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Dalish politics is largely based on favour and precedent.

Precedent always wins, because history is everything. There are clan alliances that go back to the days of Shartan, and these are fiercely maintained... and then there are clan alliances that were formed only yesterday, but were formed because one of the negotiating Keepers suddenly found a way to prove that there had been an alliance in Shartan’s time, no, really, I swear I’m not just saying that to get you to help us. One of the first things Dalish elves do when opening negotiations with a new clan is to sit down and trace back their political allegiances and bloodlines until they find a point of intersection - usually not more than five or six generations, because there are few enough Dalish. But if you don’t like what you find out, well, you can always just keep going back...

Keepers desperate to find common ground with a clan that has previously been staunchly neutral or hostile towards theirs will sometimes resort to ‘Well, we were all on the same side in Shartan’s army!’; hence, ’An alliance by Shartan’ is an idiom which means, loosely, ‘An alliance between parties with nothing in common’, or sometimes ‘a spurious and unconvincing reason for doing something’.

When precedent fails, the alternative is favour: literally just do something big enough for the other clan that they have to pay you back, or else find proof in that same web of alliances and bloodlines that they already owe you. Hence the Dalish quests in Inquisition.

For political (and ‘citizenship’, and surnaming) purposes, travelling Keepers still count as members of their original clan. So a popular and often-called-upon travelling Keeper can be a major asset; their clan may arrive somewhere to find that another clan now owes them because Trevor the Travelling Keeper saved half of its members from the plague last month, or helped them to secure their new alliance with another clan...

(Conversely, of course, they might arrive to find that ‘their’ Fen’Harel’s Keeper destroyed all the other clan’s food supplies last month because he thought the other clan wasn’t prepared enough for winter, and they’re in the doghouse. But then, the other clan clearly wasn’t ready for winter, so whose fault is it really?)

And inevitably, of course, there’s war.

I can’t see Dalish wars being particularly... visible affairs. First, it’d be way too dangerous to let humans see them that divided, and second, a medieval battle had to be planned in advance: get two sets of Dalish mustering on opposite sides of a field and it’s basically an invitation to the local noble to send their knights to join the party.

What the Dalish are really good at is guerilla tactics. So you’re gonna get sabotage, you’re gonna get kidnappings and hostage-takings, you’re gonna get lone hunters being sniped off by hunters from different clans.

Considering how strongly (and for what good reasons) they bang the ‘all Dalish lives are precious’ drum, I think we’re probably looking at more hostage-taking than actual killing? “You can have the Keeper’s grandson back when you agree to our demands”, that sort of thing. “We’ve got all your halla, so we win.”

And with sabotage, that gets fun really fast. Sneak in and steal/destroy all their food, then refuse to share yours with them until they surrender. Break the aravels, burn the blankets... turn them all into werewolves, yes, Zathrian, I’m looking at you. That seems exactly the sort of guerilla tactic they’d use on one another, too: something designed to force a surrender with as little actual bloodshed as possible. It’s still a war, but a war by other means, and with all those alliances going on it’d still have the capacity to spiral out of control. So Clan A kidnaps all Clan B’s halla because Clan B stole all Clan C’s food stores, and Clans A and C are allied, only what Clan A hasn’t reckoned on is Clan E, who are related to Clan B’s Keeper through a marriage with a recently-transplanted hunter from Clan D, and Clan D aren’t getting involved because they’re already embroiled in an argument with Clan F over the Theft Of The Vallaslin Ink, which was actually stolen by Hawke to give to Solivitus, only nobody else knows that and Clan F blames Clan D because last year Clan D gave them some ironbark that had rotted...

Dalish wars are probably less about who can fight and more about who can avoid fighting the longest. By the time you reach the point where elven blood has been spilled, everyone’s in such a state of frothing rage that the only good solution is to send each clan involved to a different country entirely and hope they don’t see one another for the next ten years or so...

...or just exile the biggest players and start over, of course. I’d be wiling to bet that happens a lot, too.

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charamei

July 2016

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