Review – Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica (Dungeons & Dragons)

It’s been decades since Wizards of the Coast brought Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons together under the same ownership. And the fantasy world depicted in original Magic: the Gathering base set was heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. So in some ways its surprising that it took this long for a Magic world to be formally introduced into Dungeons & Dragons, although this probably has something to do with Magic’s increasing interest in world-building and revisiting/fleshing out existing planes (Dungeons & Dragons was formally introduced into Magic: the Gathering last year, at least in silver border form). But with the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, we are finally getting to see one of the ultimate gamer geek crossovers.

What Is Ravnica?

The world Ravnica was first introduced in 2005-06 (in the eponymous Ravnica: City of Guilds and follow-on expansions), was revisited in 2012-13 (Return to Ravnica block), and (coinciding with the release of Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica) is being visited again in 2018-19 with the Magic: the Gathering sets Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance.

Ravnica is a city, and a world, and for all practical purposes an entire plane. As you might guess from labels like “City of Guilds,” life in Ravnica is dominated by ten guilds. These guilds (each associated with a two-color Magic pair) exist in a constant state of rivalry, but are restricted from open warfare by the Guildpact, which both empowers and constrains them. Due to recent changes in the Guildpact, Ravnica is less stable than it used to be, and conflict has been increasing as the guilds prepare for the possibility that the system breaks down.

Ravnica is a high-magic setting, reminiscent of Eberron, with Magic used to produce necessities and luxuries at a level that substantially exceeds a generic D&D world (or the Forgotten Realms). Nice parts of the city have ‘modern’ conveniences like indoor plumbing, elevators, and smooth streets. Even the worse-off parts benefit from the Ravnica equivalent of a bread dole (in this case, a thick gruel provided by the Golgari).

Although Ravnica is a vast place, the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica includes a lengthy zoom-in on the Tenth District of the city, consisting of six Precincts. This district includes a substantial presence from all ten guilds, giving a built-in starting point for DMs who want to run a game in Ravnica.

The Guilds

In Magic, things often come in cycles, and when making blocks in Ravnica, that pretty much means ten of everything. This carries over into the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, with each guild getting a discussion in each section of the book. So, of course, there’s a whole chapter on the guilds of Ravnica, which also replace the familiar Forgotten Realms-focused factions from the D&D core book. But in the Creating Adventures chapter each guild gets a presentation as well, discussing how that guild might serve as the villain in an adventure, and providing an adventure location. Then in the Treasures section, there are guild-specific magic items. Long-time Magic fans may get a kick out of the charms, which mimic the usual Magic convention for charms by being one-shot magic items with three possible effects (players will get charms when they earn enough renown in their guild). There’s a similar cycle of keyrunes. And the Friends and Foes section has bestiary-style entries for the guilds. This includes creatures associated with each guild, but also NPCs. So each guild gets several new stat blocks representing their unique sort of members, plus a discussion of what existing NPC stat blocks work well with that guild, and a legendary NPC in the form of the current Guildmaster (these are in the challenge 16-26 range, so don’t expect to be taking them down anytime soon).

One of the nice things about the presentation in the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is that you generally get cross-references both ways. For example, the section with the new playable races indicates which guilds those races would generally be a member of. Then in the section on each guild, it says which playable races tend to be members of that guild.

Here’s a breakdown of the ten guilds, including their Magic color pair, their typical alignment, and which races/classes are likely to be found in that guild. Note that the alignments are expressed in terms of members of the guild usually being of one alignment aspect, and often being of another. For example, members of the Selesnya Conclave are usually Good, and often Neutral, while members of the Azorius Senate are usually Lawful, and often Neutral. Characters are free to be what they want, but a character who deviates from the “usually” component may have a difficult time. In the book, each guild also gets a new background, titles in the guild that come with higher rank or renown, extra spells available for members of that guild, a discussion of the role adventurers might take in that guild, and an analysis of how well that guild gets along with the other guilds (hint: it’s rarely “they get along well”).

