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

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
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.
I mean, we're not exactly drowning in actual settings books in 5e, are we?

I'm not saying I hated Nu-Ravenloft, but as a pure setting book? Half the book is a sourcebook on horror campaigns. I don't think it's better than Eberron as a sourcebook, and I don't even really care about Eberron all that much.

To bring it back to Strixhaven, I think the wildest take I saw was that it couldn't be anything like Harry Potter since this is isn't a boarding school, and thus any comparison to Harry Potter at any level is invalid.
 

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Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
I mean, we're not exactly drowning in actual settings books in 5e, are we?

I'm not saying I hated Nu-Ravenloft, but as a pure setting book? Half the book is a sourcebook on horror campaigns. I don't think it's better than Eberron as a sourcebook, and I don't even really care about Eberron all that much.

To bring it back to Strixhaven, I think the wildest take I saw was that it couldn't be anything like Harry Potter since this is isn't a boarding school, and thus any comparison to Harry Potter at any level is invalid.

I think there are six setting books now (Ravnica, Theros, Wildemount, Eberron, Ravenloft, Strixhaven). I really just have the opposite opinion in that I find a sourcebook on how to run horror campaigns more useful than specifically Ravenloft campaigns.

I do agree that the folks who are "Strixhaven is not Harry Potter!" seem to have completely missed that although that is technically true, this book is certainly geared to meet the need of folks who want to straddle HP and D&D in a campaign.
 

I mean, we're not exactly drowning in actual settings books in 5e, are we?

I'm not saying I hated Nu-Ravenloft, but as a pure setting book? Half the book is a sourcebook on horror campaigns. I don't think it's better than Eberron as a sourcebook, and I don't even really care about Eberron all that much.

To bring it back to Strixhaven, I think the wildest take I saw was that it couldn't be anything like Harry Potter since this is isn't a boarding school, and thus any comparison to Harry Potter at any level is invalid.
Yeah I'm getting increasingly disenchanted with WotC on this sort of thing. I mean, they give us 320 pages on Ravnica, a setting which definitely does not require nor benefit from 320 pages, and then they give us 256 on Ravenloft and take up the majority of that space with either generic horror advice, or the bestiary, or a frankly pretty mediocre/bad adventure, and so to basically just dash over Ravenloft, which especially with the changes, could do with a more detailed discussion. Then Spelljammer proposes to give us less than 64 pages on the entire setting AND mechanics, which is wow, a hell of a thing. Strixhaven seems pretty mediocre in all regards and gives over huge space to an adventure.

I dread to think what they're going to do to other settings.
 

JThursby

Adventurer
Yeah I'm getting increasingly disenchanted with WotC on this sort of thing.
Come join the PF2e crowd then, we get new setting and rule books all the time. Alternatively, fan settings for 5e are done much better IMO. Keith Baker's non-WotC work for Eberron is fantastic for instance. The third party scene is so vast and has some real gems in it, do you really need WotC's logo on the book to integrate it into your game?
 

Come join the PF2e crowd then, we get new setting and rule books all the time. Alternatively, fan settings for 5e are done much better IMO. Keith Baker's non-WotC work for Eberron is fantastic for instance. The third party scene is so vast and has some real gems in it, do you really need WotC's logo on the book to integrate it into your game?
I'll always support 3rd party work. Kobold Press' Midgard is solid, of course. I really like Mage Hand Press' Dark Matter space fantasy setting. And of course Midnight is being resurrected from 3e soon.
 

Come join the PF2e crowd then, we get new setting and rule books all the time. Alternatively, fan settings for 5e are done much better IMO. Keith Baker's non-WotC work for Eberron is fantastic for instance. The third party scene is so vast and has some real gems in it, do you really need WotC's logo on the book to integrate it into your game?
I'm still in two minds re: PF2E because I rather concerned about the inability to use monsters that are much higher/lower level without things getting messy - it's not so different from 4E in that, but I don't think it's yet at the 4E DDI levels of digital support unless you're willing to shell out for Foundry, which I'm not. I think Paizo are building are similar thing though, and I'll probably have another look then. With 4E having that problem I worked around it because you could just take a monster and level it up or down with a few clicks with the DDI, and have all the stats adjust and so on, it was great. So I suspect I'll look again when their digital tools set is up and running.

