De plus en plus cynique, de plus en plus glacé,
J’enjambais des cadavres depuis quelques années,
Je n’avais rien de bon et rien de spontané.
Duncan is one of the major characters in the Dragon Age: Origins video game. And one of the protagonists of the Dragon Age: The Calling novel.
You can think of him as a sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi figure.
This profile is best read after :
- Our primer to the Dragon Age setting. And after following the link therein that presents the Grey Wardens in greater detail.
- The character profile for Warden-Commander Genevieve, which explains the novel’s plot.
It also has S P O I L E R S aplenty about the game and the novel.
This profile is heavy on the The Calling material and light on the Origins material. This is because the very start of DA:O, where Duncan features, can be one of six different continuities.
Thus, the DA:O events featuring Duncan are described in the character profile for our “locally canonical” Hero of Ferelden, Alamen Tabris.
The main portrait in this entry is popular fan art by The Minttu .
- Real Name: Duncan.
- Marital Status: Unrevealed.
- Known Relatives: Arryn (father, deceased), Tayana (mother, deceased).
- Note: That Tayana is indeed Duncan’s mother is confirmed in World of Thedas. It wasn’t 100% sure in the novel.
- Group Affiliation: Grey Wardens.
- Base of Operations: Warden Fortress at Montsimmard, in Orlais.
- Height: 5’9″ Weight: 170 lbs.
- Eyes: Brown. Hair: Black.
Powers & Abilities
Duncan’s core abilities were being a gifted thief, knife fighter and stealth/escape artist. Even as a teenager he was a hard man to stop or kill.
As a Warden, what he brought to the table was primarily sneaky murder and dealing with locks, traps, restraints, etc.. He knew escape artistry, including thumb dislocation to get out of manacles.
Then he trained to also be a frontline fighter – albeit a light, irregular one. See Utha’s character profile for his role in Genevieve’s unit.
The killer awoke before dawn
Over the years, Duncan drifted away from the “thief” D&D archetype and more toward the “fighter” one. He wore heavier armour, used heavier weapons. He even experimented with fighting with a shield for a while.
Duncan usually dual-wielded short swords or — more rarely — hand axes. Early on, he preferred daggers. These, like all melee weapons in DA:O, are rendered in-game with an exaggerated size. I assume that this was to make third-person melee combat more readable on the screen.
He possessed a strong killer instinct. Duncan wasn’t looking to murder anyone, but when it became necessary he could do it without any hesitation. He was surprisingly savage in battle, though with age that became ruthless efficiency.
As a trained Warden, Duncan could eliminate his opponents very quickly. He fought in a low stance, crouched to the ground. From there he made rapid leaping movements, stabbing very quickly at unprotected points.
Duncan also possessed the typical Grey Warden capabilities :
- Immunity to Taint.
- Limited life expectancy as his mind increasingly perceived the Old Gods.
- Ability to mentally sense the darkspawn across a distance.
- Increased food intake.
He also learned the sign language used by Utha. But he was still a beginner, so there are words that he didn’t know. And Duncan couldn’t keep up if Utha signed too quickly.
He studied the blade
In 9:10 he was armed with a pair of big silverite daggers. Silverite is significantly stronger and sharper than steel. These blades could thus pierce common-quality body armour, or bone, without much difficulty.
With these daggers, even a teenaged Duncan could severely wound a dragon. He somehow managed to run up the beast’s back, reach the neck, and chain-stab his way to climb up the neck so he could reach the back of the skull.
Duncan also stole a black, magical dagger. This was a unique design, enchanted by Remille using newly-learned Taint magic. Three applications are known :
- Carrying it protects from Taint infection. This “stacks” with being a Grey Warden.
- If Taint-infected anyway — which probably requires Blight magic — touching the infected area with the dagger will force the Taint out.
- It can also be used to block Blight magic attacks, by hitting the incoming Taint.
Rivain is a sort of fantasy medieval Spain (or Aragón, I guess). And Ferelden is Scotland-ish. So I guess we could with some Spanish Celtic revival trad music.
Here’s one of Carlos Nuñez’ classics, the Aires de Pontevedra. This specific live take features the usual Galician crew, plus what seems to be guest islander pipers. So that’s a fair few bagpipes.
History (part 1)
Duncan was born in Highever, the son of a local carpenter and a Rivaini woman. But they apparently travelled through Orlais and the Free Marches.
