Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos Review
Published on December 7, 2021, Last modified on December 28th, 2021
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos introduces the magical university of Strixhaven, where students will learn, play, and eventually, save the day.
Magali Villeneuve - Wizards of the Coast - Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos Cover
Quick Review (No Spoilers)
What is Strixhaven?
Strixhaven is a location introduced in Magic: The Gathering’s Strixhaven: School of Mages set on April 15th, 2021. Unlike many Magic: The Gathering sets, Strixhaven isn’t a world in itself. Instead, it is a school for mages located on the continent of Orrithia on the plane of Arcavios. That being said, the location of Strixhaven doesn’t matter much to the campaign included in the book. The school can be dropped into just about any high-fantasy setting.
Strixhaven is made of up five colleges, each named after one of the dragons that founded the school:
|Silverquill||Literature and Language||Shadrix Silverquill|
Life for a student living on the campus of Strixhaven is about as regular as you could expect for an institution devoted to higher learning and the magical arts. There are cafes for guzzling coffee, a library for cramming before exams, highly anticipated sporting competitions, romance, and rivalries. At the center of all this chaos are the teachers and administrative staff trying to keep everything running smoothly.
It’s obvious that this setting is capitalizing on the massive popularity of Harry Potter. While Wizards of the Coast has done its best to make Strixhaven its own creation, there is quite a lot of inspiration drawn from Harry Potter’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardy, Hogwarts.
Like the other Magic: The Gathering crossovers, Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica and Mythic Odysessy’s of Theros, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos draws lore from the trading card game. Unlike those crossovers, this book comes with a short, four-part campaign that can take players through their time at Strixhaven.
What does Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos contain?
Pages: 224 pages
Published: December 7th, 2021
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is a campaign setting for the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (5e) that takes players to the magical school of Strixhaven. Incorporating player options, new monsters, and a four-part campaign, this book provides groups everything they need to play a campaign in the Magic: The Gathering school of Strixhaven.
Player options account for approximately 21 pages of this book and include:
- A new playable race, the Owlin
- 5 new backgrounds for Strixhaven students, one from each of the Strixhaven Colleges
- 2 new feats
- 5 new spells
- 8 new magic items
The rest of the book is for DMs and will be primarily used to run a game in the world of Strixhaven:
- 17 pages about life on the Strixhaven campus
- 4 short adventures that take players from 1st to 10th level
- 44 new monsters and NPCs to populate the world of Strixhaven
- The adventure included in this book makes the setting a lot more accessible to your average playgroup. Other campaign settings which only provide an overview of the setting are reliant on the DM to homebrew an entire campaign whereas the Strixhaven book gives tables a good launching off point.
- The adventure chapters provide plenty of area maps as well as battlemaps for important locations around campus that can be helpful even if you aren’t going to run the adventure.
- The NPCs provided in this book are fleshed-out and can be useful for running a Strixhaven campaign even if you don’t follow the adventure.
- The backgrounds provided in this book are very unique because they provide a feat based on the college chosen, on top of extra spells. This makes the student background easily the most powerful background choice released in 5e, though they are quite specific to Strixhaven. They may need some reworking to fit into other settings, but for those players looking to optimize a build for another campaign they will provide a significant power boost.
- This book is very much a resource for running adventures in the university of Strixhaven. There are only a couple of pages devoted to the larger magics and mysteries of Arcavios which introduce more questions than they answer. If you’re planning an adventure that uses Strixhaven as a starting point and are planning on branching into the rest of the world, you won’t have much information to go off of.
- Likewise, because this book isn’t entirely devoted to the adventure, it is lacking in some areas. We discuss the adventure, what it does right, and where it can be improved in the in-depth review below.
- Most of the playable options presented in this book (spells, magic items, background, feats, and even the monsters to some extent) are very setting specific. If you were to buy this book to read, but also wanted to have access to the content for a separate campaign, there won’t be a ton of options that can directly be transferred across without having a wizard school of some sort in your world.
- Apart from four classes (one for each year), classes are skipped over entirely. We have attempted to remedy this situation by compiling 144 class ideas for Strixhaven courses in our supplement Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery.
What does Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery contain?
Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery is a companion book to Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos created by the team here at Arcane Eye. This book expands upon the content provided in A Curriculum of Chaos in order to provide DMs with more ways to customize their Strixhaven campaign. The information contained in this book is completely modularized and can be added wherever you see fit to enhance your game.
This book contains:
- 144 Class Encounters: Make the classes at Strixhaven dynamic and interesting with four encounters for each class offered at Strixhaven.
