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Dragon Age Origins - Alamen Tabris

Alamen Tabris, the Hero of Ferelden

(Profile #1 - Early)


In war, victory. In peace, vigilance. In death, sacrifice.


Context

Dragon Age: Origins is a 2009 role-playing video game. It takes place in a heroic fantasy setting called Thedas ; this profile includes a primer about that. Being one of the modern RPGs produced by Bioware, it focuses on a sense of immersion – and the characterisation of the non-player characters.

As in many RPGs the protagonist — generically refered to the Grey Warden — is highly customisable. Alamen Tabris is simply a possible take – people playing the game will likely create a completely different protagonist. Furthermore the game has branching capabilities, meaning the story changes to an extend based on the protagonist’s identity and their choices.

Even more context

  • This profile features a sample or customized Player Character – see our video games writeups FAQ for more.
  • Our sample Dragon Age: Origins Grey Warden shall be a dual-wielding Cunning rogue, since this is the typical Player Character choice, and a female City Elf because I say so. As I learned after starting the playthrough the default state Bioware Grey Warden is a female Dalish elf so heh, close enough.
  • This entry has mild S P O I L E R S about the City Elf origin in the game.
  • The narration in the History section stops at Ostagar to minimize spoilers in this entry, but the game stats and other descriptions describe the character in Lothering, at level 7.
  • Like with all of our Bioware writeups, this article has to describe the character and events as they were during a SPECIFIC PLAYTHROUGH– see our video games writeups FAQ for more
  • Furthermore this playthrough featured a large pile of popular mods and fixes and was done on Nightmare difficulty.
  • The screenshots taken for our Dragon Age entries have been archived as a Flickr album.
  • This profile used to include an appendix about improving the game on a modern PC, but it was moved to a separate article for clarity’s sake.
  • This profile features tabletop RPG mechanics about the video game’s gameplay – see our video games writeups FAQ for more
  • This profile features non-canon hypotheses about in-game events and mechanics – see our video games writeups FAQ for more

Background

  • Real Name: Alamen Tabris
  • Note: Unlike most Grey Wardens, Alamen still uses her last name
  • Other Aliases: “Trouble”
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: Adaia (mother, presumed deceased), Cyrion (father), Shianni (cousin), Soris (cousin), Nelaros (betrothed, deceased)
  • Group Affiliation: Grey Wardens
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile
  • Height: 5’4” Weight: 118 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue-green Hair: White


Powers & Abilities

Tabris is well-trained in her mother’s combat techniques, which rely on dual-wielding blades – usually shortswords. This style relies on a strong sense of rhythm, exceptional coordination, and a surgical eye for delivering vicious blows – all qualities that Alamen possesses in abundance.

Like her mother, she compensates for her small size by using virulent poisons and ruthlessly striking at weak chinks, arteries and other vulnerable points.

This isn’t fencing but streetfighting – an all-out, relentless assault to slaughter the other person, preferably from behind and by surprise, and get them dead dead dead.

Beyond poisons, Tabris also occasionally uses small “grenades” filled with volatile magical compounds. At this stage hers aren’t very powerful, but the explosion does cover a few square meters so that’s useful when mobbed.

Poultices, poultices everywhere

A key aspect of Dragon Age combat is quaffing healing potions (oddly described as poultices even though everything else points to them being AD&D-style drinkables). These use herbs, and particularly the wonder plant called elfroot , to magically cure pain and wounds. The more proficient the herbalist who prepared the potion, the more powerful it is.

Alamen Tabris frowning

A Bioware short story about Dragon Age II protagonist Fenris (2-page PDF)  notes his surprise at encountering somebody he thought he had killed, and as Fenris sees the healed wound on the man’s neck he curses healing potions. This would explain why Dragon Age character can recover from being taken down in battle, as long as one of them is still conscious and mobile.

Healing compounds (and this time it might actually be a poultice) presumably staunch and close even fatal or near-fatal wounds, leaving relatively minor wounds that can be addressed by further medical care but aren’t life-threatening or severely handicapping.

The side that wins a battle could thus considerably reduce or even eliminate their casualties, by having the survivors attend anybody who still has a spark of life – which mirrors gameplay. However, most NPCs do not seem to be “recoverable” by these means — for instance, the soldiers and knights who fight at the party’s side during some encounters.

Let’s hazard an hypothesis. Perhaps the full effects of elfroot necessitate a special diet to saturate one’s body with prepared elfroot, which ends up costing a lot over time and requires a competent herbalist for preparation – and monitoring the subject.

Since in a typical playthrough it’s mages who are the most likely to have herbalism skills, this diet might even require the herbalist to enchant the elfroot and other herbs, further making it a very specialised option.

