The trouble with Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is that it makes me realise that my school sucked by comparison . If our classes had included a walking, talking tree, or a ‘professor of decay’ (the most metal title in all of teaching), maybe I wouldn’t have spent most of my time daydreaming about playing and reading the best Dungeons and Dragons books .
Luckily, Magic: The Gathering tie-in Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is helping us make up for lost time. I managed to get an exclusive look at one of the magic school’s colleges – Witherbloom – ahead of launch before chatting with lead designer Amanda Hamon about what sets this place of learning apart from others in the best tabletop RPGs and beyond.
Taking you to school
Amanda Hamon is a senior designer for Dungeons & Dragons and worked as the lead on Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos. She is also a co-creator of the Starfinder TRPG.
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way: what makes Strixhaven unique compared to other magic schools? For Hamon, it’s about contradictions.
“The mixture of philosophies and approaches to magic is like nothing else that's out there,” Harmon says. “In each of Strixhaven's five colleges, the students and faculty members mix diametrically opposed types of magic, from the natural growth and withering decay of Witherbloom's magic to the high-minded idealism and more nefarious manipulation of Silverquill.”
For context, Witherbloom is Strixhaven’s ode to all things natural – it’s a druid’s paradise with an emphasis on natural magic, flora, and fauna. Situated deep within the bayou of Sedgemoor, its buildings have notes of Lothlorien from The Lord of the Rings with a healthy dash of those ewok treehouses from Return of the Jedi – they’re tucked like bird nests amongst the colossal boughs.
All the same, there’s something almost insectoid about this college thanks to beehive-esque windows peppered throughout the trunks. When combined with the marshland backdrop and an overabundance of trailing vines, Witherbloom is eerie in a way you may not expect. This makes sense, considering the fact that it has teachers with titles such as ‘Gloom Summoner’.
It isn’t quite as highfalutin as it sounds, however. Much like many real-world universities, Strixhaven is a place where fun, frequently ridiculous memories are made.
“Beyond the expression of magic on campus, the atmosphere of the adventures is whimsical and shenanigan-filled – until, of course, the dire plot comes to a head,” Hamon explains. “Point is, though, this isn't a dour boarding school. It's a unique, vibrant setting with a creative D&D twist, and not the least because the place is filled with non-humans such as orcs, minotaurs, dhampirs, and dryads alongside elves, dwarves, and gnomes.”
You filled your childhood with rudimentary alchemical experiments, all in the hope of becoming a student of Witherbloom College. The life sciences are the focus of your reading, which includes biology and necromancy. Brewing strange concoctions with medicinal properties, exploring the anatomies of monsters, and cataloging swamp flora are the studies you might pursue at Witherbloom College. Skill Proficiencies: Nature, Survival Tool Proficiencies: Herbalism kit Languages: One of your choice Equipment: A bottle of black ink, an ink pen, a book about plant identification, an iron pot, an herbalism kit, a school uniform, and a pouch containing 15gp
Although that sense of vibrancy is a strength for Strixhaven, it raises a question of its own: how do you balance the experience of parties that include representatives from very different colleges? To Hamon, those contrasts are part of the appeal – in fact, the book has been designed with the assumption that everyone is pursuing their own course of study. This results in games of D&D with a markedly different texture.
“The adventures are full of extra-academic events, whether they're social gatherings or student competitions or interdisciplinary endeavors,” Hamon says. “In the adventures’ Exam encounters, the book nudges all of the characters to take a class together, either as a gen ed or for some other reason tied to their interests, and all of those classes are open to students of all colleges. In that way, Strixhaven is very intermingled, and it's also very intermingled socially, especially on Central Campus, where students from all colleges study at the Biblioplex, hang out at Bow's End Tavern, grab a snack at Firejolt Cafe, take in a game at Strixhaven Stadium, or jump on the field with their buddies in a pickup game of any sort on Aerojaunt Field.”
Strixhaven isn’t just about goofing off, though. Your party will butt up against other students who may become their rivals. Aurora Luna Wynterstarr is just one of those characters. A dhampir (or partial vampire), Aurora is a “brilliant singer and songwriter” who has taken her vampiric nature as a sign from the powers that be that she’s meant for great things. This suggests she won’t take kindly to anyone who stands in her way, so the dhampir could be a thorn in your side… or a valuable ally.
A lot of focus for the team went into making sure NPCs like Aurora stood apart from one another in this way.
“The student NPCs who are part of the Relationships rules – with whom you can form friendships, rivalries, or even a deeper bond – are, first and foremost, deeply realized individuals,” explains Hamon. “They have personal histories, personality traits and quirks, nuanced life philosophies, and academic and life goals, and the book provides in-depth profiles of each character. Details such as which college they've joined are really secondary to that, though of course, some NPCs embody the essence of their college more than others. However, DMs who portray these NPCs as individuals first and foremost will help give these NPCs each a distinctive feel.”
That ‘distinctive feel’ extends to Strixhaven as a place, too. Indeed, Hamon and the team managed to sneak some of their own college experiences into the book as well, providing a tongue-in-cheek flavor to proceedings.
“The town next door to my university held a yearly outdoor Shakespeare festival,” Hamon tells me. “In the freshman-year adventure in the book, there's an outdoor improv festival on the iconic Rose Stage. I don't want to give too many spoilers, but there's an interlude entitled ‘Exit, Pursued by an Owlbear’.”
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos will launch this December 7 in the USA. Meanwhile, it arrives December 14 in the UK. If you’re stateside, you can currently pre-order the book for 30% less via Amazon – it’s $34.99 instead of almost $50 at the moment.
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