- Expanded Class Mechanics: Make the classes chosen by players provide meaningful, mechanical value through an expanded class system.
- Group Points System: Provide a reason for players to work together as a group, plus make successes and failures more meaningful throughout the adventures found in Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos.
- Rival System: Create a rival party for your group that competes with them at every turn and encourages them to become exemplary students.
This book is currently on sale for $1.99. The price will be going up to $3.99 on January 1st, 2021.
In-depth Review (Spoilers Ahead!)
Chapter 1: Life on Campus
This chapter introduces the foundation for running adventures in Strixhaven. It details university locations and NPCs while also providing an outline of how the colleges function.
Well Fleshed-Out NPCs
Games based in Strixhaven will require NPCs that feel alive to provide full immersion in the setting. This book does a great job of listing prospective NPCs with fleshed-out backstories for your party to encounter and to build relationships with. This chapter provides a random table for each college, as well as preconstructed examples of the college’s faculty. The 3rd chapter provides even more NPCs, information about their activities and interests at Strixhaven, and character portraits.
There is nothing quite like an area map that your players can view to provide them with an understanding of their surroundings. The maps provided in this chapter are beautifully crafted and well detailed, enabling your players to have a visual reference for their exploration.
The maps are all accompanied by a short description of important locations that will help any impromptu visits to those locations. These locations are also mentioned quite extensively throughout the provided campaign.
Hard to Find Info
Running a campaign in Strixhaven will test the organizational skills of a DM. There are class schedules to remember, countless NPCs, and tons of locations. This book falls victim to the curse that plagues most 5e sources in that it is fun to read cover to cover, but once the game starts, you’ll find yourself flipping through pages for ten minutes trying to find that one thing that you need to reference. This book is particularly guilty of that because it splits important location-specific information between this chapter and the provided campaign.
Chapter 2: Character Options
This section provides additional character options for groups running Strixhaven campaigns.
I really like that the backgrounds allow players to gain access to different spells as part of their background and an interesting feat, Strixhaven Initiate, on top of that. The Lorehold background provides the weakest spell list by far, but apart from that, they are well balanced.
The Strixhaven Initiate feat provided with the background is extremely strong because it’s essentially Magic Initiate with some restrictions, but also some benefits. Your choice of cantrips will be restricted to two out of the three provided and you can only choose the 1st level spell from two different spell lists, depending on your college. On the plus side, you get a free 1st level spell slot to cast the chosen spell and you can choose what ability score your spellcasting modifier will use.
All in all, these are definitely the most powerful backgrounds we have seen in 5e so far.
We have already touched on the Strixhaven Initiate above, but there is a second feat introduced in this book that is just as interesting. Strixhaven Mascot is the first feat restricted by character level and by choosing another feat. This feat allows characters to summon a mascot like they would a familiar. The mascot is based on the college chosen in the Strixhaven Initiate feat and works mainly like the familiar would in the Find Familiar spell. One notable difference is that you can swap places with the mascot as an action, as long as they are within 60 feet of you. Some mascots provide more value than others with this ability, especially the Silverquill’s Inkling mascot which can both fly and squeeze through tight spaces.
Magic Items and Spells
I like the low-level spells and magic items provided in this chapter. They aren’t terribly powerful, but they provide flavor to the campaign and help establish that this is a high-magic setting where almost everyone has something magical.
1st Level Flyer
I’m not sure where I land on the constant debate between those who don’t like character builds with 1st-level flying capabilities and those who think they’re fine. I agree that DMs can usually work around them, but I also agree that being able to fly at 1st level negates a lot of potential encounters.
That being said, the provided adventure doesn’t feature much that can be negated by early-level flying capabilities, so I would say that the Owlin would be fine in a Strixhaven campaign.
Chapter 3: School is in Session
This chapter provides an introductory adventure for characters that want to start at 1st level in their Strixhaven campaign. The adventure introduces the party to a number of important set pieces and NPCs, and helps establish their day-to-day life while attending Strixhaven.
Over the course of the year, the Strixhaven campus is plagued with objects animating and becoming hostile towards students. After experiencing a number of these events, the party investigates the swamp of Sedgemore where they find that a corrupted eldritch balm is the source of these disturbances. They are also introduced to the campaign’s villain Murgaxor, an ex-student of Strixhaven who is hell-bent on siphoning the life from the inhabitants of the school.
Like all of the adventures in this book, this adventure follows a linear path that pushes the party along as they encounter school events, exams, and dangerous encounters.
The Good and Bad sections below contain instances where all four adventures in the book are being referred to. This is noted in each instance. Unless otherwise specified, the point is only about the introductory adventure in Chapter 3.
