A small preamble to start.
I am an elder millennial. Born in the late 80’s, my formative reading years were in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I devoured Tolkien, spent summers reading through the tales of Redwall, had a strong bond with five teens who morphed into animals to fight aliens, and even took in the adventures of a dark elf outcast and his companions before I even knew what D&D was.
But like most elder millennials, the series that really gripped me like no other were the exploits of a boy wizard and his seven years at magic school. It was a cultural phenomena and I was there when it began, and when it ended.
And end it did. My relationship with the stories of ‘the boy who lived’ has soured over the years, largely because of how vocal the series author has been about trans women. It’s cast a pall over the series and my enjoyment of it has diminished greatly, while the childlike daydream about being admitted to a school for wizards and witches remains as potent as ever.
Now, that daydream is alive and well in Dungeons & Dragons. With the helpful worldbuilding of Magic the Gathering, D&D has its own Hogwarts (Or more accurately, it’s own Brakebills) in the form of Strixhaven University!
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is the latest D&D offering from Wizards of the Coast, and it is a far cry from your usual D&D campaign or setting. This book provides all the rules, mechanics, NPC’s, maps, and structure to have players attend magical university over four in-game years of play.
To anyone who loves D&D as an adult, but has fond memories of reading of wizard schools as a kid, this book is a balm for the soul. It promises an inclusive and vibrant collegiate experience filled with magic and wonder.
Also there’s owl people now. You can play as owls. It’s rad.
How Strixhaven Sets You Up For Adventure
Strixhaven contains maps and setting material for the titular university: a vast campus of magically eclectic auditoriums, libraries, dormitories, classrooms, and the like set in Arcavios, a world from Magic the Gathering. However much of the lore sets the university up as an extraplanar space able to be attended to by any and all eligible magic users from the multiverse.
The first chapter of the book sets up each of its five specialized campuses. Think Hogwarts houses but themed after different kinds of esoteric magical principals like order/chaos, life/death, perfection/expression, etc. Unlike the comparison, none of these houses are set up as ‘the evil one’.
There’s also a café, tavern, performance hall, and sports stadium to round the campus out. The book has enough lore, NPCs, and details to provide enough grounding to get Dungeon Masters started, but there’s more than enough empty space and unanswered questions to give them space to add their own lore. For me, it’s the perfect balance between established worldbuilding and creative prompts so DM’s can do it themselves.
The next chapter gives us player options. Strixhaven has one new player race: the owlin. They’re straight up owl-people and I love them. They’re not especially complex, but they have a flying speed and they look amazing in all of the art. I cannot wait to play one. In addition to this are some new college house specific backgrounds and a smattering of new feats and spells. The spells are inspired by spell cards from MtG from Strixhaven related set. My favorite of them is kinetic jaunt; which grants a lot of useful combat movement opportunities.
All of these options fit in really well with the world, and I’m excited to see what players and dungeon masters do with them.
College Years of Adventure
The biggest part of Strixhaven is a four part, four year adventure that takes PC’s through their curriculum at Strixhaven from levels 1 to 10. During this adventure PC’s attend classes, perform at extracurricular clubs or part time jobs to earn acclaim, friends, and extra cash. Sprinkled throughout these day to day activities are adventure hooks and encounters that form a whole adventure that pits the players against an otherworldly threat against the college. I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers, but the overarching threat and story is a fun one that fits the world perfectly.
This four year adventure adds a really fun mechanic whereby specializing in a certain topic, gaining allies, friends, or rivals, grants the PC with an additional d4 to add to skill checks and related ability checks a few times per day. It’s a fun mechanic that makes each chosen interaction feel unique to each player’s character.
In addition to this, each character gets a PC specific Report Card, which tracks their academic achievements, their extra dice, their rivals and beloveds, and more. It’s a really well designed sheet that makes an excellent addition to the traditional D&D 5e character sheet. I’m a total sucker for new character sheets, and I really liked the layout and design of this one.
A high point of this book is its art and design. Similar to the previous book The Wild Beyond The Witchlight, Strixhaven is a robust collection of new art and lavishly designed maps. In particular the full campus poster map is gorgeous, rendered in a more abstract and storybook style that fits the magical world perfectly. The art depicting the numerous students, professors, and alums of Strixhaven is varied and diverse; the many illustrators that worked on this book captured the look and feel of the campus perfectly.
Speaking of, Strixhaven itself is a magical wonderland that strikes a balance between traditional and organic fantasy locales and the floating spires and geometric shapes more at home in a science fantasy setting. It gives Strixhaven a really unique look that sets it apart from other magical fantasy school settings.
While previous MtG offerings to D&D reused a lot of existing card art from the TCG, Strixhaven uses almost entirely new illustrations and assets. This book is full of great original art.
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos feels like something new. It’s a well put together collection of adventure and mechanics to run a magic college campaign, and it fills that particular niche really well, just like Mythic Odyssey of Theros filled the niche for Greek Mythology inspired play.
If you’re at all interested in running a Harry Potter inspired D&D campaign for your friends, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is a perfect choice. I highly recommend checking it out.