The Guardsman Pretenders are trying to take over Hightown at night. Killing the majority of them will reveal the location of their hideout and leader.
Enter "The Barracks", defeat the gang and its leader Captain Qerth. Don't forget to loot the chest at the top of the stairs. Afterward, return to The Hanged Man at night and speak to A Friend for a reward.
This fight is one of the hardest in Act 1 due to the sheer number of enemies that appear, their health and armor, the constant ranged attacks with a total lack of cover, and Captain Qerth's healing aura. He will be joined by two Elite-ranked Pretenders later in the fight, and Nightmare makes all of this worse by adding cold immunity to the Pretenders.
- Even on Nightmare the Pretenders are vulnerable to fire, so an Elemental mage with a fire staff is highly recommended, preferably one who has obtained both Pyromancer and Firestorm. Even though they are invulnerable to cold damage, the Pretenders can still suffer the slowing and even Brittling effects from the cold spells. Hex of Torment and Horror are also welcome additions, as the former will reduce Qerth's high damage resistance and the latter can shut down his healing aura.
- Anders is also recommended, particularly with at least Valiant Aura and Firestorm. These techniques can supplement the primary Elemental mage if that is not his role.
- Varric can exploit Brittle effects for powerful cross-class combos, particularly with Shattering Arrow and Punishing Lance.
- Aveline can easily tank the entirety of the opposing force, particularly with Shield Defense and Immovable active at the same time, but without a good weapon like Maelstrom she won't have a high enough DPS to overtake Qerth's rate of healing. Retaliation can apply some chip damage, but Pummel allows her to set up Stagger combos.
- Fenris can also be highly effective with a greatsword like Red Grace, which deals additional fire damage on top of a base physical damage of 18. If he has Might, Lyrium Ghost, Sunder, and Giant's Reach, he can easily deal the most damage of the group (save for a mage with the correct staff, see below), even with just his basic attacks while also having a good chance to apply Stagger effects, saving Mighty Blow for when allies are safely a few meters away.
- And of course, bring at least 4 health potions, lyrium potions, and a couple of stamina potions. Qerth and the other two Elites are guaranteed to drops extras if needed.
The battle spawns seven enemies in the large room, strategically arranged to pincushion anyone who approaches the "captain." Ranged attacks through the door would be a good way to deal with them if not for the fact that the second wave (3 Critters, 2 Normals, and an Elite) will airdrop into the small antechamber right on top of you. After them, 5-7 more Normal ranks (most of them being archers) on either staircase in the larger room. The final wave consists of another 7 or so enemies, among which is another Elite-ranked Pretender.
Qerth's healing aura makes him the primary target, and the success or failure of this battle depends on your ability to keep him and that aura, as well as his stun whistle and tar bombs, in check. Once his health is below 30%, finish him quickly before he can use a health potion, preferably with cross-class combos, burst damage (e.g. Twin Fangs and Cleave) and powerful stunning techniques like Horror. One method is to hit him with Horror at exactly 30% left; it should last long enough for whoever took off the first 70% to put him in the ground without a single potion quaffed. After that, it's a matter of holding out until the 25+ Pretenders are wiped out and hitting them in the proper order (i.e. archers first) with fire attacks.
There are a few methods to position oneself for the battle. One is to huddle everyone in the corner save for a warrior, who takes point at the door, then throws it open to attain aggro. Click the door again (use the radial wheel on consoles) to close it, breaking the archers' line of sight and causing them to bunch up in the entryway, making them easy pickings for Fireball. When the second wave spawns into the antechamber, lay down a Firestorm or two to wipe them out and resume attention on Captain Qerth, who doesn't like to rush into the antechamber until he's already lost several of his first group. If he's not defeated before the third wave spawns, it will make the rest of the fight much more difficult as the Elite-ranked Pretenders start soaking up damage alongside him. If successfully killed, the door remains an excellent choke point for any enemies left in the large chamber. Fenris works well with this approach, based on the coverage of his basic attacks in confined spaces.
