"And so is the Golden City blackened with each step you take in my Hall. Marvel at perfection, for it is fleeting. You have brought Sin to Heaven and doom upon all the world."
The Dragon Age franchise is set in Thedas, a world inspired by European folklore and the romances of medieval Europe, with events from the main series games taking place primarily in southern Thedas. The name ”Thedas” originated as shorthand for “The Dragon Age Setting”. Canadian writer David Gaider developed most of the background lore for the setting and served as the series’ lead writer until 2015. Real world analogues are used as the basis of some in-universe elements. For example, the nations of Ferelden and Orlais are based on medieval England and Renaissance-era France respectively. The Qunari’s role within the setting is comparable to that of the historical Viking expansion.
Thedas is the only continent of the known world and consists of various clans, nations and states inhabited by multiple humanoid peoples. Several kingdoms and countries have emerged over nine centuries of a calendar era based on the traditionally reckoned year of the founding of The Chantry, the dominant religious organization. Each century is referred to as a separate "Age". Three out of several human nations play a prominent role in the series: the kingdom of Ferelden to the southeast of Thedas, which is politically organized in a similar manner to the English peerage system; the Orlesian Empire to the west of Ferelden, where its nobility is notorious for undermining each other with intrigue and subterfuge in their jostling for favor and patronage with its ruler; and the Tevinter Imperium in the northern region of Thedas, which once subjugated southern Thedas during ancient times, and is governed by a powerful oligarchy of magic-wielding magisters led by an Imperial Archon. Other noteworthy civilizations explored in the main series games include the Free Marches, a human-dominated confederation of politically independent territorial entities to the north of Ferelden, and the Kingdom of Orzammar, one of the few remaining dwarven city states scattered throughout the Deep Roads, an underground highway system beneath the surface of Thedas created by the dwarves millenia ago.
Thedas is a world where race, class and heritage combine to determine social class and political dynamics. A recurring theme in the series consists of power struggles and internal conflicts play out between and within various factions. Tevinter society practices slavery, which is outlawed in other human societies. Human nobility are treated with deference and respect across Thedas, whereas elves are often viewed as second-class citizens who live within overpopulated ghettos in human cities called alienages, or kept as slaves in the Tevinter Imperium. A significant portion of the elven population of Thedas call themselves the Dalish after the Dales region in eastern Orlais where an elven polity once stood. They proudly live a nomadic lifestyle away from the urban settlements of their city elf counterparts in an attempt to preserve and reclaim their cultural heritage, which was mostly wiped out millennia ago when the ancient elven empire that spanned most of Thedas mysteriously collapsed. Dwarven society is organized around a rigid caste system and a form of ancestor worship. While the dwarves cannot wield magic themselves, their economic activity primarily revolves around the mining of lyrium which they trade with the surface world. Some dwarves live on the surface, voluntarily or otherwise: they are considered "casteless" and are usually unwelcome within dwarven societies in the Deep Roads. A fourth sapient humanoid species unique to the setting is the Qunari, meaning "People of the Qun" in their language. The Qunari is an umbrella term used to describe both the race of large humanoids who hail from settlements in the far north of mainland Thedas, in particular the island states of Par Vollen and Seheron, as well as converts from other races to their civil religion known as "The Qun", which guides the Qunari's egalitarian yet strictly regimented society.