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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!!
 
Beth Rimmels

Comments

Taralan

First Post
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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Rossbert

Explorer
Also valid. I just hit the section that said guildless characters can also be prominent antagonists and you can use any of the adventure building guidelines in the DMG for them.

So it seems the overall idea is to just put in the bits you don't already have in another book?
 
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Not that I need much of an excuse to get it, considering I got all the other books. But it sounds like the Guild Masters Guide to Ravnica is the mother of all Plane Shifts, or maybe like the "Players Guide to Ravnica." And getting the Art book might be a required purchase to get all the fluff.
 


Dausuul

Legend
The thing where your guild background adds spells to your spell list is a big freakin' deal. That is a radical change from backgrounds as they existed before.

I like that they're amping up the importance and thematic impact of backgrounds, and as a caster player I'd be excited to play with these, but I do feel like noncasters get shortchanged here. I think I would house rule that if you have at least one level in a class that does not grant cantrips*, you gain the ability to cast the cantrips on your background spell list. (To be clear: This is my solution as a DM wanting to quickly and simply balance these backgrounds. If I had a team of professional designers at my beck and call, I'd prefer to come up with a feature for each background that supports noncasters without turning them into casters. But that's a lot more work.)

Also, there are some potential warlock shenanigans here. Golgari warlocks can cast animate dead on a short-rest cycle, without having to dump 5 levels into another class. The resulting undead are pretty weak, since you don't get the necromancer's Undead Thralls ability... but dang, can you ever make a lot of them.

[size=-2]*I consider a class to grant cantrips only if it has a class spell list with cantrips on it. Cantrips granted by subclass features don't count. So classes affected by this change would include barbarian, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, and rogue.[/size]
 

Rossbert

Explorer
Indeed but it also tacitly has the expectation that the background will also somewhat dictate you class, race and tactics. So they are making background a HUGE deal.
 

kenmarable

Adventurer
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.
I haven’t started getting into it yet (focusing on Dungeon of the Mad Mage since I might use that sooner), but depending on how they reference those things, I actually prefer setting books that way. Personally, rather than fewer locations in full detail, I prefer many more hints at places that inspire ideas. But that’s entirely a matter of taste (and might not be what they are doing here anyway).
 

flametitan

Explorer
I haven’t started getting into it yet (focusing on Dungeon of the Mad Mage since I might use that sooner), but depending on how they reference those things, I actually prefer setting books that way. Personally, rather than fewer locations in full detail, I prefer many more hints at places that inspire ideas. But that’s entirely a matter of taste (and might not be what they are doing here anyway).
What they've done is go, "Well known locations outside the City include XYZ," and those are the only time they come up. You don't even really get a hint of what they are, just names that sound like they might be interesting. Mahovna, the Haven of Moss sounds really cool, but all there is to go by is that it's a name that exists.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
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.
In don’t think you as a publisher is the target audience of the book. It’s you as a gamer.
 

pming

Adventurer
Hiya.

Huh. So it's not a "world book/guide" then, from the sounds of it. That's...disappointing I guess. The whole "guild thing" doesn't really draw me in, tbh, nor do the new races actually. The "one giant city" idea is sort of...well, lets just say it's "typical" and not very inspired. That said, *if* they handled the aspects of HOW and WHY the world-spanning city developed over the millennia, now that would be something I as a DM would be interested in.

So far the best way to develop a city/town I've encountered has been from a rather insightful newb DM called Dael Kingsmill on YouTube. You can find her at "Monarch's Factory": https://www.youtube.com/user/MonarchsFactory/featured ...in particular her "SPERM" method of thinking through how a settlement would/should develop in a fantasy setting (here's the direct link to that particular video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJd6g--Ok_A ). Dael is a breath of fresh air for me, really. Still new enough to not be jaded, smart enough to figure stuff out for herself, and honest enough to realize what she likes and doesn't like. Her expertise/focus on literature and stories REALLY shows in how she runs her games. Her Australian accent (and good looks) are just the icing on the cake. For the side of sweet, creamy ice-cream, add in her rather good production quality of her videos and you have a definite winner. :)

But I digress a bit. Ravnica seems like a "half-finished" idea, really. I don't know. Maybe I'm just expecting too much from WotC on this. When I think "world guide" I think of Forgotten Realms (1e Grey Box), Aereth (d20 Goodman Games), or Greyhawk (1e boxed set). I guess I'll just have to sit and wait for others to start posting about their campaigns to see just how diverse/open/useful it may be for me.