  • Azorius Senate (W/U) (Ln): The Azorius are the legislature, law enforcement, and general governmental functions of Ravnica. At their best, the Azorius holds Ravnica together as a functioning society. At their word, they are legalistic and nit-picky, concerned with making and following laws regardless of whether they are optimal. Azorius characters are likely to be human or vedalken, and tend to be bards, clerics, fighters, paladins, or wizards.
  • Boros Legion (R/W) (lG): The Boros are the formal military of Ravnica, and as a martial gathering of do-gooders, they are just generally likely to get involved in conflict when they see problems that need to be taken care of. Boros characters are likely to be humans, goblins, or minotaurs, and tend to be clerics, fighters, paladins, rangers, and wizards. Boros is one of the guilds where there are a relatively high portion of non-playable races, including contingents of angels.
  • House Dimir (U/B) (Ne): The public front of the Dimir is drastically different from the reality, as this guild of spies and assassins likes to keep its activities on the down-low. Dimir characters are likely to be human or half-elf, and tend to be monks, rogues, or wizards.
  • Golgari Swarm (B/G) (Ne): The Golgari seek life (and undeath) out of death and decay – so expect lots of undead, fungus and, of course, swarms of things. Golgari characters are likely to be human or dark elves, and tend to be druids, fighters, rangers, rogues, and wizards. Other members of the Golgari include medusae and all those undead.
  • Gruul Clans (R/G) (Cn): “Gruul smash!” pretty much sums up this guild’s philosophy. The Gruul are anti-civilization on a world that is pretty much all civilization, so they reside on the edges of the city or in areas that have been wrecked and abandoned. Gruul characters are likely humans, centaurs, goblins, or minotaurs, and tend to be barbarians, clerics, druids, fighters, and rangers.
  • Izzet League (U/R) (Cn): The mad scientists of Ravnica, the Izzet’s defining characteristic might be their utter disregard for consequences. Or maybe they actually prefer it when the result is an explosion. Izzet characters are likely to be human, goblin, or vedalken, and tend to be fighters, sorcerers, and wizards.
  • Orzhov Syndicate (W/B) (Le): Ostensibly a religion and a financial institution, the Orzhov are really a very, very successful crime family. Orzhov characters are likely human, and tend to be clerics, fighters, rogue, and wizards.
  • Cult of Rakdos (B/R) (Ce): Rakdos is a demon, so as you might imagine his cult isn’t the nicest of places. Ostensibly providing entertainments to the city, the Rakdos are mostly a roiling turmoil of death and destruction. Rakdos characters are likely to be human or goblin, and tend to be barbarians, bards, fighters, or warlocks.
  • Selesnya Conclave (G/W) (nG): The Selesnya believe in everyone living in harmony with each other and with the world, and place communal good as the ultimate good. Selesnya characters are likely humans, centaur, wood elf, half-elf, or loxodon, and tend to be fighters, monks, paladins, rangers, and warlocks (fey).
  • Simic Combine (G/U) (N): The Simic are the second scientifically minded guild, but conduct their research in a much more organized fashion than the Izzet. The Simic specialize in biological experimentation, including the creation of the Simic hybrids. Simic characters are likely to be human, high elf, Simic hybrid, or vedalken, and tend to be druids, fighters, monks, and wizards.

But What If I Don’t Care About Magic: the Gathering?

What if you’ve never heard of Ravnica, or don’t get a kick out of the crossover from Magic to D&D? I think the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is still a really helpful book. This edition of D&D doesn’t do a lot of campaign settings or a lot of new player options. The Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica has both in spades. Just getting six new playable species is a big deal, but there’s also a new cleric domain, a new druid circle, backgrounds, and a sizable bestiary. Even if adventuring in Ravnica proper isn’t your cup of tea, the ten guilds are thoroughly fleshed out, ready to be cherry-picked and dropped into some other world, complete with a purpose, theme, leadership, and rank-and-file.

New Playable Races

There are a wide array of new mechanical options in the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, but the most significant to be are the new playable races.

