- 1 The Anderfels
- 2 The Bone Pit
- 3 Chateau Haine
- 4 The City of Kirkwall
- 5 The City of Starkhaven
- 6 Geography of Thedas
- 7 Kirkwall - Darktown
- 8 Kirkwall - Hightown
- 9 Kirkwall - Lowtown
- 10 Kirkwall - The Elven Alienage
- 11 Kirkwall - The Gallows
- 12 The Korcari Wilds
- 13 Nevarra
- 14 The Orlesian Empire
- 15 Par Vollen: The Occupied North
- 16 The Primeval Thaig
- 17 Rivain
- 18 Sundermount
- 19 The Tevinter Imperium (Dragon Age II)
- 20 The Wardens' Prison
- 21 The Wounded Coast
- Main article: Codex entry: The Anderfels
The Anderfels are a land of shocking extremes. It is the most desolate place in all the world, for two Blights have left great expanses of the steppes so completely devoid of life that corpses cannot even decay there—no insect or grub will ever reach them.
It is a land filled with wonders like the Merdaine, with its gigantic white statue of Our Lady carved into its face, her hands outstretched and bearing an eternal flame, or Weisshaupt Fortress, with its walls of living rock towering over the desolate plains below.
The Anders, too, are a people of extremes: The most devout priests and the most deadly soldiers, the poorest nation in the world and the most feared.
The Bone Pit
I interviewed the surviving slave this morning. She was horror-struck, but managed to tell me her chilling story.
The Overseer lined seventeen slaves up, one behind the other, at the lip of the quarry. The second slave in line was ordered to push the man in front over the edge. The third slave pushed the second, the fourth the third, and on it went.
Workers in the quarry heard the screams, the crack of bone against rock, and then the survivor's anguished cries as the Overseer's dragonlings feasted on the sixteen helpless bodies splayed upon the quarry's basin. The woman who told me this story was the seventeenth in line, spared only because no one stood behind her.
Sire, I recommend we stop this ugly practice. Effective as it may be in motivating workers, it's also bringing our mine notoriety as a death trap. Stories of the "bone pit" swirl throughout Kirkwall. The Veil is thin enough here, and above that pit it is practically ready to sunder. We risk more than simple rebellion should the overseer be allowed to continue.
—A letter from Prefex Santarius, 35 Ancient
The output of the Maharian Quarry is up almost a third this season, and the Overseer has received a commendation from the archon himself. You will speak of your findings to no one.
—A response from Magister Quillan, 35 Ancient
- Main article: Codex entry: Chateau Haine
Chateau Haine, situated on the western verge of the Vimmark Mountains, is one of the many estates of the illustrious de Montfort family of Orlais. Duke Prosper de Montfort vacations at the estate frequently, particularly during wyvern-hunting season.
The structure was built late in the Black Age for Lord Norbert de la Haine, whose treasonous schemes to seize power in the Free Marches led to a call for his execution. Lord Norbert escaped to what was then Fortress Haine and barricaded himself within. The siege lasted a hundred days. Eventually, Antivan Crows slit the lord's throat while he slept. The estate's scandalous past left it unoccupied for long thereafter.
When the Fourth Blight ravaged the Free Marches, Fortress Haine served as a garrison for the Grey Wardens. The Wardens dug a hollow into the mountain's interior; when darkspawn attacked Kirkwall and Cumberland, citizens of both cities took refuge in the caves, which came to be known as "the Retreat."
After the Wardens left victorious, Fortress Haine was presented to Ser Gaston de Montfort, a chevalier of Orlais. The building was converted from military keep to pleasure palace and rechristened "Chateau Haine."
—From Portrait of the Free Marches, by Guillaume van der Haute
The City of Kirkwall
- Main article: Codex entry: The City of Kirkwall
Kirkwall once lived on the edge of the Tevinter Imperium and was home to nearly a million slaves. Stolen from elven lands or shipped from across the sea, all slaves fed the Imperium's unquenchable thirst for expansion. They worked in massive quarries and sweltering foundries that produced stone and steel for the Empire.
The city's complicated past is not easy to forget, history having earmarked many corners of the stone city. A ship approaching the harbor spots the city's namesake: an imposing black wall. It is visible for miles, and carved into the cliff side are a pantheon of vile guardians representing the Old Gods. Over the years, the Chantry has effaced many of these profane sentinels, but it will take many more years to erase them all.
