Note that due to a large freedom of choice found in the games and the fact that saved games (including all story-relevant choices) are transferred between games, the canonicity of the official media set after Origins is a murky matter. It is best to think of these ancillary media as part of the "BioWare canon", which complements but does not override a player's personal game canon.
The Stolen Throne (2009; prequel to Origins, focusing on the political history of Ferelden)
The Calling (2009; ditto, but focusing more on the Grey Wardens and the Darkspawn mysteries)
Asunder (2011; bridges the gap between the second and third games)
The Masked Empire (announced for 2014; set in Orlais soon after II, with the civil war and an elf uprising in the works)
The story goes that in the beginning, The Maker created the Fade, an ever-changing realm populated by never-changing creatures, the spirits. Over time, however, He grew displeased with His first children and created the material world—a new, immutable realm separated from the Fade by the Veil. He populated the new realm by the ever-changing mortals, who only saw the Fade in their dreams and whose divine souls returned to His Golden City in the middle of it upon death. Some spirits (particularly the ones associated with negative emotions), however, found a way through the Veil, spreading the secrets of magic and Demonic Possession into the material world.Eight thousand years ago, the continent of Thedasnote Actually, an acronym of The Dragon Age Setting. belonged to the Elvhenan, the civilization of a beautiful immortal race calling themselves "elvhen" or "elves". They worshiped their own pantheon of gods, traversed into the Fade, and mastered the art of magic. Beneath the Earth, in the meantime, the dwarves built a great empire of the underground cavern cities, or "thaigs", connected by a vast tunnel network known as the Deep Roads. For over six thousand years, their civilizations flourished—until the first humans arrived from across the north-eastern sea.Although initially friendly, the relationship between elves and humans, particularly the Tevinter tribe, rapidly deteriorated when the elves realized that prolonged contact with the "quicklings" cost them their immortality. By then, however, the Tevinters already learned the secrets of elven magic and, turning on their teachers, crushed the Elvhenan culture. The surviving elves were reduced to nomadic outcasts or slaves, a shadow of their former glory. The dwarves fared better, especially since they supplied the Tevinters with lyrium—outcroppings of the Fade in mineral form that they used to power their magic.With their knowledge of the Fade and an extensive use of Blood Magic, the Tevinter Magisters forged an Empire that spanned all of Thedas. But man grew proud and eventually set out to commit the ultimate sacrilege: to enter the Fade in the flesh and to set foot into the Golden City itself. By spending most of the world's lyrium (and slave blood) supplies, a group of Magisters infiltrated the City but were cast out by the Maker, cursed and irreversibly corrupted. They became the first Darkspawn, mindless creatures existing solely to exterminate all other life. The City itself was corrupted, as well, henceforth known as the Black City, and the Maker abandoned His second children, just as He did with the spirits before.The Darkspawn fled underground and it wasn't long before they grew in number, using the Deep Roads of the Dwarven Empire to quickly breed a horde. Soon, they found and corrupted one of the draconic Old Gods of Tevinter, Dumat, who was locked in an underground prison by the Maker millenia ago. The first to face the assault of the Darkspawn Horde led by Dumat were the dwarves. Thanks to the invention of golems, they managed to hold on for decades but when the secret of golem-making was lost, the dwarven civilization collapsed, losing all but a handful of thaigs. Meanwhile, on the surface, the Horde laid siege on all of Thedas, splintering the Tevinter Empire into many disjointed enclaves. After almost two centuries of continuous strife, The Order of the Grey Wardens emerged to lead the combined armies of Thedas to victory over Dumat and his Horde. The entire conflict became known as "the Blight".The Tevinter Empire survived the Blight, if only barely, but soon thereafter, a massive barbarian invasion from the south, led by the lady warrior and prophetess Andraste, dealt it the final blow. Andraste was eventually betrayed and executed by the Tevinters, but her followers compiled her teachings into the Chant of the Light and formed the Chantry to spread it. The newly-founded southern kingdoms were quick to embrace the new religion and to cut ties to the Tevinters, whose reputation was forever soiled by their role in starting the Blight and Andraste's execution. By association, magic itself became ostracized and viewed as pure evil by the Andrastian congregation.Before anyone in Thedas could catch their breath, another Darkspawn horde rose from the Deep Roads, led by another corrupted Old God. Although only half as long as the First, the Second Blight had far-reaching consequences. One of them was the rise of the Orlesian Empire in the south and its propagation of the Andrastian faith, even into the Tevinter Empire remnant. Another was the popular resentment against the elves, who, despite having been granted rights and land for the first time in centuries for their support of Andraste, did little to help other nations defeat the new Blight. And perhaps the most significant event was the formation of the Circles of Magi as a compromise between the public distrust of mages and the benefit of having them fight the Darkspawn. Ostensibly places of learning, all Circles were controlled by the Chantry and closely guarded by the paranoid Mage Killers of the Templar Order.The growing hostilities and religious friction between Orlais and the new elven homeland of the Dales ultimately escalated into an open war. Who precisely fired the first shot varies between sources, with the Chantry claiming the Dalish attacked the town of Red Crossing, while the Dalish claim the Chantry sent