Centaurs are strong and fast, and like to combine these two traits into charge attacks with natural weapons. Note that they are still Medium creatures, although they count as larger for certain effects.

Goblins in Ravnica are a little crazy, a little sinister, and a little comedic. They are small, dexterous, sneaky, and have darkvision. They can also deal extra damage to foes who are larger – which is pretty much everyone.

Loxodon are humanoid elephants, although they, like the centaurs, still count as Medium. Loxodon tend to be calm and deliberative, but can can be terrifying if (or when) they are provoked to rage. Loxodon are tough and sturdy in more ways than one and their trunks are both prehensile and give then a keen sense of smell.

Minotaurs are aggressive but dedicated. They are strong, have natural melee weapons (their horns), have multiple abilities based on those horns, and an intimidating presence.

Simic hybrids are, as the name suggests, the result of experiments of the Simic Combine. Essentially, they are humanoid races with some biological enhancements. All hybrids are tough and have darkvision, but they have choices for their other options. At first level, the hybrid can choose to get a climb speed, swim speed, or the ability to glide. At fifth level they further evolve and develop a combat ability like armor, an acid attack, or grappling.

Vedalken are blue-skinned, highly rational humanoids (out here in the real world, the Vedalken exist because WotC needed to come up with a Blue species to fill out the ranks of the applicable guilds). Vedalken are intelligent, get extra skill and tool proficiencies, are partially amphibious, and get bonuses on saves against mental effects.

(Note that humans, elves, and half-elves are also playable in Ravnica, but the other core D&D races do not exist on this plane).

Challenges of Ravnica as a Campaign Setting

One area of concern in setting a campaign in Ravnica is how the players will fit into the world. There are certain guilds, or combinations of guilds, that can readily work together. The Azorius and the Boros can both root out lawbreakers. The Boros and the Selesnya are ultimately good organizations. However, those notions rely on restricting player choice. There are, I think, two considerations the DM will need to deal with.

The first is why the party has come together. If everyone is in the same guild, or a cluster of guilds with reasonably compatible goals, this isn’t a big issue. But, for example, the Gruul and the Azorius are fundamentally opposed to each other. Figuring out why characters from such disparate factions would work together (when they are also working for their respective guilds) could be a significant challenge.

The second is how compatible some of the guilds are with different playstyles. In a traditional D&D game, the characters are generally heroic and generally accomplish good deeds (although that doesn’t mean they don’t have a profit motive too). In Ravnica, four of the ten guilds (Dimir, Golgari, Orzhov, Rakdos) are institutionally evil. A fifth (Gruul) is focused the deliberate destruction of civilization (the Izzet are the same alignment as the Gruul, and incidentally tend to cause damage, but they don’t have the same deliberate destruction).

Both of these considerations can be readily tackled by working with the players, but likely require limiting player options, or stretching the bounds of campaign style. I do wish there had been a bit more discussion of how to handle this in the book, instead of things like randomized tables of adventure ideas.

Final Thoughts

I’m really excited by the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica. It’s been a while since I’ve played Magic with anything but non-randomized supplemental products (such as Duel Decks), but I’ve still got a lot of hours of playing Magic under my belt, including the original Ravnica block. I’ve also got a hankering to see more D&D campaign settings (this is where I insert my usual plug for Planescape). And player options. So the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica guide to Ravnica is a trifecta of positives for me. I think it will be very cool for any Magic player whose involved with, or looking to get involved with, D&D. And there’s a lot to like even for those who don’t get a kick out of the MTG connection.

 

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

3 thoughts on “Review – Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica (Dungeons & Dragons)

  1. Thanks for your review! I’ve been waiting for this a long time and I’m pretty sure I’ll grab a copy before spring. The new races are interesting, though 5th ed. extreme uniformity did a number on some of them, and I wish there were provisions to play demons, devils and especially the undead (maybe as henchmen for Golgari, Dimir, Rakdos etc). Wish you luck on your forays in the City of Guilds!

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