Another method is to charge straight at Captain Qerth and try to take him down with the full power of the party in the first wave. It depends on the Hawke in question and the first specialization they've elected to take, but most (i.e. melee Hawkes) will end up as a pincushion before Qerth has lost half of his health. Even with Hawke defeated, three members should be able to hold their own, and Anders with Regroup can get Hawke back in the fight (albeit with an injury). Plant Firestorm(s) in the doorway to take out the bulk of the second wave, then get to the stairs to deal with the archers spawning there and use it as a vantage point to attack the remaining Pretenders. Aveline works well here, as she can take the hits.
A third option lies in some combination of the two: Wipe out four out of seven of the initial group from the antechamber, then force your way into the larger room and position the mages in either corner, closing the door behind you. Attack Qerth and weaken him if not defeat him, then turn around and plant Firestorms when the second wave spawns in the antechamber. Allow the Firestorms to do their work while advancing to the stairs in anticipation of the archers that will spawn here. Running up one flight and down the other may help to break the enemy's line of sight. The final batch of enemies will spawn in the antechamber, but they cannot stand up to a party that has successfully eliminated the other three with potions to spare.
Lastly, as Hawke levels up, the Pretenders will spawn with greater maximum health, making the Elites and Qerth more difficult to take down. Therefore, as the Act progresses players should seek out talents that confer large, instantly-applicable increases in damage output, such as Cleave, Pyromancer, Elemental Mastery, and Pinpoint Strikes/Pinpoint Precision. Make sure everyone has optimal weapons, but don't break the bank getting them; Red Grace, Arm of Adruil + The Bodice Ripper, Maelstrom, The Turncoat's Walking Stick, and the Acolyte's Staff provide great base damage at a fraction of the cost, if any, of the ritzier weapons available in Kirkwall's stores (including the Black Emporium). While premium or promotional content tends to be the most powerful, it is entirely unnecessary.
Special comment: Turncoat's Inferno
In particular, The Turncoat's Walking Stick and/or a randomly-generated loot staff with similar attributes (particularly 17+ fire damage and similar +% fire damage) would be the absolute best staves one could use. Weapons that deal pure fire damage accrue a bonus on every point of its basic attack damage against the fire weakness of each Pretender, unlike weapons with physical damage, which would deal normal damage and a relatively minor boost to their secondary fire damage, if any. Realistically, an Elemental mage with 30+ Magic and at least Pyromancer, with no other modifiers, can score 120+ damage per basic attack. (It only gets higher with Valiant Aura, Elemental Mastery, and/or higher Magic.) That is enough for the mage to kill the Critter ranks in two hits by themselves (freeing Fenris and Hawke to attack other enemies), and no Normal or Elite rank, including Captain Qerth, is durable enough to stand up to a barrage like that for long. At 250 in cost it pays for itself with the loot and rewards from this quest. That being said, this staff does not guarantee victory by itself, but alongside proper strategy and preparation it can bump players who regularly clear 2-3 waves over that edge.
Hawke can now walk around Hightown at night without being ambushed by thugs.
- Palvo's Cocksure Cleaver
Requires: Weapon and Shield
Damage: 12 physical damage
(23 per second)
+14% threat generation (dropped by Captain Qerth)
- Formari Work Boots
Requires: 18 magic
+18 attack (dropped by Captain Qerth)
- Random loot
- 500 XP
- A Friend only appears at night, in the back room of The Hanged Man. She will continue to give out rewards each time the player clears out a band of thugs in the subsequent side quests.
- Like all nighttime gang quests, several waves of enemies will not appear unless Hawke leaves the area and then returns. Also like all other such quests, the hideout location will be revealed even if 1-2 groups of gang members have not been cleared (so as not to be rendered impossible to complete if another quest NPC is currently blocking a group from spawning in a specific location). These quests become available after killing four groups. But there are always six groups available to be cleared before going to the final location.
- pcps3xbox360 Sometimes a Guard Pretender may become stuck at the Merchant's Guild (map marker) area of the district, it will be located behind one of the small statues on either side of the door in the northeast corner of the courtyard. Failure to kill it will prevent other groups from spawning.