The Grey Wardens are an order of warriors of exceptional ability dedicated to fighting darkspawn throughout Thedas. They are headquartered in the very place of their founding, the Weisshaupt Fortress in the Anderfels, but maintain a presence in most other nations as well.
The Grey Wardens are known for ignoring a recruit's racial, social, national, and even criminal background if they deem the person valuable in terms of character, ability or skill.
Despite their small numbers, the Grey Wardens have been instrumental in defeating each Blight so far, and thus are vital to the survival of the world as a whole.
- “You will guard them and they will hate you for it. Whenever there is not a Blight actively crawling over the surface, humanity will do its best to forget how much they need you. And that's good. We need to stand apart from them, even if they have to push us away to make us do it. That is the only way we can ever make the hard decisions.” ―Kristoff, former Commander of the Grey of Orlais
- “Garahel always used to say that heroism was just another word for horror, and maybe a worse one. A hero always feels that he has to do what's right. Sometimes that leads to tormenting himself with doubt long after the deed is done. Or herself...” ―Amadis Vael, princess-captain of the Ruby Drakes mercenary company, and lover of Garahel
- "Nobody wants to hear how the sausage is made."
- —Orlesian noblewoman, speaking of the Grey Wardens' quickly forgotten and little acknowledged burdens
First Blight and the founding
To the wisest I sang, To the wing'd cup-bearers of the tall sky-vaulting...
The First Blight occurred in -395 Ancient (800 TE), when a plague was unleashed upon the world. The Deep Roads, underground highways built by dwarves, were swarmed with monstrous creatures that became known as the "darkspawn". These creatures seemed limitless in number, and spread a taint that infected other living creatures, mutating them into monsters, and corrupted and poisoned the very environment around them. The cult of the Maker claimed this was the result of Tevinter mages entering the Fade through a ritual and attempting to usurp the Golden City, although dwarves and other non-humans discounted the theory. Nevertheless, this invasion of darkspawn — named the Blight — soon destroyed most of the underground kingdoms of the dwarves and spread to the surface world. Thedas was in chaos and entered a dark age. The darkspawn were found to be led by an immensely powerful dragon tainted with the darkspawn corruption; this creature was named an archdemon and believed to be one of the Old Gods worshipped by Tevinter.
In -305 Ancient (890 TE), after nearly a century of bitter war against the darkspawn hordes, a group of veteran warriors came together in Weisshaupt Fortress in the Anderfels, the western part of the Tevinter Imperium. Warden legends sing of their leader Carinus, and the sacrifice the founders made as they tried to save the world while their families perished. It is thought that Nakiri of The Donarks was the one who first suggested imbibing the blood of the darkspawn, as his people were known to consume the blood of their enemies to absorb their power. Tevinter mages in the group added to this knowledge, and it is said that elven slaves also contributed ancient knowledge from Arlathan. This was in return for being treated as equals in the order and with the intention that, after the Blight was ended, they would concentrate on freeing the elves. The Joining symbolically cut their ties to all worldly concerns, in order to dedicate themselves to fighting the darkspawn. They called themselves the Grey Wardens, and would accept anyone, no matter their race or background, without distinction if only deemed suitable to join the order.
The Grey Wardens first appeared on the battlefield during the attack on Nordbotten, arriving mounted on griffons, plunging into the darkspawn with each Warden taking on crowds of ten or twenty darkspawn at once. The commanders of the griffon forces were known as High Constables. Incredibly, they broke the horde and won the battle. They proved to be a desperately needed spark of hope in the darkest of hours, and quickly gained renown since. The Grey Wardens started receiving tithes, supplies, and recruits from all lands; they grew, building fortresses and functioning as elite shock troops making quick and devastating strikes wherever darkspawn appeared, as well as rallying the mundane armies to greater deeds.