Templars in response to the expulsion of missionaries from their borders. What is known is that after Dalish forces sacked Val Royeaux, the Chantry called for an Exalted March and successfully rallied neighboring nations to their aid, crushing the Dalish resistance and forcing the elves to either relocate into the Alienages or return to the nomadic lifestyle. The rift between the "City Elves" and the "Dalish Elves" grew ever wider in the following centuries.The Third Blight had come and gone, serving only to deepen the conflict between the two empires, Tevinter and Orlesian. Eventually, even the Chantry itself was split along these lines when the "Imperial Chantry" of Tevinter broke off (notably taking a much more liberal stance on magic and slavery) and the Orlesian Chantry called for not one but four Exhalted Marches against it. All of them, however, failed to complete their objective of bringing Tevinter congregation back into a unified Chantry before the Fourth Blight put an end to them.Almost as soon as the Fourth Blight was repelled, a new invasion swept from the north-east: the Qunari, followers of the religion/philosophy of Qun, crossed the sea and captured a bulk of northern Thedas (including most of Tevinter), converting the locals by force. The Chantry called for more Exalted Marches, which eventually beat the Qunari back from the mainland. A truce, limiting the Qunari presence to the northern islands, was signed by all human nations except the Tevinters, who continued to wage a Forever War for their old lands. Meanwhile, trouble stirred in the south again, where the Orlesian Empire conquered and installed a puppet on the throne of Ferelden, birthplace of Andraste. Lasting for half a century, the Orlesian occupation was resisted by the local nobles and finally overthrown some thirty years before the start of Origins.
Addiction Powered: The Templars' abilities are boosted by Lyrium, which is highly addictive. All warriors can learn Templar abilities without ever getting to the lyrium-eating stage, which raises questions about how essential it is. Of course, the Chantry keeps its Templars almost as tightly leashed as the mages to prevent too many people learning their secrets.
Aerith and Bob: The names of the four main types of darkspawn: genlocks, hurlocks, sharlocks, and... ogres. This also applies to character names to an extent. There are a lot of real-world names mixed in with the more fantastic fare. 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 Kossith Qunari, who are newcomers to the region, so Ogres apparently didn't exist until recently.
Always Chaotic Evil: The darkspawn (except for the Architect and the Messenger, who are morally ambiguous). Demons as well, though some appear to be simply amoral. Plenty are pure evil though, and even the nicest ones are totally indifferent to the suffering they and their ilk cause.
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. However, the first thing that caused Him to shun them was when they started worshiping dragons instead of Him. Then they entered the Golden City, and He shunned them harder. Still later, he shunned them again for the death of Andraste. He is a very passive-aggressive deity.
Anti-Hero: The Grey Wardens' mission statement is to "protect the lands from the Blight, no matter the cost". They are expected to sacrifice themselves without a second thought. They'll sacrifice others just as easily. Let's just say that no one will look twice at Duncan for killing Jory... In gameplay terms, this means that no matter what action you take, it's the right one if it helps you in stopping the Blight. Hence the lack of Karma Meter.
Anti-Magic: The Glyph of Neutralization does this. Templars, who are trained to fight mages, have higher resistance to magic and can dispel status effects and glyphs. Dwarves get a very low resistance as well, a trade-off for not being able to use magic themselves.
In Dragon Age II, Mages tend to stick to wearing robes or clothing adorned with the bare minimum amount of armour, such as gauntlets, bevots and spaulders; sacrificing protection for more flexibility in spellcasting.
Autosave: Dragon Age: Origins has the game autosave at certain predefined locations while Dragon Age II pretty much saves automatically each time the player enters a new area. Both have up to four autosave slots.
Black Magic: Blood Magic is considered this due to its ghastly power source, ability to take control of people (like, say, a king or a noble which Avernus admits he did to help the Grey Wardens in their rebellion long ago), and just being creepy in general. Due to the Chantry's constant preaching against the very real dangers of magic, almost everyone in Ferelden who isn't a mage (and one mage NPC) considers all magic Black Magic. The Qunari have an even harsher stance against magic, and just cut out the tongues and chain to leashes any potential mages born to them to prevent them from ever casting spells.
It's worth noting that Dragon Age II shows that even non-Mages are capable of using magic if they've made a deal with a demon, such as in the case of Lady Harrimann. Presumably however, the demon itself was responsible for providing the magic and they were merely responsible for directing it.
Similarly, certain forms of magic are able to be tapped into by non-Mages, such as warriors who can become Reavers via ritually consuming the blood of Dragons. Similarly, Avernus' research into the Taint actually allows Wardens to weaponise their own blood. A non-Mage Hawke uses a limited form of Blood Magic in the Legacy DLC for Dragon Age II, since their blood is the only thing capable of breaking the seals of an Ancient Grey Warden prison.
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.
Being a mage pretty much means you have a big neon sign reading "POSSESS HERE" in the eyes of Demons. This isn't quite as great a danger as the Chantry makes out, however, so long as you're properly trained. Of course, everyone religious you encounter would pretty much gladly burn you at the stake if they weren't terrified by your powers — the first thing they usually assume is that you'll turn them into frogs.
