Following the Kickstarter Campaign, speculation has accelerated regarding the future direction of Sorcery: Contested Realm. This was fueled by the game creator's (Erik Oloffson) statements in a 26 March 2022 Livestream Q&A, in which he confirmed that future expansions would have "various themes". He called suggestions of steam punk and Knights of the Roundtable "extremely interesting examples given what we have talked about earlier in the company" (see the reference here around the 48 minute mark).
One particular theory that has gained traction is the possibility of an "Arthurian Legends" or "Knights of the Roundtable" themed set that could follow a 'Revised' printing of the Alpha set. In a fantastic interview with Erik Oloffson on the CCG History YouTube Channel, Erik mentions that he has a few expansion ideas planned in his mind, and specifically mentions Arthurian Legends as a potential expansion set theme (listen to the linked video at the 44:35 mark).
As of this writing on 27 April 2022, there have been at least 350 of the ~400ish cards for the alpha set revealed, but several full art image scans of paintings that have been done for the game and aggregated in the Collector Arthouse website full art gallery seem fitting for an Arthurian Legends theme. Those are included throughout the article to give context to potential theories.
In the Sorcery Discord channel, there has also been speculation correlating to Magic the Gathering's (MTG) history, given MTG's influence on the game and Erik's background as an avid collector and vintage MTG player. MTG's first two expansion sets were Arabian Nights and Antiquities. They were both specifically thematic (similar to an Arthurian Legends set would be), and small in size (92 cards for Arabian Nights and 100 cards for Antiquities), which could imply a small-ish follow up set to Sorcery's enormous 400+ Alpha debut. Additionally, Arabian Nights was thematically inspired by the themes and characters in Thousand and One Arabian Nights, a public domain real-world fiction which would parallel the concept of an Arthurian Legends set's correlation to real-world history/fantasy. Antiquities, on the other hand, was the first set to have a backstory unique to MTG. The Sorcery team has commented that they do not have immediate plans to write a Sorcery-specific story, but rather have designed the game in a way that creates almost an experiential story in and of itself. This would rule out a homegrown storyline a la Antiquities, but lend further credence to the theory that a public domain tale such as Arthurian Legend would be fitting for the game concept.
Due to the varied accounting of Arthurian lore, this article does not attempt to tell a singular story of Arthurian Legend, but rather is organized into character summaries with Sorcery: Contested Realm artwork and speculative theories interwoven.
What is Arthurian Legend?
Arthurian Legend in one of the most well known legends in British Literature. Whether King Arthur actually existed is a topic that has been heavily debated over the years as there is scant physical evidence to substantiate the stories and lore that has emerged. Some believe King Arthur to be a real, and singular, historical figure, while others believe he could have been an exaggerated and glorified version of several leaders; and still others believe that it is complete fictional fantasy. In any case, it has been a topic of great interest, with many writings and films including varied stories regarding primary characters.
The legend was developed from stories in Celtic mythology. Notable writers include: Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia Regum Britanniae), Robert de Boron (Merlin and the Grail), Chretien de Troyes (Erec, Cliges, Yvain, Lancelot), and Sir Thomas Malory (Le Morte D'Arthur). The term Arthurian Legend encompasses a number of different versions of the tale, but mainly refers to the work of Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte D'Arthur.
Arthur & Merlin:
Arthur was the son of the King Uther Pendragon and Queen Igraine, who was the wife of a rival king. Infatuated with Queen Igraine, King Uther sought the help of a wizard named Merlin who agreed to disguise Uther as Igraine's husband under the stipulation that if a child was born from their union, it would be given to Merlin.
When Igraine gave birth to a child, Uther honored the agreement and gave baby Arthur to Merlin, who in turn gave him to the care of Sir Hector and raised him with Sir Hector's son Kay; his true identify remaining a secret.
It was not until later in life that Merlin explained to Arthur who his real father was. After Uther's passing, when Arthur was still young, Merlin trapped the sword of King Uther in stone. The one who was able to draw the sword from the stone would be proclaimed the worthy King of Britain to succeed King Uther. Many tried and failed, until Arthur succeeded and was declared the rightful King.
The illustration is a painting by Sorcery: Contested Realm artist Lindsey Crummett and is titled Vengeful Squire. Not yet revealed in card form for the Alpha set, perhaps this artwork is being held for an Arthurian Legend set, depicting a young Arthur from his time as a squire under the tutelage of Sir Hector and Kay.
Another interesting note regarding Merlin is that he had "lived the future", and hence his prophecies were inevitable. Perhaps this could lend itself to some creative Sorcery game design space. One potential theory is a mechanic similar to that of Severine Pineaux's Predestination (thought to be in the Alpha set), and/or a synergy with that card in which outcomes can be dictated by the controller of the card or perhaps a Wizard or Sorcerer.
Merlin was thought to be the bastard son of a princess who was enticed in a dream by a devilish figure known as the incubi, the male version of the succubi. Incubi and succubi are evil spirits that sexually molest human dreamers for nefarious purposes. As a result, Merlin was always mistrusted and thought by some to be the son of the devil.
This illustration, by artist Brian Smith, is another yet to be revealed in card form.
The Black Knight, Lady of the Lake, Excalibur, Lancelot:
In a duel between King Arthur and the Black Knight, Arthur shatters the royal sword.
The illustration is a painting by Sorcery: Contested Realm artist Brian Smith and is titled Black Knights. Not yet revealed in card form for the Alpha set, this may also be fitting for an Arthurian Legend set, depicting either the famous dual with the Black Knight, or Arthur's knights in one of his many storied battles.