The adventure is mostly restricted to Strixhaven which does a decent job of controlling the flow of money, making it useful and at times hard to come by. This is the case across all four adventures.
Jobs and Extracurriculars
Jobs and extracurriculars provide benefits to character builds as well as role-playing opportunities. Unfortunately, they don’t actually come up in any of the adventures.
While I found most of the encounters in this chapter to be weak at the worst of times and somewhat forced at the best of times (discussed below), the part where they sneak into the manor had a very fun vibe and reminded me of the classic college film Animal House.
Encouraging NPC Relationships
I like the fact that you are provided with a number of NPCs with which to form relationships. The relationship NPCs are varied and each provides unique role-playing situations.
Actual Prices for Magic Items
When trying to figure out the price for a magic item, DMs usually have to seek third party sources or risk vastly over (or under) pricing a magic item using Xanathar’s Guide to Everything’s rules. I really like how this chapter provides a set list of which items are available and how much they go for.
I quite like the idea of throwing in an exam every once in a while across all four adventures. Not only does it make the campaign actually feel like a school, but I think they’ve come up with a fairly clever mechanic of handling test-taking in 5e.
In each of the four adventures, players are required to choose courses for each semester, but the courses that players choose don’t necessarily play into the story or mechanics of the campaign at all. The only class that actually ends up mattering is the required course that all party members take. This is the main reason behind our supplement, Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery. Here at Arcane Eye, we felt that a fleshed out course mechanic with example classes was necessary in order to provide players with the feeling like they were actually attending a school for mages.
I feel like this chapter needs a “rival group” that is immediately at odds with the party. There doesn’t seem to be much conflict that allows the players to actually choose how to handle it. Set rules for a rival party would be very useful here. This is the case for each of the first two adventures, until a rivalry is formally introduced in the third adventure. We provided mechanics in our supplement, Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery, in order to help DMs facilitate a rivalry between the party and another group of students. We felt that this was another necessary element that was lacking from the core adventures.
Because all four of these adventures are meant to be modular, they are very linear. When running these adventures, I imagine that players will begin to get frustrated with how many times a fellow student tries to rope them into a situation that will obviously go wrong and require the party’s intervention.
The “mystery” is quite obvious and is mainly ignored by NPCs. Players could get frustrated and go to explore by themselves, effectively skipping the plot points of the story.
Except for the manor adventure, the characters aren’t really given a chance to fail. Even if they are knocked unconscious, a faculty member just comes in and solves the situation most of the time.
The relationship system leaves a lot of work on the DM. The module instructs players to keep track of their relationships, but the DM has to incorporate them into each encounter. Most encounters also just say “any NPC can be there and the players can talk to them if they want”. I feel like this system only works when specific NPCs are called out by name and have a reason to interact with the players, but this doesn’t happen too often across any of the four adventures.
Chapter 4: Hunt for Mage Tower
This chapter follows the character’s second year at Strixhaven and heavily revolves around the school’s game of Mage Tower.
The conflict of this year revolves around a pair of mage hunters that have been corrupted by Murgaxor. These mage hunters cause chaos around the campus before they are finally confronted and defeated after the party’s final game of Mage Tower.
Natural Story Hooks
The hook for the encounter where the party has to rescue the mascots feels more natural than hooks from the previous chapter. Another plot hook that flows well with the adventure is when the party is asked to find a supposedly lost book in the library.
Overall, I think the story beats of this chapter are stronger than the first chapter, but its connection to the overarching plot of the adventure is the weakest. The reason for this is discussed below.
Mage Tower Rules
Mage Tower is a completely non-hostile game and is resolved entirely with ability checks. I think this was a huge missed opportunity to create a more “capture the flag” based combat encounter which would be a lot more engaging and rewarding to win than a couple of ability checks.
Nightmares of Glee
The sing-off challenge in this chapter gives me the heeby jeebies. I’m not sure what can be done to improve it but I will be skipping over it entirely when I run the adventure.
Vague Final Villains
I find the mage hunters to be an extremely weak final villain for this adventure. Their effects on the campus are very similar to the corrupted eldritch balm in the first adventure and they don’t seem to really add anything to the story. It also isn’t made clear that Murgaxor was behind the plot.
Chapter 5: The Magister’s Masquerade
Chapter 5 revolves around a social event called the Magister’s Masquerade, a dance and formal event for third-year students. This year, Murgaxor’s plot involves possessing a faculty member and psychologically poisoning a number of students in order to make them vulnerable to the effects of a life siphoning ritual.
