Dragon Age Origins: Shadow of the Blight
A humanoid race, elves typically stand four inches shorter than their human companions and have a slender, lithe build and pointed ears. In Ferelden, Free Marches, and many other parts of Thedas, elves are second-class citizens, often referred to by humans as ‘knife ears’ as a racial slur. Long ago, the elves were the dominant race on Thedas, and had lived in a refined civilization based on nature and magic. After its fall to the Tevinter Imperium and their generations of slavery however, the elves had lost most of their cultural heritage and identity. The same thing happened to their second homeland, the Dales much later. Since then, their few numbers have been scattered all over Thedas in either forests as primitive nomads or in cities as impoverished outcasts, with little hope of recovery for their culture or their race. Today, they’re a people associated with poverty, crime, barbarism, and are often used as scapegoats for humanity’s difficulties. Though most of the elven language has been lost, they once refered to themselves as “elvhen” or “the people”.
The elves of Thedas live no longer than humans, but elven legends state that this was not always the case. Once, they say, they were an immortal and magically talented race that lived in harmony with the natural world and followed the elven pantheon. The first shemlen (a term meaning “quick children” that was used by the ancient elves to describe the humans) they encountered were tribals who came south from Par Vollen. The ancient elves grew friendly with humans, but soon discovered that breeding with humans produced only human babies, due to the elves’ genetic adaptability, while exposure to the “quick children” caused the elves to quicken themselves. For the first time, elves began to age and die.
In fear, the elves withdrew from human contact. Unfortunately, after a time the human tribals gave way to the Tevinter Imperium, which invaded Elvhenan, the elven homeland, and enslaved its people. The elven people lost their immortality and their gods forsook them. As a final insult the mages of the Imperium sank the elves capital city of Arlathan into the ground never to be seen again. The exact details of the war are lost to history, though artifacts found in Imperium ruins suggest Elvhenan was looted, or that some Elves joined the Imperium bringing artifacts with them.
Elven slaves were among the most fervent supporters of the Prophetess Andraste’s uprising against the Tevinter Imperium. The elves joined Andraste in her quest to depose the Tevinter magisters, and they were rewarded for their loyalty by being granted land in the Dales upon Andraste’s victory. Ironically, though the elven slaves won Andraste’s favor, it was the Chantry which was responsible for the second downfall of the elves.
In the Dales, the elves created a second elven homeland and began to restore the lost lore and culture of Elvhenan, including the worship of their former Gods. For some years, humans loyal to Andraste’s memory respected their elven allies. But over the generations and as the Chant of Light and the religion of the Maker spread throughout human nations, the diplomatic relationships between the Dales and surrounding human nations turned cold, as the elves refused to be converted. The Chantry eventually led an Exalted March against the elves, claiming they had been attacked by the Dales. As the Dales fell, the elves were forced to abandon their second homeland, and their culture was torn even further from them. Many elves accepted the terms of their human aggressors, going to live in the Alienages inside human cities and worshipping the Maker. Those elves who resisted became the nomadic Dalish, maintaining the worship of the elven gods and continuing their efforts to recover the lost culture of Elvhenan.
Dalish elves lead nomadic lives, wandering throughout Thedas. The clans date back to the ruling clans of the Dales and the Dalish themselves are their descendants. As such, they consider themselves to have the “purest” blood from the time of Arlathan. Dalish elves seek to recover, inherit and preserve the knowledge and sacred treasures of the two fallen kingdoms and for that purpose they’ll often seek out old elven ruins for such things in the face of danger. They still revere the elven pantheon and each member of a tribe will tattoo the symbol of their chosen god on their face.
They travel around the more remote reaches of Thedas in covered wagons called aravels, special wagons with large triangular sails atop them and rudder-like devices on the back. The Dalish elves are also known for being the only race adept at forging ironbark, a unique substance stronger and lighter than steel, used to make their weapons and certain other items of clothing, such as amulets. These, along with carved Halla horns, are highly valued and are often used to trade with humans for things they cannot make on their own like metals for their weapons.
