War is hell. It brings about the worst kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder imagineable. Many a knight has spent the night screaming for his beloved mama. So do I, for after all these years I’m still suffering immensely from the failed battle at Ostagar. Not because of the gruesome deaths, the fact that the wardens almost became extinct or that it plummeted Ferelden into a civil war. That’s pretty standard for any kind of dark fantasy game. No, what I dread is the stupid, utterly vapid and even slightly insane strategy that Loghain employed.
Take a look at the cutscene that introduced the battle at Ostagar. The king’s men look nervously as the darkspawn approach, menacing looks and curved, vicious swords. A priest is passing the last rite for soldiers, hoping to save their endangered little souls so that they too may visit the Maker when they die. Then we cut to the darkspawn forming a neat little line in front of Ostagar, trying to intimidate their opponent and screeching like monkeys. Cailan realises that his troops are becoming frightened and looks on slightly panicked. Then the battle begins. The Darkspawn start running towards their army, like a girl wanting to hug a friend she hasn’t seen in six months. The human archers shoot a volley of arrows. Clever strategy; the darkspawn are moronically running into range. Cailan follows this up by releasing the mabari hounds. Kind of pointless considering they die before they can take down a darkspawn, but I can see the intention behind it. And then the noble king orders his troops to attack, making them run to their opponent so that they may rid the world of the vile darkspawn.
… Wait, what?
They left the ruins of Ostagar?! Why? Wasn’t it the point to use the defensive benefits the ruins gave them? Throughout the Ostagar arc many soldiers (including Alistair) mention the fact that the main reason Loghain and Cailan marched their army there was so that they can use the ruins in order to make the fights easier. Then why in the name of the Maker would you LEAVE it? It negates the benefit of a smaller army taking on a bigger army. You know, those basic strategy elements like making your foes go through small passage ways in order to whittle their numbers down so you may slaughter them. You know, that strategy the game advises and rewards you for doing? What was Loghain thinking? Was he trying to sabotage the battle before it began?
The Schemes of a Not-So Great Chessmaster…
Some of you will probably start screaming “why, yes he did good sir. This man wanted to kill our beloved king Cailan from the start for cheating on Anora.” Add in the factors that Loghain schemed with Howe and in the mean time had Jowan poison Eamon and one can start seeing a grand scheme at work; the mechanisms of a master manipulator vying to take the throne in order to save his beloved little girl. The typical display of a rich daddy who dotes on his only daughter who’s used to getting whatever she wants. But there is a problem with this theory: Loghain didn’t know that Cailan was planning to divorce Anora and marry empress Celene.
Let’s take a look behind-the-scenes for this one: Word of God says Gaider did originally intend for the Cailan/Anora/Celene subplot to be part of the story, but they couldn’t pull it off in time. Hence why they saved the reveal for the Return to Ostagar DLC. But because of this Loghain only learns then and there (months after the battle at Ostagar) that Cailan was up to no good. Before that he mostly thinks of Cailan as young, naïve (read: stupid) and reckless, which he’ll immediately state both during the Ostagar arc and throughout the story. So Loghain doesn’t really have a motivation to abandon Cailan beyond trying to save men from Cailan’s reckless drive for glory. Wynne theorises that Loghain knew the battle would be a disaster and therefore knew it was time to pack up and leave, which the peerless strategist states during his banter with the sage mage (provided you don’t chop off his head.) This means he doesn’t have the motive for the murder.
Alright, what about Howe? Why would Loghain support someone like Howe? Well, the general needed the support of the new “teyrn of Highever”, as it’s demonstrated throughout the game that Loghain doesn’t have as much support as he or Eamon would have you believe. Howe becomes very powerful during the game, being the arl of Amarathine and Denerim while occupying Highever after his siege. The guy has an army backing him, which is kind of what Loghain needs to battle the Bannorn. Does it make much sense to ally with a guy who’s proven he’ll kill his best friend for more power? No. Hell no. Especially since Loghain isn’t capable of controlling the snake. The Crime Wave questline and conversations with Sergeant Kylon demonstrate this. So in the end I’d call this an unholy alliance, created due to poor judgement on Loghain’s part.
Fast Travel Portals
Fine, but what about Eamon then? This is where things get interesting, because it’s possible the writers may have made a mistake. It becomes clear during the Redcliffe arc that Jowan was hired by Loghain before the battle at Ostagar, which is absolutely impossible. During the Mage origin Duncan visits the circle of Magi either during or briefly before the first battle at Ostagar. The king had asked for the assistance of the mages and the circle sent only seven of the little blighters. This wasn’t enough and so Duncan comes begging for more. This is when Jowan is still angsting in the tower and he has yet to spend time evading and getting captured by Templars, after which he’ll get intercepted by Howe and his men. After this little journey Jowan also has to spend some time teaching Connor magic while looking for a way to poison Eamon. So how exactly could Loghain have gotten his hands on Jowan before Ostagar? It would’ve made better sense that Loghain captured and used Jowan after the battle as a means to get rid of the very real threat Eamon is, but right now I’ll have to chalk this up to different writers writing their own arcs and making a mistake. Either that or them relying on incredible traveling speeds, much like a certain other writer who is famous for writing fantasy novels…
So let’s bring this all back to Loghain’s motivations during the battle at Ostagar. Based on the points already discussed I will have say that Loghain didn’t intend to kill his young king from the start and take over. The story elements demonstrate that he abandoned Cailan after the latter proved that he really wanted to be the big hero in this gruesome tale. But I do believe that Loghain actively sabotaged the battle at Ostagar and wanted to use Cailan’s army to grant his own a safe escape from the clutches of the Darkspawn. This would explain why he tries to convince Cailan not to spend time on the frontline and why his plans involve the human army running away from the defensive ruins and into the waiting maw of the Darkspawn.
Either that or he’s just a batshit insane military warrior who’s not as good at strategy as he thinks he is. Or Cailan decided to go LEEEEERRRROOOOOYYYY JEEEENNNKKKIIIINNNNSSSS during the midst of battle. Those theories can work as well.
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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the video games “Dragon Age: inquisition” and “Dragon Age: Origins.” We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. “Dragon Age: Origins” and “Dragon Age: Origins” were created by Bioware.