The Grand Game, also called the Great Game or simply The Game, is the term applied to the politics and machinations of the nobles and rulers of Orlais. Politics in Orlais is an incredibly complicated "game" or "dance" of intrigue, seduction, ambition and scandal, an approach to politics, high culture and morality that is quintessentially Orlesian. The political and familial infighting that characterizes the Game is as common as donning masks in public: indeed, this habit is also an intrinsic part of the Game in its most obvious form.
Among the Orlesian nobility, status and appearance are set above all things. Orlesian culture is renowned for its infighting, with every family engaging on some level in what’s known as the Grand Game.
The Game's purpose is one-upmanship of rival aristocrats, often accomplished through elite proxies called bards. In order to rise in the decadent Orlesian society and among the bloated upper class, much is permitted. The rule of the Game is simply this: all is accepted as long as the player is not caught, up to and including murder. Paradoxically, however, though direct culpability is undesirable, credit and recognition are demanded. Indeed, an individual known as a skilled player is granted discreet respect among his or her peers. Due to this tension the Game is a losing proposition for the uninitiated, and it is said that more blood is spilled in the Game than in any war in Orlais.
The lower classes are believed by the nations beyond Orlais to resent the Game that ostensibly keeps them demeaned. However, most peasants desire to ascend as well, and the vain hope of accruing a generous patron or sufficient funds to gain a title in the Council of Heralds makes them surprisingly accepting of the Game's excesses. Orlais is much less of a meritocracy than it appears, however, and the Game frequently sorts the wheat of Orlesian society from the chaff.
Also surprising is the presence of the Chantry in the Game. Though normally considered above the Game, the templars and priesthood of Orlais frequently participate in it. Divine Justinia V was reputed to be one of its best players.
The Orlesian nobility is prone to wearing very elaborate masks in public. These masks are hereditary and identify one's family almost as uniquely as the heraldry on a crest: a family might be associated with a lion crest, and matching lion masks will identify them in public. Retainers and servants wear a simpler form of a family's mask. Family symbols are well known among the Orlesian public, and anyone attempting to wear a mask that doesn't belong to their house runs the risk of a quick death if discovered.
Wearing makeup is another popular tradition for both men and women in Orlais. Even chevaliers may wear cosmetics. There is both masculine and feminine makeup, although outsiders may have trouble telling the difference. Makeup can be a strong indicator of social standing. The quality and rarity of one's makeup—uncommon hues and consistencies are prized—speak volumes of one's status.
The Game was originated in spirit by Jeshavis, known as the "Mother of Orlais" and gyðja of the Ciriane tribe of Orlais. She was wife to two of the sons of Maferath and Andraste, and manipulated both to protect her people from Alamarri cultural intrusions.
When Emperor Kordillus Drakon I first established the Orlesian Empire, the local nobility possessed an intricate system of titles. Concerned with the civil instability caused by their often brutal struggle for nobility ranks, Drakon abolished all titles except Emperor, Lord, and Lady. Far from ending the game, however, his actions instead shifted its focus to obtaining tokens of prestige, such as patronages and familial ties. This encouraged the rise of the social infighting that is the raison d'être of the Game.
Prior to her death some time after 9:20 Dragon, the biggest prize in the Game was the favor of Lady Mantillon. She was said to be late Emperor Florian's mistress and the shadow ruler of Orlais who assassinated Florian and, allegedly, enthroned his niece Celene.
Music, masks, cosmetics, and dancing are cornerstones of the Orlesian noble society, so the sprawling masquerade balls naturally become battlefields of the game. Both allies and enemies are traditionally invited to such events, which gave rise to the institute of the Bards: traveling musicians also trained in espionage, larceny, and assassination. Matching wits with them is one of the Game's major thrills, and the nobles welcome bards with open arms even when suspecting ill will. Control of these agents is an important part of the Game. According to Josephine Montilyet, every word, gesture, and facial expression is all measured and evaluated for strength and weakness, claiming that the Game is like Wicked Grace played to the death, adding that you should never reveal your cards to your enemies. In addition, according Gaspard de Chalons, if you do not play the Game well, then your enemies will make your allies and yourself look like villains. Additionally, according to two servants in the Winter Palace, leaving evidence for someone else to find is a very bad idea if you are playing to win. Last but not least, according to Florianne de Chalons, the Game is never truly over.
The little known to the commoners House of Repose is an assassins' organisation working strictly for the nobility of the Orlesian empire, eliminating troublesome competition.
- Main article: Bard
Bards are proxies, provocateurs, or auteur agents of wealthy patrons in the Game, enacting their will through spying, bribes, seduction and sometimes even assassinations. These men and women are elite players of the Game, serving as minstrels or actors under learned bardmasters, and frequently using others as pawns in their work. Indeed, this attitude infects the lives of the bards themselves, and they may sometimes become victims of fellow professionals if they are seen as losing their edge.
Bards may serve anyone and at any time: mage or priest, king or noble. Indeed, their presence is expected in the presence of power players and at pivotal moments, whomever and wherever they are. This presence, rather than a source of anxiety for their targets, is welcomed as dangerously exciting.
- Briala – the handmaid and spymaster of Empress Celene
- Empress Celene Valmont I – the empress of Orlais; a protégée of Dowager Lady Mantillon; acknowledged by many (including her cousin and greatest rival Grand Duke Gaspard – who seeks to take her throne) to be a master of The Game
- Lord Evariste Lemarque (conditional) – former leader of a group of Orlesian refugees in the Graves; the Council of Heralds recognized "Fairbanks" as the sole heir of Lord Giroux Lemarque allowing him to become a new player of the Game
- Grand Duchess Florianne de Chalons
- Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons – claimant to the throne of Orlais; a chevalier and protégé of Dowager Lady Mantillon
- Lady Josephine Montilyet – a former bard; ambassador of the Inquisition
- Justinia V – Divine; formerly known as Revered Mother Dorothea
- Katriel – a bard active around the end of Fereldan Rebellion
- Leliana – a bard; former companion of the Hero of Ferelden; later the Left Hand of Justinia V, and spymaster of the Inquisition
- Lady Mantillon – possible lover and assassin of Emperor Florian of Orlais
- Marjolaine – a bard; Leliana's mentor
- Marquis of Alyons – a marquis of the Alyons lands
- Melcendre – a bard last employed by Duke Gaspard
- Remache – an Orlesian Duke allied with Gaspard; notable for not being a Chevalier, which means that he is not bound by the Chevalier code of honor and is free to employ any dirty tricks he wishes
- First Enchanter Vivienne – personal enchanter and adviser to Empress Celene
- Codex entry: Bard's Dancing Shoes
- Codex entry: Jeshavis, Mother of Orlais
- Codex entry: Katriel's Grasp
- Codex entry: Orlesian Caprice Coins
- Codex entry: Shadow of the Empire
- Codex entry: The Orlesian Game of Intrigue
- Dragon Age: Asunder, p. 23
- Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 1, p. 60
- Codex entry: The Orlesian Empire.
- Dragon Age: Asunder, p. 24
- Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 1, p. 63
- Codex entry: Portrait of the Dowager
- According to dialogue from Leliana, Leliana's Song DLC.
- Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, p. 145
- Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, p. 146
- Based on the actions taken by the Inquisitor during the the side quest Noble Deeds, Noble Heart, resulting in the war table operation Capitalize on Alliance with Fairbanks becoming available.