During the next 100 years, humanity slowly managed to stand firm and push back the Blight. Finally, in -203 Ancient (992 TE), the Grey Wardens gathered an allied army composed of soldiers from the Tevinter Imperium, the tribes of the Ciraine (the lands that would become Orlais), and Rivain to confront the main darkspawn horde, led by the archdemon now identified as Dumat. The massive battle was waged at the Silent Plains, in what is now southern Tevinter or northern Nevarra: the legion of darkspawn was defeated and Dumat was slain by the Grey Wardens: with the archdemon's death, the horde's will to fight on was broken. It took several years to eradicate the remaining darkspawn from the surface, but the deed was done and the Grey Wardens had carved out their legend. After the Battle of the Silent Plains, they were much celebrated and most nations gave formal promises of support for further darkspawn invasions. Among the tithes that were given to them was also the Right of Conscription to guarantee sufficient recruits.
In 1:5 Divine, approximately 200 years since the slaying of Dumat, the archdemon Zazikel rose to lead the Second Blight. The entire city of Nordbotten — the very place where the Grey Wardens first appeared on the battlefield — was destroyed before a defense could be organized. The Tevinter Imperium withdrew from the Anderfels, abandoning it in an attempt to protect central Tevinter. The Anderfels area was in much trouble, and even the Grey Warden headquarters in Weisshaupt came under siege by the darkspawn.
Fortunately, the armies of the recently founded Orlesian Empire under the command of Emperor Kordillus Drakon I proved both motivated and capable of standing up to the Blight. After several victories against the darkspawn, Drakon's army lifted the siege of Weisshaupt in 1:33 Divine and proceeded to save the rest of the Anderfels together with the Wardens. The Anderfels joined with the Orlesian Empire and the Grey Wardens converted to the Chantry.
In the following decades, the Blight was again slowly pushed back and the Grey Wardens took command of the war. The archdemon Zazikel was finally confronted and slain by the Grey Warden Corin in 1:95 Divine at Starkhaven in the Free Marches.
The Third Blight began with the awakening of Toth in 3:10 Towers, roughly 115 years after the last Blight. The initial darkspawn attacks occurred in central Thedas in Tevinter and Orlais, but even though the hordes were larger than those previously encountered, a rapidly-organized defense led by the Grey Wardens managed to hold them back. The darkspawn attacks started to focus on the more lightly defended Free Marches while Tevinter and Orlais tried to remain neutral, but pressure from the Grey Wardens eventually brought them into the war. The darkspawn horde was crushed at Hunter Fell in the Free Marches in 3:25 Towers, and Toth was slain by the Grey Wardens. The third Blight remained a relatively short event compared to previous Blights.
Not much is told about the Grey Wardens for another 200 years, when Andoral awakened and the Fourth Blight began in 5:12 Exalted. Most of the damage was to the east of traditional Grey Warden territory, in the Free Marches, Antiva, and Rivain, but the Anderfels was also attacked and Hossberg, not far from Weisshaupt, came under siege. This time, both Tevinter and Orlais were lightly attacked and refused to send aid. The hero of the Fourth Blight was an elven Grey Warden named Garahel, who first led the liberation of Hossberg in 5:20 Exalted and then managed to gather an army from the Free Marches to support the Grey Wardens. Garahel's army marched north and faced the main horde in 5:24 Exalted at Ayesleigh, where Garahel perished after personally slaying Andoral.
The Grey Wardens' legendary griffons died out some time after the Fourth Blight.
Exalted Age to Dragon Age
After the fourth Blight, the influence of the Grey Wardens waned considerably. It would be 400 years before the Fifth Blight, and many started to think it would never happen. So many darkspawn were slain during the Fourth Blight that many came to the erroneous conclusion they were defeated permanently. Although remaining an eternal threat to the dwarves, darkspawn were rarely seen by surface people, and the Grey Wardens were slowly dismissed as a relic of a bygone, darker time best left forgotten.
