Backgrounds are an exciting opportunity to add more to the personality and history of your character. From nobles to outlanders, backgrounds tell us who you are.
In Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos, we are introduced to backgrounds that go far beyond that.
Today we’ll be talking about all five “Student” backgrounds offered to newcomers of the magical university.
We’ll be discussing the similarities and differences between the five colleges of Strixhaven, what the background entails, and just how powerful it really is.
What Are the Strixhaven Backgrounds?
The five backgrounds from Strixhaven are Lorehold, Prismari, Quandrix, Silverquill, and Witherbloom Student.
Each background represents a young character who has spent most of their life training to enroll in the most prestigious university for mages across the multiverse.
The standard background in D&D 5e offers up skill proficiencies, language or tool proficiencies, equipment, characteristics, and a feature that tends to be focused on some aspect of survival.
In most background features, you’ll be awarded with the ability to make an income, find food or shelter, or something similar.
On rare occasions you might get a really impressive feature that lets you pick up languages or starts you off with a few hired hands.
Strixhaven really shakes this up by offering you an entire feat as part of your feature with some extra add ons to boot.
The feat in question is the Strixhaven Initiate, which gives you access to two cantrips and a 1st-level spell.
The cantrips are directly tied to the college you choose, but you’ll have the option of two entire class spell lists to choose your 1st-level spell from.
In addition to an amazing feat, you also get a college spell list added on to your own spell list if you have the Spellcasting or Pact Magic feature as a part of your class.
The spell list gives 10 spells in total, two spells each for 1st through 5th-level spells. That’s 13 spells all together for the low price of one background!
In the rest of this article, we’ll cover each individual student background and the spells they offer.
I have thrown a table below just to give you a taste of what to come. This covers the spells offered by just the Strixhaven Initiate feat.
|Lorehold||Choose two from light, sacred flame, and thaumaturgy.||Choose one 1st-level cleric or wizard spell.|
|PrismariChoose two from fire bolt, presditigitation, and ray of frost. Choose one 1st-level bard or sorcerer spell.|
|Quandrix||Choose two from druidcraft, guidance, and mage hand.||Choose one 1st-level druid or wizard spell.|
|SilverquillChoose two from sacred flame, thaumaturgy, and vicious mockery. Choose one 1st-level cleric or bard spell.|
|Witherbloom||Choose two from chill touch, druidcraft, and spare the dying.||Choose one 1st-level druid or wizard spell.|
No Strixhaven Subclasses?
Anyone that’s an avid reader of the Unearthed Arcana that WotC publishes to playtest new material might be shocked to find that there aren’t any subclasses within the new Strixhaven book.
June 2021 releases a piece of UA that featured subclasses for each college, and these weren’t just your average subclasses either.
The Mages of Strixhaven subclasses each had the ability to be grafted on to a number of different spellcasting classes.
This would have been the first time 5e made subclasses choose their class and not the other way around.
For a number of reasons, these experimental options didn’t make the cut. However, a lot of the same flavor, and even spell lists, made it into the backgrounds we’re discussing today.
These backgrounds are very tied to the Strixhaven setting and offer players in a Strixhaven campaign the ability to feel connected to the world around them.
Lorehold Student Background
Skill Proficiencies: History, Religion
Languages: Two of your choice
Equipment: A bottle of black ink, an ink pen, a hammer, a hooded lantern, a tinderbox, a tome of history, a school uniform, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: Lorehold Initiate: You gain the Strixhaven Initiate feat, in which you must choose Lorehold. You also gain a list of spells that you may add to any spell lists you have from the Spellcasting or Pact Magic feature.
|1st||Comprehend Languages, Identify|
|2nd||Borrowed Knowledge, Locate Object|
|3rd||Speak with Dead, Spirit Guardian|
|4th||Arcane Eye, Stone Shape|
|5th||Flame Strike, Legend Lore|
If your version of a relaxing Saturday afternoon is exploring an ancient tomb in search of lost artifacts, Lorehold just might be the school for you.
This is the college for history buffs, military strategy fanatics, archeologists to- e, and anyone who is keen on learning from the past to make a better future.