Dalish elves tend to keep to their own and avoid humans whenever they can, but will occasionally encounter human travelers, or venture near human settlements to trade. At the threat of these encounters becoming violent, a Dalish clan will likely withdraw before any real force of humans gets involved, but they will often still be willing to stand their ground. In the long run, hostilities with humans will likely end badly for the elves, especially if a kingdom decides that a certain clan has become more trouble than it is worth. The Dalish are known to refer to their city cousins as ‘flat ears’, some of them believing the city elves are no more than pets for humans, and hence are ‘flat ears’ (humans) in spirit if not body, giving them a reputation of being haughty and condescending. In return, their urban kin view them as a myth, or in the same light humans do; bandits and heathens.
A Dalish Camp
The Dalish clans themselves can also be quite different from each other. Some clans will get along fairly well with humans, and might even camp outside of settlements for long periods of time. Other clans are more infamous, living by banditry and hiding like guerrillas in the mountain passes. The Dalish of Ferelden are on a more-or-less neutral basis with its human citizens while Dalish in Rivain have a semi-permanent settlement in the city of Llomerryn, though Rivian is the exception to the rule as the Dalish are feared as a race of savage elves in most parts of Thedas.
Dalish clans rarely encounter each other in order to protect themselves; their diaspora is as much of a blessing as is a curse. Since Dalish don’t—if ever—keep in contact between other clans, should one be exterminated by a human lord—a difficult task in and of itself—them being able to find the others will be nearly impossible. Only once a decade or so do the Dalish clans all meet together, and their Keepers, the elders and leaders of the Dalish who are responsible in keeping elven lore and magic alive, will meet together and exchange knowledge in a meeting called the Arlathvhen.
During such a time, the clans will recall and record any lore they have relearned since the past meeting, along with reiterating what lore they know already to keep their traditions as accurate and alive as possible. During such time, the clans will exchange relics dating from the two elven nations for safekeeping. The Dalish believe that all the relics they’ve preserved from the Dales and Arlathan belong to all the Dalish; such trades are seen as much of an act of sharing as is a matter of trade, and the same is true even for talented elves.
The Dalish live by a code known as Vir Tanadahl, meaning “Way of Three Trees.” It is made of three parts, which are:Vir Assan (“Way of the Arrow”) – fly straight and do not waver Vir Bor’Assan (“Way of the Bow”) – bend but never break Vir Adahlen (“Way of the Forest”) – together we are stronger than the one
The three parts of the philosophy are often strung together as a sort of mantra, which the Dalish will often end with the phrase “We are the last of the elvhenan, and never again shall we submit.”
When Dalish elves die, their clan will bury them and plant a tree over their remains.1
At the end of Dragon Age: Origins, it is possible to ask the new monarch to grant the Dalish their own lands. Alternatively, if the Warden is of Dalish origin and sacrifices themself to end the Blight, the Dalish will be given these lands as well. The epilogue will then reveal that they settle these lands, though new political tensions arise.
The elven language, or Elvish, was largely lost when Elvhenan fell and its people were enslaved. When the elves settled their second homeland, the Dales, they aimed to restore their lost language and lore, but the Dales fell to an Exalted March. The Elvish of the Dragon Age is thus a fragmented remnant, a few words that are thrown into conversation rather than a working language used to conduct everyday life. The Dalish Elves, self-appointed custodians of the elven language and lore, use more Elvish than their City Elf brethren. Living among humans, the City Elves now retain only a few old Elvish words whose origin is almost forgotten, such as "shem"—derived from “shemlen”, or “quickling”, the old elven term for humans—and "hahren"—the leader of an Alienage, meaning “elder” in Elvish.
The Dalish have more of the language. They are more capable of forming whole phrases and sentences, but the language is still fragmented and very incomplete, even to them. It includes the word da’len, which means “child”, and andaran atish’an, which is a greeting to friends and fellow Dalish. Serannas is thanks, while ma serannas is “my thanks” or “many thanks”. Aneth ara is an informal greeting often used among friends. Dareth shiral is a way of saying good-bye.
The elven pantheon comprises five gods and four goddesses, whom the modern Dalish elves refer to as “the Creators.” The pantheon is led by Elgar’nan the All-Father, god of fatherhood and vengeance, and Mythal the Protector, goddess of motherhood and justice. There are also references in elven mythology to another race of gods, called “The Forgotten Ones,” the enemies of the elven pantheon. It is said that Fen’Harel was the only one able to walk freely between the two groups, and they both thought of him as one of their own.
Typical Elven Names