- See also: Battle of Soldier's Peak
In 7:5 Storm, there was an awkward incident in Ferelden with the local Warden-Commander—Sophia Dryden, previously a rival for the crown of Ferelden—becoming involved in a planned coup d'état. The result was fighting between the Grey Wardens and the royal army, the loss of Commander Sophia and her command at Soldier's Peak, and King Arland banishing the order from Ferelden. The Grey Wardens were allowed back in Ferelden by King Maric in 9:10 Dragon and they were able to begin a slow rebuilding, but by 9:30 Dragon, their presence remained light and the order was neither well known nor held in high regard by Ferelden's people - there were a bare handful of Wardens in Ferelden in 9:30, and many of that handful were non-Fereldans moved there to help rebuild the Fereldan contingent.
In 9:30 Dragon, the Fifth Blight finally began with the Architect trying to free the darkspawn from the call of the Old Gods by inducing Grey Warden blood to the unearthed Old God Urthemiel, believing it would help unravel the darkspawn's compulsion to seek the Old Gods at its source. However, the experiment went horribly wrong and resulted instead in the awakening of a new Archdemon. The darkspawn swarmed the Korcari Wilds in southern Ferelden, where they were met by the Fereldan army under King Cailan and Loghain Mac Tir as well as all of Ferelden's Grey Wardens. After a few minor victories against the darkspawn, the royal army was devastated in a major battle at Ostagar when Loghain unexpectedly withdrew, leaving King Cailan and the Grey Wardens to their deaths. All but two Grey Wardens were slain in the massacre; both survivors were new recruits to the order.
Loghain installed himself as regent of Ferelden, denounced the Grey Wardens of Ferelden as traitors and had the Grey Wardens of Orlais that had come to assist Ferelden turned back at the border, believing the Wardens' claims about the Blight a ruse to assist in a new Orlesian conquest of Ferelden. His actions ignited a civil war as the nation's nobility, either disbelieving his explanation regarding Ostagar or outraged by the brutal measures Loghain was taking to hold a throne he had no claim to, battled to a stalemate with Loghain's armies to remove him from power, the darkspawn taking advantage of the infighting to advance deeper into Ferelden unopposed. Having heard what happened at Ostagar, the Grey Wardens decided to dispatch a Grey Warden native to Ferelden, Riordan, to fight Loghain and the Blight simultaneously. From their perspective, if the Grey Wardens expended themselves against Loghain, then they would risk the Blight devastating Thedas once again. Thus, they had to maintain vigil should Ferelden fall to the Blight.Despite the odds, the remaining fereldan Grey Wardens were able to organize an allied army to oppose the Blight using old treaties, and with the aid of Riordan, managed to slay Urthemiel during the Battle of Denerim. The fifth Blight lasted just over one year - by far the shortest Blight in history. In acknowledgement of their efforts, the Grey Wardens were granted the Arling of Amaranthine to allow them to rebuild. This was the first time that the order governed a region, and it was received with interest by the First Warden from Weisshaupt.
The Wardens at Weisshaupt Fortress began a research project into records & materials from the Fourth Blight, searching for past incidents where Wardens acted strangely. They were also searching for any past encounters with intelligent darkspawn capable of thinking and talking like a person. In response to the Mage-Templar War, the Grey Wardens offered amnesty to any mages or Templars wishing to escape the fighting, on the condition of their taking the Joining and entering the Order. The Wardens also invoked the Right of Conscription on such mage recruits to keep them from being harmed by the Templars. 
In Orlais, two different groups of Grey Wardens conspicuously abandoned their assigned hold, selling off their spare horses & livestock at a fraction of their value. According to locals, these Wardens withdrew in a hurry but no readily apparent explanation was found.In the Anderfels, the Grey Wardens recovered a clutch of thirteen live Griffon hatchlings from Red Bride's Grave.
When every Grey Warden in Orlais began to hear the Calling- a bluff elicited by Corypheus, the Grey Wardens grew desperate and sought out allies to help them accomplish their mandate before they perished. Lord Livius Erimond, a Venatori Magister, convinced Warden-Commander Clarel to use their blood magic techniques to raise a demon army and invade the Deep Roads and kill the Old Gods before they wake. Unbeknownst to the Grey Wardens, the demon binding rituals Erimond taught the Grey Warden mages however has the side effect of enslaving them to Corypheus, who will use them to conquer Thedas. Believing that their end is near, Warden-Commander Clarel planned on using the Venatori's blood magic rituals to end all Blights before they all perished, even if it meant sacrificing her fellow Wardens. A senior Warden (that can be Stroud, Alistair, or Loghain Mac Tir) was branded a traitor for protesting Clarel's plan and went into hiding. The fugitive Warden, Hawke, and the Inquisitor scouted the ancient Tevinter ritual tower in the Western Approach to investigate a Grey Warden congregation and learned the truth of the Venatori's blood sacrifice rituals.
