Aveline Vallen: Analyzing a Tank

Aveline's tremendous legacy in the Dragon Age universe is forever cemented and eternalised through Varric's series of trashy pulp fiction.

Aveline’s tremendous legacy in the Dragon Age universe is forever cemented and eternalised through Varric’s series of trashy pulp fiction.

I have been busy. Has really put a halt on my progress in making posts and all that. Now, I previously looked at the design of Cassandra, another Dragon Age companion that at least initially seems very similar in character to Aveline. In this case, I’d like to explore some of the other ways of expressing a character, such as their role in gameplay. It’s gonna have to be a short and fairly shallow-depth post, I’m afraid, because you know busy.

Aveline is a character I particularly love, and I don’t know how shared a feeling that is. Oh, sure, when she’s mentioned I usually see it positively, but often she seems overlooked in favour of all those crazies Hawke meets and also Varric. It’s true that perhaps on paper, she’s not initially that original of a character. She’s another woman who happens to be badass and be strong enough to batter doors down — intriguing from a certain feminist perspective, but ultimately kind of flat character. There is, however, more to Aveline, most famously her… interesting perspective on romance (it’s better than it sounds, trust me).

Of course, in my case, it may have helped she reminded me of Vimes.

SPOILERS AHEAD, it’s character analysis.


You will not have him! They will not have you. Not while I breathe.

You know you’re a hero when, upon your appearance, suddenly dramatic non-diegetic hero music plays. Aveline, more than any other character, is focused on protecting others, especially those close to her. So in Aveline’s establishing moment she, as death lingers on Ser Wesley and a darkspawn creeps up on him, tackles it to the ground and beats the everliving shit out of it.

Of course, the heroism is only helped by the re-burst of music as she saves him. The camera focuses on the shield, which Aveline picks up, highlighting her defensiveness here. The scene also serves to establish her muscularity, physically punching a darkspawn with loud emphatic thuds until she finally slices the creature’s head off. It’s actually quite a brutal scene/attack, really highlighting her protectiveness (which forms something of an obsession throughout the game), as well as establishing her closeness to the other character (it ends poorly, of course).

She then goes on to calm her husband and convince him to not go kill the apostates. Immediately, this paints her as a reasonable figure, and also distances herself from a rabid Templar supporter, allowing the player (who is at this point either on the run with their sibling the apostate, or is in fact on the run as an apostate) to feel more comfortable connecting with her. Aveline throughout the game, of course, does have templar leanings, and will even leave at the endgame if you go with the mages and haven’t earnt her loyalty (she won’t actually turn on you, however, worth noting).

Character details: name and job
Aveline’s name will have more significance if you’re familiar with the Dragon Age lore. It’s also a real name, of course, but the tale of Aveline in-universe holds more significance here (the real-world name descends from Ava, of uncertain origin itself, and is also a modern word meaning “hazelnut”).

Aveline entered the competition claiming to be a knight of Antiva. She refused to doff her helmet, even during the archery competition. And sure enough, Aveline bested many other knights until, in the grand melee, she came upon Kaleva, a knight who served the emperor and was considered the finest in the land…

— “Codex entry: Aveline, Knight of Orlais” (read more)

Essentially, “Ser” Aveline was a great Orlesian warrior, though suffered the unfortunate handicap of being female, who were at the time not allowed to be knights. “Fuck the rules,” she declared, disguising herself as a man and almost winning an entire joust before her helmet was knocked off at the dramatically appropriate time of the finale. She was killed, but her actions and her impressive skill led to females being allowed in, which would’ve been great consolation were she not dead.

Fortunately, Aveline’s name proves not to be horrific foreshadowing, but it does serve to immediately make tie her in with knights, Aveline herself being a sword-and-shield warrior. This knight-connection ties into Aveline’s own sense of, if not honour exactly, then lawfulness (she still, admittedly, bends that to hell over the game).

Given her general lawfulness and sense of protection, it is, then, understandable how she becomes a guardsman immediately upon arriving at Kirkwall, and later becomes guardscaptain. As leader, she becomes an almost smothering father(/well, mother) to her men, as well as applying a more general protection to the people of Kirkwall.

Aveline design

Aveline has a fairly practical hairstyle, with a hairband and a ponytail. She is also clad in heavy armour, in contrast to every other companion who tends to wear their street clothes while hanging out with Hawke. It’s not just that they weren’t going to create another armour, since they already made the “citizen” armour for her (first on the left). This is because Aveline is married to the job, as it were.

Varric:So what do you do, Aveline?
Aveline:You know I’m a guard, why are you asking?
Varric:I mean in your off-duty hours. For fun. You’ve heard of it, I hope?
Aveline:These are my off-duty hours.
Varric:And the trend of you scaring the piss out of me continues.

Aveline is pretty socially awkward, something especially highlighted in her Act 2 personal quest. It makes sense, then, that she’s in her work-armour more than half the time.

The character is also presented with a very lovely chin, as well as just very muscular face. I’ve heard some complaints here, as well as various mods to “fix” this issue, but as it is Aveline looks a bit like a cheesy action movie hero, and I think that’s rather the point. Not the action hero thing, I mean, just the general musculature. One common objection is that she’s not very feminine, but 1) to me she’s still pretty feminine, so I’m just confused here, and 2) frankly I don’t think it’d matter that much whether she was or not.

Of course, Aveline’s guardscaptain armour-change shows her increase in rank, and is a far more decorative and distinct piece.


Aveline has outlived too many of those she’s loved. Years of hard training and loss have shaped her into an immovable force and an invaluable ally.” — Specialization description

And with that light-hearted description, we look into her role in combat, should you include Aveline in the party. Aveline is a “tank”, aka she’s the sponge you shove onto the frontlines to soak in all the damage while everyone else stays safe without attention drawn on them.

To some extent, this is what her character revolves around. It’s true that BioWare tends to start their characters off simple concepts before expanding them out, and even sometimes just beginning with whatever class they need. Her protectiveness, her heavy armour, they all go into making a clearly obvious tank that manages to tie their concept into a human-feeling facade. (Dragon Age characters aren’t actually real, guys, don’t know if you all knew that.)

As mentioned, Aveline is a sword-and-shield character, and like other characters in Dragon Age II this is fixed. Aveline’s specialization tree, appropriately named “Guardian”, heavily plays into her protectiveness. She has the Bodyguard skill, allowing her to take a substantial amount of damage “for” another character, as well as being in general very, very, very durable. If you’re friends with her, it’s further reflected as she automatically shields damage from Hawke (“Serve and Protect: Aveline’s dedication to Hawke verges on overbearing.”). Otherwise, the game still uses the opporurtunity, if rivaled, to display how she’s on edge, just giving her a general higher damage resistance (“Watchful Eye: Recent events have put Aveline on her guard.”).

Credit to Dragon Age Wiki for images, credit to me for video, credit to BioWare and so on for game.


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