We Are Now the Inquisition: The Interesting Case of the Mage-Templar War

We interrupt our Mass Effect Month to talk about another fine BioWare game: Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I should have called this “BioWare Fan Month.”

My friend over at Falcon Game Reviews recently wrote a fantastic review of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and we decided it might be fun for him to write a review, and then for me to pick apart some of the social themes in the game. If you haven’t read his review, please do so. Even this hard-core Dragon Age fan appreciated the fair and critical eye he turned on this third installment in the series.


Speaking of critical issues, one of the central themes in Dragon Age: Inquisition is the mage-templar conflict, which is an issue that has been bubbling beneath the surface for the previous two entries in the series. The conflict seems quite fantastical, but the underlying issues are not only realistic, but eerily reminiscent – at least thematically – of some situations and events that have happened in the physical world.

A (Somewhat) Brief History of the Mage-Templar Conflict

So the history of the mages and templars goes back to before the time of the Chantry, to when the Tevinter Imperium was powerful and ruled Thedas. Tevinter is a land ruled by mages, and – basically – they worshipped the spirits created by the Maker rather than the Maker himself. Eventually, about 400 years before the Chantry began, some very powerful mages decided that they wanted to enter The Golden City (DA’s heaven) and cast out the Maker in the name of the Tevinter gods, claiming power for themselves.

Image result for the black city dragon age

After being cast out of the now-corrupted Golden City, the Maker turned away from his human creations in disgust, locking himself and his perfect City away where neither could be reached by his sinful creations.

Fast forward a bit, and Andraste receives her divine visions from the Maker, wages war against the oppressive Tevinter Imperium, the Chantry is formed, and the Chantry begins to suppress the mages – not only symbols of the oppressive Imperium, but also the “cause” of the Maker’s abandonment. And thus the stage was set.

As Falcon509 states so eloquently:

For the unacquainted, the conflict is one of oppressor versus oppressed. The mages, desiring freedom from templar scrutiny over their lives, have been trying to break free of their oppressors. This often comes at the cost of doing some truly terrible things, like using forbidden magic and summoning demons. On the other hand, the templars have been attempting to tighten their grip around the throats of their charges and quash any rebellion that crops up.

[…]What is interesting about this, is that neither faction is completely right or wrong. Both sides are attempting to accomplish something good, but both sides also use horrific tactics to find that solution. The mages, who did not choose to wield magic, just want their freedom to live out their lives. The templars see mages (sometimes correctly) as a threat to those around them. Not all mages are bad guys, but the same applies to the templars.

But unfortunately, to the mages, templars, and everyone caught in the crossfire, there is no room for negotiating, and all the problems are most definitely “the other guy’s” fault.

This Means War

Considering the unrest that bubbles beneath the surface in Dragon Age II, not much time is given to the mage-templar conflict in Dragon Age: Origins. Really, this is unsurprising since a Blight was ravishing the land and folks were probably a little occupied with other things. The only hints we have are during either the mage origin story and/or the Circle Tower quest, during which we see a glimpse into the dynamic between mages and templars (aka, they don’t get along).

Image result for orsino and meredith

Then, Dragon Age II comes out and attempts to show more details into the unrest between the two groups. The grey areas are explored to a certain extent, and we as players begin to see that neither side might not be completely innocent. However, BioWare’s canon ending is for Hawke to side with the templars, and this is portrayed a bit during the actual game, as we’ve talked about before.

In any case, Dragon Age II hints that it’s not just Kirkwall that is experiencing unrest. In fact, Leliana – now an agent of the Divine – is sent to investigate Kirkwall in order to assess the possibility of a larger mage-templar conflict. When Anders – fed up with the unfair treatment of mages – makes his final, explosive move, tensions finally snap. Mages begin rebelling throughout Thedas, with some simply wanting more freedom, and other openly attacking templar/others.

Enter the Inquisition

Which brings us to the year 9:41 Dragon, when the events of Inquisition begin. This poses a fascinating twist to the story and to the concept of role-playing. While this might not be something that pertains to newcomers to the series, veteran players have two games of history behind them when coming face to face with this conflict.

Image result for inquisition mage or templar

To be blunt, my heart was with the mages in Origins. I didn’t like how they were mistrusted at best and hated at worst. Even though I was not a templar fan, I would up siding with the templar in Dragon Age II for role-playing reasons, even though I – as a player – wanted to side with the mages again. After all, who in the world sides with oppressors? They are the villains, always.

Aren’t they?

In Inquisition, the player is put in a position where he or she can put his or her inquisitorial foot down and squash whichever group he or she doesn’t like. But the problem is that once the Inquisitor begins talking to the templars, and talking to the mages, it’s clear that neither group is inherently innocent or guilty. They are simply on different sides of the issue. Both have been attackers, and both have been victims.

