Near the infirmary in Ostagar, there is a set of suspended cages. Inside one of them is a prisoner, with a guard standing nearby. Talking to the prisoner before heading into the Korcari Wilds triggers the side quest The Hungry Deserter.
The prisoner will beg for food and water and will explain that the nearby guard has some. If Alistair has previously been found and is in the party when speaking with the prisoner, then this quest can influence his approval. Alternatively, the quest can be completed before speaking with Alistair to avoid any impact on approval.
The Warden can then:
- Kill the prisoner without asking for any more details, generating Alistair disapproves (-5).
- Help the prisoner without asking for any more details, generating Alistair approves (+2).
- Ask why the prisoner is locked up.
- Ask why the party should help.
The prisoner will offer the Key to Mages' Chest in return for help and explain that he stole it from a mage in the camp by getting him drunk, and was later caught wandering around the camp at night and locked up as it was assumed he was trying to desert. He swallowed the key, and it has since "come back into his possession."
To obtain the food and water from the guard, The Warden can:
- Persuade the guard to forgo his lunch (requires 1 rank of Coercion).
- Steal the food and water from the guard (requires Stealing).
- Buy the food and water for 10.
To obtain the Key to Mages' Chest, The Warden can
- Obtain food and water from the guard, generating Alistair approves (+1).
- Kill the prisoner, generating Alistair disapproves (-5) and netting 100XP.
- Steal the key from the prisoner.
The key opens the chest by the Magi Encampment, next to the tranquil mage. It cannot be used until returning to Ostagar after completing the Tainted Blood and The Grey Wardens' Cache quests in the Korcari Wilds. At that point, the tranquil mage will have moved: prior to this, attempting to open the chest will only prompt him to object.
If the key is not used before entering the Tower of Ishal, the quest will be marked as complete. However, the key can still be used during the Return to Ostagar DLC, when the chest will contain the Corrupted Magister's Staff in addition to the loot available during the main quest. If the key is used as part of this quest, then it will not be possible to open the Mages' Chest or obtain the Corrupted Magister's Staff during Return to Ostagar.
Rewards EditKey to Mages' Chest
An ornate key in questionable condition. Oddly enough, it's a little warm...
Loot from Mages' Chest:Acolyte's Staff
Iron (Tier 1)
Requires: 16 magic
Damage: 4.00 (Physical)
Armor penetration: 20.00
+2 spellpower Apprentice Cowl
Circle towers are frequently drafty. The senior enchanters distribute these to the apprentices in the winter. Where they come by the cowls, however, is a mystery.
+5 mental resistance Enchanter's Arming Cap
Simple and effective, though certainly not standard equipment. Reserved for major Circle of Magi operations under full supervision of the Chantry, so much as they are aware.
+10 mental resistance Flask
These simple glass containers are able to hold many compounds, even unstable ones.
A skilled herbalist has rendered a variety of medicinal ingredients into this soothing, restorative substance.
Lesser Injury Kit
A kit containing bandages and other healing aids.
Lesser Spirit Balm
This balm has a soothing effect on the mind.
+30% spirit resistance for 180 seconds. x 2 Money
Gold Silver Bronze
If Mages' Chest is looted during Return to Ostagar, the above plus:Corrupted Magister's Staff
Red Steel (Tier 5)
Requires: 30 magic
Damage: 5.60 (Physical)
Armor penetration: 32.00
+15% spirit damage
Possible paralysis (10%)
- Be aware that if the key is used before the Battle of Ostagar, then there is no way to obtain the Corrupted Magister's Staff during Return to Ostagar. If you want to solve the quest and also be able to come back later, this  can help.
- If you obtain the key but do not use it before the Battle of Ostagar, then the quest will be marked as complete in the journal, but the text will not reflect the actual steps taken.
- ps3This may fail to occur, resulting in the quest being stuck in "Current Quests" even should you return to get the chest during Return to Ostagar.
- If you are too far away from the Prisoner (e.g. standing by the guard), sometimes the prisoner cannot be interacted with, even though the cursor shows him as clickable. Be sure to get right next to the cage so that you can interact with him.
- If you persuade the guard to give you the food and water, give them to the prisoner, and then steal from the guard, you will get another food and water but can do nothing with them.