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Queer Characters: Leliana

Bloody dragons.

Among the reasons my friends were able to convince me to pick up Dragon Age: Origins on launch was that I would be able to play out a same-sex relationship. Rather than Fable or The Sims, which allowed me to create my own stories, I would be presented with a scripted relationship. BioWare had tackled this before, but I hadn't played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire at that time. As it stands, I am about to finish my second playthrough of Origins alongside all its DLC and the expansion (clocking in at over 200 hours right now), and I have yet to play a heterosexual character.

Therefore, today I want to look at the one on whom I've written nothing before: Leliana. An Orlesian bard who devoutly believes in the Maker, her plucky and optimistic attitude certainly fit well with my dwarf princess Warden.

Leliana at first appears a sweet and innocent Chantry sister. That is not to say that she is dim-witted, nor austere in any manner--her personality is undercut with a subtle sense of humor that is as willing to make fun of herself as it is in engaging in giggling fits. Nevertheless, she is devout, though hardly in a position of power. As you speak with her you begin to find out she's a bit of an outsider even within the Chantry, however: she believes she heard the Maker, and that he guided her life.

Leliana at the camp.Upon further exploration, particularly if one is romancing her (as either a male or female Warden) one finds out this is because her former lover and mentor, another Orlesian bard by the name of Marjolaine, had betrayed her. The events of this are outlined in both her conversations in Origins and the DLC Leliana's Song. There are discrepancies in the two versions, though considering the slightly unreliable narrator and frame story we're seeing in Dragon Age 2, this was likely a way to test out how that would work. It was also a way to reuse assets.

Either way, one finds out that Marjolaine and Leliana were definitely a couple. Leliana adored her, in fact, and still speaks fondly of her. As events progress, jealousy makes Leliana start to doubt Marjolaine, and when the betrayal hits--she's framed to take the fall for a job--it is only her belief that she hears the the voice of some higher power that allows her to pull herself together again.

Leliana is slow to give up this information in Origins, largely because it also reveals her past as an Orlesian bard. After all, unlike the merry, singing bards we know from Dungeons & Dragons, these bards are spies. Their talents lie in subterfuge, assassination, and sabotage. Leliana is hardly innocent.

We also learn about her mother, who was Fereldan and worked for Lady Cecile; upon her mother's death, Lady Cecile raised her. In the middle of Orlais, which is known for its opulence and hedonism by Fereldans (though it should be noted, during the time of the game, Fereldan had occupied by Orlais in the not-too-distant past), Leliana developed a taste for the finer things in life. Like shoes.

If one wishes to romance her, a player must get her approval high, as well as helping her with her personal quest: dealing with Marjolaine, who will send a group of assassins after Leliana in a random encounter on the overhead map if Leliana is in your group. You can either tell Marjolaine to leave Leliana alone, or attack and kill her. Either way, it allows Leliana to open up to you on her love for Marjolaine, and means she starts drawing comparisons of that feeling to how she looks at your Warden.

For my dwarven noble, this was especially endearing, as she had also suffered betrayal (many of the origins do), knew about political skulduggery, and appreciated Leliana's mostly cheerful spirits.

Leliana's Concept ArtThe way the romance starts to open up for a female Warden is also touching, as she starts off by innocuously commenting on your hair, then going into a story of Orlesian grandiosity, and ends by saying, "It's just that I... I feel so comfortable talking to you, like I could say anything and you wouldn't judge me." The last part struck me, as it indicated both that I would not judge her sexuality (not seen as heinous in Fereldan, but still not the norm), nor her past.

Later in that same conversation the female Warden can ask if she enjoys the company of women. Her response? "And what would you do if I said I do? Very much so, in fact?" What ends up resulting is her telling you how she isn't filled with sorrow for her past, it has shaped her into the woman she is, regardless of any pain it may have caused at the time. Furthermore, she is glad it led her to your Warden.

Leliana is probably not the hardest companion to woo, though to do so still requires a fair amount of effort. She is not willing to just jump in bed with you, despite her past. What she wants is respect and someone who listens. In many ways, she is a foil to Morrigan's romance and its trajectory. How you approach the situation after dealing with Marjolaine will determine whether she is 'hardened' or 'unhardened,' which sound pretty much as you'd expect.

For an ending, as a lover, there are a few options. She could end up staying with you, being happy living by your side and helping you (she'll also send you a letter at the beginning of the expansion). If Marjolaine is dead, and you don't stay in Denerim, you can go with her on her future quests. If Marjolaine lives, she does not take you, which gives the impression that she has to take care of that string of her life before staying with you.

