D&D’s Strixhaven campaign has mechanics for ‘what a hot mess college life can be’

Image: Caroline Gariba/Wizards of the Coast
If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

When making Dungeons & Dragons campaign books based on the world of Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of the Coast’s designers have to come up with ways to make existing mechanics and characters from the collectible card game fit into an entirely different set of established rules. That was especially challenging for the team behind the upcoming crossover book Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos, because they were also looking for a way to translate the college experience.

“As we reflected on our own experience as university students, we looked at not only how much excitement there can be, but what a hot mess college life can be,” principal designer Jeremy Crawford said during a press conference Monday. “The relationships you can build can become really dear and affectionate, but they can also go the other direction, and you can end up with a frenemy who might end up causing you trouble.”

Based on the Magic: The Gathering set Strixhaven: School of Mages, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is set at a school of wizardry that owes a fair bit to the Harry Potter series’ signature school, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Students and teachers at Strixhaven are divided among five colleges with their own magical foci. For instance, Prismari draws on the power of the elements, while Silverquill’s members use words as weapons through battle poetry and cutting insults. In spite of that concept, you don’t have to play a magic-using class in a Strixhaven game. All players will receive a free campaign feat that will grant them some magical abilities based on one of the colleges.

The primary cover of Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
Photo: Wizards of the Coast
The bookstore-exclusive alternate cover
Photo: Wizards of the Coast

“It’s not so much a university to learn how to be a caster as it is a university to learn about magic and the application of magic and the existence of magic in the world,” senior designer Amanda Hamon said.

The designers have developed rules to simulate college life including taking tests and working on campus.

“Depending on how well you do on your exams, which mostly consist of skill checks and a lot of flavor, you’ll get bonuses going forward in the story,” Hamon said.

The book also contains rules for building up relationships with other students, which affects the narrative, but also has mechanical impacts on the game. There are personality profiles for 18 NPCs spread across the five colleges, and players can interact with them during relationship encounters such as an improv festival, house party, or Pitch Perfect-style singing competition. The decisions players make during these encounters could earn them new allies, or rivals who will try to interfere with their plans.

Unlike the previous Magic crossovers, which were set in different worlds, Strixhaven is designed to be dropped into any D&D campaign. The book features an adventure that can be played from levels 1-10 or broken up into four standalone games, each representing a year spent at the college. Each of those can be completed in two or three sessions.

A bestiary contains 40 new creatures, plus NPCs including professors and the dragons that founded each college. Players will also find rules for Owlin, a new avian race that was previously tested in Unearthed Arcana, plus feats, spells, and items such as magical textbooks to further immerse them in the setting.

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos releases on Nov. 16. A version of the book with alternate cover art will be available exclusively at local gaming stores.


Comments

I’m a little disappointed the UA subclasses for each college got nixed, but I think it’s better for everyone if character creation isn’t limited to only caster classes like those were. I’m looking forward to this, sounds like a great supplement for a more RP-focused playgroup.

They got rid of those?? That’s a bummer. I really liked the idea behind it. I can see how it maybe made balance an issue, but I was hoping they could have fixed that in some way

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is set at a school of wizardry that owes a fair bit to the Harry Potter series’ signature school, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

People have been saying this since the MTG set, & it’s a very tenuous link beyond the fact they’re both places of learning based around magic, a trope that predates both by decades. Strixhaven is very much based both structurally & flavourfully on American university & college life, whereas Harry Potter is obviously based on British secondary schools.

Even the "houses" they have in common are structurally completely different. The Strixhaven colleges are essentially choosing a Major in university, you research at Strixhaven for a year & then choose a college based on your interest. The Harry Potter houses are literally just the traditional house structure found in British schools & don’t have anything to do with your areas of study.

I think that link comes solely from how big Harry Potter was and how formative it was for people growing up as it was releasing.

Any sort of magic school is inevitably going to be compared back to Hogwarts because that’s the big boy.

I don’t know if I’m the biggest fan of the art style. Seems to be veering towards the realm of Disney for me. It feels like the artwork has been influenced by various societal/social attitudes.

I get this is MtG, and there’s lots of different artists commissioned to do this stuff, I guess I was hoping for something a little less Harry Potter and a little more Lord of the Rings.

"It feels like the artwork has been influenced by various societal/social attitudes."

If you can find me any artwork that hasn’t been influenced by societal/social attitudes, my flabber will truly be gasted. Art is never created in a vacuum.

I hate that I’m reading into that quote. I’m reading "influenced by various societal/social attitudes" as "influenced by the increased mainstream popularization of same-sex and interracial relationships."

But it’s the internet and it’s what you come to expect. I’ll give the OP of the comment the bennie of the doubt though.

It feels like the artwork has been influenced by various societal/social attitudes.

Holy dogwhistles, Batman!

Please break down what you mean by "the artwork has been influenced by various societal/social attitudes" because I am morbidly curious.

Also, how many magic schools are there in Lord of the Rings? None, because wizards were divine beings akin to demi-gods. Their powers were not taught but intrinsic to their being. That is a nonsensical connection to make. There are dozens if not hundreds of books to draw from where there is a school of magic you may want to reference one of those for a book that’s literally about a school of magic not the one fantasy property where a school of magic can not and would not exist.

If this was it’s own original ip, having a slice of life fantasy college would be reasonable, but this is pretty stupid for a D&D campaign. It’s almost as stupid as "accessible dungeons" and idiots claiming that orcs are racist. I seriously doubt this will be popular.

View All Comments
Back to top ↑