I was writing a post on the BSN about character abilities. Hit a wrong button, browser went back, and entire essay vanished. BLEARGH!
However, I was on an interesting train of thought regarding companion specializations.
In DA:O, we could equip our party members with just about any armor and/or weapon. We had overall schools that they studied, but there was flexibility. Everyone could have a ranged weapon. Warriors could use any weapon they wanted. Mages could learn any school.
DA2 restricted us, and a lot of people were irate about that. Why couldn’t we give Isabela a bow, or Varric a pair of daggers?
BECAUSE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, that’s why.
All of these characters had other things to do in life besides practice a martial or magical art. They might spend a decade or two honing skill with one weapon, but that doesn’t make them a master of all.
And I kind of love that. As much as I love and hate Seb, one thing that I unequivocally love about him is that backstory- how he got up every morning before dawn to practice, to make his grandfather proud. Like Nathaniel whom he replaced, there’s a history with bows. Sebastian isn’t an archer because we gave him a bow- he’s an archer because that’s WHO HE IS. Give him a pair of daggers and tell him to stab someone, and the prince in his lily-white armor might recoil in disgust. Ask him to stab someone in the back and he’s likely to lecture you on the rules of warfare, and how backstabbing is a dirty, underhanded tactic and he’ll have none of it.
Beth is pretty flexible, although in the Entropy/Creation dichotomy she falls on the side of Creation. She’s Sunshine to everyone, kindness, forgiveness, healing of all sorts, but I find that her major personality trait is her fondness for “what-if?” What if Varric had stayed in Orzammar? What if the Hawkes had grown up in Kirkwall? What would Carver have thought of everything? What if she’d gone to the Circle? In a way, she and Seb are almost a perfect pair, the boy who can’t make up his mind and the girl who wonders about everything. That flexibility of “what-if” is reflected in the fact that you can spec her from the beginning of the game in just about any way you wish.
After she goes to to the Wardens or the Circle, she’s granted the Force Mage spec, and at the end of the game she seems to have graduated from “what-if.” Her entire speech of “For years I tried to understand why Andraste needed to lock us up, but now I know that the system is wrong” shows a stronger, more determined Beth. The what-if girl becomes a Force to be reckoned with.
Ah, Carver, compensating for something? He’s so emasculated by his older sibling, by always being the second best, the middle child, the little brother always outstripped by Hawke the elder. His bitterness in his personal quest, the pointed dialogue where he sneers at the thought of any of his father’s letters being for him (after all, if he lives, he’s the only non-mage child in a houseful of mages) and it’s really not surprising that he chooses the biggest weapon he can swing to say “I’m not a mage, SO WHAT.”
Bianca is more than Varric’s crossbow. In my mind, she’s a symbol of his love/hate relationship with his heritage as a dwarf- for all of his ridicule of typical dwarves and their water-clock inventing paragon ancestors, he’s uncommonly fond of the wonder of his repeating crossbow. And Varric, spinner of stories, keeper of secrets; how could he not have a mysterious, anthropomorphized weapon who keeps others at a distance, who acts as a convenient excuse to push away those who get just a little too close? Asking him to put Bianca down for a pair of daggers is more than a simple swap of weapons- it’s a contradiction of his character. Varric may kill people, but he does it to their face, with style, singing Bianca’s song under his breath as he takes on all comers.
Isabela wields daggers because they’re hidden, a secret power, her tendency towards back-stabbing both a literal and figurative habit of years. You can’t haul around a bow and quiver of arrows while climbing rigging in a storm- bowstrings have to be oiled, wrapped, and you have to have two hands free to use one. A dagger you can fit between your teeth, in a thigh-sheath, in a tall boot, at your waist, on your back. Perhaps all of the above. She’s used to being backstabbed, first by her mother, and she carries that forward. Isabela’s not one to hang back and shoot from a distance, unless it’s with a cannon on her ship- she’s either up close, in your face, unapologetic, acrobatic, stunning and lithe, or she’s behind you, with a dagger in your kidney, and you never see her coming at all.
In a way it’s like the woman she used to be, invisible to her husband, a trophy behind the scenes to be exhibited at will, and the woman that she became, the strong, amazing, self-confident pirate who keeps friends and enemies within arm’s reach, melee distance always. Step one- do something, step two- ???? step three- profit! There’s little or no forethought to Isabela, and she says as much- “Don’t read too much into it, ok? It just seemed like a good idea at the time.” She’s not the kind of woman who sits on a castle wall, bow in hand, planning and waiting. Fools rush in, after all.
Fenris has been trained to be a living weapon, a bodyguard and a pet. So much of his power is based in lyrium and anger. Not for him, the precise, measured strokes of the duelist, the fencer, the show-swordsman. Not for him the concentration of the ranged attack. Like isabela, Fenris is in-your-face, but where she ducks and dodges, he leaps, rends, smashes, destroys. The power of his markings is the power to crush hearts, to lash out with spirit force, years of harsh conditioning pushing him to go on even when he’s exhausted, muscles screaming for respite.
He fights in broad strokes, application of massive force both physical and magical, and it simply wouldn’t make sense to give him a shield, to look to him to fight defensively. I think it’s telling that Isabela and Varric wonder if he can pick pockets or perform amateur surgery with his markings, and he’s completely bemused at the thought. It’s as if he’s never considered more delicate applications of his power. And a person wielding a giant weapon swings and follows through- there is no pulling the blow, no second-guessing. Maker help the person in melee range, friend or foe, who fails to dodge his strike.
