Dragon Age: So, what did you do at Redcliffe Castle?

This isn’t a matter of life or death, it’s more important than that …

For many fantasy fans,  it’s a crucial part of the genre that heroes be heroic and that doing good deeds  is rewarded in stories. If that is important to you, you will not enjoy playing Dragon Age.

It is clear from early on in the game that this is a dark fantasy. Very dark indeed. Even where it is clear that evil needs to be fought, the people who fight it are far from good themselves. The vaunted maturity of the title means that players have the option to choose between the lesser evil and the greater evil, and to decide for themselves whether the means justifies the ends. And the game will not punish the player unduly for making the nastier choice; sure, some of your companions may disapprove but the game isn’t biased towards one type of morality over another. Being good won’t be punished, but there’s no inbuilt reward for it either.

One of the earlier moral dilemmas faced in the game takes place at the human stronghold of Redcliffe Castle. I was fascinated by an rpg.net thread which asked players to discuss the decision that they made there in game, and to justify it. The thread is full of spoilers for that part of the game, but I was impressed that different players made spirited defences of all the different options available.

As a GM, I found the storytelling consequences just  a little cheap (it wasn’t as true a moral dilemma as it probably should have been), but the device did work. It made people stop and think. And I can’t really talk about it without spoiling the encounter so I’ll stop there.

But if you are playing through DAO, do check out the thread. It’s really quite interesting to see a storytelling device play out that’s rather richer than we are used to in MMO questing.






14 thoughts on “Dragon Age: So, what did you do at Redcliffe Castle?

  1. Actually, Redcliffe’s zombie defense section was what pushed me over the edge to writing my article about the game. The combat encounters there suck. They’re poorly designed, unnecessarily and artificially difficult, and boring. Seems like Bioware was trying to make a combat encounter that showed how their system sucks.

  2. I wasn’t fond of that particular part — I really liked the seven samurai style setup but the actual fight was a bit of a mess for me.

    But when my husband was playing it, he found some other option to set fire to the barricades which made that a lot easier. (It was to do with some oil he found in town, not fond of that as gameplay because it’s too reminiscent of the style of old text adventures, which I never liked much. ie. you have to find the exact right item to use in any encounter.)

  3. Redcliffe was a tough choice for me. Unlike you I was never a GM, so I am afraid I don’t fully understand the involved intricacies. I feel that it was cookie-cutter, but complexity breeds confusion, especially in a setting as epic and massive as this.

    The three choices were tough, and they were further compounded by my companions’ preferences. The biggest fly in the Ointment was Alistair. He didn’t want the child killed. He couldn’t bear the thought of Blood Magic used. And seeking the Magi’s help would be… awkward as a Templar.

    I think what made the Mages choice really tough was that it would take a long time, you didn’t know if Redcliffe would fall in the meantime, and if you wanted to change your mind a few hours later, it would probably be too late.

    I killed the kid. But I tried to be as compassionate about it as possible.

    Shale was pretty damn happy about it though!

  4. *** SPOILERS! ***

    I trusted Jowan to keep an eye on the kid while I went to the mage tower for help. When I got back, I sent Morrigan (spelling?) into the fade, where she kicked ass while chewing gum.

    So kid is saved, but the Arl is still in a coma.

    But the codex tells me Isolde (?the kid’s mom, I’m terrible with names) sacrificed herself to save her son. WTH? She did not! Why’d I go to all this trouble if history gets it wrong!? 🙂

  5. Thanks for the link – it’s fascinating reading, actually. I didn’t find it that much of a moral dilemma either, really, although I did enjoy the story. Am I allowed to leave spoilers in your comments section? I mean it was either kill the kid, let the mother sacrifice herself or go and ask the circle of magi for help, thus saving both. I don’t really think something can be considered a dilemma if there’s one route that’s so obviously better than the others? Or did I miss something?

    • Basically it’s not good storytelling to set up a Sophie’s Choice dilemma and then provide an easy way out. (You can do that if you set it up to be a puzzle with one ‘correct’ answer but I think they intended a genuine moral dilemma here.)

      There should have been more of a penalty for going to the Circle — something to make the player stop and think and weigh up the options. A lot of people assumed that there would be an inbuilt time penalty for taking that long, on the grounds that everywhere else they appear, you need to deal with demons quickly and decisively. (The fact they took over the tower in your absence should be some kind of warning.)

      Anyhow, if everyone picks the same choice on their /second/ play through, you can be sure the choices weren’t weighted equally.


    This one was really dark, but the decisions wasn’t that hard for me, since it seemed clear that the entire disaster was the mother’s fault (this is exactly why children are taken away from their parents if they are mages!). The only thing that gave me pause about sacrificing her was that the Blood Mage could have been lying, but I had talked to him enough that I didn’t think he’d betray us on this one.

    I didn’t think there was time to get the mages involved, especially since I hadn’t yet gone to the tower, so assumed I would have to do a lengthly quest for them before I came back, if they could even help me at all. The problem in Redcliffe simply seemed to urgent for me to wait. What if the kid killed again?

  7. His mother annoyed the hell of me from start. I wanted to smack her second I met her. As a result, my choices were rather twisted.

    I allowed the mother to sacrifice herself using Jowan’s Blood Magic so I could enter the Fade and encounter the demon within. Once there, I negotiated with the demon to leave the boy alone for the time being, but it could come back and “claim” him at a later date. 🙂

    Deal done. No muss, no fuss…except for the fact that there’s a dead mom and a kid who is going to eventually end up as an abomination. But hey…I got what I wanted in the end.

    Looking back on it, I think I chose the most evil of all paths possible.

    I feel dirty now. 😉

    Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive)

    I took a different route before getting to the redcliffe castle. So far I’ve been to all the other cities first and helped Jowan escape so my only options to help Lady Isolde is to pretty much kill her by allowing Jowan to use blood magic to get me to the fade. Unfortunately since I have already been to the mages guild I do not have the choice of going back to get lyrium. I do however remember that a dwarf in Orzammar would sell me raw lyrium for 50 gold and was wondering if anyone has tried that to gain access to the fade without having to let Jowan use blood magic.

  9. i cant find isolde after chossing to sacrafice her in the dialogue. i talk to bann teagen (the in game dude in the hall)and he tells me to talk to isolde when i have made my decision which would be great cept i cant find her HELP!!!

  10. Pingback: Good, Evil, and other Genre Conventions « Welcome to Spinksville!

  11. I dont like all those strange decisions. i am here at redcliff to get the blood mage ability.

    like in other situations in the game i dont know what to do because i have no information about the benefits for my character.

    I am not there to save anyone from anything, i am doing what i am always doing in rpg style games, trying to powerlevel my char. i think i will go for the demon that asshole has the ability i need.

    i hope i dont miss some loot if i go to the mages tower later i really hate such decisions. i am still low level becauese i need that ability befor i can level up 🙂 so i want to go there fast.

    how much more fun did i have with oblivion and fallout III?

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