Hawke and the fugitive Warden joined the Inquisition as they lay siege to Adamant Fortress. They confront Erimond and Clarel about the truth of the demon binding ritual and attempted to sway the Wardens against Erimond. When Erimond summoned Corypheus' dragon to deal with the Inquisition, Clarel had a change of heart and betrayed Erimond. The dragon attacked and a massive battle ensued. After which, the Inquisition pursued Clarel. Clarel inflicted her wrath on Erimond but was killed by the dragon he had summoned. Clarel's last act was casting a spell that subdued the dragon but its crash caused the ground beneath them to crumble, resulting in the party to fall off the ramparts. The Inquisitor used their mark to open a rift to transport the party to the Fade.
After escaping the Fade and banishing the remaining demons, the Nightmare demon's defeat frees the Grey Warden mages of its control. The Inquisitor decides the fate of the surviving Grey Wardens- either let them aid the Inquisition to atone for their atrocities or banish them from Orlais.
If the Inquisitor banish the Grey Wardens:
The surviving Grey Wardens of Adamant eventually return to Weisshaupt, and it is believed that a battle for control of the Order erupted soon after. If the Warden ally survived the events of Adamant, it's rumored he is leading a rebellion to change the Order from within. Eventually, even the Grey Wardens from the north began to retreat to Weisshaupt and rumors that the order is on the verge of vanishing began to spread, while all news from Weisshaupt cease.
If the Inquisitor ally with the Grey Wardens:The southern Grey Wardens began to slowly rebuild after the events of Adamant, and declare that the Order must change, becoming more open to the general populace. It's rumored that the southern Grey Wardens severed ties with their leaders at Weisshaupt and that both Warden factions are at war. Eventually, all news from Weisshaupt cease.
If Rainier was recruited into the Grey Wardens:Warden Rainier mentions that the Grey Wardens are presently in a state of upheaval and there have been various heated arguments about the future of the order.
The order of Grey Wardens is commanded by the First Warden in Weisshaupt, and consists of a system of semi-autonomous national branches lead by a local commander. Though there is a hierarchy, in practice this is frequently defined by seniority (decided by time of Joining) in the order.
In 9:30 Dragon, the strength of the Grey Wardens is estimated at over 1,000 in the Anderfels, several hundred in Orlais, and around two dozen in Ferelden. With unknown numbers in other nations and the Free Marches.
The official hierarchy of the Grey Wardens, in descending order, is:
- First Warden: Permanently situated at Weisshaupt fortress. The First Warden is mainly a political figure since the griffon extinction, and most military command falls to the Warden-Commanders.
- High Constable: Second-in-command to the First Warden, and formerly the aerial commander during the Wardens' use of griffons. Recently, the High Constable has become the public face of the order, acting as the ambassador to the High King and leading local recruitment.
- Chamberlain of the Grey: The senior archivist at Weisshaupt, and to whom Warden Commanders send yearly reports. The Chamberlain technically outranks Commanders of the Grey.
- Commander of the Grey: Also known as the Warden-Commander. The leader of the Grey Wardens in a given country, and under normal circumstances under little direction by the order. The dwindling communications between Weisshaupt and the branches leave most Warden-Commanders to run their respective branches as they see fit. They can be summoned to Weisshaupt by the First Warden at any time.
- Constable of the Grey: A Warden-Commander's second-in-command, the Constable, colloquially called Warden-Constable, acts as the field commander and steps in when the Warden-Commander is away.
- Senior Warden (or Warden-Lieutenant in Orlais): commands a small group of Wardens or undertakes special missions.
