Orsino was NOT a bad First Enchanter. Orsino did the best he could in a really shitty situation.
- Orsino grew up in the Ansburg alienage. “As an elf, he was taught early that he would be hated and looked down upon for his build and his ears.” As an elf, he was familiar with systemic oppression long before his magic.
- Growing up in the Gallows, Orsino did his best to be unnoticeable. He passed all his tests, never failing but never excelling, so that the templars did not notice him as much. “He did not raise his head. He obeyed the templars’ every order and pretended to be content. Living to see the sun rise every morning was what was important. It was what he’d learned in the alienage. Look out for no one but yourself, and survive.”
- But Orsino befriended a mage named Maud, who succumbed to great grief and depression over being locked in the Gallows. Though Orsino would tell her the important thing was that she was alive, her response was “this is no life.” Then, Maud locked herself in a closet and burned herself to death.
- Years went by of Orsino watching his fellow mages commit suicide after suicide, and every time he always thought back to the last words Maud said to him. Even worse yet, he had to listen to the templars joke about all these losses. “The templars didn’t seem to care about the suicides. Most had the courtesy to say nothing at all, but some would snigger when they thought no one was listening. “One less to worry about.” “The only good mage is a dead mage.””
- It all built up, and Orsino grew angry. Angry and bold. He began to stand up to the templars. “He watched for mistreatment of the mages and called it out. Where once he would shrink away, he stood his ground. The mages were his people, and he would fight for them.”
- When the previous First Enchanter died in 9:28 without a successor, Meredith decided that the Gallows didn’t need one. But Orsino knew that the mages needed someone to speak for them. Orsino volunteered for the position when no one else wanted it. “The other senior enchanters had no desire for the position and quickly rallied behind Orsino. The Circle had voted for their own first enchanter, and the knight-commander let it be.” There would be no First Enchanter if it wasn’t for Orsino.
- “As first enchanter, Orsino worked tirelessly to improve the lot of the mages. He wanted, as much as he could, to make their days in the Gallows worth something. Even if they were still prisoners, and even though it was hard, he wanted to give them hope. More importantly, he wanted to give them something of a life so that death would not be preferable. Every small freedom he won from the templars was a great victory. The mages grew to trust him, and the templars to mark him as a menace.” How many more mages would have followed Maud if not for Orsino is a number we don’t even know. Orsino saved countless lives as First Enchanter, through every small victory of hope.
- His work didn’t just stay within the Circle, either. “Orsino tried to find every advantage he could. He made contact with mage sympathizers and apostates in Kirkwall. He sought allies in the highest of places, and the lowest.” Orsino was part of the mage underground, too.
- The big tragedy for Orsino is that come The Last Straw, he lost the hope he tried to give everyone else–and hell, up until the very end he was trying to do that, ordering the other mages to flee and assuring them they would win. But then he says the most haunting line in the game, possibly the franchise; his “why not just drown us as infants” line. World of Thedas vol 2 phrases his Harvester transformation as suicidal himself. “Like Maud and so many others before him, he let despair take hold and draw him under.” (On a meta level, we know Orsino becoming the Harvester is just because the devs felt they needed a second boss fight, though.)