Also carved into the cliff is a channel that permits ships into the city's interior. Flanking the channel are two massive bronze statues—the Twins of Kirkwall. The statues have a practical use. Kirkwall sits next to the narrowest point of the Waking Sea, and a massive chain net can be erected between the statues and the lighthouse, closing off the only narrow navigable lane. This stranglehold on sea traffic is jealously guarded by the ever-changing rulers of the city as the net trolls taxes, tolls, and extortions in from the sea.
—From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi
The City of Starkhaven
- Main article: Codex entry: The City of Starkhaven
Starkhaven, the largest city in the Free Marches, sits on the bank of the great Minanter River. I remember my visit to the city quite clearly. I was taken up the river by barge—a cumbersome vessel that moved at a stately pace—and disembarked by the city's central square, an impressive space with marble fountains and surrounded by kingly estates.
Starkhaven's wealth was truly a sight to behold. A path paved in granite led up to the grandest building I've ever seen. My guide indicated that this was the residence of Starkhaven's ruler, Prince Vael.
We supped at the table of my guide's closest friend. I was presented with a variety of dishes from the region. One in particular stood out: fish and egg pie, Starkhaven's most famous dish. Three deboned fish, caught just that day, were cooked in a porcelain vessel with boiled eggs, dried fruit, spices, and thickened cream, all topped with a light crust. Superb!
Geography of Thedas
- Main article: Codex entry: Geography of Thedas
Thedas is bounded to the east by the Amaranthine Ocean, to the west by Tirashan Forest and the Hunterhorn Mountains, to the south by the snowy wastes that lie beyond the Orkney Mountains, and to the north by Donark Forest.
The word "Thedas" is Tevinter in origin, originally used to refer to lands that bordered the Imperium. As the Imperium lost its stranglehold on conquered nations, more and more lands became Thedas, until finally people applied the name to the entire continent.
The northern part of Thedas is divided amongst the Anderfels, the Tevinter Imperium, Antiva, and Rivain, with the islands held by the Qunari just off the coast. Central Thedas consists of the Free Marches, Nevarra, and Orlais, with Ferelden to the south.
What lies beyond the snowy wastes is a mystery. The freezing temperatures and barren land have kept even the most intrepid cartographers at bay. Similarly, the western reaches of the Anderfels have never been fully explored, even by the Anders themselves. We do not know if the dry steppes are shadowed by mountains, or if they extend all the way to a nameless sea.
There must be other lands, continents or islands, perhaps across the Amaranthine or north of Par Vollen, for the Qunari arrived in Thedas from somewhere, but beyond that deduction, we know nothing.
Kirkwall - Darktown
- Main article: Codex entry: Kirkwall - Darktown
Unsurprisingly, the tunnels became a refuge for those fleeing captivity. A similar trend continues today. The "Undercity," as some call it, is home to the diseased, the insane, to criminals, and even the dead—unwanted corpses are often discarded here by murderers and lazy undertakers.
Darktown's slums makes Lowtown look pleasant in comparison. The foul miasma known as chokedamp clogs and swells in every corner of the Darktown, creating a poisonous mist. Its sewers are a dangerous place. The walls are damp, slick, and coated with phosphorescent lichen. The sewer is a maze, and one foolish enough to enter is not likely to be heard from again.
Kirkwall - Hightown
- Main article: Codex entry: Kirkwall - Hightown
At the height of the Tevinter Imperium's slave trade, Kirkwall's elite prospered beyond dreams of avarice. Hightown was built for the wealthiest slavers, its glitzy mansions rising atop a great wall of rock that borders, on one side, the Waking Sea. Lowtown cowered on its other side until Kirkwall's slaves rose to plunder and destroy Hightown's riches.
Today, Hightown's prominent buildings are the Keep, home to the ruling viscount, and the chantry, home to the grand cleric and the city's religious center. Both are converted estates that once housed wealthy magisters, rebuilt and converted after the uprising.
Kirkwall - Lowtown
- Main article: Codex entry: Kirkwall - Lowtown
Today, Lowtown is a labyrinth of shantytowns, corridors, and hexagonal courtyards—"hexes" in the local parlance. Lowtown's poorest live in caves hewn out of the cliff face. The district is shoddily built and bears scars caused by collapsing walls. Foundry smoke smothers the area. Only a cold winter storm clears the air, but the icy wind howling over the mouths of old mineshafts hardly counts as relief.
Occasionally, these Darktown shafts erupt with gouts of foul air known as chokedamp. It's not uncommon to find whole slums silently suffocated, frozen in the midst of everyday activity.
