D&D: ‘Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos’– Weaponized Polyamory at Wizarding School– The BoLS Review
Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos is a book that wants to capture the magic of college life and wizard school, but the real magic is love.
Whether you’re preparing for a final battle or for finals week, Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos wants to deliver you the magical academy fantasies you’ve been dreaming of.
The new book is something of a mix. It’s part setting book, part adventure, and part rules for roleplaying the college lifestyle. And in this book these three parts sometimes work in glorious harmony.
At other times, you realize that you can weaponize love and relationships. And according to WotC’s rules, monogamy is for suckers.
We’ll get to that in a minute, but first an overview of the book. It starts with an intro to the world of Strixhaven. It’s a magical university built on a confluence of magical energies.
But the plane of Arcavios, where Strixhaven is situated, exists only to prop up the idea of “a magic school is here.” And the book feels aware of this.
Reading through the pages, you get the impression that Strixhaven is meant to be modular. The four adventures that comprise the bulk of the book can be run either as single adventures to kick off a campaign, or they can be strung together. They’re complete experiences.
The new backgrounds and magic spells included here could be readily dropped into a world. Even the new monsters, like the malevolent daemogoths or the Oriq mages, feel like they could be at home anywhere.
It’s here that the book really succeeds. You can think of this as a pseudo-roadmap for playing through a more whimsical, lighthearted adventure.
It’s a trend we’ve seen over the last couple of adventures. Starting with the narwhal submarines of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden and moving through Wild Beyond the Witchlight, the latest batch of modules from WotC have a distinct feel to them.
Getting into the Pages of Strixhaven
As you read through the NPC guidelines, roleplay notes, and the different encounters, you can almost hear the podcast or actual play show taking shape around it. These adventures feel like they’re meant to evoke the feeling of an actual play show. The adventures in Strixhaven make for streamable moments.
You might deal with a robo-librarian, or you might end up having to work at a coffeeshop (which you can do in greater detail with D&D Beyond’s adventure). You can also build relationships with NPCs to try and get ahead as your wizarding exams come up.
Because Strixhaven wants to give you that “this is more than just a dungeon crawl” experience.
And to that end, it uses the tools of D&D to try and emulate things like taking wizard exams. For the most part, there are some pretty elegant solutions here. The game falls back on the skill/ability check mechanic a great deal.
When you take your exams, you have a series of skill checks to make–so if you’re trying to recall the mating habits of owlbears, you might find yourself dealing with nature checks or history or whatever else. The book is good about providing guidelines, but you can also feel where a budding DM might take the inspiration of the book and run with it.
Relationships in Strixhaven
That said, I think that people forget just how much players are willing to push the bounds of mechanics. Case in point, Strixhaven’s big flashy roleplaying aid is a relationship web.
Here there are NPCs you can become friends with, or whom you can romance. And what’s more, there’s mechanics to accompany that as well.
As you undertake extracurricular activities or work a job, you gain friendship points which help define your relationship with an NPC. The more you do with them, the more often you’ll be able to roll a d4 friendship die to help give you the edge on difficult skill checks.
You can even find mechanics for pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam. It’s very encouraging to see an official module try and include more social mechanics.
That’s one of the areas that many official modules lack in. There’s often not much in the way of a guideline for what happens if you roleplay besides “you figure out what seems reasonable.” Having this extra bit of stuff to play with is great. But like any system, if people can exploit it, they will.
Lots of Love on the Strixhaven Campus
D&D is full of oddities. You can lift a mountain or run so fast you go supersonic with the right combos. The rules seem to suggest the way the world works, and in Strixhaven, love is the most powerful force.
Specifically polyamorous love. That’s right, WotC wants you to get cozy in a polycule with the romance mechanics.
The way it works? As you grow closer to a romanceable NPC (not everyone is into that), you can declare them a “Beloved”. This gives you an additional benefit.
When a character has a Beloved, the character gains Beloved Inspiration at the end of each long rest. Beloved Inspiration functions like regular Inspiration (as described in the Player’s Handbook), except a character regains a number of uses of Beloved Inspiration after each long rest equal to the number of Beloveds they have, not to exceed a number equal to their proficiency bonus.
And at 1st level you have +2 proficiency, which means even the lowliest freshman adventurer should be in a throuple. Or at least having two partners. It’s almost like having an extra feat; you can guarantee two instances of advantage on a roll.
And that’s per long rest, not per session. By the time you hit 9th level (the adventure goes up to 10th), you can have up to four different partners. In fact, you should.
But hey, college is a time to experiment. And maybe not everyone’s happy you’re seeing so many people. There’s a lot of drama to play around with if that’s your thing.
More Love, Less Magic
But that’s partly where Strixhaven falls a little flat, too. Some of the mechanics and mini-games can be a little clunky. And for a book that’s all about going to wizard school, there’s surprisingly little new magic.
There are only five new spells. While some of the monsters have new magic abilities, the lack of the new core set (and the upcoming Mordenkainen’s revised monster rules) is really felt here.
Still, if you want something to give you the feel of a good AP, Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos is worth checking out.
Grab your copy of ‘Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos’ on sale now!