strixhaven

4 Things That Make ‘Strixhaven: A Curriculum’ of Chaos a Great ‘D&D’ Book

D&D Adventures Gaming Tabletop Games

Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos is the latest offering from WoTC’s Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition and is the next installment of the exciting crossover with their other major product line, Magic: The Gathering. Like Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica and Mythic Oddesseys of Theros, this tome brings forth a fantastic setting from the multiverse of Magic: The Gathering and gives us rules for creating characters from that world and incorporating them into our Dungeons & Dragons games. What’s more, unlike the previous two MTG sourcebooks, Strixhaven is a full-on, playable, multi-level campaign adventure.

Now, I’m not a Magic: The Gathering kind of GeekDad. That’s not because I don’t do trading cards—my collection of shiny and secret rainbow rare Pichachus will attest to the contrary. Rather it’s because I just haven’t tasted that particular vice just yet. I’m sure it’s sweet as the nectar from Mount Olympus, but I fear I have a very addictive personality and must not fall under the sway of another Dark Lord. Indeed, I feel that it’s very likely the head honchos at WoTC are hoping this latest release will act as some kind of gateway drug to entice people just like me to cross over into the world of Magic: The Gathering. And it’s almost good enough to do it, as we’ll see when we look at the top 4 reasons to add Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos to your D&D collection.

Naturally, spoilers for this adventure will follow, and so only Dungeon Masters and players who really know how to keep a secret should read on.

1. It’s Set in Magic School

We all know that some of the best fantasy books feature students in magic schools getting in trouble and upsetting their teachers. This book draws on that great wealth of experience and puts them all into one place to let you, the players, be the students. And what a place to study! Adventures begin and take place on the campus of Strixhaven University. It’s a sprawling metropolis, spread over six colleges with an enormous library, a sports stadium, multiple cafes, gardens, taverns, and much, much more.

strixhaven campus

During the campaign, players explore the six campuses over the course of four main adventure stories. Each one described an academic year filled with scholarly pursuits, campus shenanigans, hidden dangers, friendships, and even romance. Hogwarts, eat your heart out. And, as with most of the recent 5th edition publications, this book comes with a beautifully detailed pull-out map of the Strixhaven campus. It’s one of the things that a dungeon master could just stare at for hours coming up with devious plots and stories to test their players.

2. New Character Options: Owl-People!

One of the newest additions to the 5th-edition D&D canon featured in this book is the owlin. Distant kin of giant owls from the Fewyild, owlins come in many sizes, from petit and fluffy to wide-winged and majestic. They’re a really fun addition to the many races your players can choose to play. The main benefits of choosing this option are the ability to fly and an advantage to stealth. But there’s also the added potential possibility of role-playing a nocturnal character that can turn their head all the way around, asks “who?” a lot, and leaves tiny pellets in the corner after every meal.

strixhaven owlin

As well as the addition of the owlin, Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos has lots of new character options for creating your avatar either within the Strixhaven setting or in your own D&D home game. These options include five brand-new backgrounds designed to suit students of the university. My personal favorite of these is the “Silverquill Student.” With skills and traits based on language and the power of words, this seems like the ideal background for a bard or illusion-based wizard. There are also two new feats, five new spells, and eight new magic items in there too. Of these, the “Bottle of Boundless Coffee” definitely sounds like a must for students burning the midnight oils—it’s totally useless in terms of gameplay, it gives you no bonuses or de-buffs at all, but there’s lots of roleplaying potential.

3. Over 40 Friends and Foes

There are over 40 monster stat blocks in Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos, eight of which are for challenge rating 15 or above—that’s quite a lot considering players are only supposed to get to level 10 by the end of the adventure. I’m told it just wouldn’t be Magic: The Gathering without lots of cool kaiju-like monsters, but it’s definitely worth saying that against challenge rating 22 creatures or above—these include five gargantuan dragons—level 10 characters really stand no chance. Although, admittedly, these dragons represent the founders of the five colleges and you’re not really supposed to fight them. But if your D&D group’s anything like mine, this will be a fatal temptation too hard to resist.

strixhaven ruin-grinder

However, the majority of the monsters’ stat blocks here are for foes that your players might stand a chance against like the awesome-looking Ruin Grinder and fearsome Daemogoth. Each college also has four levels of NPC—apprentice, pledgemage, and two oppositional professors—and these are given interesting and unique stat blocks to set them apart from each other. Fans of Magic: The Gathering might look at the creature stat blocks and feel there are some missing monsters, but I guess that’s the compromise when going from a card game with tens of thousands of unique playable cards to a 224-page adventure book. 

4. The Short Adventures Are Actually Quite Good

About half of the 224 pages of this book are dedicated to the main campaign story. Players begin the adventure as first-level characters and first-year students and end the campaign having completed their fourth year as potentially level 10 characters. On the whole, the adventures are good, if not a bit obvious. Characters have to retrieve confiscated materials, crawl through dungeons pursued by mage hunters, and battle rival colleges in the grand arena, before attempting to thwart the evil schemes of a disenfranchised ex-student.

For me, the best section of the adventure is the end of the second year when the students get to attend a fabulous masquerade ball which leads them to some disturbing discoveries about a Dean. Fans of the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire could well get carried away when planning for these sessions!

The book also includes special rules, unique to this setting, that are supposed to cover all aspects of student life: exams relationships, extracurricular activities, and getting paid employment. While some of these rules seem a bit labored and even at times contradictory—for example, you can stay up all night studying for an exam to get a bonus to your rolls, but in doing, due to fatigue, you get disadvantage on those rolls—they all add to the sense of completing a magical degree and they play into those classic literary “magic school” tropes.

Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos

Overall Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos is a great addition to the ever-growing library of D&D 5th edition books. It’s an entirely different and novel approach to a Dungeons & Dragons adventure and this might just be the perfect story for your gaming group. For me, it’s all a bit too “You’re a wizard, Harry” and not enough “I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings.” But that’s probably just me and not a fault of this book at all.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received a copy of Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos for review purposes

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