The Men of Thedas, Part 1
I'm a woman. I like men. I like fantasy role-playing games (RPGs). I like living vicariously through characters. Thus, I like Dragon Age. Unlike most RPGs, Dragon Age allows the playable character (PC) to romance one (or more, for a time) of the characters he or she interacts with, be they non-playable characters (NPCs), like Cullen Rutherford in Dragon Age: Inquisition, or playable characters (PCs), like Morrigan in Dragon Age: Origins. As a heterosexual female, however, I chose to romance the male characters in each of the three main games and their expansion packs.
So, without further ado, let us begin.
DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS
In this game, you play as a Grey Warden, who must lead an eclectic band of allies to stop the Blight--a time when ghastly monsters, called darkspawn, prowl the surface of Thedas, the world in which the Dragon Age games are set. While your female Warden is battling darkspawn, however, she can also romance one of the following companions. (Similarly, male Wardens can romance their female companions (or Zevran), but they will not be covered in this article.)
"Have you ever licked a lamppost in winter?"
At first glance, Alistair may seem like an ordinary Grey Warden (a warrior trained to fight darkspawn), but, as the player delves deeper into the story, the truth of who he is gradually comes to light. He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer (as the sorceress Morrigan continually points out), but Alistair is driven by a strong set of convictions, ones that have little to do with his religious Chantry upbringing. In fact, due to his penchant for humor and irreverence, he is ill-suited to life in the Chantry and is instead recruited by the Grey Wardens. A good thing, too, or else our Warden would never have met him.
There is a lot of mocking at Alistair's expense; some of it is even self-inflicted, like his allusion to the lamppost-licking incident. Despite his jokes, however, Alistair is honorable, kind, and steadfast. He believes in the Grey Wardens, in the triumph of good over evil, and would stop at nothing, not even at self-sacrifice, to help others. When he commits himself to something--or to someone--, he is as loyal as the mabari hounds Morrigan (insultingly) compares him to.
But, for all his skill as a warrior, Alistair is an inexperienced lover. Don't forget, he was raised in the equivalent of a convent or a monastery. Approach a romance with him too soon or too aggressively, and our sweet, innocent Alistair will turn skittish. He prefers to court a woman with flowers and compliments and good, old-fashioned chivalry.
If you were to ask Szerafina Mahariel, my female Warden, she would liken a relationship with Alistair to that of a high school romance that lasts a lifetime, except that this high school campus was actually a battlefield...
"My dear Leliana, which girl? I saw many, and I watched them all."
In direct contrast to Alistair is the elf assassin Zevran, a potential companion and romance option for the Warden. Where Alistair is innocent and nervous, Zevran is experienced and cocky. His is a sad tale, however, and his personality is undoubtedly influenced by his past. Born to a Dalish (clans of "wild", nomadic elves) woman and an elven woodcutter, Zevran spent his early childhood in an Antiva City orphanage. He was purchased by the Crows, Antiva's professional criminals, and trained to be an assassin. He meets the Warden during a hit-gone-wrong. Or right.
Initially Zevran may seem like little more than a narcissistic and flippant flirt, with a worrying penchant for killing. But he actually holds a great many things dear. For example, although he never knew his mother, Zevran values Dalish culture and handicrafts. He does not take killing lightly, though he does enjoy it. Despite his challenging childhood, he does not engage in self-pity, preferring instead to focus on the benefits of that difficult upbringing. He also admits that stopping the Blight is the most worthy thing he has ever done, so he obviously cares about the fate of Thedas. And, finally, if your (male or female) Warden romances Zevran, the playful innuendos vanish and are replaced by surprisingly sincere affection. In fact, Zevran remains quite devoted to the Warden, regardless of their relationship or the Warden's fate.
DRAGON AGE II
As its name implies, this is the second game in the Dragon Age franchise. You play as Hawke, a human who has been displaced from his/her home by the Blight in Dragon Age: Origins and must now make a new home in Kirkwall. That is no easy task, however, for the city is simmering with tension between the mages and their Templar guardians (or jailors, depending on which mage you ask). It is this backdrop that provides the impetus for romance.
"All I want is a pretty girl, a decent meal, and the right to shoot lightning at fools."
Anders is a human mage from the Anderfels. He is first encountered in Awakening, the expansion pack for Dragon Age: Origins, as a potential companion for our Warden. Like most mages, Anders was taken from home as a child and forced to live in one of the Circles of Magi, places where mages learn to use their magic but are also under constant supervision of the Templars. Some mages are content with this life, but not Anders, who values freedom above all else. Initially he is only concerned with his own freedom, but, after witnessing the suffering of his fellow mages in Kirkwall's Circle, he becomes increasingly obsessed with securing their freedom, as well.
