Review Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos - First Party Review

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Which can be good if you want to lean into Strixhaven being a more low-stakes, chill adventure. Murgaxor is the kind of guy who looks like he'll go on a rant about "you meddling kids." Over on the 5e subreddit someone even pointed out that the setting has a much better villain to use instead.
The daemogoths are excellent villains to use, but I was actually struck by the Oriq. The adventure does a terrible job of telling you what their whole deal is, but once I went on a wiki-dive, I realized that the Oriq are just everyone that Strixhaven admissions turned down. They've also got some interesting points about how Strixhaven is controlling the access to magic and demonstrably resulting in unfair outcomes.
https://www.reddit.com/r/dndnext/comments/rfpdbq/spoilers_strixhaven_i_think_they_picked_the_wrong/
Murgaxor is a humanoid, his only condition immunity is Exhaustion, has a Passive Perception of 11, no legendary actions or resistances, or actual proper spells. I can see a lot of 10th level groups bypassing the damage entirely to do something like Dominate Person to get him to surrender.
I had not thought of that, but that would definitely work!

Will definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts on how you'd run a setting like this. There's quite a bit of "magic school" sourcebooks out there, although I only own a few rather than a lot. I actually wrote one for OSR quite some time ago. This was actually the culmination of around 2-3 years' worth of blog posts about running "magic school" campaigns in a variety of systems, so decided to make a proper sourcebook out of it.

I'm aware that Pathfinder 2e has a magic school adventure path, but I don't know how that one stacks up. Academies of the Arcane is another OSR magic school book, while Academia Arcana RPG is a free supplement for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Of these ones I only have Academia Arcana, which ist still on my "to-read" list.

Oh, and there was Redhurst for 3.5 D&D, but that was less an adventure or system than a setting, and while it has a free PDF that was a "player-friendly" version which excised some details that were present only in the physical book.
I didn't know you have a blog! That's going on the old-school blogroll right now! I've also got your sourcebook in my DTRPG.com cart right now. C'mon, payday!

The bestiary in this book has given me a ton of options! It has a lot of Monsters of the Multiverse style caster NPCs of varying CRs and types with bespoke magical abilities and attacks. I use them all the time. And I’ve also used the high CR dragons, reskinned, and they were very fun as well. Much more interesting than the baseline Monster Manual ancient dragons.

I’d recommend this book at a discount if you enjoy WotC’s bestiary sections. I haven’t used the adventure or the setting material. But the bestiary has been in frequent use for me.
Well, let's take a look at it!

There are, by my count, 44 stat blocks in this book, making it relatively large as far as monsters go. There are 4 statblocks per college (so Lorehold Apprentice, Lorehold Pledgemage, etc), plus the five Founder Dragons, and the first year student statblocks. So that's 26 of the 44 focused just on people affiliated with Strixhaven. Moreover (not to run down Teemu's preference), the caster statblocks feel flat. Take the Lorehold Professor of Chaos. This is someone who's been debunking the "great man theory" of history all their life, someone who's been interested in magic and the past for as long as they can remember.

So it's kind of boring to see that most of their statblock is "condition + damage" or just "damage." For some reason, imgur isn't letting me drop clippings in at the moment, but basically they have a couple of damaging attacks that can knock someone prone, or an ability that's basically slow but it also causes some damage.

They have a few interesting utility abilities, like contact other plane 1x/day, or passwall, but it's overwhelmingly focused on them being a bag of hit points with a kind of neat ability. Not what I was looking for. I want these casters to change the rules in some what. I mean, Lorehold academics will conjure up whole armies to see how a battle played out; why can't they drop some spirits on the PCs? Give them a bonus action 1x/day summoning spell for 1d4 wraiths and see how the PCs handle that!

So about half the statblocks in here left me wanting more. But the rest are actually pretty decent. The Founder Dragons all are CR 20+, and feel like legendary dragons. The Witherbloom founder, for example, breathes poison and necrotic damage, and has a neat movement ability that can give people the poisoned condition effectively at-will (too bad this is well after the point when they'll be getting heroes' feast).

The various mascots are interesting low-level monsters that could pose a threat in large numbers. There's also the mage hunters, which are these caster-killers that can use a reaction to make a mage eat some of their own damage. The Oriq, including the Blood Mage and Recruiter statblocks, feel lacking a bit, but that's probably due to the same effect on casters I noted earlier.

Anyway, the statblocks aren't great, but they aren't terrible, either. About par for the course.

So, how would I run a magic school? Well, for one, I wouldn't use Strixhaven. I'd use Strixhaven's poor rival college, Hedgemoor Community, across town. At Hedgemoor, all the teachers are retired adventurers, and all of them have their own issues - some of them are alcoholics, some of them really need alimony for their ex-husbands, and some of them are still working out their kleptomania. They're competent (barely), but so badly funded that that the students are frequently put in dangerous situations.

Tuition is 500 gp per semester; if you can't pay, you don't attend. You can get loans, adventure for cash, hit up family, etc. Doesn't matter how you get it, so long as you get it.

I'd identify three key tensions I want to explore throughout the PCs 8 semesters. For me, these are maladjustment (fellow students picking on the PCs; e.g. Rivals), inequality (the tensions between Strixhaven and Hedgemoor derived from massive disparities in wealth), and exploitation (the fact that colleges are a business, and need to squeeze students for cash).