It's not easy being a Grey Warden either. The first test of your mettle is the Joining: be out of luck and die horribly. Be lucky and die horribly too — only this time it takes about thirty years to drive you mad from being able to sense darkspawn thoughts, if you don't commit suicide-by-darkspawn in the Deep Roads first. In the interim, you'll have insane dreams about the Archdemon talking to you: if you're lucky, you, too, may be able to understand it one day! Unless a Blight is happening. Then you can throw yourselves against the Archdemon, hoping to slay it in a process that completely annihilates your soul! Oh, and one more teeny tiny detail: Ever wanted to have a kid? Good luck with that, especially with another Grey Warden. And in the first game, the Grey Wardens of Ferelden are composed of two new recruits who are being hunted down as criminals.
Being a mage and a Grey Warden makes the disadvantage of each null and void: since you're a Grey Warden, you're free to leave the Circle tower without the Templars hunting you down (legally, at least) and you're even free to learn the forbidden art of blood magic thanks to the "anything that helps us kill darkspawn is allowed" exemption of the Grey Wardens. As for the problem of the taint, as Avernus demonstrates, a mage can cheat with its effect for a couple of centuries. Sure, you're still supposed to risk your life against the darkspawn, but if you're as broken as the Warden-Commander of Ferelden, chances are that nothing short of an Archedemon will pose any threat to you past the first decade or so.
And Avernus was able to live for that extra few hundred years while in a near constant war with the demons occupying the same building as him, including the reanimated bodies of his Gray Warden comrades, and the possessed corpse of his former commander. All that, and he seems to have aged about thirty years.
Being a Grey Warden means you can sense the darkspawn, giving you adequate warning of when they are near. The downside, that very ability also allows the darkspawn to find you. Even if you try to run away, the darkspawn will find you... they always find you!
Blood Knight: Qunari, as part of their culture, take pride in their class, so soldiers and warriors want nothing more than to be soldiers and warriors. Also, the dwarven Legion of the Dead, who take dedication of their life to battle to its logical conclusion, and get a head start on the inevitable, by holding their funerals right after they take their vows. Dwarven warriors in general display a positive attitude towards prospects of combat, though it may be more complicated in their case; as victory in battle leads to greater social standing in their profession. And one's degree of social standing is very important to how one is perceived in Dwarven society.
Blood Magic / The Power of Blood: Blood has power in it, and is a pretty big motif in the games. The box art depicts images made of blood, there's Blood Magic, there's the Gray Wardens' Joining ritual (involving drinking darkspawn and Archdemon blood), the Reavers drink Dragon blood to empower themselves, and Lyrium is called the "raw blood of the Earth" by the dwarves.
Bond Creatures: Mabari hounds imprint on a single master until death (either their own or the master's, whichever comes first).
Child Soldiers: The Antivan Crows prefer to recruit orphans for training, though it is unclear whether they are actually employed in assassinations. In any case, many of them die during training, and those that make it out alive are usually completely detached from their emotions or conventional morality.
Dwarven noble society ain't a very nice place. In fact, it almost qualifies as drow noble society, only reskinned with dwarves. Which, given the mythical origins of drow, is kind of appropriate.
Orlesian society is even worse. This seems to be the only purpose to their nobility in the first place. They call it "The Game."
Antivan society fits as well. Zevran pretty much spells it out for you.
Ferelden is a nobles' republic with elected kings (that have traditionally descended from a single bloodline nonetheless). Thus, under Loghain, to secure the throne requires a mix of intrigue, murder, and brute force.
Dead Man Walking: All Grey Wardens, due to the Taint. Also, the entire purpose of the Legion of the Dead, to the point of holding a funeral for them when they join up.
"Since we're dead, we can give our all in the fight against the darkspawn. We have nothing to lose."
Death of the Old Gods: The Old Gods of the Tevinter Imperium were struck down by the Maker. Most of the world now worships the Maker and his prophet Andraste, and the Old Gods slumber beneath the Earth until they're awoken, one at a time, to lead the corrupted darkspawn in a Blight. One imagines they are not too wild about this arrangement, given that "awoken" means being tainted by the darkspawn and more or less forced into being their leader. It was the Tevinter Imperium searching for the Old Gods in the first place that caused the creation of the darkspawn. This version of the story, primarily promoted by the Chantry is at least partly true: according to the former Tevinter Mage (now Darkspawn Emissary) Corypheus in Dragon Age II, he and a number of other Tevinter magisters did in fact enter the the mythical Golden City. However, his account differs from the Chantry's in his claim that when they entered the City, it was already the twisted, blackened hell that can be seen from anywhere in the Fade.
Death Seeker: The Legion of the Dead are dwarves who all did something they feel must be atoned for with their lives. The moment they join the Legion. they are considered dead to the rest of dwarven society, and they spend the rest of their lives fighting darkspawn in the Deep Roads. When Grey Wardens sense that the taint will soon overcome them, they follow the Legion of the Dead's example and go into the Deep Roads to die while taking as many darkspawn with them as they can. Most of the Legion have at least some grudging respect for Wardens for this.