I don't need WotC settings (most of 5E I've run a "300 years in the future" version of Taladas, from very early 2E!), but I am slightly horrified to think of what WotC might do to future settings (esp. PS/DS), given VRGtR, Strixhaven and Spelljammer, all of which had increasingly few pages (256, 224, 192, so I guess we can expect 160 for the next one! I know not really but you know what I mean), and increasingly large amounts of the book not dedicated to, well, anything but the setting.

Re: 3PP settings, I haven't seen anything like, hugely interesting for 5E yet. Most seem to be well-established settings that are cool but not for me to run (like Midgard), or new but not really in a way that excites me or sets my imagination going. Weirdly enough I'd say certainly from 3E, and the 5E I've seen so far that 3PP settings, if anything, tend to be go a more trope-y and obvious than WotC settings (like, if they're steampunk, they'll be REALLY steampunk and hit every steampunk trope on the nose, and so on). One of the rarer exceptions being Odyssey of the Dragonlords, which managed to be Ancient Greece-like without just ramming into every Ancient Greek trope at full speed (and indeed seems to have some interesting discussion re: colonialism among other things). Vast Kayiva looks like it might have some potential for sheer bizarreness.
 


JThursby

Adventurer
While VRGTR definitely could've been a 320 pager, I think the decision not to do unique stat blocks for the darklords was correct; the focus on horror is more important than making it a Boss Run.
It isn't like they're statless horrors, they're just given generic NPC or monster stat blocks from the MM. I know that Strahd's statblock is basically the same with it being copy-pasted from Vampire Wizard, but at least that's a higher level enemy. Some Darklords are given statblocks from CR 1 or bellow creatures for instance. Recycling pre-made stat blocks for an ad hoc solution is what DMs are supposed to do under pressure, not what a published book is supposed to do to get out of making content.
 

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!
Raiding Dungeons as a Strixhaven student is pretty much a Field Trip. A VERY DANGEROUS Field Trip, but still, nothing the Teacher shouldn't be able to handle, unless something super major trouble appears.
 


Raiding Dungeons as a Strixhaven student is pretty much a Field Trip. A VERY DANGEROUS Field Trip, but still, nothing the Teacher shouldn't be able to handle, unless something super major trouble appears.
D&D characters level up by killing monsters and taking there stuff... you become better casters as you level. All wizard schools should have you dungeon crawling it is much more likely to get you to be able to cast better spells then reading books and casting in practice... if you survive.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
I could buy the reasoning for not statting out the all the dread lords if the Ravenloft book was 320 pages. Like, it's 256 instead, charging the same price. Why not include them?

For people who want to ignore they can, and they still would be well under 320 pages if the aim was to cut costs. That whole thing just seems a bit miserly to me.
 

D&D characters level up by killing monsters and taking there stuff... you become better casters as you level. All wizard schools should have you dungeon crawling it is much more likely to get you to be able to cast better spells then reading books and casting in practice... if you survive.
Also handy for extra credit! That one Witherbloom professor down the hall will give you extra credit points on your next test if you bring her a Hag's Eye! Or bump ya up a whole grade if you give her a whole coven's set of eyes!
 

It isn't like they're statless horrors, they're just given generic NPC or monster stat blocks from the MM. I know that Strahd's statblock is basically the same with it being copy-pasted from Vampire Wizard, but at least that's a higher level enemy. Some Darklords are given statblocks from CR 1 or bellow creatures for instance. Recycling pre-made stat blocks for an ad hoc solution is what DMs are supposed to do under pressure, not what a published book is supposed to do to get out of making content.
Its a good thing fans stepped up on the DMsguild to cover WotC's mistake here.
 

JThursby

Adventurer
For people who want to ignore they can, and they still would be well under 320 pages if the aim was to cut costs. That whole thing just seems a bit miserly to me.
It might be a cost thing. I remember in an interview Matt Mercer was talking about his Wildemount book and how one of the pieces of feedback from Wizards of the Coast was "this is too much, don't give us this many pages next time." If there wasn't a cost reason for that then I have no freaking idea why they would object to it like that.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Yeah I'm getting increasingly disenchanted with WotC on this sort of thing. [...]

