Review of the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica

The newest campaign setting for D&D 5e is out and it’s an old setting! Confusing? Yeah, for me too. There are tons of settings for D&D that haven’t been updated to 5e including Dragonlance, Brighright, Spelljammer, Dark Sun, and my favorite setting of Planescape. But for some reason Wizards decided to go with a setting borrowed from Magic: the Gathering. The weirdest part? I don’t hate it.

I think most of us can agree this was a weird move that seems more like corporate synergy than creative development. Whether this was seen as a crowd-pleaser or it was a mandate from on high, the Dungeons & Dragons staff went all-out writing this book which weighs in at an impressive 256 pages. There are new character options, supplemental rules, setting details, magic items, and a mini-bestiary. Lots in this book but is it a novelty or a legitimately useful book?

Welcome to Ravnica

If you aren’t familiar with the Ravnica setting (I wasn’t entirely) then this section outlines the basics. ere’s the most important thing you need to know: there are ten guilds in a world-sized city and they’re all frenemies. Here’s a short listing of them, cribbed from the Magic: the Gathering wiki.

  • The Azorius Senate is the legislative and judicial body of Ravnican bureaucracy. (White/Blue)
  • The Boros Legion is a standing army that protects the Guildpact and contains the League of Wojek, the official peacekeepers of the City of Ravnica. (Red/White)
  • House Dimir was recently thought extinct, and provides illegal but necessary services, while openly serving as couriers, investigators, reporters, and archivists. (Blue/Black)
  • The Cult of Rakdos, considered a necessary evil by some, is composed of thrill-killers who provide the heavy labor force of the plane. (Black/Red)
  • The Golgari Swarm manages food production and organic waste disposal. (Black/Green)
  • The Gruul Clans have fallen from their former glory as the keepers of Ravnica’s wilds and now are nothing but a loose affiliation of berserker clans who seek to wipe civilization from the plane. (Red/Green)
  • The Izzet League is responsible for the world-city’s civil engineering works and new magical developments. (Blue/Red)
  • The Orzhov Syndicate was originally the most widespread religion of Ravnica. Now it regulates trade and banking, among other activities. (White/Black)
  • The Selesnya Conclave promotes what is now the strongest, nature-based religion of Ravnica and its ledev guards patrol the rural areas. (Green/White)
  • The Simic Combine provides medical assistance and performs biological research. (Green/Blue)

You’ll note that there are mana color combinations associated with each of the guilds, something that means a lot in Magic: the Gathering but absolutely nothing in D&D. It does give you a sense of each guild at a glance if you know both games but there’s nothing concrete to tie the Izzet to water and fire or the Selesnya to growth and peace. Other parts of this chapter provide a history of the setting, charts for new times of currencies, and languages for Ravnica. Cool stuff but so far nothing you can’t get from the wiki.

guildmaster's guide to ravnica - party
Image © Wizards of the Coast

Chapter 1: Character Creation

OK, so here’s where we start getting into new stuff! It starts off with guilds and I’ll get into how those work (and how I wish they worked) later. Suffice to say that the guilds are a major part of the setting (perhaps the major part) so they get a lot of attention. One cool part is a flow-chart-style questionnaire to help you pick a guild, something I can see using as a template for other faction-heavy settings. There’s also a Common Cause table to provide some reasons for multi-guild parties (which I love) and a Party Makeup table to provide some ready-made party configurations (which I can’t ever see using).

The races of Ravnica include humans and elves from the Players Handbook, though with some setting flavor, and six that are technically new. I say “technically” because a lot of them have appeared in Unearthed Arcana articles on the Wizard site already, though they are getting some good context here. Centaurs, goblins, and minotaurs all appear in various playtest forms (and goblins can be found in Volo’s Guide to Monsters). There are also the elephantine loxodons, the strange and morphing Simic hybrids, and the partially amphibious vedalken all appear in the “Races of Ravnica” article for Unearthed Arcana though there are some subtle changes from those playtest versions.

