Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is the latest adventure from Wizards of the Coast, and the latest publication in the intersection of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. It takes the setting of Strixhaven from Magic, and has reimagined and retooled it for 5th Edition D&D. What is Strixhaven, and why is it actually a great crossover point for these two games?
Strixhaven is an academy of mages, a cosmopolitan university made up of multiple campuses. So what does that mean for Strixhaven as a setting, a location in a world, and its place within an adventure? As a school, the characters are students which immediately dictates a different sort of adventure from the start. As a location, it is a very prestigious institution, perhaps the most in terms of educational halls for practitioners of magic. And it is diverse, especially within the context of the multiverse. It draws students and faculty from all races, lifestyles, and realms across the multiverse. Originally, Strixhaven is set on Orrithis in Arcavios, but the university can be rooted wherever it best fits the need of the campaign or adventure it is a part of. It can be placed within an original world, on the Material Plane of Eberron or Toril, or even set within an extraplanar nexus.
The Long Haul
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is primarily an adventure book, and the full adventure is written for four to six characters who start at 1st level and will progress to 10th level by the end. The four adventures are linked and each cover a year at school for the students, and they are written to be played consecutively or as standalone adventures. Should Dungeon Masters opt to run them as standalone adventures, each chapter has a section that describes how to run it as such, because certain threads between chapters connect them to a greater story. Those sections clear up which aspects are important, and which can be omitted if a larger campaign is not being played out, and the story needs to be kept contained.
Strixhaven brings several new social mechanics to 5th Edition, and the tracking sheet in the Running the Adventure section is a great tool for helping keep everything organized. Relationships, report cards, extracurriculars, jobs, and student dice are all new components which can play into life at Strixhaven. Relationships, something which saw a lot of anticipation leading up to Strixhaven’s publication, bring new mechanics for Friends, Beloveds, and Rivals which can impact multiple aspects of an adventure. While these mechanics are all designed to enhance life while at the university, the adventures can be run without them in part or in whole. Sidebars and subsections explore ways to navigate opting out of the additional rules. There are also additional suggestions for introducing the new mechanics in a Session Zero, along with navigating players’ (and even the Dungeon Master’s) comfortability with that kind of roleplay.
The larger adventure is broken down into four sections, each spanning a year at school. With the wide-ranging mechanics surrounding extracurriculars, tests, and other such aspects, the written portions of the adventures encompass snapshots of the school years, sometimes splintered across the year. These are somewhat of a return to an older style of 5e adventures, where key events are presented in the adventure and the liminal space is left up to either a Dungeon Masters creativity or simple narration. While it has been met with mixed responses in the past, I think it was a necessary and effective way to write the adventures for Strixhaven, especially as they cover such a length of time.
In year one, students engage in general studies, starting with their orientation on their first day on campus. From orientations to exploration, to their first exams and performances at the Rose Stage, the first year at Strixhaven will see characters advance from 1st to 4th level as they learn more about their school. Year two students begin by choosing which of the five colleges to enroll in: Silverquill, Prismari, Witherbloom, Lorehold, or Quandrix. Each college has their own section for providing inspiration and direction for choosing not only a college, but an area of study and focus. The Battle for Strixhaven takes center focus this year, a climactic Mage Tower game set to take place at the end of the term, while students will also uncover the scheme of two mage hunters bent on weakening Strixhaven. Year three sees the characters continue to solidify their reputations on campus, and while a shadow lengthens over Strixhaven, the annual Magister’s Masquerade marks one of the most magical nights for students. In the fourth and final year, students face the mastermind behind a nefarious scheme to destabilize and ruin Strixhaven and its professors, forcing students to take up the mantle of defeating this foe.
