The most prolific race in Thedas, humans have been behind nearly every important historical event in the history of Thedas for a very long time. The elves blame them for the loss of their immortality, Tevinter humans became the first darkspawn when they invaded the Fade, and of course virtually every major country is primarily human.
And Man Grew Proud: According to the Chantry, it was men trying to conquer the "Golden City" in the heart of The Fade that first drew the darkspawn, and caused The Maker, their creator deity, to shun them. Though the first thing that caused Him to shun them was when they started worshiping dragons instead of Him. Then they did that, and He shunned them harder. Still later, he shunned them again for the death of Andraste. He is a very passive-aggressive deity.
Due to the Dead: The Andrastian religion practices cremation, in memory of Andraste being burnt at the stake.
Although it's been suggested that it may have originally been to prevent Blood Mages raising or demons possessing corpses.
Fantastic Racism: Even though an elf was one of their Prophetess' greatest generals, the Chantry officially removed all verses about him when it came time to conquer the elven kingdom of the Dales. Now that most of the elves in Thedas have converted to Andrastianism, the Chantry still doesn't let them become priests.
One True Faith: The Chantry is by far the most widespread religion in the setting. There are some exceptions, such as the polytheistic Chasind and the pantheistic Rivaini, but they don't get much screen-time.
Outside-Context Villain: For the Ancient Elves of Arlathan, whose lore records the strange, mortal beings calling themselves human, which came across the sea from Par Vollen and caused the Elves to lose their immortality.
We're not actually dog people, despite whatever rumors you've heard. — Hawke
A country with a reputation as "back-water dog-lovers" due to their strong history of breeding Mabari warhounds, Ferelden is a relatively young nation, that has only recently regained its independence from Orlais after being occupied for 60 years. Dragon Age: Origins takes place here, as the location where the Fifth Blight began.
A Lighter Shade Of Gray: Compared to pretty much all of Thedas. It's not a fantastic place to live, but it doesn't have nearly the level of institutionalized prejudice as Orlais, Kirkwall, or Tevinter. An elf (the Warden, Shianni, or Cyrion) can be raised to a Bann in the endgame of Origins. A Warden of any race can also become the new Arl of Amaranthine in Awakening, while importing a new character will have the nobility more upset that their new Arl is Orlesian, than their being non-Human. They can even be a mage, and no one will comment on it negatively.
Archenemy: Ferelden and the Orlesian Empire. Unlike the conflict between Nevarra and Orlais, which is akin to back-and-forth Great Game-esque territorial struggles, Ferelden's war with Orlais was a fight to the knife, with the former's freedom at stake, and because of this, the hatred most Fereldans have for the Empire is firmly rooted and deeply personal. While more reasonable Fereldans like Bryce Cousland and Eamon Guerrin have a pragmatic approach to diplomacy with the Empress, no one there actually likes Orlais.
Badass: Replete with them. This is the country that ended a (normally decades-long) Blight in about a year.
The Bad Guys Are Cops: The Denerim guard suffers this problem in Origins according to Sergeant Kylon, after Arl Howe became the new Arl of Denerim and decided to put his own handpicked men into the guard.
Sergeant Kylon: I swear the Arl's men are more criminal than the miscreants we occasionally arrest; some of them are the criminals we have to arrest!
The Guards Must Be Crazy: Kylon also complains that since most of the guard consists of the illegitimate children of various lords, half of his job is dealing with their stupidity, and the rest of the time being forced to explain to their noble fathers that being a guard is actually dangerous.
Barbarian Tribe: Its borders are constantly threatened by the Avvars and the Chasind, the Racial Remnant of the Alamarri tribes that had inhabited Ferelden prior to the rise of Calenhad. The Ferelden people are descended from the Clayne, who, despite the insistence of Orlesians, are not an example of this trope. By the time Calenhad had united them, the banns, arls, and teyrns had long-established domains and many families have prestigious histories rivaling that of the Theirin family, and dating back much farther. These banns were less like barbarian warlords and more like the Anglo-Saxon petty kings who ruled their own domains in England before being unified by the House of Wessex.
Not So Different: For all their foppery, the Orlesians were also descended from a Barbarian Tribe, the Ciriane, led by one of the sons of Maferath and Andraste.
Boring, but Practical: Has none of the frills or luxuries of Orlais, Antiva, or Tevinter, but also has none of their crippling dysfunctions.
Elective Monarchy: The Landsmeet, in theory, selects the king. In practice, every king has come from the Theirin bloodline, as that was the line of Calenhad the Great. There are exceptions. The Orlesians never called the Landsmeet, and this is part of why they were so hated. Bryce Cousland was preferred as Maric's successor by the Landsmeet, but he turned them down. And Anora can be selected as Ferelden's monarch, and she comes from a very recently ennobled family.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: England, if the Normans had been driven out. The Saxon influences are there in the names and the political structure. Also, there are nods to pre-Saxon Brythonic kingdoms. King Calenhad is basically an Expy of King Arthur, complete with his own Merlin, a hedge wizard turned Court Mage named Aldenon the Wise. Highever is also a counterpart of the Celtic overkingdom of Dal Riata, which once encompassed Scotland and parts of coastal Ireland. The default human noble male (Aedan) and Fergus Cousland are named after its two greatest kings, and "Cousland" is a place in Scotland.
Feudal Overlord: Despite being the purest feudal monarchy in the setting, Ferelden actually averts this more often than not.
Foil: To Orlais. Ferelden is an isolationist kingdom, Orlais is an expansionist empire. Fereldans emphasize martial strength, Orlesians emphasize subterfuge. Fereldans dress plainly, even the noblemen. Orlesians dress garishly, and derive status from Conspicuous Consumption. Fereldan kings draw power from a parliament of nobles and magnates, Orlesian emperors enforce their will and maintain that authority through the theory of the divine right of kings. Fereldan iconography emphasizes dogs and wolves, Orlesian iconography emphasizes lions.
Heroes Love Dogs: Dogs play a large role in Fereldan culture. Particularly the magically-created Mabari breed.
Fenris claims that the Mabari Hounds first arrived in Ferelden during an invasion by Tevinter. When the Mabari found the local Alamarri tribes were far friendlier than their masters, they immediately decided to switch sides, joining forces to drive out the Tevinters. Since then, a contingent of Mabari have been a staple of the Ferelden military.
The second game reveals that "Dog-Lords" is a common slur against Fereldans in foreign countries.
Holy City: Denerim, the most commonly cited birthplace of Andraste, and also Amaranthine, where she first sung the Chant.
Informed Flaw: It being a dirty nation of barbarians. On the contrary, the country seems quite civilized, its nobility has a better than even chance of being reasonable, its government doesn't descend into tribalism and barbarity after Ostagar, and they were able to defeat a Blight (with no outside help from other human nations) within a year. The opinion of Fereldans being barbarians seems to be shared only by the most foppish Orlesians.
The Kingdom: The most "traditional" kingdom depicted in Thedas. Interestingly, it is also a truer depiction of how an actual feudal monarchy would be governed and led. The king is first and foremost a peer of the nobility, and therefore while his position demands loyalty and respect, the king is still expected to negotiate and treat with his vassals, and not simply treat them as servants to use and abuse.
Mage Tower: The Kinloch Hold, more commonly referred to as the Circle Tower. Originally built by the Avvar and Dwarves, it was long considered an impregnable fortress until the Tevinter Imperium finally breached its walls after a brutal campaign. After a long period of abandonment, it was claimed by the Circle of Magi in 3:87 Towers and has remained so ever since.
This is reflected in the proud tradition of the Landsmeet, where the nobles come together to elect the next King, as well as settle various disputes and matters of honour. Taking an active role in the Landsmeet affects one's prestige and status amongst the nobility, and vice versa.
The Tower: Fort Drakon, a fortress and prison in the heart of Denerim. It's basically Ferelden's answer to the Tower of London. Unlike the Circle Tower, it was actually built by the Tevinter mages.
Took a Level in Badass: The nations of Thedas take Ferelden a lot more seriously after the Fifth Blight. It is also one of the only countries in Thedas that has emerged from both games in a better place than it started.
Hawke: What's happening in Orlais? Alistair: Oh, the usual. Attempted assassinations, uprisings, fancy parties with stinky cheeses...