Thanks [MENTION=6822731]flametitan[/MENTION] for the quick run-down. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Not that I need much of an excuse to get it, considering I got all the other books. But it sounds like the Guild Masters Guide to Ravnica is the mother of all Plane Shifts, or maybe like the "Players Guide to Ravnica." And getting the Art book might be a required purchase to get all the fluff.
Yeah the art book sounds like it may be a better way to go if you just want to adventure on Ravnica. The Guilds seem like they’d be good sources for adventures and foes rather than something to ally with directly. For example, I had an idea of resetting PotA on Ravnica with some guilds substituting for the cults, their goal being to reset Ravnica back to a mostly agrarian world)
 

D

DQDesign

Guest
In don’t think you as a publisher is the target audience of the book. It’s you as a gamer.
Yes but I can't divide myself into two different creatures, so if the book is not worth buying for the 'publisher' (I would prefer 'amateur author') it is not also for the gamer :)

That mostly because monetary resources are not limitless, at least in my case.

Anyway I think no more than a few hundreds wotc customers are also dmsguild authors and most of them will buy the book anyway, I believe, so I don't see any particular worries in wotc about some few twisted individuals like me :)
 

ZeshinX

Adventurer
My (admittedly cynical) take is that they left out a ton of world-building to leave the ability to say "Want to learn more about Ravnica? Then we have this lovely little product over here called Magic the Gathering that just so happens to have a set out about Ravnica. Feel free to spend some money to learn even more about the world in a product not related to the D&D game itself."

This is why I strongly dislike their crossing of the streams like this. I suspect it will only get worse from here (started as small, free online supplements for those interested, now a hardcover tome which is not an insignificant investment from them...where does it go next?)

Again, I'm admittedly cynical...but they have an existing, established-to-D&D treasure trove of settings and material to build in...and yet, they cross the streams. Perhaps it's just good business to do so, but it leaves a sour taste in my proverbial mouth and will very effectively keep my wallet in my pocket when it comes to these MtG/D&D cross-over products.
 
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Some of my group are avid M:tG players, and have been excited for this ever since it was announced. I got it on D&D Beyond yesterday (and with my subscription share with the group), and ever since they have been going bonkers. I'm being constantly bombarded with requests on what character/guild I want to play in the campaign that immediately came into existence as soon as the books was available to them, and I've been like "Guys, I barely know the world, let me look through it and get familiar with my options first!"

(Although I must say, the finalized, official Order Cleric looks pretty interesting!)
 

flametitan

Explorer
Hiya.

Huh. So it's not a "world book/guide" then, from the sounds of it. That's...disappointing I guess. The whole "guild thing" doesn't really draw me in, tbh, nor do the new races actually. The "one giant city" idea is sort of...well, lets just say it's "typical" and not very inspired. That said, *if* they handled the aspects of HOW and WHY the world-spanning city developed over the millennia, now that would be something I as a DM would be interested in.
That's basically how I feel. The guilds don't draw me in, because "Strong factions with tons of interplay your characters can rise in the ranks of," feels like it should be standard in an rpg setting, not the unique defining thing of one. Crunch doesn't draw me in, as I can get that from more generic books. The Ecumopolis premise could've drawn me in, if it had more room under the spotlight. That said, an urban campaign needs the city to have as much character as the inhabitants, and that's just as much dependent on the outside world as it is what's inside the city. Turn of the Century New York isn't the same without the influx of immigrants hoping for a new life.

But I digress a bit. Ravnica seems like a "half-finished" idea, really. I don't know. Maybe I'm just expecting too much from WotC on this. When I think "world guide" I think of Forgotten Realms (1e Grey Box), Aereth (d20 Goodman Games), or Greyhawk (1e boxed set). I guess I'll just have to sit and wait for others to start posting about their campaigns to see just how diverse/open/useful it may be for me.
The root of the problem, to me, is that it feels like it doesn't quite adapt the setting for D&D so much as strip away the M:tG. CCGs like Magic rely on being able to build strong, clear archetypes, from creature type to card colours. The worldbuilding for a ccg setting is built to prioritize factions and archetypes, rather than interpersonal relations between individuals. That's not to say ccgs have no place for interpersonal relationships. You can make for interesting cards based on the relationships of certain individuals, but overall, the deck is going to be built on factions and archetypes.
For Magic, Ravnica has clear, distinctive archetypes via the guilds, focused on dual colour pairs with mechanics unique to those guilds. It was easy enough for a player to find a colour pair they liked, and by extension a guild they fit in. The Hogwarts sorting hat element of being able to identify with the guild you played was also helpful.

