would be furious at the implication, considering they only won their freedom from an Orlesian occupation about sixty years ago!).

  2. One of the things I really appreciate about the development of the Fade and the politics of Thedas in Dragon Age is the clear implication that the Fade is shaped both by individual expectations and to overarching cultures. So the Avaar, the Rivaini, Ancient Tevinter and the ancient Elvhen have totally different relationships with the Fade and the spirits therein than Andrastian Tevinter, Orlais, Fereldan, the Free Marches, etc. There’s a strong implication that Andrastian faith is significantly responsible for so much of the Fade spirits coming across as Demonic, but there’s also the implication that it started with Ancient Tevinter politics, and so on. Those countries still holding to their pre-Andrastian practices have MUCH better relationships with the spirit world.

    That is a potentially useful perspective on how spirit work in the real world functions.

    -E-

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