Dragon Age: Shadows of the Blight
Culture of Ferelden
Fereldans are famous for their fiercely independent nature, and this is reflected throughout all levels of their culture. Neither blood nor birthright automatically entitles one to respect, and the nobles of Ferelden must earn their people’s esteem. There has never been a serf class in Ferelden, and the selling of slaves is illegal, though both are very common in other countries.
Fereldans value courage and martial prowess over wealth and famous ancestors. While they are not free of prejudice, they are remarkably open minded for a supposedly “barbarian” people. Fereldans appreciate fair speech, though they like it better when it is followed by action. They are sparing in their insults, unless they are prepared to follow them up with blows. Many Fereldans hold their personal honor beyond price, and they would rather die than betray their given word. Correspondingly, they are often cautious about entering into any agreement they are not absolutely certain they can fulfill.
The Alamarri were the only people to reject the "benefits of Tevinter Imperium rule. To them, the Imperial government, along with its magic and culture, was a corrupt decadence that would have destroyed all that it meant to be Alamarri. Since the rest of Thedas eventually succumbed to the Tevinter, their cultures were overlaid and irrevocably changed by Imperial values. While in many cases this greatly advanced their arts and sciences, it also radically skewed their viewpoints. Correspondingly, foreigners tend to view modern Fereldan arts and entertainments as somewhat crude, though occasionally undeniably powerful in a “barbaric” sort of way. The Fereldans, for their part, are exceedingly proud of their accomplishments, as they feel little need to compare them to other cultures that they quietly regard as merely attempting to emulate the feats of the Tevinter.
All folk belong to a social class, and each class has its own rights and responsibilities. However, in Ferelden, unlike nearly all other countries in Thedas, members of the nobility are not considered to be intrinsically better or afforded more rights than any other class; they just have different ones. It is true that nobles are generally treated with deference, but this is often due more to the (correct) assumption of martial ability than social status. Nobles from other lands frequently find Ferelden commoners to be phenomenally insolent in comparison to the fawning treatment they are used to.
The primary purpose of the nobility of Ferelden is to fight for their people against all threats-human, darkspawn, or otherwise. While nearly all Fereldans boast some level of martial ability, nobles are expected to excel at warfare-it is, literally, their “job.” The nobles of Ferelden do not own the land. They likely have some small holdings, with more powerful or influential lords controlling progressively greater keeps or fortresses, but it is the freeholders that actually own the farms, the crops they produce, and the profits that come from selling their goods. In Ferelden this matters a great deal, because it is the commoners who are actually the patrons of the nobility. Each freehold chooses which bann or arl it gives allegiance to and the decision is renewed each year. A group of freeholders dissatisfied with the protection they are getting from their local bann can remove their patronage and give it to another bann-though likely one within a fairly short riding distance.
At the top of the noble structure sits the King of Ferelden, whose court is in the capital city, Denerim. The King is entrusted with advancing the interests of all the people of Ferelden in both war and trade. While the King can suggest new laws for the land, the “King’s Law” is in fact generally dictated by precedent and voted on by the Landsmeet, a legislative body made up of all the nobles of Ferelden that meets once a season within Denerim to deliberate on issues and bring grievances before the King. Not all of the nobility can regularly make the trip to Denerim, son many send a proxy, either a younger family member or a trusted commoner, to vote in their place. The present King of Ferelden is Alistair, bastard son of the legendary King Maric and hero of the Fifth Blight. His rule is young, and time will tell if he can live up to his father’s legacy, although many close to him speculate it is the Queen who really controls the realm.
Directly beneath the King are the teyrn, warlords of such power and influence that they have multiple banns sworn directly to them. There are currently no teyrn in Ferelden, although the Queen is the daughter of one who lived prior to the Fifth Blight.
Beneath the teyrn are the arls, powerful banns who control critical fortifications or regions of land along the borders of Ferelden. Banns make up the bulk of Ferelden’s nobility. There are a great many banns with widely varying levels of power throughout the kingdom. When the banns speak with one voice, they are the greatest power in Ferelden, but this is rare, for they’re a quarrelsome lot. Trivial feuds, which occasionally give rise to petty wars, are far from unknown among the bann.
