Crafting a Soulsborne inspired D&D Setting with the Magic the Gathering Color Wheel — Part 1: Plains, Forest, and Island
A campaign idea that I’ve been perfecting for years since I first ran a few sessions of it, simply titled Cursed Kingdom, is finally going to see the light of day again and I couldn’t be more excited.
The campaign’s premise involves a group of adventurers, each from a different kingdom from around the world (which the players created in as much detail as they wanted while making their characters) traveling to a secluded, ancient kingdom in search of its secrets. Rumors say that the kingdom holds whatever someone could want: panacea, supreme power, great wealth, immortality.
The first time I ran the campaign, I flew mostly by the seat of my pants as I created the legendary kingdom piece by piece for each session. As our first session of the new campaign is this week, it looks like I will be doing that again to some degree. However, in this setting, the Cursed Kingdom is as much of a character as the players. Because of that, I want to get a good idea for at least what each of the regions look like before we start playing.
As you saw on the tin, I wanted to approach this through the colors of Magic the Gatherings color pie. Why, you ask? There’s a few simple reasons. For one, Magic’s lands provide a good array of geographic types, and I want the Cursed Kingdom to feel varied to explore. Also importantly, Magic’s lands are tied to philosophies which I can invoke or subvert when fleshing out the lore of the kingdom’s regions.
Let’s get into the specifics of how this:
Becomes a playable version of this:
I say we go through these regions one by one, including their borderlands, and break them down by this little rubric:
The themes of the land, and how they draw from the inspiring color
What aesthetics they’re going to draw from (including pictures!)
Unique locations, inspired by the previous two points (including a castle for each region!)
The plains are the first place the players see upon entering the Kingdom, so we really need it to set the tone for the campaign setting as a whole. The white keywords listed on the pie as the guiding themes of the color are MORALITY and ORDER, with "Laws of God/Spirit" and "Laws of Man" on the second tier and "Uncreative," "Peace," and "Law" on the third tier. While white is generally associated with the bustling centers of civilization, I want to subvert that a little by leaving much of the land as vast, rolling, abandoned spaces. It is Peaceful, but the peace is almost eerie.
Visually, I imagine the Plains of the Cursed Kingdom to be like the environment of Shadow of the Colossus, a wide-reaching steppe/grassland that is interrupted with occasional rock outcroppings, river banks, desert-like lowlands, and massive stone ruins.
To play up the color’s respect for the laws of Gods and spirits, the landscape will also be dotted with crumbling church steeples. For one of the Plains’ unique locations, let’s place a huge church ruin—something like the Temple of Time from Breath of the Wild.
White isn’t a complete color without humanoid civilization, so let’s also add an Old Hamlet to serve as a settlement for some humanoid enemies to inhabit. The laws of this land will be strictly enforced, including a law banning the presence of meddlesome outsiders.
For this hamlet, let’s draw inspiration from the winding, ruined paths overgrown with moss and filthy with hiding enemies found in Dark Souls’ masterful Undead Burg location.
The hamlet might butt up against a fortress dungeon… the ruins of a kingdom that fell, perhaps due to paying too much attention to enforcing the sometimes arbitrary laws of God and man. Our ‘burg’ can be built into the side of this castle, again referencing the architecture of Dark Souls.
Finally, for our true castle, I want to draw on some of the more positive elements of white—the comfort and security of home. Tucked away in the heart of the steppeland is a proud remnant of a king’s army surviving in the face of the kingdom’s curse. They’re distrustful, and maybe beset by their own internal troubles, but they’re loyal if you prove yourself to them. Something like the kingdom of Rohan from Lord of the Rings.
Joined to the Plains by the Duke's Hunting Grounds, a once well-kept area of planted trees and hedges between the grassland and the true forest, the Forest swaps the Plains' pensive loneliness with a claustrophobic envelope of green. The green keywords listed on the pie as the guiding themes of the color are INSTINCT and INTERDEPENDENCE, with "Natural Decisions" and "Natural Survival" on the second tier and "Naïve," "Growth," and "Nature" on the third tier. Emphasis on nature will be easy to show by populating the Forest more densely than the other areas with a variety of flora and fauna more diverse and numerous than the other areas. The forest borderlands need to capture a feeling of dark whimsy that warns the players of both the danger and majesty deeper within the biome... like a fairy's mushroom circle just begging a traveler to step within. For this goal, I want an area with lots of mist and drifting lights—something like the Lost Woods in Breath of the Wild.
Aesthetically, the forest proper should draw from Dark Souls' Darkroot Garden. The game region's mix of ancient, overgrown ruins with a cool, eerie nighttime palette is almost unforgettable, and I definitely want to evoke that here. For our region, the tree branches intertwine so tightly that large swaths of the forest are starved of any sunlight.
As anyone familiar with Magic knows, green is also the color of stupidly large creatures, so our claustrophobic woods will open out near the heart of the forest, where the oldest and biggest of old growth trees spread out to give room for giant creatures to travel. For this area, I imagine something like the Siofra River from the recent Elden Ring, replacing the natural stone pillars for ancient tree trunks, and the starry skyline for a galaxy of bioluminescent bugs that have taken residence in the massive canopy above.
Joined to the Plains by a series of jagged cliffs and stone structures, the blue biome comprises a rocky peninsula and its surrounding archipelago. The blue keywords listed on the pie as the guiding themes of the color are LOGIC and TECHNOLOGY, with "Intellectual Theory" and "Intellectual Application" on the second tier and "Intellect," "Omniscience," and "Inaction" on the third tier. In traditional FromSoftware style, the themes of this color will be embodied by a university where magical scholars doomed themselves and the land around them by digging into ancient secrets with no regard for the horrors they unearthed. Think of Dark Souls' Duke's Archives, Elden Ring's Raya Lucaria Academy, or Bloodborne's Byrgenwerth College.
As for the outside geography, the school buildings, research labs, and lecture halls are spread around the archipelago's islands, accessible by perilous jumps and precarious land-bridges. Aesthetically, I think of the unique, almost Grecian geography of the coastal area of Shadow of the Colossus, replacing the stone ruins for the more-intact mix of stone, wood, and crystal found in the aforementioned FromSoft universities.
For the castle, we have the largest and most intact of the college buildings, elevated at the highest point of the islands and doubtlessly hiding the most mind-bending of the arcane secrets. The path is winding and covered in arcane traps and glyphs of warding, and the inner halls are no safer. Design-wise, I think of the ominous Circle Tower from Dragon Age: Origins.
That's all that I have time for today, but I already feel more excited about this project. I'm really rearing to work on it more—both to finish the remaining three regions and to populate the areas I have already developed. I hope you can join me to work on it more next time!