Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven Delves Into D&D, Transforms Card Gaming to Role-Play

Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven Delves Into D&D, Transforms Card Gaming to Role-Play
© Provided by Geek Culture

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and Magic: The Gathering (Magic) are two cornerstones of geekdom, each attracting a huge number of players and fans who form lifelong connections with both the games and also fellow fans.

Both franchises deal in worlds of epic fantasy, with legends flinging spells at each other, monsters roaming about, and gods that exist beyond the realm of human comprehension. As such, the franchises mesh especially well together. In July 2021, the world of D&D was brought into the trading card game (TCG) world of Magic through the Adventures in the Forgotten Realm set.

Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven Delves Into D&D, Transforms Card Gaming to Role-Play
© Provided by Geek Culture Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica

Unsurprisingly, D&D’s aesthetics and characters, both humanoids and not, fit well into Magic’s catalogue. They don’t look the least bit out of place! This collaboration was a long time coming, as Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Magic, acquired TSR, the makers of D&D all the way back in 1997. Now that D&D has taken a step into the world of Magic, the original TCG will return the favour and visit the rich and vast world of tabletop role-playing games.

However, this is not the first time we’ve seen Magic lore in the world of D&D, that honor goes to Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica released in 2018.

Magic’s multiverse is so rich in lore that each of them will make for very different and thrilling D&D campaigns. With Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos, a magic school setting is introduced, and the campaign will involve players enrolling at one of the School of Mages’ five colleges and trying to do what college students do – survive.

Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven Delves Into D&D, Transforms Card Gaming to Role-Play
© Provided by Geek Culture Eager First-Year from MTG Strixhaven: School of Mages set

Strixhaven first appeared in Magic in April 2021 via a titular set, and offers a fresh setting for D&D campaign. By scaling down the size of the setting from sprawling cities and worlds to a university, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos takes on a slice-of-life campus novel flavour, making the campaign more intimate and whimsical. It shines a light on the significance of minutiae while also allowing players to explore the nature of magic itself with exams and arcane research.

While it is not the first sourcebook to bring the world of Magic into D&D, it is one that taps into the cultural appeal of magic universities, and eases players into role-playing as characters by introducing a relatable experience of being a student as a starting point. The deeper look into the magic system itself being baked into the game mechanics also does something markedly different from most other sourcebooks.

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is painstakingly crafted to be faithful to both Magic and D&D, and thus a lot of care has been taken to the settings, characters, and mechanics. Amanda Hamon, who worked on Pathfinder and Starfinder, and James Wyatt, who worked on City of the Spider Queen and a prior Magic x D&D crossover Mythic Odysseys of Theros, are both part of the design team for Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos. Given their long experience with tabletop role-playing games, it is clear that they got to flex their creative muscles in translating Magic elements into D&D mechanics and design.

Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven Delves Into D&D, Transforms Card Gaming to Role-Play
© Provided by Geek Culture Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos

Question (Q): What are some of the ways in which the unique traits of Magic’s colour system and keyword system are preserved in Strixhaven?

James Wyatt (JW): We approached Strixhaven in very much the same way we did Ravnica and Theros in their respective setting books, which is to say that the mechanics of the Magic game are hidden away in the background. This book discusses the philosophical underpinnings of the five colleges without explicitly describing their connections to colors of mana, for example. If you look closely and you’re familiar with Magic, you’ll absolutely recognize that Witherbloom is black and green (for example), but if you’re not familiar with Magic you’ll see a discussion of the philosophy of growth and decay that doesn’t rely on unfamiliar terms. 

Keywords in Magic are very much a part of the mechanics of the TCG, and our goal with this book was not to replicate the mechanics of the TCG. Rather, we want you as a D&D player to explore the world of Strixhaven through the rules of D&D, just as Magic players can explore the world through Magic rules.

Q: Which aspect of Magic was the most fun to adapt into the world of D&D?

JW:  I always enjoy the challenge of bringing creatures from Magic cards to life in D&D rules. A creature card in Magic doesn’t generally tell you very much about the creature, so there’s often a lot of extrapolation involved in that process, and we also rely pretty heavily on the world guides that the Magic team creates. (And I did some work on the world guide for Strixhaven, so that helps!) I’m particularly tickled by the archaics and the founder dragons as they appear in this book.

Q: Which aspect was the toughest?

JW: For me, the most challenging thing is always creating a map! Magic doesn’t rely on maps for its world-building nearly as much as D&D does, so we had the fun challenge of translating art from cards and the world guide into a map that faithfully represents the look and arrangement of buildings on the various campuses. Francesca Baerald, our cartographer for the poster map and campus maps, did a great job with that task.

Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven Delves Into D&D, Transforms Card Gaming to Role-Play
© Provided by Geek Culture Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos

Q:  What are the new mechanics introduced to better cater to the magic campus setting beyond the Extra-curriculars system?

Amanda Hamon (AH): For the adventures, in addition to the Extra-curriculars system, there’s a Jobs system. If a character forgoes participating in one of their allotted Extra-curriculars, they can become an employee at one of several places on campus. The employers on campus are as diverse as Strixhaven itself, and the book provides lots of options. They include working at the Biblioplex, Bow’s End Tavern, or 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. Working a job provides you with an amount of cash per week, plus it allows you to gain a positive or negative Relationships point (your choice) with a coworker at that job, representing the bonds or rivalries that tend to form when you work in close proximity with a peer.

Q: How are the exams in this campus conducted and designed?

AH: In most of the adventure chapters, each of which maps to an academic year, there are three Exam encounters. These certainly aren’t all of the exams we assume that characters take while they’re students, but they are the ones that specifically happen “on camera.” In each adventure, these Exam encounters 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 Exam is 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.

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.

Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven Delves Into D&D, Transforms Card Gaming to Role-Play
© Provided by Geek Culture Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos

Q: What are your personal tips and tricks that will ease Magic fans without D&D experience into the game?

JW: I’m excited that we’re presenting a whole mini-campaign in this book, bringing characters from 1st-level first-year students up as high as 10th level by the time they’ve finished four years of study and adventure. I think the adventure will help Magic players who don’t have any D&D experience figure out how to bring the setting to life in a way that can be hard to do with just a setting book. And I’d give the advice that I always give to new D&D players: you can try anything you can think of, so don’t limit yourself to what’s on your character sheet.

Q: What are some of your favourite spells and items?

JW: There’s a new spell in this book, associated with Witherbloom College, called wither and bloom. It’s a cool spell, and I love how the name is pretty much a direct call-out of the school name. But the magic I would most like to possess in real life is the bottle of boundless coffee that appears in here!

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos will be released on 7 December 2021, and is already available for pre-order.

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