The least of the nobility is the Fereldan knight, a heavy infantry soldier sworn to serve a greater noble. The prestige of a given knight is greatly influenced by who he is sworn to serve. They have no particular code of conduct, valuing fighting skills and leadership abilities before all else. While some knights do control land, it is never very significant, as anything more would mean they would be regarded as a bann. In Ferelden, commoner soldiers of exceptional fighting skill have a very real chance of being knighted and joining the ranks of the nobility. Fereldans are proud of this “social mobility,” which is rare in Thedas.
Because Ferelden’s social system developed directly from the Alamarri tribes, it carries their barbarian values within it. A hunter is certainly a valued member of his tribe, but there are many other hunters. A man who can craft a fine weapon, on the other hand, has a rare skill and is thus more respected. The craftsmen of the Alamarri tribes, the woodworkers, the smiths, the builders, and so forth, organized themselves over the years into semi-formal groups known as “crafthouses” that shared knowledge and trade secrets with one another. They truly became a power unto themselves, though, when they made their members swear to put crafthouse before tribe. While the crafthouses have no formal political power, only a fool ignores them as they have total power over their particular craft in Ferelden.
Beneath the crafters are the freemen, who make up the bulk of the common classes. Scholars split the freemen into “High Freemen”-freeholders, soldiers, innkeepers, and other employed persons; and “Low Freemen”-criminals, prostitutes, elves, and other riffraff. Freeman are exactly that in Ferelden-they have the right to go where they will, live where they choose, and earn such a living as they may. There are no serfs in Ferelden; all are paid in coin or barter for their work.
In the Tevinter Imperium, humans worshiped the Old Gods, ancient dragons said to have challenged the might of the Maker and been punished for their insolence. It was from the whisperings of the Old Gods, imprisoned deep in the bowels of the earth, that man learned the secrets of magic. The hubris of the Imperium led to the creation of the darkspawn and the first Blight, which left Tevinter in ruins.
At this time, it is said, a young Alamarri slave named Andraste was visited by the Maker. He charged her with carrying his teaching to his children and urging them to turn their backs on corruption and false gods. Andraste proclaimed that magic must exist to serve humanity rather than rule over them. She and he husband Maferath led an Alamarri alliance into the Imperium and brought it to its knees. She was betrayed by her husband and martyred and soon her legend grew.
A cult of Andraste was not long in forming. Her followers claimed that Andraste’s Chant of Light must be sung from every corner of the earth until the Maker would forgive humanity for the death of his prophetess and turn the world into paradise. During the Second Blight Emperor Drakon of Orlais embraced these teachings and helped found the Chantry. It quickly became the dominant religion of humanity, even in the lands of the Tevinter Imperium.
Today the Chantry remains a potent force in Thedas. Its power emanates out from the Grand Cathedral in the Orlesian capital of Val Royeaux. While priests of the Chantry are honored in Ferelden, they do not have the political influence that they enjoy in the Empire of Orlais and other nations. Fereldan priests are considered part of the crafting class and are expected to focus their attentions on spiritual matters. The Chantry has been trying to increase its political influence for a long time, but they have not been very successful. That the Revered Mother Bronarch, Grand Cleric of Ferelden, put the Orlesian usurper Meghren on the throne did not help their cause.
The Fereldans, as a people, tend to be highly superstitious and extremely distrustful of magic. It is no accident that the Circle Tower of Ferelden is situated on a remote island far from the more populous cities. Long ago it was in Denerim, but an angry mob burned it down. Magic use outside of a restrictive set of rules is forbidden.
Mages are required to join the Circle of Magi. Those who do not are called apostates and hunted down by Chantry templars. Apostates who practice forbidden blood magic are known as maleficar and they are feared above all. To guard against the use of proscribed magic and demonic possession, templars are stationed in every Circle tower. The Chantry admits that mages can be useful against foes like darkspawn, but their trust of mages only goes so far.
The Fereldans don’t know a great deal about their dwarven neighbors in Orzammar, other than that they’re a stout folk whose troubles are many and whose craftsmanship is exquisite. Neither, in fact, do the dwarves living in Ferelden. Long estranged from their kin, the bulk of Ferelden’s dwarves belong to a dwarf caste known as the “Surfacers” and they are regarded with barely concealed contempt by their kind, though this apparently doesn’t prevent Orzammar dwarves from doing business with them. Long years ago, Fereldan crafters regard merchants with distaste, as they profited from goods they had no hand in creating. When dwarves first started selling their wares within Ferelden’s cities, the locals thought they were the crafters of the goods in question, and the dwarves saw no need to educate them otherwise. The dwarves eventually offered to move the merchandise of the various crafthouses for them, which was agreed to, so long as they didn’t undercut human goods with their own. This accord grew over the years into the creation of the Trader’s Crafthouse, which now handles the selling of goods throughout Ferelden and beyond, even as far as Orlais and the Free Marches.
