The player character is called Tarnished in the Elden Ring. The game never explains to you what the Tarnished actually means. There are hints scattered in the narrations, item descriptions and NPC dialogues about what it means to be Tarnished.
In general terms, tarnished means corrupted material, especially metal. In Elden Ring, the characters like players are branded Tarnished, that doesn’t mean they are corrupted or evil. In the Japanese version(original) of the game, the player is called Asebito, which translates to a faded or a forgotten person.
To figure out what the Tarnished is, the player in Elden Ring has to collect the information like a detective. A detective who is going through a very complex tangled case. We have pieced together the lore of the Elden Ring to tell you what Tarnished in the Elden Ring is.
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Lore of the Tarnished
Tarnished are the inhabitants of Lands Between. They exist alongside beings like giants, beasts, demigods and vassals of unfathomable Outer Lords.
Tarnished although hailing from the Lands Between are not welcome there, as they seek to change the current order. They are rejected by the Grace of Erdtree, to live an exiled life full of conflicts and hardships. The Tarnished tend to be drawn towards the broken shards of the Elden Ring to unify it once again. One who succeeds, becomes the next Elden Lord.
The shards of Elden Ring are housed within the various Lords of the Land in the form of Great Runes. These lords who hold the shards of the Elden Ring are called Shardbearers. Only way to retrieve these Great Runes is by slaying these Shardbearers. Thus, the Tarnished are an omnipresent threat to the present rulers of Lands Between.
Who Was the First Tarnished?
Godfrey, previously known as Hoarah Loux, was considered to be the first Tarnished. He was crowned the first Elden Lord representing the rule of the Golden Order. After marrying Queen Marika he was granted demigod-hood and christened, Godfrey.
Godfrey was a fearsome warrior. He was initially a chieftain of the toughest region of Lands Between. Post marriage, he used his powers to wage war against the enemies of the Golden Order. During his reign as the Elden Lord, he and Queen Marika bore three demigod children. Even though his exploits sound glorious, he was most probably a mere pawn of the Golden Order.
We will never know if Queen Marika truly loved Godfrey. Their union seems to be for convenience. Later on, Queen Marika marries Radagon, her own male self and crowns him the Elden Lord. It proves how truly autocratic and monopolistic about power Queen Marika was. In the end Godfrey seems like her pawn, who was celebrated till he served the overarching purpose.
Once Godfrey defeated his most daunting foe, the Storm Lord, he lost his will to fight for the Golden Order. In my deduction, the illusion he believed in wore off after the fight. He also might have discovered the true will of Erdtree, which is a parasitic, controlling, devouring entity.
It is said he got rejected by its grace but it could also be Godfrey who rejected Erdtree. As it happens often in history, the facts are written by those in power.
How Were the Tarnished Created?
The greatest warrior of the land, Godfrey being rejected by the grace of Erdtree must have been an immensely controversial subject. Queen Marika, ended up exiling Godfrey, and marked him as the first Tarnished in the process. This is followed by the Great march of many Tarnished into exile.
It is not known why so many fell from grace during this period. In my interpretation, the period was a pivotal moment in the history of Lands Between. Many beings must have realized the festering rot within the Golden Order during the tumultuous time. Thus, relinquishing the Erdtree’s grace and becoming Tarnished.
Origin of Player Character in Elden Ring
Much is unknown about the player character. We do know she or he is Tarnished of no renown. Our character was most probably exiled before the great shattering of the Elden Ring. This banishment was the will of Queen Marika herself. It could have been for her own selfish desires. It could also have been to save the Tarnished from the rotting fate that befell everyone in the Lands Between. You decide.
Once the great shattering occurred, there was a big power struggle. The demigod children of Marika fought a great war that ended in a stalemate. The great shards of the Elden Ring remained scattered and there was no Elden Lord. Thus, the Tarnished were beckoned back to the lands between.
The tarnished were the only ones spared of the Great Rot infecting the Lands Between. Most probably because of the exile. They still had control of their own mind unlike the infected. Storywise, it seems the Tarnished are supposed to reunite the great runes, reforge the Elden Ring and become the next Elden Lord.
Our Player character is called back to the Lands Between along with many other Tarnished. Some famous and gifted like Godfrey, some hated like the Dung Eater, some maidenless and obscure like the Player.
Who was Queen Marika?
Queen Marika is hands down the most complex character in the Elden Ring. She was chosen by the Greater Will, to be a vessel of the Elden Ring. She was the ruler of Lands Between during the Age of Erdtree and creator of the Golden Order.
In my analysis, she must have been someone who was groomed to be the representative of the Greater Will. She grew into a God who dictated the rules given by Greater Will and led the Golden Order. Marika’s consorts Godfrey and Radagon, her loyal shadow beast Maliketh and her powerful Golden Order followers carried out her edict across Lands Between.
Queen Marika’s motives seem to have changed with time and with changes in herself. She played the most vital role in imposing the rule of Erdtree and the Greater Will, in the Lands Between. She also waged vicious wars, conducted diplomacy and carried out nefarious schemes for Greater Will.
Then finally, she also seems to be the one who betrayed the Greater Will by causing the Great Shattering. For that, she was imprisoned inside the Erdtree. It is there inside Erdtree, you find her at the very end of your journey. After everything, you are led to her.
You, the Tarnished, will encounter sites where Queen Marika was worshiped throughout your journeys. You will be guided, or maybe misguided by her, it is for you to decipher. Bear in mind, even if Marika was considered a goddess, she once was an insignificant being. She was chosen and built to be the Queen of the Lands Between.
What is the Guidance of Grace?
Queen Marika seems to be a watching eye over the Tarnished, as the player can revive at her stake after death. Her churches also have Sites of Grace where the Tarnished can rest. Even when imprisoned, her grace guides the Tarnished.
Though not every Tarnished sees the Guiding light to Grace, like the player character does. These unguided tarnished get lost, bewildered and even get driven to madness.
Queen Marika’s motives seem to be unclear and debatable. She could be driven by selfish desires, or she could have seen the error of her ways and wants a remedy for all grief she caused. She might even want everything to end along with her own life. We can only speculate about her ultimate plans.
In my understanding, she seems to give the player a chance she never got herself. Unlike her, she hopes the players can choose for themselves their fate and the whole fate of Lands Between. It is up to you, the Tarnished, whether to continue the order of Erdtree or to reforge a new world from its ashes.
You can also choose to leave the path of grace and do something else entirely. The player Tarnished is the only one that can make a difference in the Lands Between.
The guiding grace is not something you, the Tarnished, necessarily have to follow. Embark, to decide your own path. Forge your own destiny.