A very old empire known for its Deadly Decadent Court, for centuries Orlais has been the center of culture in Thedas. They still treat Ferelden as an uppity colony in many ways, and there is always at least some scheming to recapture it.
Action Fashionista: It's not enough to lead armies, govern nations or climb mountains - you have to be impeccably dressed while doing so. Vivienne's character kit lays it all out.
Ambiguously Gay: The faux French accents and foppy demeanor makes most Orlesians appear this way to foreigners.
Bi the Way: That being said, Orlais apparently has a more tolerant attitude towards bisexuality and homosexuality than many other countries, as shown by one noble being exiled for being in a relationship with his male cousin, with only the latter being considered taboo.
Camp Gay: Of course, they're just so flamboyant that they come off as this if they are.
The Dandy: Due to their incredibly foppish demeanour compared to other nations.
Deadly Decadent Court: Their nobles take pride in "the grand game". The chance of your party entertainment being a spy or hitman is considered a bonus, and a Fantastic Drug brewed from wyvern poison is favored by the Empress herself.
Droit du Seigneur: According to Liselle, this practice is very popular amongst the nobility and the Chevaliers.
The Empire: As foppish as their nobles come across, Orlais is the richest and most powerful human nation in Thedas. Ferelden threw off their occupation at the start of the Dragon Age, and officially made peace with Empress Celene twenty years later, but it's fresh in people's minds on both sides.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Basically a distillation of everything stereotypically French, good or bad, ancient and modern, packaged into one country and rounded off with a side-dish containing stinky cheeses.
Foil: To Ferelden. Ferelden is an isolationist kingdom, Orlais is an expansionist empire. Fereldans emphasize martial strength, Orlesians emphasize subterfuge. Fereldans dress plainly, even the noblemen. Orlesians dress garishly, and derive status from Conspicuous Consumption. Fereldan kings draw power from a parliament of nobles and magnates, Orlesian emperors enforce their will and maintain that authority through the theory of the divine right of kings. Fereldan iconography emphasizes dogs and wolves, Orlesian iconography emphasizes lions.
Holy City: Val Royeaux. The Grand Cathedral located there is both the residence of the Divine and the headquarters for the entire Andrastian Chantry. The monks located within notably sing the entire Chant of Light from beginning to end, a process that takes over a fortnight.
Obviously Evil: They're second only to Tevinter in this regard. They're an autocratic empire where the Deadly Decadent Court is seen as the highest form of political organization, rather than an aberration due to corruption. Their knights are legally permitted to practice Droit du Seigneur. Their military has a Monster Clown unit of assassins. Their aristocrats are effete morons who abuse their subjects, almost to a man. They're actually getting better, though. Under Celene, they stopped outright practicing slavery, but still, when a dyed-in-the-wool Orlesian shows up, you know he or she will be a moron, a bad guy, or both.
Sissy Villain: If they're not a French Jerk, they're this. Or they're both. The only truly manly Orlesians seen in-game identify themselves as Free Marchers (Stroud) or Fereldan (Riordan, who was "born and bred" in Highever).
Stupid Evil: Not always. In Ferelden, however, they were unquestionably this, which is why the only native Fereldans who supported them did so out of greed or fear. Once the abuse became too great, even they were willing to fight the Orlesians.
Vestigial Empire: They used to control the Free Marches, Ferelden, the Anderfels, and Nevarra in addition to their own land. All of these places won their independence. They're still quite powerful, but have lost territory to Nevarra in wars, and as of Asunder, are in the middle of a Civil War.
Can you smell that [leather]? Like rotting flesh! Just like back in Antiva City. Now if only you could find me a prostitute or two, a bowl of fish chowder and a corrupt politician, I'd really feel like I was home! — Zevran
A dangerous nation that makes no attempts to hide its corruption and employment of assassins.
Elective Monarchy: Kings are elected, provided they get through their campaigns without being assassinated. Sometimes no-one feels brave enough to step forward - at which point the Crows go after potential candidates until someone does.
Merchant Prince: While nominally a monarchy, the country is effectively a plutocracy — ruled by a dozen or so merchant princes with personal armies, vast resources, and a heaping helping of the local assassin order, the House of Crows.
Weak, but Skilled: Their army is laughably bad. Their assassins are the best in Thedas. No general would attack them for fear of the Crows killing him, theoretically. Of course, countries have still done it, and quite successfully.
Anders: So, there must be mages in Tevinter who don't use blood magic? Fenris: Of course. There are slaves. The magisters do not hesitate to collar their own kind.
Perhaps the oldest human nation in existence, Tevinter is still an extremely violent and dangerous magocracy that uses slavery and blood magic as a matter of course. In order to dodge the Chantry's laws on magic, they created a splinter church of their own, ruled by their own Divine (known as the Black Divine) to reinterpret scripture in their favor.
Always Chaotic Evil: Maevaris from the comics is the closest thing to a decent Tevinter human we've yet seen. The country itself is a useful boogeyman for anti-mage characters to use as a justification for imprisoning mages specifically because seemingly every Tevinter magister is evil with a capital E.
Badass Army: It has mages and war elephants. And has managed to stave off conquest by a technologically superior enemy for centuries. Tevinter's armies also managed to conquer all of Thedas, and they're basically the reason the Qunari have no major settlements on the mainland.
The capital city, Minrathous, has enough food and supplies to withstand an enemy siege for over a year and has been guarded for nearly a thousand years by the "Juggernauts", gigantic war golems acquired from the Dwarves.
Blood Magic: Technically outlawed. Still practiced widely.
Evil Sorcerer: An entire Empire seemingly built on embracing this trope as fully as possible.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Byzantine Empire, though with a heaping scoop of evil and a much tighter geographic alignment to Rome.
Hopeless War: They've been trying to drive the Qunari off Seheron for at least eighty years, but have yet to even inspire a serious counterattack. Of course, the Qunari can barely make headway in conquering the mainland since they were first repulsed, so this is more of a stalemate.
Made a Slave: The Tevinters are heavily involved in the slave trade, particularly when it comes to elves.
The Magocracy: Not initially. The elves (or the Old Gods) taught the Archon Thalsian Blood Magic, and it all went downhill from there. Now mages rule everything, from the government to the Chantry. They even split from the official Andrastian Chantry so they could reinterpret scripture to put mages back on top.
Odd Friendship: Well, "friend" might pushing it a bit, but the Imperium has traditionally maintained strong ties with the Dwarves, due to their prodigious skill in construction and having the only real access to Lyrium in Thedas. The Dwarves created the Juggernaut Golems used to defend Minrathous, while the Tevinters returned the favour by building a palatial embassy underground, so the Dwarven dignitaries would not lose their caste by being above surface.
The Queen's Latin: Though British accents are pretty common in other places in-setting too.
Shining City: Minrathous used to be this. It is a place of culture and history stretching back to time immemorial, and has never been conquered. Unfortunately...
Vestigial Empire: The Imperium once controlled all of Thedas, but is now reduced to its heartland in the north, between the Anderfels and Rivain. According to Fenris, however, the Imperium has slowly but surely recovered from their losses and are now once again a possible threat to the world at large.
A good example of this is the word "Thedas" itself, which was originally used to describe any land outside the Imperium's borders, only to eventually come to mean the entire continent, as the empire shrank.
Why Won't You Die?: Pretty much every other nation in Thedas thinks this of the Imperium. Even the Qunari couldn't take them out.
A distant country with some interesting ways of utilizing magic. Rivain is almost surrounded by water except for a strip of land linking it to Antiva. As a result, it's a teeming sailing hub and the headquarters of (among others) the Felicisima Armada. It also has the last peaceful Qunari holding in mainland Thedas.
Seers: The traditional path of female mages. They only have a Circle at all to keep the Chantry happy, and mages are still allowed more family contact than almost anywhere else. Once the Chantry caught wind of it, however, they called the Right of Annulment on the Circle of Dairsmuid.
A mountainous country best known for being where the Grey Wardens were founded.
