Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Social Satire of Dragon Age: Mages and Templars part 3

Part 1
Part 2

    One cannot discuss mage independence without discussing the Tevinter Imperium. One of the standard warnings against mages gaining their independence is fear of a new Tevinter's rise. Cultural memory of the abuses committed by the Tevinter Magisters remain in the psyche of Thedans everywhere.

    Fenris, former slave to the Tevinter, often cites his former masters as a reason mages cannot be trusted. Lord Seeker Lambert, furthermore, cites his own experience as a Tevinter Templar as proof that magical culture lends itself to corruption.

    This is not completely illogical or a false analogy. One of the issues raised in the Cold War was to set down one's weapons was to invite attack. The possession of nuclear weapons was considered a strategic necessity if any country was to matter on the world stage. This led to not only the arms race between the United States and Soviet Union but countries like France as well as the United Kingdom to possess nuclear weapons.

    Lord Seeker Lambert mentions he was close friends with a number of mages, including the Black Divine, but his friends became corrupted by Blood Magic. This is not due to, as one might ascertain, an inherent moral failing but the fact he required it as a means of counteracting other people who possessed it.

    Fenris mentions that Blood Magic is proscribed within Tevinter but that it is passed around in secret and alludes there is a culture of, "if everyone is doing it, why shouldn't I?" This becomes worse with Tevinter's culture of in-fighting which encourages mages to resort to any means necessary for advancement.

    One might argue this is a recipe for legalizing (or proscribing less strenuously) Blood Magic but a much-more sensible argument in my mind is to maintain much stronger prohibitions against its use. Thedan history, arguably like our own, shows that any advantage will be exploited in the name of gain and normalized. Real-life is filled with prohibitions against various types of weapons from the crossbow to poison gas but which are used extensively unless every culture in the world agrees to outlaw them.

    Thedas is a continent ruled by a military aristocracy who derives their power from force of arms. If mage freedom exists, how likely is it that beings which much more power than weapons will rise to the top? How much damage will be caused by people resisting this? What are the possible consequences given that said abilities can rupture holes in reality. There is a strong argument that Tevinter is a hellhole because of an "evil" culture than, simply put, magic being insufficiently regulated.

    The ambitious rise to the top and normalize dangerous and immoral activities because it serves their purposes. This leads to things like Arl Vaughn abusing the elves of the Denerim Alienage simply because he can. How much worse are these abuses going to be when one can mind-control subjects or create an inexhaustible army of demons at your commend? What seems necessary is an intermediary.

    Which is where the Chantry comes in.

    The Chantry is an organization which, theoretically, exists impartial to the Mage and Templar struggle. While I have mentioned the hatred of magic that the Chantry engenders, it is fair to admit they have probably done more for the safety and security of mages than anyone else in Thedas.

    The Nevarran Accord, signed in 1:20 Divine or roughly eight-hundred years ago, permitted mages to be able to practice their arts inside the Circles without fear of reprisal by the public. Prior to this, magic was illegal in the Empire of Orlais.

    The mages' heroism during the First Blight helped win them a limited amount of respect from the public and Chantry in particular. This treaty changed the Inquisition into the Templars and Seeker Orders, which merged with the Chantry despite prior independence.

    The Templars, despite accusations of such by Anders, are not just their jailers but also their protectors. The mortal Cole which the spirit is based on from Dragon Age: Asunder was almost killed by his father for the "crime" of having magic while his mother was outright slain.

    Rhys comments that Cole's story isn't all that uncommon amongst those born outside the Circle and displaying magic is a mortal sin in the eyes of many. Templar Evangeline is able to thwart an impromptu lynch mob when they are traveling through the Orlesian countryside while the mages, themselves, are unable to intimidate the public.

Carver Hawke is a Templar and brother to two Apostates. He protects the innocent as well as mages. You know, when he's not screwing up.
    Without the Circles, it's entirely possible mages would be subject to violence and slavery. The Qunari, giant horned humanoids from an island-continent above Thedas, demonstrate what a less-forgiving system might look like as mages have their mouths sewn shut while being literally collared. They are used only for killing enemies of the Qunari. It is implied even this would be forbidden if not for the fact magic was so damned useful.

    The Circles themselves are run by the mages and College of Enchanters with many of the abuses like Tranquility being something they actively participate in. First Enchanter Irving is willing to sign off on making Jowan Tranquil because he believes him to be a threat (which he is).

    Later, it is Irving's desire to prove mages capable of policing themselves which allows Uldred to assemble his army. We see that, even as late as Act III of Dragon Age 2, the First Enchanter holds near equal authority to the Knight Commander. The Rite of Annulment can only be performed with the say-so of the Grand Cleric so there is a system of checks and balances in place to prevent abuses.

    The Circles are, in a sense, independent nation within the ranks of Thedas which are merely supervised by the Templars. While we may think of being taken from one's families and held prisoner in the Circle as a horrible thing, it's also important to remember that in addition to the safety issue, that "freedom" is not something the Circles are without a great deal of as compared to the rest of Thedas. Aside from their lack of ability to breed and raise children, something which would compel me to rebel, the Circles are more comfortable than anywhere but the homes of the high nobility.