The Tevinter Imperium was once this before the first Blight wiped most of their territory out. This is mirrored by what happened to the dwarves.
The Orlesian Empire fits this trope the best in the backstory, as it is the biggest and most powerful nation on Thedas and had no qualms with invading and pretty much enslaving Ferelden. They've (mostly) mellowed out by the time of the events of the game, but relations with Ferelden are still a bit rocky. It's his paranoia about King Cailan requesting aid from Orlais that drives Loghain's madness.
Empty Shell: The Tranquil are one of the more pleasant versions. Cursed to never feel emotion, the Tranquil themselves do not express any discontent with their condition. They also do not express any other feeling about any other subject. They are conscious and rational, but not capable of "feeling" as emoting beings understand it. If you accuse them of not being people, they merely provide a polite counter-argument.
The second game, however, puts the Tranquil in a different light. When one of them is briefly brought back, he claims that being a Tranquil is a Fate Worse than Death and begs you and your party to kill him before he forgets how to feel again. A moment later, the effect that allowed him to feel again wears off, and he asks you "Why are you looking at me like that?" in the Tranquil's usual monotone voice.
Enslaved Elves: The elves used to have a highly advanced society and culture, complete with immortality. Then humans showed up, and everything went to hell. Modern elves rank just above slaves in society (and are slaves in some parts of the world), and most don't even know they used to be a powerful race. Even the Grey Warden can do only a little to improve their lot.
Evil-Detecting Dog: The codex on werewolves states that mabari became popular in Ferelden due to their ability to sense werewolves, a necessity in an age where packs of werewolves roamed freely across the landscape and anyone you invited into your home could be afflicted with the curse. Dog demonstrates this ability a few times in-game, and not just with werewolves.
Dalish elves themselves pity the Alienage elves and are mystified why they remain in the human cities. Meanwhile, the Alienage elves also look down on "flat-ears", elves who have left their walled ghettos and attempt to integrate themselves further within the human settlements, believing they are abandoning their community.
The higher castes of Orzammar treat the casteless as lower than dirt.
Dwarves also look down on humans and elves, considering themselves to be superior. And they also hate "surface dwarves", fellow dwarves who have left Orzammar for the surface world, who are officially considered casteless and exiles.
Featuring fantasy counterpart personages, too. Leliana –- a French-accented young cleric who firmly believes that The Maker told her to aid you. Can we say "Joan of Arc"? (Which is weird, given Andraste...)
Notable is that during one conversation with her, she will talk about her "unique" beliefs about the Maker: While most clerics of the Chantry believe that they are "chosen" by the Maker, and only they will achieve salvation, she thinks that the Maker loves everyone. Sounds a lot like Martin Luther (no, not that one) to me.
Or like Paul, on that note. "Pauline Christianity" is when the words, though not the spirit, of Mosaic law was retired and salvation was proclaimed to gentile and Jew alike. Before, the Messiah was commonly presumed to be for the benefit of only the nation of Israel. Paul re-interpreted Israel to mean "Christian" (and anyone can be baptized a Christian) rather than just "a son of Abraham" (a matter of lineage one can do nothing about). This "love all men" approach of course generated controversy in the early Church.
Speaking of Andraste: she's the legendary saint who inspired the major religion of Ferelden, so she fits even better. Having been spoken to directly by The Maker, she raised an army and led a holy crusade against the Tevinter empire. In the end, she was captured, and burned at the stake.
She also seems to be a partial expy of Mohammed: a mortal chosen to reveal the teachings of the Maker and the only (or at least the final) person who will ever be spoken to, according to the Chantry; warrior prophet leading an outmatched army against a pagan Empire and picking up an army of converts; the Chant (in its origins, at least) is essentially a counterpart to the Qu'ran, and there is a similar impetus for it to be heard at all corners of the globe. Of course, the key difference that separates her from Mohammed is that she is worshipped, but, even then, excessive devotion to Andraste rather than The Maker is shown to be a bad thing.
There are numerous parallels and similarities to Arthurian Legend, particularly with the Search for the Urn of Sacred Ashes standing in as the Thedasian equivalent of the Quest for the Holy Grail. Furthermore, one can easily draw comparisons between Alistair and King Arthur, Morrigan and Morgan Le Fay, and Wynne and Merlin.
Orlais was originally going to be called Arles, which was the name of an actual city in France. Orleans is a French city associated with Joan of Arc.
At one point, one of the Dalish refers to the Chantry's "Exalted Marches" as crusades...
Ferelden is basically "Scotland/Anglo-Saxon England" as a foil to the whole high medieval "Plantagenet England/France" thing Orlais has going. Ferelden also has Irish influences, mostly in the names.
The Free Marches represent the mess of micro-states that Germany was until the 19th century. Kirkwall on the otherhand is more of a melting pot, giving us such things as Elfs in turbans.