The walls surrounding Lowtown are highest by the harbor. Its busiest street leads up to Hightown, where the wealthiest Kirkwallers perch. When one stands in Lowtown, all one sees other than the rocky walls is Hightown. It glitters overhead, always in sight, yet always beyond reach.
Kirkwall - The Elven Alienage
- Main article: Codex entry: Kirkwall - The Elven Alienage
Kirkwall's alienage is even more dilapidated than the rest of Lowtown, but the elves go to great lengths keeping the place looking bright and festive. The vhenadahl ("Tree of the People") standing in the middle of the alienage is a symbol for elven pride and shared cultural identity, and it is lovingly cared for.
It's difficult to say if the elves would continue confining themselves to the alienage if they were given the chance to mingle. They may not admit it, but some feel that living among their kind is far better than living with humans, no matter how terrible alienage life may be.
Kirkwall - The Gallows
- Main article: Codex entry: Kirkwall - The Gallows
Statues of tortured slaves fill the Gallows courtyard, a ghastly memento of Kirkwall's history. Fifteen-hundred years ago, Kirkwall was the Tevinter Imperium's largest quarry, feeding the construction of the Imperial Highway.
The Imperium's hunger for expansion led to legions of slaves forced into working the quarry. When the empire's construction phase ended, Kirkwall slid naturally into its new role as the capital of the slave trade—the Gallows at its heart.
The statues are not monuments to the suffering of slaves. Every inch and angle of the courtyard was designed by magisters bent on breaking the spirit of newcomers. Executions here took place daily, sometimes hourly, and corpses were hung from gibbets throughout the yard. New slaves trudging in from the docks saw what awaited them.
When Our Lady turned her armies against the Imperium, the slaves of Kirkwall revolted and claimed the city for themselves. The Gallows stood empty for two hundred years, not to be reopened until the crowning of Divine Justinia I. The Gallows transformed the city again when the abandoned prison tower became the home of Kirkwall's Circle.
—From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of a Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi
The Korcari Wilds
- Main article: Codex entry: The Korcari Wilds
It is said that in the midst of the Black Age, when werewolves stalked the lands of Ferelden in numbers that kept every farmholder indoors and a hound on every doorstep, a powerful arl of the Alamarri peoples stood and declared that he would put an end to the threat. His arling stood on the border of the dark forest on the southern border of the Ferelden Valley, and he claimed that the werewolves used the forest to launch their midnight assaults on humanity.
For 20 years, this arl led an army of warriors and hounds deep into the forest. In his hunt for the werewolves, he slew not only every wolf he came upon, but also every member of the Chasind wilder folk. Any one of them, he said, could harbor a demon inside and thus be a werewolf in disguise. For 20 years, the forest rang with screams, and the rivers ran red.
The tales say that an old Chasind woman found her sons all dead at the arl's blades. She pulled one of those very blades from one son's heart and plunged it into her own chest, cursing the arl's name as she did so. Where her blood touched the ground, a mist began to rise. It spread and spread until it was everywhere in the forest. The arl's army became lost, and it is said that they died there. Others say they wander still. The ruins of his arling stand to this day, filled with the ghosts of women waiting eternally for their husbands to return.
The forest of the legend is, of course, the Korcari Wilds. There are as many legends about the great southern forest as there are shadows, or so the saying goes. The Chasind wilder folk have made their home there since mankind first came to these lands, and the wildlands spread as far into the south as anyone has ventured. Beyond the mists are vast tracts of snow, white-capped mountains, and entire fields of ice. It is a land too cold for mankind to survive, yet the Chasind eke out an existence even there, and they tell of horrors beyond the Wilds that the lowland folk could not begin to comprehend.
To most, Ferelden simply ends with the Korcari Wilds: There is nothing beyond. The Wilds is a land of great trees, wet marshes and dangerous monsters. What more need be said?
- Main article: Codex entry: Nevarra
The fourth time I attempted to cross the border into Nevarra from Orlais and was turned back by Chevaliers, I decided to take the more roundabout path: a ship back to Ferelden, and then another to Nevarra. The outcome was more than worth the trouble.
The whole country is filled with artistry, from the statues of heroes that litter the streets in even the meanest villages to the glittering golden College of Magi in Cumberland. Perhaps nowhere is more astonishing than the vast necropolis outside Nevarra City. Unlike most other followers of Andraste, the Nevarrans do not burn their dead. Instead, they carefully preserve the bodies and seal them in elaborate tombs. Some of the wealthiest Nevarrans begin construction of their own tombs while quite young, and these become incredible palaces, complete with gardens, bathhouses, and ballrooms, utterly silent, kept only for the dead.