- Warden-Ensign: Generally just called Wardens, these are the members of the Order who have survived the Joining ritual.
- Warden-Recruit: an individual selected to join the Wardens but who has not yet undertaken the Joining ritual. They are given a formal rank just for committing themselves to the Wardens, regardless of whether or not they survive the Joining. Failed recruits' names are kept in the archives of Weisshaupt in honour of their sacrifice.
Recruitment and the Right of Conscription
- "Men and women from every race; warriors and mages, barbarians and kings..."
- —Duncan, Ferelden's Commander of the Grey
- “The Grey Wardens hold a lonely vigil, enduring lives of hardship and sacrifice to protect the world from an evil that can never truly be conquered. Few would volunteer for this: the suffering, isolation, and promise of a violent death. But the path of a Warden is also one of valor, and those who give themselves to the cause are rewarded with the knowledge that they have become something more than they were.”
Should they need to, the Grey Wardens possess the Right of Conscription; they may demand that any individual from king to criminal be drafted into their ranks. However — especially in Ferelden — this right is used sparingly for fear of political reprisal. Further complicating matters, the Grey Wardens don't accept just anyone. Only the best and brightest are invited. In addition, the fact that the Joining ritual kills many of its participants means that the draft may turn out to be a death sentence.
Despite the risks, however, some courageous souls do voluntarily seek out the order. Elves in particular tend to be eager to volunteer for the Grey Wardens, as they recruit regardless of race or social standing and serving is considered by many an honor. Mages are traditionally recruited one per Circle of Magi, and the young mage recruit serves as a Warden their entire life from then on. Similar to serving a ruler, yet greatly removed from the degradation they may normally face in society, mage Wardens are given great respect and importance in the Order. Their facilitation of the Joining ritual is essential.
- Main article: Joining
To become part of the Grey Wardens, a recruit must first go through a ritual called the Joining.
Just as they keep many secrets from outsiders, including the Joining, Grey Wardens also keep certain secrets hidden from many of their own members. As revealed in Dragon Age: The Calling, it is heavily implied that the Calling—also known as the Long Walk—was a ritual created by the first Grey Wardens to prevent future members from watching themselves ultimately succumb to the darkspawn taint. Contrary to belief even among themselves, surviving the Joining does not confer to Grey Wardens a true immunity from "blight sickness", but rather merely delays its onset.
The Calling begins with nightmares or voices from the Old Gods, the same "call" the darkspawn hear to search for the Old Gods. Although Alistair claims it takes a person about thirty years after their joining to hear it, the gap varies depending on their willpower and the level of their interaction with the darkspawn. As such, Grey Wardens during a Blight are likely to have shorter lifespans. Otherwise, it is commonly between ten to thirty years that the Wardens hear the Calling.
According to ritual, the Grey Warden descends underground and celebrates before entering the Deep Roads to slay as many darkspawn as they can before being overwhelmed and slain. The secret of the Calling is implied when Alistair reveals that the taint will kill the Grey Wardens, although this is not true. It is unknown whether the truth was kept from all the Grey Wardens or just its junior members such as Alistair.
Riordan implied that even if a Grey Warden would run away, given time all Wardens would find themselves in the Deep Roads, Blight-Lands or pursued by darkspawn, for they all are connected by the taint that draws them to each other. "You'd seek them out... or they'd seek you out." Thus, one can assume that almost every Grey Warden will die at the hands of darkspawn.
Relations with the dwarves
Grey Wardens and the dwarven people have always had a kinship through their shared battle against the darkspawn. Several notable dwarven warriors, including the legendary Paragon Moroc the Maul, were present at the order's founding. His contribution is a key reason there is no loss of caste associated with becoming a Grey Warden.
Dwarves are viewed as excellent recruits to the order due to their experience against the darkspawn. However, as there are fewer dwarves due to low birth rates, there are also fewer dwarven Wardens. Grey Wardens are also the only surface organization to care about the endless war the dwarves wage against the darkspawn in the Deep Roads.