Somewhat confusingly, the Anderfels have German parallels as well, although more along the lines of the Teutonic Order and Prussia, with some Mongolian influences (their territory consists mainly of large, sparsely populated steppes) thrown in.
The Dragon Agewiki says that Nevarra was originally just one of the larger Free Marches before becoming a major power. So... Austria?
The Pentaghast clan, who united the Free Marches under Nevarran leadership in a loose confederation, are very similar to the Habsburg dynasty, similarly suggesting that Nevarra is based on Austria.
Antiva is "a fictionalized version of a medieval Italian city-state like Venice"... where everyone has a Spanish accent for some reason.
Fridge Brilliance: The Borgias, whose purported methods appears to be popular in Antiva, lived in Valencia, which was part of the Crown of Aragon and later of Spain itself, which at the time included many parts of Italy (like Naples).
Word Of God says that the Tevinter Imperium is based off the Byzantine Empire, complete with a schismatic version of the Chantry. (Ancient Tevinter was clearly Rome, without a doubt. Modern Tevinter is much smaller, and has converted to Andrastism, but is in religious schism with the other Andrastian nations, and thus...)
The schism itself takes on other flavors, too, with the White and Black Divines resembling rival popes in Catholic history.
The Qunari philosophy resembles militant Confucianism; they have been described in Word Of God as, socially, resembling "militant Islamic Borg".
The "Islamic" part is because they clearly play the role the Caliphates did in early medieval Europe: an expansionist, advanced civilization with an evangelical religion pressing on the borders of the Andrastian nations/Christian Europe, particularly Tevinter/Byzantium.
To the extent that they are a technologically advanced people who left their home continent for religious purposes and proceeded to attempt to conquer the indigenous folk of their new home, they could also be compared to the early English settlers of the Americas.
The Chasind Wilders are clearly based on Celtic tribes from Pre-Roman Britain.
The Dwarves, despite the fact that their armor, weapons, fighting style, and art style all have an Anglo-Saxon/Viking feel, (like most dwarves) have a social structure and political system that is actually quite Roman. The assembly, like the Roman Senate, isn't elected but inherited, and only the wealthy nobility can hold office. Their kings are elected by the assembly, as was the case during the Pre-Rebublic era. The Caste system brings to mind the Patrician/Plebeian divide, the Paragons are similar to when the Roman Senate would vote to have men raised to the position of living god, and of course, they practice gladiatorial combat in the form of the provings. On the other hand, their buildings actually look Lalibela Ethiopian, believe it or not. An understandable choice, as both carve their buildings directly out of stone rather then using brick.
City Elves are based on pre-World-War European Jewish culture. Once a powerful nation, they were overpowered, their homeland destroyed, and forced into slavery by the Tevinter imperium. (cf. Roman Empire). Eventually, they were freed, and built up a new culture, only to be again overpowered, this time by Fereldans and the Chantry. They now live in walled-off ghettos, try to keep up as many of their old customs as possible, can only find menial works among the humans, and are treated as second-class citizens. They have arranged marriages ("Matchmaker, Matchmaker..."), and even the ambient soundtrack for the elven "Alienage" (ghetto) has a distinct Klezmer/Schindler's List style, complete with mournful clarinet solo à la Giora Feidman.
The custom of having a great tree in the center of a village is a Basque tradition; for example, the Oak of Guernica.
Some inspiration might also be Native American, as they struggle to keep their old culture and language which is slipping away, and were the original people of Thedas before humans came.
City Elves also personify the anti-Irish sentiment that pervaded much of North America and Great Britain at the turn of the twentieth century. They were denied all but the most menial of jobs, had a reputation as boozers and mooches and were also forced to live in ghettos. In fact it would not be all that odd to hear the phrase Elvish Need Not Apply.
Last but not least is the comparison with blacks in the United States, pre-Civil Rights but post-Civil War.
The nation of Rivain is a place where the Qunari (Muslims) and the Elves (Jews) live in peace and general equality with the humans. Sounds a lot like Moorish Spain. The fact that the only person we ever meet from there is a pirate named Isabela makes this comparison even more apt. (Piracy being the other thing the Moors were known for after religious tolerance and being a center of learning.)
Fantasy Gun Control: Dragon Age's society has the engineering capacity to produce smokeless coal or build entire cities underground, but only the Qunari have invented gunpowder. Dwarves know a little about explosives, but Qunari assassins have been known to hunt down and kill anyone who looks like they might give the secret of controlled explosions to those not of the Qun.
Functional Magic: A person has to be born with the ability to use magic. Magic is performed by drawing power from the Fade. Device magic is also present in enchanted items created by the Tranquil as well as most of the items you create with higher-tier poison-making and trap-making.
Fun with Acronyms: The name of the game's world, Thedas, comes from the general working name "THE Dragon Age Setting."
God: The Maker has a lot of similarities with the Abrahamic God. Even comes with his own Jesus, who also doubles as Mohammed.
