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Tabletop Tuesday – D&D Explores Mediocrity in Ravnica

Since my return to D&D this past May, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the goings on in the community and product releases. I had read that Wizards of the Coast was bringing Eberron back for 5th edition and that a new campaign setting was going to be announced. As it turned out, this was not an established franchise but rather a long awaited emergence of Magic the Gathering in Dungeons & Dragons! Those of you old guard gamers will recall the day when Wizards acquired TSR, essentially bringing Dungeons & Dragons back from the brink of extinction and fostering the game’s renaissance. They made the outcast kids’ hobby mainstream, as well as (in my opinion) making it one of the cornerstones of the comparatively recent emergence of geek as a style and cultural mainstay.
Geek is the new black as it were.

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Together at last!

Now, during my debauched youth, I was not only rolling polyhedral dice. I was an avid fan of TCG’s like Magic, Legend of the Five Rings (Wizards’ disastrous acquisition of L5R is something I’ll complain about in the future) Deadlands, Rage, Star Wars, Netrunner (Still one of my favorites!). However, the disposable income of a teen and twenty something doesn’t last forever. When my coffers began to dwindle around the release of the ‘Weatherlight‘ expansion, I left the planes to the planeswalkers and limited myself to tabletop games. It may also be worth mentioning that cards, be they baseball or Magic, are like sand. It’s fun to play with but when you’re done you’ll never get all of it out of the house.

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Get a broom or light a match.

When I did peek in on the world of MtG, I was amazed at the complexity of the art and the increasing depth of story and world-building that was going on in the game. In fiction writing terms, the game’s story had “found its voice”. It was exciting to read the summary of the current story and the new plane or world the upcoming expansion would entail. I kept expecting to see the worlds of Magic pop up in Dungeons & Dragons partly because during the 3rd edition era, D&D had printed source book after source book filled with wonderful material. However, the spheres of these two fantasy gaming empires never crossed paths. Sure there were homebrew rules, but it seemed like a given that Wizards would offer some manner of product that combined the franchises. That may have manifested in a D&D based set for MtG – say, ‘Forgotten Realms’ as an expansion set could be done but it just seems easier to import aspects of Magic into D&D.

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“Bully!”

It never happened in 3rd edition. It never happened in 4th edition and I don’t think anyone expected it to happen in 5th edition. Even the return of Eberron was something of a surprise to the community and during that same release announcement a certain someone presented a photo of a Giff holding an arequebus. You know who you are and it is not nice to toy with my emotions! (again, you old guard gamers will know what that means) I and many other fans anticipated a return to the crystal spheres of Spelljammer. What we got was Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica’!

Finally! Magic the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons meet! In Ravnica, no less! Ravnica is a wonderful, intriguing high fantasy setting with sci-fi elements reminiscent of aspects of what one might imagine was the far future of a world like Eberron. It may not be for everyone but for players looking for something new to bring to the gaming table it was a rich setting built on a solid understanding of world building. Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica released on November 9th and because I’ll soon be running D&D again in the form of Dragon Heist I’m looking for fun things to add to my games. Now, I was not aware of every aspect of Ravnica, but I knew enough that I felt this could make for a fun campaign setting. I sprang for the book on DnDBeyond and as soon as it released I tore into it with all the abandon of a drunken dwarf in a brewery.

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“Untap, upkeep and draw this!”

Two great tastes were together at last. MtG & DnD! Chocolate & peanut butter! That’s what I was expecting. What I got was, by a wide margin, the WORST, most profoundly useless D&D supplement I have ever read in my entire life. I am confident in saying this because I have literally read every other prior release to date. I would warn you of spoilers ahead, but there is so little meat on these bones, there’s nothing to spoil in this phoned-in attempt at something that had the potential to be amazing.

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This book barely scratches the surface of the boundless depth of the world as players and fans of MtG know it. In case you don’t know, Ravnica takes place on a planet that is essentially a singular city; much like Coruscant in the Star Wars universe. It is ruled by a number of guilds who begrudgingly get along to stretch resources in the face of a larger menace. Tensions exist, political intrigue is a way of life, and forgotten enemies scheme against the world above. It is a setting that lends itself to countless avenues of gameplay. If you like dungeon crawls, this is about the biggest one you could imagine. You like to play combat light, political games? I can think of few other settings where that could be just as exciting. All that potential for a killer new campaign setting, and the community gets this meatless scrap gently lobbed to it. As I neared the end of the book, I was so baffled that I was half expecting to be Rick-rolled when I was done.

