“You have to bear witness and understand why it is so important to stop them. The Joining, the Calling...it's all worthwhile if it holds back the darkspawn. Once you understand what they are.”―Sekah, Warden-Recruit from the Hossberg Circle of Magi
The darkspawn are a race of humanoid tainted creatures that mostly dwell in the underground of Thedas. They are believed to be soulless. When the darkspawn uncover one of the Old Gods, they expose it to the taint, changing it into an Archdemon, which then leads them in an attack against the surface world called a Blight. The darkspawn are perhaps the single greatest threat to all of Thedas; they are bloodthirsty, exceptionally numerous and willing to indiscriminately kill or corrupt all in their path.
- See also: Second Sin
According to the Chantry, they were created when the Magisters Sidereal of the Tevinter Imperium opened a portal into the Golden City, tainting the realm of the Maker with their corruption and returning as the first darkspawn, their evil transfiguring them into the monsters they became. The taint they carried infected others, turning them into darkspawn as well.
With their increased numbers, the first darkspawn went underground and dug deeper and deeper into the earth until they found the resting place of the Old God Dumat, where he had been imprisoned. Freed from his prison and warped by the taint the darkspawn bore, Dumat became the first of the Archdemons and led the darkspawn to lay waste to the world in what would become known as the First Blight.
The dwarves give little credit to Chantry beliefs, but they themselves have no known origin story for the darkspawn. As far as the dwarves are concerned, the darkspawn simply appeared underground with some Shapers hypothesizing that there is a queen broodmother − the first mother. The darkspawn hordes first invaded the Deep Roads ended up crippling the dwarven empire, leaving only Orzammar and Kal-Sharok, the latter was discovered only recently that it survived.
According to Dorian Pavus and Fenris, magisters deny their involvement in starting the Blight. They claim the darkspawn have always existed and the magisters have no connection to them. Slaves are not regaled with a Tevinter version of the Chant of Light, so Fenris could not confirm if there is an official Imperial Chantry stance beyond typical Tevinter opinion.
With the fall of the Golden City and the beginning of the First Blight in -395 Ancient (800 TE), a dark age descended onto Thedas as the darkspawn rampaged across the continent, destroying everything in their path. The Tevinter Imperium suffered greatly, becoming severely weakened and fractured under the strain of the invasion, while the subterranean empire of the dwarves was laid waste, with only their four major kingdoms Orzammar, Gundaar, Hormak and Kal-Sharok surviving. After nearly a century of hopeless, unending war, the Order of the Grey Wardens was established at Weisshaupt Fortress in -305 Ancient (890 TE), and proved instrumental in the defeat of the Archdemon Dumat at the Battle of the Silent Plains. The darkspawn invasion had been beaten, but the darkspawn would retreat underground to rebuild and recover.
Over the centuries, four more Blights would occur, the latest occurring in 9:30 Dragon. Each time, the Blight would be stopped with heavy losses, with the darkspawn destroying entire cities or even kingdoms before being beaten back by the nations of Thedas and the Grey Wardens. With the exception of Anderfels, darkspawn appearances on the surface most frequently promote fears of a Blight, however this does not occur until an Archdemon is awakened by the darkspawn. Without an Archdemon leading them, darkspawn hordes are much smaller and less effective in the raids they often launch, but are still dangerous. However, that is not the case in the underground, as the dwarves have been constantly fighting a losing battle against the darkspawn for more than a millennium. This has resulted in the underground of Thedas being almost entirely controlled by darkspawn with the exception of what remains of the kingdoms of Orzammar and Kal-Sharok. Some thaigs have been recently reclaimed, but at heavy costs to the dwarves.
Physiology and reproduction
Darkspawn are described as pale creatures with strange blackness bleeding out of their eyes and mouths. Black ichor flows in their bodies. Darkspawn do not need to eat as the taint sustains them, however they can eat for reasons other than dietary. Furthermore, the taint provides quick healing from wounds which also explains the absence of healing skills among the darkspawn. Thus, ogres can regenerate to full health within a matter of minutes. This healing even allows the re-creation of lost body parts after some time.