Here There Were Dragons: Griffons have died off, the elves have been subjugated and lost their immortality and most of their cultural heritage, magic is rare, dragons were thought to be extinct until a very few were seen at the start of the age, the Tevinter Imperium fell in all but name long ago and its gods were turned into Archdemons, and perhaps the most fantastic thing is the advent of an apocalyptic horde led by said Archdemons and hellbent on destruction. Oh yeah, it's the sticks all right. Of course, main characters being what they are, they'll uncover plenty of special things that are still in the world.
The Magic Comes Back: The game is actually called "Dragon Age" because that's the age the story takes place in. Each age is named at the end of the previous one based on portents and signs. It's called the Dragon Age because dragons just recently started reappearing after being nearly hunted to extinction. Hell, one of the endings has Morrigan setting up an old god to be reborn, uncorrupted, as a human. However, no griffons... yet.
Green Rocks: As if the green-blueish veins of Lyrium itself weren't enough, Dragon Age also has lifestones, a rare rock that has existed in close proximity to lyrium ore, and as such, they have absorbed some of its traits. Crushing a lifestone gives the user a small bonus to nature resistance for a short time — reasonable enough. But in addition, lifestones enhance the natural properties of other materials used in item creation, and how! These magic rocks are used as natural property 'enhancers' in all sorts of antidotes, salves, poisons, and grease traps, of all things, conveniently making things more healing, more deadly, more acidic, or more greasy just by mere presence, it seems.
Ground Punch: The golems repeatedly punch the ground with their fists as their primary area-of-effect attack.
The Chantry treats the Maker with absolute reverence and makes the quest for His forgiveness of mankind's sins its primary goal, even though their canon makes the Almighty sound like a fickle, rather short-fused deity with a penchant for Disproportionate Retribution, lack of any actual love (or even vague sense of parental responsibility) for His creations, and no problem playing favourites for a girl in ways even Zeus might have called out of line. The Chantry preaches that He is God, but doesn't really make a very good job of painting Him as a good god. Ironically, it's the less orthodox if not borderline-blasphemous interpretations like Leliana's that attempt to paint the Maker as a God who someone may actually want to revere.
If the Old Gods of the Tevinter Imperium didn't fit this trope before, they definitely do after they become insane Archdemons that lead the darkspawn in a bid to kill everything.
Knight Templar: Unsurprisingly, the Templars themselves fit this trope perfectly. While they do hunt down bad mages, many of them have a hard time differentiating a bad mage from a perfectly good one, and are all too willing to completely purge the Circle if anything goes wrong. This has happened at least once per century for the last seven hundred years. According to the Codex, candidates for the order are chosen first and foremost for religious conviction and martial aptitude. They're administered lyrium in order to assist them in fighting evil mages — but a conversation with Alistair implies that the entire purpose of the lyrium is to get them addicted, ensuring their loyalty. They track and destroy dangerous rogue mages — but a conversation with Wynne implies that many mage-hunters take a sadistic pleasure in their work. Whether the Templars are necessary is a matter of debate in-game as well as among the fandom.
Legendary Weapon: Any weapon (or, indeed, any item) that unlocks a Codex entry. Additionally, if you acquired the weapon Vigilance in Awakening, the epilogue mentions that it went on to become one of these.
Legion of Lost Souls: The Dwarven Legion of the Dead, who will accept anyone into their ranks no matter their background and hold a funeral for the new recruit upon their induction.
Mage Killer: Templars. Although they have shown on multiple occasions they aren't too competent in their job.
Mage Tower: The Circle of Magi is housed in one. First Enchanter Irving lampshades the trope when he grumbles about all the stairs that it necessitates. (Unusually, the tower itself predates the Circle.)
A tower seems to be a mage's natural habitat in this setting. The Tevinter magisters are said to have lived in towers since long before the Chantry was founded, and Wilhelm, Avernus, and the Mad Hermit all either built or claimed towers as their homes after slipping the Circle's leash.
Magical Society: The Circle of Magi, naturally. Unlike some instances, not all mages are happy to belong to it.
Maximum HP Reduction: Traps and Non Lethal KOs inflict injuries on the characters. In the first game, these included both permanent health damage and other stat penalties, but only the former was present in the sequel. Injuries can generally only be removed by returning to the Player Headquarters or consuming a specific item. In DAO, only Spirit Healers could remove injuries magically (but not from themselves); in DA2, Spirit Healers can instead protect the entire party from injuries for with a high-level perk.
Medieval Stasis: As explained here, magic pretty much prevents progress, while the Qunari, who are squeamish at best with regard to magic, have access to gunpowder. The dwarves, completely unable to use magic, are advancing too, but slowly. The smokeless fuel they use was invented within living memory, and the ancestral Shield Of Aeducan is pretty much identical to early-game junk shields.
Mutant Draft Board: The Circle of Magi, which is mandatory for all mages in human settlements on pain of being hunted down by Templars. Unlike most examples of the trope, the Circle don't control themselves, the Chantry does, though there's a Fraternity of Enchanters who at least get to argue on their charges' behalf. When Wynne appears in Awakening, she mentions that there are factions who want to pull away entirely from the Chantry, which even Anders (who has at least seven escape attempts to his name) considers a recipe for disaster. After six years in Kirkwall, however...