Image result for inquisition mage or templar
Cullen is an example of a templar who has been oppressed by mages and has oppressed them in return.

But that’s a tough conclusion to draw sometimes, because it means having to bypass your own beliefs and biases as a player and sift through the quagmire of anger and (potential) hate speech to get at the heart of the issue. In the end, the Inquisitor can’t broker peace. He or she must pick a side, and must pick a side he or she thinks makes the best case, not the one who makes the perfect case.

Don’t worry, though. It’s only the fate of the world that’s at stake.

Why the Conflict?

There are a couple factors that led to this conflict. The most obvious one is that for too long, one group of people was repressed, feared, and often hated simply for being different. When they fought back, their efforts were squashed, and instead of hearing their cries as ones for help, their words and actions were taken to reinforce the misconceived notions about them. And so when more radical actions were taken, they were further – and more openly – oppressed, in order to maintain the status quo. So some, in the case of Anders, blew up “the system” in order to finally be heard.

Image result for anders blew up chantry

Another factor is with the templar, originally charged with keeping the word safe from the mages, but also keeping the mages safe from themselves (in the form of demon possession). A noble cause! But somewhere along the way, they became isolated from the plights of the people they were supposed to take care of, and became so enamored with their cause and righteousness that they inadvertently became villains in their own stories.

Neither of these groups, as I’ve mentioned, are patently right or wrong. They are just seeing the issue from two different sides. The problems occurred when they – quite humanly – stopped listening to the other side when they saw people in their group getting hurt.

We Are Now the Inquisition

As I wrote the above sections, I realized that I could have actually been speaking of real-world events. For those of you who may not know, the United States just went through a rather dramatic election season. While there are many societal reasons the results of the election wound up as they are, I’m not going to comment on that. For once, I’m going to keep my focus solely on the individual.

Image result for what meme

This last election season, each citizen was the Inquisitor: thrown into a less-than-ideal situation and given novel information that they had to contend with. Many people’s lives were suddenly being noticed, and many people’s lives were suddenly being disregarded. Some minorities were elevated, some were reviled, some majorities were – for the first time – ignored, and other previously-ignored majorities found their voices heard.

Within this nuanced and confusing mess, we were given two people from which we had to pick one. Members in both camps yelled spat hate at the other group, promoted fantastical, exaggerated or – worse – fabricated “news” as facts, and added more noise. The fate of each of our personal worlds felt at stake.

Image result for war table inquisition

Each of us, like the Inquisitor, needed to sift through the chaos to find truth, or clarity, or something firm to build our case on.

And each one of us had to make a choice about which side we were on.

End Credits
Like in Inquisition – and perhaps even in Dragon Age II – the “sane” voices tended to be drowned out by the loudest speakers on the opposing sides. Extremism, and not rationality, ruled, and what resulted is two groups that are still screaming at each other while moderates are still largely ignored or, worse, forced to declare themselves on one side or another.

It was, and is, a less-than-ideal situation, and we were all forced to make a difficult decision in the midst of confusion and conflicting information.

But now, the monkey wrench. At the end of Dragon Age: Inquisition, we discover that a new Divine has been chosen. The decision of who will take the Sunburst Throne in the Chantry is indirectly decided by the Inquisitor’s actions, but no formula is given in-game, and the Inquisitor does not really have a say in who rises to power.

Image result for divine dragon age

Full disclosure, my first choice for Divine was Cassandra, followed by Leliana. My game, however, concluded that Vivienne would be the next Divine.

So, in the midst of the chaotic world, filled with war, hatred, deceit, and uncertainty, the Inquisitor needed to be careful, because her actions had consequences. The consequence may have been unintended, but it was unknowingly fueled by the Inquisitor’s words and actions.

Image result for inquisitor throne dragon age

So it turns out your actions, your words, and your choices do matter. They affect the world, so be sure that when you make a choice, sitting in your Inquisitorial throne, that you’ll be okay with each and every consequence that choice might mean.

What do you think? Is the mage-templar conflict complete fantasy, or does it hit too close to home? Have you ever experienced something in a video game that made you question how you behaved in real life? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena

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  1. Mages forever, except Solas. Even for my third play through as a female elf and romanticizing him, nothing changes. Big disappointment.
    Back to Mage vs Templar, this conflict is about control. Templars fear what a few rogues will do vs the good mages can do on their own. This conflict creates unnecessary bloodshed just in trying to oppress a group of people.
    The bigger problem is the religious ideals that come into play with this that basically support one position or the other, the politics revolve around a religious view point rather than a democratic one.
    Any real life examples can come into play in talking about this, gay rights, race equality, gun control, all topics you can reference to make arguments and it comes down to what one believes as an individual right vs “greater good” that one group thinks over another. The libertarian viewpoint I usually take leaves me no choice but to never side with any oppressive ideal that is not shared by all.
    If anything the Templar create more enemies when they try to take something away from a people that were born to be free. If they were Zerg hive mind, the oppression wouldn’t exist because each body is just a unique tool for the common goal, but being individuals, negative treatment breeds negative reaction.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply! You’re right that it’s about control. It’s about maintaining the status quo and following the rules of “how it’s always been done.” But I disagree that makes the templars bad people; they have legitimate fears, too, but because they hold the power, they tend to be ignored. When I sided with the templars in DAII, it was hard for (real life) me, but the game presented a compelling argument for siding with templars and so I role-played it that way. It was a fascinating experience to see the issue from the “other” perspective.

