Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos - First Party Review

Not always. It was initially announced as a sourcebook, but the marketing got increasingly adventure-y as time went by, and by the time the thing was released, the adventure component comprised well over half the page count. I suspect (without any evidence whatsoever) that the content and focus of the actual product morphed similarly from setting to adventure in development.
D&D Beyond divides all content into "sourcebooks" and "adventures" and Stryxhaven sits very firmly under "sourcebooks". WotC only ever called it a sourcebook or setting book in their own marketing. You are probably thinking of early reviews which went "OMG this is an adventure!".

Actually, it's just a framework on which an adventure can be hung. Most setting books link encounters geographically (i.e. with a map). Stryxhaven links encounters temporally, using an academic year structure. But it doesn't include an actual story. It's up to the DM and players to provide that.
 

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D&D Beyond divides all content into "sourcebooks" and "adventures" and Stryxhaven sits very firmly under "sourcebooks". WotC only ever called it a sourcebook or setting book in their own marketing.

Just because WotC says something, does not make it so. Strixhaven follows exactly the same model as Curse of Strahd, or Shadow of the Dragon Queen, or even Spelljammer. Absolute minimal required setting information to enable you run a specific adventure in a non-FR setting with non-FR assumptions, a couple of token player options if you're lucky, and then most of the product taken up with the adventure itself and the monsters/NPCs in it. I'm not a fan of that paradigm, but WotC certainly is. They can call it a sourcebook or a campaign setting or a cannibal purple bunny rabbit if they like - but in reality, it's an adventure.
 


bedir than

Full Moon Storyteller
I think I can supply a bit of context and some suggestions for how to use Stryxhaven.

Firstly:

The trite answer is, this was always marketed as a source book, not an adventure book. But I think what the OP means is "where are the stakes?"

To understand that, I think you need to look at it's literary antecedents.

Clearly, they are not this.

Now, the Harry Potter connection is obvious. But what is a lot less well known is Harry Potter itself draws very heavily on the Mallory Towers novels by Enid Blyton. For those who don't know these are novels aimed at a young female audience - it would be possible get into a very long digression about gender roles in children's literature - about life in a girl's boarding school. It is, basically, a soap opera. The "stakes" are generally about who is friends with who, with characters only occasionally at risk of death, or worse, expulsion. If you are interested in running a low stakes game like this I have a few suggestions: Catch a few episodes of the resent BBC adaptation, rather than wade through Blyton's extremely dated novels. Make sure your players are okay with a low stakes game with the emphasis on role-playing rather than combat (i.e. a Critical Role+ style of play). Encourage your players to start out as rivals, rather than friends. Try to avoid too many "all may family are dead" backstories. Family members are very much alive, and are important NPCs with high (possibly unreasonable) expectations.

"I don't like Mallory Towers, what am I supposed to do with this!"
It does synergise quite well well with WotC's adventure collection books, like Candlekeep, Radiant Citadel and Golden Vault. I would aim for something like The Librarians TV show. A mentor sends the students off on an adventure-of-the-week. Make it very close to a comedy. Clearly, this campaign is not going to be a sandbox.

If you like sandboxes, high stakes and combat, then don't buy this book, it's not aimed at you!
Some are probably already expecting this, but other media that Strixhaven leans towards

The Magicians
Winx Saga
The Order

I think there's a large disconnect between traditional D&D players and the entire concept of the school as setting stories because the traditional player expects different stakes and that character growth can happen without death
 

Some are probably already expecting this, but other media that Strixhaven leans towards

The Magicians
Winx Saga
The Order

I think there's a large disconnect between traditional D&D players and the entire concept of the school as setting stories because the traditional player expects different stakes and that character growth can happen without death
Indeed, I would describe Stryxhaven as a bold attempt to do something different that doesn't entirely come off. It's too radically different for people who are currently playing D&D to know what to do with it, and it's not a clear enough entry point for folk who aren't currently playing D&D who might "get it" better.
 




bedir than

Full Moon Storyteller
I thought you were arguing the other way, since it's not much of a sourcebook.
Oh, I think there are failings in it. It's the product I most wish was designed as an entry point boxed set.
But it recreates the microsetting of the plane where Strixhaven resides fairly well. That's one of the least developed MtG planes ever. But it explains the schools, the tension within them, the tensions between them and the outside faction well (but some of that information is hidden in monster lore).
There's enough information you could replace the traditional D&D magic schools with the five schools at Strixhaven that changes every full caster into part of the colleges (with some Warlocks being Orix). You'd just need to eliminate the gods aspect for Clerics.
 

TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
Indeed, I would describe Stryxhaven as a bold attempt to do something different that doesn't entirely come off. It's too radically different for people who are currently playing D&D to know what to do with it, and it's not a clear enough entry point for folk who aren't currently playing D&D who might "get it" better.
And crucially, it doesn't provide any explanation or any structure for how to play it differently from standard 5e, if that was the expectation.

Having an adventure structure where characters who are grown adults are supposed to study quietly for 3-4 weeks at a time until the next weird thing comes along just isn't workable for any D&D players I've had. Players want to DO stuff, they're going to want to explore the campus and look for parties and meet up with other people on the campus.

I like the overall aesthetic of Strixhaven, and I love the various takes on the MtG color wheel of all the MtG settings, but the adventure crash and burned the first two sessions when I actually tried to use the material in the book. I had to completely reboot the game and go in a completely different direction to make it workable.

Now, do a game where everyone is a 14 year old (or equivalent) 1st level wizard, and studying and passing the courses is actually how you learn spells and level, and then the overall adventure might actually be interesting.
 

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