Part 1 of Dorian Pavus: Scholar of the Inquisition
Gaming is a big part of my identity, and has been since I was a kid and we got our first NES console. I’ve played quite a few games on a few different consoles over the years, and one of my favorite game series is BioWare’s Dragon Age. BioWare is known for their immersive storytelling, complex characters, and relationship building. The lore gleaned from the codex entries paints a picture of a rich, vast world full of possibilities.
Thedas (literally shorthand for The Dragon Age Setting) is full of the expected humans, elves, and dwarves, but also the horned Qunari. It hosts a complex magic system that shapes beliefs, cultures, and even the world as a whole. The world is divided between the south, which is skeptical of magic and mages, and goes to sometimes extreme measures to ensure that magic doesn’t dare “rule over man”, as the Chant of Light forbids. And then there is my specialty: my favorite location, possibly because we know so little of it so far, or possibly because what we do know is fascinating: the northern lands of the Tevinter Imperium.
Throughout the first two Dragon Age games Tevinter is the shadowy land to the north, filled with ambitious magisters who don’t fear magic, nor do they subscribe to the most basic belief about magic: that it is meant to serve man, never to rule over him. The Tevinter characters we meet are stereotypically ambitious and yes, a bit evil and all too happy to let their magic establish their rule.
In the first two games we meet Caladrius, the magister helping filter elves from the Denerim Alienage into Tevinter slavery; Tahrone, the Tevinter mage experimenting on ways to stir up chaos in the Templar ranks in Kirkwall; Danarius, the wicked magister responsible for abusing his lyrium-marked slave, Fenris; and Hadriana, another magister and apprentice to Danarius, known for her cruelty to slaves. In these cases the characters are sadistic, ambitious, and seemingly irredeemable. The only sympathetic Tevinter character we meet is Fenris, an escaped slave bent on revenge against his former master. Fenris distrusts mages and magic in general, and as a Tevinter, gives us one angle on that location.
Dragon Age: Inquisition widens the world of Thedas, showing us more of Ferelden and giving us the opportunity to traverse quite a bit of Orlais. It also provides us with new characters from Tevinter, each one who shines light on a different facet of Tevinter society in a way previous characters, Fenris excepting, did. While most of the characters we’d met prior to this were flat, and their motivations empty beyond their ambitions, we get more depth in the Inquisition characters.
The central antagonist is Corypheus, a resurrected ancient magister: one of the first to assault the Fade, if the lore is to be believed (the Dragon Age developers are always quick to point out that the first line of Origins is “The Chantry tells us…”, meaning that, like everything, there may not be a simple explanation, or one we can take at face value). While he and the bulk of his Venatori fit the madman-bent-on-world-domination mold, Magister Gereon Alexius does not.
Alexius shows us that domination isn’t the only motivating factor in this world. He didn’t join up to advance; he’s already a magister and a scholar (more on that later!), but he’s also a widower and a father with a dying son. Alexius is a powerful man caught in a situation over which he has no power. In Corypheus and the Venatori, Alexius may gain the power to save his son; his motivation is desperation.
His son Felix is dying of Blight exposure, and his motives are driven by his father. Felix took ill after the darkspawn attack that killed his mother, and he sees how his wasting illness affects his father. Not much is said about Felix’s thoughts on this. Does he join the Venatori out of his own desperation? Does he join to keep giving his father hope? Or is it because his father barely lets him out of his sight for fear of losing him? Quite a bit can be left up to interpretation with him, but what’s important is that in the end he sees what grief and desperation has done to his father, and does what he can to help the Inquisition stop the Venatori.
In most of these cases we have characters making power grabs for what it can do for them, which is much of what we’ve seen from Tevinter characters (even if this time the motives are more complex). Inquisition also gives us Cremisius Aclassi, who originated as part of Tevinter’s soporati, or non-magic using class. Krem is a character who deserves a treatise in his own right, but one I’m neither prepared for, or qualified, to write, so for these purposes I’m focusing on his initial place in Tevinter society, and what he tells us about being from a soporati family.
If Fenris provides insights into the slave experience of Tevinter society, Krem shows someone who doesn’t have magical ability, but was also not a slave. This adds another layer of complexity and richness to Tevinter society. Tevinter is a complicated place where the mages aren’t herded into Circles, but sent for training–they’re more boarding schools or centers of academia than holding pens. They exist freely, cast spells freely, and even the poorest mage is still better off than the richest soporati. In the case of Krem and his family, they were comfortable enough; then a magister’s interference, even though well-intentioned, put the Aclassi tailors out of business. Krem’s father sold the family into slavery to survive, while Krem joined the military, and then eventually the mercenary company the Chargers.
The novels and comics introduce other characters, but there is one notable Tevinter I’ve not mentioned yet, whose character and experience gives us even more insight into this society. Dorian Pavus is fascinating because he was raised with power and privilege, and could have become the flat, cackling magister that we’d seen in earlier games. His family is of the Altus class: the wealthiest, most powerful in the Imperium. He’s been bred for raw power and an impeccable bloodline, something he teases about lightly, but has just enough edge to his voice to suggest that it’s not the great practice the upper echelons of Tevinter society seem to think. Dorian comes from a slave-holding family and has some complex (and yes, often problematic) views on the topic. Dorian is a study in privilege who comes across as arrogant and self-assured, and not without reason.
Dorian, however, is more than the flashy rockstar mage. Beyond his raw power and noble breeding, Dorian can possess a startling vulnerability; beyond his disdain for the practices of his homeland, he still loves Tevinter fiercely. He’s capable of acknowledging her flaws, and even when called out on some of the tough topics, he’s open to learning and admitting when he’s wrong.
He’s such a multilayered character, and between himself and Fenris, we are given one of the clearest glimpses into the reality of Tevinter life. But beyond all of that, what fascinates me most about Dorian is how intelligent he is. He’s a man who’s studied, who’s experimented, and who gets excited about magic in a way we don’t see from any other character.
Because Dragon Age is my favorite game, and because academia is my favorite trope, it pleases me to present Dorian Pavus, Scholar of the Inquisition.