That doesn't necessarily translate well to D&D. Factions players can identify with are useful, but they aren't the only thing a good setting needs. The world itself needs to come to life and have a character, as interacting with that world is just as important at the player level. Planescape has factions that are perhaps overemphasized as well, but it has a clear, interesting world to back them up. I don't want to be in Sigil because the Dustmen or Doomguard excite me, I want to be in Sigil because Sigil itself is exciting. The world of Ravnica I haven't found the, "Oh wow!" element yet. It might be there, but it feels lacking.
 

Parmandur

Legend
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.
They've already confirmed that it will opened on the Guild. Details forthcoming.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Hiya.

Huh. So it's not a "world book/guide" then, from the sounds of it. That's...disappointing I guess. The whole "guild thing" doesn't really draw me in, tbh, nor do the new races actually. The "one giant city" idea is sort of...well, lets just say it's "typical" and not very inspired. That said, *if* they handled the aspects of HOW and WHY the world-spanning city developed over the millennia, now that would be something I as a DM would be interested in.

So far the best way to develop a city/town I've encountered has been from a rather insightful newb DM called Dael Kingsmill on YouTube. You can find her at "Monarch's Factory": https://www.youtube.com/user/MonarchsFactory/featured ...in particular her "SPERM" method of thinking through how a settlement would/should develop in a fantasy setting (here's the direct link to that particular video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJd6g--Ok_A ). Dael is a breath of fresh air for me, really. Still new enough to not be jaded, smart enough to figure stuff out for herself, and honest enough to realize what she likes and doesn't like. Her expertise/focus on literature and stories REALLY shows in how she runs her games. Her Australian accent (and good looks) are just the icing on the cake. For the side of sweet, creamy ice-cream, add in her rather good production quality of her videos and you have a definite winner. :)

But I digress a bit. Ravnica seems like a "half-finished" idea, really. I don't know. Maybe I'm just expecting too much from WotC on this. When I think "world guide" I think of Forgotten Realms (1e Grey Box), Aereth (d20 Goodman Games), or Greyhawk (1e boxed set). I guess I'll just have to sit and wait for others to start posting about their campaigns to see just how diverse/open/useful it may be for me.

Thanks [MENTION=6822731]flametitan[/MENTION] for the quick run-down. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
WotC has been talking for a couple years, in vague terms, about their new approach to settings being focused on being "genre setting" books, rather than travelouges. Ravnica and the Eberron DMsGuild book makenit more clear how they are approaching it: PC options, monsters and DM tools focused around a genre approach. In this case, hyper-urban faction shennanigans.
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
I plan on getting this book and mixing Ravnica with the Dark Matter sci-fantasy setting.

And totally making MHP's (Mage Hand Press) Complete Alchemist and Craftsman classes a must for Ravnica.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
My (admittedly cynical) take is that they left out a ton of world-building to leave the ability to say "Want to learn more about Ravnica? Then we have this lovely little product over here called Magic the Gathering that just so happens to have a set out about Ravnica. Feel free to spend some money to learn even more about the world in a product not related to the D&D game itself."

This is why I strongly dislike their crossing of the streams like this. I suspect it will only get worse from here (started as small, free online supplements for those interested, now a hardcover tome which is not an insignificant investment from them...where does it go next?)

Again, I'm admittedly cynical...but they have an existing, established-to-D&D treasure trove of settings and material to build in...and yet, they cross the streams. Perhaps it's just good business to do so, but it leaves a sour taste in my proverbial mouth and will very effectively keep my wallet in my pocket when it comes to these MtG/D&D cross-over products.
Probably more "Want to learn more about Ravnica? Then we have this wonderful little website about the card game which lets you look at all of the cards in the set." You can also read about the plane, read about the planeswalkers, read the short stories on the website. About the only thing I might want to spend money on is the art book which, judging from the Zendikar and Dominaria art books, contains more than enough information about the plane that you could easily set a campaign there. Even that isn't necessary though considering all of the content on the website.
 

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