Ma Dai served under his uncle Ma Teng, alongside his cousin Ma Chao. After Ma Teng was killed by Cao Cao, he went with Ma Chao to seek refuge with Zhang Lu. Afterwards, he and his cousin went together to join Shu. He was known to have been a brave and capable general who earned the respect of Shu's strategist, Zhuge Liang.
During Zhuge Liang's Northern Campaigns, Ma Dai is credited with hunting down and killing Wei Yan, whom had defied direct orders and as such had rebelled. He was defeated in battle by Wei general Niu Jin and fled.
Portrayal in Romance of the Three Kingdoms historical novel
In Luo Guanzhong's novel, Ma Dai went alongside his uncle and other family members to the capital, responding to a summons by the Emperor (although Cao Cao had actually sent the summons). Ma Chao stayed behind to watch over their land.
The summons had been a trick, and only Ma Dai had managed to escape the slaughter of his clan. He returned to Ma Chao, informing him of what had happened. The two embarked on a quest for revenge against Cao Cao, but their massively outnumbered army stood little chance and the were defeated. Afterwards, they fled to Zhang Lu in Hanzhong.
Ma Dai was one of Zhuge Liang's most trusted generals and served major roles in both his southern and northern campaigns. Just before Zhuge Liang's death, he named Ma Dai as one of 5 "loyal retainers of Shu." He later killed Wei Yan for his rebellion by pretending to join him to get close to him and then slaying him.
Portrayal in Romance of the Three Kingdoms video game series
In the video game series based on Luo Guanzong's novel, Ma Dai is an above-average officer with good war and leadership. He is a competent general who isn't quite extraordinary, but far above mediocre. His role in the series follows closely to the novel on which the games were based.
Portrayal in Dynasty Warriors
Ma Dai became a playable character in Dynasty Warriors 7 (he was formerly present since Dynasty Warriors 2 as a non-playable character). In his playable appearance, he is depicted as a light-hearted and free-spirited man that is steadfastly loyal to his nation, despite his easygoing nature.
- Ma Dai's entire appearance in Dynasty Warriors 7, according to the developers, was based off his "stylish hat."