Elden Ring has dropped this month, but this is not a review of the game. I’m not a “souls” fan and I’m not real happy about the state of “action RPGs”. I don’t like Zelda, though that is a function of my age. Wizardy, Ultima (not online) and Neuromancer are games that got my attention back in the before times. The Curse of the Azure Bonds and the very first Baldur’s Gate were turn-based computer RPGs, a genre I miss and long for modern adaptations of.
Yet, The Elden Ring has that olde wonderment for me. Beautiful graphics, the promise of “one true open world”. I picked it up for the Xbox. I did some quick learning about “souls-styled” games and became okay with the many deaths to come because I wanted to see this beautifully rendered virtual world. And it delivers. For me, I think the experience is layered. I don’t know the lore, I’m discovering it as I go and that’s fantastic. I can’t fight and it’s hilariously frustrating. That first gate-keeping knight you meet snuffs me out eight, nine times in a flooded cave before I lucked up and killed him. That first fight though, I’m trying to figure out what this crazy mutant crab thing is coming at me and ..fight’s over. I’m dead. But I hear that’s a souls thing, the first death. Tone setting and all that.
Anyway, I’m in the game world and I’m not loaded up with quests. I can go anywhere, do whatever. I promptly get stomped by the tree knight in golden armor patrolling the area. Actually his horse makes short work of me, I think the knight was just along for the ride. On reincarnation I sneak back over to my death site to loot my dead body and sneak off into the forest. Three giant bats kick my ass..several deaths and I can’t quite sneak back to my dead body. I found another one of those knights though. I sneaked up on him and just wrecked his day!! That put me on the board, I straight up ganked his buddy sitting at a campfire, I was feeling like things were coming together for me. Then three other knights came nosing around. I ran. I found a cave to hide from those murder-hobos, a cave full of angry wolves and dead knights! I lured them out to fight onesy-twosy-like, very carefully. When that fight was done I explored this cave, lots of cool stuff! But I couldn’t leave the way I came in, or I couldn’t find the way. So deeper into the cave and of course, some wild beasty dude murderized me. I know where he lives now —I’ll be back, to loot my dead body.
I saw two building sized-giants pulling a massive cart, some undead just out for a stroll. I took on a 7’ tall knight and then his buddy came, a good buddy that’s got your back, that’s what I need! A girl in a wrecked shack crying on about a spider grafting people onto it, NOPE. I met a witch, chatted her up and she gave me some ghost wolves. Another witchy-woman gave me a ghost steed.
Many, many deaths, I’ll take it though. I don’t know what’s going on, but I want to see more. This was how my first RPG game, D&D, felt and the dragon I’m always chasing. Learning the rules, discovering locations and interesting peoples. Amazed at all the wonders. As a player I lean into the games I’m playing the same way I leaned into exploring Elden Ring, I’m chasing the wonder, I’m here for it.
“HEY GM show me something cool! I’ll chase it!”
If I’m running a game, I’m listening to my players, from session zero on. I’m checking out their character game choices and things in the game they engage with. In there is what’s cool for them, the wonderment. I want to work that in. There’s a lot to steal from Elden Ring for your fantasy setting. From architecture, I for sure will use elevator platforms that descend down into tomb levels. So many types of giants! Cattle that curl up and roll across the grassland… I saw it! But the sense, the almost knowing, that something is happening in the world and I can’t yet see it, only glimpses. So I chase those.