- “In time, the human empires will crumble. We have seen it happen countless times. Until then, we wait, we keep to the wild border lands, we raise halla and build aravels and present a moving target to the humans around us. We try to keep hold of the old ways, to relearn what was forgotten.” ―Gisharel, Keeper of the Ralaferin Clan
The Dalish seek to recover, inherit and preserve the knowledge and sacred treasures of the two fallen kingdoms. They lead nomadic lives, wandering throughout Thedas. Their 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. They still revere the elven pantheon and each member of a tribe will tattoo the symbol of their chosen god on their face.
Culture and clan life
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 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.
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. Merrill for example was born in the Alerion clan, but due to her magical talents she was given to the Sabrae clan to be the First of Keeper Marethari as clan Alerion already had a number of gifted elves.
Many Dalish live by goddess of the hunt Andruil's code known as the Vir Tanadhal, meaning "Way of Three Trees" of "the Ways of the Hunter." It is made of three parts, taught by Andruil herself, which are:
- Vir Assan ("Way of the Arrow") - fly straight and do not waver. "Be swift and silent," Andruil taught. "Strike true; do not waver. And let not your prey suffer."
- Vir Bor'Assan ("Way of the Bow") - bend but never break. "As the sapling bends, so must you. In yielding, find resilience; in pliancy, find strength."
- Vir Adahlen ("Way of the Forest" or "Way of the Wood") - together we are stronger than the one. "Receive the gifts of the hunt with mindfulness. Respect the sacrifice of my children. Know that your passing shall nourish them in turn."
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."
A few follow a different path, Sylaise's code known as Vir Atish'an, "The Way of Peace": Dalish following this calling learn the arts of the healer and the mender.
When dealing with one another, Dalish elves may invoke Vir Sulevanin, a bargain by which an elf will complete a given task for another in return for something, such as a valuable clan item. Though the recipient of this bargain may dissent, they cannot reject an offer of Vir Sulevanin. Similarly, the elf offering the bargain must apparently agree to the task set to them whether it is desirable or not.
Known dalish clans
- Alerion, where Merrill was born
- Ralaferin clan, whose Keeper is Gisharel
- Sabrae, the Dalish Warden's clan.
- Unnamed Velanna's clan
- Unnamed Yevven's clan
- Unnamed Zathrian's clan
- Unnamed Ariane's clan
- Unnamed clan that found young Loghain and Maric in Korcari Wilds
Notable Dalish elves
- Rajmael, a Dalish general during exalted march against the Dales
- 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.
- According to Zevran there are Dalish elves in Antiva City, but they are much more violent than those in Ferelden.
- In the old BioWare forums, David Gaider stated that Dalish in Rivain have a semi-permanent settlement in the city of Llomerryn. However, a party banter during Act 2 in Dragon Age II between Isabela and Merrill reveals that the Dalish have not yet reached Llomerryn.
- It is unknown whether or not Dalish elves live longer than the city elves, since David Gaider and Mary Kirby have given conflicting information regarding their longevity. 
- When Dalish elves die, their clan will bury them and plant a tree over their remains.