So the latest D&D 5E sourcebook, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos, is out in the wild, and characters entering the halls of its titular, Magic: The Gathering-ported university will be able to navigate a new and fantastical setting that feels like Harry Potter’s greatest hits in a good way, while still offering enough of its own original flavour to make it compelling. That’s right, you can build compelling, crunchy D&D characters in Strixhaven without plagiarising problematic authors – and here’s what you need to know to get started.
To help set itself apart, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos gives players numerous goodies – namely, a generous and thematic helping of the usual new backgrounds, feats, spells, and magical items – and there’s more interesting material in here than you might assume.
In fact, as D&D adventures go, Strixhaven is a very flexible, story- and roleplaying-focused module, and many of its character options present flavour, above and beyond their strict mechanical benefits, that is almost guaranteed to come into play during the module’s events.
With that in mind, here’s your study guide for the new character options in the Strixhaven setting, both from a mechanical perspective, and with hooks for the hardcore roleplayer.
New race: Owlins
Owlins are clearly designed to be spellcasters from the ground up; while they have no innate magic, they have natural flight and natural stealth proficiency, both of which suffer when a character wears heavy armour. In a campaign where you’re not guaranteed to have a handy, bulky chum to soak incoming damage for you, Owlins do the next best thing and endeavour to simply not get hit.
From a roleplaying standpoint, the Owlin race allows a lot of customization, adjusting size between Small and Medium as you please to fit the concept. With more than two hundred real owl species to get inspiration from, this gives players a lot of leeway in concept.
Each college has its own D&D 5E background, all of which share some common features: an expanded spell list for spellcasters, which includes the college’s unique new spell; a free feat related to the college that gives non-magical classes a smidgen of power to justify their study at Strixhaven; and skill proficiency in each college’s specialities.
Spellcasters will definitely get the most from these backgrounds, though, since each college’s spell list is the front-and-centre bonus for picking it. It’s a school of magic, after all.
Lorehold’s skills and spells are mostly geared towards skill utility and focused on academics. The new Borrowed Knowledge spell lets the caster effectively be a (limited) jack-of-all-trades, and stalwart D&D 5E spells like Identify, Comprehend Languages, and Stone Shape are all stellar bonuses for the would-be magical Indiana Jones.
Aspiring social scientists of all stripes, mad archaeologists, and mediums are all great concepts for Lorehold and supported by its suggested personality traits.
Prismari mages get to hit people with elements – and hit them hard. Their artsy background skills will doubtless be useful in the module, but those building around Prismari’s elemental blaster caster setup should be aware of their niche, and build to its strengths. The new spell Kinetic Jaunt is a massive help to anyone looking for superior battlefield mobility.
On the roleplaying side, Prismari is the art school, and hones in on questions of self-expression and artistic technique! This college allows relatively straightforward classes to capture some of the bardic flair, and embraces the internal challenges of being creative.
Gameplay-wise, Quandrix is just all around excellent. Its spell list is full of certified bangers with lots of utility, its skills (Arcana especially) will be extremely useful in a mage college adventure, and its signature spell, Vortex Warp, is a limited forced teleport that could be absolutely dastardly in the right hands.
On the other hand, Quandrix lacks the broad applicability to a lot of different character concepts that the other colleges have. If your character’s going Quandrix, they’re probably a STEM stereotype – but there’s always room for mad scientists, innovators, aspiring magic rocket scientists in D&D… also, they’re not noted for their social skills.
Silverquill, however, very much is. A very support-based spell list and a set of socially-oriented skills make Silverquill students ideal for covering all the party’s ‘talking to people’ needs in your game.
There will be times where having someone with a silver tongue on your side can help immensely, and their signature spell Silvery Barbs is a good buff-debuff combo – but, like Prismari, Silverquill benefits a lot from building around its strengths and keeping in mind its utility. Their crowd control is possibly their greatest asset in combat.
How do we use language: for our own ends, or to help others? Silverquill asks us to consider this and tie it into character concepts. Anyone interested in journalism and storytelling as arts will get a lot out of Silverquill.
Bam. Any spellcasting class is now a decently competent healer. Join Witherbloom College, and you get access to signature spell Wither and Bloom, an area of effect hurt-and-heal, ideal for supporting melee Fighters. This is really, really good – especially for Wizards, who have precious few ways to access healing!
Conceptually, Witherbloom College looks at life and death, and nature’s purpose: a thing with value in and of itself, or a resource to be drained for power? This is a surprisingly far-reaching question, and could give many existing classes and archetypes a new spin. Necromancers are more welcomed here than in most D&D settings, so the door is open for exploration of their pursuits.
New Feat: Strixhaven Mascot
With this feat, the character gets one of the campus mascots as a familiar, and the ability to switch with them within sixty feet. They have varying usefulness, but Quandrix’s fractal familiar and its ability to move through solid walls is easily worth the feat.
For roleplaying purposes: take this if you like cute pets. You’re valid.
Strixhaven Magic Items
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos throws a heavy handful of new D&D magic items into the mix, useful for building both your character’s power, and their storyline.
The Primers for each college boost skill checks for each college’s specialities, and give you access to a bonus spell from a spell list related to the college. They’re excellent choices for anyone looking to fill a gap or boost their skills.
The other items are mostly setting fluff, with our personal favourite being the Bottle of Boundless Coffee, which does exactly what it says on the tin, and sells the college aesthetic more than any other part of this module.
And there you have it – the study period is over, so get ready for character creation and an eventful (and memorable) time at Strixhaven University!