How Sabrina, Pitch Perfect and ’90s romcoms inspired D&D’s Strixhaven book - lead designer Amanda Hamon
And explains how classes work in the Magic: The Gathering inspired book.
Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos, the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons 5E sourcebook based on a Magic: The Gathering card set, is due to be released next month, providing roleplayers with an opportunity to attend the magical school of their fantasies. Based in Arcavios, a plane in the Multiverse world of Magic: The Gathering, Strixhaven is a school of magic that features five different colleges. Originally featured in the Strixhaven: School of Mages Magic: The Gathering card set, Strixhaven has since made the leap taken by Ravinica and Theros before it, becoming the inspiration for a new D&D sourcebook.
With more details surrounding the D&D and Magic: The Gathering crossover emerging in the run-up to its launch - including information around allies and companions - Dicebreaker spoke with the lead designer of Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos, Amanda Hamon, about the influences behind the sourcebook; what elements of the card set have been translated into the book; which characters players can expect to interact with and more.
How much does Curriculum of Chaos take from Magic: The Gathering and how much is entirely new?
Fans of the Strixhaven set for Magic will find a lot of familiar details here. It’s still the same campus, with the same five colleges, the same rich history and the same storied buildings. It was great fun, for example, to create D&D maps for core places such as the Biblioplex, Firejolt Cafe, Bow’s End Tavern, and others. By and large, the faculty members named in the Magic set also make an appearance in this book. Dean Augusta Tullus, for example, is a very important player in the third-year adventure. However, there’s a lot of D&D specific content in this book, as well. The adventure plots and student NPCs in the book are entirely new, and of course so are the player options, such as the backgrounds for student characters from each college. We took many, many cues from the Magic set, as well as all of its worldbuilding, and we built upon that to create a uniquely D&D book.
What were the biggest influences for Curriculum of Chaos?
A wide host of media served as influences for this book. When it comes to the adventures, my influences for building the story included classic coming-of-age films, especially the John Hughes canon, and 90s and early noughties teenage rom-coms, which really capture dramatic young adult stories in a fun and often meaningful way. You’ll see this especially expressed in the relationships rules, which allow those enemies-to-lovers and best friend narratives to play out and affect the larger adventures. These adventures are also full of good-natured fun and hijinks in the way those films portray, as well. For example, in the sophomore-year adventure that revolves around a high-stakes match of Mage Tower, the characters’ rivals challenge them to a Pitch Perfect-style sing-off right before the big game. You’ll also see the influence of media that deals with young adults finding themselves imbued with magic, and the fun and strange things that happen when those folks get goofy and creative, a la the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch. And finally, though this may come as a surprise, traditional D&D influenced this book deeply. If you look beyond the flavor and the setting, there are several sections of the adventures in which you’re moving through a building or a wilderness area, navigating traps and opponents and trying to achieve a goal—these are dungeon crawls, but with a much different layer of flavor over them than you’d expect.
The adventures include some very light-hearted fun and are awash in the type of barely controlled chaos that is rampant on university campuses.
How does Strixhaven magic compare to the magic system that D&D players are familiar with?
It’s the same! There are some new spells tied to Strixhaven’s different colleges, but the casting system is still the same one players have been using for years. There are a couple of magic-infused activities that have their own rules in this book—mage duels, for example, have rules for characters who wish to engage in them—but fundamentally using magic as a spellcasting character is still exactly the same.
How will the different academies be represented in the sourcebook?
There are five colleges of magic at Strixhaven: Lorehold, Prismari, Quandrix, Silverquill, and Witherbloom. The book provides character backgrounds for those who are keen on joining each college, plus there are new spells tied to each college. The book includes lots of lore about each college, information and maps of all of the campuses, and helpful tips for building characters who are members of each one.
As far as in-character tomfoolery and shenanigans go, I think this book takes the D&D cake.
What kind of tone does Curriculum of Chaos have compared to other D&D sourcebooks?
The adventures include some very light-hearted fun and are awash in the type of barely controlled chaos that is rampant on university campuses. These are university students, after all, and they’re all magic users or scholars to boot! We leaned into that theme, and the adventures include events like a rowdy night of socializing and games at Bow’s End Tavern, an outdoor improv festival, an impromptu frog race, and a late-night dare from a group of friends—or rivals. As far as in-character tomfoolery and shenanigans go, I think this book takes the D&D cake. However, there’s also a serious undercurrent to the adventures, because the university is threatened by a foe whose grudge against Strixhaven has lasted centuries, and he’s about to strike. As the characters navigate the fun events I mentioned, it becomes increasingly clear that there is an existential threat to the university. Eventually, the characters must spring into action, and the adventures’ tone shifts from goofy to dire quickly. If the characters fail, there are catastrophic consequences, perhaps to the greatest extent of any other D&D book.
Which characters from Magic: The Gathering have been included in Curriculum of Chaos?
The D&D book is full of a brand-new, unique host of new student NPCs, but there will also be some familiar faces to Magic fans, particularly among the faculty. Lorehold’s Dean Augusta Tullus is quite prominent in the third-year adventure, for example. She’s the professor of one of the characters’ classes, and she also is the host for the masquerade scheduled to take place at the end of the year. It quickly becomes clear that something hinky might be going on with Dean Tullus, but I don’t want to provide any spoilers!
The rules chapter includes some advice and while spellcasters are heavily represented, the other classes are also liberally mentioned.
How do classes work in Curriculum of Chaos? Is everyone required to be a spellcasting class?
Everyone is absolutely not required to be a spellcaster! Strixhaven is a school of magic, not a school only for mages, and any character who is interested in the inner workings of magic is welcome. The rules chapter includes some advice for which character classes are most common at each college, and while spellcasters are heavily represented, the other classes are also liberally mentioned. Fighters, monks, rangers, and rogues, for example, often join Quandrix, the College of Numeromancy, to use the elegance of the universe’s underlying mathematical formulas to help train and steady their minds. A Path of the Ancestral Guardian barbarian or an Oath of the Ancients paladin would find Lorehold College, with its pastraisers and magic that summons the spirits of elders, fascinating. And the list goes on.
Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos is set to be released on December 7th in the US and December 14th in the UK at a retail price of $49.95 (£37).