Interestingly, the “enchanted elfroot diet” hypothesis might also explain why the Circle of Magi recovers so well from what seemed to be a massacre. It generally meshes well with DA:O in-game dialogue and events.


Thedas, the Dragon Age setting

Thedas features the usual elements of post-Tolkien , post-Gygax  heroic fantasy (such as Elves and Dwarves and mages) so as to be readily accessible for gamers without massive information dumps. Over this neutral base it introduces various setting-specific, less formulaic elements. The setting was developed very much like a tabletop RPG Dungeons & Dragons  campaign would.

The core conceit is to draw from real-world European medieval history, as if a realistic History was occurring in a fantasy milieu. This means that realistic elements structure the setting — politics, social stratification and religion — and that most characters do not have an epic dimension à la Beowulf  or Lord of the Rings.

They are portrayed as everyday people who happen to live in a fantasy setting. Even the strongest and most competent may find the issues they face intractable, success is often bought at a terrible price, and things may fall apart due to simple bad luck and human nature.

Dragon Age characters in a swamp

You must gather your party before venturing forth.

However, ambitious and/or adventurous women have plenty of opportunities in most cultures on Thedas. The priesthood is almost wholly female, and in many militaries feminist trailblazers have created strong precedents for women soldiers – and even knights or officers.

Thedas is clearly dominated by Humans, but there is very little sense of intra-species solidarity among these. Humans, Elves and Dwarves aren’t *that* different and Elves and Humans are known to be somewhat interfertile, with the child being indistinguishable from a Human. It seems possible that all three races are in zoological terms one species.

The Dragon Age setting is primarily low fantasy in the RPG sense of the term (like, say, Game of Thrones ). However, it includes all sorts of high fantasy tropes such as mighty dragons and wizards, great supernatural evils, demons, etc. – the main missing one being fantasy gods.

The thing is, these high fantasy elements do not transcend the mundane anchoring of the setting. Even with the clear and present danger of an all-threatening evil à la Mordor , the bulk of the plot is about morally ambiguous political infighting and catastrophic mistakes by faillible leaders.

This stuff’s all politics anyway

The main players during Dragon Age: Origins are :

  • The Chantry, the equivalent of the Catholic Church. Its prophet was a Joan-of-Arc-like figure called Andraste (Ahn-DRAH-stay), who led an Exalted March (a crusade) that cut down the ancient magocracy that used to rule Thedas. The Chantry’s holy text is the Chant of Light (hence their name), and their monotheistic figure is called the Maker. See our Leliana entry for more.
  • The kingdom of Ferelden is where the action takes place. It is a bit like medieval Scotland, though it hasn’t been that long since Fereldans were barbarian tribals. Fereldans are a rugged but quarrelsome lot, known for loving dogs and their tolerance for the poor weather of their homeland. See our Alistair profile for more.
  • Ferelden was occupied by the kingdom of Orlais and only recently regained its independence after a war. Orlais is a sort of medieval France, known for its sophisticated culture and decadent nobility. There are still plenty of Orlesians living or trading in Ferelden, though they’re not terribly popular. See our Leliana article for more.
  • The Circle of Magi monitors, trains and keeps mages in line. They are closely monitored by the Templars – the Chantry’s military arm, whose main job is to hunt down rogue mages. See our Wynne article for more.
  • The Dwarves are a peripheral presence, as their might and population were greatly reduced by centuries of war against underworld invaders. However, one of their last surviving realms, Orzammar, is practically in Ferelden. Dwarven life is dominated by rigid castes and traditions, vicious political infighting among the nobility, isolation from the surface, and being besieged from underneath.
  • The Elves are even more peripheral, but there’s at least one nomadic tribe living just outside of Ferelden. These are among the minority of Elves not confined to ghettos within Human cities, and they attempt to preserve their half-lost culture and language despite centuries of devastation by Humans.
  • The ancient magocracy of Tevinter  is but a shadow of what it was before Andraste’s Exalted March and lies far to the North. But the Tevinter Empire still pervades history and most of the ruins in Ferelden date from the Empire.

Elves of Thedas

In antiquity, Elves were probably long-lived forest dwellers. It is impossible to be sure – after a series of wars against Tevinter the Elves as a people were enslaved, their cultures broken, their languages mostly forgotten. Contact with Humans also somehow ruined their lifespan, making them no longer-lived than their conquerors.

This factor — perhaps some sort of contagious disease ? — greatly facilitated the Human expansion across Elven lands.

Alamen Tabris in the Denerim alienage

Within the Denerim alienage.