Duncan lost his parents while he was still a wee bairn. He was in Val Royeaux at this point. Not having anything left, he was forced to join the Dickensian underworld of street urchins, who fed themselves through petty crimes.
When he could, Duncan joined small gangs from mutual protection. But the casualty rates among these were horrific.
The urchins were considered to be little better than rodents. Though their living conditions were still a notch above those of alienage Elves.
Through luck and talent, Duncan survived against all odds. He even managed not to kill anyone, keeping the heat down. Though he was caught on several occasions, he was proficient at prison escapes even as a teenager.
But he saw most of his friends die, often in miserable circumstances.
Song for Guy
Duncan was perhaps 15 when a shady innkeeper tipped him about a rich traveller.
The thief snuck into the man’s room, to steal a recently-bought jewel. But the traveller caught him. And he refused to back down even after Duncan drew his knives.
Duncan was starving and desperate for loot. But the unarmed traveller — one Guy — wouldn’t let go. The fight was long and brutal.
Duncan accidentally killed Guy while trying to force him back with a dagger to the throat. As he died, Guy thanked him, taking Duncan aback.
The guards had had ample time to arrive. They arrested Duncan. In short order :
- Duncan learned that his opponent had been so tough because he was a Grey Warden.
- The jewel Guy was defending was an engagement ring for his fiancée, Genevieve, also a Grey Warden.
- To everyone’s surprise, Genevieve visited Duncan before he was to be executed. She wanted to recruit him. But from Guy’s dying thanks, Duncan had developed the impression that being a Warden was worse than death. He refused.
- As Duncan was to be executed, Genevieve forced the issue by calling upon her Right of Conscription. The Val Royeaux authorities were furious about this.
Months later, Duncan learned that Genevieve’s actual objective had been to see him die during his Joining.
You’re in the army of the grey now
But Duncan survived, and thus became a Grey Warden. His first six months with this organisation were… contrasted.
On one hand, he wanted out. The training, hardship, discipline, constant risks, early Taint nightmares, etc. were repulsive for him. But this wasn’t possible
On the other hand, he came to admire his fellow Wardens – especially Warden-Commander Genevieve. It was also the first time that an authority figure was investing in him and treating him fairly.
Duncan was particularly impressed that Genevieve gave him Guy’s silverite daggers. This was the first time anybody had given him something valuable.
He also became a friend of a recent-ish recruit, Warden-Ensign Fiona. She had previously been a slave and, like Duncan, had grown up in Orlesian slums. She and Duncan soon ended up on Genevieve’s elite squad.
Back to Ferelden
Six months after Duncan’s joining, said elite squad rushed to Ferelden. Genevieve was on a personal crusade to save her brother Bregan from the darkspawn.
(Since you’ve already read Genevieve’s character profile, we won’t repeat too much info from there. And thus keep it brief.)
They stopped at Orzammar, then at the royal palace in Denerim, then at the mages’ tower at Kinloch Hold.
At this point, Duncan still was a sullen, irresponsible criminal. In Denerim, he even stole from a market and got into a fight with a guard.
His hope was that embarrassing the Wardens right before a royal audience would get him fired. But the only way out of the Wardens is death. And King Maric couldn’t be arsed to have Duncan tried or imprisoned.
At Kinloch Hold, he snuck off during a ceremony. Duncan broke into First Enchanter Remille’s study, and stole an obviously magical dagger. He then went on to have a quickie with a young mage who fancied him.
Which is the point where he was caught. But being found with the lass also meant that nobody suspected the theft.
Now I’m into deep
Genevieve had assigned Duncan to see to King Maric’s need. This seemed like payback for having embarrassed her in Denerim.
But Genevieve eventually told him that his mission was :
- To act as a royal bodyguard. However, Maric was a proficient fighter. So this part wasn’t as necessary as it first looked.
- To murder the King if everything broke bad, and it looked like Maric might became a liability to the Grey Wardens. This, too, proved unnecessary.
- To sneak Maric out of the Deep Roads if the rest of the team was slain.
History (part 2)
During the Deep Roads expedition, Duncan grew into a genuine Grey Warden. He now understood what they were fighting for, was even prouder of his comrades, and gained a sense of how heroic Wardens could be when at their best.
