The word "Thedas" is Tevinter in origin. In ancient times, it refered to lands that bordered the Imeprium. As the Imperium lost its territories, more and more became Thedas until finally, the name came to apply to the entire continent. Thedas is bounded to the east is the Amaranthine Ocean, to the west by the Trishan and the Hunterhorn Mountains, to the south by the snowy wastes that lie beyond the Korcari Wilds, and to the north by the Donarks. The Orkney Mountains, a rugged chain of mountains that stretches from the icy wastelands of the southeast deep into the continent’s center, dominate the southern lands of Thedas. A smaller mountain chain called the Frostback Mountains juts between Ferelden and Orlais and holds the dwarven city of Orzammar (thought to be the last until the rediscovery of Kal-Sharok). The mountains define the southern border of Thedas, while the vast Tirishan forest and the Hunterhorn Mountains define the western border, cradling between them the fertile Orlesian Empire. An unbroken expanse of trees, the Tirishan is one of the wonders of the world and is as mysterious and dangerous as the hottest of the deserts. Thedas is divided in the middle by the Waking Sea. The central lands north of the Waking Sea are known as the Free Marches. They consist of forest and plains, and they have the best agricultural lands on the continent. This land is covered with the city-states known as the Free Marches.
The Arlathan Forest, once home to the only known city of the elves that was destroyed by the Tevinter Imperium, lies just north of the Free Marches, and it forms the border between the Imperium and the more exotic realms of Antiva and Rivain. This ancient forest is neither as dark as the Tirishan nor as dangerous, but its oft-plundered ruins are a sad tribute to the culture that once was. Little of the old elves remain, and the forest is often called “the Mourning Lands” by those who visit it, because it seems few humans can make a living there, as if the forest itself resents their presence.
The lands of Tevinter around the Nocen Sea are quite temperate and were the first realms inhabited by mankind. Ruins here are plentiful, dating back to a time when the Old Gods were worshipped and the blood magic of the magisters ruled over the land. The islands of Seheron and Par Vollen in the Boeric Ocean are junglelike and humid. They have been transformed over centuries of control by the Qunari into bastions of military and religious efficiency.
The Anderfels, to the northwest, is the first part of a great land of dry steppes. It is a harsh land famous for producing a rugged people resentful of their former Tevinter overlords, and it is the true home to the Grey Wardens at Weisshaupt Fortress. The Donark Forest marks its northern border and is a rain forest of tall trees and uncivilized freemen who have notoriously evaded control by their southern cousins.
What lies beyond the snowy wastes of the south is a mystery. The freezing temperatures and barren land have kept even the most intrepid cartographers at bay. Similarly, the far western reaches of the Anderfels have never been fully explored, even by the Anders themselves. It is unknown if the dry steppes are shadowed by mountains, or if they extend all the way to a nameless sea. There must be other lands, continents, or islands, perhaps across the Amaranthine or north of Par Vollen, for the Qunari arrived in Thedas from somewhere, but beyond that deduction, nothing is presently known.
In the desolate landscape of the Anderfels, two Blights have left the steppes of Anderfels so completely devoid of life that corpses cannot even decay there, no beast, insect, or bacterium able to survive to feed on them. The Anders are a poor people, though their proud culture remains, and they are likely the most pious followers of the Chantry in Thedas. The order of the Grey Wardens founded in the Anderfels to drive back the first Blight, and it remains its headquarters at the mighty Weisshaupt Fortress, though its griffon ayries now lie empty. Another landmark in the Anderfels is the great Merdaine, with the statue of Andraste carved into its face. Unlike anywhere else, the Wardens hold power in the Anderfels, and are treated as lords and banns, and it is a position of power they've taken advantage of.
Antiva has a warm, north-eastern climate. Its capital is the glittering Antiva City. It is known best for its merchants and sailors -- as well as its wines, its main exportable recource. Antivans are notoriously untrustworthy, but they make excellent merchants. Though its dynasty of rulers has remained unbroken for two-and-a-half thousand years, it is not they who hold the power, but a body of argumentative merchant-princes. These are not royalty, but heads of banks, trading companies, and vineyards. In Antiva, money controls power, and the nation is mostly neutral in international affairs. Its leaders prefer peace over war, and are not afraid to use large amounts of money to affirm that fact if necessary. It was once ruled by Tevinter, and was only freed when the Qunari occupied its former masters' attention. Due to this, Antivans greatly resent Tevinters. It lacks a strong military tradition, yet it is still feared. The Antivan Crows are the deadliest assassins in Thedas, and this is the main reason no-one wants to attack Antiva. Women have strictly defined rules here. They are considered pure and delicate, and thus are not allowed to participate in combat, among other things.