The darkspawn have good vision in the darkness but they're weaker at sunlight. Even during the Blights, when the sun is hidden by ominous clouds as a result of blight magic, the darkspawn are still weaker and more timid by daylight than they are at night.
As a species, the darkspawn are asexual and unable to reproduce. This task is left to a specific form of ghoul, referred to as broodmothers. Captured female prisoners are infected with the taint and are force-fed darkspawn tissue and vomit. Those that survive this process undergo a horrific transformation and become massively swollen creatures that exist to breed more darkspawn.A single broodmother is capable of giving birth to thousands of darkspawn during their lives, and each race produces a different type of darkspawn. Humans produce hurlocks, dwarves produce genlocks, elves produce the sharlocks, popularly known as shrieks, and Qunari produce ogres. Darkspawn feature similar traits to the race their broodmother once was, such as genlocks having magical resistance. Newborn darkspawn look more or less like the Children.
The newborn darkspawn will inevitably fight amongst themselves and try to kill each other, possibly by instinct. This serves to weed out the weaker darkspawn. Occasionally one young darkspawn will be so much more powerful than the rest that it kills the entire brood. This darkspawn is called an alpha. They are generally taller, stronger and much more intelligent than the rest of their kind. They also wear better armor.
Accordingly, an even more powerful alpha that manages to slay other alphas gains the extremely rare omega rank. Only one omega-ranked darkspawn was ever fought directly, during a random encounter.
Emissaries are highly intelligent darkspawn that draw on the power of the taint to cast spells. They act as "shamans" or spiritual leaders to the darkspawn. Emissary alphas are the most powerful of the magic wielding darkspawn.
Mature darkspawn continue to disfavor each other and tend to group together with their own kind (genlocks with genlocks, etc.) even when traveling in force.
During a Blight only an Archdemon can command the entire darkspawn horde. Alphas serve as the commanders and generals of the darkspawn, while omegas are "second-in-command" to the Archdemon. The strongest alphas and omegas receive direct orders from the Archdemon itself. Emissaries ensure that darkspawn follow the Archdemon's will and that alphas serve the Archdemon's interests and not their own.
Without a Blight, the darkspawn remain underground except for raids. When there isn't an Archdemon to direct the darkspawn, the "chain of command" within the communal mind of the darkspawn breaks down, with individual alphas and omegas assuming a sort of leadership position as "tyrants", splitting the horde amongst themselves and fighting for dominance. Emissaries ensure that darkspawn search for the Archdemons outside of a Blight.
Communication and sapience
Common knowledge is that the average darkspawn can barely be considered sapient and possesses no intelligence beyond a simple animal cunning. Yet they should not be underestimated. Darkspawn are capable of coordinated action. Shrieks and genlock rogues excel at ambushing and attacking the unwary, they employ poison and demonstrate group tactics. Darkspawn seem to show little fear, and though they will retreat if they begin to lose a fight without an Archdemon guiding them, they will never surrender to their foes and will continue fighting even if countless numbers of their brethren have been slain.
The darkspawn rank and file do not possess any language beyond hissing, roars and grunts. Despite this, they communicate well with one another, and some can be heard laughing cruelly as they attack and slay their foes. All darkspawn are connected through the taint, functioning as a hive-mind. They can even sense Grey Wardens just as the latter sense them. Emissaries and at least some alphas are capable of speech. Thus, emissaries occasionally taunt or deliver ultimatums to their foes..
When not already under the thrall of an Archdemon, and when not engaged in raids (either on each other or other sentients), the darkspawn relentlessly search for the sleeping Old Gods, drawn by what they hear as the "song" of the dragons. This need seems to override nearly anything else; the darkspawn will search without rest for an Old God for centuries if need be.