Anyone taking the Lorehold Student background will likely have spent most of their lives reading up on any history books they could get their hands on before even making it to Strixhaven.
The suggested traits below give some insight to the wide range of personality types that might be drawn to the college of Archaeomancy.
Lorehold Personality Traits
|1||I thrive on esoteric lore. The more obscure the historical references I can include in everyday conversation, the better.|
|2||By searching for these lost artifacts, I hope to find who I really am along the way.|
|3||I can barely go a minute without talking about my research. I have so much knowledge in my head, and it needs to be let out somewhere.|
|4||The spirits of the dead are so much more interesting to talk with than living classmates.|
|5||I can speak eloquently about the historical ramifications of an ancient war. But ask me to add two-digit numbers together, and I’m a mess.|
|6||In the end it’s all just entropy. Everything falls apart someday.|
The spells offered up by the Lorehold Initiate feature make for excellent utility casters.
Spells like Comprehend Languages, Speak with Dead, and Legend Lore all support the dungeon-diving archetype that the college places so much value in.
In fact, there are really only two damage dealing spells: Flame Strike and Spirit Guardian.
This means that in building your spellcaster, you’ll have a lot of room in your normal spell list for any damage dealing spells you want to carry.
Of course you also have the ability to lean in other directions, like support and healing or even further into the utility area.
Clerics make the most sense for this, particularly Knowledge and Light domains, but Divination, Scribe, and even War Magic wizards make great fits. Any class that can justify a love of knowledge fits in well.
Prismari Student Background
Skill Proficiencies: Acrobatics, Performance
Tool Proficiencies: One type of musical instrument or artisan’s tools
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A bottle of black ink, an ink pen, a set of artisan’s tools or a musical instrument (one of your choice), a school uniform, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: Prismari Initiate: You gain the Strixhaven Initiate feat, in which you must choose Prismari. You also gain a list of spells that you may add to any spell lists you have from the Spellcasting or Pact Magic feature.
|1st||Chromatic Orb, Thunderwave|
|2nd||Flaming Sphere, Kinetic Jaunt|
|3rd||Haste, Water Walk|
|4th||Freedom of Movement, Wall of Fire|
|5th||Cone of Cold, Conjure Elemental|
Curtains up! It’s time to step on stage and bring your creativity to life, literally. Prismari students tend to be just as dramatic as their art, which manifests in all forms.
Each student of this college is unique, but they all agree on one thing: you can always express yourself with elements.
Below are just a few of the personality types that might fit your Prismari student. Roll on this table or use it as a springboard to bring your own personality to life.
Prismari Personality Traits
|1||I’m the life of the party, and I expect everyone’s attention when I walk into a room.|
|2||Two weeks ago, I was enthralled with my latest project. Now, I think it’s garbage and deserves to be destroyed.|
|3||I believe everyone has the ability to express their truest selves through art, and I’m happy to quietly push them in the right direction.|
|4||Everyone’s a critic, and I work to win them all over.|
|5||I’m beset with such an overwhelming sense of ennui regarding my art. Nothing quite captures my attention anymore.|
|6||Instead of comforting my negative emotions, I channel them into explosive artistic displays.|
The spells offered up by this class represent the elemental nature of this college. In MTG, Prismari characters are red-and-blue creatures that deal a lot of damage with powerful spells.
That translates pretty straightforwardly into 5e with a tendency towards fire and water, and we also get some impressive spells like thunderwave or cone of cold, which represent a wider range of elemental manipulation.
Another type of spell here are movement spells, representing the freedom of movement that these creative characters hold so dearly.
These spells fit great in many different builds, but sorcerers, wizards, and even bards represent the ideals best.
They also have the ability to echo these spell lists wonderfully. It’s a wise idea to take the Elemental Adept feat somewhere down the line if you take this background.
Quandrix Student Background
Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Nature
Tool Proficiencies: One type artisan’s tools
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A bottle of black ink, an ink pen, an abacus, a book of arcane theory, a school uniform, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: Quandrix Initiate: You gain the Strixhaven Initiate feat, in which you must choose Quandrix. You also gain a list of spells that you may add to any spell lists you have from the Spellcasting or Pact Magic feature.
|1st||Entangle, Guiding Bolt|
|2nd||Enlarge/Reduce, Vortex Warp|
|3rd||Aura of Vitality, Haste|
|4th||Control Water, Freedom of Movement|
|5th||Circle of Power, Passwall|
Here at Quandrix, math is magic. If any house embodies a love for numbers and equations, it’s Quandrix. Students enrolled here are fascinated by natural patterns like fractals and the golden ratio.
