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.
- The Pretenders are weak 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 on Nightmare, 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 damage resistance and the latter can shut down his healing aura.
- Anders is also recommended, particularly with at least Valiant Aura and Firestorm, if not Pyromancer. These techniques can supplement the primary Elemental mage if that is not his role. If he can unlock Panacea, it may be preferable to keep that active and just use an "Enemy: Target of [Elemental mage] -> Attack" tactic so he'll synchronize his basic attacks without having to be micro-managed. Panacea's boon translates to a 1% health regeneration per second, which can help improve the hardiness of your party.
- 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 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 inflict Stagger.
- Fenris can also be highly effective with a greatsword like Red Grace, which deals additional 4 fire damage (doubled due to enemy weakness) on top of a base physical damage of 18. If he has Might, Lyrium Ghost, Sunder, and Giant's Reach, he can easily kill multiple Critter ranks simultaneously with just his basic attacks while also having a good chance to inflict Stagger, 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 should drop extras if needed.
The battle consists of four waves of enemies, totaling 24 enemy units (plus Qerth, an Elite-ranked "Commander"):
- Wave 1 consists of seven enemies in the large room: three Critter-ranked archers, one Normal-ranked archer, and three Normal-ranked melees, strategically arranged to pincushion anyone who approaches their "captain." Ranged attacks through the door would be a good way to deal with them, if not for the fact that Wave 2 will airdrop into the small antechamber right on top of you.
- Wave 2 consists of three Critters in the center, two Normals (1 archer) and an Elite Pretender along the northern wall, for a total of six. They can be easily defeated by sending a Two-Hander after the three Critters while the others focus on the archer, leaving only a melee Normal and Elite for the whole party to grind down.
- Wave 3 spawns two Critters (1 archer) and a Normal in the antechamber, along with three archers (1 Critter, 2 Normal) on the staircases in the larger room
- Wave 4 consists of two Critters, two Normals (1 archer), and the last Elite-ranked Pretender. Take out the Critters, then the archer, and finish up the same way Wave 2 was defeated.
Qerth's healing aura, as well as his stun whistle and endless supply of tar bombs, makes him the primary target, and the success or failure of this battle depends on your ability to keep him and those abilities (especially the aura) 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 talents (e.g. Twin Fangs and Cleave), and powerful stunning techniques like Horror. One method is to hit him with Horror at 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. Without him, the Pretenders aren't much more difficult than the ones outside, provided the archers are taken out first.
There are a few ways to position oneself for battle. One method is to huddle everyone in a 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 advance to the entryway, making them easy pickings for Fireball, then focus on Qerth, who doesn't like to draw close until he's already lost several of his first group, if at all (although he chases more frequently when positioned in the "eastern" corners of the antechamber), which in turn triggers Wave 2. The worst position for him to be in is close enough to heal all enemies, but not close enough to hit and/or on the other side of the wall. When Wave 2 spawns, use Firestorm(s) and Fireball(s) to wipe them out, then resume attention on Qerth. If he's not defeated before Wave 3 closes ranks, it will make the rest of the fight much more difficult as you get hit from all sides. Fenris works well with this approach, based on the coverage of his basic attacks in confined spaces, and his DPS compensates for the caution you'll have to exercise with Firestorm in such a tight space.
- Note that the northeast corner tends to offer the best positioning, both for bottlenecking Wave 1 and immediately attacking Wave 2 (the Normals and Elite spawn perfectly within Cone of Cold's AoE, allowing them to be slowed), as well as setting up the fourth method (see below).
The second method is to charge straight at Qerth and try to take him down with the full power of the party in Wave 1. Whoever leads the charge will likely end up as a pincushion before Qerth has lost half of his health. Even with one companion defeated, three should be able to hold their own depending on how many of them are warriors and Elemental mages. Plant Firestorm(s) in the doorway to take out the bulk of Wave 2, then get to the stairs to deal with the archers of Wave 3, using the stairs as a vantage point to defeat Wave 4. As this method leaves you quite exposed, Aveline works well here to tank the hits as you approach Qerth and the stairs.
A third method lies in some combination of the preceding two: Wipe out three out of seven of the initial group from the antechamber (preferably the archers), 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 while shrugging off and stunning the remaining enemies, use Firestorm(s) to soften or defeat Wave 2 while finishing off Qerth and Wave 1, advancing to the stairs in anticipation of Wave 3. Take out these three archers and get ready for the remaining eight enemies. This approach tends to combine the detriments of both preceding methods and gets less effective as the enemy levels up, but it works best with two warriors and two mages. Note that Wave 2 might spawn after a set amount of time regardless of how many remain.
A fourth, "stealthy" method requires exploiting Qerth's line of sight to force a fight with every enemy except him. His zone of aggression is initially tunneled through the doorway thanks to the wall, and he only seems to detect the character if they take a step when the door is initially opened, or he sees them. If the player holds their party in the northeastern corner of the antechamber, then carefully inches a character towards the door, they can aggro the two enemies on Qerth's left (player's right), and most of the enemies, without actually aggro'ing him. Align with the planter to the left of the door, imagining the row of floor tiles in front of it as a "line" not to be crossed. Click the door open and inch across the corner of the red carpet until the two visible enemies become aggressive. From this position, you can carefully close the door without taking a step, then return to the corner and wait for them to approach. You'll know you were successful if "Captain" Qerth's health bar doesn't appear and his character model doesn't start running. The melees will come close, but the archers simply stand in the open doorway, clipping their bow arms through the open door, hitting you but unable to be hit in return. Take a melee character to reseal the door and clip the enemies into the antechamber, repeating as necessary. Keep melee characters behind the "planter's line" at all times just in case someone from Wave 1 or 3 opens the door, and make sure it's closed before taking on Wave 2. Follow these guidelines to eliminate any enemies from the large chamber (part of Wave 3), and favor ranged attacks to defeat the enemies that spawn in the antechamber (Waves 2 and 4, part of 3), particularly the archers, waiting for the melees to cross into the safe zone. Eventually you should be able to drop out of combat, heal, and save before taking on the Captain and any stragglers.
- This requires a very precise manipulation of the door, and possibly trial-and-error, but it mitigates the difficulty of this fight more than any amount of pre-planning, and it allows the player to pivot to other strategies if things don't work perfectly; if Qerth is aggro'd, this at least tends to force him to the front of the enemy group, making him a much easier target. It may even prevent aggro'ing the members of his right flank instead, allowing him to be defeated without killing enough enemies to spawn Wave 2, delaying its onset until after his death. With Qerth defeated, the player can simply pick up whichever tactical position suits them to finish the battle.
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 instantly-applicable increases in damage output, such as Cleave, Destroyer, and Pyromancer. Make sure everyone has optimal weapons, but don't break the bank getting them; Red Grace, Arm of Adruil + The Bodice Ripper, Edge of Song and Glory, The Turncoat's Walking Stick, and the Chanters' 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. At Level 10+, the enemy's health has scaled to the point that the aforementioned weapons lose their luster, making this battle an even greater grind.
In particular, The Turncoat's Walking Stick and/or a randomly-generated loot staff with similar attributes (i.e. 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. Red Grace, for comparison, deals physical damage and only gets a bonus on its secondary 4 fire damage. Realistically, an Elemental mage with 30+ Magic and at least Pyromancer, with no other modifiers, can score 120+ damage per basic attack. That is enough for the mage to solo the Critter ranks (Fireball becomes a one-shot kill), and no Normal or Elite rank, including 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 without it 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.