There’s something magical about college. While the sleepless nights and power-tripping professors weren’t fun, college has a mystique to it that makes you feel like you’re on the verge of becoming who you will be for the rest of your life.
Sure, part of that is the way the college experience is marketed to us. But the other half of it is our own understanding that we’re growing up and becoming real adults whose choices were now going to alter the entire trajectory of our lives.
Oh, and the binge drinking. It’s not college without binge drinking.
For many of us, college is a pivotal point of our lives that we end up reminiscing about years after graduation. We catch ourselves wanting to relive the moments that lead up to now, wondering what life would have been like if we chose a different path.
Dungeons & Dragons‘ Strixhaven setting is built on this same feeling of college nostalgia. The module’s principal designer, Jeremy Crawford, shared the process of making Strixhaven at a press conference last year, “As we reflected on our own experience as university students, we looked at not only how much excitement there can be, but what a hot mess college life can be.”
Hot mess is a good way to describe the reception Strixhaven received. The magical campus might just be the most polarizing module released for D&D 5th Edition.
Where and What Is Strixhaven?
Strixhaven is the primary setting of Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos. As you can easily tell from the title, the module promises players and Dungeon Masters the experience of going to school at a prestigious magical university.
The premise doesn’t really raise any eyebrows considering the sword and sorcery elements of Dungeons & Dragons, but Strixhaven isn’t a native of D&D-verse. The school was originally made for Magic: The Gathering, another Wizards of the Coast tabletop game. The Strixhaven: School of Mages set introduced was the first to introduce us to a campus where syllabi are filled with spells and college deans are powerful mages.
Strixhaven was “founded seven centuries ago by five ancient dragons” and has since then become the premier university for studying magic in the multiverse. The university is divided into five different colleges, each of which functions more like college degree programs because of their focus on different branches of magic.
The colleges are why you see a lot of comparison between Strixhaven and Hogwarts, but that’s just a surface understanding of how the colleges actually work. So no, it won’t feel like a Hogwarts rip-off but it will soothe your Hogwarts cravings if you’re looking for a similar experience.
Though Strixhaven is a magical university, the module explicitly tells you that it “isn’t about learning to be a wizard but about learning to be a historian, an artist, an orator, a scientist, or some other profession.” Except, you know, you use magic to help you. The real focus of Strixhaven is academia, magic usage is more like you relying on Google Scholar to finish your undergrad thesis.
If you want to enroll at Strixhaven, you’ll have to address your letters to Arcavios, a planet that was created after two worlds crashed into each other, merging into one. Other than that, there aren’t not a lot of exotic details about Strixhaven’s location that would require you to place it in Arcavios.
The module encourages Dungeon Masters to place the universe “wherever it best fits the needs of your campaign.” Strixhaven can blend in as seamlessly into Faerun as it can with any homebrew world where magic exists. Heck, you could probably place it in Witcher-inspired homebrew they already share the whole “two merged worlds” bit.
A Guide to the Strixhaven Colleges
As the leading magical institution of Arcavios, Strixhaven is dedicated to the study of five main different applications of magic. You have magical historians, traditional elemental mages, magical mathematicians, magical lawyers and bards, and a biology and necromancy department. Players can choose to be part of any of the following colleges. Your choice of college affects what abilities you’ll have.
Each college has two deans who symbolize the polar principles of academic life in Strixhaven. The deans are meant to represent the dichotomy between chaos and order, reason and emotion, life and death, etc.
Lorehold is described as the College of Archaeomancy which sounds super mystical until you realize it means they’re magical historians, anthropologists, or, if you’d like to be less academic about it, Indiana Joneses.
The college uses magic to study the past, even practicing minor forms of necromancy by summoning the spirits of dead historical figures. As mundane as it sounds on paper, the College of Archaeomancy is actually pretty exciting since Lorehold mages often graduate to become travelers who explore the world of the present to uncover the secrets of the past.
Lorehold’s polar principles are order and chaos. The academics of Lorehold analyze the rise and fall of civilizations in an attempt to understand whether the current era is headed on the path of advancement or if it’s slowly declining.
The college also asks its students to contemplate the ways in which social structures shape people as a whole and how the actions of a few daring individuals alter the course of history.
The College of Elemental Arts would appeal more to players who like their magic with an Avatar: The Last Airbender feel. That said, Prismari college is far from being a sober merge of magic and martial arts.
Prismari is as defined by its mastery over the elements as it is by its flair. Students of Prismari are artists who express themselves not through paint and song, but by altering the elements of the world around them.
Like real-life academic disciplines, Prismari college shares the study of art history with Lorehold. However, its focus is the experiences of the individual rather than grand societal shifts.
Prismari’s polar principles are perfection and expression which serve to interrogate the purpose of art. Is art done for the sake of expressing the emotions of the individual? Or is it supposed to be a showcase of the artist’s skill?
If you end up joining the College of Elemental arts, be sure to visit Octavia, the Living Thesis. Octavia is a water elemental created by an alumnus of the college that decided to live on campus.
If artsy-fartsy magic isn’t quite your style, you might be more interested in Quandix college. Quandix is known as Strixhaven’s College of Numeromancy which studies the fundamental mathematics of reality.
