Dungeons & Dragons: Strixhaven – A Curriculum of Chaos Struggles to Stand Out

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The new Dungeons & Dragons/Magic: The Gathering crossover book is a decidedly mixed bag that struggles to show what makes the magical university of Strixhaven unique from other magic schools. Earlier this year, Wizards of the Coast introduced Strixhaven to its multiverse via a card set of the same name. The school was built around five colleges, each of which represents two of Magic: The Gathering’s five mana colors. To the surprise of just about everyone, Wizards of the Coast then announced that their D&D design studio would finish its publication year with a book detailing how Strixhaven could be used as a D&D campaign setting. Strixhaven – A Curriculum of Chaos is the third D&D book that converts a Magic: The Gathering plane into a D&D campaign setting. But while both Ravnica and Theros were large, expansive worlds with plenty of adventure hooks and intrigue, Strixhaven feels painfully thin by comparison, and this shows in the new D&D book.

The stark difference between Ravnica (which is a world-sized city) and Theros (a plane inspired by Ancient Greek myths) and Strixhaven is evident in how the D&D team approached their respective D&D books. While the Ravnica and Theros campaign settings spent the bulk of their pages detailing the various facets of the world, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos spends about 30 pages detailing the five colleges and the important NPCs who live there. The size difference is somewhat expected given that Strixhaven is a school while Ravnica and Theros are full worlds, but it just feels like there’s not much there for the D&D team to convert into usable material for a campaign setting.

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To make up for the lack of locales and plot hooks, the D&D team instead provides a full-length campaign for players to run through, complete with new rules that allow players to benefit from participating in extracurricular activities, jobs, and building relationships with NPC students. Strixhaven – A Curriculum of Chaos also contains several new player options, including some new Strixhaven-specific feats that allow for some limited spellcasting and the ability to summon a magical mascot from one of the five colleges, an overpowered background designed specifically for a Strixhaven campaign, a handful of new spells, and the brand new owlin race.

The new spells are particularly thematic and provide some nice abilities specific to students of a single college, while the background/feat options allow characters of non-magical classes to participate in a Strixhaven campaign setting. The backgrounds (which allows players to take the Strixhaven Initiate feat for free and give access to a few spells themed for a certain college) might prove to be a pain to some DMs as it’s deliberately overpowered compared to other backgrounds, but most players will understand that they’re intended to be used for a Strixhaven campaign. The owlin race also seems like it could be exploited by a powergamer – a small creature with a flying speed, darkvision, and proficiency with stealth seems primed for a powerful rogue build. There’s also a great bestiary in the book that includes lots of cool new monsters, including the five Founder Dragons which are both powerful and unique compared to the many other types of dragons introduced to D&D this year.

As for the Level 1-to-Level 10 campaign, it sadly feels generic and lackluster. The campaign shies away from the strengths of the Strixhaven campaign setting – the five magical dragons, the bizarre archaics that wander around the outskirts of campus, and the mysterious Oriq organization seeking to destroy Strixhaven from within – for a mundane adventure involving an expelled student looking to get revenge on the school. The most memorable students from the Strixhaven set are also left out, but they are at least replaced with a cast of NPC options that feel more fleshed out than the typical NPC who appears in a Wizards of the Coast D&D adventure.

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Because Strixhaven doesn’t have a ton of campus culture built into the setting (again, because Wizards of the Coast just revealed the set this year with a single set of cards), the adventure frequently features goofy campus activities to participate in, ranging from sing-offs to scavenger hunts to frog races. There is what seems to be a deliberate amount of fluff baked into this adventure and players will need to lean into the cheesiness of a magical skate-off or a game of mage tower if they want to enjoy playing through this campaign. While I appreciate the aim of the D&D campaign, and doing a fashion show for a magical masquerade ball is definitely a welcome departure from the typical kind of activities one sees in a D&D session, there’s definitely a bit of Steve Buscemi “How do you do, fellow kids?” energy baked into this adventure. At best, the Strixhaven adventure has the same energy of an overenthusiastic tour guide who tries to sell a vision of campus that’s far different than what anyone actually experiences in school. Then again, one of the joys of D&D is that an over-exuberant and innocent version of campus life can become reality thanks to the power of shared storytelling.

Ultimately, Strixhaven – A Curriculum of Chaos is a niche book, but one that provides an “official” guide for a very specific type of story. The continued relevance of properties like Harry Potter and The Magicians shows that there’s definitely a demand for magic school stories among the populace. However, Strixhaven would have benefited from a bit more baking in the oven before being converted for D&D. Wizards of the Coast told exactly one story within Strixhaven through its Magic: The Gathering cards and then bizarrely chose to avoid those story elements in favor of a decidedly more generic adventure that doesn’t really show what makes Strixhaven unique. Some groups will be able to use and enjoy Strixhaven, especially with the right mindset, but this book is clearly not for every D&D player. Luckily, Wizards of the Coast published four other D&D books this year, so there are plenty of options for players to choose from if a fluffy and thin school setting isn’t for them.

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Strixhaven – A Curriculum of Chaos is available for sale now in the United States. A copy was provided by Wizards of the Coast for the purpose of this review.

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