Elden Ring

Campaigns & Levelling Up in ELDEN RING: The Board Game | Designer Diary 5

Greetings, Tarnished! Sherwin Matthews here, privileged to be lead designer of the ELDEN RING™ board game, and to have been your guide through these tabletop Lands Between as we wait for the Kickstarter to begin.

If you missed the previous diaries, or would like a recap, you can check them out here:

We’re almost at the launch now (less than 48 hours to go…) but there’s one final map fragment we need to make our overview of the ELDEN RING board game complete.

I’m talking, of course, about the campaign system, and levelling up your Tarnished. 

(And, as always, watch out for reveals throughout this blog...)

Levelling Up

The moment we sat down to start designing Elden Ring: The Board Game, I knew in my head it would be a campaign game, where the journey of your Tarnished would continue over multiple sessions. I wasn’t alone. Some things are so obvious they don’t really need to be said out loud, and this was one of them. 

After all, how else could we capture the experience of a game that people have sunk hundreds (at least; I’m well aware some people reading this will have hit four digits) of hours into, in a satisfying and meaningful way?

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the team agreed with me.

With that in mind, there were some design elements we then needed to discuss. Firstly, how to make the game manageable for groups. Not everyone has a space where they can leave a game set up undisturbed for weeks on end, and sessions need to have a natural stopping point besides. 

Fortunately, we’ve become rather adept at this over the years, as seen in our other board games. With that in mind, we built ELDEN RING: The Board Game as an experience that can be enjoyed in a series of 90-120 minute quests, where you’ll explore Limgrave at your own pace. 

Along the way, you’ll discover new areas and quests you can attempt in an order of your choice, and if you happen across a side-quest or two, you can either complete them across several of these main quests, or even ignore them altogether. The decision is entirely up to you.

Card Vault

Moving on, the use of a campaign system also meant we needed to introduce a card vault (two, actually). A card vault is an area of the box where cards are stored in numerical order. This allows us to introduce card decks that evolve as you play, where we can hide certain events, items, and enemies from the players until they’re needed or discovered. Thanks to this, your campaign will be unique to you depending on the decisions you make, and will adapt to how your group plays the game. It will also change your experience from one campaign to the next.

An example? Sure — let’s say you meet Patches, who asks you to help him find an item. If you choose not to assist because you’d rather focus on your main quests (there’s only so much time in the day after all, and who knows if you can really trust him, eh?), then you probably won’t see Patches in later quests, and his cards will stay in the vault. 

Are those cards good or bad? Until you’ve made your choice you won’t know. And that’s part of the fun.

An additional benefit of this is the lack of setup time required — because you and the other Tarnished will be adapting existing decks as you go, there’s no requirement for you to spend time at the start of each quest building several brand new decks. And there are a lot of cards in this game. Over 2500 across the all-in pledge, last I checked.

That’s a serious amount of customisation.

Of course, those two little spoilers are nice, but let’s discuss the main reason we’re here today. Because campaign games allow us to do something else too, and that’s level up.

The Roundtable Hold

At the end of each quest, you’ll retire to the Roundtable Hold. It's here where you plan your next quest, meet with some NPC’s to further side-quests, buy and craft items using the materials you’ve found, level up your equipment with smithing stones — and, most importantly, spend your runes to level up your Tarnished.

As I’ve mentioned previously, something we put a lot of thought into was how to make our board game feel just like the ELDEN RING video game, and that plays a part in just about every design decision we make. 

Part of the identity of the video game’s experience, evidenced from the very earliest interviews with FromSoftware, was the drive to give players absolute autonomy over how they build their Tarnished. Although you have ten different classes to choose from, they’re best considered a starting point only, as players can really take their stats in any direction they want.

And that was something we wanted to replicate in the board game, too, rather than limiting players to fixed progression paths. 

To that end, there are eight characteristics you can increase when levelling up your Tarnished in the board game.

Tarnished Characteristics

Levelling up Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Faith allows you to customise your effect deck, by replacing an existing card with a new one. (For a reminder on effect decks, check out Combat Part 2.)

Most obviously, customising your effect deck can make your Tarnished’s attacks and blocks more effective, by adding cards that feature a larger number of symbols. Several of the improved cards simply feature more generic symbols — which means more symbols to allocate against an attack card, for higher damage output, or a greater amount of damage blocked,  when used in conjunction with a defensive card

Take the example above. The corresponding effect is resolved for every matching symbol shown. So, if [card name] is played, and this effect card is drawn, the triple generic symbol (the fist) means thrice the damage blocked. Simply put, it’s an effect card that makes the block even more… well, effective. 

But customising your effect deck isn’t just about choosing cards with a greater number of symbols. Specialising a deck to a specific characteristic also allows a Tarnished to scale against their equipment better, making their actions more efficient, and unlocking new effects they might otherwise not be able to use with generic symbols.

Regardless of how you choose to build your effect deck, the more it evolves, the stronger your Tarnished will be, and the more you can bring out the best from your equipment.

“But you mentioned eight characteristics,” you say. “Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Faith — that’s just four.”

Well, the other characteristics are a little different, and relate to the three bars shown on your Tarnished dashboard, and that mysterious traits word.

Traits represent the Tarnished’s mental acuity. They’re admittedly a slight abstraction from the video game, in the sense that they don’t have a direct comparison, but they’re allocated very much like using the slots in the video game’s menu system, so should still feel familiar. 

Traits allow you to further customise your Tarnished beyond the effect deck with a variety of different special rules and focuses. Levelling up your Tarnished’s Vigour, Endurance, or Arcane allows you to take one of that characteristic’s trait cards. 

Each card is linked to the stat it comes from — a Vigour card, for example, will likely give a special rule increasing resilience or increasing your starting health; an Endurance card increase your hand size, or provide additional recursion for your cards; Arcane is dedicated to cards for exploration, crafting, and material gathering.

The final stat, Mind, not only lets you take cards that can increase the potency of your magic, or increase the number of spells you can use, but also increase the number of trait slots you have. Very important for building your Tarnished during their adventures!

And that’s levelling up, broadly… of course, weapons and attack decks are another matter entirely!

The Time is Nearly Upon Us…

We’re almost at the launch, and more than 36,000 Tarnished are already waiting to explore the Lands Between with us on November 22. Will you join us?