The college is the stereotypical STEM kid of the bunch and its sub-disciplines are magical variants of statistics, calculus, and geometry. By understanding the underlying principles of the universe, students enrolled with Quandix college are able to alter the world around them. Similar to the relationship between Lorehold and Prismari, Quandix shares its study of biology with Witherbloom.
The college’s polar principles are substance and theory which is just an obscure way of saying it’s concerned with epistemology. Where other colleges question the purpose of their academic pursuits, Quandrix questions whether there really is a logic to the universe or if it’s the one who studies the universe that ends up imposing “logical” systems on it.
Because of this, Quandrix’s subjects are divided between studies that have a more obvious relationship to the natural world and abstract disciplines like metamancy, the study of metaphysics as a means of altering reality.
Seasoned Druid players are going to feel right at home at Witherbloom college. The College of Essence Studies treats life and death as opposing but complementary sides of the same coin. Familiar branches of traditional fantasy show up here since Witherbloom practices necromancy, druidic magic, and alchemy.
Make no mistake, though: Witherbloom isn’t mystical or shamanic in its approach. The college has an explicitly scientific slant with its approach to magic being founded on biology, ecology, botany, and chemistry.
The polar principles of Witherbloom question which of the natural forces are the main drivers of nature. Is it growth or decay? While us regular folk might settle on a balanced answer like “both,” the choice that Witherbloom students make on the matter affects their magic.
Growth-aligned Witherbloom mages are better suited to healing magic while decay-aligned mages are often necromancers. Notable sub-disciplines of Witherbloom are Banelock, which studies poisons, and Boon witch, which studies empowering potions.
Silverquill college is home to masters of words. While we normally think of word-based magic in relation to bards and poets, the College of Eloquence’s study of the written word extends to oration.
Think magical bards but, at the same time, magical lawyers. Strixhaven students that enroll under the College of Eloquence find themselves becoming masters of writing, linguistics, languages, drama, public speaking, and rhetoric. This stark divide in the college’s approach to the study of language shows in its polar principles.
Silverquill college’s polar principles are radiance and shadow which sounds strange. It’s kind of hard to see how radiance and shadow relate to language. But the module is speaking metaphorically about language’s power to illuminate and obfuscate the truth.
The College of Eloquence’s internal tension is whether language is meant to be used as a means of expression and inspiring the people or whether it should be used in the form of weaponized rhetoric.
Students of Silverquill have the chance to study some very interesting twists on the traditional bard skill set. While Vainglory, Warsigner, and Bantermage are pretty much your typical bard, the Shadewing scholar is able to summon weapons made of darkness, and the Inkcaster can summon living ink constructs to serve them.
The freshest of these variants has to be the Lumimancer, though. Described as a scholar able to bring to light shameful situations and hold corrupt institutions to account, the Lumimancer comes off as a magical pro bono lawyer.
Strixhaven Comes With Five New Spells
Strixhaven wouldn’t be much of a magical university if it didn’t come with spells. The new Dungeons & Dragons module comes with five new spells, one for each college within the university.
While that sounds okay-ish on its own, many players have expressed disappointment with how few new spells the module has introduced. Is the reaction fair? That’s up to you. But it’s understandable that some people expected more spells from a module focused on studying magic.
Borrowed Knowledge is a spell under the school of Divination. Bards, Clerics, Warlocks, and Wizards are all welcome to learn Borrowed Knowledge no matter their college. Its flavor is distinctly Lorehold-inspired, though. Casters that know how to cast Borrowed Knowledge can draw on the knowledge of spirits from the past to gain proficiency in a chosen skill.
Coming from the school of Transmutation, Kinetic Jaunt is available to casters of the Artificer, Bard, Sorcerer, and Wizard classes. Learning this spell gives your character the ability to enhance their movements with a superhuman degree of elegance and athleticism.
During the spell, your walking speed increases by 10 feet, you don’t provoke opportunity attacks, and you can move through the space of another creature without it being registered as difficult terrain.
Silvery Barbs is a school of Enchantment spell inspired by Silverquill. If you’re a bard, sorcerer, or wizard, you can opt to learn this spell. Unfortunately, Silvery Barbs leans more in the direction of traditional bard gimmicks.
It lets you magically distract a creature and buff another creature by giving them an advantage on the next attack roll, ability check, or saving throw.
For the Quandrix scholars in the crowd, Vortex Warp is a school of Conjuration spell that can be cast by an Artificer, Sorcerer, or Wizard. The spell lets your character warp the fabric of space around another creature seen within range.
If the target fails a Constitution saving throw, you can transport them to an unoccupied space that you can see within range.
Wither and Bloom
Last but not least, we have Wither and Bloom from Witherbloom (duh). The school of Necromancy spell is open for use by Druids, Sorcerers, and Wizards. When cast, a creature within a 10-foot radius must make a Constitution saving throw or take 2d6 necrotic damage.
Overall, the new spells aren’t balanced in their availability. There’s literally only one new spell for players unfortunate enough to play a Warlock. But the beauty of D&D is that your Strixhaven doesn’t have to be the exact same Strixhaven as the one in the module. So, ask your Dungeon Master how you can make Strixhaven a second home for all players.