The chapter ends with a discussion of subclasses, including tables with all the class options in the Player’s Handbook and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything with notes on what the most fitting guild is for these. There are no requirements, though, beyond what your group says is alright: If you want to play a crazed berserker barbarian as part of the law-minded Azorius guild or a pious paladin with the Oath of Devotion in the bioengineering Simic Combine, well that’s up to you to justify. I will say, though, that the charts aren’t exactly balanced in terms of numbers; the Azorius Senate is listed for twelve different subclasses (not including “Any” entries) while the Simic Combine is listed for six. Ah well.

There are also two new subclasses that are easily portable to other settings. The Order Domain for clerics, which has been updated from its appearance in Unearthed Arcana, and the druid’s Circle of Spores, originally seen as a playtest in “Three Subclasses” for Urban Arcana. These are really good additions to the game and even if they were purposefully withheld from Xanathar’s to add some teeth to this book… well at least they’re here now.

guildmaster's guide to ravnica - golgari necromancer
Image © Wizards of the Coast

Chapter 2: Guilds of Ravnica

So there are two ways to read this chapter: the way I think the authors want you to read it and then the way that I was first reading it and I’m disappointed to say is probably a house ruling. First, the official way is that there are game elements for each of the ten guilds to provide material for characters: a background to represent your guild membership,guild spells for any characters that already have spellcasting, contacts in and out of the guild for background NPCs, a description of what a single-guild party might look like, and (of course) information on the structure and character of the guild for story elements. There are also specific benefits of membership for gaining rank in the guild, something I’ll get into later.

So this is all fine and it makes sense that background would be the existing mechanic that gets tied into guild. But when I first read this I had my own interpretation that I still greatly preferred. I see guild as a fourth pillar of character creation: background, race, class, and guild. When you make a character you can choose to join a guild (about half the city is guildless, according to the book) in which case you get the narrative benefits, responsibilities, contacts, and the guild spells (if you’re a spellcaster). You can have the background you like (an acolyte of the Cult of Rakdos, say, or a criminal of House Dimir) but if you want to double-down you can take the background particular to your guild.

Either way, there’s the question of what guildless characters would do since they miss out on a lot of sweet, sweet benefits and could easily be outshone by their guilded counterparts. First of all, that’s the point. In the world of Ravnica, going on your own without the backing of a guild is a rough path so it makes sense that characters should be at a disadvantage there. Secondly, the benefits aren’t all that significant so hopefully players can just roll with it (or suck it up and join a guild). Lastly, You can at least give them one of the cool new features by allowing guildless characters to roll for contacts as well: use the Random Guild table in the first section, then roll on the Non-Guild contacts for that guild. You get the sort of peripheral contacts you’d expect from someone living outside the system.

guildmaster's guide to ravnica - azorius decree
Image © Wizards of the Coast

The last thing to discuss in this chapter is actually the coolest part: a full Renown system. This is an element of 5e that I feel has been missing from the beginning. Have you read the Renown section of the DMG (pages 22-23)? They’re a joke. It certainly reads like the barest wisp of a rules module that an author had written out which then they had to edit down to make room in the book. Well, now that module is seeing the light of day with specific benefits of membership in a group.

There are different circumstances for advancing your renown score in your guild (and others) with some flat bonuses for having a good amount of renown. There’s also “Rank” which is not something that advances automatically and is totally at the discretion of the DM since it generally needs an NPC to approve it. Advancing through the ranks of a guild gives you specific benefits and title changes so that you can call on guild NPCs, requisition guild equipment, and generally become a mover and shaker in the setting. If nothing else, this is what turned my opinion of this book around.

Chapter 3: The Tenth District

The plane-sized city of Ravnica has ten different districts, each the size of a massive metropolis. The Tenth District is a particularly active part of Ravnica with six different precincts that are all the size of a small city. Each precinct description in the book has the guilds affiliated with the precinct, important landmarks, goods and services available, and random tables for people on the street and precinct rumors. Long, winding streets connect the different precincts and there’s also an Undercity full of terrible, slimy, and dangerous things. Plenty to do in a massive city.