    Possibly more.

    Anders and Morrigan speak much of freedom but the right of property is one which has always determined whether people are free in history. Those who do not know where their next meal is coming from, whether they will have a roof over their heads, and what sort of medical care they will get when they're sick can never be free. A Circle mage, due to the generosity of the Chantry, has these freedoms whereas the average City Elf or Ferelden peasant does not.

Anders murder of the Grand Cleric starts his war for freedom. However, it's very much HIS war. It wouldn't have even begun if not for Meredith being corrupted by Red Lyrium.
    The Circles are post-race in a way unknown in the rest of Thedas. Elves and humans sit together in the Circles as equals whereas the former are ghettoized elsewhere. The Rite of Annulment is horrific but nothing prevents an Arl from doing the same to City Elves in the Denerim Alienage or the citizens of Amaranthine should events dictate such. Indeed, it's far harder to enact the Rite of Annulment than to simply murder the helpless lower-classes of Thedas. Mages have power and importance, peasants do not.

    Indeed, whereas the Chantry has a vested financial investment in the existence of Tranquil, so does it have in thinking-living mages. The Qunari have invaded Thedas in the past in order to convert the public to their religion. Mages contributed a great deal to repelling their invasion, countering the Qunari use of gunpowder-based weaponry.

    From a practical standpoint, the Chantry wants to keep mages happy as well as dependent on its good graces. This is in sharp contrast to the City Elves who, unlike mages, have no real capital to barter with. Mages are a minority which may be despised but is still possessed of influence while Elves are not. I leave the comparisons to real-life minorities and their plights to you.

    There is even, theoretically, a check on Templar abuses of power from the Seekers. Knight Commander Martell attempts his own brand of mage-backed terrorism in Dawn of the Seeker, planning to institute a draconian anti-mage agenda before it is thwarted by Seeker Cassandra.

    While his treason is against the Chantry as a whole, Cassandra works with a mage to bring him to task and gains respect for their role in protecting the Chantry. Sadly, it is Lord Seeker Lambert, the presumed head of that organization, whom is the party which dissolves the Nevarran Accord. So it's possible for the entire system to come tumbling down.

Leliana does everything she can to prevent war between mages and Templars. She fails because, on some level, neither WANT peace--or so it seems. Better to say both sides have FACTIONS who don't want it and they win.
    It is a testament to just how functional the Circle system was that so much needs to go wrong in order to compel the mages to rebel. In addition to Anders act of terrorism, Meredith's Annulment of the Kirkwall Circle (spurred on by red lyrium), the Annulment of the Rivain Circle, the rise of a liberal Pro-Mage Divine, and the discovery for a Tranquility Cure are all required to happen in very short order for things to come to war. While Dragon Age 2 implies the war begins immediately after the Kirkwall Annulment, David Gaider retcons things in Dragon Age: Asunder to require much more.

    This is perhaps more realistic as revolutions are rarely built in a day. Even with long-simmering resentment, there is usually a trigger event required or a series of them. It is noteworthy that, for all of the abuses mentioned in part 1 of this essay, many mages seem content.

    Wynne expresses desire to reform the Circle but from within as she views the Chantry as a source of protection instead of oppression. Finn, from the Witch Hunt DLC, talks of his happiness at Circle life due to the luxuries he experiences as a Loyalist. A Circle Bethany finds more fulfillment as an instructor of mage children than as a "free" mercenary or Grey Warden.

    The mages who express the most dissatisfaction, if not outright hatred, are Apostate Morrigan (who has never been to a Circle before events of Origins) and terrorist Anders. Also, possibly the Protagonist of the Mage Origin, amusingly enough. Uldred is able to get a full-scale rebellion going in the Ferelden Circle, something First Enchanter Irving clearly did not anticipate, but it is notable that only a minority rebelled.

    Mages are divided into factions akin to political parties. Of them, only a single one advocates divorcing themselves from the Chantry. Others desire reform from within or to use their powers to do good, regardless of how this affects their personal freedom. One of them is devoted to making money, which implies mages are able to own property and accumulate wealth despite their Circle-bound lives.

    Another thing to note about all of these rights and privileges is, however, they weren't achieved all at once. The Divine Ambrosia II attempted an Exalted March on a group of peacefully-protesting mages who demanded greater rights to use magic. The mages' nonviolent method worked and it's been implied that mages have achieved greater freedoms by working within the system. Many of these freedoms were repealed after the Kirkwall Annulment, which contributed to the Mage-Templar War, but that played right into the hands of mage radicals.

    Either way, it becomes an interesting question of Freedom vs. Security when the system breaks down into violence. When one group being oppressed in the name of security, rightly or wrongly, refuses to submit or negotiate then war is the result. Barring the Quarian and the Geth War or the conflict with the Reapers, genocide is not usually the result of military conflicts.

    The decision by the College of Enchanters to revolt en masse as well as the Templar Order to break away from the Chantry to destroy them means one side or the other will triumph in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Then the very hard question of "what next" will occur.