Each semester, I'd pick one or two tensions to highlight, and then I'd start running the semester. At semester start, there's some kind of social mixer, which is a way to blend in the Fun Strixhaven Games from the book without the railroaded setups. These social events highlight the tensions, foreshadowing what's going to be a problem this year. Then we run 8 weeks of school, break for midterms, where we have a second small adventure or mini-encounter that frames the tensions in play. So if we're running with Rivals messing with the PCs and the rivalry between Strixhaven and Hedgemoor, I'd probably have Strixhaven students roll in and prank the campus hard during midterm exams, potentially messing with the PCs exam results. Then the PCs rivals dare them to a race: the first one to prank the Strixhaven campus, and the best prank played (this is good for pointing the PCs at that heist on the professor emeritus' house). After the midterms are resolved, the PCs can decide how they want to spend their midterm break. Once they're back, they get into 8 more weeks of school, and then we run a larger adventure that brings the tensions to a boiling point. So maybe the PCs find out their rivals took cash to smuggle dangerous beasts onto campus, while Strixhaven students are setting up to "teach those peasants a lesson." The entire thing goes bananas as the PCs are dealing with their rivals, escaped beasts, and Strixhaven saboteurs in an end-of-term clash.

After the end of the semester, there's a long break, and the PCs can go do another adventure, such as from Radiant Citadel, etc.

So what do those 8 weeks of school look like? Well, basically like a fluid version of downtime. I don't have that structure down pat yet, but I want PCs to have meaningful choices about whether to study, party, or work, and each option having meaningful encounters or challenges.

Alright friends, this wraps up this review. It's been tiring, and I appreciate that so many folks are finding this topic worth their time. I'm going to take some time off, and I'll start my next review: Black Wyrm of Brandonsford, from a 5E viewpoint!
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I think I'm going to use Golden Vault, Radiant Citadel, and Candlekeep. And maybe Yawning Portal and/or Saltmarsh. And that the dean of the Quandrix is also on the "board" of the Golden Vault; that the dean of the Silverquill is an ambassador to Radiant Citadel, and the dean of Lorehold is the sibling of the head librarian at Candlekeep (note, I have not read any of those 3 books yet either lol so forgive me if this doesn't quite work). Maybe the dean of Witherbloom is connected to Durnan of the Yawning Portal. Oh, and perhaps the Dean of the Prismari is from Greyhawk, and specifically a little village called Saltmarsh. Why not, right?
Having read all these books, having the Radiant Citadel itself as the oversetting with Cabdlejeep and Strixhaven being institutions on the station/islland/whatever you want to call it makes a lot of sense, with the Golden Vault being a faction working out of the Citadel also making sense.
 

it's overwhelmingly focused on them being a bag of hit points with a kind of neat ability
That's how all stat blocks are these days. The assumption is, the only time stat blocks are used is in a fight to the death with the party.

But I wouldn't buy Stryxhaven for the stat blocks, they aren't generally applicable beyond the setting, or particularly interesting. The "sage" statblock in Candlekeep Mysteries is (IMO) better for a teacher-with-a-little-bit-of-magic-they-can-use-in-a-fight type character.
 
Last edited:



Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
That's how all stat blocks are these days. The assumption is, the only time stat blocks are used is in a fight to the death with the party.

But I wouldn't buy Stryxhaven for the stat blocks, they aren't generally applicable beyond the setting, or particularly interesting. The "sage" statblock in Candlekeep Mysteries is (IMO) better for a teacher-with-a-little-bit-of-magic-they-can-use-in-a-fight type character.
Why would you buy it? What makes it worth spending money on to you?
 

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
That's how all stat blocks are these days. The assumption is, the only time stat blocks are used is in a fight to the death with the party.
Yes, and it doesn't serve me well at all. Hence the callout for anyone who likes those statblocks (the inimitable Teemu, for example), so they can appropriately weight the advice.

But you haven't used them. I've used them more times than I remember, and they've been great! Not too complex but not quite too simple either.
No, I haven't, but I'd love to hear about your experiences! You said you ran the dragons (which do look impressive!); are there any others you really enjoyed? Any tips or tricks for deploying them in a satisfying way?
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
I'm actually playing in a Strixhaven game (just finished second year), so I feel like I can't read this whole thread because there might be spoilers. But in glancing over the first couple of pages, I can see that several people have claimed the PCs are never in actual danger, and that is just not the case. During the "Sassy Sally Ann" heist, we were in school-type danger of being caught and disciplined. And when we were retrieving the runaway mascots, we actually did face off against some monsters that could challenge us in the traditional D&D way--i.e., loss of hitpoints.
 

Why would you buy it? What makes it worth spending money on to you?
I wouldn't, because I'm not the target market (about 40 years too old). But that doesn't bother me. I admire it's attempt to do something different.

Since I happen to have it anyway, I like the spells. My Aberrant Mind Sorcerer has great fun with Wither And Bloom. Art is good too.
 

Teemu

Hero
No, I haven't, but I'd love to hear about your experiences! You said you ran the dragons (which do look impressive!); are there any others you really enjoyed? Any tips or tricks for deploying them in a satisfying way?
The dragons were great as powerful ancient wyrms, and they were more interesting than the Monster Manual ancient dragons due to their unique breath weapons, their legendary actions, and even the fact that their claw attacks could knock the target prone. The last one especially feels like it should be more common for such massive creatures. The various mage or spellcaster stat blocks I've used in all kinds of situations. Basically whenever I want caster enemies, I often check the Strixhaven creatures for suitable NPCs. I like that their attacks are magical in nature, but that they aren't overly complex with massive lists of spells. They're easy and quick to run, especially when I use them in an ensemble. I also really like that some of them are more like druids, others like wizards, then sorcerers and bards. Plus, they have both low CR, mid CR, and high CR versions. It's like a smorgasbord of caster stat blocks. However, if you really dislike the newer Monsters of the Multiverse casters, obviously the Strixhaven creatures will leave you wanting.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top