Review: Wizards of the Coast – Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos (Dungeons & Dragons)

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is an epic fantasy supplement for Dungeons & Dragons, written by Bill Benham, Makenzie De Armas, Dan Dillion, Steve Kenson, and T. Alexander Stangroom and published by Wizards of the Coast.
By Dave Pierson

Learn more about Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos here
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The Homebrew DM’s Perception

Disclaimer: A degree from Strixhaven University does not provide protection from magic missiles, fireballs, freezing spheres, or any other deleterious effects spellcasters might generate. If you create deleterious effects, Strixhaven kindly requests you refrain from invoking any names, symbols, or other references to the university should you find yourself in a confrontation. Strixhaven University does not take responsibility for any injury of any nature sustained in the course of anything, magical or otherwise.

Wizards of the Coast, Strixhaven, A Curriculum of Chaos, 2021

Last fall, Wizards of the Coast and D&D returned to school with the publishing of Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos. Strixhaven bills itself as “the premier institution of magical learning in the world!” In the multiverse that is Magic the Gathering, Strixhaven is located on Arcavios, however, as with many of the settings released by Wizards over the last few years, can easily be transported to any setting you want. Because Strixhaven includes a few campus adventures suited for all types of learners, one can easily incorporate the hi-jinks into your own setting without missing a beat. And that’s what I did with my current group and got to say, they had some fun. But before we dive into adventure let’s look at what’s all included in the book! Magical goodies abound!

The first two chapters give us good insight to what life on campus is like and provides us with those expanded character options we all crave. The campus overview provides a great glimpse into the vastness that is Strixhaven (several hundred acres) and provides a great jumping off point for your own adventures. Every homebrew world I’ve dreamed about has always had a central place for learning. Using Strixhaven as the foundation blocks for the central university in my new homebrew world was easy to incorporate since it aligned with my own goals as wells. Having a large library and gathering point for all students, surrounded by several colleges (or towers of learning in my setting), helps create an environment of both wonder and intrigue. Strixhaven incorporates 5 colleges of learning which was easy to expand to 8 for my own setting for the schools of magic. The book also was able to assist me in thinking about administration, mascots, and just daily life – things I’ve forgotten about school in my old age.

As we move on from the broad topic of life at the university, Strixhaven introduces us to creating your college adventurer. Chapter two brings us a new race (Owlin), backgrounds (tied to each college), feats, spells, and magic items. I haven’t always been a fan of bird lineages for D&D (Kenku, Arakocra), mainly because I struggle with what’s the best way to incorporate them into my world. The owlin present the same challenges to me, but I know others have been successful and I won’t take that away from here. Generally, when we think owls, we think wise, noble creatures. The guidance for building a owlin seems to follow that trope. Although ability scores follow guidance presented to us in Tasha’s – +2 to one, +1 to one; the fact that as an owlin you cannot fly if wearing medium or heavy armor seems to force players more to the mystical and magical arts than the fighty types. I mean, what’s the purpose of playing an owlin with a flying speed if you can’t fly? But the extra benefit of 120 feet of darkvision is a very nice thing!

The backgrounds and feats are an interesting touch, providing you a background for each of the 5 colleges helps align your adventurer. You don’t need to be tied to backgrounds, but the feats correlate specifically to studying at the university. There are some cool new spells, such as Silvery Barbs – making a creature re-roll a successful attack, ability check, or saving throw (hello Bards!); or Wither and Bloom – causing necrotic damage to one and healing another. I think where they had a lot of fun was in designing the magic items. Who wouldn’t want a Bottle of Boundless Coffee for those late-night study groups? Or better yet, what about a college primer, each tied to the 5 colleges and each providing an additional benefit to ability checks and spell casting.

So, now that you’ve got your college adventurers, the rest of Strixhaven provides you with 4 adventures that can encompass a full campaign if you so choose. Each adventure takes place over the course of an academic year and uses the milestone method of leveling. What’s unique is each can be run consecutively or individually. If you choose to run them consecutively as one campaign, then you build towards one BBEG who is behind everything. I won’t spoil, but there were some interesting things that can happen if you let your players have the freedom to explore. Don’t feel like you have to force them down a path in the adventure. Let it take time to build, throw in some side quests that could easily be mistaken for the true aim of the adventure and you’ll be surprised how your PCs will react.

Overall, Strixhaven is a well published adventure setting book. It stirred up memories for me of my own college experience, mixed in with Harry Potter. Once again, there are so many tidbits that can easily be incorporated into your own homebrew setting if you so choose, but I will also say – give it a try as a standalone campaign by itself. For us older players, wink-wink, it can be a trip down memory lane.

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