      I do agree that religion does play a role, but doesn’t it in the physical world, as well? Gays are bad because God said so, women belong in the home because God said so, etc etc. It’s a complicated issue, which is why I think that painting one side good and another bad is not the way to solve any problem. To me, it’s that kind of stereotyping and labeling that cause the most problems.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I totally agree that there is some legitimacy to the Templar fears, which is why I mentioned gun control. Some people’s answer is we don’t need guns, or they should be heavily regulated. I always disagree with this standpoint because I believe everyone’s access to one is what makes us equal. Not everyone is born tall or strong. It’s a tool that anyone of reasonable mind and body can learn to use, and make the difference of a 4 foot 85lb woman and a 6 foot 250 man zero.
        I know why people are scared of guns, and it’s the exact same reason people are scared of gay/trans/black/etc, and it’s lack of knowledge and ignorance. Most of the things I hear in the argument for gun control are typically things that make no logical sense, and the people trying to write and pass the laws have no clue what they’re talking about.
        Moving away from guns, I can understand different people’s concerns about the trans bathroom issues, and all I’m saying is if you take that little stick figure man or woman off the door, it’s just a toilet. I’d say 99% of everyone is uncomfortable in the bathroom, yet we live in this segregated society still where men and females are treated differently.
        Call it a Puritan echo, but why do we have this segregated toilet system to begin with? Is it because men just can’t open a door with a woman on it? Or do we fear men are all unstoppable raping machines at the sound of a woman using the toilet? (Yeah sounds stupid when you say it like that.) I understand that there are a few perverts out there, but we have to deal with individual cases as they come not fear the worst. The argument about trans toilet use comes to this, ignorant person says “well what if that man just says he’s a woman to go into our bathroom?”
        Hey ignorant person, yeah you, the one who refers to it as a mental disorder, if you honestly think they are that confused about their sexual identity, what makes you think they are a threat to you or your child?
        Looking at the other side of things is easy, but it never changes what is right vs a zealous cause of morality. Freedom in inherent, morality is subjective.


  2. I’ve only played DA II, and I was heavily leaning against the Mages based on the bad ones I came across. OMG Hawke’s Mom flashbacks… *shivers* Sorry, haha. However, I did not judge the whole Mage group based on the actions of those few evil apples. But yeah, I have no idea what I’m typing about since I haven’t played Origins or Inquisition yet. 🙂

    Assassin’s Creed also has a Templar conflict. I was wholeheartedly against them until I played AC Rogue and got to see their side. It seems the Assassins and the Templars are both in a grey area.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I hear ya. DAII definitely wanted a certain side to be more sympathetic than another. And that’s interesting that the AC game that made you play as the templars got you to change your view on both sides of the issue. People all exist in shades of grey, not clear cut black and white, after all!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A lot of what we saw in the election, and well, politics in general, just comes down to values. And the thing is, everyone holds largely the same values. Sociological studies have backed that up, most of what we’re arguing about resonates with every human on a base level. We just prioritize them differently, and it’s those priorities that clash.

    Then we get into the field of fiction like this, though, where those same values clash on a personal level when two bodies are forced together. Both Templars and Mages value their safety and freedom. Templars want to be safe from possessed mages and free from the type of dictatorship the worst of Tevinter saw, so they control the mages. Mages want to be both safe and free from the Templars. Both are fighting for the same values, just focused in different directions. If only some great player character could come along and show them how they can protect themselves while controlling themselves enough to leave room for the other. Maybe in DA4.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like what you said about priorities clashing; you’re absolutely right. Everyone wants the same things, like to be able to live their lives comfortably and not be hassled by other people.

      That would be an interesting idea to explore in DA4 (*DA4!!!*). I think a lot of pieces would have to fall into place – the world would have to be threatened by a dire force that required the templars and mages to unite, a hero would have to rise quickly through the ranks and gain power to strong-arm peace…. Let’s face it, Shepard was a demi-god by the time ME3 rolled around and brokered the quarian-geth truce. But maybe they’d bring back a familiar hero to fill that role, who knows? There are certainly a lot of paths the next story could go down… Maybe we’ll finally see some peace.

      Liked by 2 people

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