Many narratives thrive off their rivalries, and Dragon Age is no different. Tensions between the Templars and mages reached a new level with an all-out battle in Dragon Age II, with Hawke having to pick a side. Dragon Age: Inquisition throws you right into the aftermath, and the two groups are still at odds.

Finding The Catalyst

What if magic actually existed in our world? So many fantastical settings immerse themselves in the supernatural property, but few touch on how odd it would be to have people walking around with powers. When the Dragon Age team sat down, it was something they couldn’t ignore.

The conversation started off lighthearted as the group quickly recalled the Dungeons & Dragons spell “charm person,” which allows you to make someone your friend until the spell expires. The spell sparked some telling questions. “What if you met a mage and you could never be sure you [actually] like them?” asks lead writer David Gaider. “Do [you] like them because they cast a spell on [you]?” 

As the team talked, they focused on the paranoia that would come with a world where people possessed magical powers and how that would be an interesting story to tell. “You always have to have in the back of your mind, ‘What if this person had powers?’ What kind of suspicions would that breed? That’s where it eventually led to the Circle of Magi and the kind of the controls it would require,” Gaider recalls.

The controls BioWare decided on brought an abundance of tension to the Dragon Age world. By involving the Chantry, the prevailing religion of Thedas, in governing the Circle of Magi, it not only gave the vocal group additional power, but also let the Chantry spread and act on its message about the dangers of magic. For those who need a refresher, the Circle of Magi teaches mages how to control their powers. Chantry law dictates that anyone who gains powers must join the nearest circle and be monitored. Part of the monitoring comes from the Templars, who are the watchdogs for mages and the Circle, and hunt down the apostates who refuse to join.

According to Gaider, Dragon Age: Origins was about setting up this dilemma. As the team moved on to Dragon Age II, the focus shifted; “Then it was, ‘What would it take for that to come crashing down?’” Gaider recalls. As we all know, peace and order are constantly challenged...and maybe the mages are tired of being looked at as outcasts.

Choosing Sides

As seen throughout our own history, all it takes is one dominant group to forecast something as a threat and people will follow. Dragon Age’s asset is its two viewpoints people can relate to, and it set the stage for a tense rivalry fans latched onto and passionately defended on message board forums. In fact, even within BioWare’s own staff, team members disagree about who’s in the right. 

On the one hand, the Chantry and Templars have a reasonable fear: Magic in evil or incompetent hands could be diabolical for society. For mages, this presumption of guilt is disheartening. “What would it feel like to have it assumed that you’re a time bomb waiting to go off?” Gaider asks. “Should I not be judged for the things that I do, not the things that I may do?”

These two disparate concepts drove players to think about magic in greater complexity. “It just seemed like such a juicy argument to dive into,” Gaider says. “Dragon Age has always been about hard decisions, where there’s not necessarily a clear moral path. But the idea is that if we can successfully argue either side of an issue and not feel like a sociopath doing so, then that is a good avenue for us to explore.”

In Dragon Age II, BioWare deliberately presented both groups at their worst, as creative director Mike Laidlaw puts it, “kind of accelerating or turning the volume up on each of their extremisms.” Instead of letting you watch, the game ended with you finally voicing support for one group or the other. “I think by letting the player put a stake in the ground with Hawke as your avatar was something that we needed to do, having been presented the increasingly loud evidence,” Laidlaw says. 

“Dragon Age II is always about Hawke being drawn into events perhaps outside of his or her control, and we wanted to give the player the opportunity to see the conflicts start,” Gaider adds. “I think that was more at the heart of it than the player actually deciding, because it’s too large of an issue to resolve in a snap.”

Up Next: Find out where the war is headed in Dragon Age: Inquisition...