Butt Monkey: Three of the five Blights began or ended here, and these Blights lasted for decades.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Loosely based on Germany, with many of their city names being rather Teutonic. Specifically, they are similar to the Germany of the Holy Roman Empire, being a deeply religious people constantly geared for war. They also bear heavy resemblance to the northern German regions during the control of the Knights Teuton, a situation very similar to the Grey Wardens' authority in the country.
Mordor: Some areas have seen so many darkspawn invasions, the Blight has rendered the land completely barren. Corpses don't even decay there, as insects or grubs can't get anywhere near them.
Puppet King / Authority in Name Only: The Anderfels has a King who is technically in charge, but due to all the Blights and Darkspawn raids they've suffered, everyone looks to the Wardens as the real power in the region.
Real Men Love The Maker: These guys are said to be some of the toughest warriors in Thedas. They are also among the most devout nations under the White Divine.
Generally referred to in the context of "Nevarran dragon slayers," Nevarra has a reputation for powerful mercenaries and odd funeral customs.
Badass: So far every mention of Nevarra has shown inclinations towards this. To wit: the reasons dragons are nearly extinct in Thedas is because the Nevarrans hunted most of them down. They've also been mentioned to be a heavily militarized country in general.
The Dragonslayer: To the point where it's practically their national pastime. The Nevarrans are responsible for (nearly) wiping out the entire species during the Steel Age, while in the case of the distantly related Wyverns, they've taken to organising yearly hunts to keep their population in check.
Due to the Dead: Unlike the other Andrastian nations, the Nevarrans don't burn their dead, but instead bury them as mummies in elaborate tombs. This has given rise to the "Mortalitasi", an order of mages responsible for preserving the dead.
Unfortunately, the preserved corpses make ideal targets for Demonic Possession, resulting in larger numbers of more powerful undead in Nevarra.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Prussia, as both are led by extremely militaristic royal families, and Cassandra seems to be sporting a vaguely German accent. The wars with Orlais are also similar to Germany's repeated conflicts over France for land.
The existence of a culturally important and politically active order of mages responsible for administrating funeral rites also gives the country something of an Ancient Egyptian flare.
Succession Crisis: The World of Thedas states that both the current King of Nevarra and his most likely successor are childless old men, and that both the Pentaghast and Van Markham clans are preparing for a fight over the throne when he goes, making this a likely possibility.
An independent city-state in the north of the Free Marches, recently ruled by the Vael family until their grisly murder in a coup, leaving Prince Sebastian as the sole remaining heir-in-exile.
The Dandy: According to Varric, Starkhaven is stuffy and pretentious.
Abandoned Mine: The Maharian Quarry, more commonly referred to as the Bone Pit, due to all the deaths of Tevinter slaves there during the Imperium days and rumours that it's haunted. Despite Hubert and Hawke's best efforts to keep their business running, repeated mishaps plague the miners, leading it to be finally abandoned after the entire workforce is wiped out by a nesting High Dragon.
Almighty Janitor: Hawke serves as the resident one, being one of the few people willing roll up their sleeves and sort out the various problems in the city, despite having no real position of authority. It's heavily implied that part of the reason Meredith refuses to hold elections for the Viscount's successor is to prevent the nobles from electing Hawke to the post.
Animal Motifs: Kirkwall's architecture, family crests and even surnames often contain bird imagery, often birds-of-prey.
Authority in Name Only: Viscount Dumar, due to being a Slave to PR. The real power in Kirkwall lies with Knight-Commander Meredith and she knows it. She becomes de facto ruler after the Viscount's murder at the hands of the Arishok, refusing to allow the nobles to elect his successor.
Seneschal Bran: Though where you would find a guardsman so eager to sell his honour and sword is beyond me. Isabela: Hanged Man. Fenris: Hanged Man. Merrill: Hanged Man. Aveline: Got to be. Sebastian: Even I know that.
The Champion: Hawke becomes this for Kirkwall after ending the Qunari invasion of the city.
City of Adventure: Living there is certainly not dull by any accounts, just incredibly deadly.
Most of the ridiculously high death rate in Kirkwall is attributed to Hawke, and they're the local hero!
Deadly Decadent Court: Somewhat. While other nobles have put out a hit on Lord Harimann for convincing the Viscount to send financial aid to post-Blight Ferelden and the Viscount mentions he fears assassination if he becomes too friendly with the Qunari, for the most part they tend to limit themselves to passive-aggressive complaining. Which, if you've read this far, you should realize qualifies them as downright restrained, on the whole.
Dishing Out Dirt: It's rumoured that the Ancient Tevinter Mages used magic to create the passage into Kirkwall's harbour.
Eldritch Location: So many slaves died here while it was part of the Imperium that the Veil was permanently damaged, accounting for the sheer number of possessions you see in Dragon Age II. Kirkwall's Circle of Magi has an alarmingly high failure rate for mages undergoing the Harrowing, especially when compared to other circles. A codex entry hints at a darker purpose to the city's very design and implies a huge number of slaves were sacrificed in an effort to deliberately weaken the veil for undetermined reasons.
Its close proximity to Corypheus' prison likely didn't help matters either.
Fantastic Ghetto: The Kirkwall Alienage is surprisingly pleasant, rather spacious and located in a small district in Lowtown, rather than a walled off ghetto separate from the rest of the city like many in Ferelden and Orlais.
The Guards Must Be Crazy: Played straight under Jeven, but averted under Aveline's leadership, as she roots out the corruption and turns the City Guard into an incredibly efficient fighting unit.
I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Kirkwall is home to Darktown, the Gallows, Sundermount, the Bone Pit Mine and the Wounded Coast. Hawke frequently lampshades the sheer bleakness invoked by the local place names.
Malevolent Architecture: Lowtown is adorned with rusted metal spike partitions, narrow streets, abandoned mining equipment, while Darktown adds various hidden traps into the mix. Justified, however, as both are former mines and slave dwellings; they were designed to prevent slave uprisings through intimidation, as well as being easily sealed off to contain trouble makers.
Thieves' Guild: The Coterie is the main one, but there are at least a dozen others, all of whom seem to like taking potshots at Hawke's group in between crises. It never ends well for them.
Wretched Hive: It's one of the most infamous cities in Thedas for a reason.
"Most people on the surface think of dwarves and imagine greedy merchants or dour craftsmen, and certainly those are the faces most often seen by those of us who live under the Maker's eye. But a journey to the thaig reveals a culture of nobility and of poverty, of proud warriors and of necessary brutality."
— Brother Genitivi
Dwarves in Thedas have been fighting a losing war against the darkspawn for a very, very long time. When the darkspawn first appeared, the capitol of Orzammar closed its gates and abandoned all the other thaigs and cities. When they sent out scouts centuries later, they found that only one other city had survived. Dwarves are mostly known for mining lyrium, the magical ore that powers most magic items, but they have a number of other quirks—most notably, they are not allowed above ground under any circumstances, and are exiled if they do so.
Badass Army / Redshirt Army: The Dwarven army swings between this. They're some of the most efficient and seasoned warriors against the Darkspawn and have successfully held out against them for over a thousand years, but they are very aware that they are losing soldiers faster than they can replace them, as well as losing more and more ground to the horde by the year.
The Legion of the Dead actually invoke and embrace both tropes, as their members consider themselves already dead, thus eliminating any fear when called to perform a Heroic Sacrifice or run a Suicide Mission against the horde.
Deadly Decadent Court: Dwarven noble society ain't a very nice place. Backstabbing, coups, and assassinations are standard operating procedure.
Disaster Democracy: Their politicians spend more time arguing and attempting to assassinate each other than actually worrying about the Darkspawn constantly threatening to overrun the city.
Due to the Dead: The Dwarven funeral custom is to entomb the body, believing that their spirits goes into and strengthens the Stone.
Dying Race: The endless war with the Darkspawn coupled with restrictive social policy and already low birth-rates are slowly but surely bleeding the dwarves out. The dwarves are very aware of this, but are too bound by tradition to really do anything about it.
Eternal English: Played with. While the the Dwarven language has for the most part been replaced by that of the surface, it still can be heard in formal greetings and farewells, important titles and the occasional bit of slang. Interestingly, Caridin appears to use an archaic form of a Dwarven farewall, implying that even though the language has mostly fallen out of use, it has changed slightly over the past thousand years.
