“Past the hills, the land withered rapidly. Within the span of a few miles, the trees turned to dead standing sticks, while the grass and brambles around them thinned to scabby patches like tufts of hair on a Blight-manged bereskarn. Sullen gray clouds closed overhead, dimming the purity of the sun. The only animals they encountered were a cluster of tumor-raddled deer, who looked up with bloody mouths from the corpse of a cow they'd been devouring and hissed through hollow fangs at the passing Wardens.”―From the secret journal of Isseya, Warden of the Fourth Blight
A Blight refers to a period when darkspawn find and corrupt one of the Old Gods—ancient draconic creatures slumbering in the depths of the earth—, which is transformed into an Archdemon and leads the horde to attack the surface world. The world has seen five Blights to date; as Dragon Age: Origins begins, the Fifth Blight has just begun.
There is not a unified consensus about what the Blights really are or why they happen. The prevailing belief, that originated in the Chantry, is that Blights are the punishment of the Maker upon the magisters of old who breached and corrupted the Golden City, and that the Archdemons are the Old Gods worshiped in the ancient Tevinter Imperium, tainted by the corruption of the darkspawn. Grey Warden scholars believe that the Blight is a spiritual corruption that pervades all that it touch, and that all Archdemons must be destroyed in order to stop any future Blights. The dwarves don't care what a Blight is, or what causes it, as long as it can be stopped for good. The existence of sentient darkspawn, that was revealed shortly after the Fifth Blight, had further complicated this matter. However, few scholars point out that those questions are irrelevant when compared to the death and destruction that a Blight leaves in its wake.
A Blight is distinct from the occasional darkspawn raids, in which the darkspawn are few, scattered, and disorganized on the surface, plaguing the Deep Roads almost exclusively. These grand highway-tunnels—constructed by the dwarves at the height of their empire, but almost entirely controlled by darkspawn ever since the First Blight—extend throughout subterranean Thedas. A particularly strong or clever alpha can lead darkspawn war bands to cause great devastation in the surface even when an Archdemon is not active in the world, and can even corrupt the lands those war bands attack with the darkspawn corruption at a lesser scale, but if the leader is defeated, the war bands will disperse and the land will slowly heal.
Blights advance in a progression that the Grey Wardens understand relatively well. However, Warden scholars remain uncertain about the precise "rules" under which Blights operate. Does an Archdemon's presence cause and spread the Blight, or is it the hordes of darkspawn that invariably travel with them? Does it take all Archdemons a similar amount of time to reach the surface? What would happen if an Archdemon were left unchecked forever? Even for the gaps in their knowledge, the Grey Wardens use what they do know to carry out their vigilant work. The following is what is known of the common progression of a Blight.
Anatomy of a Blight
A Blight starts when the darkspawn discover one of the Old Gods and infect it with their taint, and it rises as an Archdemon. The Archdemon then proceeds to unify the will of the darkspawn horde, and commands it to surge to the surface and spread across the lands, destroying all in their path. Usually, the first sightings of darkspawn are in the outskirts of civilization, and outlying farms and villages begin to be attacked by small war bands. Victims not killed outright are dragged underground to be eaten or turned into broodmothers. Darkspawn inflict disease upon people, animals and vegetation. Their tainted blood defiles the very soil and water, rendering entire regions infertile for many years. However, at this stage of a Blight, many people will still believe that is just a random darkspawn incursion.
As time passes and the presence of the horde in the surface grows, the darkspawn war bands become whole armies that will travel in open roads across the countryside. Those armies will launch raids against larger and larger settlements, even important and well-defended cities in the central lands of a given kingdom or country. More powerful darkspawn can be seen within the armies, such as emissaries and ogres. Mutant creatures such as blight wolves and bereskarns will plague the wilderness. The skies become dark and ominous, although occasional rains can occur from time to time.
By the time the Archdemon has reached the surface to lead the seemingly unending horde, unnatural dark clouds shroud the sky, providing shelter for the sun-fearing darkspawn. They obscure the sun in the daytime and the moon and stars at night, and form a perpetual storm that can be seen from afar. Soundless violet lightning sometimes flashes at the eye of the storm. The black clouds offer hardly any rain, that evaporates as soon as it reaches the ground, and the rivers run dry. These conditions alone lead to deterioration of plant life, including forests, crops and seaweeds. Ghouls and other weird mutants run rampant through the wilderness, with twisted animals turning fierce and carnivorous, and the tainted land itself capable of infecting the weak or unwary with the Blight disease.
The Blight's corruption will follow the Archdemon as it travels the lands, expanding especially swiftly from the lands where the tainted deity lairs. Children and livestock born under the Blight clouds tend to be small and weak, often deformed and susceptible to disease. The Blight affects even adult people, and individuals may become ill for no reason.
The only way to end a Blight is to slay the Archdemon that started it, and the only ones who have ever managed such a feat have been Grey Wardens. For this reason, the order accords legendary respect throughout most nations, although their presence in some nations, such as Ferelden in the decades prior to the events of the Fifth Blight, is weakened by local political struggles and the centuries that have elapsed since the Fourth Blight.
Once the Archdemon is destroyed, the darkspawn under its command will flee underground to search for another Old God that can be turned into another Archdemon. The skies clear immediately after the death of the Archdemon, and the weather returns to what is normal for the season. The land can take months or even years to recover, depending on how hard it was hit by the Blight. Some areas will never recover. Examples of such locales are portions of the Anderfels that have been so ravaged by two Blights that they are now deserts. Blighted animals will begin to breed again, giving birth to non-mutant offspring, although it will take some time for animal populations to reach the levels they had before the Blight started. Some degenerative diseases born of the taint may persist and spread long after a Blight is over, however.