She is a loyal lover, a woman of many skills, and one who has a few layers to peel. What's intriguing is that while she would be what we might call a 'lipstick lesbian,' and is into being quite girly, she does not allow her fondness for such get in her way of adhering to the simpler lifestyle of the Chantry. Her going with you is as much a testament to how she wishes to make a difference, as it is that she does not quite fit into the Chantry, seeing as she refuses to believe she would be a heretic for hearing the voice of the Maker.

The relationship you share with her is colored by the fact that she has had another same-sex relationship in the past. Ultimately, it does leave its scars on her, but ones she is willing to face; with the ending apparent if she goes to track Marjolaine, this means with or without you. She also does not let it influence the fact that she is attracted to both men and women--her past does not mean she shuns one or the other.

She has to kneel to kiss my dwarf--how cute!
Leliana's about to give Stella Aeducan a kiss. How sweet!

During your time with her, you can help by listening to her struggle with her identity, but not in the way you'd think. What does it mean that she left Orlais and the lifestyle of a bard, became a Sister of the Chantry, yet still enjoys killing (particularly if you followed that path with Marjolaine)? When confronted in the gauntlet, she faces whether or not she may have made up hearing the Maker in order to gather attention to herself, and showcase her vanity.

What we end up with is a woman not defined solely by any one parcel of her personality: her femininity, bisexuality, faith, past, and interest in fashion are one large mass that don't try to distinguish themselves as supreme. Her struggles are informed by all of them, and the fact that she can be in love with your female Warden? It is something that is shown as both normal, and not a hindrance due to a previous bad relationship.

5 Comments

Pacs R Us said:

200 hours? I played through all the DLC and through Origins three times and I never went past 60 hours. What the hell are you spending your time on?!?!-

VorpalBunny said:

Considering I write about the games? A lot of that time is also retreading, grabbing screenshots, and just enjoying myself. I also tend to multitask, even when gaming. Am also a perfectionist and went into every nook and cranny.

EgoPoisoning said:

We talked about this a bit on facebook, but I'm interested in now in trying a full playthrough without using the festival gifts; I had Leliana in love with my (male) character almost by accident. I was frankly surprised at how swiftly it came to pass, having come to expect a particularly in-depth romance...but maybe there's more to do than I realize, since I essentially stopped talking to her as soon as she hit adoration in order to avoid shutting off my other relationship options.

I'm also surprised you played DA before KotOR or Jade Empire. Of the two, Jade Empire's relationship system felt very binary, but Knights had some pretty interesting interactions between the love stories and the alignment system.

Pacs R Us said:

@ EgoPoisoning: the same thing happened to me with Leliana! I had a Zevran gay relationship going and all of sudden, right before going into Denerim to fight the archdemon, I go to talk to her and she starts telling me how she knows about me and Zevran and I have to make a decision. I was like wtf where did this come from? lol I never even gave her any hint that I was interested, always giving her any answer that went along the lines of "I just wanna be friends"

@ VorpalBunny: wow I could never write bout games cuz I get impatient after a while and I just wanna be done with the game so that I can play the next one on my to-do list. I am sort of a perfectionist myself but I try to keep it under control cuz I would never play all the games I want if i tried to go for everything and all achievements and stuff in every game I played.

VorpalBunny said:

@EgoPoisoning: Yeah, KOTOR and JE fell in those "too busy with school, less gaming" years. After I finished DA:O, I went back and finished both KOTOR and Mass Effect 1 (right before Mass Effect 2). JE is very, very strict. KOTOR did have some interesting moments--I, of course, went with Juhani.

Also, the issue with this game, and I hope it's addressed in its sequel, is that of the ninjamance. While Stella was wooing Leliana when suddenly Alistair gave her a rose and told her how much he loved her. Supposedly he's among the harder shells to crack, so my eyebrow was raised.

@Pacs R Us: Thankfully, I'm not so big on achievements. My perfectionism only comes with certain genres (it just so happens that it falls into among the more time-consuming genres of RPGs. Have spent just as much time in Fallout 3), so it's easy to get through a large chunk of my backlog if I space the games enough.

Also, yeah, the romances in general could have been handled better in managing to not find yourself constantly having to bat off suitors just because you weren't an ass to them.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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VorpalBunny on Queer Characters: Leliana: @EgoPoisoning: Yeah, KOTOR and JE fell in those "too busy with school, less gaming" years. After I finished DA:O, I...

Pacs R Us on Queer Characters: Leliana: @ EgoPoisoning: the same thing happened to me with Leliana! I had a Zevran gay relationship going and all of...

EgoPoisoning on Queer Characters: Leliana: We talked about this a bit on facebook, but I'm interested in now in trying a full playthrough without using...

VorpalBunny on Queer Characters: Leliana: Considering I write about the games? A lot of that time is also retreading, grabbing screenshots, and just enjoying myself....

Pacs R Us on Queer Characters: Leliana: 200 hours? I played through all the DLC and through Origins three times and I never went past 60 hours....

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