Overall, I have found this to be the best of the four adventures.
Organic Campus Involvement
The beginning part of this chapter introduces the Magister’s Masquerade and seems like a fun and organic social encounter.
I like that the party is finally being forced into a confrontation with another group of students. However, in my opinion, the party should have a rival group much before this chapter. I also love the mechanics for the duel encounter. Overall I think this portion of the adventure is the strongest part of the book.
The way that the information about the villain from the previous two chapters starts to come together in this chapter is well done and has a nice payoff.
I don’t have any negative things to say about this chapter. It is by far my favorite.
Chapter 6: A Reckoning in Ruins
The final chapter of the adventure sees Murgaxor’s plan come to fruition. Now that he has corrupted a large percentage of the student body, Murgaxor plans on performing a ritual that will siphon away the corrupted student’s life force. The players are tasked with stopping him before he is able to fulfill his goals.
Some New Areas
As discussed more below, these four adventures have disproportionately used the Witherbloom campus for area crawl fetch quests. The latter part of this chapter finally introduces a new area for the characters to explore.
This is probably my favorite minigame introduced in this adventure. I love the opportunity for some PvP combat, even if it’s with animated teacups. However, I do think that a 1,000gp winner’s prize is an immersion-breaking amount of money for such a silly game.
The whole “Murgaxor has blocked all of the faculty’s power so we can’t help” is a pretty weak excuse to get the party involved in this adventure. I personally would have preferred some kind of catastrophe to befall Strixhaven that requires the faculty’s full attention, meaning the players are the only people to send after Murgaxor.
Overuse of Witherbloom
This is the fourth time in four chapters that the party is sent to the bog for a fetch quest. Also, sending kids to detention in the swamp where the faculty suspects the BBEG to be lurking around seems dangerously ignorant.
Khelvor the Daemogoth seems like a last-minute addition but is still a way cooler villain than Murgaxor. If I were homebrewing an adventure to take the players past 10th level, I would definitely have Khelvor be the one that was influencing Murgaxor to perform the ritual at the behest of a Daemogoth Titan.
Chapter 7: Friends and Foes
As mentioned in our Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons review, I quite like the new stat blocks for casters. These new caster stat blocks are used quite extensively in this chapter for students and professors at Strixhaven. The new design has provided these NPCs with unique, varied stat blocks, while also making them easy to read and run in combat.
The Daemogoth is a new creature introduced in this adventure and looks so awesome. I absolutely love how they make deals and provide boons at the expense of hit points. I think these would make a far better BBEG to the campaign and the Daemogoth Titan would be a fitting villain if you wanted to stretch the campaign into a third tier adventure.
The dragons in this book are really well thought out. I like how unique their breath weapons are and I actually find them better designed than most of the dragons included in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons.
I don’t have any negative things to say about this chapter. All in all, I really liked the monsters and NPCs included in this book.
What’s the verdict?
As both a Harry Potter and Kingkiller Chronicles fan, I really liked reading this book. I think it had a lot of fun with the campus life that the players will experience and it makes for a flamboyant, light-hearted setting. Unfortunately, I think the adventures lean a bit too hard into this flamboyant fun at times for my taste. When I run the adventures, I will certainly tone it down.
I also think that the adventures leave a lot to be desired in terms of players being able to make meaningful decisions. If they are played directly as provided, I anticipate players will be left wanting more autonomy to dictate how they spend their time at Strixhaven, which certainly isn’t covered in this book.
All in all, I can definitely see myself playing a Strixhaven campaign and using a ton of the information provided in this book to do it. In order to do so, however, I would need to do some rewriting and provide my own additional content, such as the additional class events in Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery, to make it feel whole. That said, this is a campaign setting, not a full adventure module, and the information in this book is made to be modular and give DMs a head start when it comes to writing campaign story arcs and preparing for sessions, which I think it does successfully.
You will love this supplement if:
- You have an interest in running a fun and light-hearted magical school setting.
- You want to run a casual campaign for beginners learning D&D or advanced players that want to take it easy for a bit.
- Your players have an interest in creating and pursuing downtime activities for their characters.
- Your players love fostering evolving relationships with NPCs.
- You don’t mind rewriting and supplementing content where needed to flesh out your campaign.
You won’t love this supplement if:
- You plan on following the adventure as written but also want a sophisticated and detailed D&D adventure.
- You’re looking for information on how to run a high-level adventure that takes place off of the Strixhaven campus.
- You want a gritty campaign that doesn’t handwave a lot of the details, plot gaps, or consequences of the party’s actions.