When Julien died to save him, Duncan was shocked. He even fled from the team for a while, overwhelmed by guilt. Maric and Fiona had to come fetch him. But the guilt left Duncan determined to be the best, most heroic Grey Warden he could be.
He thus sided with Kell when the bulk of the team briefly mutinied against Genevieve. But by this point Duncan didn’t want out at all. He wanted the mission conducted to better standards, worthy of the legendary Wardens.
Down with the Architect
Though the mission was a harsh, brutal business, Duncan was among its three survivors. In the end, Bregan found his death, the Architect was forced to flee, many darkspawns had been slain, and a conspiracy was exposed.
Maric therefore decreed that the Grey Wardens could return to Ferelden.
(The organisation had been expelled from the country back during the Storm Age. That was when Warden-Commander Sophia took a controversial stand against cruel King Arland Theirin.)
As a friend to the King, Duncan was part of the Grey Wardens’ return to Ferelden. He was made Warden-Constable, serving just under Warden-Commander Polara.
Polara did a great job at overcoming Loghain’s resistance against the Warden’s return. But she soon left in unclear circumstances. Duncan became Warden-Commander for Ferelden.
(The in-game codex implies that there was something fishy about Polara’s disappearance. One also notes that in some scenarios Loghain has in his arsenals the big battle axe once used by Polara.)
(There’s also a statement that Duncan became Warden-Commander in 9:10. 9:11 or even 9:12 might work better, since otherwise the timeline for 9:10 is… dense.)
There also had been multiple expeditions into the Deep Roads, Duncan being presumably detailed to or leading these. But the Wardens of Ferelden weren’t able to find the Architect.
Duncan was also the only person who knew about Fiona and Maric’s baby. At Fiona’s request, Maric obscured little Alistair’s parentage. But Duncan kept an eye on his friends’ boy.
After Alistair was forced to join the Templars, Duncan became something of a father figure to him.
One gets the impression that the first 15 years or so of Wardens presence in Ferelden had a light footprint. It may have been a mix of small team actions against darkspawns, slow and careful recruitment, and overcoming remaining reticence about Warden presence.
Duncan considered recruiting one Adaia Tabris, from the Denerim alienage. He had somehow discovered that she secretly was a former top-shelf, Crows-trained assassin. But the Elder of the alienage convinced Duncan not to, since Adaia now had an infant daughter.
(This later bit is only canonical in the writeups.org playthrough, which uses the City Elf origin.)
A Blight is coming
In 9:25, the Wardens and Dwarves started realising that a Blight would happen soon. Duncan intensified his diplomatic and recruitment work. However, Wardens do not grow on trees, and the Joining cut down many of the promising candidates.
On the plus side, young King Cailan admired Grey Wardens – in part thanks to his father’s adventures with them. This was a precious asset to ensure that Ferelden would mobilize.
Meanwhile, Alistair had been made to join the Templars. He was absolutely miserable. This also meant lyrium intakes, which would eventually enfeeble and kill him. He thus begged to join the Wardens.
Between these factors and the coming Blight, Duncan took the risk. Alistair survived his Joining.
Tribal refugees then came in from the frozen South, fleeing a darkspawn army. The Blight would hit Ferelden soon.
Duncan had two potential Wardens left – Ser Jory from Redcliffe, and the thief Daveth from Denerim.
There was a third possibility, but it was faint. Adaia Tabris had gone missing some years before, but Duncan had heard rumours about her young daughter. They said that she was a lost street tough and thief, much like Duncan had been.
The Warden-Commander thus decided to check on Tabris himself, while his Wardens fetched the other two.
A lean and mean fighter, albeit not one with an exceptional physique. Duncan likely was 15 or so during his Joining, and thus 40 or so during the Fifth Blight.
Duncan has his mum’s brown skin. Back when he was a kid he didn’t like it, since that made him easier to spot and describe when he was in Val Royeaux.
(My understanding is that Duncan’s skin looks lighter than it should in DA:O. Due to a lighting engine issue making darker skins render badly.)
After Genevieve’s Deep Roads raid, Duncan starts growing a beard.
Back in 9:10, Warden-Ensign Duncan looked very much like the stabby type. He was clad in black leather armour. It was in a Northern style, with straps and buckles to convey a tough guy image.
Over time he wore heavier armour. It seemed to have been procured in Rivain, given the characteristic ornament patterns. There also would be a big griffon emblem, perhaps on a tabard, to represent for the Grey Wardens.