Precinct One is a civic heart of the district (and Ravnica in general) with the guildhall for the rich Orzhov Syndicate in the middle. Precinct Two is a place of law and order with the Azorius guildhall and the main airship station for the Tenth District. Precinct Three is a green space of parks, stables, and elevated roadways, unsurprisingly the headquarters of the Slesnya Conclave. Precinct Four is a volatile and dangerous where the Boros headquarters tries to stave off marauders from the Gruul and experiments from Izzet. Precinct Five is a place of learning and study, home to the Simic Combine and also important to the Izzet League and House Dimir. Precinct Six is a utilitarian place of warehouses and social clubs.

guildmaster's guide to ravnica - simic biomancer
Image © Wizards of the Coast

Chapter 4: Creating Adventures

This DM-centric chapter features some advice for making guild-based adventures. There are tons of random tables to create adventures quickly including guild locations, guild villains, and character objectives. Coming up with similar tables is a great way to set up a sandbox-style campaign and something I might be delving into in future posts. There are also some great charts to draw on for picking out guilds appropriate to different settings, sort of like random encounter tables but for factions.

Hooks for getting PCs involved, concocting intrigue plots between guilds, and other methods to make great adventures quickly. Since everything revolves around the guilds there are tables of plot hooks for each guild as well. The chapter ends with a short adventure called Krenko’s Way as well, a fun little jaunt involving goblins and handoffs in warehouses.

Chapter 5: Treasures

This short chapter details guild charms (something that features prominently on Magic cards) and some new magic items. They aren’t guild-specific but there are suggested treasure lists by guilds (of course) so that you can reward your players with items that evoke the feel of Magic: the Gathering instead of seeming like Faerûn with mana colors. None of the items are terrible but none of them are going to change the game or anything.

guildmaster's guide to ravnica - ravnican tavern
Image © Wizards of the Coast

Chapter 6: Friends and Foes

This last chapter covers creatures by guild (getting tired of typing that) which helps you to associate D&D creatures with specific guilds and mana colors. There are some quick conversions too for creating iconic members of the Ravnica universe such as the Boros flame-kin (reskinned azers), Gruul ragebeasts (extra abilities), and Golgari erstwhiles.

In terms of new creatures there are battle-ready angels (Magic loves its angels), an arclight phoenix, a Selsenyan dryad, some nasty-looking demons, a Golgari lich, a felidar, four different giants you wouldn’t want to deal with, an adjustable horror creature that can work for the horde-loving guilds, a blistercoil weird, a fluxcharger, a galvanice weird (is this also a card?), rules for making various krasis creatures, a kraul warrior, a kraul death priest, a nightveil specter and its gloamwing mount, a Nivix cyclops, serveral versions of Simic hybrids, a roc for Skyjek knights, some kind of flying leviathan called a skyswimmer, Orzhov thrulls, an undercity medusa, blood-drinking and mind-drinking vampires, and a massive wurm. There are NPCs by guild including some of the bigwigs of the guilds: Isperia, Aurelia, Lazav, Jarad Vod Savo, Borborygmos, Niv-Mizzet, the Obzedat, Rakdos himself, Trostani, and Prime Speaker Zegana.

Conclusion

Is this setting going to be a game-changer that will change the way that people think about D&D? No, I think people who expect this to be the next Forgotten Realms are setting up a straw man argument. Still, this is more than just a book of Magic: The Gathering art with a D&D logo on the front. This setting could absolutely be home to a great campaign with a lot of different stories.

If you don’t want to play in Ravnica, there’s still some reason to consider this book. The expansion of the Renown system could mean you actually include factions in your preferred setting and the extra angels, vampires, and alchemical creatures from the Simic can give you some new monsters that are instantly portable to whatever high magic world you like. There’s also a collection of ten extremely powerful NPCs to harrass your players with, magical figures who would be at home in Faerûn, Eberron, or Greyhawk.

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