Ferelden is a relatively temperate nation in the far southeast of Thedas. It is populated by a militaristic people descended from barbarians, who have only begun to civilisate in the last few centures. The Fereldens are still considered primitive by other nations. They are a proud and indepednent people who resent being called primitive and backwater. They are well on their way to becoming a power on the continent. The capital of Ferelden is Denerim, the seat of the king. Presently, King Cailan Theirin rules the nation of Ferelden. The Landsmeet is a council of the entire Fereldan nobility -- the king, the two teyrns, the arls, and the banns. It has been held for three-thousand years.
Originally, the valley was then divided up into dozens of old Alamarri clans. They were constantly at war with each other, and were united by King Calenhad in the thirty-third year of the Exalted Age. After mysteriously gaining the support of the Circle of Magi, Calenhad marched on and defeated Redcliffe, forcing a Landsmeet where the nobles unanimously submitted to him as king. This marked the birth of Ferelden, and began the Theirin line from which the Ferelden kings have descended.
Ferelden borders the Orlesian Empire to the west. It was occupied by Orlais for over a century before King Maric and Teyrn Loghain liberated it. The Orlesians and the Fereldens still have a tense relationship. The Frostback Mountain Range -- where the city of Orzammar lies, deep beneath the ground -- prevent hostilities from being more frequent. The Ferelden desire for freedom has engendered a laissez-faire cultural attitude towards law enforcement and behaviour in general. While the worst offences are quickly put down, many others are ignored, and citizens are often left to make their own justice. Commerce is largely unregulated as long as taxes are paid; businesses such as brothels and gambling halls are not only tolerated, but expected.
Dogs are a very important part of Ferelden culture and life. They are seen everywhere in Ferelden, even in the art and heraldry. No dog is more prized than the mabari. They were magically bred by the Formari. Each mabari chooses its master for life in a process called imprinting. Mabaris are fierce combatants and highly sociable, and are said to be as intelligent as your average tax collector, though unable to talk except in barks, growls, and whines. To help differentiate their dogs in battle, kaddis is used by mabari handlers.
The Free Marches is a collective name given to the wealthy city-states in the central part of Thedas. "Marchers" as they are called are an independent folk of tough barbarian origins. They are considered the breadbasket of Thedas, with farms along the banks of the Minanter River. The movement of goods and trades brings people from all over Thedas to the Free Marches, and many native-born Marchers are of foreign descent. Their cities exist in a loose confederation that resembles Ferelden's pre-Calenhad Bannorn. Each city has a leader, and can name a champion, who proves him/herself through their deeds. The Free Marches will unite only if invaded, gathering together a united military threat of considerable threat that cannot be ignored. As was most of Thedas, the Free Marches were once ruled by the Tevinters; its cities possess the typical Imperial architecture: high buildings of almost all white stone. Starkhaven, Kirkwall, and Tantervale are the largest city-states. In Tantervale, the Grand Tourney is held, bringing participants from all over Thedas. It is a festival of martial skill and valor to crown a champion of the games. The victor is awarded a coronet of sage leaves, and a trophy blade known as the Celebrant. Common of address in the Free Marches are: Serahfor one of equal or lesser status, and Messere for a person of greater status.
Nevarra was originally one of the Free Marches, but has grown in power and wealth, aggressively expanding over the last two centuries to become a power that rivals even Orlais. It has fought and courted other Free Marches states, becoming a powerful confederation now ruled by the Pentaghast family. From this family a majority of its rulers have come, many of them military geniuses. It fought and won a long war with Orlai over the mineral-rich hills to the west, and this brought it prestige and wealth. The indigenous cultures of those hills, however, are not happy with Nevarran rule and harsh taxes, and are forming a rebellion that Orlais is happy to support. Though Nevarra City is its capital, Cumberland is one of the largest cities in Thedas, situated on the Minanter River and trading with the Free Marches and beyond. A vast necropolis lies outside of Nevarra city. Nevarrans do not burn their dead, instead preseving them carefully and sealing them in elaborate tombs. The wealthy often start building their tombs young, and these can expand to entire palaces. Nevarra is filled with artistry, from its many statues of legendary Nevarran heroes to its glittering golden College of Magi in Cumberland. It is also known for its dragon-hunters of years past, the most prominent being the Pentaghasts.
Orlais is a massive empire, being the strongest human nation on the continent. It is ruled by the Empress Celen I, who dreams of expanding the borders just as the Empire's founder, Kordillius Drakon -- founder of the Andrastian Chantry and Empire of Orlais -- did prior to his death. Orlais is the centre of the Chantry, and the right to rule is said to extend directly from the Maker. It borders the Frostback Mountains, and is in an alliance with the dwarves of Orzammar as their main trading partner.