At first, he preferred to wear a big fur coat while in Ferelden. He wasn’t used to the cold, and felt miserable if not swaddled in warm clothing. But he apparently grew to tolerate the awful Fereldan weather. Perhaps the heavier armour also helped with the cold.
After he lost his parents, Duncan was a ruthless survivor. He lived hand-to-mouth as a petty criminal, surrounded by death, misery, contempt and squalor.
Thus, during his early months with the Wardens he came across as a self-centered, sullen, poorly disciplined brat. He wasn’t part of society at all, and thought mankind was a miserable and cruel bunch.
The necessity of stealing stuff to live was imprinted on his brain, even when that no longer made sense. He was just casing everything for loot. Stealing from the rich and powerful also felt like justice to him, or at least payback.
The young Duncan thus certainly didn’t see himself as a good man, especially after he killed Guy. Just a thief and a murderer.
Be all you can be
As it turned out, Duncan needed but the smallest amount of trust, care and sense of belonging and purpose to grow up into a completely different man.
Though Genevieve had terrible people skills, she oddly respected Duncan. And the young man was quite impressed by her, seeing her as a greater-than-life champion. He secretly wanted to be more like her, and cherished the daggers she had given him.
In the Fade, Duncan saw Genevieve as a far less formidable and martial person. He also realised that she had hated him while also respecting him. But that didn’t disappoint Duncan – it just showed him that it was possible to be even better than Genevieve.
At this point, Duncan was still a daredevil driven by thrill. His motivation was adrenaline, from fighting or from stealing. He loved risk and flashy daring.
Now I’m a believer
From there, Duncan continued to grow into an elite Warden leader. He defended the cause and strove to be worthy of his rank. However, we know little about this part of his life.
By DA:O, he also had become a wise, worldly and understanding mentor. He was a particularly good fit for apprentices who had been street criminals, such as Alamen Tabris or Daveth.
However, underneath this kindness, he also still was the cold killer Genevieve had sensed. For instance, he showed no hesitation in killing Ser Jory.
Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG
Warden-Ensign Duncan (in 9:10)
|Dex: 06||Str: 03||Bod: 04||Motivation: Thrill|
|Int: 05||Wil: 04||Min: 04||Occupation: Warden-Ensign|
|Inf: 04||Aur: 04||Spi: 05||Wealth: 003|
|Init: 015||HP: 040|
Awareness: 03, Life sense: 11, Systemic antidote: 05
Bonuses and Limitations:
- All Powers are Form Function.
- Awareness is limited to sensing the Blight, and particularly the activities of the Archdemon commanding it.
- Life Sense is limited to the darkspawn.
- Life Sense is Discerning, but that may require Perception rolls using INT/WIL.
- Systemic antidote only to resist the Taint.
Acrobatics: 03, Animal handling (Horses): 03, Medicine (First aid): 02, Thief (Escape artist, locks & safes, stealth): 06, Thief (Concealment): 04, Weaponry (Melee): 06
Credentials (Grey Wardens, Low), Familiarity (Grey Wardens equipment and protocols), Language (Some sign language).
MIA toward Stealing, Misc.: As a Grey Warden he 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).
- Silverite daggers (x2) [BODY 07, Enhance (EV): 02 (cap is 08), Sharpness (EV): 02, Descriptor: Piercing, Slashing].
- LEATHER ARMOUR [BODY 03, Blunting: 01, Damage capacity: 02, Enhance (Cold RV): 01 (cap is 05), Enhance (Piercing, Slashing, Bludgeoning RV): 01 (cap is 05), Bonuses & Limitations: Damage Capacity has the Full Recovery Bonus, Partial Coverage (Jacket)].
- There’s a set of lockpicks hidden in his armour.
- Black magical dagger [BODY 03, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 05), Neutralise (Taint effects, No Range): 09, Systemic antidote (Taint): 03]. Neutralise APs can be used to Block Blight magic, much like the my-energy-beam-against-yours standard DCH Block.
The fully adult Duncan seen in DA:O has heavier armour, has replaced one of his daggers with a longsword, likely has better scores and broader abilities, etc..
However, we see too little of him to seriously suggest scores.
Source of Character: Dragon Age: The Calling novel.
Writeup completed on the 20th of February, 2020.