Darkspawn worship them even in their absence. They constructed strange and macabre idols, banners, and totems from bone, leather, and even flesh, dedicated to their masters and convert statues into their representations. One of the former Archdemon prisons was filled with darkspawn corpses who died praying to their god.
Culture and technology
The darkspawn have very little resembling a recognizable form of culture. They do not have names, with The Disciples being a notable exception. Nor do they build homes. A darkspawn nest is an underground chamber overgrown with organic strands, full of black tendrils and sacs of corrupted flesh. Yet hurlocks are known to adorn themselves with roughly-carved tattoos to keep track of their kills and deeds.
Darkspawn possess a certain limited crafting expertise. It is primarily related to the production of crude armor and weaponry, as well as primitive fortifications from the remnants of dwarven supplies found in the Deep Roads. Darkspawn can't swim and don't have ships.
Darkspawn and other races
“There is no talk. No negotiation. You will die. Your world will die. Now you understand.”
Darkspawn exist solely for one purpose - war against all sentient beings in Thedas. As a rule, they are completely hostile to outsiders. Anyone caught venturing underground will be attacked, and anything caught in their path during a raid or a Blight will be mercilessly slaughtered. Surrendering to darkspawn is generally foolish; even if they spare a prisoner's life, they will still drag them back to the Deep Roads.
Those who come in contact with darkspawn will eventually contract the blight disease and either perish outright or turn into ghouls. Once the taint progresses enough, the darkspawn recognize them as their own kind and ghouls can sense darkspawn. Such people often show signs of insanity and usually work for the darkspawn in order to craft their weapons and armor.
Darkspawn constantly wage war with the dwarves outside of the Blights (except the First Blight); this has led many subterranean dwarves to view Blights as a grand and peaceful time, as these are the only occasions when the darkspawn empty the Deep Roads and cease attacking them.
- Codex entry: Broodmother
- Codex entry: Darkspawn
- Codex entry: Genlock
- Codex entry: Hurlock
- Codex entry: Ogre
- Codex entry: Armored Ogre
- Codex entry: Shriek
- Codex entry: The First Darkspawn
- Codex entry: Genlock
- Codex entry: Darkspawn
- Codex entry: Darkspawn Emissary
- Codex entry: Genlock
- Codex entry: Hurlock
- Codex entry: Hurlock Alpha
- Codex entry: Ogre
- Codex entry: Shriek
- In The Darkspawn Chronicles DLC, the player assumes the role of a Hurlock vanguard in an alternate storyline in which the Warden died during their Joining.
- While little is known about darkspawn physiology, if Isabela is in Hawke's party during the quest Fool's Gold in Dragon Age II she will say, "The darkspawn smashed the chest. Fine! But did they have to piss on it too?," implying that darkspawn apparently still retain some normal biological processes. Additionally Anders will say "Bloody darkspawn shit on everything they touch," but he may be speaking metaphorically given his angry tone. He also claims that darkspawn don't eat, the taints sustains them living.
- The Darkspawn race and origins bear similarities to the origin of Orcs in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. As the magisters tried to usurp Heaven, the Ainur Morgoth and his followers tried to usurp Valinor; they were cast out to Arda, where they corrupted many living things to serve them; the Magisters Sidereal were cast down to Thedas, and the Taint they brought corrupted many. Without Dark Lords leading them, orcs tend to remain underground, and often war with dwarves, as do the darkspawn without Archdemons.
- The darkspawn did not exist in David Gaider's original conception of Thedas. It was the lead designer, James Ohlen, who requested that the player have an evil horde to fight - an enemy they wouldn't mind killing. Gaider was not initially pleased - writing that it "ran smack against the very theme I’d tried to establish". To "figure out if there was a version of orcs that… maybe I wouldn’t mind so much", Gaider suggested this horde be a "living plague" instead, that would visit the world periodically, and thus the darkspawn were created.
- Crows instinctively fear and avoid Blighted lands
- A classified collection of studies on the darkspawn called The Blighted Codex is held safely in the Imperial Library in Minrathous and is available only to members of the Magisterium.