I'd say I was a big fan of the Dragon Age franchise, followed it from its start to its end, I've probably put more into Dragon Age: Origins than any other RPG, Fallout New Vegas not included. Now that the trilogy is all said and down and we're all waiting for the inevitable next installment, now seems to be a good time to look back at some of the choices we've had to make over the course of the series. More specifically, one of my favorites. Who do you put on the Throne of Orzammar? Whenever Dragon Age: Origins comes up in discussion we inevitably get to the conversation of the Dwarves of that world and I think its great a game from 2009 can still invoke such a discussion.
But first a bit of background information, a refresher for those of us who haven't played it in a few years. Dragon Age Origins follows the path of a young Grey Warden (conveniently enough, also one of the last in the country) who needs to unify all the disparate factions to form a united front against the Darkspawn, who are waging a new war against the surface world in the hopes of destroying everything. The Dwarves have been battling Darkspawn for centuries over the labyrinthine tunnels stretching under the entire continent of the fictional setting, Thedas and it makes sense you'd want them on your side. But it isn't that easy, Orzammar is currently lacking a King and you get to decide who is going to rule the city. Bhelen, son of the previous King? Or Harrowmont, the long time adviser and top lieutenant?
Of course, this isn't a new or revolutionary plot line. People have been after thrones in history and popular culture since mankind has cobbled together the stone to make them. But it was the first time I'd played a game that made me choose one bearded midget that wasn't any better than the other. After the death of the previous King, King Endrin Aeducan (who may or may not have been your father depending on the origin choice) from a 'broken heart' from the death of his oldest two sons (more on that in a bit) his youngest, Prince Bhelen, said that his father would have wanted him to be the King of Orzammar. However, Lord Harrowmont was the only one who was allowed in King Endrin's presence and claims that the King told him that he must be King, that Bhelen must never be allowed to rule.
Now the trick is that neither of them can outright claim the throne, as Lord Harrowmont clearly states in the beginning of the Orzammar arc 'it is the assembly that makes a King, and a King may nominate a successor. None of it is written in blood.' And seeing as how the Dwarven Assembly, a collection of powerful nobles, is split pretty evenly between the two of them neither Bhelen or Harrowmont is able to come out on top. The city is on the verge of civil war by the time you show up due to the gridlock in the political system. Now it's obvious that the game wants you to pick Prince Bhelen.
Bhelen is young, charismatic and his pledges make the most sense to us, what we want from our leaders today. He promises to bolster trade with the other nations of Thedas, to lower restrictions on the lowest caste and increase military cooperation to fight off future Darkspawn attacks, something that the Dwarves have to constantly worry about seeing as how they share territory with them. While Harrowmont is the polar opposite of that. He favors the nobility over the other castes, restricts trade with the surface nations of Thedas and will not accept any military aid except for the most basic of medical supplies. He's an older figure, more representative of the old, traditionalist establishment to Bhelen's younger and more progressive opposite.
Now before I tell you what I think the correct (see: less shitty) choice in this is, let me tell you what happens for each of them should you crown them. Bhelen makes good on almost all of his promises, granting the lower rungs more opportunities and privileges and securing Orzammar's place on the international stage, but not before he has Lord Harrowmont arrested and his entire family killed, and after he dissolves the Dwarven Assembly and changes the law to make the Kingship hereditary. Harrowmont on the other hand, restricts trade and follows tradition closely, so close that Orzammar becomes isolated to the extreme and after a series of rebellions, Harrowmont is poisoned and killed. (note: there is something of a continuity error, as he is mentioned to still be alive in Dragon Age: Inquisition, some 15 years after the rebellions, which see Harrowmont killed 5 years into his reign.)
Now knowing all this, I find myself siding with Harrowmont almost every time. Why? Because there is a critical piece to the puzzle that you're missing, a piece that can only be found if you choose the Dwarven Noble origin beginning. Instead of being some Mage, or city Elf or human noble, you start the game off as the second eldest son of King Endrin. And you learn some very interesting things about your little brother Bhelen.
You see, Harrowmon'ts claims are entirely true. Bhelen killed the eldest son of King Endrin, or baited his second eldest into doing it, and King Endrin slid into an extreme depression that, combined with his old age, killed him. The letter you receive if you choose the Dwarven Noble origin proves this. Here it is word for word;
Perhaps you will burn this letter unread. For that, I would not blame you. But I would not return to the Stone without saying this to you: I have seen what Bhelen is. And when I saw it, I knew I had been a fool. For only a fool would cut out his own heart and burn it for the sake of appearances. I never believed in your guilt. I allowed you to be exiled because I feared an inquiry into Trian's (your brother) murder would taint our house with scandal in the eyes of the deshyrs (nobles of the assembly) and cost our family the throne. But I have saved nothing by this sacrifice: I sent my only child into an uncertain exile. Know that whatever you do now, you bear all the honor and pride of House Aeducan.
Now call me crazy, but when a charismatic figure emerges from a troubled time riven with uncertainties and gives them what they want while killing political opposition and increasing military might and removing what little democracy exists in that society I tend to get a little worried. Maybe not really worried, like 22% worried. But I still think that's enough to more than justify my advocating for Harrowmont.