Fantastic Caste System: By tradition, each dwarf is born into one of eight castes, depending on the caste of their parent of the same sex. Those without a caste are shunned as untouchable by the majority of dwarves. The only way to change castes is to marry a partner of a different caste, give birth to a child the same sex as that partner, and then petition the Shaperate for a caste change. "Noble hunting" is a very common profession among the comelier casteless.
Fantastic Slurs: "Brand" and "Duster" are used to describe the Casteless, while the Surface Dwarves are "Sun-touched" and "Lost to the Stone".
For Want of a Nail: Rather literally. Kal'Hirol is discovered to have fallen due to an incomplete gear mechanism for one of the massive doors used to seal the Deep Roads. If it had been completed before that section had been overrun by Darkspawn, it's possible that Kal'Hirol could have survived much like Orzammar and Kal-Sharok.
Honour Before Reason: The Dwarves of Orzammar believe in this so much that they'd rather let the city fall to the Darkspawn than allow a Castless to insult the Smith and Warrior castes by picking up a fine blade and aiding in the defense of their city. Depending on who the Warden puts on the throne, they can get better... or much worse.
The Warden is forced to get involved with their Succession Crisis as a result of this, as despite the fact that an apocalypse is currently in progress, their Binding Ancient Treaty requires that only their King can lend aid to the Wardens during the time of a Blight, meaning that their Assembly is legally required to do nothing until one is chosen.
Hopeless War: They're stuck in one with the darkspawn. The Warden's actions can improve or worsen the situation.
Justified Criminal: The casteless dwarves of Orzammar. Marked as outcasts and criminals from birth, they are not legally permitted to gain any legitimate work or housing. As such, they're forced into either begging or criminality for survival.
Medieval Stasis: While dwarven technology, primarily smithing techniques, has advanced, dwarven society has retained the same rules for its entire recorded history. A fact that most dwarves will proudly note.
Nay-Theist: The Dwarves do not believe in any god or gods, but instead venerate the Stone itself, who they credit with creating their race and believe guides them in their daily lives. In addition, they practice ancestor worship, believing that by interring themselves within the Stone, they strengthen it and allow themselves to continue guiding their descendants. Those decreed Paragons are individuals who have performed such incredible achievementsthay they are considered to have the Stone's favour and are considered "Living Ancestors" themselves.
The Remnant: Of the entire Dwarven Empire that once spanned across (and under) Thedas via the Deep Roads, only the furthest outposts of Orzammar and Kal-Sharok are left; their once magnificent Thaigs and grand highways, now in disrepair, collapsed, or swarming with Darkspawn.
Screw You, Dwarves: Surface Dwarves have this view towards the Dwarves of Orzammar, wondering how anyone who willingly chooses to remain living in a dank hole in the ground, in constant danger of being overrun by the Darkspawn horde, can still act so smug and self-important towards everyone else. The Casteless, of whom they are technically a part, tend to agree with this sentiment.
The Dwarves of Kal-Sharok have this attitude towards the Dwarves of Orzammar, having not forgiven them for shutting their gates and abandoning them to the Darkspawn horde over a thousand years ago.
Stout Strength: Despite their squat stature, dwarves tend to be slightly stronger and significantly hardier on average than either humans or elves with equivalent training.
Tattooed Crook: Casteless dwarves are marked with a tattoo so that everyone can recognize them as "thieves and beggars." This, however, results in them becoming crooks, because they can't do anything else legally. Society really is to blame in their case.
According to one trader, Surface Dwarves are legally required to wear one whilst conducting their business in Orzammar, as they are technically considered Casteless. Most opt to wear a temporary tattoo that they can wash off upon their return to the surface.
Town with a Dark Secret: Kal-Sharok, the only other major Dwarven thaig remaining standing against the Darkspawn. While little is known thus far, the World of Thedas hints that the inhabitants are very insular and slow to trust outsiders, particularly those from Orzammar. They are also rumoured to have been altered in some manner, as a result of a thousand years of constant, low-level exposure to the Taint.
Urban Segregation: From Diamond Quarter (Noble Class) all the way down to Dust Town (casteless).
Vestigial Empire: The dwarven kingdoms used to span the entirety of Thedas' underground. The First Blight reduced them to only two known cities, one of which hates the other.
"To the elves, loss is an old and familiar enemy. Their homeland, their history, their very place in the world..."
The once-immortal elves have been declining for centuries, and are now split between the wandering Dalish tribes and the alienage elves in human cities. Even their magic is waning; while once every elf had magic, now it is rare to find more than one in a single clan or settlement.
Art Evolution: They gained more distinct features than just "short humans with pointy ears" as part of the overall shift towards a distinct art style in II. The devs are apparently going for a middle-ground look in the third game. Amusingly, though the Dalish looked quite alien compared to the design of the elves in Origins, Merrill looks pretty much like a conventionally attractive human woman, just a very thin one.
Enslaved Elves: As far as anyone knows, they were the first race to inhabit Thedas. Then the humans arrived, the Imperium formed, and things went to hell for them. After Andraste led the rebellion against the Imperium, they were given a homeland and enjoyed a Hope Spot that lasted nearly three centuries before the Chantry declared an Exalted March against them.
Our Elves Used To Be Better: They once ruled a Tolkien-esque kingdom, with near-ubiquitous magic and (supposedly) the next best thing to immortality. Then the Imperium attacked with everything from mages to dragons.
Screw You, Elves!: Inverted. Their hostility towards humans comes from a history of abuse, and most human societies continue to treat them as second-class. Elf Wardens have several options to go "Screw you, human." However, they still occasionally exhibit the classic high-elven aloofness, which is especially ludicrous considering the humans have and are capable of wiping them out, and pretty much ruins any chance of human societies actually sympathizing with them.
It's more likely to be seen between different branches of elves. Dalish and City elves don't always get along, but even the city elves are contemptuous of those who try to fully integrate in human society.
You Are The Translated Foreign Word: Elves typically refer to Humans as Shemlen ("Quick Children"), Dwarves as Durgen'len ("Children of the Stone"), and themselves as Elvhen ("The People"). The only exception to this naming convent are the Qunari (naturally), since they did not land in Thedas until fairly recently and long after the loss of most of the Elven language.
This depends on the rulers of the alienage in question. The alienage in Highever, ruled by the Couslands, is noted to be governed well and in better condition by Iona. The Denerim alienage, ruled by the Kendalls and then Rendon Howe, is a complete and utter hellhole. The alienage of Kirkwall, ruled by a well-meaning but ineffectual Viscount Dumar and the casually corrupt Kirkwaller aristocracy, is somewhere in between.
Urban Segregation: Elves who try to assimilate with humans are sneered at by both groups. The elves, when questioned about this, admit the real reason for encouraging isolationism is to discourage interracial affairs. Due to a strange quirk in their genetics, elves can only be born from a union of two elven parents. Mating with other races produces members of the non-elf parent. The elves fear being completely absorbed by the other races if this was left unchecked.
The Fair Folk: According to the Chantry. How straight it's played varies from clan to clan and from Dalish to Dalish. They have a tendency to draw swords against any human who even accidentally wanders into their territory, they are known to dabble in Blood Magic, and the historical record speculates that human sacrifice may have been common when the Dalish still had a homeland, though for obvious reasons, this is suspect.
Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: The Dalish treat Flemeth with the appropriate level of respect and reverence, knowing far better than to mess with Asha'Bellenar.
Druid: Their mages preserve traditions and lean towards 'wild' magic (nature spells or shapeshifting).
Due to the Dead: The Dalish funeral custom is to bury their dead and plant tree saplings over the grave. The idea is that in death, they can bring new life to the forest that serves as their home and refuge.
Facial Markings / Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Upon coming of age, they adorn themselves with Vallaslin ("Blood Writing"), which consists of intricate tattoos of their chosen patron applied to their face. While it's unclear whether this practice derives from Arlathan or is a more recent development, it nonetheless serves as both a way to keep their culture alive and a subtle way of saying "Screw you, Humans!"
Fantastic Racism: Towards humans (who they call "Shemlen") and City Elves, though this varies depending on the individual, even within the same clan.
Fictionary: Although they've lost most of the old Elven language.
