Review by C.J. Bunce

The last D&D sourcebook of the year is coming next week.  Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is and isn’t what you think.  Yes, it’s the latest spin-off/mash-up of Magic: The Gathering following Mythic Odysseys of Theros and the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica Yes, it’s your chance to go to college–magic college.  No, it’s not the D&D take on Hogwarts–that was a kids’ school, college is for adults.  Interesting enough, Strixhaven is also not a college for the purpose of training you to be a wizard, warlock, or mage.

Beyond the fantasy context of a school to study magic and real-world pursuits as well as the application of magic to real-world studies, Strixhaven has elements of real college life, and other elements that parrot more of college as reflected in the movies.  The school by comparison to universities in real life would be a small college, unlike a state college or Ivy League school, supporting only five colleges of study, derived from dragons who founded each school: Lorehold, focusing on archaeomancy, heavy on the archaeological study; Prismari, studying Elemental Arts, basically arts in all its forms; Quandrix, focused on numeromancy, math, physics, logic, stats, and metaphysics; Silverquill, a college for wordsmiths and orators; or Witherbloom, a college of science–think biology, ecology, botany, chemistry, and zoology.

The incorporation of the mundane aspects of college life provides a surprisingly real set of circumstances, from living in the dormitories, buying those extras you need for class, food, to taking the scheduled bus across campus (learn from a wise groundskeeper?), getting a crappy job on campus to be able to pay for classes, electives and core courses, a big library aka Biblioplex, to getting into disagreements with others.  Those who went to college in real life will start feeling some flashbacks and cringing along the journey.  (Do I want to go through all that again?!)

The campus, from the faculty to extra-curricular activities like clubs and sports, is a hoot.  To its credit Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos feels a lot like a college catalog (a printed book colleges once handed out that students could rely on for their four years of education, replaced by digital info online).  The fantasy immersion may not seem as deep and rich as Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  How could it be, with only one guidebook against the thousands of pages of worldbuilding in J.K. Rowling’s universe?  It’s better that this isn’t a knockoff–it doesn’t feel like that boarding school repopulated with Magic: The Gathering or D&D characters and concepts.  But similar to Hogwarts, the colleges in Strixhaven incorporate character traits with its membership.

There’s a bit of a Guitar Hero aspect to this adventure: Just as you can’t really play the guitar when you’re done, you’re not going to have a degree here–the book doesn’t incorporate twelve 400-page textbooks per semester, or require you to read 15 pages per night per credit hour.  There’s no actual test where you must answer in essay form, “Describe the papacy in social, literary, artistic, political, and scientific terms from its origin to the year 1250” or something similar.  That may be a given: it’s an RPG, of course, but one could envision fleshing out this idea into something even bigger.  The experience is a four-year commitment, which is what college is, but will your session take that long?  If you have a good DM and can get into a good flow you could see coupling Strixhaven with what logically would come next:  Getting a job!  Which could mean pairing this with the 5th Edition’s Acquisitions Incorporated (reviewed here).

This is an adventure that will depend in large part on the imagination and cleverness of the DM.  It leans heavily on the extra-curricular side of A Curriculum of Chaos.  Four chapters represent four years of college, and in total players can advance to the 10th level.  DMs can take Strixhaven outside the world of Magic: The Gathering, too.  This sourcebook adds the Owlin race to your RPG character toolbox.  And it incorporates 18 interesting Student NPCs and 40 monster NPCs.  There’s also a giant pull-out campus map poster.

Maybe try Strixhaven if you’re taking a real-world gap year.  Regardless of the reason for your interest in magic college, you’ll feel like you’re getting ready for school, or have an experience that feels a bit like the real thing with a magic twist.  Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is available for pre-order with the standard cover by Magali Villeneuve here at Amazon.  A gilded soft-touch version by Hydro74 is available here at Amazon.  Look for Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos coming your way December 7 in the U.S. and December 14 in the UK.