Strixhaven Review Round-Up – What the Critics Say

In my in-depth review for Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos I noted that while there was a lot to like in the D&D adaptation of the Magic the Gathering set focused on a magical school, it didn't quite measure up to the high standards set by Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft or The Wild Beyond the Witchlight. But what did other reviewers think? Let's take a look.

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Great Rules, Forgettable Dungeon Crawls​

Polygon found Strixhaven to be a mixed bag. On the negative side, Polygon considered the actual adventure “forgettable,” the dungeon crawl portions “a bit silly” and the attention given to exams inconsistent over the course of the school years. Polygon also had such complaints about the exam mechanics that a house rule was suggested to fix it. On the plus side, Polygon enjoyed the lighter, whimsical tone of the adventure, praising it for having “some really fun material” that could be used as is or added to a homebrew campaign. Polygon also likes some of the new mechanics and subsystems. Strixhaven's ability to capture the feel of making friends in college and all of the hijinks, romance, and teen drama that can accompany school life. Also praised is the setting's inclusivity from buildings that magically change for size and mobility accommodations as well as non-binary and trans NPCs.

Dicebreakers was similarly conflicted, saying that it succeeds at doing something other than “the usual wandering adventurer rigamarole” while also pointing out flaws in how it shifts a combat-focused game into one with student pranks and relationship dynamics. So Strixhaven is considered uneven, occasionally shallow, especially in regard to the arc with a former student, and yet ambitious considering everything it's trying to accomplish. Dicebreakers also considered the new background options necessary for anyone not playing a caster class but warned DMs against allowing them in other campaigns unless there's a very good reason because it can easily throw off game balance. Dicebreakers was very intrigued by the mysteries Strixhaven only touches on lightly, such as ancient dragons that founded the school's factions, the Blood Avatar summoning, etc., but felt those story hooks were a bit lost while trying to adapt classic D&D to a more narrative- and relationship-heavy scenario. Despite the limitations, Dicebreakers liked Strixhaven both as an offbeat setting and for those who want to push the standard D&D rules into new directions.

TechRaptor loved the new relationship rules and praises the conscious effort that was made to present diversity among the supporting NPCs and magical accessibility accommodations for students. Like the other reviews, TechRaptor also calls out the included adventures as a weak point, especially the first installment, calling it “more an extended tutorial than a coherent story with stakes and player agency.” Despite the criticism, TechRaptor did think that the Hunt for Mage Tower and Magister's Masquerade adventures worked much better with the school setting. The Strixhaven asset pack for Roll20 got a shout-out for making sessions easier to run. Overall, TechRaptor praised several aspects of Strixhaven for promoting roleplay and social encounters and presenting lots of interesting ideas for adventure. Ironically, it said that the weakest point is when the adventure feels more like a typical D&D adventure and less like a wizard school.

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An Awkward Fit​

Strange Assembly found a lot to like in Strixhaven while also warning that it needs the right DM, not just because they have to be interested in this fresh-to-D&D setting but that that DM needs to do a lot of prep work and keep track of more elements like player relationships with NPCs and exams as well as the provided adventure. For the right DM and matching players, if handled correctly, Strange Assembly predicts “fabulous” results.

Yahoo News even had a review of Strixhaven with an assessment that depended upon your background. For readers who were coming to Strixhaven as a MtG player, Strixhaven scored well, bringing the flavor of the card setting to TTRPG. The review was more critical for D&D players interested in a wizard school setting. For example, the MtG approach to magic felt shoehorned into D&D's magic system, and while the bestiary had plenty of high-level creatures, the lack of even adventure seeds for for the Founder Dragons seemed like a strange omission.

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"Monogamy is for Suckers"​

Bell of Lost Souls had a completely opposite opinion of the Strixhaven backgrounds than Dicebreakers did, saying that the new backgrounds as well as new spells and monsters could be dropped into any campaign. Being “more than just a dungeon crawl” also appealed. Despite pointing out some flaws, it's also praised as “glorious harmony” for when Strixhaven's blend of adventure, roleplaying, and setting works. However, Bell of Lost Soul's also emphasized the fact that the romance rules allow a PC to have Beloveds equal to their proficiency bonus so even 1st level characters able to have two Beloveds. That, in turn, led Bell of Lost Souls to declare that Strixhaven allows players to “weaponize love and relationships. And according to WotC's rules, monogamy is for suckers.” That's certainly a different review! BoLS also complained about how little new spells the book contained for a wizard school setting, and that some of the mini games and mechanics were awkward.

Gaming Trend was the harshest, liking the idea of a magic school setting and adventure but labeling Strixhaven “academically anemic” with skimpy character options and confused purpose. Interestingly, Gaming Trend focused primarily on the Roll20 version of Strixhaven, which it praises for how easy it makes dropping in maps, items, etc., but otherwise it dislikes the Roll20 version. Like other reviewers, it considered the adventure segments more disconnected than modular. It also doesn't like the villain or how late it appears. Gaming Trend also hated the relationship rules, feeling that it gamified something that standard roleplay already handles well. Overall, Gaming Trend thinks Strixhaven will only appeal to a narrow audience of players.

