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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, which we’ll quickly describe. 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 referred to as “the Grey Warden” or “the Hero of Ferelden” — is highly customisable. Alamen Tabris is simply one possible take. People playing the game will likely create a completely different protagonist. Furthermore the game branches, 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  • The screenshots taken for our Dragon Age entries have been archived as a Flickr album.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. These are based 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. Alamen’s well suited to it, like her mum was.

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. Adaia Tabris’ style is 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 the ones she makes are weak charges. 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. These are oddly described as poultices even though everything else points to them being AD&D-style drinkables. Potions use herbs, particularly the wonder plant called elfroot , to magically cure pain and wounds. The more proficient the herbalist, the more powerful the potion.

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. 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. If so, they only leave relatively minor wounds. These can be addressed by further medical care but aren’t life-threatening or severely handicapping.

Practical consequences

The side that wins a battle could thus considerably reduce or even eliminate their casualties. This would be done 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 will stay down.

Let’s hazard a No-Prize Hypothesis . Perhaps the full effects of elfroot necessitate a special diet to saturate one’s body with prepared elfroot. This diet ends up costing a lot over time. It also requires a competent herbalist for preparation – and monitoring the subject.

Since in a typical DA playthrough it’s mages among the party who have herbalism skills, this diet might even require the herbalist to enchant the elfroot and other herbs. This would make it markedly more difficult to prepare one’s metabolism to benefit from healing potions.

Interestingly, the “enchanted elfroot diet” hypothesis might also explain why the Circle of Magi recovers so well from what seemed to be a massacre. Generally meshes well with DA:O in-game dialogue and events. But still, it’s just a No-Prize Hypothesis to explain the observed facts.


Thedas, the Dragon Age setting

Thedas features the usual elements of post-Tolkien , post-Gygax  heroic fantasy (such as Elves and Dwarves and mages). As a result, it is readily accessible for gamers without massive information dumps.

Over this neutral base it layers 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 – such as politics, social stratification and religion. Most characters do not have an epic dimension à la Beowulf  or Lord of the Rings.

Dragon Age characters in a swamp

You must gather your party before venturing forth.

Characters in the story 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.

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

Species and powers

Thedas is clearly dominated by Humans. But there is very little sense of intra-species solidarity among them, just like with Humans on Earth.

Humans, Elves and Dwarves aren’t *that* different. Elves and Humans are even 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 is fantasy interventionist 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 fallible 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). She 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). Their monotheistic figure is called the Maker. See our Leliana character profile 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 character 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 character profile for more.
  • The Dwarves are, nowadays, a peripheral presence. 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. However, there’s at least one nomadic tribe living just outside of Ferelden. These guys are among the minority of Elves not confined to ghettos within Human cities. Thus, 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. It lies far to the North. But the Tevinter Empire still pervades history and most of the ruins in Ferelden date from the Empire.

Video

From Ashes was a cinematic trailer for the game. It was done early on, and various details do not *completely* look like what’s in game. But it’s pretty nice. Here it is in 1080p.

Of note for readers of our Dragon Age profiles :

  1. In-game Leliana (the French archer) isn’t as gravity-defyingly agile, and Morrigan (the cranky mage) isn’t as strong in either human or monster form.
  2. Our profiles use variant character models for both these ladies to better align their facial features with those in From Ashes.
  3. The “Warden eyes” can clearly be seen in this version of the Player Character (a White Human male). These aren’t really featured in-game, but this is what led to Alamen Tabris having the same luminous eyes.

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 forgotten, their history erased. Contact with Humans also somehow ruined their lifespan, making them no longer-lived than their conquerors.

This latter 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. But at least 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”.

Reviled

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

Elves maintain smudged shreds of their culture. These include social events around a great tree, or using terms in their ancestral language. However, the latter has degenerated into simple slang. Only a handful of linguists know how 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 slightly larger than average hands. They have a wider range of hair and eye colours than Humans do, and more symmetric features. ”Knife ears” is a common racist insult, since this is the more visible and consistent difference with Humans.

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.


The Grey Wardens

In ancient times, the catastrophic failure of a major ritual reportedly corrupted several mages. This allowed great forces of evil to enter the world. Their arrival 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. The darkspawn 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. They eventually killed the Blight’s commander-in-chief.

Morrigan, Alamen and Alistair

Left to right: Morrigan, Alamen, Alistair.

Grey Wardens remained vigilant. During each Blight they marshalled new elite 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 are awarded certain rights and privileges many are jealous of.

What have the Wardens ever done for us ?

As decades or even centuries go by between Blights, people easily forget or come to see the stories as exaggerations. And 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. The Joining is the Wardens’… 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 made him affluent. Adaia was a wild-tempered adventuress 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. She was never seen again.

Alamen Tabris drawing her swords

The wild and angry Alamen went off the rails once she realised that her beloved mother had died in some sordid Human gaol. As a result her concerned, well-meaning father saved every penny during 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, or even an interest in one. 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 had never met a sufficiently nice young man.

As soon as his daughter was of age Cyrion 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 Summerday festival. Alamen’s cousin Soris would also get hitched.

Then comes marriage

A Human then came to the alienage. He was 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. As a result, Duncan was rebuilding the Warden presence.

Like most Wardens, he held no prejudice 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 street toughs wanted to evict him as they didn’t want Humans in their ghetto. However the Elder came running. He explained that the Human was his guest and a friend of the alienage.

Predators

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. They 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. While Soris was handy with the steel, he knew that Alamen was about as deadly and skilled as Adaia had been.

Ably backed by Soris, Alamen went after the guards. The enraged lass hacked a bloody path toward the lord’s son and his friends. Seeing that they abused her cousin Shianni, the seething Alamen killed the three Humans. She and Soris then 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 well-armed and blood-drenched Alamen defiantly stepped forward. She announced that she was the sole person responsible, to cover for her friends and take the fall for her kind.

Right of Conscription

At this point Duncan came in.

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

Duncan then took Alamen to Ostagar, where the royal host of Ferelden was assembling to meet the Blight. Duncan and his apprentice Warden, one Alistair, had rounded up two 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.

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

Alamen Tabris' spooky gaze

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

The eyes of the Grey Wardens often 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 readily identifiable as a Warden by those knowledgeable about such things.


Personality

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

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

Alcoholic teenage ghetto tough with a talent for deadly violence

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.

By age 17, the semi-alcoholic Alamen was widely known as trouble. Howbeit, a few of her cousins of her own age stuck by her as they remembered whom she used to be.

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. As long as Alamen wasn’t some guy’s wife she was legally a child. There was no readily visible way out.

Cyrion rushed the marriage while it was still possible. It was clear that his oft-inebriated and bloodied daughter would soon be out of control and then probably know full-blown alcoholism, 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 Wardens, 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 two or three blows – maybe a single one from a two-handed weapon. At least this is the way things go in cinematics. The 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.

Gather your party (imaginary numbers remix)

The “early” stats for the protagonists will thus be low (albeit markedly above such soldiers’ since their odds against darkspawns are dramatically better). The four 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 (as in From Ashes). Assuming the default difficulty level.

Once the adventuring party has picked up steam and levels, they become *much* tougher than the norm for the setting.


Design notes – other notes

The Life Sense Power for Grey Wardens isn’t part of the gameplay. However, it is clearly described both in in-game dialogue and in secondary sources. One assumes it was cut late in development for lack of time. It has been said that 40% of the intended content didn’t make it into DA:O.

The low-light vision for Elves is likewise not represented in the gameplay, 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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