Old stories relate that there was once an elven empire to the north, but the Tevinter Imperium destroyed it long ago and enslaved its people. The words of the Prophetess were instrumental in convincing the elves to rebel against the Tevinter and after the fall of the Imperium, the elves were granted a country of their own south of Orlais called the Dales, in return for their help. For several centuries, all was well, until the elves were found to have accepted Andraste’s words, but not her faith. The Chantry called for an Exalted March against the people of the Dales for daring to adhere to their old gods. The Dales were sacked and their people scattered, now a nation without a home. The elves that still cling to their old beliefs are known as the Dalish elves, an insular people who travel the wilds in massive wagons drawn by huge white stags and have as little truck with humans as possible. The rest of the elves now live in human settlements, but inevitably apart in an area sectioned off for their use called an “alienage.” Some alienages are walled off, but this is as much for the safety of the elven families as it is to protect humans from the “thieving knife-ears.” Elves are a graceful people with fair features. They are usually servants or laborers in Ferelden. While their lot is not easy, they are paid for their work and have rights, which is seldom the case elsewhere. Many Fereldan elves hold that they have far better lives than their people in other countries, as they would rather be poor freemen than rich slaves.
Since the days of the Alamarri when wolves fought alongside warriors, canines have been highly regarded in Ferelden. In modern times, dogs have taken the place of wolves. Many communities allow dogs to roam freely, and “own” them collectively. Breeding is an ancient tradition and a wide variety of dogs exist. One of the most famous breeds in Ferelden and beyond is the “mabari”-a huge, mastiff-like war hound of incredible intelligence, capable of responding to complex orders.
Fereldan cities radiate outward in a haphazard fashion from a central keep or fortress. The inner city is the domain of the rich with elegant mansions, manicured parks, and affluent chantries. The streets will be paved with cobblestones and boast a proper sewage system. As you move away from the city center, you’ll find only loosely packed dirt for roads and buildings set about with no particular plan in mind. Taverns sit alongside crafthouses next to food markets beside brothels. The streets twist along on bewildering paths, with countless slanting and narrow alleyways between them. In poorer quarters, the roads can quickly become a nightmarish labyrinth for an unsuspecting traveler. The closer one lives to the city center, the higher one’s social status tends to be. Most goods are readily available; other than slaves very little is illegal to sell in Ferelden so there isn’t really much of a black market to speak of. The majority of Fereldans believe in the Maker’s Chantry, following the words of the Prophetess Andraste. Those who do not believe generally hold their tounges.
Outside the cities, people typically live on freeholds, farms that may have been worked for generations by one or more families. Freeholds are highly social and communal with everyone pitching in to help their neighbors. Freehold governance varies wildly, but generally involves a council made up of representatives from each family that decide on what to plant, what to build, which bann to support, and so forth.
The law in Ferelden is supplemented with a good sword arm, so don’t expect a lot of help from the authorities unless major property damage or murder is involved. Petty theft is ignored and most guardsmen are expected to protect their posts more than to enforce laws. Laws regulating behavior are almost non-existent in Ferelden. The carrying of arms and armor is unregulated, as are gambling, prostitution, drinking, and so forth. Arbiters appointed by the king’s seneschal hear disputes. Known as “blackhallers” due to the seneschal’s hall in Denerim being constructed out of black granite, arbiters often have busy schedules. Out in the countryside, a sheriff appointed by the local bann will maintain the peace and keep track of the cases that the next scheduled arbiter will hear. Since this can take some time, a tradition has arisen where a suspect, in order to get out of prison, will give up something of great value to the sheriff and be released “on his bond.” The property will be returned to the suspect if he shows up to be judged by the arbiter. Otherwise, the sheriff retains the bond and the crime of fleeing justice is added to his original offense. Imprisonment is frowned on in Ferelden as more than a temporary measure. Punishment tends to be quick: whipping, disfigurement, fines, or execution. Public humiliation is often thrown in for good measure.