Holidays with D&D 2021 – School, Dragons, and a Carnival

Wizards of the Coast, makers of the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game, had its sights set for the holiday season releasing three new big books in only four months. There’s a little something for everyone. Strixhaven provides a setting for gamers to play the role of students progressing through four years of a magic school. Fizban’s Treasury is all about dragons – including the return of gem dragons. Finally, Wild Beyond the Witchlight is a low level adventure leading into the fairy-land of the Feywild. Despite the bevy of titles on offer, they each bring something unique to the table and odds are high that at least one would be a great fit for a player or perhaps a GM on your list.



Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
The most recent release, appearing in December, is Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos. This is actually a tie-in to Wizards of the Coast’s other big division, the Magic: the Gathering card game. In the MtG universe, Strixhaven is a magical school full of students and professors studying magic in five different colleges. The book serves two functions. About half of the book is new rules and setting content while the rest of the book focuses on a four part adventure campaign that takes (level one) first-year student characters through all four years of school (ending at level 10.) Each part of the adventure covers a year of school and while they are linked in the book, each year could also be run as a stand-alone adventure. Rules-wise, the book introduces humanoid owl characters, the owlin, which are now a possible player race. There are also new feats and backgrounds, mostly arising from the five magical colleges. Of course, the book is most useful for gamers who decide to go all in and run the campaign, or at least are interested in running a school-oriented setting. There are rules for exams (studying, even cheating) which – if passed – give minor boons to a character. A trove of NPCs such as professors, friends, and rivals are presented with backgrounds and motivations. While there is no mechanical rules-benefit, a system of gaining a friend (or rival) is provided along with how NPC might respond. It is a nice read and will obviously be a great help to anyone wanting to run a game around the idea of kids going off to a <ahem> magical boarding school run by wizards.


Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons
Fizban is a great, doddering old man in the D&D setting of Dragonlance. However, he is also (spoiler if you haven’t read the books) a very powerful avatar of a dragon-god. Well, here you have that goofy old man as a guide to everything dragons. The game has dragons in its name, so it is only natural to eventually come up with a book with dragons as its focus. As with Strixhaven, the book provides a mix of content for player characters and GMs. Players will find a wealth of new dragon-themed options. Dragon-based subclasses for monks and rangers, new feats and spells, and what I particularly like – new options that ramp up the “dragon-ness” of dragonborn characters. A dragon-based backstory is presented that ties together dragons from all over the D&D multiverse including their creation, connections, and even gives some rationale for why dragons love to collect hoards! A DM will find the book chock full of fun dragon-stuff. New dragon-based monsters, example lairs, encounters, ideas for dragon-based campaigns (although there are no explicitly fleshed-out adventures provided in the book.) Last, but not least, are the reappearance of the gem dragons. Good dragons come in various types of metal and thus are the metallic dragons. Evil dragons come in various basic colors and are thus chromatic dragons. Gem dragons, appearing for the first time in D&D in years, are neutral dragons and come in various gem types. As before, gem dragons tend to be gifted in the use of psionics (counted as a supernatural power that is not considered magical.) Their breath weapons are also more unusual than metallic or chromatic dragons. Amethyst dragons have a gravity beam that deals force damage, while sapphire dragons “breath” a lance of sound that deals thunder damage. Examples of each type (and age/strength) of dragon are provided in the book including five gem “greatwyrms” which are dragons of almost god-like power, suitable for campaign-ending encounters with the players squaring off against or coming to the aid of one of these epic creatures. In the end, the book follows through on its title. If you ever wanted more dragons in your dungeons and dragons, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons does a great job bringing more dragon-based options, adversaries, and adventures to the table.


The Wild Beyond the Witchlight
The main adventure-book of the fall is The Wild Beyond the Witchlight. Here, level one players wander into the mysterious Witchlight Carnival and soon find themselves drawn into an adventure soon taking them beyond the carnival into the Feywild, the land of the faerie. One of the features of the adventure is its purposeful design decision to provide a non-combat option for every encounter in the book. Sure, players can pick up their weapons and fight, but the entire adventure can be completed without ever lifting a weapon. Rules-wise, the book introduces two new player races. Players can now be a member of the fairy race or a harengon (a humanoid rabbit.) Yes, you can now be a bunny-fighter or a bunny-bard. While the Feywild is not a safe place, the adventure doesn’t always take itself too seriously. There are a number of funny or at least lighthearted people, creatures, and situations to encounter. There’s even a few easter eggs there for D&D fans from the 80s. As the whole thing starts out with the appearance of a mysterious carnival, it is pretty easy for a DM to plop this adventure into their own campaign world. The book also sports a poster map of the carnival on one side and Prismeer, a section of the Feywild that has fractured into three realms. As with previous adventure-books, there is also a campaign-specific set of dice that come with bonus material for the adventure.

The Witchlight Carnival: Dice & Miscellany has an expanded set of bright orange dice (including 2d20s and 4d6s) along with a fold-out map of the carnival and reference cards with descriptions and illustrations of important people, creatures, and other features of the adventure. Of course, as before, the set comes in a nice foam-lined box that opens up into a pair of pretty nice (although a tad small) dice trays.





Other items of note include the follow up to last year’s DM Screen: Wilderness Kit. This fall sees the release of the DM Screen: Dungeon Kit. It comes with a handy screen (of course) to hide all your notes behind, with its GM-side including tables to help run dungeon-ful adventures. There is also a set of punch out dungeon geomorphs that can be combined to form a dungeon map on the fly. A few dry-erase sheets provide handy places to sketch maps. Finally, there are a set of cards to help players and GMs keep track of initiative and various conditions (like poisoned or stunned) during a game.




Finally, coming up next month in January is the Rules Expansion Gift Set (yes, post-Christmas, I know, maybe an IOU?) My favorite D&D books by far in 5th edition have been Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Both are chock full of everything I’m looking for in a supplement – new character classes (and subclasses), new races, new feats, and new magic spells. Both are included in this gift set, along with the brand new Monsters of the Multiverse book. This puts together updated versions of 30 player character races as well as a pile of redesigned monsters with updated style stat blocks. While I haven’t seen the book itself, it is looking like it will be something that pulls in some of the content that has been scattered around in other volumes, like the owl-people or rabbit-people previously mentioned. The three books come with a DM screen and they all fit in a slip case for that added stylish touch. As a proud owner of the first two books, I’m hoping to see a separate release of the Multiverse book soon.




Disclaimer: My views are my own, but I did receive copies of several of these items for the purposes of a review. 


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