Mystical Plague: The Blight 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 Dragons Are Different: Dragons in Dragon Age are quite a rare sight overall, having only recently reappeared after they were long believed to be extinct -– heck, the present Dragon Age was only named as such because of the dragons' reappearance! Most of them are fairly small juveniles and drakes; only impregnated female dragons get huge like the beasts of legend and grow wings, and are extremely rare. (In Origins, there's a single true dragon, in the classical fantasy sense, in the game; there are at least two other winged females, but they're much younger and smaller.)
There's one in Awakening, or two if you reawaken the Queen of the Blackmarsh.
Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Subverted. Although they still possess a few of the standard traits, their rigid caste society and customs make them very different from Tolkien-esque dwarves. One of the classics is completely avoided: dwarven beer is horrible because it is brewed from lichen. The human king acts like that isn't true, but he's kind of a moron. The dwarves also have American accents, as opposed to the traditional Scottish ones. Only a third of them have huge beards as well.
They also seem to be quite sexual for standard fantasy dwarves. "Noble hunting", which is a nice way of saying "gold digging", is openly encouraged in dwarven society. There are as many dwarven prostitutes at the Pearl as there are elven prostitutes. And tellingly, the PC can get shagged in only two of the six origin stories, but only the Dwarf Noble origin lets the main character have a three-way with two noble hunters. And you later find you got one of them pregnant. And the kid got stripped of his caste after you were exiled. So, good luck dealing with that!
Our Elves Are Better: Subverted. Elves are discriminated against, have lost their immortality (according to elvish folklore), and were enslaved for a thousand years. The slavery may have ended, but the discrimination, segregation, and second-class citizenry certainly didn't.
This is so in terms of stats, too. Instead of having superior physical grace like typical fantasy elves, Dragon Age elves only have bonuses to Willpower and Magic—meaning humans are physically superior to elves in every way; larger, stronger, tougher, and more agile!
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.
Our Vampires Are Different: They're people possessed by hunger demons. Since hunger demons are barely sentient, they're not as cunning as traditional vampires.
Not Using the Z Word — they're never referred to in-game as vampires. Indeed, they're counted more as walking corpses, rather than their own kind of undead, though they are among the most powerful of the walking dead.
Our Zombies Are Different: There's two kinds of zombies in the Dragon Age franchise. The first are corpses possessed by hunger demons that don't spread a virus of any kind, but they are still hostile and will devour people alive if given the opportunity. Second ones are ghouls, which are people who contract the Darkspawn Taint and instead of dying become indoctrinated by the Archdemon. Most of the ghouls are docile, mindless husks that just shamble around and are unable to spread the Taint, but a number of them become darkspawn themselves.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Qunari; to a lesser extent, the Warrior and Noble Caste Dwarves. Although we've only seen the Qunari invasion vanguard and rogue Qunari mercenaries in game. It's strongly suggested Qunari who fulfill a non-warrior role in Qunari society according to the Qun are also respected... except mages.
Puberty Superpower: Though not a hard and fast rule, mages generally come into their powers at the onset of puberty. (Some do get them earlier; Connor Guerrin is one example, and Wynne remarks in party banter that she entered the Circle of Magi at the age of nine.)
The Punishment: According to the Chantry, the mages who tried to usurp heaven were turned into the first darkspawn by the Maker and that the darkspawn taint is the physical embodiment of their sin. Considering everything that happened afterwards, it makes one wonder why the Maker simply didn't smite them with lightning instead. Because he wanted their punishment to be all of humanity's punishment as well. One thing the Chantry's lore (if accurate) makes perfectly clear about the Maker: he's a real bastard.
Religion is Magic: Averted. Although the dwarves, the elves, and the humans all have their own faiths, none of these faiths are actualized with their own magics. The Chantry's templars, for instance, merely wield anti-magics. While the Urn of Sacred Ashes is capable of performing miracles, Oghren suggests the possibility that the large, unusually pure Lyrium vein not too far away inside the rock may be responsible for its powers.
The entire Urn of Sacred Ashes quest is problematic for an otherwise aversion to this trope. Sure the Ashes' ability to break curses can be chalked up to all that undiluted lyrium surrounding it for 900 years, but then we face problems with things like, say, the Guardian, who explicitly says that he's been alive for almost a full millennium out of sheer devotion to the Prophetess. It also does nothing to explain the spirits of Andraste's associates who just stand around asking riddles, or the apparition that appears to the Warden that somehow can read their minds and take on the form of a loved one. The only explanations that would possibly make sense in the context of the DA universe is that there really is something to this whole "Andraste, Bride of the Maker" thing... or that Andraste was a blood mage and all the spirits around her tomb are demons she's bound to that place. Or extend the Lyrium explanation a bit more.
Rivals Team Up: The first time the Orlesian Empire and the Tevinter Imperium joined forces, they stopped the Third Blight in just 15 years. The second time, they beat back the Qunari from the mainland. Too bad their cooperation never lasts.