After Arthur's sword is shattered, he is guided by Merlin to the Lady of the Lake, also known as Viviane. Viviane is an enchantress who lives in a castle beneath a lake surrounding the island of Avalon. There she presents Arthur with the legendary and magical Excalibur sword. This sword guided Arthur through battle to fend off the saxon invasion.
The illustration is by Alan Pollack and titled Flaming Sword (Excalibur?)...yet to be officially revealed...
A new Lady of the Lake (or Viviane) Enchantress or Sorceress Avatar would be a fitting addition in Sorcery as a new Water Elemental Avatar. Water deities are important beings In Celtic mythology since water is an essential element of life.
Merlin was Viviane's master, who taught her to be a powerful sorceress. Viviane fell in love with Merlin, but when it was not reciprocated Viviane's love turned into hatred. This mirrors stories of Viviane's character; sometimes kind, and other times manipulative and vindictive. In addition to the Excalibur sword, the Lady of the Lake is also best known for manipulating Merlin by using his teachings against him and casting a spell that traps him in a cave or tree (perhaps lending itself to an interesting "burrowing" mechanic in the game?).
The lore leads to Viviane becoming the adoptive mother of Lancelot, son of King Bran. After the King's death, the young Prince became the world's most powerful knight; later becoming Arthur's closest aid and the classical symbol of knightly chivalry.
Sorcery artist Ossi Hiekkala's Crown Prince illustration, also yet to be revealed in card form as of this writing, could potentially represent a Lancelot figure (or perhaps an older representation of young Arthur for a new avatar or figure in the game).
Guinevere is the legendary wife of King Arthur. In some versions of Arthurian lore, Guinevere met Arthur after he was wounded in his battle with the black knight. She treated Arthur's wounds. When they were married, Arthur was given the famous roundtable as a wedding gift, at which Arthur and his knights would gather.
Guinevere was notorious for her immense beauty, and the light that she brought to Camelot where she and Arthur presided. Lancelot, Arthur's best and most loyal knight, ended up falling in love with Guinevere, and she with him. After many years of a platonic relationship, temptation gave way to betrayal and Mordred (the illegitimate son of King Arthur and his half-sister Morgause, whom Arthur did not know was his half-sister at the time of inception) informed Arthur of the infidelity. This incited a major civil war which ultimately led to Arthur's downfall.
Feeling the burden of responsibility for Arthur's demise, Guinevere decided to live the rest of her life in a convent.
The illustration is Ossi Hiekkala's Sisters of Silence. This is a card thought to be in the Alpha set, but like MTG before it, it is possible and quite likely that an Arthurian Legend 'expansion set' would include cards that are complementary and synergistic with cards from the Alpha set; and as such there may be opportunity here to expand this singular thematic card which appears to be a one-off within the context of the Alpha set. It is interesting to contemplate the idea of seeds being planted in Alpha to set the stage for future exploration.
Another aspect of Arthurian lore includes the quest for the Holy Grail. The illustration is Tony Szczudlo's Holy Grail, thought to be in the Alpha set, and another example of a 'seed' that may be planted for future exploration in an Arthurian Legend set expansion.
Galahad is a legendary knight most well known for his success in achieving the vision of God through the Holy Grail. He is also Lancelot's son. In Thomas Malory's Le Mort d'Arthur, King Pelles receives magical foreknowledge that his daughter Elaine will have a child with Lancelot, and he will become the noblest knight, chosen by God to discover the Grail.
Legend describes Galahad's success in finding the Holy Grail linked to his purity and chastity. Contrary to his father Lancelot's life of sin and extramarital affairs, Galahad lives a sinless life worthy of the Grail.
Morgause & Mordred:
Morgause is an important figure in Arthurian Legend as her influence is an integral part of Arthur's downfall. Additionally, her four sons all served Arthur as Knights of the Round Table.
Unaware of her relation to King Arthur (half-siblings), her affair with Arthur conceives a child named Mordred. Her husband, King Lot, raises Mordred, unaware that he is not his son.
In some versions of Arthurian lore, Merlin prophesies that Mordred will bring about the end of Camelot where Arthur reigns. While serving as one of Arthur's knights, Mordred ultimately conspires with Morgause and becomes a traitorous character fixated on killing Arthur due to their belief that Morgause is the righteous heir to the throne as Arthur's son. In other versions, Mordred is described as in love with Arthur's wife, Queen Guinevere, and fights Arthur for the throne and Guinevere's heart. But consistently he is portrayed as a traitorous villain. In Italian writer Dante Alighieri's Inferno, Mordred is found in the lowest circle of Hell, set apart for traitors.
The illustration shown is by Elwira Pawlikowska and titled Infiltrate. It is thought to be part of the Alpha set, but potentially another seed paving the way for further storyline development in an expansion set.
Additionally, it does not take much imagination to wonder if Tony Szczudlo's yet to be named (and released in card form) illustration depicts a Mordred-like character and betrayal of a King.
Unreleased Alpha Art or Arthurian Legend:
There are several full art images that have surfaced and are currently unreleased or unconfirmed for the Alpha set. Several of these have potential to be designed to align to the various tenants of Arthurian Lore outlined in this article or beyond, through the many variants of lore texts that have surfaced over the years. An image gallery is included below. The artist and tentative card name (subject to change based on what we have seen for confirmed Alpha cards as they have evolved through pre-launch game development) can be found on the Sorcery Art Gallery page.