In the Battle of Ostagar, King Cailan thought the Darkspawn threat nothing more than a crowd of warring beasts. His army was decimated; Cailan was slaughtered and his corpse hung as trophy. Year 12 of the Exalted age: Antivan King Elaudio commanded his small army to fight against the numerous Darkspawn horde. The denied evacuation led to his murder, at the hands of his own guard, as citizens fled the city. Underestimating the Darkspawn carves a path to self-destruction. While simple-minded, the Darkspawn threat is the greatest the world of Thedas has ever seen.
Darkspawn are corruptions of flesh, combat-ready and instinctively murderous. They sustain and live off the taint, the disease that flows through their blood. While their weapons are of crude make, numbers alone attribute to their success. They kill without prejudice. Without tactics. Without thoughts of the repercussions. In most cases, it’s unlikely they think on their own at all.
The Darkspawn lifecycle is a disturbing process. Ghouls, people or animals that contract the taint, instinctively seek out other Darkspawn as the corruption sets in. They abduct and taint women into broodmothers, if a female ghoul isn’t already found. The race of the broodmother before conversion will determine what kind of darkspawn she reproduces. Dwarves spawn genlocks, Elves create shrieks, humans bring hurlocks, and Qunari birth ogres. After a Darkspawn is born, it quickly reaches maturity and is shoved under the command of either Alphas and Emissaries, the stronger of their species. With no clear purpose other than pillaging and tainting everything in sight, these creatures seek to fulfill what destruction the Archdemon beckons. At times the Archdemon directly commands his deadly host himself, these are called the Blights.
The origin of the Blights is shrouded in tales. The Chantry states that as humans first learned magic, the Old God named Dumat taught them the horrific art of blood magic. After lulling the current mages under his helpful guise of power, he whispered about the Golden City of the Maker, the supposed one true god. A beautiful place beyond the limits of the physical world. After an absurb amount of blood sacrifices, the magisters walked physically into the Fade, the metaphysical realm of spirits and demons, to find the Golden City. However, the Maker’s city was tainted by their coming. As punishment for their hubris, the magisters were cast out as the first Darkspawn. The Maker imprisoned all seven Old Gods, deep into the earth. But as the Old Gods slumbered, they called. Continuously for years, the Darkspawn sought the root of the Archdemon’s sweet call, and tainted each Old God into infected dragons now called the Archdemon. And with this monster at the front, the Blight begins.
But, this is only one version of the tale. In the Dragon Age, the Champion of Kirkwall Hawke traveled to the prison of an ancient magister, Corypheus, and heard an alternate story. Dumat betrayed the magisters by saying the city was for the taking, but the Golden City was already tainted black. Dumat fooled his loyal magisters into contracting the taint. No one knows the true story of how the Blights started, but with the amount of destruction inflicted by the Darkspawn, its origin is trumped by the need to end the Blights.
“In war, victory. In peace, vigilance. In death, sacrifice.” The Grey Wardens is an organization given free reign to counter the Blight. Through the Joining, a blood ritual involving ingestion of Darkspawn blood and lyrium, Wardens gain power to track and counter the Darkspawn threat. But, at a cost. Taking in tainted blood also reduces a Warden’s lifespan. They start to hear the thoughts of Darkspawn and the Archdemon, and it worsens with the taint’s spread. Before the end, they journey on their Calling, a final act where the Warden goes into the Deep Roads to slaughter as many Darkspawn as possible before death. Sometimes mages will become an abomination, a state where a demon possesses a mage host, and die destroying the Darkspawn. The Calling is a noble end for a Grey Warden, and their lives are seen as the highest of sacrifices for the good of all kind.
The Darkspawn undoubtedly need to be stopped. With the possibility of two or three Blights in the future, the Wardens must stay vigilant to counter the spread of the taint. If the Grey Wardens cannot act on their own to challenge these threats, the dark influences of the Fade will claim the world. But that- is a story for another day.