When the time of a Grey Warden's Calling draws near, a Warden honors a longstanding agreement between the Wardens and the dwarves and serves a year fighting darkspawn in the Deep Roads at the side of the dwarves. When the advance of the taint is unbearable, the Warden is celebrated by the dwarves and then enters the Deep Roads for their Calling. In return the dwarves have signed treaties with the Wardens promising aid in times of a Blight.
Notable Grey Wardens
- Main article: Grey Warden membership
- Carinus: known as the founder of the Grey Warden order
- Caronel, elven Warden from Ferelden, and Arcane Warrior
- Clarel, Warden-Commander of Orlais in 9:41 Dragon
- Corin, Hero of the Second Blight who killed the Archdemon Zazikel
- Duncan, Warden-Commander of Ferelden in 9:30 Dragon
- Garahel, Hero of the Fourth Blight who killed the Archdemon Andoral
- Genevieve, Warden-Commander of Orlais in 8:99 Blessed
- Hafter (dog)
- Isseya: sister of Garahel
- Kell ap Morgan
- Ser Kiersten
- Kristoff: former Commander of the Grey of Orlais; not to be confused with the Kristoff of Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
- Loris, a Hero of the Third Blight
- Nakiri, an Ander from the Donark Forest who suggested using blood as a weapon against the darkspawn, inspiring the Joining ritual
- Neriah, Corin's lover who sacrificed her life to save him
- Rondall, a Ferelden Grey Warden and contemporary of Alistair
- Sophia Dryden, Warden-Commander of Ferelden in 7:5 Storm
- Veldin, an Orlesian Grey Warden present at the closing of Adamant Fortress
- The Warden / The Warden-Commander, Warden-Commander of Ferelden in 9:31 Dragon
- Potential Grey Wardens, depending on player choices:
- Bethany Hawke
- Carver Hawke
- Justice (technically, through Kristoff's Joined corpse)
- Secret Companion
- Nathaniel Howe
- Gregory Dedrick
- Thom Rainier
- Known Warden-Recruits who died taking the Joining:
- Soldier's Peak (defunct unless The Warden aids Levi Dryden)
- Vigil's Keep (including the surrounding Arling of Amaranthine), granted to the Grey Wardens following the Fifth Blight
- Denerim Compound (possibly closed by Loghain Mac Tir)
- Adamant Fortress (abandoned)
- Griffon Wing Keep (abandoned)
- Warden Fortress at Montsimmard
- Facility at Jader
- Valeska's Watch (abandoned)
The heraldry of the Grey Wardens is an argent griffon segreant on azure. The Grey Warden Commanders (at least in the time of Sophia Dryden) seem to have their own heraldry as well. The blazon for that charge might be rendered as "two griffons addorsed, wings elevated, maintaining a branch fesswise". On Sophia Dryden's Warden Commander Armor, the charge appears in or on a field sable. The artistic rendition of the charge on the armor is distinct from that seen on the heavier metal shields.
Power of Blood
Codex entry: The First Blight: Chapter 4
Codex entry: The Grey Wardens
Codex entry: The First Warden
Codex entry: "Oh, Grey Warden"
Codex entry: Regarding the Calling
Codex entry: The Grey Wardens
Codex entry: In Death
Codex entry: Warden Ailsa's Diary
- No Qunari has ever joined the Grey Wardens. There are, however, rumors of several Tal-Vashoth taking the Joining in recent decades.
- Alistair's exposition of the Grey Wardens hearing the Calling thirty years after their joining was something David Gaider regretted adding, since it is "a long time for that time frame." Although it was not really his intention when this was written, he clarified that the number varies.
- Although Riordan is a Warden from Jader, he refers to himself as Senior Warden, not Warden-Lieutenant.
- For some reason, Aveline Vallen's armour bears the Warden heraldry when she becomes Guard Captain.
- Wardens frequently train with weighted bundles of canes, sparring with one another and with pells to build physical strength.
- Many Wardens keep a list of names of those who were lost in the Joining. Those casualties are regarded as being fellow Wardens despite not having survived the rite, and this list of names is cherished and remembered.