Fen is like that in his romance as well- once committed, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition that goes from verbal to physical in the space of a night. He doesn’t know how to tread delicately, and when he retreats he does so just as completely. Like picking pockets or pulling out blades or reading a book, it takes him three years to learn to dance the steps of love, to acknowledge his own weakness and fear and that he might need to take a relationship in steps, instead of trying to embrace all the wonder and terror of love in a single fearless strike.
Aveline is one of the most balanced characters in-game- she has her moments, her fears, her weaknesses, her tendency to be over-protective and overbearing, so absolutely sure that she’s in the right and that only she can get the job done. But for all of that she handles the loss of her husband and the events at Ostagar with strength and fortitude. Everything Aveline does relates to personal strength and protection- I’m neither surprised that she starts with 2h weapons nor that she takes up the shield and keeps it.
She’s above backstabbery or trickery, and at the same time she must be in melee to step in front of and take the hits for those she cares about. You could hand Aveline a ranged weapon and tell her to stand back, but at the first press of enemies you’d find her at your side, shouldering you behind her and bringing up that shield to protect- that’s simply who she is.
Merrill has spent years studying lore, magic, stories, fragments of the past, analyzing lost artifacts under Marethari’s tutelage. Nature magic seems to be her forte, with the control and use of blood as a reagent and weapon in herself and others a recent addition. Blood magic seems to inhibit the ability to heal in both DA:O and DA2, and the codex entry for the school of Creation seems to imply that Entropy might also be involved:
Opposition in all things: For earth, sky For winter, summer For darkness, Light. By My will alone is balance sundered And the world given new life. —Threnodies 5:5.
The School of Creation, sometimes called the School of Nature, is the second of the Schools of Matter, the balancing force and complement of Entropy. Creation magic manipulates natural forces, transforming what exists and bringing new things into being.
Creation requires considerable finesse, more than any other school, and is therefore rarely mastered. Those mages who have made a serious study of creation are the highest in demand, useful in times of peace as well as war.
—From The Four Schools: A Treatise, by First Enchanter Josephus.
Since Merrill has access to Entropy, but not Creation, and Anders vice-versa, I am inclined to think that a strength in one school generally precludes power in the opposing school, and thus, Merrill can’t heal because she’s naturally inclined towards Entropy.
Anders, oh, Anders. Why does his tree feature both great powers of healing and self-harm? Isn’t that his very nature? People have postulated, and I agree, that (one) of Anders’ study specializations at Kinloch was Spirit Healing. His tree says he’s “always had a knack for healing,” and is it at all surprising that a brash boy, used to thinking that he can control Fade Spirits- (because he’s learned so much and they very clearly break down into certain types, and all of those sacrificed years behind stone walls have to count for something, don’t they)-is it at all surprising that he’d make a deal with Justice?
Spirit Healing (Specialization, DA2):
Few mages are watched more closely by the templars than spirit healers. For all the good they can do, their consorting with any denizen of the demon-infested Fade is a matter of intense suspicion. Still, the benefits outweigh the risks, if only just.
There’s a reason for his Panacea/Vengeance duality that I think has less to do with Justice and more to do with Anders himself. He’s a damned powerful mage- in a world where some mages can barely light a candle, we see his mastery of Fire in Awakenings. We can also assume that Fire is his base element, since his magic first manifested in the barn-burning incident when he was twelve. He alludes to his command of “that electricity thing” which is very, very finely-tuned Lightning. And calling upon just enough Lightning to titillate and not to harm is actually damned hard. As an exercise, sing. Then sing softly, piano. Then softer, pianissimo. Go as soft as you can. It’s easier to just yell then it is to control your volume. Same thing with controlling the smallest bit of Lightning as an exercise in bedroom antics. Then you add in a healer so powerful that even Merrill says “Anders, you can heal anyone!” Then you add in a bit of Spirit with that Spirit Bolt to Keran.
And Justice gives Anders more mana, but Justice himself is a Fade Spirit, not a mage. And since Kristoff was not a mage, that pretty much means that any of Anders’ magical knowledge comes from Anders himself.
Anyway, back to Panacea/Vengeance- there are two sides to Anders, even before his merger with Justice. In Awakenings if you are pro-mage, you see one side; the cheerful, snarky guy with a knack for jokes and healing, harmless, right? His codex entry implies as much:
Anders has a rocky history with the Circle of Magi. Taken from his family when his talents first manifested, Anders was still a boy the first time he ran away from the Circle. Recaptured and returned dozens of times, Anders was still considered only a reckless scamp by First Enchanter Irving, who thought his easy temper and sense of humor made him no true threat.
That’s the public face he wears- the one that’s gotten him out of major trouble, most of the time, the one that makes casual friends and lovers with ease.
But if you’re anti-mage in Awakenings, you see Vengeance. You see the angry, bitter man who’s seethed for a decade or so in his stone prison. You see the powerful, dangerous revolutionary who leashes both his magic and his temper. You see the man who was locked up for a year with only his anger, along the occasional presence of a cat to keep him (relatively) sane. There is the fire, the lightning, the spirit and the power. Anders doesn’t speak about the Harrowing much except to decry the practice in general, but I don’t get the sense that it was any great trial for him. He’s spent his entire life learning to control himself and his powers- of Anders’ weaknesses, willpower isn’t one of them. Pride, perhaps, and rashness, a glib tongue, a compassionate heart and a fiery temper: these are the things that get Anders in trouble.
I don’t know if I could go back to Origin’s flexibility- the choice of weapons in DA2 seems almost integral to the personalities of the characters, and in the end I love characterization more than anything.
*noms on all the delicious head canon here.* great post <3