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

JThursby

Adventurer
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.
More so than redundantly themed areas, I expect the reason planescape is a no-show is that it's probably considered too heady for what WotC envisions their player base as. These are a set of designers and writers that constantly endeavor to a) attract new players and b) dumb down or remove anything they see as too complex or controversial. If it wasn't for Chris Perkins personally championing Spelljammer I doubt we'd have gotten it at all, and I see no such advocate for Planescape. An old school setting based around competing philosophies is basically everything that WotC does not want in a modern 5e book. The best you could possibly hope for is a planar anthology book with Sigil as the token hub that nobody actually uses.
 

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eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
I can't think of anything this iteration of WotC can do with Planescape that won't screw it up.
How I think 5e Planescape would work:

"Okay, so the Lady of Pain comes up to your Tabaxi/Centaur/Aasimar/Tortle Barbarian/Rogue/Wizard/Sorcerer/Warlock and gives you the sweetest high five because you're totally rad and you're the best to ever do it in Sigil. Now, level up to level 2"
 


Ondath

Adventurer
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.
That is appalling, especially because I find Wildmount to be one of the rarer 5E sourcebooks that comes close to having the amount of useful information setting books in old editions had (compare the gigantic Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting in 3E/3.5 to SCAG, it's pitiful). Why do they not want their books to contain sufficient content? Have the costs of printing gone up that much? (well, with the paperocalypse that's been going on since the pandemic, yes they have, but Wildmount was pre-Covid right?)

As for Strixhaven, I have a DM in my uni's TTRPG club who ran it for some players, and he really hated the book. He said every adventure is basically "X item becomes enlarged and attacks people nearby", and that he had to reword everything with a lot of redesigning to get it to work. I'd say it's really not worth getting an adventure book if you'll end up homebrewing the majority of your content anyway.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
I think it provides a nice framework for a setting and adventure, if not a great out-of-box experience, and it appeals to exactly the sort of gamers that have been driving the growth of D&D over the past few years: i.e, nobody who posts here :p
 

My thing is, look at this.


This is all the art from the MTG set. The vast majority of the visual language in this set, as well as the card text provided on the cards (clink the images and scroll down), as well as just the raw ideas presented in the art itself are completely absent in the Strixhaven book and adventure.

None of the wonder, the crazy aesthetics to magic, or other amazing things you might expect are present in the book. Its a multiverse magic academy, but the most exciting thing in the book are giant frogs.

Its just so bizarre to me. I can't understand it. And the art they choose to use was all so different to what was in the MTG set. And I don't mean like, they made original art and that's bad. I mean, the art portrays wildly different aesthetics, ideas, personalities, and character than what is seen in the magic set.

That's fine, by the way. I'm ok with a first party fun lighthearted Hogwarts. But using Strixhaven for it, and then making the entire thing just lower quality in terms of idea, idea quality, and execution was...so odd to me.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
My thing is, look at this.


This is all the art from the MTG set. The vast majority of the visual language in this set, as well as the card text provided on the cards (clink the images and scroll down), as well as just the raw ideas presented in the art itself are completely absent in the Strixhaven book and adventure.
Can't speak to the card text, but from a pure aesthetic approach I guess I disagree? Maybe I'm focusing more on the character art here, but nothing here looks incongruous at all with the Strixhaven presented in the book. I can see the card text being darkier and grimier than the setting presented, but then I think WotC, rather smartly in this case, molded the setting exactly to the audience they were targeting. As someone whose job involves working with directly with this target audience (and who often runs games for them), I can say, at least anecdotally, that it worked.
 

Can't speak to the card text, but from a pure aesthetic approach I guess I disagree? Maybe I'm focusing more on the character art here, but nothing here looks incongruous at all with the Strixhaven presented in the book. I can see the card text being darkier and grimier than the setting presented, but then I think WotC, rather smartly in this case, molded the setting exactly to the audience they were targeting. As someone whose job involves working with directly with this target audience (and who often runs games for them), I can say, at least anecdotally, that it worked.
I think you are on the dot about this product hitting its exact target audience. But, I just wish it had been a different setting, because I don't think we'll get a Strixhaven like the one imagined by the set, which is a shame to me. Ultimately though, glad the people who liked Strixhaven the adventure found it! I do think as a slice of life module, its perfect for those kinds of campaigns.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
I think it provides a nice framework for a setting and adventure, if not a great out-of-box experience, and it appeals to exactly the sort of gamers that have been driving the growth of D&D over the past few years: i.e, nobody who posts here :p
I mean, you're not wrong.

Though, my biggest complaint was the motivation behind it, rather than the actual tone or content of the setting. Here we have a product who's Magic set hadn't even come out yet. Putting aside the fact that it's a Magic setting, which is already a no-no for some people, you couldn't even make the argument that it was popular and people wanted it.

To me, it just seemed like cynical, corporate cross-promotion. "You like the movie, we'll look at the novelization, now also for sale near you!". So yeah, a cynical shilling taking up a setting spot in the schedule made me not particularly receptive to it. I think if you were to decouple that and its Magic connection you would probably find it more well received. Though, I'm sure there would be still be plenty of people, on this board or off, to whom the premise just doesn't appeal.
 


DeviousQuail

Adventurer
Non-sequitor:

There are a few cards from the Strixhaven set that have this geometric feel to them that I really love.




They remind me of some of the Dragon age artwork.


Does anyone know if there is a name for this style of art?
 

I haven't got Stryxhaven, but I have toyed with the idea of reworking it so that the PCs are the faculty rather than the students, in the vein of Terry Pratchett's Unseen University.
 

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