There are plenty of different routes this course of study can take, some lean into the natural world; some lean further into metaphysics and the like, no matter how these students choose to study math.
The personality traits below offer up some ways to play a character that utilizes numeromancy.
Quandrix Personality Traits
|1||When I find a subject I’m interested in, I won’t stop studying until I know everything about it. It keeps me up at night.|
|2||I hope this all makes sense to me one day. Until then, I’m going to keep faking it.|
|3||Equations and patterns come naturally to my mind. I wish friendship came just as easily.|
|4||I believe I’m always the smartest person in the room. And I’ll prove it, even if no one asks me to.|
|5||If these classes have taught me anything, it’s that reality is a lie, and nothing matters. So why bother?|
|6||Before I graduate, I want to achieve something mathematically impossible. I must have a legacy.|
Quandrix spells are very focused on manipulating reality. From haste to passwall, the spell list offered in this background allows these characters to exert a lot of control both on and off the battlefield.
The new spell vortex warp is a quandrix-specific spell that allows you to teleport your enemies to certain locations.
This intense focus on control allows you to set up a lot of spell traps, meaning that spells along the lines of wall of fire, antimagic field, and forcecage will complement this list extremely well.
Silverquill Student Background
Skill Proficiencies: Intimidation, Persuasion
Languages: Two of your choice
Equipment: A bottle of black ink, an ink pen, a book of poetry, a tome of history, a school uniform, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: Silverquill Initiate: You gain the Strixhaven Initiate feat, in which you must choose Silverquill. You also gain a list of spells that you may add to any spell lists you have from the Spellcasting or Pact Magic feature.
|1st||Dissonant Whispers, Silvery Barbs|
|2nd||Calm Emotions, Darkness|
|3rd||Beacon of Hope, Daylight|
|5th||Dominate Person, Rary’s Telepathic Bond|
Never have the power of words been more on display than in the college of eloquence, Silverquill.
That’s right, there’s no disguising the fact that bards run Silverquill. Poets, writers, drama students, and more, fill the halls of this college.
Anyone with a love for spoken or written words is a perfect fit. Of course, the extremely literate sometimes tends to be a bit snooty, a characteristic that might as well be a 101 course at Silverquill.
Below are just a few of the character types that might find themselves walking these halls.
Silverquill Personality Traits
|1||I’ll say whatever I need to in order to maintain my high social status.|
|2||I prefer saying the blunt truth over a pretty lie, and I don’t particularly care whose feelings I hurt.|
|3||I believe that uplifting my peers is the best way to succeed.|
|4||I’ve mastered the art of using humor as a defense, and I always have a charming joke ready.|
|5||I always wait before speaking, analyzing the situation for whichever angle is most advantageous to my goals.|
|6||No one knows about the all-nighters I’ve pulled to keep my magic looking effortless, and I’m going to keep it that way.|
From Tasha’s hideous laughter to Rary’s telepathic bond, the spells offered up by Silverquill focus on manipulating people. If a spell manipulates people through the use of words, you can bet it’s a good idea for Silverquill characters.
In this way, this college is focused on control as much as Quandrix might be, albeit in a different way.
Bards are the obvious choice for Silverquill students, but any character with a passion for words and spells to cast can support it.
Realistically, this background allows other caster classes to experience some of the same abilities a bard might.
Witherbloom Student Background
Skill Proficiencies: Nature, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: Herbalism Kit
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A bottle of black ink, an ink pen, a book about plant identification, an iron pot, an herbalism kit, a school uniform, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: Witherbloom Initiate: You gain the Strixhaven Initiate feat, in which you must choose Witherbloom. You also gain a list of spells that you may add to any spell lists you have from the Spellcasting or Pact Magic feature.
|1st||Cure Wounds, Inflict Wounds|
|2nd||Lesser Restoration, Wither and Bloom|
|3rd||Revivify, Vampiric Touch|
|4th||Blight, Death Ward|
|5th||Antilife Shell, Greater Restoration|
If Tim Burton movies existed in the worlds of D&D, they would be constantly playing at movie night in the Witherbloom dorms.