The Orlesian Empire
- Main article: Codex entry: The Orlesian Empire
There are many lords and ladies in Val Royeaux.
And I mean this literally. Once, the system of noble titles in Orlais was labyrinthine: There were barons and baronnes and baronets and sur-barons and a horde of others, each with its own origins and its own nuances of comparison. The Orlesian aristocracy is ancient and much given to competition. All the nobility play the Grand Game, as it is known, whether they wish to or not. It is a game of reputation and patronage, where moves are made with rumors and scandal is the chief weapon. No gentle game, this. More blood has been drawn as a result of the Grand Game than any war the Orlesians have fought. Of this, I am assured by almost every gentleman here.
As far as titles went, everything changed with the coming of Emperor Drakon, who established the Orlesian Empire as it exists now, and who created the Chantry. There is no more venerated figure in Orlais; in Val Royeaux, the statue of Drakon stands as tall as the statue of Andraste. Drakon determined that the Grand Game was tearing Orlais apart, so he abolished all titles besides his own, and lord, and lady.
I am told, with some twittering amusement, that this action did not end the Grand Game as Drakon had intended. Now the lords and ladies collected unofficial titles rather than official ones, such as "the exalted patron of Tassus Klay" or "uncle to the champion of Tremmes." It is a headache to remember such titles, and one winces to think of the poor doormen at the balls who must rattle them off as each guest enters the room.
The aristocracy is different from Ferelden in other ways, as well. The Orlesians' right to rule stems directly from the Maker. There exists neither the concept of rule by merit nor the slightest notion of rebellion. If one is not noble, one aspires to be—or at the least aspires to be in the good graces of a noble, and is ever watching for a way to enter the patronage of those better placed in the Grand Game.
And then there are the masks. And the cosmetics: I have not seen so much paint since the kennels at Highever. But that is another story.
Par Vollen: The Occupied North
History calls this the First Qunari War, but it was mostly a one-sided bloodbath, with the Qunari advancing far into the mainland. Qunari warriors in glittering steel armor carved through armies with ease. Their cannons, the likes of which our ancestors had never seen, reduced city walls to rubble in a matter of seconds.
Stories of Qunari occupation vary greatly. It is said they dismantled families and sent captives to "learning camps" for indoctrination into their religion. Those who refused to cooperate disappeared to mines or construction camps.
For every tale of suffering, however, there is another of enlightenment deriving from something called the "Qun." This is either a philosophical code or a written text that governs all aspects of Qunari life, perhaps both. One converted Seheran reported pity for those who refused to embrace the Qun, as if the conquerors had led him to a sort of self-discovery. "For all my life, I followed the Maker wherever his path led me," he wrote, "but in the Qun I have found the means to travel my own path."
It has been said that the most complete way to wipe out a people is not with blades but with books. Thankfully, a world that had repelled four Blights would not easily bow to a foreign aggressor. And so the Exalted Marches began.
The greatest advantage of the Chantry-led forces was the Circle of Magi. For all their technology, the Qunari appeared to harbor great hatred for magic. Faced with cannons, the Chantry responded with lightning and balls of fire.
The Qunari armies lacked the sheer numbers of humanity. So many were slain at Marnas Pell, on both sides, that the Veil is said to be permanently sundered, the ruins still plagued by restless corpses. But each year, the Chantry pushed further and further into the Qunari lines, although local converts to the Qun proved difficult to return to Andraste's teachings.
By the end of the Storm Age, the Qunari were truly pushed back. Rivain was the only human land that retained the Qunari religion after being freed, and its rulers attempted to barter a peace. Most human lands signed the Llomerryn Accord, excepting the Tevinter Imperium. It is a shaky peace that has lasted to this day.
—From The Exalted Marches: An Examination of Chantry Warfare, by Sister Petrine, Chantry scholar
The Primeval Thaig
It's difficult getting a straight answer out of the scavenger. These sods get themselves so blighted they can't think straight, much less keep spit in their mouths. He says, however, that he's gone down into parts of the Deep Roads that are so old that our people forgot them long before the Blight even happened.
He spoke of great statues and temples--temples! He spoke of things that could have only been made of magic and of impossible ruins untouched by darkspawn. He described creatures the likes of which we've never seen.
None of it's possible, of course. I've conferred with the Shaper and he says the Memories date back to the founding of the first thaig--what could have come before that? Yes, we're unable to explore these depths the scavenger spoke of because of the darkspawn, but surely the Memories would speak of such places if they existed.