The noble class in Orlais is massive and known for its culture and extravagance. If you are not a noble in Orlais, you are either aspiring to be, or at least to get into the good graces of one. All nobles play the Grand Game: a game of reputation and patronage, where moves are made with rumours and scandal is the chief weapon. In a desire to stop the Grand Game, Drakon abolished all titles except his own, lord, and lady. Instead of this ending the Game, Lords and Ladies now collect unofficial names, these getting lengthy. Many Orlesian nobles belong the Chevaliers. These knights go through legendarily harsh, rigorous training, and their loyalty is absolute. The penalty for dishonour is death, something that a Chevalier welcomes if he or she has failed their lord.
Nobles have a penchant for high fashion. Though this is copied in places such as Nevarra and the Free Marches, in Orlais it is at its most extreme. Both men and women wear cosmetics. Subtle differences indicate social standing. In public, they sometimes wear elaborate masks. These are hereditary, identifying one's family as the heraldry on a crest would.
Montsimmard is the location of the Circle of Magi in Orlais.
This is the capital of Orlais. It is home to the Chantry of Andraste, and the seat of the Divine is situated at the Grand Cathedral, where the entire Chant of Light is sung, taking a fortnight to complete. From the White Spire, the Knight-Vigilant directs the Templar Order. The alienage here is the most populated and dilapidated in Thedas, with over 10,000 elves living in an area roughly equivalent in size to the Denerim Market District. Val Royeaux is home to the University of Orlais, a relatively modern institution that attracts young nobles from all over Thedas. Its liberal-minded professors have clashed with religious conservatives over the content of their classes.
Orzammar and Kal-ShirokEdit
Deep underground, at the heart of the Frostback Mountains, lies the Orzammar Thaig, one of the last great dwarven cities. Surfacers aren't allowed here, except on special occasions -- such as envoys, or Grey Wardens. Orzammar is has no ruler at present, as Prince Bhelen Aeducan and Lord Pyral Harrowmont.
In the Orzammar Thaig, the Hall of Heroes is full of enormous statues of Paragons, which literally hold up the cavernous ceiling. The city arcs outward from the royal palace, which is built around a natural lava vent, continually fountaining liquid rock, which lights and heats the entire cavern. The topmost tier is home to the Noble Caste, their palaces fanning out in both directions from the palace, as well as the Shaperate which keeps the Memories, serving as a repository for all dwarven knowledge. In the Assembly, the deshyrs -- representatives of each noble house -- meet. They elect kings, so each king must work constantly to maintain their support. The lower tier is the Commons; the Merchant Caste sells their wares here, the finest works of the craftsmen. In the center of the river of lava, connected to the Commons by a causeway, are the Proving Grounds, a sacred area where the dwarves, by ancient tradition, settle disputes.
On one side of this fiery river are the ruins of old dwarven palaces that have fallen into disrepair. This is where the dwarves who have been stripped of their position in society -- the Casteless, who are forced to wear tattoos to denote their status -- live. The Casteless are the descendants of criminals and other undesireables. They are selected for only the most undesireable jobs. Some of the female casteless become Noble Hunters -- women who seek to raise their status by bearing a son to a dwarf of the Noble Caste.
On the other side of the "river" are the Deep Roads. The entrance is sealed, though the gate is opened on occasion to allow the Legion of the Dead into the Deep Roads, where they spend their last days fighting darkspawn as a hope of redemption. This extensive network of underground roads once joined the dwarven empire together. The dwarves closed off the Deep Roads when they fell to the darkspawn during the First Blight. The great thaigs -- cavernous settelments built by the dwarves to honour their Paragons -- are now lost to them, save Orzammar and Kal-Sharok. In the more ancient parts of the Deep Roads, the walls and floor are covered with a bizarre substance of oil and filth that is spread by the darkspawn that inhabit it. They spread the blight to even the very rock around them. The spawn are most numerous here except during Blights when they come to the surface, rallied by the Archdemon.
Elven lore holds that the first humans in Thedas came from the rainforests of Par Vollen many thousand years ago. Ironically, the island is now held by the Qunari. It was conquered in 6:30 Steel, and the Qunari went on to conquer much of Thedas, before signing the Llomerryn Accords with all nations but Tevinter. They consider Par Vollen their homeland, as contact with their original homeland ceased. It has been assimilated to the point that it is now a peaceful Qunari nation without resistance. Its primitive human inhabitants once built great pyramids in their jungle cities; the Qunari have topped this with the domes and aqueducts of Qunandar, Par Vollen's capital city. It is said that another people known as the Fex inhabit Par Vollen, though little is known about them. Few outsiders are ever permitted to visit the island.