Fighting for a Homeland: Or for any scrap of their old culture they can find. The reason you only hear them speak snatches of elvish is because that's all anyone can remember of it.
Part of their bitterness towards Humanity is that they actually did this once before, having joined Andraste's army to overthrow the Tevinter Imperium and founding their new homeland of Halamshiral in the Dales. That was, until a few centuries later the Chantry decided to brand them "heathens" and launched an Exalted March against them.
Dependingonthe Writer: In-Universe. The account of the Fall of the Dales varies depending on who you ask and what codex entry you read. The humans, naturally, blame the elves for the war, and claim that border skirmishes erupted into a war when the elves sacked the human village of Red Crossing. It is up to individual interpretation on who was right or wrong, though World of Thedas confirms that the elves took the Orlesian city of Montsimmard and, at the height of their success in the war, even besieged Val Royeaux. See Politically Correct History below.
The Dalish Warden can be granted the Hinterlands as their royal boon for ending the Fifth Blight. Depending on who you leave in charge of the Dalish clan, this can turn out badly.
Forest Ranger: Territorial rather than custodial, since they move around a lot. Nonetheless, they are fiercely territorial and protective when it comes to the safety of their camps, as shown by the introduction of Tamlen and Mahariel, chasing down three human trespassers with their bows fully trained on them. Tamlen is somewhat amused by their immediate assumption that it's because it's "their" forest, pointing out that the real reason is because they've stumbled too close to the Dalish camp.
Gratuitous Foreign Language: They frequently pepper their speech with random Elvish. Justified as they've lost so much of their language and culture, this is how they try to keep it alive.
Green Thumb: Their mages tend to use nature-based spells, as Velanna and Merrill will be happy to demonstrate.
Grey and Gray Morality: According to Merrill, the Dalish reject the Chantry's interpretation of Spirits and Demons; believing that neither are necessarily good or evil and that both should be considered incredibly dangerous and treated with caution.
Have You Seen My God?: They believe the Creators weren't around to protect them from the humans because they've been imprisoned by a trickster god.
Jesus Was Way Cool: Or rather, "fantasy Joan of Arc was way cool". They're obviously not Andrastians, but they admire her actions.
Mars Needs Women: According to Leliana, a common myth about the Dalish is that they are brutal savages who abduct women. After spending time with a Dalish Warden, however, she's relieved to learn that these stories clearly aren't true.
Older than They Look: Dalish Elves tend to have longer lifespans than their City Elf counterparts, although this varies depending on individual families and clans who have been more isolated from humans. Indeed, while Zathrian's longevity was the result of a curse, Word of God says that it's not actually unheard of for exceptional Elves to reach ages that measure in triple digit figures.
Master Ilen of the Sabrae clan for instance, mentions that his father fought in battle against the Clayne tribes, which were unified into modern Ferelden over four hundred years prior to the Fifth Blight.
Politically Correct History: Wringing the truth about the circumstances that created the modern Dalish out of the setting is virtually-impossible, considering that all sources are in-universe and actively working to make themselves look better and the other look worse. Both the Chantry and the Dalish are quite fond of their historical revisionism too, and don't take kindly to having it questioned by know-nothing outsiders.
Proud Scholar Race Guy: Due to the Tevinters suppressing and wiping out their knowledge of Elven history and culture during their enslavement, causing them to lose most of it, the Dalish actively search for and horde any knowledge of ancient Arlathan that they can recover.
Screw You, Elves!: Many Dalish view the city elves as "flat-eared" race traitors who have forgotten their roots - the city elves, in turn, consider the Dalish either smug and aloof, or little more than wandering bandits.
Technical Pacifist: The Dalish are nomadic and never stay in one place too long in order to avoid conflict. The Keeper even says that they could destroy a nearby Human village who are rallying a mob to drive them out, if they so wished. As that would only cause King Cailan to send soldiers next time, it is wiser to simply move on. That said, they are very possessive of any spot they've chosen to camp, and always have a full contingent of archers hiding in the trees whenever outsiders come near.
Trickster Archetype: Fen'Harel, the Dread Wolf. He was the trickster god who imprisoned both their Creators and the Forgotten Ones.
Voluntary Shapeshifting: A Dalish Warden can tell Morrigan they've heard of Keepers with powers like hers. The closest we can get to this in-game is giving Velanna the specialization.
Walking the Earth: As a result of the loss of both Arlathan and the Dales, the Dalish are reticent to settle anywhere for too long and elected to scatter to the four winds as wandering nomads, allowing them to preserve their culture and stay out of reach of humanity.
Leliana: I've heard stories about the Qunari, you know. They conquered nearly all of the north. Tevinter, Rivain, Antiva...much of the land was laid waste. In the northern kingdoms, they say the Qunari are implacable. Relentless. More like a landslide than an invasion. It took three Exalted Marches to drive them back to the sea. Sten: We'll do better next time.
The Qunari is not the name of a single species, but an intense religious movement, originally founded by members of the (unnamed) horned race of humanoids from another continent, whom were known in antiquity (and Pre-Qun) as belonging to the kossith society.Anyone is free to join the Qun if they wish, and converts are treated with respect regardless of species - unless you're a mage, in which case they're treated even worse than anywhere else, due to the Qunari eschewing magic in favour of technology. As a result of this and having never been devastated by the Blight, the Qunari are significantly more technologically advanced than the rest of Thedas.
Always Lawful Evil: Played with. While Sten and the Arishok are ambiguous, the games and comics show that Qunari society as a whole is a totalitarian "negative utopia". And it doesn't matter what the other countries do, the Qunari will never stop vying to conquer them.
Anti-Magical Faction/Ban on Magic: The most hardline anti-magic group in the entire setting, against some tough competition. Saarebas ("dangerous thing") have their tongues cut out, their horns shorn, and are kept collared and supervised at all times, their only accepted use being "attack dog". Qunari mage-handlers will try to kill a mage who so much as speaks to them for fear of demonic influence.
Art Evolution: The Qunari species went from tall, dark-skinned humans in DA:O to massive, metal-hued, ram-horned "ox men" in DAII. It wasn't a true retcon, since from the earliest drawings the Qunari were supposed to look like their DAII forms but the design couldn't be implemented in time. Instead the two Qunari seen during DA:O were established to have been born without horns or to have intentionally removed them.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Promotions in Qunari society are based on skill and suitability for the task — in the case of soldiers, that means fighting. For this reason, the highest-ranking soldiers are very good at being soldiers, meaning that if you encounter an officer, you can bet he's the best fighter in the group.
Birthmark of Destiny: In one of their few instances of superstition, Qunari (who normally have horns) who are born hornless are believed to be destined for great things.
Blind Obedience: In Dragon Age II, if Hawke mentions that Saarebas chose to die rather than leave the Qun, the Arishok is affronted by the human notion that such a choice should be exceptional or difficult; he'd expect no less of any Qunari.
Brainwashing For The Greater Good: If a criminal persistently rejects reeducation, the Qunari use a poison called qamek to lobotomize them into a near-mindless creature, fit for hard labor and little else.
Breeding Cult/Super Breeding Program: The tamassrans (breeders) control the Qunari breeding program, systematically pairing couples for the purpose of creating individuals who are very suited for specific jobs - those bred to be soldiers are practically born knowing how to march in formation, while fishers are drawn to water like a retriever.
The Comically Serious: It's subtle, but certain Qunari have demonstrated a very understated sense of humour.
Crippling Overspecialization: On an individual level. Each Qunari is given only one specific task, and will not learn anything else in his or her lifetime. Soldiers stranded on an island won't even try to build a ship, for the simple reason that they are soldiers, not ship builders, and to do anything that is not their original purpose is beneath them.
The Arishok is another example of this. He was a soldier and not a diplomat, but was forced to spend several years sitting idle whilst searching for the Tome of Koslun, all the while forced to deal with the petty nobles and watch the chaos in Kirkwall before him. Eventually he snapped and began a military occupation of the city, intending to either bring the city to order or die in the attempt, seeing it as the only two options available to him.
This presents problems for those who decide to leave. Defectors who used to be scientists, farmers, or artisans can find work outside the Qun, but soldiers are left with nothing but a sword and their ability to kill. At best, they become mercenaries. At worst, they become terrorists. One of their greatest enemies is actually of their own making.
