I’ve been niggling at this little puzzle for a while now, ever since I read the description for Velanna’s starting item the Keeper’s Charm:
Although elven enchantment is more complicated than Tranquil methods, this ring proves that the old ways are still strong.
The Dalish don’t have ready access to lyrium, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to work with it without Tranquil or dwarves to help. Yet they clearly can do it - even without this item description to confirm it, we’ve seen plenty of Dalish-made items throughout the games that have enchantments placed upon them. So how are they doing it?
Turns out I’m a bit slow, because the answer has been staring us in the face since Inquisition came out - or rather, it’s been staring us in the Fade.
[Image: The Inquisition inventory screen showing a lovely selection of Fade-touched materials.]
With this and a bit of information from Origins, Trespasser and Jaws of Hakkon, I think we can make a pretty good stab at deconstructing both ancient and modern elven enchantment methods.
It always comes back to Trespasser
Trespasser tells us a few things that are pretty relevant here. First, it confirms that the ancient elves enchanted pretty much everything; second, it tells us that the Fade used to be everywhere, and a lot of Elvhenan’s enchantments fell apart when the Veil went up; and third, it throws some heavy question marks over the ancient elves’ access to lyrium. Perhaps they traded with the dwarves for it, or mined it themselves in the Deep Roads; perhaps not. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to ignore the possibility of ancient elves having lyrium: it’s clearly not relevant to modern Dalish enchantment methods, so I am going to assume that there are two completely separate methods of enchanting objects, developed in parallel by the ancient elves and the ancient dwarves, and only one of them requires it.
Now, we know that materials touched by the Fade can take on magical properties: the Inquisitor collects plenty of them. I think we can assume that before the Veil, Fade-touched materials were a lot more common or possibly even the norm, with the result that pretty much anything an elven crafter made was Fade-touched by default.
(Also worth noting here is that spirits touching things seem to create similar properties: the Grand Oak in Origins gives you one of its branches, which is a pretty powerful staff without you needing to do anything with it at all. I’ll get back to this in a minute.)
But the thing a lot of elven crafters might not have bothered to do, back when the Fade was everywhere, was to ensure that their items would stay enchanted: it was just naturally assumed that the Fade would always be there to support the enchantment. As a result, when the Veil went up, a lot of elven enchantments lost their grip on their items: the items, in effect, sundered. Dwarven enchantment methods, which involved working lyrium into the object itself, were unaffected and soon became the dominant means of enchanting.
Dalish crafting (it’s second to none, I assure you)
This would mean that if you want to enchant something the elven way in a world with the Veil, you need to somehow tie the Fade to the object. There seem to be several ways to do this, and some of them do indeed get very complicated.
The easiest way to do it would be to simply craft with Fade-touched materials, and let their natural properties and already-existing tie to the Fade do all the work. I would guess that a lot of simple Dalish enchantments are made this way: I’d also guess that this is how Varathorn’s Amulet is made (maybe the armour and the bow too, but the amulet is just a quick thing he threw together to say thanks. I wouldn’t expect him to do anything hugely complex with it).
But Fade-touched materials are rare, probably even more so before the Breach, so you can’t easily find them. There are probably some places where they’re easier to find, though... and, not at all coincidentally, those places are where the Dalish tend to be.
Location, location, location
So you need to either find something that’s already been touched by the Fade, or you need to tie the Fade to the material yourself. Where’s the easiest place to do either of those things?
Places where the Veil is thin.
Places like the Brecilian Forest, or Sundermount, or the Tirashan. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Varathorn picks up ironbark in the Brecilian, and it may not be a coincidence that he’s getting agitated about his apprentice doing the job wrong, either - they might not be able to enchant items at all unless hey’re in a sufficiently thin-Veiled part of the world.
Dalish enchantment of non-Fade-touched items is probably very location-specific. You have to be somewhere the Fade is within easy reach of the physical world: even more so if your craftsmaster isn’t a mage, because they’ve got to be able to work with the Fade and tie it to their items despite not being able to sense it.
Yikes. That doesn’t sound fun at all. And option #2 is even less fun.
Stick a spirit in it
Spirits can be bound to objects, but I doubt this is how the Dalish enchant things: it seems even more unlikely that that’s how the ancient elves did it. However, as I noted above, spirit-touched items seem to function similarly to Fade-touched ones, and we also don’t know how the Dalish tie the Fade to their enchantments. Summoning a spirit to briefly touch the item, the same way the Seekers summon spirits to briefly touch their new recruits, would be one way of doing it - if you can get a more powerful spirit to add additional properties to it, then so much the better.
(Sidenote: This is probably also how the Avvar do it. The Hakkonite weapons in particular all seem to have been provided/touched/made/whatever by Hakkon himself.)
You don’t need to be a mage to summon a spirit: Runa manages it with an offering and a prayer, and I find it hard to believe the Seekers would bring mages in to cure their recruits of Tranquility either. But it is undoubtedly easier if you’re a mage. In fact, all of these enchantment methods sound easier if you’re a mage... which is hardly surprising, considering that all elves were once mages.
“More complicated than Tranquil methods”
So considering that none of the Dalish craftsmasters we’ve seen so far have been mages... yeah, they’re badass. Even if they enlist the Keeper’s help on occasion (or the First’s, or the Second’s, or a travelling Keeper’s), they still spend a lot of time bending to their wills a force of nature that they can’t detect in any way except as a mild shiver up their spine.
Calling Dalish enchanting methods ‘more complicated than Tranquil methods’ is probably a ridiculous understatement. You have to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right materials and/or a spirit friend who understands what you’re trying to do and will help. You have to bend the Fade to your will even though you’re not a mage and can’t detect the Fade, or else you have to drag your Keeper into the deepest, darkest, most secret parts of the wood and get them to do it for you. And you have to be able to do it on command.
No wonder they’re so proud of what they’ve achieved. It sounds practically impossible.
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