The Rivaini are considered a strange people by most nations in Thedas. They are olive-skinned or darker and often distinguish themselves further with tattoos and body piercings. The more elaborate these are, the higher one's social standing or rank. They do not follow the Chantry; instead, they are pantheists who believe in the Natural Order. Rivaini do have prohibitions on magic, but they revere their Seers -- local hedge witches who converse with spirits, even allowing themselves to be possessed, saying they are doing so for the benefit of their villages. During the wars, the Qunari conquered Rivain, and there are many tales of massacres and war crimes on both sides of Rivain's history. The Qunari forces were drawn back to the north when the peace treaty known as the Llomerryn Accords was negotiated. The Qunari have made their mark upon the Rivaini, who have acquired some of their cultural traits over the centuries. A version of the Qun has gained popularity in Rivain, and the city of Kont-aar -- a Qunari settlement in northern Rivain -- has co-existed peacefully with the rest of Rivain. Nowhere in Thedas is there a greater interaction between the two cultures. Some people call for Kont-aar to be retaken, but those who desire peace and trade with the Qunari see it as beneficial to Rivain. The Rivaini have a peaceful relationship with the elves.
Seheron, an island in the north, was conquered by the ancient Imperium and the architecture there dates back to its glory days. However, in recent years, much have it has been leveled. 60 years ago, the Qunari took Seheron. The Tevinter Imperium is the only nation not to sign the Llomerryn Accords, and they and the Qunari are in conflict over the island. Adding to this are the Tal'Vashoth, former Qunari who have left the Qun, who fight the Imperium and the Qunari both. Seheron once had a large amount of elven slaves, most of which now have converted to the Qun and hold office within the Qunari ranks, aiding them in driving out their old Imperial masters. Those humans in Seheron who have not converted to the Qun feel abandoned by the Imperium. To the Qunari, Seheron is still kabethari -- a land to be conquered and converted, literally translating as "those who need to be taught."
The Tevinter ImperiumEdit
Tevinter was once a great empire, sprawling against the entirety of Thedas in ancient times. The Tevinters have left their mark, in the form of ruins and roads, some of them still in use. The Imperial Highway -- though unfinished -- extends from Minrathous down to Orlais and then to Ferelden. What remains of this ancient nation is a decadent land in the north centering on Minrathous. It is almost universally reviled by the other nations of Thedas; its nobility is self-indulgent to the extreme, and slavery is still practiced. The Imperium is the center of the black market, involving smuggling -- including the harboring of magical fugitives from other lands -- and the slave trade in Thedas.
Tevinter is a magocracy; it is a government ruled by powerful magisters who are members of the Imperial Senate. They spend almost as much time engaging in elaborate Machiavellian political schemes to prove their authority over each other as they do ruling. They are constantly competing with one-another for a higher position on the council. Raising one's position on the Senate can be achieved through wealth, magical prowess, and/or the support of fellow Senators. Their exact power is unknown, but they are responsible for the selection of the next Archon. The Magister Lords of the ancient Imperium ruled as a group, maintaining tight hold over the people through the power to infiltrate their dreams. Though this practice is said to be forbidden, some mages are quietly acknowledged as the most proficient dream-walkers and diviners.
The Imperium is still a very powerful nation with an impressive and varied army. Two features fo its military, however, are known throughout Thedas. One is the use of elephant mounts, these huge creatures having been imported into Tevinter for centuries through the coastal colonies near the southwestern jungles. The second is a trio of gigantic war golems known as Juggernauts -- these were purchased from the dwarves. Tevinter would turn on the other nations of Thedas if its attention weren't drawn to its war with the Qunari. The Imperium never signed the Llomerryn Accords and have been involved in a bitter war with the Qunari since they invaded Thedas. The rest of Thedas is happy to let them fight with each other.
All of Tevinter is bulit on a foundation of slavery. While most nations forbid the buying and selling of slaves within their borders, nearly all ship their people to the Imperium for sale, skirting the prohibitions against such atrocities, and feeding the Imperium's tireless need for bodies. To support their families, many elves sell themselves into slavery. Another thing about Tevinter is that its Chantry is a separate entity from t min Chantry, having split off centuries ago in a great schism over the role of magic. The "Black Divine" as the Divine in Orlais calls him, is chosen from the ranks of the Circle of Magi, and Brothers are more prominent than Siters.
In ancient times, Minrathous was the center of the world. Remnants of this former glory still remain, but are buried in the layers of filth and decay the Imperium's decadence has accumulated over the ages. The magisters and the Circle of Magi live in elegant stone towers, literally elevated above the stench of the slaves and peasants below and clearly demonstrating who is in charge. The outskirts of Minrathous are full of refugees fleeing from the never-ending war against the Qunari in Seheron. The "Black Divine" resides in the Argent Spire here; this is where the Imperial Chantry's headquarters are located.