Dead Heroes Are Better: Qunari who die during or after performing an exceptional service for their people may be proclaimed Qunoran Vehl (an exemplary cultural hero). No one is ever proclaimed such during life, as it would make them too proud and they'd be insufferable.
Due to the Dead: The Qunari considers corpses to be no longer the individual they once were, thus afford them no special treatment. Hence, they are typically disposed of in whatever manner seems most practical.
Enforced Cold War: While the rest of Thedas believes that the peace between them is due to the treaty they signed, the reality according to Sten is that their invasion never stopped, the Qunari simply decided to stop fighting for their own reasons.
Although Word of God is that among themselves they're more likely to use short-hand versions of their personal names, so you won't have a group of soldiers who all refer to each other as Sten, as that would obviously get confusing.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Qunari are all over the map with this. Their status as a religious rival to mainland Thedas makes them very reminiscent of medieval Muslims. Their continued hold on the Spanish-based Rivain and general tolerance for religious freedom therein makes them very similar to the Moors who ruled most of Northern Africa and Spain. Their religion, however, is very Taoist / Confuscianist in philosophy, with its belief in the existence of a single universal "path" for all and its emphasis on knowing one's place in society.
Four-Star Badass: Even the officers fight on the front lines. To them, it makes no sense whatsoever to promote someone based on his skills in battle and then expect him to sit around a desk all day; he is a soldier and should be doing what soldiers do.
Fictionary: Qunlat is heavily based on English, with a subject-verb-object word order (though it seems to lack articles like a, an, or the). The pronunciation and actual vocabulary seem closer to Japanese, in that words are "modular" and can be snapped together to create new words.
Horned Humanoid: Most Qunari, but those born without horns are deemed destined for greatness rather than inferior.
Leliana: You're so Qunari! All the stories speak as if you were a hurricane or an earthquake rather than people. Sten: Qunari are most dangerous because we are thinking men and not unthinking force.
Made of Iron: As demonstrated by Sten, it's possible for Qunari to survive for over a month without food or water, with no ill-effect. When the Warden encountered Sten, for instance, he was only just beginning to starve to death and believed he'd probably last another week.
Medieval Stasis: They are more technologically advanced than the other races, but they had all of their current technology when their ships first came from the original Qunari homeland centuries before the games. Even the Qunari you meet don't know where their true origin is, so there may be a more advanced empire of their race that doesn't follow the Qun somewhere else in the world.
It's been theorised that their advanced technological development may be in part due to the Qunari never having to deal with the Blight. Unlike the people of Thedas, they've been spared from their civilisation being routinely ravaged by the Darkspawn, forcing them to rebuild from scratch after a decades - if not centuries - long Blight.
The Nameless / No Name Given: A species-wide example. The only names that we have for the horned giants (Qunari, kossith) are not actually names of their race, but of beliefs or philosophies that the race has followed. We don't know what their species is called; it's possible that they have no name for themselves, and only identify by their system of belief.
No Blood Ties: Children are raised by priestesses rather than biological parents; they have no clue who they're actually related to (luckily, said priestesses do, and since they decide on the breeding pairs, they can keep cases of Surprise Incest down). When you explain to Sten that the majority of people are raised by the ones who gave birth to them, he is first surprised, then decides that this explains why you are all so backwards.
One-Gender Race: A few codex entries mention that the Chantry believed they either had this or minimal sexual dimorphism for centuries. When the Qunari briefly allowed an embassy in their own capital, they discovered it was just a misconception caused by the strict caste system, and Qunari females are both common and obvious.
Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: They tolerate lingering beliefs in gods in recently-conquered peoples, believing they will eventually abandon such things as they reach true enlightenment. They're also the most technologically advanced race, having more powerful warships and an explosive that may be gunpowder, though it's never specified exactly what it is.
However, despite claiming to not worship and that their priestesses are merely teachers on the path of enlightenment, they do still pray for their dead, though to who or what is never specified. It is possible that the "prayers" in question are something completely different seen through an Andrastran lens.
Outside-Context Villain: Considered this by most of Thedas. Their true origins are unknown and have yet to be revealed, save that they arrived at Par Vollen, from an unknown continent across the sea.
Pet the Dog: Qunari society is the only society in Thedas to have complete racial equality. It's also worth pointing out that they were holding their own against the Exalted Marches, and withdrew not because they were losing the war, but because it was taking a high toll on the civilian population of Rivain.
Scary Dogmatic Aliens: A rather literal example. They are alien to Thedas in both their origin and their strict philosophy.
Secret Police: The Ben-Hassrath are responsible for keeping the populace in line, finding and "re-educating" dissidents and discontents, and occasionally engaging in spying and wetwork.
Serious Business: Losing one's sword, which is considered akin to losing one's soul. And woe betide anyone who's caught in possession of the stolen Tome of Koslun, their most sacred relic.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: They withdrew from northern Thedas to spare the civilians of the region being slaughtered by the Exalted Marches. After they withdrew, many of these civilians were purged by the sword for refusing to be converted back to the Chant.
Stay in the Kitchen: Culturally specific example that applies to men as well as women. Qunari believe that women are more cerebral whereas men are more physical: all merchants, administrators, artisans, breeders, and builders are women, whereas all soldiers, sailors, scouts, and laborers are men. The only place where men and women are allowed to be in the same field is in the priesthood, as the wisdom of the Qun is believed to speak to anyone, regardless of gender or race. When party member Sten travels to Ferelden and is confronted with a female warrior/rogue Warden, he doesn't question his beliefs in gender roles, he questions whether the Warden is actually a woman.
As their methods involve assassination, infiltration, and stealth, Assassins are not considered to be "true" soldiers by the Qunari. As such, they fall under the purview of the Ben-Hassrath lead by the Ariqun, making them technically part of the priesthood and can be either male or female.
The Quiet One: Purposefully invoked, in that many Qunari remain silent due to not wishing to admit that they do not understand the common tongue. However, even those who do tend to be creatures of very few words and dislike pointless small talk.
Lampshaded by the Warden, after Sten finished an uncharacteristically lengthy sentence.
The Soulless: Tal-Vashoth and warriors who have lost their sword are considered this and will be killed on sight.
UnPerson: The Arishok implies that Tal-Vashoth, individuals who've abandoned the Qun, are considered this.
Vestigial Empire: Oddly enough, even they have one. Back in their glory days, the Qunari controlled all of Tevinter, except for Minrathous, which has never fallen to anyone, Antiva, Rivain, and parts of the Free Marches. After several wars, the Andrastians reclaimed their lands, the Qunari lost everything except for Par Vollen, Orlais became a Rising Empire, and the Qunari were left fighting with Tevinter over the island of Seheron. The settlement of Kont-Aar in Rivain is their last mainland territory.
Warrior Poet: Even their warriors come across as highly educated and philosophical.
Sten: Shok ebasit hissra. Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit, aban aqun. Maraas shokra. Anaan esaam Qun. Translation "Struggle is an illusion. The tide rises, the tide falls, but the sea is changeless. There is nothing to struggle against. Victory is in the Qun".
Wild Mass Guessing: An in-universe example. Due to their insular society, their dislike of talking about themselves to those outside the Qun and rarely letting outsiders venture into Par Vollen, very little is truly known about them.
Work Hard, Play Hard: For all their Serious Business attitude, when someone is proclaimed Qunoran Vehl (an exemplary cultural hero), the partying breaks loose to the point where executions can be required to get everyone back in line.
World of Silence: They believe people should give up personal desires and work together for the betterment of the whole. They also feel honor-bound to impose this on everyone else sooner or later.
Their term for this is "Basalit-an", literally meaning "an outsider worthy of respect".
Arishok: [to Hawke] You alone are Basalit-an![to Kirkwall nobles] This is what respect looks like Bas! Some of you will never earn it!
Mark of the Assassin implies that Hawke and the Warden are, so far, the only Bas to be considered this.
Sten mentions that legends about the Grey Wardens are told even amongst his people, later expressing admiration that they stood their ground at Ostagar and didn't flee, even when it became clear the battle was lost. One could infer that the Qunari find the Grey Wardens' single-mindedness to the goal of fighting Darkspawn a refreshingly familiar concept in the otherwise alien Thedas.