For centuries now most Elves have lived in ghettos in large Human cities, called alienages. What little remains of the Elven population generally lives in abject poverty and under tight Human control, though they are no longer nominally slaves.

The alienages exist in part for their own protection. Race riots would likely destroy most Elven neighbourhoods otherwise. Some Elves exist as free, nomadic people – but alienage Elves know very little about these “Dalish Elves”.

Elves usually follow the Chant of Light, since it was Andraste who freed the Elves from slavery.

Elves maintain smudged shreds of their culture, such as social events around a great tree or using terms in their ancestral language. The latter is much closer to slang than being bilingual. Only a handful of linguists know enough to construct a real sentence in this lost language.

Dalish Elves know more, such as the name and rough appearance and roles of the gods of the Elves of old, but it’s still very limited.

Elves are a few inches smaller than Humans, with pointed ears, very sharp features and large hands. They have a wider range of hair and eye colours than Humans do, and more symmetric features.

Elves have a regime of arranged marriages between Elves of different alienages who have never met. Permits must be secured from Humans. The likely goal is to prevent the pockets of Elven population from getting inbred due to isolation. However, for some, this insistence on marriages is a big problem.


The Grey Wardens

In ancient times, the catastrophic failure of a major ritual reportedly corrupted several mages, and allowed entry for great forces of evil. This would manifest over the centuries as a series of major invasions, called Blights, by creatures collectively known as the darkspawn.

Early Blights were nearly fatal to civilisations across Thedas, as the hordes were more than a match for conventional armies. However, a cadre of extraordinary warriors, rogues and mages organised itself into a relief force. They fielded such extraordinary assets as griffon mounts.

These men and women, called the Grey Wardens, fought so hard that they turned the tide and eventually killed the Blight’s commander-in-chief.

Morrigan, Alamen and Alistair

Left to right: Morrigan, Alamen, Alistair.

Grey Wardens remained vigilant, and during each Blight they marshalled new troops that proved indispensable in saving the day. However, they certainly aren’t popular.

  • they are inconvenient for the great kingdoms of Thedas
  • they keep lobbying for long-term military investments nobody wants to make
  • they were awarded certain rights and privileges many are jealous of

As decades or even centuries go by between Blights, people easily forget or come to see the stories as exaggerations. In Ferelden, the Wardens were even expelled after clashes with local nobles and the King.

Dragon Age: Origins begins in 9:30. That means the 30th year of the 9th age, also called the dragon age. By this point the Fourth Blight is but a distant memory. Even those who understand what it was are starting to assume that the Blights are over.

The Grey Wardens are at a low ebb of their power. It has been generations since the institution was useful. However, they were allowed again in Ferelden by royal decree some years ago.

Among the ancient rights of the Grey Wardens is the Right of Conscription. It allows them to recruit any person they well please — from slave to king — to undergo the Joining, their peculiar recruitment procedure.


History

Alamen was born in the alienage of Denerim. She is the daughter of Adaia and Cyrion. Cyrion works as a servant for a Human noble, and by alienage standards his years of steady work make him affluent. Adaia was a wild-tempered adventurer and criminal. She trained her precious daughter from a young age onward in knife fighting and other combat techniques learned in prison.

When Alamen was in her teens, Adaia was captured by the Human mercenary soldiers of the Hard Line company, and never seen again.

Alamen Tabris drawing her swords

To Cyrion’s despair, the already wild and angry Alamen went off the rails once it became clear that her mother had died in some sordid Human gaol. The well-meaning father saved up for the next few years. His goal was to amass a good dowry and get his daughter a young, good-looking husband with marketable skills.

Breaking bad

Cyrion was aware that his daughter never had had a boyfriend and didn’t want to. But he was too steeped in the importance of Elven women having Elven babies to save the species. Thus, he cluelessly assumed that it was because Alamen would meet a sufficiently nice young man.

As soon as his daughter was of age he signed with the parents of one Nelaros, of the Highever alienage. The marriage was to take place quickly. All permits were obtained. Nelaros could thus come to the Denerim alienage for the ceremony, then take his new bride to Highever.

Alamen was trapped. The alienage was all that she knew. She couldn’t reasonably expect to live outside of one if she fled. She knew that from time to time an urban Elf would run off to try and find the Dalish Elves in the wilderness, but as far as she knew nobody was ever successful.

The marriage was to take place in 9:30 (thirtieth year of the ninth age, the Dragon Age), during the traditional Summerday festival. Alamen’s cousin Soris would also get hitched.

Predators

A Human came to the alienage — Duncan, the head of Grey Wardens for the Ferelden area. While the Wardens had been cast out of Ferelden 200 years before, the King had allowed them back and Duncan was rebuilding the Warden presence.