I’m about to give you up…

In Chapter One, we are given a breakdown of races. Human, Elf, Centaur, Goblin, Loxodon, Minotaur, Simic Hybrid and Vedalken. The book claims it contains “new” races and it does. Simic Hybrid and Vedalken are indeed new. Minotaur, Centaur, Loxodon and Goblin? Sorry WotC – those don’t count. You gave us goblins in Volo’s Guide and the centaur and minotaur offerings were nothing that couldn’t be accomplished with a quick conversion from 3.0/3.5 done by the nearest available intern or pulled from DMSGuild.com. We are then given a breakdown of how different classes would function within the Ravnica society of guilds. Important information for a game in this setting and was one of the few interesting reads in this flimsy offering.

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A cheap source of free labor of love.

Then we get to new subclasses! A grand total of… two. Sort of. We get a new Druidic circle – Spores! Because you can’t spell fungus without fun. In all fairness, it’s not a bad option for druids, and can be ported into pretty much any other game. Let’s not forget clerics who are given the new Order of Domain. Again, this is actually a useful and interesting domain for clerics that will find use outside Ravnica; and if you get your material on DnDBeyond, it’s one of a small handful of things worth buying piecemeal from this ‘Book of Redundant Tables’. Not even an exaggeration. I hope you like tables.

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Roll for ALL the things!

Chapter Two gives us the all important guild information. What they do, why they do it etc. However, guild affiliation works almost exactly like the existing Background function in the core rule book in that it gives you suggestions for personality traits, ideals, flaws and bonds. It offers access to different proficiencies, languages, gear and (if you’re a spellcasting class) a suite of spells you can add to your spell list. No new spells because, I imagine, that intern was busy crunching numbers for those centaur and minotaur conversions and – let’s be honest, why on earth would a book based on a world from MAGIC THE GATHERING include anything about new spells. I wasn’t looking for a new system of spell casting based on MtG, but a new spell or two specific to the different guilds would have been something rather than just a reordering of stuff already in the Player’s Handbook. This chapter does include an optional mechanic for Renown which, in a setting like this, is quite important in terms of roleplaying and is something that you may well considering using in your own game (check out this episode of ‘The Animated Spellbook’ for example).

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The fun is this way.

Chapter Three offers a vague and not at all helpful description of important areas of Ravnica and what players can expect to find there. I ought not to say that it isn’t helpful so much as it is nearly devoid of the flavor that makes Ravnica so cool and gives just enough of a description that players unfamiliar with the setting as it has come to be known via MtG can sort of get a general idea of what this world is like but not enough that its unique qualities really stand out in which case that rich setting is going to spiral into a generic fantasy game in a big hurry. I mean, if the players or DM need more information a quick search of the internet can produce detailed information but if they need that, why isn’t more information in the book to begin with?

For players who are well versed in the world of Ravnica and know enough that both DM and player have firm grasp on the look, feel and lore of the setting this section doesn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know with the possible exception of some macro level area maps and some random encounter tables specific for each district in case the DM lacks anything resembling creativity, quick thinking or access to the infinite number of such tables across the internet or already printed rule books. In short, this section offers precious little for players knowledgeable about Ravnica and isn’t helpful enough for players new to the setting.

Chapter Four is more for the DM and explains how to run adventures and offers a bit more information to support what was presented in the prior chapters and is the only section that may be helpful for players new to the world. But it’s ultimately still a bunch of pages with a bit of thematic art, floor plan maps and once more, a lot of random charts. Nothing that a DM with any degree of imagination couldn’t do better.

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Dolla, dolla bill, y’all

Chapter Five starts with a bang in the form of an all important discussion of currency exchange because… reasons before delving into magic items and how access to them is defined by the guild structure of the setting. The new items are interesting but nothing that stopped me in my tracks. Once more, this is something that you may want to consider picking up a la carte on DnDBeyond.

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“You get NO portions for this! None!”

Chapter Six leaves us with monsters and NPC’s. Much like magic items, the different guilds of Ravnica have access to unique sets of critters at their beck and call. Most of which come from the Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. There are a few new monsters in here but the trend of not putting any meaningful effort into creating anything new from the MtG world in its first D&D sourcebook continues. The NPC’s and their associated stat blocks are useful to new players and those familiar with the rich lore of Ravnica. If you’re looking for scraps of usefulness by picking and choosing on DnDBeyond, this one is up to you. I would pass but that’s just me.

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A beautiful failure.

Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica was, at least as this first book is concerned, a colossal let down that falls flat. I wish I could return this. I’ve never wanted my money back for a D&D book before, but this one just isn’t worth the hard-earned gold pieces. I hate to say this to the D&D and MtG communities but rather than buy Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, I would look through the content on Dungeon Master’s Guild and spend your money on some of the quality homebrew material it has to offer.

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About The Guy In The Hat (12 Articles)
Author / World Building Expert / Game Designer / Voice Actor / Researcher of Fandoms & the New Mythology in Pop-Culture

1 Comment on Tabletop Tuesday – D&D Explores Mediocrity in Ravnica

  1. The Guy In The Hat // November 13, 2018 at 9:11 am // Reply

    Reblogged this on Pop Culture Uncovered.

    Like

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