"Those who had sought to claim Heaven by violence destroyed it. What was Golden and pure turned black. Those who had once been mage-lords, The brightest of their age, Were no longer men, but monsters."
— Threnodies 12:1
The standard "monsters in the shadows," darkspawn are the boogeymen of Thedas. Born form the Maker's curse against arrogant humans (if you believe the Chantry, at least), the darkspawn's entire purpose of existence is to repeatedly attempt to wipe out all life in the world, spreading a virulent, ecology-destroying plague called the taint in the process.. Normally mindless and disorganized, the darkspawn live in the Deep Roads beneath the earth, unseen and rarely thought of (except for the dwarves, who have to live with them). At least until they find one of the Old Gods. When that happens, they infect it with the taint, making into a Archdemon which organizes the hordes and drives them to the surface, attacking and destroying everything in their path. Such events are known as Blights, and can take decades to defeat, and always with staggering cost. The Grey Wardens were formed specifically to combat and keep an eye on the darkspawn.
Aerith and Bob: The names of the four main types of darkspawn: genlocks, hurlocks, sharlocks, and... ogres. Justified in the codices: genlocks, hurlocks, and sharlocks (labeled in-game by the nickname "shrieks") are the ancient terms for blight-mutated dwarves, humans, and elves respectively. But ogres come from blighted Qunari, who are relative newcomers to Thedas.
The World of Thedas later clarifies that the Ogres derive from a group of colonists that settled in the Korcari Wilds in -410 Ancient (back when the Qunari were still known as the kossith), whose settlement was overrun by Darkspawn shortly afterwards.
Always Chaotic Evil: With a few extremely grey exceptions (the Architect and his minions) along with one true subversion (the Messenger). The rest are just fine with murdering, torturing, raping, and looting.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Darkspawn are born nearly fully grown, and the first thing a newborn does is fight the rest of its litter, weeding out the weaker ones. Sometimes, though, one will manage to kill all of the other newborns. This one will become an Alpha, stronger, faster, tougher, and smarter than the rest of the darkspawn. These are the ones that lead the rest, and usually kill any darkspawn that refuse to follow.
Baby Factory: Broodmothers, which birth every single darkspawn (except for the ghouls and the Archdemon).
Bad Boss: The more intelligent darkspawn leaders think nothing of executing minions who have disappointed them.
Black Blood: Discussed and subverted; several characters reference the darkspawn having black blood, but all that you see is red. The Warden-Commander can even mention that darkspawn blood looks completely normal; it burns on contact, though.
Black Speech: While it never shows up outside of cutscenes, the appearance of the darkspawn is frequently heralded by an ominous whispering. Possibly this is meant to indicate that the Warden is sensing them.
Alistair reveals that some of the senior Grey Wardens are able to understand the Archdemon, allowing them to "listen in" on the horde and try to figure out what the Archdemon is planning.
Body Horror: They range from looking like horrendously diseased and malformed people to monsters who only bear a vague resemblance to their species of origin. Let's not go into the Children, please.
Corpse Land: Any place where the darkspawn have been for any length of time or in great enough numbers. Justified in that the taint is so deadly it kills insects and bacteria which normally break down corpses, so the dead can remain unchanged for decades or even centuries.
The Corruption: The taint, which they spread either through prolonged contact or through blood. Exposure kills pretty much everything (though victims mutate and go insane first), though if you recover from your first brush with it, you can develop a resistance.
The dwarven scavenger Ruck demonstrates the mental decay of someone living off of darkspawn flesh, and Oghren offers more details on their health decay. This does give them the ability to detect the taint of the darkspawn, including that of the Wardens. The Warden can reflect on the disturbing implications of Ruck's description of it.
The Dreaded: Feared throughout Thedas, the very mention of them massing on the surface is enough to give anyone nightmares.
Enemy Civil War: With no Archdemon to lead them, the hordes feel no particular reason not to lay into each other. Once the Architect gave some of them the capacity of thought, however, they started forming sides.
Darkspawn are also known to cannibalise ghouls within their ranks, despite not gaining any sustenance from it.
Godzilla Threshold: When a Blight begins, all nations stop their conflicts and unite against the horde. Or at least, they are expected to.
Hive Mind: While individual darkspawn are mindless, the Taint they carry unites them into a primitive version of this trope. Enough to hear the call of the Old Gods and serve the will of an Archdemon.
The Horde: They especially like to leave people completely burned, hanging on display, or stuck in the ground with a large object lodged in the body.
Keystone Army: The massive darkspawn invasions known as Blights will end only if the Archdemon (a corrupted god in the shape of a dragon) leading it is killed. Without the guiding influence of Archdemon, the hordes of darkspawn will immediately collapse into disorganized bands of mindless creatures that can be easily driven back underground or killed by an organized army. This weakness is the only reason Thedas has survived the monsters for so long, which is why the possibility of the horde uniting without an active Archdemon is treated with such fear in Awakening.
Lightning Bruiser: Shrieks. They’re tougher than hurlocks and genlocks, hit hard, and are very, very fast.
Mars Needs Women: Darkspawn are often mentioned as abducting women survivors from the battlefields for an unknown purpose. Those in the Grey Wardens and the Legion of the Dead are verymuch aware of what happens to these poor women, having been tainted by the Darkspawn, before being twisted and mutated into Broodmothers.
Meat Moss: The Deep Roads (and any other place with heavy darkspawn presence) are absolutely filled with rotting, pustulent growths. Their similarity to the growths that appear in the demon-infested Circle Tower is food for thought.
Mook Maker: The broodmothers you actually get to fight give birth mid-battle.
Mystical Plague: The taint disease spread by the darkspawn is said to be a curse by the Maker upon the Tevinter Magisters, who turned into the first darkspawn themselves under its influence.
Our Ghouls Are Creepier: "Ghouls" are people who have been infected with the taint and survived, although even those who survive don't tend to last long. In the meantime, they join the darkspawn Hive Mind and serve the Archdemon, or whichever high-ranking darkspawn happen to be around. They can't talk and possess the standard Zombie Gait, but can still use weapons, as well as being responsible for producing most of the arms and armour the Darkspawn use. However, there are cases of people who become heavily infected but still retain (most of) their mental faculties. It's revealed in Awakening and Legacy that Grey Wardens who survive their Calling are more self-aware than most ghouls, while those Awakened by the Architect are all self-aware and independent of the horde.
Also, ghouls can be any species, including non-sentient ones. These include Bears (Bereskarn), Wolves (Blight Wolves), Spiders (Corrupted Spiders), and even Werewolves (Blighted Werewolves).
Our Orcs Are Different: Darkspawn fit the classic Tolkien orc criteria enough to fit and look enough like orcs as well. Indeed, they're closer to Tolkien orcs than most of the Proud Warrior Race orcs now in fantasy. The Deep Roads is Moria, and the broodmother hints at the idea in The Silmarillion that orcs are corrupted elves. Due to the very real threat they pose to entire nations, they're closer to Tolkien's orcs than most standard fantasy orcs you find these days. They get a whole lot worse when you meet the first broodmother. And it manages to get even worse when you meet the Mother in Awakening, who is different from broodmothers in that she is 1) fully sentient, 2) capable of commanding other darkspawn, including broodmothers, and 3) cacklingly insane.
The Soulless: None of the darkspawn have souls except for the Archdemon, since it was formerly an Old God, and "essence" is apparently synonymous with "soul", since there's no room for both in one body. This becomes a plot point in the first game, since killing the Archdemon merely causes it to automatically transfer its soul to the nearest creature infected with the taint, which it will then grow into to resemble its old body again. Unless the creature still has its soul. In which case, kaboom.
Spider-Sense: Creatures sufficiently infected with the taint can detect other such infected creatures in the area, be they darkspawn, ghouls, or Grey Wardens.
Spikes Of Doom: All the armor that the darkspawn wear is adorned with lots of these.
Stronger with Age:The power of the taint grows in an individual with time, and the power of a darkspawn grows with it. The upper limits of a darkspawn's natural lifespan are unknown, but the most powerful ones seen have shown evidence of being centuries old.
Tainted Veins: One of the first signs that someone is on their way to ghoulification.