Before we explore the moral and romantic implications of that obsession, let us first get to know Anders better. He is dedicated and persistent, and he manages to escape from the Circle seven times. He likes cats, and he even owned one named Ser Pounce-a-lot in Awakening. He cracks his fare share of charmingly bad jokes in Awakening, but grows increasingly grim in Dragon Age II. He is a decent, if misguided, man, so, with his special talent for healing, Anders opens a pro bono clinic in Kirkwall's poorest area. It is also this inherent desire to help others that prompts him to merge with Justice, a benevolent spirit who embodies the virtue of justice. Despite his good intentions, however, the ramifications of that decision will forever change Kirkwall, Hawke, and Thedas' mages and Templars.
If a male or female Hawke chooses to romance Anders, he will demur at first, insisting that a relationship with him will only end in sorrow. He will also express surprise at Hawke's interest. But, if the player continues to flirt with him, he eventually relents and even proves himself to be a kind, devoted lover. Yet all is not well in paradise, because Anders ultimately forces Hawke to make one of the most difficult (and unfair) romantic decisions in the Dragon Age games.
I liked Anders in Dragon Age: Origins--Awakening, so Zefira, my female Hawke, romanced him in Dragon Age II. If Zefira were prone to mushy declarations of love, she would describe a relationship with Anders as akin to two lost souls finding each other and staying together, despite incredible odds. It is a partnership, she would say, one which has the potential to withstand the worst that life can throw at it. And boy does life throw its worst at it...
Note: I use a modded Anders, featured in the screenshots above, because I don't like how the original Anders looks.
"What has magic touched that it doesn't spoil?"
That quote says a great deal about Fenris. He is an elf warrior who has spent most of his life in the Tevinter Imperium. Tevinter, unlike the rest of Thedas, is ruled by a powerful group of mages, called magisters, and Fenris is the former slave of one such magister. Thus, he despises magic and distrusts those who wield it, no matter the moral inclinations of the wielders. One cannot blame him, though, considering his experiences with magic.
Although Fenris certainly has good qualities, they can sometimes be difficult to discern through the bitterness. He is blunt, to the point of scathing; skeptical, to the point of unforgiving. But he is also incredibly sympathetic towards the downtrodden...as long as they aren't mages..., and will stop at nothing to help his fellow slaves. He is an exceptional warrior--quick, precise, and deadly. His speed is due partly to his elven heritage and partly to the lyrium-infused markings on his skin, which grant him the ability to phase through solid objects. While quite useful as a weapon, these magical tattoos are yet another reminder of his past as a slave, a painful, parting "gift" from his master. To add insult to injury, the markings are very sensitive, so Fenris has developed an aversion to being touched. The lyrium in the tattoos has also erased Fenris' memory of his life before Tevinter.
Zefira Hawke did not romance Fenris (in fact, he kind of hated her), but she did flirt with him in the beginning (before he started to hate her). Despite his somewhat hard exterior, he is far from unfeeling. If your (male or female) Hawke successfully woos him, he will be loyal, even if your Hawke is a mage. And that, I daresay, is true love.
"Once more I am falsely accused of whatever it is that I am accused of. Falsely."
What would a fantasy RPG be without dwarves? Varric Tethras is a surface dwarf (i.e., one not born in the subterranean city of Orzammar) and a potential companion for Hawke, as well as for the Inquisitor in Dragon Age: Inquisition. While his official profession is that of a high-ranking merchant, Varric also dabbles as a spymaster, a rogue, and, most notably, as a writer. His novels span the genres, from the popular crime serial Hard in Hightown to the less-popular romance serial Swords and Shields (a particular favorite of a certain warrioress in Dragon Age: Inquisition). He is irreverent, crafty, talkative, and prone to half-truths. But beneath all that, beats a kind and virtuous heart. He takes Hawke under his wing when he/she has nowhere else to go, and he's a self-admitted "babysitter" of the people under his employ.
Unlike the other men in this article, Varric is not romanceable, but I'm quite fond of him, so I included him anyway. As a rogue, his primary weapon is a bow--a unique crossbow named Bianca, to be precise. Varric is very fond of his crossbow. He speaks of it (her) as he would of a woman, and indeed the story of his naming of Bianca involves "a girl and a promise." The fact that it is the one story he will not tell suggests that he is equally fond of the crossbow's namesake.
Well, that concludes "The Men of Thedas, Part I". Look for Part II in the next issue, where I will cover the men of Dragon Age: Inquisition!
1. Anders Appearance Mod (V.3):