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Overall​

Readers of our prior review roundups have noted some consistency in how various publications assess D&D products. That continues again here, only with less glowing cheers. For the most part, the setting was praised while the adventure was considered weak. New mechanics received mixed reviews, though most critics liked the relationship rules.

Echoing my review, if your group likes roleplay and social dynamics or is really interested in a wizard school campaign, most critics agree that Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos could appeal. Otherwise, tastes may vary depending upon the group's priorities and the DM's willingness to adapt a purchased module.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Retreater

Legend
I can understand why some people who have gone to college already aren't interested in roleplaying through the experience in a fantasy setting. I've worked in a library for 26 years and have no desire to play in a "library campaign."
It's the same reason why my wife doesn't want to play in a campaign where you're surrounded by annoying pun-makers. She gets enough of that at home. ;)
 

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ChaosOS

Legend
I think it's less an age thing and more a D&D Thing. Strixhaven's setting premise starts as a MTG thing. But the book's focus is as a it's a young adult relationship thing. THEN it's a HS/college thing. THEN finally it's a D&D thing.

So your fun is equivalent to which of these is your priority. That's why reviews are mixed. If you bought Strixhaven for D&Disms, you would be disappointed. If you bought it for the MTG aspects and cast of school characters, you'd be pleased.

It's one of my issues with the idea of more MTG settings. If the setting doesn't line up with D&D well from the core, you have too many themes overpowering the D&Dness as you attempt to fit the square in the circle
As much as I love playing indie TTRPGs, I also like to see D&D stretch its legs and tackle other genres (so long as it's fairly labeled & marketed, which I feel Strixhaven was). Yes, the bones of D&D are absolutely tuned to medieval-ish fantasy, with a mishmash of other things designers have thought were cool over the years, such as Monks being from kung-fu flicks or all the different monstrous & anthropomorphic races inspired by other IP. But I don't think it has to be JUST that; bringing in Kaldheim or Ixalan wouldn't be the first time D&D has tried to tackle nordic or mesoamerican inspired fantasy, it would just be an opportunity to tell stories on a new world without the baggage that TSR-era settings tend to have. Similarly, I think D&D could even go so far as to have a Kamigawa book with explicitly Japanese-inspired fantasy AND higher-technology themes with its cyberpunk aesthetic.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
As much as I love playing indie TTRPGs, I also like to see D&D stretch its legs and tackle other genres (so long as it's fairly labeled & marketed, which I feel Strixhaven was). Yes, the bones of D&D are absolutely tuned to medieval-ish fantasy, with a mishmash of other things designers have thought were cool over the years, such as Monks being from kung-fu flicks or all the different monstrous & anthropomorphic races inspired by other IP. But I don't think it has to be JUST that; bringing in Kaldheim or Ixalan wouldn't be the first time D&D has tried to tackle nordic or mesoamerican inspired fantasy, it would just be an opportunity to tell stories on a new world without the baggage that TSR-era settings tend to have. Similarly, I think D&D could even go so far as to have a Kamigawa book with explicitly Japanese-inspired fantasy AND higher-technology themes with its cyberpunk aesthetic.
I'm not saying the D&D can't or shouldnt stretch to other genres, flavors, and styles.

I was saying that Strixhaven had so many NON-D&D aspects and was at its core too far from D&D that without a big set of major variant rules, mixed reviews was the best outcome.

Settings like Ravnica, Theros, and Kamigawa have themes and elements that flow into D&D easily in a full conversion. Settings like Strixhaven and Innistrad do not. There is only so far you can go it you are only willing to tweak. Especially if you didn't design the game to work that way (see the loss of the College crossclass subclasses).
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Wow. Is this the first set of "mixed" reviews for a WotC 5e product? Normally the critics gush over them.
You need to read pickier critics. A number of WotC adventures have been roundly criticized as poorly written/organized with incoherent plots, strange pacing etc....
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
This is the first official title I didn't purchase as a hardcover. I picked up the new character races, magic items, and monsters on D&D Beyond and left the rest as something I would never use. This is likely to be the case for Radiant Citadel as well.
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
You need to read pickier critics. A number of WotC adventures have been roundly criticized as poorly written/organized with incoherent plots, strange pacing etc....
Yeah - particularly for some of the earlier titles like the Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Princes of the Apocalypse
 

HammerMan

Legend
I can understand why some people who have gone to college already aren't interested in roleplaying through the experience in a fantasy setting. I've worked in a library for 26 years and have no desire to play in a "library campaign."
It's the same reason why my wife doesn't want to play in a campaign where you're surrounded by annoying pun-makers. She gets enough of that at home. ;)
Yeah my group might want to try a school setting but we want more Xmen and less Harry Potter. And Stix haven love it or hate it is more 90210 with Harry potter
 

You need to read pickier critics. A number of WotC adventures have been roundly criticized as poorly written/organized with incoherent plots, strange pacing etc....
That's true, but official reviews that make the rounds around here tend to be almost universally glowing. I think it skews perceptions.
 