D&D x MTG
As with each previous collaboration of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, character creation gets a few unique additions. The owlin player race brings owlfolk to D&D, and fully incorporates them into Strixhaven as both fellow students and faculty. The new Strixhaven character backgrounds are interesting as they suppose characters have been preparing to become students of a particular college for some time. Each is given options beyond spellcasters for each college, making it clear that while Strixhaven and these backgrounds are not limited to only spellcasters, they are without a doubt the focus and intent. Each of these backgrounds grants characters with Spellcasting or Pact Magic additional spells on their spell list, as well as the Strixhaven Initiate feat, tied to their particular college, which grants two cantrips and a 1st-level spell. The addition of feats as a part of a background feels very strong, although the feats individually do not feel overpowered compared to other similar feats, such as those from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Early iterations for character creation in Strixhaven were very different from the result we got in the final publication. First presented in an Unearthed Arcana, the very unique and original concepts saw subclasses completely rewritten for Strixhaven colleges, completely revitalizing the traditional mechanics of class and subclasses for 5th Edition. From progression to spell lists, everything felt original, but not overly complicated. However, this was later rewritten to better integrate with 5th Edition mechanics as a supplement rather than a replacement, and the college-specific subclass options were replaced by backgrounds, feats, spell lists, and magical items.
For an academy of mages, I was surprised that only five new spells were added in Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos. Reaching only across 1st- and 2nd-level, they extend across varied classes and many are added to character spell lists should they take a certain Strixhaven background. Each spell feels unique and multifaceted, designed to reward creative use. This did result in Wizards of the Coast publishing an Errata to clarify certain aspects of some spells that were unclear in the first printing. The new magic items are stylistic for students and feel appropriate to the setting, such as the Bottle of Boundless Coffee and college-specific magical textbooks.
Creatures, monsters, and NPCs populate Strixhaven and the surrounding regions as friends and foes, fleshing out the setting to make everything feel new and exciting. From school mascots to college-specific mages to the Founder Dragons, forty-four new stat blocks range from CR ¼ to CR 25. These actually felt like the greatest addition to making Strixhaven as a setting feel diverse and original, which will greatly enhance the wonder of a new setting for veteran players.
While the allure of returning to college and roleplaying as a student of the arcane is alluring, I think the great resource Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos offers in the breadth of inspiration. Running the actual adventures, as intended, will take a remarkable amount of preparation as a Dungeon Master, whether it is playing each entire year or crafting the narration between those key events. It is the high magic setting of a university styled in the subject of magical expertise that is valuable.
It is that sort of setting that I had to continue to look at this adventure through, because in most other settings, most of what Strixhaven provides becomes skewed. The backgrounds giving characters a feat, albeit not a game-breaking one, is significant, and is likely something Dungeon Masters should weigh before allowing in character creation in other settings. They absolutely feel right in the high magic academic setting of Strixhaven, especially when presented and run as it is in the book. But their balancing in other settings or in original campaigns might require more adjustment.
Additionally, looking at both the original framework for college-specific subclasses and the final product provide great inspiration for a mage college setting or adventure. For Dungeon Masters and players looking for new and original ways for their characters to reach beyond the bounds of their class and subclass, the Unearthed Arcana approach allowed mages to do just that without breaking the boundaries of 5e. On the other hand, the combination of new spells, backgrounds, and feats from Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos does much of the same, while fitting more neatly within current 5th Edition rules rather than creating brand new subclasses that existed largely outside standard class and subclass constraints.
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is written primarily as an adventure set in its specific, established, high magic setting. Its rules, content, and constraints all reflect that. Some aspects might seem out of place or overpowered for lower magic settings, or even in fantasy settings where magic takes on a different role than that of Strixhaven where it is woven into nearly every aspect of life. The setting informs both the additional mechanics and the nature of the adventures. The nature of magic is fundamental to the ways in which most of this book plays out, both in character options, monsters, and adventuring within the colleges.
The adventures are a collection of snapshot instances and locations from which creative Dungeon Masters can build out extensive campaigns or pare down to streamlined adventures that smoothly navigate extended timelines to keep interest and excitement for everyone at the table. They incorporate roleplay, gameplay mechanics, and creative encounters and situations that break up the traditional adventures that rely almost entirely on combat and the occasional trap. The adventures reward creativity from the players, and bring a wide range of options for Dungeon Masters to use to augment, expand, or add their own flavor to the adventures.
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