At first glance, the next book for Dungeons & Dragons looks like just another crossover with Magic: The Gathering. But, after speaking with co-lead designer Amanda Hamon, I’m suddenly very excited for its release. Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos could be one of the most versatile new products published by Wizards of the Coast this year. Here’s how it’s going to work.
The Strixhaven: School of Mages set of Magic cards arrived in April for the original collectible card game, and it did so with quite a lot of gusto. It’s very clearly a bit of a Harry Potter goof, but it has its own flavor. Situated on the plane of Arcavios, Strixhaven is basically Harvard for mages. It has five colleges, each founded by a dragon. Each college has its own flavor — Lorehold loves its history, Witherbloom are the biology goths, Prismari is full of extravagant art students, etc. The set was equal parts powerful spells and sexy co-eds, and that certainly went over well with its core community of fans.
Thing is, not everyone is that into Magic. So, Hamon said that one of the book’s major design goals was to make it so players can file off the serial numbers and drop the college of Strixhaven — or whatever they want to name it — into any setting that they can imagine.
“It’s a campus that is self contained, that can be dropped within any setting, as it makes sense for other people’s campaigns,” Hamon told Polygon in an interview. “That was very important for us. We wanted it to be its own world.”
Of course, you can do that with any of D&D’s published adventures and collections, like Candlekeep Mysteries which focuses on a singular library. With the concept baked in from the start, however, it should be a lot easier on the Dungeon Master (DM). Your own home campaign is yours to run how you see fit, and mixing and matching things — character classes, monsters, encounters, villains, locations — is really part of the fun. But Hamon and her team went even further with that concept.
That modularity extends to the pace and duration of the campaign itself. The bulk of the book, Hamon said, is taken up by four arcs, one for each year a character spends at college (there’s no option for a fifth year, so study hard, kids). You can run those arcs start to finish across dozens of hours of playtime, or you can chop them up and run them each as mini-arcs or even a series of one-shots.
“If you do not want to commit to a level one through 10 experience,” Hamon said, “if you’re just wanting to play a side game in between [another adventure you’re running] as a regular group, or if you’re just wanting to dip your toe into Strixhaven to see if your players like it, you can run each chapter as a stand-alone adventure — as a module. And so each chapter is really meant to be a story in and of itself. If you do that, the book provides you instructions for how to change the narrative, [how to inform your players on] what it is that is driving the action forward, and what the satisfying resolution is if you play each chapter.”
I could see clever DMs using that modularity to great effect in a number of different ways. The best one might be as a flashback for your party’s powerful magic user. Who were their chums at university? How did they make a name for themself before hitting the road to link up with the current party? Just have all the other players at the table roll up a quick level-one character to help flesh out the story and you’re on your way to some serious character backstory building.
The book also promises to deliver a number of exciting new systems that can be applied to any campaign. Hamon says there’s a system for gamifying romantic relationships with non-player characters, a system for taking exams, and a vaguely Quidditch-like ruleset for the popular intramural sport of Mage Tower. Those portions of the book were handled by principal designer Jeremy Crawford, meanwhile James Wyatt — the man behind a bunch of previous free-to-download crossovers with past sets of Magic: The Gathering cards — is handling world-building and continuity.
Toss in a bestiary with more than 40 monsters — including stat blocks for each of Strixhaven’s five powerful dragon lords — and you’ve really got something special. Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos goes on sale Dec. 7. Pre-orders are available now at your friendly local game store and online.