The upcoming Dungeons & Dragons / Magic: The Gathering crossover book Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos covers a lot of ground when it comes to designing an adventure around a mage school. However, after a recent look at some preview pages and a Q&A with its designers, it’s clear that what happens between classes (and away from the table) is just as important to each player’s story and skillset.
You can check out the excerpts for yourself below, as well as our interview with project leads and Senior D&D Designers Amanda Hamon and James Wyatt about what players and DMs can expect when joining a club or tackling the wizarding equivalent of the semi-annual horror show that is standardized testing. They also expand on what sorts of classes, clubs, tests, and extracurriculars are covered in the text.
An excerpt from the Exams portion of Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos.
IGN: What do exams look like in ‘Strixhaven’? We assume wizards-in-training don’t just sit at a desk filling out bubbles on fax paper.
Have you played Dungeons & Dragons?
Amanda Hamon: The Exam encounters that take place during the Strixhaven book’s adventures are pretty varied, but in general, all of the Exams that happen “on camera” [editor’s note: this refers to scenes played out at the D&D table rather than being glossed over as exposition by the Dungeon Master] during each adventure are tied to a single class that plugs into other parts of the adventure in some way. For example, in the freshman-year adventure, the students take Magical Physiologies, and three separate times they are tested on the habits, abilities, and behavior of a special magical creature. Characters can study and recall this knowledge in ways that are described in the book, but once the Exams are resolved, (spoilers!) there’s a good chance that students who did well on the Exam will have an edge when they actually fight one or more of those creatures later on in the book.
Concept art of a magical study break by Magali Villeneuve.
IGN: Can you elaborate a bit on how the Studying/Testing phases work mechanically?
AH: Exams consist of a Studying phase and a Testing phase. During the Studying phase, students come up with techniques to help them recall the Exam’s subject details, perform well on the Exam, or whatever else is appropriate. This phase might grant a reroll to the ability checks in the Testing phase. The Testing phase consists of two ability checks related to the subject matter at hand. There’s a lot of roleplaying that can be involved, and the book provides lots of flavor to that extent, but that’s the core mechanic.
IGN: The excerpt refers to “notable and even shocking events” that happen; can you provide any insight on what DMs/players can expect in terms of story? Or is it more about providing DMs/players with new options for their original adventures?
James Wyatt: This book is a notable departure from our past Magic–D&D crossover books (Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica and Mythic Odysseys of Theros) in that this is primarily an adventure book rather than a setting book. So yes, the book includes an adventure that will take characters from lowly 1st-level first-years up as high as 10th level by the time they finish four years of study…and lots of excitement and adventure along the way! Of course, there’s plenty of information in the book that DMs can use to craft their own adventures at Strixhaven, but the goal was to provide an adventure set at this magical university which you can drop into any campaign setting.
A sampling of extracurricular activities from Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos.
IGN: Considering the new and expanded mechanics for activities like exams/studying/extracurricular bonuses/etc, does it ever feel like the concept of incorporating a world like this is pushing against the boundaries of what D&D5e offers as a game system?
JW: On the contrary, I think a book like this is an excellent way to demonstrate the breadth of what the D&D system is capable of handling. The game has come a long way from its roots in wargaming, and D&D fans enjoy a tremendous variety of experiences.
IGN: Can you provide any examples of the “minor rules benefits” that come with joining an extracurricular activity? Are they bonuses to the skills associated with each club, or something else?
AH: When a character participates in an Extracurricular activity, there’s a lot happening off-screen—if they’re a member of the Strixhaven Iron-Lifters Society, for example, they’re practicing their weightlifting techniques, learning how to build a strong body, and bonding with fellow lifting enthusiasts, all potentially away from the main action happening at the table. When a character participates in an Extracurricular, they get a Student Die every long rest that gives them a bump to one of two ability checks listed along with their chosen Extracurricular. Additionally, they gain a positive or negative Relationship point with one of their peers who’s also a member of the group to represent the bonding that takes place during these extracurriculars.
Students dance at a (semi) formal ball in this concept art by Caroline Gariba.
IGN: There’s a LARP guild, which is an interesting choice given the fairly High Fantasy setting. Are these role-play groups (or maybe an in-world tabletop game) focused on fantasy games as we know them, or perhaps ones that are more mundane, like Houses & Humans or Offices & Bosses?
JW: I love this question, because it reminds me of the cartoon in the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide that imagined D&D characters playing a “fantasy” RPG called Papers & Paychecks. The thing is, I think people in any world, no matter how magical, would play games revolving around adventure and wonder. In fact, there is an encounter in the adventure where members of the Live-Action Roleplaying Guild are preparing for a game they call “Beholders versus Behirs.”
IGN: The section also mentions “Job Rules.” What sort of after-school jobs do mages get? It’s sort of hard to picture a “Boy-Who-Lived” type flipping burgers or pumping gas…
AH: The jobs offered on campus are as diverse as Strixhaven itself, and the book provides a list that’s certainly not exhaustive, but does give lots of options. They include working at the Biblioplex, Bow’s End Tavern, or the Firejolt Cafe, plus general places like on the campus grounds or in the campus magical labs. Actual duties are wide and varied at each location. For example, if you work in the magic labs, you might be a specimen preparer, a cleanup crew member, or a volunteer lab partner.
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos will release on December 7, 2021 and is available for pre-order on Amazon or at your friendly neighborhood games store. For more D&D geekery, check out what we thought of the latest sourcebook, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, or our thoughts on the 2021 lineup of WizKids’ prepainted D&D minis.
JR is a Senior Producer at IGN, you can follow him on Twitter for more video games and tabletop RPG shenanigans.