First Impressions – Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica
  • First Impressions – Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica


    A segment of the Dungeons & Dragons' fan base have been clamoring for setting releases and while Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica won't appease those who want a 5th Edition update of an older setting like Greyhawk, Planescape or Spelljammer, it is a fresh setting that Wizards of the Coast clearly hopes will bring the Magic the Gathering crowd to D&D.



    So what's my first impression of Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica? Fresh and familiar at the same time. Now don't take that as an insult MtG players. This is a first impression article. A more nuanced review will follow after I have read the entire book. This is based on an overall skim of the book and reading of selected passages.

    For any veteran D&D player, Ravnica is new but has enough overlap with classic D&D that it won't be a shock to the system. For example, races include humans, elves, goblins, minotaurs and centaurs along with new-to-D&D races Vedalken and Simic Hybrid. Charts break down which classes work best with the 10 guilds, though you can be guildless.

    Ravnica is a fantasy world with the magical technology flavor of Eberron. That's not to say it's derivitive of Eberron. Both settings offer modern conveniences through magic but get there and express them in different ways.

    The introduction and first three chapters focus, understandably, on Ravnica as a setting and how to create a character and it gives you a lot of meat with which to work. Chapter 4 is about creating adventures, with some broad adventure ideas at the start of the chapter and then each guild section has more adventure hooks, specific to that group. I like the “Cross Purposes” charts and “Complications” for ways to make a villain affect the players without doing a blanket “you have to stop X” approach. It feels more organic. Having done similar things in my own home games for D&D and other RPGs, it can work really well.

    Guild intrigue is, of course, a part of the adventure seeds. With 10 guilds and Ravnica's backstory, including the broken Guildpact and how things function now that it's been restored, intrigue really should be a key story driver in Ravnica adventures.

    One odd note for those who might buy Ravnica on D&D Beyond is that you really want to tap the “View Welcome” button on the upper right instead of diving directly into chapter 1 and the rest of the leftside sidebar links. “View Welcome” actually takes you to the book's Introduction, which has a LOT of useful, downright essential, material for anyone new to Ravnica and even MtG players wanted to learn how the popular setting has been adapted to D&D. It covers everything from the history of Ravnica, both in-game and as part of MtG, to its currency and calendar.

    Obviously readers of the physical book will naturally go to this essential chapter and all of the D&D Beyond editions of the hardcover books have the “View Welcome” button that separates the introduction from the chapters, but it's an odd layout issue. I handed my tablet to a friend who has played both MtG and D&D for years but never used D&D Beyond, and he was confused by the lack of introduction until I pointed out the “View Welcome” button.

    I like the precinct by precinct breakdown in Chapter 3. The people and rumors tables in each section are a nice way of adding flavor, misdirects and possible adventure hooks as your players wander the city of Ravnica.

    The art is very good and provides the context for this new (to D&D) world. It as much as anything helps to set a different tone than Forgotten Realms' adventures.

    Really, I'm going to pay Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica the highest compliment I can in a first impressions article – that I can't wait to dive in and read the entire book.

    This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!!
    Comments 147 Comments
    1. flametitan's Avatar
      flametitan -
      I've had the opposite impression from probably most people here. It feels like there's something lacking. It's an interesting read at times, but the world feels hollow.
    1. robus's Avatar
      robus -
      Quote Originally Posted by flametitan View Post
      I've had the opposite impression from probably most people here. It feels like there's something lacking. It's an interesting read at times, but the world feels hollow.
      Are you familiar with it from M:tG? Or that’s just a pure first impression?
    1. robus's Avatar
      robus -
      The $20,000 question... has Ravnica been opened up on DMs Guild?
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by robus View Post
      The $20,000 question... has Ravnica been opened up on DMs Guild?
      Nope. Where should I send the invoice?
    1. flametitan's Avatar
      flametitan -
      Quote Originally Posted by robus View Post
      Are you familiar with it from M:tG? Or that’s just a pure first impression?
      Barely familiar with it. I know of Vraska (who as far as I can tell goes completely unmentioned) and Jace, and I've played a few drafts in the current set. Otherwise, I'm going into this from the perspective of a D&D player wondering why I'd play D&D games in the setting.
    1. robus's Avatar
      robus -
      Quote Originally Posted by flametitan View Post
      Barely familiar with it. I know of Vraska (who as far as I can tell goes completely unmentioned) and Jace, and I've played a few drafts in the current set. Otherwise, I'm going into this from the perspective of a D&D player wondering why I'd play D&D games in the setting.
      So what seems missing? If Ravenloft (for example) suits D&D, why is this lacking? I know little about Ravnica, I’m just curious as to what seems to be missing? I had actually had a similar feeling about Kaladesh as it focused on a single city and left the rest of the plane to the DMs imagination. But as Ravnica is a mega city that seems different?