I dread to think what they're going to do to other settings.
Sad to learn of, but good to know. I'm still going to buy Radiant Citadel, but from the reviews and comments I've read, it looks like I'll give Strixhaven a pass. I am fervently praying they don't screw up Planescape...
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
Sad to learn of, but good to know. I'm still going to buy Radiant Citadel, but from the reviews and comments I've read, it looks like I'll give Strixhaven a pass. I am fervently praying they don't screw up Planescape...
Between Crappy Sigil Ravnica and Radiant Citadel existing, I wouldn't expect them to even take it on since that'd be alot of product in that sort of space. So, honestly? Them not touching Planescape at all would probably be for the best, anyway.
 

320-256-64 does seem like a steep step down...
I mean, to be clear that's not the comparison I'm making, mine was 256/224/192, which is the three most recent setting-books. The 64 is a different measure - that's setting and mechanics/rules only.

If we to compare that 64 to other books we need to be a bit more careful, and check how much of each book is those. It's hard for me to give exact numbers because I don't have the physical copies for most.

Also I've checked and it seems like some sites have it wrong for Ravnica, they say 320 pages, and someone here said that was right and it had 80 pages of monsters, but double-checking, it seems like it's 256 pages and about 70 pages of monsters. Looking at a copy of the contents it looks like it breaks down as 183 pages setting and rules (173 if you don't count magic items in that), the rest monsters. So nearly 3x as much setting/rules as Spelljammer, and slightly more monsters too, and no adventure. The last definitely-320-page WotC setting book was I believe Eberron.

With VRGtR, 256 pages total, looking at a scanned contents it looks like it breaks down to:
160 pages rules/setting,
35 pages general horror advice
20 pages not-great adventure
30-odd pages of monsters

Unfortunately because they try to cover a crazy amount of ground in the setting it really feels insufficient.

Strixhaven, 224 pages total is basically an adventure with a setting taped on:
40 pages rules/setting
140 pages adventure
40-odd pages of monsters/NPCs

That's like, not really a setting.

It appears Spelljammer, 192 pages total is similar but neater and waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more expensive.
64 pages rules/setting
64 pages adventure
64 pages monsters

So unless these two are aberrations, we can expect any DS/PS setting books to similarly basically be an adventure and some monsters with a minor setting tacked on. I'm hoping they are aberrations, but it's quite weird.
Between Crappy Sigil Ravnica and Radiant Citadel existing, I wouldn't expect them to even take it on since that'd be alot of product in that sort of space. So, honestly? Them not touching Planescape at all would probably be for the best, anyway.
This is why I don't expect PS. They've got multiple crap versions of Sigil, the only other WotC material on Sigil is total crap, and WotC published the adventure that killed Sigil as a setting (not TSR), then according to Monte Cook, refused to publish the one which would fix Sigil. Kind of seems like they might have it in for Sigil lol, given they'd had the game for 22+ years and never done anything remotely positive or even mildly respectful with it, and keep coming out with "The poor man's Sigil" takes. Oh well. If Planescape remains the Nirvana (the band) of settings, so be it.

I expect we'll see some godawful version of Dark Sun at this point, which manages to annoy everyone by changing the setting just enough that it doesn't feel right, not including Psions, reprinting existing psionic subclasses and maybe, at most adding one, having no or very poor rules for preserving/defiling and somehow managing to chicken out on/mess up the environmental message even as climate change causes chaos in front of us, and just having a big-ass adventure take up most of the page count.

Really hoping I'm wrong on that.

What they do with the 1-2 "entirely new" settings is of more interest to me. I'm really hoping they're actual settings, with plenty of detail and stuff to engage with, not just more adventures with a small setting stuck on the side. At least with Dragonlance they're calling it an adventure.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
What they do with the 1-2 "entirely new" settings is of more interest to me. I'm really hoping they're actual settings, with plenty of detail and stuff to engage with, not just more adventures with a small setting stuck on the side. At least with Dragonlance they're calling it an adventure.
I would love honest to god new settings. But like actually make it a setting book. Not like making half an adventure or something like Saltmarsh where they detail like, 6 hexes and have people count that as a Greyhawk book.
 


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