Students enrolled here are enticed by death and life, the harmonious nature between them, and the natural processes involved.
This is the flow of energy where their magic comes from and more than likely the hobby/interest that makes up a majority of their personality.
Below are some of the personality traits you might find at Witherbloom, or in a Hot Topic.
Witherbloom Personality Traits
|1||I love brewing up a new recipe, even if some might be repulsed by my choice of ingredients. Or the final product. Or both.|
|2||My fashion sense is like my garden: withered, black, and weird.|
|3||I’m going to befriend every single monster in the swamp if it’s the last thing I do.|
|4||Everything in this world dies eventually. The question is, what will you do with the time you have left?|
|5||I know we just met, but when you die, may I have your bones? For research.|
|6||Don’t interrupt me; I’m brooding.|
None of the Strixhaven backgrounds represent such a stark duality as the Witherbloom Student. The initiate spells at each spell level provide one life-based spell and one death-based spell.
Looking at 3rd-level spells for an example, we see Revivify right next to Vampiric Touch. Never have I seen such a dichotomy represented in a character archetype.
The balance between these is really beautiful and gives you a great platform to play any caster as supportive damage dealer.
Warlocks seem like the most natural choice, but sorcerers, druids, and even wizards can all get behind this.
Perhaps the peak class/background combo here is a Witherbloom Circle of Spores druid, entirely represented by the harmonious nature of the cycle between life and death.
Playing a Strixhaven Background in Other Campaigns
These backgrounds are insanely powerful on purpose.
There is a clear intention set by WotC that these backgrounds have a direct tie to the Strixhaven campaign setting, which means that they will feel very balanced in this setting.
If you want to play this character on Eberron or in the Forgotten Realms, you might see a bit of a power gap between you and your allies.
Still, you should be able to play any background if the mood hits you, so how do you do this? Talk to your DM, as always.
If you want to see this on a different plane, you need some sort of magic school to justify this. Low magic settings probably can’t support this kind of endeavor, but a high magic campaign will eat it up.
From a DM’s standpoint, it’s hard to justify letting these backgrounds into your campaign.
To look at just one situation, a sorcerer at 9th level normally knows 10 spells. A sorcerer with one of these backgrounds would know 23 spells all together, 8 more than what they even know at 20th level.
Clearly, this is unbalanced. Luckily, knowing more spells doesn’t give the players access to spell slots, so their choices are actually the ones that can become a bit more difficult.
Still, it’s a nice idea to have some solutions ready to go if your players are looking for a Strixhaven background. Here are a couple that I see as being incredibly useful.
Limit the Spells Available Through the Background
In a setting that is anywhere below the level of high magic Strixhaven brings to the table, reducing the amount of spells available to players is a great way to nerf these backgrounds.
You can reduce this down to just the Strixhaven Initiate feat, or you can let players pick only one spell for each level. This will reduce the amount of extra spells by one or two thirds and substantially level out the balance.
Give Other Party Members Similar Feats
If one of your casters wants to pick up a background that automatically comes with a feat, tack a feat on to everyone’s background.
Letting each character receive a power boost in the building stage means that everyone will be much closer in power levels.
This solution does require you to balance your combats, increasing the CR of encounters a bit, but after one or two combats you should have a good baseline for just how much this affects the game.
Let It Rock
This is obviously less of a solution, and more of a choice. If you realistically look at what the feat is offering, it’s just a lot of options for spells, which is great.
Most classes still need to prepare their daily spells anyway; this just gives them a wider area to explore and a little bit of reaching outside their class for spells, which is mostly harmless.
Were this background/feat to offer more spell slots, then we’d have a real concern.
I hope that you get to enjoy an exciting Strixhaven campaign sometime soon. If not, I hope you enjoy whatever campaign you’re gearing up for, and consider this as a real (incredibly powerful) option.
As always, happy adventuring.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.