Like most Wardens, he held no prejudices against Elves. As part of his activities in Ferelden, Duncan was even on good terms with the Elder of the Denerim alienage.

Alamen Tabris with sheathed swords

Duncan had considered approaching the talented Adaia Tabris for recruitment, but there was no need back then. However, the Fifth Blight was now beginning and the Wardens were being summoned. Duncan thus came to check on Adaia’s daughter. He arrived as the marriage was about to take place, and politely waited for the ceremony to end.

Alamen and other Elves wanted to evict him as they didn’t want Humans in their ghetto. However the Elder came running, and explained that Duncan was his guest.

During the ceremony, the son of the city’s lord and armed guards came barging in. The drunken Humans violently abducted a group of young Elven women, including Alamen, and dragged them to the castle to rape and kill them.

There was little the downtrodden Elves could do.&emsp,But Duncan gave his two extra weapons to the grooms – Alamen’s cousin Soris, and her betrothed Nelaros. The young men sneaked into the castle. Once Soris found Alamen, he threw his cousin a sword as he knew she was handy with the steel.

Right of Conscription

Ably backed by Soris, the enraged Alamen went after the guards. She hacked a bloody path toward the lord’s son and his friends despite the odds. Seeing that they abused her cousin Shianni, Alamen killed the 3 Humans and helped Shianni out of the castle.

The city guards came to the alienage shortly after. Either a race riot, or brutal reprisals from the guard, seemed inevitable. Thus the armed and blood-drenched Alamen defiantly stepped forward. She announced that she was the sole person responsible, to cover for her friends.

At this point Duncan came in.

To the guards’ dismay, he announced that the Elven maiden was conscripted by the Grey Wardens. This removed her from the city’s authority.

Duncan took Alamen to Ostagar, when the royal host of Ferelden was assembling to meet the Blight – and where he and his apprentice Warden, one Alistair, had rounded up 2 other potential Wardens to undergo the Joining initiation ceremony.

As it turned out, the secret Joining ritual implied significant unpleasantness.


Description

Alamen is practically a photo negative of her mother. Adaia had very dark skin, but Alamen is unusually pale in skin and hair. She has big blue-green spooky Elf eyes in a shade not found in Humans, which she aggressively highlights with copious punk-style blue eyeshadow and matching lipstick.

Her gaze is made even more unsettling since she doesn’t seem to ever blink. She just… stares at things in an unearthly way, and one half-expects that whatever she’s looking at will soon be covered in frost and ice.

Alamen Tabris' spooky gaze

Part of her unusual hairdo is tressed to clearly expose one of her pointed ears, though the other half is the usual long veil of hair intended to hide her ears, sending contradictory messages.

The eyes of the Grey Wardens occasionally glow under stress. Tabris seems to have a low-level version of this on at all times. This makes her eerie when seen in poor lighting, and identifiable as a Warden by those knowledgeable about such things.


Personality

Alamen used to be a pleasant and sociable kid, and her mother was her best friend. As a girl she eagerly listened to Adaia’s tales of adventure and crime, and intensively practised everything her mother taught her.

This consternated her father. He was desperate to avoid his family being seen as troublemakers – as he was all too aware of how all their lives could be wiped away by Humans for any or no reasons.

Adaia’s death broke Alamen. Her fall was rapid. The squalor and poverty of the alienage didn’t leave much of a second chance. Within months the girl had become a surly criminal, stealing stuff to get smashed on cheap alcohol.

Her well-meaning but clueless father grew convinced that a good husband of her own age was the only way for his daughter to rebuild her life. In a way he was right, since as long as Alamen wasn’t some guy’s wife she was legally a child. There was no readily visible way out.

By age 17, the semi-alcoholic Alamen was widely known as trouble, though a few of her cousins of her own age stuck by her as they remembered whom she used to be. Cyrion rushed the marriage while it was still possible, as it was clear that his daughter would soon be out of control and then probably know prison and death.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Alamen Tabris (early)

Dex: 04 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: Responsibility
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 04 Occupation: Grey Warden
Inf: 04 Aur: 04 Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: 004
Init: 012 HP: 025

Powers:
Awareness: 02, Life sense: 11, Sharpness: 01, Ultra-vision: 02

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Awareness is limited to sensing the Blight, and particularly the activities of the Archdemon commanding it
  • Life Sense is limited to hazily sensing large concentrations of darkspawns
  • Sharpness is a Skilled Power, and can be applied to any bladed melee weapon that she wields and has a BODY of 04 or more. It can be added, using APs maths, to any Sharpness present on her blades.
  • Ultra-vision only to compensate for low-light
  • Ultra-vision is in black & white