    When two sides are at peace, negotiation is possible but wars tend to result in one side dictating terms to the other. Concessions may be made (and almost always are) but what those may be is often up in the air until the final blow is struck. Perhaps the thing real-life is most similar to Dragon Age regarding is that neither the Templars or Circle seem to have any idea of what the final result is going to be. "Freedom" is not a goal. Neither is "Justice" or "Safety." These concepts are too nebulous and ill-defined to serve as proper war-time goals. Revolutions and wars based on them have created some of the worst atrocities in human history before degenerating into absolute chaos.

Ask the City Elves what they think of their freedom as compared to Mages.
    If the Mages defeat the Templars, forcing their disbanding or acceptance of the Circles' independence, they will have significant challenges to face. They no longer have the funding, support, or protection of the Chantry. Getting new mages will be difficult and while they can breed new ones, this still leaves countless members of their "people" scattered across the land. Nothing will prevent hostile nations from attacking Circles now since the Chantry is not their ally.

    Mage-friendly nations like Tevinter do not feel obliged to help their fellow magicians and, indeed, consider them possible rivals. They may ally with existing governments as Loghain offered but doing so means they will be divided as a Ferelden Circle's mages war against a Orlais Circle's.

   If the Templars defeat the Mages, going back to the "Old System" will be a challenge. The Circle system worked as well as it did due to the participation of the mages within it. Apprentice mages were trained by senior mages in how to avoid the temptations of demons as well as what sort of benefits they derived from assisting the Chantry.

    Even the Tranquil Solution or killing all new mages isn't a real option as families which care for their children will be more likely to hide them than give them over. Apostates would have no reason to surrender to the Templars, encouraging more Blood Magic use than ever. The Templars might never be overthrown but countries around the world have to deal with guerrilla warfare over a course of centuries because of unchanging hardline tactics.

    That's assuming the Templars, themselves, can reconcile with the Chantry because while the Mage uprising is bad--the Templars have rebelled every bit as much. Such a flagrant violation of church authority means that the Templars can no longer be trusted to follow the orders of the Chantry's leadership. The precedent of Kirkwall will never be forgotten. Even if every mage who rebelled is killed and a new Circle is created, there is history that the Templars can be defeated (or escaped if Hawke sides with Knight Commander Meredith).

    In short, when you go to war for freedom or security, be careful you don't lose both.


  1. Fascinating analysis of the mage and Templar conflict in dragon age, it is a very grey matter, and one that many people have opinions on, I like it when fiction does that, you have without leaning on one side talked and discussed how the lines of freedom and security can spread very thin, how freedom sometimes can bring with it a lot of hassle and mess, while too much security can lead of resentment and tension building up.

    Was the whole conflict between the two destined to happen? No I feel, but flaws on both sides and an increasing tension, extremism from a few on both sides, and too much passiveness at times gave way to a barrel of keg that anders mainly ignited in dragon age 2, and the reaction from that and some actions in asunder led to the status quo being broken fully.

    Whatever happens in Inquisition I think going back to the system would only cause the problems to happen again. How the writers of Dragon Age plan to answer these very complex questions will be one of the things that could help in how players feel about dragon age Inquisition as a game overall.

    1. I tend to agree. I think that, no matter what, the developers at Bioware are smart enough to know that the status quo is over and done with and we'll be seeing a new one in Inquisition. I'll be interested in what that status quo is. Thank you for commenting!

  2. An interesting analysis. It's a little outdated since Inquisition came out, but it's fairly applicable anyhow.

    It's fair to say that the mages didn't have much of a reason to rebel aside from the fact that even in Kinloch Hold, Ferelden's Circle, there was friction between the Mages and the Templars, the various anti-magic events, and Kirkwall, but ultimately, dissolving the Circles may have been the best option for the mages, since the Nevarran Accord was also revoked. Should they win the war, they would be free to set up their own system of (possible) self-governance. However that would come with renouncing the Chantry, and that comes with Exalted Marches (As occured against Tevinter in the Black and Exalted Ages, only ended by the Fourth Blight.). Changing what one proclaims to be another's destiny is rarely easy.

    Of course, the Templars have reason to recede from the Chantry. Part of their job description is 'hunt renegade mages', and all the mages just made themselves renegade. This is alongside the fact that they pretty much did nothing else outside of guard Chantry higher-ups and (occasionally) help the general populace, as we see in Lothering and Redcliffe at the outbreak of the Fifth Blight (DA:O). Ultimately they are doing what they think is their duty.

    Morally,the mages may hold the high ground. Most of the restrictions the Chantry placed on them and the punishments doled out have to do with the fact that before the named Ages (and the founding of the Chantry), the Tevinter Imperium ruled pretty much all of Thedas, and according to the Chant, are the source of darkspawn. It's a matter of past incidents and a vocal minority screwing over the vast majority. Alongside the fact that the thing guaranteeing their protection is gone, the mages are practically fighting for their survival. It's a matter of which shade of grey is darker, and so far, that's the templars.

    1. I intended to do an Inquisition analysis but I felt like the ending of that game left the conflict resloved a little too easily.