Strixhaven Backgrounds Introduction
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos (affiliate link) presents 5 new backgrounds. These backgrounds grant the Strixhaven Initiate feat, which is a first for DnD 5e, and has some significant implications for character optimization.
To be absolutely clear: I do not think that these backgrounds are intended for use outside of a Strixhaven game, and I do not encourage you to use them outside of a Strixhaven game. They present some clear power creep, and unfairly benefit spellcasters over non-spellcasters. If you want to include the spell list expansions in non-Strixhaven games or you want to reduce how much these backgrounds favor spellcasters, consider using them in place of class/subclass features which expand a character’s spell list such as cleric domains or warlock patrons.
This guide will not go into extensive detail on spell selections for the Strixhaven Initiate feat. For help picking leveled spells, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.
This guide will also largely ignore any lore of theming around the schools. The lore does not align well with optimization concerns, and you’re not reading this article for my middling storytelling capabilities.
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
Lorehold’s proficiencies are clearly catered to characters with good Intelligence, but the spells are all drawn from the Wizard’s spell list. You might think “Okay, so I’ll play an artificer”, but artificers get nearly all of the Lorehold spells, too.
Considering that Intelligence is near-universally a dump stat in 5e, there’s basically no normal character that can make Lorehold a good choice. If you play a SAD class that can afford a bit of Intelligence you could potentially make this all work. Casting-focused clerics and druids are likely the best candidates.
: Good skills for Intelligence-based characters, but those characters generally don’t have the Charisma to put language proficiencies to good use.
: Most spellcasters generally don’t have access to radiant damage, so Sacred Flame is great. Access to 1st-level bard spells offers some fun options like Dissonant Whispers. Access to 1st-level cleric buffs also gives those characters access to powerful cleric buffs and staple tactical options like Healing Word.
- : Artificers and wizards can either already cast these or replace them with infusions. For everyone else these are only situationally useful.
- : Artificers can’t cast either, but they’re also very situational.
- : Speak With Dead is only situationally useful, but it’s still pretty good. Spirit Guardians is useful for characters planning to fight in close quarters.
- : Artificers and wizards can cast both, but these spells are absolutely spectacular, so other classes will enjoy them thoroughly.
- : Legend Lore is only situationally useful, and Flame Strike is almost always worse than Fireball.
Prismari competes for space with Silverquill and loses. The most likely members of prismari are Charisma-based spellcasters, and Silverquill’s skills and spells both better.
There is some appeal here for other spellcasters who want a diverse set of spell options, but be careful that you don’t find yourself trying to do a bunch of different things and being bad at all of them.
: A good fit for bards and rogues with high Charisma. Sorcerers and Warlocks might also go this route, but almost no one is going to make use of Acrobatics.
: Prismari students are most likely bards, sorcerers, and warlocks, and there is a lot of overlap between those classes and the spells offered by Prismari Initiate. Sorcerers and Warlocks will enjoy bard exclusives like Dissonant Whispers and access to Healing Word, while bards will enjoy access to damage spells like Fire Bolt and Magic Missile.
- : Some decent damage options, but they’ll become obsolete after you gain a few levels.
- : Both decent spells, but they can be hard to use. Warlocks will enjoying combining Flaming Sphere with Eldritch Blast and invocations which allow you to reposition enemies to keep them in range of the sphere.
- : Bards will enjoy Haste, but there’s nothing great here for anyone else..
- : Wall of Fire is excellent area control, and it’s not on the bard or warlock spell lists.
- : Sorcerers get Cone of Cold, but otherwise these spells are both new to bards, sorcerers, and warlocks, and both spells are pretty good.
A good fit for Intelligence-based spellcasters looking to play a defensive or supportive roll, which leaves artificers and wizards. The spell list is a diverse mix from classes like the Cleric, the Druid, and the Paladin.
: Good skills for an Intelligence-based character. Artificer is a good fit, but wizards will have less use for the language and tool. I think the proficiencies are intended to work for druids, too, but druids are generally terrible with Nature due to dumping their Intelligence.
: Great utility cantrips on any character. Quandrix students are most likely artificers and wizards based on the skill proficiencies, and the Druid’s 1st-level spells aren’t fantastic, but they do include some good options like Entangle or Healing Word. Druids will enjoy access to wizard spells like Silvery Barbs, Mage Armor, or Shield, both of which will do a lot to address the Druid’s poor AC.
- : Both good uses for a 1st-level spell for basically any full caster.
- : Great support options for any full caster.
- : The most spell slot efficient healing in the game, and one of the absolute best buffs you can put on a martial character.
- : Both spells are only situationally useful.
- : Circle of Power is a paladin exclusive, so getting access to it is really exciting. Against powerful spellcasters and other creatures which rely on magic, it’s hard to find a better defensive option.
Silverquill starts exceptionally strong with good Face skills and excellent early spells, making Silverquill a spectacular choice for bards and sorcerers. Warlocks might do well, too, but spending a warlock spell slot on Silvery Barbs is hard. The school’s spells at 3rd and 4th level are disappointing, but I think everything else makes up for it.
Other spellcasters may still enjoy Silverquill’s spell list, but it’s not quite as effective since the proficiencies won’t line up as well.
: Perfect for a Face character.
: Bards, sorcerers, and warlocks are the most likely classes to take Silverquill. All three will enjoy access to Sacred Flame, and sorcerers and warlocks will enjoy Vicious Mockery. All three classes can benefit from staple cleric buffs like Bless and Heroism, and sorcerers and warlocks will enjoy Healing Word, while bards will enjoy access to damage options like Chromatic Orb.
- why Silvery Barbs is so powerful. : You get Silvery Barbs, which is plenty on its own. See my article on
- : A save-or-suck spell and a good area control spell.
- : Both spells are very situational.
- : Both spells are very situational.
- : Both good options, but they may be hard to justify or classes with a limited number of spells known.
The book says that a few necromancer wizards join Witherbloom, and those wizards are clearly the smartest people in the school because Witherbloom’s spell list is a near-perfect list that you could title “spells that justify having a divine caster in the party instead of just having two wizards”. A witherbloom wizard can easily replace a divine caster’s healing capabilities.
Clerics and druids will find Witherbloom frustrating because they get so little benefit from the school’s spell list, and spellcasters that permanently learn spells like Bards will find the need to commit known spells frustrating.
Unfortunately, that just leaves wizards as effective members of Witherbloom.
: The proficiencies aren’t great, and it’s borderline impossible to build a character who can use them all to great effect. They do match typical proficiencies for nature clerics, druids, and rangers.
: The cantrips are difficult, but clerics, druids, and rangers will enjoy access to wizard spells like Silvery Barbs, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, and Shield. Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards can get Healing Word from the Druid’s spell list.
- : Cure Wounds is great spell for classes that can’t cast healing spells, but you can also choose to get Healing Word from Strixhaven Initiate. Inflict Wounds is good single-target damage at low levels, but it doesn’t scale well.
- : Lesser Restoration is a crucial healing option. You also get another spell, but Healing Word will generally solve the same problem so why bother with it?
- : A staple option for clerics and druids, and Vampiric Touch lets you heal yourself by repeatedly slapping people.
- : A powerful defensive option from the cleric spell list and also Blight.
- : You are now qualified to fully replace a cleric (at least in terms of healing capabilities).