Smackpixi

Adventurer
Too bad Bryce didn't post this before the review round up.
If you’ve ever read anything he’s written before, you don’t really need to read that to know what he was going to say. I think his point about the lack of wonder and awe later in the review probably has some merit but it’s hard to know cause he doesn’t care about the book and just went through looking for performative ways to hate on it. When he does care about an adventure he’s pretty great at reviewing whether or not the adventure succeeds at what it’s trying to do…why I think there’s probably something to the wonder and awe observation.
 

Its just, they should have used the actual Strixhaven setting. The one in the MTG, through card text, is described as cutthroat, dangerous, experimental, faction-dominated, and ruled by teaches whose magical powers make going to class as scary as it is enlightening. Instead we get the watered down, almost no conflict, very skimpy version of Strixhaven that is a glorified slice of life campaign.
Yeah I was wondering about that.

All the things I heard about Strixhaven from MtG sources seemed to conflict hard with the ones I heard about from D&D sources, tonally at least. The MtG setting seemed to be quite, well, scary. Alarming in a good way. Ravenclaw edging towards Slytherin rather than Hufflepuff or even Gryffindor one might say! This seems like pure Hufflepuff.

I feel like, if I was a young person, I'd be a hell of lot more interested in and appealed-to by the MtG version than the D&D version. There's nothing worse, especially when you're a teenager or early 20s, than overly-comfy-feeling settings (outside of re: LGBTQ/race issues). That's some late-20s "life sucks and I want a warm sweater" stuff.
 

JThursby

Adventurer
I feel like, if I was a young person, I'd be a hell of lot more interested in and appealed-to by the MtG version than the D&D version.
Can confirm. I don't know what they were thinking, did they expect people who were playing the game whose main mode of conflict resolution is righteous violence would be against having a dangerous setting?

What I want from a setting is calls to adventure, context for what is there to fight and why does it need fighting, and intriguing world building and writing. Strixhaven as written comes across more like academic wish fulfillment, even more so than Harry Potter. Even Harry Potter emphasizes the byzantine and unapproachable nature of the wizarding world, it's flaws and villains, and how it's world will slide into a living nightmare if the protagonists don't intervene by risking their own lives.

What also bothers me is the complete lack of commitment to their own setting. Each school of magic is supposed to have a different method of spell casting, ie one only casts from written spells, another uses only oration, etc. None of it matters from a mechanic perspective, outside of getting access to certain spells via backgrounds. There's also one new spell for each of the five schools, and that's it. Ravnica and Theros got subclasses, magic items, all that jazz. Eberron gave each of it's 12+ dragonmarked houses subrace rules for being a dragonmarked member. What you're given here to distinguish yourself as laughable by comparison. When you have weak setting characterization paired with weak mechanical characterization of the fiction that just begs the question of why anyone would bother playing in the setting in the first place.
 

Yeah I was wondering about that.

All the things I heard about Strixhaven from MtG sources seemed to conflict hard with the ones I heard about from D&D sources, tonally at least. The MtG setting seemed to be quite, well, scary. Alarming in a good way. Ravenclaw edging towards Slytherin rather than Hufflepuff or even Gryffindor one might say! This seems like pure Hufflepuff.

I feel like, if I was a young person, I'd be a hell of lot more interested in and appealed-to by the MtG version than the D&D version. There's nothing worse, especially when you're a teenager or early 20s, than overly-comfy-feeling settings (outside of re: LGBTQ/race issues). That's some late-20s "life sucks and I want a warm sweater" stuff.
This is true. The material really can only be marked to the very young or those in their 30s+, and only those who have been out of college for a while and are particularly interested in the comforts of nostalgia and optimism. And the thing is, that's fine! Make that adventure. But making Strixhaven into that is a stale mix. There's no spark to it whatsoever.

And on top of that, the actual Strixhaven is pretty good for D&D. You have dungeons, lots of combat, magical trials to overcome, literal dragons, pretty much everything you could want. Just such a bizarre thing to do. But hey, now Strixhaven is on the DMs Guild, so maybe I'll make that setting myself!
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
The reviews seems very mixed so I'm surprised that the consensus is considered "A." I'd give it more of a B based on those reviews, but maybe I'm missing something.
 

JThursby

Adventurer
The reviews seems very mixed so I'm surprised that the consensus is considered "A." I'd give it more of a B based on those reviews, but maybe I'm missing something.
The original Strixhaven review said it was close to getting an A- despite a lengthy section on the many disappointments with the book. The Ravenloft book that had no unique stats for any of it's Darklords was rated as the best 5e book ever. I've just taken D&D products getting inflated critical scores as a matter of course now.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
The original Strixhaven review said it was close to getting an A- despite a lengthy section on the many disappointments with the book. The Ravenloft book that had no unique stats for any of it's Darklords was rated as the best 5e book ever. I've just taken D&D products getting inflated critical scores as a matter of course now.

I won't defend review inflation (IGN giving everything a good score for some reason)... but IMO 5E Ravenloft is the best setting book so I'll die on that hill.
 

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