      As background, I’m actually looking forward to running CoS in Innistrad as it seems richer than Ravenloft.
    1. flametitan's Avatar
      flametitan -
      Quote Originally Posted by robus View Post
      So what seems missing? If Ravenloft (for example) suits D&D, why is this lacking? I know little about Ravnica, I’m just curious as to what seems to be missing? I had actually had a similar feeling about Kaladesh as it focused on a single city and left the rest of the plane to the DMs imagination. But as Ravnica is a mega city that seems different?

      As background, I’m actually looking forward to running CoS in Innistrad as it seems richer than Ravenloft.
      Part of it is that it's straight lacking in chunks, like how the history section glosses over 10,000 years of history like nothing happened, to cases of just not telling us anything about important NPCs (Like, there is nothing about Isperia besides that she's a sphinx and that she's apparently female, as far as I can tell.) The intro teases of locations like the Mausoleum District, Smelting District, and Lake district, all of which sound like they'd be really cool to explore, but none of them show up at a later point, from what I can tell.

      There's times where it seems to undermine its own premise. For example, fine cuisine and coffee being an apparently common luxury according to the intro, but then goes on to say that the closest thing to large scale agriculture are from the Selesya gardens and the Golgari mushroom farms, which an earlier description implied wasn't that fine of cuisine. It talks about how the entire world is a city, but the fact that it only focuses on one district, and how the guilds all happen to have their base of operations in it, makes that element irrelevant.

      Minor nitpick, but the Calendar being the Gregorian Calendar but with renamed months and starting on March feels lazy.

      I guess for me, though, it feels like it's missing that thematic thread that ties everything together. Like, to compare and contrast, Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron has the opposite problem; there is very little about the setting of Eberron within it. However, it oozes with character, and its opening section is clear on answering, "Why play in Eberron?" Because of its pull to noir fiction, it emphasizes the shades of grey in morality, and how problems don't necessarily have a clear cut answer. The player characters are encouraged to be flawed figures, with their own vices and guilts. However, because it also plays into pulp fiction, it pushes for high stakes action where the only ones capable of saving the day are the aforementioned flawed PCs.

      Ravnica, however, I can't help but wonder what the theme is. I get what it's about on a superficial level; political intrigue spurred on by the guilds in an urban environment. But that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for stories that Ravnica is uniquely suited for telling, stuff I'd have a hard time telling in other worlds. I can do Urban campaigns in other settings. I can do political intrigue in other settings.
    1. pming's Avatar
      pming -
      Hiya!

      So, @flametitan, it's not so much a "Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica" as it is to a "Guildmasters Guide to A Very VERY small area in Ravnica"? Or am I missing something...isn't the 'world' called Ravnica? Or is Ravnica just this small little district? If so, is there nothing about the rest of the world? I mean, you can't really call a book "Guide to Earth" and then only concentrate on the USA.

      Now I'm confused again. I guess one of my main questions is about the "Guildless" and how they play a part or otherwise fit into the scheme of the world. Those guys interest me...the rest of the guilds? Not so much (or at all, really). But then again, "Guildless" could just mean "Guildless in this little area of the world and this is how people think of them". For all I know there is an entire countr...er.."district"...full of nothing but Guildless.

      Anyone?

      ^_^

      Paul L. Ming
    1. flametitan's Avatar
      flametitan -
      Quote Originally Posted by pming View Post
      Hiya!

      So, @flametitan, it's not so much a "Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica" as it is to a "Guildmasters Guide to A Very VERY small area in Ravnica"? Or am I missing something...isn't the 'world' called Ravnica? Or is Ravnica just this small little district? If so, is there nothing about the rest of the world? I mean, you can't really call a book "Guide to Earth" and then only concentrate on the USA.

      Now I'm confused again. I guess one of my main questions is about the "Guildless" and how they play a part or otherwise fit into the scheme of the world. Those guys interest me...the rest of the guilds? Not so much (or at all, really). But then again, "Guildless" could just mean "Guildless in this little area of the world and this is how people think of them". For all I know there is an entire countr...er.."district"...full of nothing but Guildless.

      Anyone?

      ^_^

      Paul L. Ming
      Basically, the entire world is a city called Ravnica, but there's a location called the City Proper, or Ravnica City. Ravnica City is split into Ten Districts, and Guildmaster's Guide focuses on only one of those districts, the 10th District. Allusions are made to outside locations, but no time is spent dwelling on them.

      EDIT: And to make it clear, the Lake District, Smelting District, and Mausoleum District are unrealted to the 10 districts of Ravnica City. Rather, they're other cities that grew to eventually merge with the other urban areas into the Ravnica Ecumopolis.