The Unintelligible: Most darkspawn can only communicate in guttural growls and roars. The appearance of darkspawn that can talk is treated as incredibly dangerous, and indeed it is: the darkspawn are an exceptionally deadly threat when the Archdemon organizes them into a Blight, but they're generally easy to deal with otherwise. If the darkspawn can suddenly reason enough to lead themselves without an Archdemon, it would mean an unending Blight.
The Virus: The taint is a sort of magical disease carried by the darkspawn that poisons the lands they inhabit. People infected by this go crazy and die, or become decaying ghouls in the thrall of the Archdemon — or worse, if they're women, become Broodmothers.
The Grey Wardens could be considered a variation on this, due to their use of the Darkspawn Taint to transform themselves into what are essentially high-functioning ghouls, in order to better fight the horde and become the only thing capable of permanently slaying an Archdemon.
Walking Wasteland: Anywhere darkspawn live or die in great enough numbers will be poisoned and incapable of supporting life for ages. In some areas, land has been tainted for millennia, and cannot recover.
Was Once a Man: The original darkspawn were formerly human Tevinter magisters, corrupted by a mysterious force they found within the Black City. Broodmothers, the bloated beasts that birth the darkspawn, were formerly women of the major races, captured and mutated beyond recognition in a horrific process by the darkspawn to forever produce more of the monsters.
You Have Failed Me: The more intelligent darkspawn are perfectly capable and willing to execute minions for inefficiency.
Zerg Rush: Considering their birth rates, this is a favored tactic of the darkspawn, though they are capable of strategy on the small scale (or if there’s an Archdemon leading them).
A primitive, yet sentient, race native to Par Vollen. It's said they have assimilated almost entirely into Qunari society.
Word of God: They have only been mentioned once by one of the writers.
The Unseen: Due to Qunari rarely allowing outsiders to venture to Par Vollen.
Spirits and Demons
A demon of Rage.
"In general, spirits are not complex. Or, rather, they are not complex as we understand such things. Each one seizes upon a single facet of human experience: Rage, hunger, compassion, hope, etc. This one idea becomes their identity. We classify as demons those spirits who identify themselves with darker human emotions and ideas."
The spectral inhabitants of the magical realm called the Fade that exists alongside the physical world. Referred to as the "Maker's first children", they range from compassionate, helpful beings to twisted, vile monsters to entities whose morality does not make any sense. While spirits couldn't care less about the physical world, demons constantly try to gain access to the mortal plane, usually through possessing a living being.
Above Good and Evil: Fade Spirits are repeatedly mentioned as only being as benevolent and malevolent as the virtue or vice they have chosen to aspire to. Even the "good" ones have no true grasp of the more subtle nuances of morality and are prepared to commit horrific deeds in the pursuit of an abstract goal. The Codex implies that their supposed lack of a soul is the reason behind this.
Merrill: Anders... There's no such thing as a good spirit. There never was. All spirits are dangerous. I understood that. I'm sorry that you didn't.
Always Chaotic Evil: Sort of. Some seem to operate on Blue and Orange Morality, while others are clearly utterly evil bastards. None of them are in any meaningful way "good" though, and every single demonic outbreak has been a horrifying experience where the demons torture and torment those they don't possess or kill. According to the other Fade spirits, this is because it's these traits that make them demons, and the ones that lack them are just spirits.
Blue and Orange Morality: Applies to some of them, at least, while others will try and convince you they do in order to get you to do what they want.
Even the more benevolent spirits are said to only be able to see and understand the world in the context of the ideal they subscribe to. Due to the Fade lacking time, concepts like patience and restraint are foreign to spirits.
Damaged Soul: An Abomination can be saved from possession by killing the offending spirit in the Fade. Though they can go on to lead ordinary lives and even retain their magic, the victim is said to never be quite the same again.
Deal with the Devil: How they get into the world and attain hosts, though several times the victims aren't even aware a deal is going on or the fact that they are bartering with demons in the first place — like children, for instance. Though most of them do seem to honour any bargain they've struck, if often in an Exact Words kind of way.
Beat Them at Their Own Game: While very difficult, it is possible to use their tendency to make deals against them. In Origins, a Mage Warden with sufficient persuasion can listen to the Desire Demon's terms before returning with a counter-offer of their own, intimidating the demon into releasing Connor's soul and giving up a boon, in exchange for the Warden not destroying them!
Demonic Possession: Called an Abomination, and sometimes though not always followed by horrid physical transformations and mutations, though there are a few exceptions and the transformations seem to be arbitrary, or sometimes induced. An Abomination is more of a combination of the demon and the mortal rather than the demon simply taking over. Though the demon's personality is usually dominant.
Dirty Coward: When hopelessly outmatched, most Demons will attempt to make a deal or bargain for their freedom.
Dream Weaver: As the Fade is the realm of dreams, all spirits can influence the minds of sleeping mortals. It is said that nightmares are often the result of demons toying with a mortal while he or she sleeps. If the demon is particularly powerful or the Veil especially thin, a demon can trap a mortal in a dream and feed on them until the victim dies.
No Biological Sex: Despite voices and appearances, spirits and demons are all genderless entities. A Chantry researcher who interviewed a desire demon in the codex noted that the only reason it appeared female is because it wanted to appeal to the man and lower his guard.
Our Demons Are Different: Demons are the evil inhabitants of the Fade, the spiritual realm, and most of them wish to experience what it is like to be mortal via Demonic Possession and other nefarious means. The difference between them are the non-evil inhabitants of the Fade are not clear, but they do appear to be a particular sub-category. They represent / feast upon different sins and are generally amoral and Affably Evil at best, and cruel and sadistic at worst.
Possession Burnout: While it is possible for a spirit or demon to possess a non-mage, doing so without help usually results in damaging the host to the point where it becomes near-useless, which is part of the reason why they prefer to hunt for mages.
Powers via Possession: When possessed by a demon, even a weak body can become a powerful abomination capable of mass destruction. Those possessed by more benevolent spririts are able to draw on their possessor's power more beneficially, but doing so strains the spirit and can prove fatal to it if overused.
Self-Disposing Villain: Desire Demons can often fall prey to their own desire for a host, which leads to them getting slain for their troubles.
Seven Deadly Sins: Well, five- Rage (Wrath), Hunger (Gluttony), Sloth, Desire (Lust), and Pride demons have all shown up (in order of strength), but Greed and Envy have yet to make an appearance; though, the Codex suggests that Sloth may double as Envy, and it's possible from this that either Desire or Hunger doubles as Greed.
The Codex also notes that the demons are named less for the sins they represent than those they feast and prey upon; a Sloth demon, for instance, may or may not be slothful — what makes them Sloth demons are that they encourage their victims to be.
According to David Gaider, there are many more types of Demons, such as Envy, Despair, Fear, and Remorse.
The second game introduces Vengeance, although it should be noted that there is debate as to whether that truly counts as a demon or not (it used to be a spirit, though some characters maintain that the only difference between a spirit and a demon is the ideal they latch onto).
The Soulless: According to the Codex and Chantry lore, their fundamental lack of a soul is why the Maker abandoned them in favour of His new creation of the mortal world. This is one of the reasons Demons are so envious of mortals and seek to cross the Veil.
Took a Level in Kindness: The Grand Sylvan (aka the "Poet Tree"), as well as the Lady of the Forest. Despite the former likely being a Demon and the latter being a Spirit summoned by Blood Magic for revenge, both ended up becoming benevolent after spending several centuries in Thedas.
The Undead: The result of a spirit possessing a dead body rather than a living one. Ranging from mindless zombies to extremely powerful revenants depending on the strength of the spirit and condition of the body.
Underestimating Badassery: The usual hierarchy of demon power is said to be an arbitrary concept that does not always reflect reality. For example; despite being supposedly weaker, it's been theorised that a Sloth Demon, sufficiently motivated, could potentially prove to be even more powerful and dangerous than even a Pride Demon, due to their intelligence and insidious nature. The Sloth Demon encountered in the Circle Tower, for instance, had many Demons subservient to it and acting as its Guardians, including a Pride Demon.
Similarly, Desire demons who solely focus on lust are among the weakest because of how narrow-minded they are.