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Designed by: Wizards of the Coast
Harry Potter popularized the magic school trope, but just about every fantasy world has at least one school of magic, and Strixhaven could very well be yours. Adapted from a recent Magic: The Gathering set, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is the rare setting book that includes a fully featured, levels 1-10 campaign adventure.
The following is included in the Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos bundle (currently 40% off through December):
- Four Adventure Modules (can be added separately as add-ons)
- Seven isometric region maps (campus and college maps).
- Two 10-ft maps (w/ 5ft subdivisions, one with color).
- 17 5-ft maps (one with color).
- Over 40 magic items (mostly from the DMG).
- Over 100 NPC and monster character sheets and tokens (incl 40+ new monsters and NPCs).
- 18 Named NPC students, each with three statblocks .
- 75+ player art handouts (not including monster art handouts).
- 20+ rollable tables and macros.
- Relevant supplemental handouts from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
- Strixhaven Compendium
- One new race: Owlin.
- Five new backgrounds, one for each college.
- Six new feats (one for each college background + mascot summoning).
- Five new spells (one for each college).
- Token Art Pack with over 100 tokens
- Four Adventure Modules (can be added separately as add-ons)
Strixhaven features seven chapters, half of which are devoted to the four modules that make up the campaign.
The first two chapters introduce campus life and culture, focusing on the five colleges (and fields of study) that students can specialize in.
Strixhaven is located in a world called Arcavios, but can just as easily be plopped into any world or setting. Unlike most magic schools, Strixhaven is a university for higher learning, which allows specialized focus in certain fields of study.
The school was founded by five ancient dragons who were among the first masters of magic, each founding a different college based on their mastery and discipline.
Lorehold is the study of the past, including ancient ruins, old tomes, and ghostly figures. Scholars include Dustspeaker, Relic Reader, and Warsinger. In Magic: The Gathering, its colors are red and white.
Prismari students are dedicated to infusing elemental magic with artistic creation. Scholars include the Flamesinger, Ice Sculptor, and Waterbinder. Its colors are blue and red, representing artistic technique and passion.
On the opposite end is the College of Numeromancy, Quandrix, which studies mathematics and patterns in magic and nature. Augmentors, Mana Scholars, and Vivifers study at this school, which represents green and blue mana.
Bards would love Silverquill College, known as the College of Eloquence. It overlaps a bit with Prismari but is more focused on oration and literature, including poetry, speeches, and runes. Silverquill scholars have some of the best names, such as Bantermage, Shadewing, and Silvertongue. Silverquill represents black and white mana.
Witherbloom College is the classic study of life and death, growth and decay. Scholars include the Blood Doctor, Leafbinder, and Dreadbones. Obviously it combines green and black mana, and its college is a literal swamp teeming with life and death.
Each college is run by two co-deans with directly opposing viewpoints, to help provide a complete understanding of the complexity of that college. In the most extreme example, Witherbloom is headed by a treant representing growth, and a vampire who represents death, with both still acutely aware of how important the other side is.
Chapter two features all the new player options, which are surprisingly light for a setting book. The new race, owlin, are anthropomorphic owls who can fly, possess darkvision (120 feet!) and a free stealth proficiency. Otherwise there’s nothing really remarkable about them, though you can choose to make them Medium or Small at character creation.
The five new backgrounds are much more impressive, and incredibly powerful. Each background is tied to one of the colleges, as your player character has spent their years studying to attend the school and graduate from their chosen field.
Each of the college backgrounds includes a free feat, a specialized version of the Magic Initiate feat that provides free spells, and gains additional free spells known based on their college.
For example, the Prismari Student learns two cantrips from Fire Bolt, Prestidigitation, and Ray of Frost, and one 1st level spell from the bard or sorcerer spell list (once per day). Additionally, if they can cast spells normally, they learn several more spells such as Chromatic Orb, Flaming Sphere, Haste, and the new spell, Kinetic Jaunt. It’s an especially powerful background for spellcasting classes who are limited in their spells known, such as sorcerers and warlocks.