Skills:
Accuracy (Assess personality): 05, Gadgetry: 02, Thief (Stealth): 03, Weaponry (Melee, Thrown): 04, Weaponry (Bows & crossbows): 03

Bonuses and Limitations:
Gadgetry is limited to grenades and poisons

Advantages
Credentials (Grey Warden, Low), Local Hero (Grey Wardens supporters), Pet (Dog), Schtick (Blindside Adept, Paired blades), Misc.: As a Grey Warden, Alamen is extremely resilient to the Taint

Connections:
Denerim alienage (Low), her “team” (Low), Blackstone Irregulars mercenary company (Low)

Drawbacks:
MIA toward Alcohol, Misc.: Social Stigma (Elf), Misc.: Social Stigma (Alienage lesbian), Misc.: As a Grey Warden she needs about 50% more food, has about a 30-year life expectancy after the Joining, and experiences nightmares caused by darkspawn activity (particularly during a Blight)

Equipment:

  • Denerim royal longsword [BODY 04, EV 04]. Main hand weapon.
  • Denerim royal dagger [BODY 04, EV 03]. Off hand weapon.
  • LEATHER ARMOUR [BODY 04, Skin armour: 01, Drawback: Real Armour]
  • Healing potion (x3) [BODY 01, Damage Transference (No Delay, No Damage Taken): 02, Grenade Drawback]
  • Deathroot extract (x3) [BODY 01, Poison touch: 03, Poison touch can be combined with the EV of a bladed weapon, but does no continuing damage upon striking a foe. Each application to a blade remains potent for 7 Phases before it fades and an additional application is required]
  • Acid grenade (x1) [BODY 01, Acid touch (Area of Effect 0 APs): 02, Grenade Drawback]
  • Reparative poultice (x2) [BODY 01, Medicine (First aid): 07, Regeneration: 03, Grenade Drawback, Bonus: Medicine and Regeneration are Combined (+1) (and Regeneration can repair badly damaged tissues (+1)]

Design notes – power curve

Dragon Age has a stark, early Dungeons & Dragons– style power distribution. Most soldiers are probably going to be killed by a darkspawn – they have about 2-to-3 odds in a straight fight, and darkspawn rarely fight straight.

Most soldiers and darkspawn, even with armour, will likely die in 2 or 3 blows – maybe a single one from a two-handed weapon. At least this is the way things go in cutscenes – gameplay is a bit different.

In DC Heroes, most soldiers would thus have rag-tag militia or basic grunt stats (from our Stock Soldiers technical article) and no Hero Points..

The “early” stats for the protagonists will thus be low (albeit markedly above such soldiers’ since their odds against darkspawns are dramatically better). The 4 main reasons for this are :

  • We are, as often with video games, rolling better equipment into better stats since DC Heroes isn’t scaled to handle tiny bonuses from sundry bits of equipment, which do not necessarily make sense outside of video game logic.
  • Dragon Age, like many computer RPGs, has something of a reverse difficulty curve – early fights against ordinary opponents are often more difficult than later fights against powerful opponents due to the lack of equipment and in-game skills, spells, hit points, etc. at low levels.
  • This represents in part the player’s learning curve – it takes some time to understand how to fight in Dragon Age, and getting a sense of how it works makes characters dramatically more efficient.
  • Some players have found Dragon Age: Origins fights at the default difficulty to be harder than equivalent combat in other video games. This wasn’t my experience – it seems to be mostly a result of people not realising that they are in (cunningly non-signalled) higher level zone, such as the Orzammar access area, and/or playing without the tactical pause.
    But it’s a further argument for relatively low stats for early Dragon Age: Origins protagonists.

Thus, writeups for the early versions of the protagonists will generally top out at 4-5 APs, though they become considerably more robust during the campaign. By level 14 at the latest, a well-managed party can take on a high dragon with confidence at the default difficulty level.


Design notes – other notes

The Life Sense Power for Grey Wardens isn’t part of the gameplay, but is clearly described both in in-game dialogue and in secondary sources.

The low-light vision for Elves is likewise not represented in the gameplay (it has been said that 40% of the intended content didn’t make it into DA:O) but is featured in various other sources.

See the “Poultices, poultices everywhere” section for more emulation discussion.

As to the Dog — Alamen’s Pet — he has his own profile.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Based on a Dragon Age: Origins player character.

Helper(s): Adam Fuqua (healing potions discussion), Ethan Roe, Darci, Peter Piispanen, Triad4ever, Civanfan

Writeup completed on the 18th of August, 2014.

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