Yet in this scavenger's belongings, amidst all the filth, there was a single idol. It was clearly of dwarven make, but not resembling any Paragon on record. The idol was dressed in a manner I've never seen. The Shaper of Memories also could not identify it or the substance from which it was made. The thought that the Memories might be wrong is... unsettling.
- Main article: Codex entry: Rivain
The Chant of Light never truly reached the ears of these people. The years they spent under the thumb of the Qunari left most of the country zealous followers of the Qun. But resistance to the Chant goes deeper than the Qunari War. The Rivaini refuse to be parted from their seers, wise women who are in fact hedge mages, communicating with spirits and actually allowing themselves to become possessed. The Chantry prohibition against such magical practices violates millennia of local tradition.
—From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of A Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi
- Main article: Codex entry: Sundermount
Kirkwall is guarded by mountains to it north, the tallest of which is Sundermount. The mountain has a fearsome reputation. Legend says it was the site of the final battle between the Tevinter Imperium of old and the ancient empire of elves that perished with Arlathan. Both sides unleashed horrors into the waking world, and Fade creatures prowl the heights to this very day, unaware that the war for which they were summoned is long since over.
There is a tale in the Free Marches that Blessed Andraste, upon reaching Kirkwall with her armies, sojourned up the slopes of Sundermount alone. She stayed there three days. When she returned, she wept as if her heart were broken.
I stayed two months in Kirkwall, and despite my best efforts, I never found a guide willing to take me up the mountain.
The Tevinter Imperium (Dragon Age II)
- Main article: Codex entry: The Tevinter Imperium (Dragon Age II)
The old Imperial Highway is still in use across most of Thedas. The ruins of Tevinter fortresses and centers of magical study still litter our landscape, long after the glory of the Imperium dimmed. But the influence of that ancient empire goes deeper than this. Without Tevinter, there would have been no Blights, no Andraste, no Chantry. Every aspect of our world would be altered.
The might and majesty of the Imperium may have faded, but it still makes its presence known, even in the most distant corners of Thedas. Every child has been brought up on stories of Tevinter as it is now: a decadent nation, ruled by the archon and his court of magisters — great, and no doubt corrupt, mage-lords. Their Chantry a mockery of our own, their Black Divine a man chosen from the ranks of the Minrathous Circle of Magi. The Maker's most hallowed law, "Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him," perverted. Mages in the Imperium say their most sacred duty is to serve man, and they serve best by wielding political power.
And the worst, that which Blessed Andraste must weep to see: All of it is built on a foundation of slavery. While most nations forbid the buying and selling of slaves within their own borders, nearly everyone ships her people to the Imperium for sale, skirting the prohibitions against such atrocities, and feeding the Imperium's endless hunger for bodies: To fight the Qunari, to work the mines and quarries, to build the palaces of the magisters, to sweep the crumbling streets and turn the middens and serve at the whim of their mage overseers.
—From Black City, Black Divine: A Study of the Tevinter Imperium, by Sister Petrine, Chantry scholar
The Wardens' Prison
- Main article: Codex entry: The Wardens' Prison
The Grey Wardens' prison in the Vimmark Mountains is believed to have been constructed more than a thousand years ago. The original method of construction has been lost to history, but the Warden-Commanders of the Free Marches have maintained the prison's secret through the centuries.
The prison is concealed in a great rift in the Vimmark Mountains, far from any easily-traveled mountain passes. The Wardens themselves have spread rumors of banditry and beasts to prevent explorers from approaching.
The prison consists of a central tower built into the rift with magically-maintained bridges allowing access at different levels. Each level is sealed by a blood magic ritual in which a mage of untainted blood uses his own life essence to create a magical barrier that is permeable from the outside yet impenetrable from within. This one-way access has caused other darkspawn—and perhaps unwary travelers—to be caught within the prison's confines. Those who disappear inside never re-emerge.
The Wounded Coast
- Main article: Codex entry: The Wounded Coast
One of the few roads leading into Kirkwall passes through a dangerous area known as the Wounded Coast. The road winds close to the cliff edge that looms over waters with many a precipitous drop to the churning waves below. There's many a local legend involving travelers falling, or jumping, or having been flung from those heights.
From the cliffs, the road leads through jagged hills that line the pass like sharp teeth. Bandits use these hills as cover from which to ambush caravans. There's more to fear here than bandits, of course. Once one leaves the hills, you come upon a maze of sharp canyons, the hunting grounds for many fierce creatures. It is a place of secrets dating back to the golden age of the Tevinter Imperium, where Ancient relics and statues crumble in time with the rocks.