      As far as guildless characters go, the book says that about half the population is guildless, and usually belong to the "rural" population, or take up professions that wouldn't be covered by the guilds, such as bakers, cartographers, traders, bar tenders, and university professors. Additionally, some criminal gangs and mercenary groups are guildless. That said, aside from a paragraph in the character creation and a sidebar in the guilds chapter, it'd be very easy to assume that every. single. person. in Ravnica was in a guild, as that's all the book talks about. No matter what you read about, the book finds a way to fit a guild into it.
    1. DQDesign's Avatar
      DQDesign -
      I uploaded my last DMsGuild products just some minutes ago, and I confirm that up to now the setting is not available for DMsGuild development.
      I will not buy the book until wotc opens it on the Guild. This means that I will not buy it at all if they don't open it.
    1. Charles Rampant's Avatar
      Charles Rampant -
      Quote Originally Posted by flametitan View Post
      As far as guildless characters go, the book says that about half the population is guildless, and usually belong to the "rural" population, or take up professions that wouldn't be covered by the guilds, such as bakers, cartographers, traders, bar tenders, and university professors. Additionally, some criminal gangs and mercenary groups are guildless. That said, aside from a paragraph in the character creation and a sidebar in the guilds chapter, it'd be very easy to assume that every. single. person. in Ravnica was in a guild, as that's all the book talks about. No matter what you read about, the book finds a way to fit a guild into it.
      That's pretty similar to Planescape, to be honest. The way the books were written, you'd be forgiven for thinking that every person, rock, and tree in the planes was part of a Faction.
    1. Rossbert's Avatar
      Rossbert -
      That seems somewhat fair, if the point of the setting is the interplay between and the internal goals of the factions, you don't really need a lot of description on the people who have no influence.

      It can be fun to talk about Joe the baker who keeps getting his bakery tossed because be isn't paying his protection money, but the 'plot' of his story is that you have to deal with the faction threatening him.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by DQDesign View Post
      I will not buy the book until wotc opens it on the Guild. This means that I will not buy it at all if they don't open it.
      Out of curiosity, why?
    1. dave2008's Avatar
      dave2008 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      Out of curiosity, why?
      You beat me to it!
    1. DQDesign's Avatar
      DQDesign -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      Out of curiosity, why?
      Because I think that DMs Guild is the best innovative element in 5th edition D&D, a real game changer in the industry (evidence of that is the flourishing of dozens of similar programs, including WOIN syndicate, for example). So I will not spend my money on products which are not used as a basis to expand, empower and widen the program.

      I would re-consider that approach only in case of a significant change in wotc communication strategy, i.e. a serious improvement in their transparence level. For example, I could re-consider buying a not-supported DMs Guild setting if they would explain why they decided not to open the setting on the guild.

      Summarising, if information are not given, I'll stick with what I like and drop the rest (I'm little bit tired of guessing).
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by DQDesign View Post
      Because I think that DMs Guild is the best innovative element in 5th edition D&D, a real game changer in the industry (evidence of that is the flourishing of dozens of similar programs, including WOIN syndicate, for example). So I will not spend my money on products which are not used as a basis to expand, empower and widen the program.
      Did you buy D&D books before DMs Guild existed?
    1. DQDesign's Avatar
      DQDesign -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      Did you buy D&D books before DMs Guild existed?
      Yes... why?
      Anyway at that time I focused more on 3rd party products with the largest possible amount of open content because at that time I considered OGL being the best thing in the industry.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by DQDesign View Post
      Yes... why?
      Because it occurs to me, as an ironically curious consequence of that, that if WotC’s goal was hypothetically to sell books to you specifically, opening the DMsG has therefore lost them sales rather than gained them.
    1. DQDesign's Avatar
      DQDesign -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      Because it occurs to me, as an ironically curious consequence of that, that if WotC’s goal was hypothetically to sell books to you specifically, opening the DMsG has therefore lost them sales rather than gained them.
      As I said, it is mostly due to their low level of transparence. And, also if my products don't sell so much on the guild, with the 50% share wotc already gained much more from me than selling a single one shot book.
    1. Taralan's Avatar
      Taralan -
      I agree with earlier comments that the Guide is very barebones in regards to the description of the world, so much so that I think it would be difficult to set an entire campaign in Ravnica unless the DM is prepared to homebrew 90% of the setting.

      However, I think it would work better if Ravnica is used as a homebase for a group of planeswalking PCs pursuing the conflicts between the guilds not just in a Ravnica but also in Innistrad, Kaladesh etc. The content of the Guide would be just enough to give the homebase sufficient details and the focus on the guild would give impetus to the campaign.

      I may try this for my next campaign. It would be nice however to have a system to use color mana for spells to give the campaign a MtG flavor.
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