Some Grey Wardens believe that, if left unchecked, the Blight will ravage the world, though they cannot know for sure. They also believe that darkspawn have grown more and more violent with each successive Blight.
Even as the Blight's defeat and the darkspawn retreat, they will form small war bands that kill and destroy everyone and everything that crosses their path.
During this period, scavengers may venture to the lower levels of the Deep Roads that are temporarily free of the darkspawn to get as many treasures as they can.
The events of Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening take place during the aftermath that follows the Fifth Blight.
History of Blights
First Blight (800–992 TE)
- Main article: First Blight
The Chantry teaches that it is the hubris of men that brought the darkspawn into existence. The mage rulers of the Tevinter Imperium sought to usurp the Golden City created by the Maker but were cast out, twisted with corruption, and returned as monsters – the first darkspawn. In their depravity they sought the Old Gods, and, finding Dumat slumbering deep within the earth, began the Blight. The dwarves are less inclined to believe such a history; to them, the darkspawn simply appeared one day and have been their bitter enemies ever since. Some dwarves do suggest that the humans are the reason for their existence, though not necessarily magisters specifically.
Whatever happened, the result was catastrophic. Thedas was nearly overrun and the dwarven race nearly extinguished (to this day only Orzammar and Kal-Sharok still stand against the darkspawn). Only with the founding of the Grey Wardens in -305 Ancient (890 TE) the tide turned. Even then, it required a hundred years until Dumat was finally slain at the Battle of the Silent Plains in -203 Ancient (992 TE). The Imperium was left severely weakened, and was subsequently overthrown by a mass movement led by the prophet Andraste.
Second Blight (1:5–95 Divine)
- Main article: Second Blight
Zazikel awoke in 1:5 Divine and the Second Blight began, with darkspawn coming out of the mountains in all corners of the continent. They slaughtered the entire cities of Hossberg and Nordbotten in the Anderfels before the Grey Wardens finally got the word out. The Free Marches and Orlais were hard-pressed to defend themselves, but the Wardens and the armies under Emperor Drakon made the difference. Just over ten years into the second Blight the Orlesians won several battles, including the hard-fought victory at the Battle of Cumberland. As the Orlesians and Grey Wardens shared continued victories, the Blight wound down to its last battle in Starkhaven. The Wardens destroyed Zazikel, and the darkspawn were routed for the second time.
Third Blight (3:10–25 Towers)
- Main article: Third Blight
The Old God Toth arose in 3:10 Towers, and the darkspawn erupted in the central lands of Thedas. Swarms of them engulfed the Tevinter cities of Marnas Pell and Vyrantium, and the Orlesian cities of Arlesans and Montsimmard. The Grey Wardens of both countries were able to quickly organize a defense, and despite heavy losses in the besieged cities the darkspawn were pushed back, proceeding to ravage what would later become Nevarra as well as the Free Marches and the length of the Minanter River. Pressure from Weisshaupt convinced Orlais and Tevinter to unite against the horde, but neither would consent to aid the beleaguered city-states. After fifteen years of conflict, the armies of Orlais and Tevinter joined the Grey Wardens at Hunter Fell. Toth was destroyed, and the darkspawn in attendance were slaughtered in one of the bloodiest battles in history.
Fourth Blight (5:12–24 Exalted)
- Main article: Fourth Blight
The Fourth Blight began when the Archdemon Andoral arose just as the Chantry's Exalted March during the Black Age against the Tevinter Imperium ended. The darkspawn appeared in great numbers in the northeast and northwestern regions of Thedas. They overran Antiva, the Free Marches, Rivain and Anderfels. Orlais and Tevinter were beset by smaller numbers and managed to drive the darkspawn back into the Deep Roads; despite their victories, Tevinter, bitter over the Exalted Marches refused to send aid to southern Thedas, while Orlais only contributed a token force to combat the Blight.
In 5:20 Exalted, the elven Warden Garahel led an army of Anders and Grey Wardens to Hossberg and broke the siege. They then marched to Starkhaven where they formed an alliance between the minor rulers of the Free Marches. This united army marches north, eventually ending the Blight at the Battle of Ayesleigh. Garahel sacrificed himself, having slain Andoral in single combat. So many darkspawn were killed, many imagined they would never return. The fact that dwarves had to continue to repel darkspawn from their borders was increasingly ignored by surfacers (excluding the Grey Wardens).
Fifth Blight (9:30–31 Dragon)
- Main article: Fifth Blight
- Dragon Age: Last Flight, p. 206.
- Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 1, p. 145
- Dragon Age (tabletop RPG), Core Rulebook, p. 253
- Dragon Age (tabletop RPG), Core Rulebook, p. 254
- Codex entry: The Western Approach; Silent Plains
- As described multiple times throughout Dragon Age: Last Flight.
- Dragon Age: Last Flight, Chapter 16.
- According to dialogue with Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins
- Dragon Age: Last Flight, Chapter 22.
- Dragon Age (tabletop RPG), Core Rulebook, p. 251
- Dragon Age: Warden's Fall, Chapter 1
- As seen during The Deep Roads Expedition.
- Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 1, p. 145