There are only five new spells, one themed for each school. They’re all lower level spells, but very useful (perhaps too useful!), including free disengages, granting disadvantage and advantage on reactions, and teleporting allies or enemies. Given the number of spells we have available at this point in 5e’s cycle we probably didn’t need any more, but it’s a bit odd to have a book about a magic school with barely any new spells.
The rest of the book is dedicated to the campaign and new statblocks, including 18 student NPCs that can act as rivals, friends, lovers, or enemies. The campaign introduces optional NPC relationship rules to enhance role-playing, including tracking individual relationship points and unlocking flavorful boons and banes.
Certain groups will delight in developing these relationships, and those groups would certainly get a lot more out of the campaign than those who are more interested in crawling through dungeons and fighting monsters.
The campaign is made up of four modules, which can be separately added to existing Roll20 campaigns if you’d rather pick and choose. There’s an overarching plot with a former ex-student plotting this revenge, but he doesn’t really show up until the end of the third adventure. In fact, the first two modules, “Campus Kerfuffle” (level 1-3) and “Hunt for Mage Tower,” (level 4-5) are mostly a series of mysteriously weird and dangerous events that punctuate normal campus life.
Even a magical university is still a melting pot of ambitious young people, which means it’s full of partying, gaming, and socializing. Each module offers plenty of opportunities for engaging in fun activities, from fashion shows and skate-offs, to Quidditch-like sporting match in the big stadium, as well as needing to study for and pass the occasional exam! These mini-games and skill checks are varied and fun, but each module takes place over an entire school year, losing all sense of urgency to the main plot.
In the case of the first two modules, random monsters are transformed or appear during some of these events, leading to anticlimactic endings that are supposed to tease an unfolding story, but feel more incidental than anything else.
Not until the third module, “The Magister’s Masquerade,” (level 6-7) do we get an actual villain in a corrupted dean, and a more compelling story with sick students (also the entire grand ball prep thing is cute and endearing).
By the fourth module, “A Reckoning in Ruins” (level 8-10), we’ve finally identified the main villain and embark on a more traditional D&D adventure, doing some real investigation work, crawling through ruins, and battling an awesome boss monster called a daemoggoth. At least the campaign ends on a high note.
Maps are a mixed bag. Isometric campus maps are drawn with a colored pencil style that doesn’t look great when stretched to fit a Roll20 map screen. Oddly we’re not even given the larger poster map as a full page option.
There are nearly 20 grid battle maps, mostly for interior locations around campus, but only two of them feature color! It also sucks that they feature wildly contrasting art styles, including the highly textured work of Mike Schley versus a much lighter style that simply uses the natural Roll20 blank page background.
The disappointing maps are especially noticeable given the otherwise phenomenal art that comes with an IP based on Magic: The Gathering. The new character portraits are especially awesome, and the Roll20 bundle includes over 100 (!) art gallery tokens you can drop into any game.
A magical university offers a lot of fun opportunities for classic college-movie shenanigans, and Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos plays with a lot of these themes. It requires a lot of work from DMs and buy-in from players to establish and develop these all-important NPC student relationships, however, and the included adventure doesn’t find its footing until the second half. Unless you’re mostly invested in the pure fun of of the college life in an RPG (and don’t mind the map quality), Strixhaven is a tough adventure to recommend.
- Helpful Dungeon Master Tips page for Roll20 users.
- Powerful new backgrounds, feats, and spells tied to each college of Strixhaven.
- Full level 1-10 campaign spread over four individual modules, which can be added to Roll20 modules a la carte.
- Breath-takingly fantastic character art and handouts (as befitting M:TG artwork!).
- Huge amount of player art tokens.
- No poster map page.
- Tracking Sheet could’ve been more player-friendly.
- Almost every map lacks color, and features contrasting art styles.
- Final two modules are much more interesting and compelling than the first two.
The Verdict: Strixhaven fully embraces the magical school genre, offering an intriguing setting with a wealth of role-playing opportunities, though the setting and character options outshine the multi-year campaign.
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