Running Gag: A variation. In every Dragon Age game so far, someone can (possibly) die by taking an ogre to the face. Cailan dies this way in Origins, Varel can die this way in Awakening, and Bethany or Carver in Dragon Age II.
Another gag is foreign characters commenting that Ferelden "smells like wet dog", to which the player character can respond in variants of "It does not smell like dog!"
The Warden: And garbage!
Sten: Yes, I was trying to forget that.
There are a lot of references to Cheese, particularly the infamous, stinky Orlesian kind.
Sacred Scripture: The Chant of Light is the holy word of the Chantry, but just like the Qu'ran it's meant to be spoken, not read. While people obviously read the Chant, they only do so in order to memorize and recite it.
Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Qunari have a very strict caste system and don't really understand or like the idea that there might be other, equally viable, social organizations.
Sten: I don't understand your people. Your smiths want to be merchants, your merchants want to be nobles, and your nobles want to be royalty. Why is no one happy in their station?
Second Coming: Mostly within the lore of the game series itself: The Maker is prophesied to return and make his world a paradise once the Chant of Light has been sung from all the corners of the world.
Seven Deadly Sins: Condensed into the main five types of demons encountered in the Fade: Rage (wrath), Hunger (gluttony), Sloth (also, according to the codex, envy), Desire (greed and lust), and Pride. Just as in real-life Christianity, Pride is considered the most evil of all by the Chantry because they are the most likely to gain full sentience and therefore more freely amass power.
Sliding Scale of Continuity: Level 4 (Arc-Based Episodic). The series is notably more lax about its continuity than its sister series Mass Effect: while there are definitely several enduring Myth Arcs, each installment so far (including supplemental novels and comic mini-series) is a largely self-contained story that happens to push one or more overarching plots along. This is helped by the fact that individual installments usually focus on different (albeit often overlapping) main characters and are set in different parts of the world at different times; also, an occasional retcon by the writers prevents the established canon from being too reliable.
The Soulless: The darkspawn. 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.
Spider-Sense: Once a person becomes a Grey Warden, they can sense the darkspawn — and vice versa. Your character may even say "Warden senses tingling!" Mages all have the ability to detect disruptions in the Veil that can, with practice, allow them to detect spirits and especially powerful spells.
The Darkspawn, due to the Taint getting stronger with time. Unfortunately, this is what eventually dooms Grey Wardens.
Tautological Templar: The Templars will execute anyone who is a mage but not a member of the Circle of Magi because there is a chance that they may know forbidden magic. However, they are revered as heroes since they are the militant wing of the setting's dominant religion.
Technical Pacifist: The Dalish are nomadic and never stay in one place too long 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, but that would only cause King Cailan to send soldiers next time, thus it is wiser to simply move on.
Un Equal Rites: A long time ago, a powerful nation called the Tevinter Imperium once conquered nearly all of the known world by using an extremely dangerous sorcery called Blood Magic, which allowed them to broker deals with and summon demons as well as use a powerful form of Mind Control. Eventually, their reign was toppled by the appearance of the Blight, which struck the Empire from nowhere and left them crippled. Most of the world's nations were formed by barbarian clans that rebelled against the weakened Empire, and the followers of those early rebels quickly formed a religion called the Chantry. The Blight continues to plague the world to this day, and the Chantry teachings blame magic for unleashing it. Because of this, mages in general are treated as worse than dirt, and any mage that is not under the direct control of the Chantry is labeled as an apostate which is to be killed on sight. Worse than them are the "Maleficar", which are simply apostates who use the hated Blood Magic which unleashes demons and once enslaved the world.
This also exists between fellow mages, ranging from Fraternities with different political viewpoints to nerdy debates over which spell school is better (e.g, Entropy fans vandalizing books on Spirit Magic).
Unreliable Expositor/Written by the Winners: Basically, there is no Infallible Narrator in this series. Everything, from the opening voiceovers to the Codex entries are written/spoken by in-universe characters. For nearly every major (or even minor) event in the history of the game, there are multiple contradicting accounts with absolutely no indications as to which is the right one. So, rule of thumb for this series: if someone is telling you about something or someone you haven't seen for yourself? Take their opinion into consideration, but don't put too much stock in it. It doesn't help that the narrator for the second game is an admitted and unashamed liar.
The Tevinter Imperium, which never recovered from the First Blight, Andraste's rebellion, and the Qunari invasion.
The Dwarven empire is even worse. It's down to two city-states that hate each other, and the darkspawn are slowly but surely encroaching on their territory. Fortunately, if you're playing a Dwarf Warden, in the epilogue you can convince the ruler of Ferelden to send military aid to Orzammar, and they begin reclaiming a lot of lost territory. Even a non-dwarf Warden can put Bhelen on the throne; he militarizes the casteless and lets the dwarves begin to push the darkspawn back.
The Virus: The Blight is a taint carried by the darkspawn that poisons the lands they inhabit. People tainted by this go crazy and die, or become decaying ghouls in the thrall of the Archdemon — or worse, if they're women, become broodmothers.
Walking Wasteland: The darkspawn spread a curse/disease called "the taint" wherever they go that slowly kills everything around them.