As you can tell, it's the beginning of a series of posts on this subject.
How long will this series be? I have no idea. Probably not all that long, there is a limit to how many ideas I have.
But here’s the first installment, looking at setting, a villain, and a villainous plan.
I think the choice is pretty obvious here. It has to be the Tevinter Imperium. The place has loomed large in the games ever since Origins, but we’ve never had a chance to visit it. As a place where mages rule and the Templars are functionally just their non-magical army, Tevinter would be entirely different from anywhere else we’ve seen in the Dragon Age series, and would certainly raise some interesting questions regarding the morality of the Circles and the Templars.
But let’s also throw the Anderfels in, as well. After all, there’s another frequently mentioned place that we’ve never visited, and that’s Weisshaupt, the headquarters of the Grey Wardens.
If you’re setting a game in the Tevinter Imperium, that means mages, and mages almost always mean demons. Surprisingly, demons have yet to be used as the main villains of a Dragon Age game, usually being underlings or neutral (but hostile) parties, possibly because the existence of a demon powerful and sinister enough to stand on equal narrative footing with the archdemon or Corypheus is debatable to say the least.
There is one candidate, though, of the demons we’ve already seen: Nightmare, the ancient fear demon in Corypheus’ employ, who the party tangles with in the Dragon Age: Inquisition quest ‘Here Lies The Abyss.’
Nightmare doesn’t resemble any demon we’ve seen before, manifesting to the party as a spider the size of a town, with an anglerfish-like lure shaped like a run-of-the-mill fear demon. You never actually fight him, either: You fight his lure, instead, despite statistically having more firepower on your side at that point than at any other part of the game, since your party is assisted by both a high-ranking Grey Warden and Hawke. It takes all six of you to successfully kill a relative insignificant part of him, and the party is forced to simply flee out of the Fade rather than face Nightmare properly.
Nightmare also has a personality very well-suited to being a main antagonist. He’s well-spoken, urbane, seems to be able to read people’s minds to pick up their fears, and he has no qualms about taunting your party with it in Inquisition.
It wouldn’t be at all outside of the realm of possibility for him to tempt some Venatori mages, now lost and confused (and, most importantly, scared) after the death of their leader/god, to worship him and, eventually, summon him to inhabit the body of some powerful, willing Tevinter magister.
Dragon Age games oft revolve heavily around the lore of Old Gods and Blights and, well, dragons. It’d be ridiculous for a game set in Tevinter, former worshippers of the Old Gods and purported cause of the Blight, not to involve that in some way.
My original ideas mostly involved guff about collecting ancient artifacts, but while doing research I encountered the materials for a much better plan. The Silent Grove introduces the idea of Great Dragons, ancient sleeping dragons who, from all description, are not so dissimilar to Old Gods - and how drinking their blood can grant enormous power to somebody.
There are an undisclosed number of Great Dragons still alive (although there’s at least one), so it wouldn’t be inconceivable to have Nightmare as a villain hunting down Great Dragons and draining their blood for himself, as preparation for a ritual involving some ancient Tevinter (or Elven) artifact, potentially another Magrallen (an artifact also introduced in The Silent Grove), along with a whole lot of blood magic sacrifices and red lyrium, in order to transform himself into an Old God.
That goal alone would probably garner him no shortage of followers in Tevinter, and it would also place the rest of the world at massive risk. Not only would it mean there’s now an insane Old God of Fear at the head of Tevinter, it would also immediately draw the attention of the darkspawn. It could potentially draw the attention of the darkspawn even before he tries performing the ritual, with them being drawn more and more to him the more Great Dragons he drains, triggering a miniature Blight in the Imperium.