Apologies to my regular readers. This week is going to be a lot more specific in terms of gaming stuff. Back to the regular hopefully more accessible stuff on my weekly post!
Rambunctious giraffe-like sauropods called “Indriks” are lead through the town by impatient ogres, who are in turn arguing with a pair of tollbooth attendants in dim and dusty armor. A blue-skinned man sprints along a towering aqueduct, chased by both a blue-clad knight on griffonback and a frizzy-haired young woman on a spark-spkewing sputtering helicopter. In places the pavement gives way to massive roots and fungal growths, which are being fed on by slimy four-legged bears. A wide-eyed friend beckons you towards a massive tavern. Within are familiar creatures, though you are unused to seeing them in a city. Centaurs, goblins, minotaurs. But sitting at one table you also see unfamiliar beings: Two-legged merfolk, four-armed blue people, and humanoid elephants. Your friend invites you over. He has a proposition for you. Something called the “Rack Dose” is causing trouble to the “As-Ore-Ee-Us”, whatever they may be. They promise that you’ll be awarded handsomely. An easy score. No chance for danger whatsoever, unless any of the other eight guilds find out. Welcome to Ravnica, traveler. The Indriks just broke free. I hope you enjoy your stay.
For the past what-seems-like-forever, the official word from Magic higher-ups like Lead Designer Mark Rosewater has been that they don’t like “crossing the streams” in regards to their two geekiest intellectual properties, D&D and Magic the Gathering.
Three years ago the Magic: The Gathering team released “A Planeswalker’s Guide to Zendikar”, the first-ever “official” Dungeons & Dragons product featuring a MtG world. I put “official” in scare-quotes because the product itself was not put out by the D&D team itself and isn’t legal in official play.
Today, the Dungeons and Dragons team announced that they would be releasing a campaign guide for Ravnica, one of the most popular worlds in the Magic canon. Rather than have a couple-dozen-page-long unofficial guide to running D&D in a Magic setting, the world of Ravnica will be getting the full campaign setting treatment. A full book release, to coincide with Magic’s own return to that same setting this year. As a fan of both properties, I’d like to help bridge the gap between these two worlds.
Every time Magic releases a new set of cards, the cards and storylines typically take place on a given ‘plane’. While D&D planes tend to represent some sort of philosophy or primal force (e.g. Mechanus representing Law, and the Plane of Water representing, well, water), Magic planes are more fully diverse worlds. The Magic multiverse has no “Prime Material Plane” on which adventures take place by default. Whereas in D&D any sufficiently powerful spellcaster, angel, frog-monster, etc. can access these different worlds, in Magic only “Planeswalkers” can travel between the planes. Planeswalkers are born with a “spark”, which becomes activated in moments of great stress and danger, unlocking the ability to traverse these different worlds. Your DM will decide if the players are planeswalkers, having a plane-hopping adventure full of intrigue or excitement, or are Ravnican locals swept up into events of great import.
Ravnica is one of these planes. In D&D terms, it most closely represents Sigil in a lot of ways. It’s loosely based on Eastern European culture, but it’s not another Curse of Strahd. What’s more important than its linguistic roots is that it contains a diverse set of fantasy races existing in relative harmony, as well as powerful organizations existing in anything but. These group are the ten Guilds, and they are the ket to understanding Ravnica.
Unlike D&D’s eight schools of magic, the world of Magic has five, corresponding to different colours. Roughly speaking, White is the colour of Order, Blue of Knowledge, Black of Ambition, Red of Emotion, and Green of Nature. Spellcasters claim mastery over, and align themselves with, these different forms of magic. The colours of magic can also be thought of as alignments in some sense, representing how characters view the world and generate their actions. As a general rule, White can correspond to Law and Good, while Red gets Chaotic and Black is usually Neutral if not Evil. Blue likes things Lawful, while Green leans more neutral. Each Guild represents an equal partnership between two of these five colours, for a total of ten different possible two-colour combinations.
Excited? I’m Guild!
The Azorius Senate (White & Blue): The lawmakers of Ravnica, creating byzantine legal structures that govern the plane. They represent White’s order and Blue’s focus on the intellect in creation of their laws.
House Dimir (Blue & Black): The Dimir peddle in secrecy. On paper, they serve as couriers and librarians. In reality, they mostly engage in more unsavoury business. They represent Blue’s focus on deception and Black’s amoral behaviour.
Cult of Rakdos (Black & Red): The Cult of Rakdos are a group of demon-worshipping hedonists. Their circusesblur the line between pain and pleasure. They represent Black’s willingness to engage in depravity with red’s short-term gratification.
The Gruul Clans (Red & Green): The Gruul are a might-makes-right society, squabbling with each other over the remaining wild areas of Ravnica. When threatened, however, they band together to rough up the other Guilds for once. They represent Green’s love of strength and Red’s impulsive nature.
The Selesnya Collective (Green & White): “Ruled” by a Dryad hivemind of sorts, the Selesnya believe that nature can be shaped to fulfill a purpose, and all are equal. They represent Green’s respect for Nature and White’s love of community.
The Orzhov Syndicate (White & Black): The Orzhov operate both the religious and financial heart of Ravnica. Ghostly mafiosos, the Orzhov will take care of you if you have their back. Because of their necromancy, the contracts they make can last past the grave. They represent White’s organized religion and Black’s self-centered aims.
The Golgari Swarm (Black & Green): The Golgari exist in the literal underworld of the plane. They are equal parts farmers and garbage disposal. It’s best not to think how the hot dog gets made. They represent the cycle of life, Green representing life and Black representing death.
The Simic Combine (Green & Blue): The Simic are bio-engineers, experimenting on life itself in order to “improve” upon nature’s designs. Their animal-animal and animal-human hybrids perform all sorts of useful functions on the plane. In doing so, they represent Green’s focus on growth and improvement and Blue’s scientific method.
The Izzet League (Blue & Red): The Izzet are the innovators and engineers of the plane, inventing new types of magic and artifice. Their research methods are haphazard, their creations seldom up to the Azorius’s codes. They represent Blue’s penchant for artifacts with Red’s boundless creativity.
The Boros Legion (Red & White): While the Azorius make the laws, the Boros are in charge of enforcing them. Serving as both military and police under the guidance of Angels, they “police” the streets of Ravnica through force. They represent Red’s aggression and White’s rule-following.
The Guildless: Not everyone enjoys the protection of a Guild. There exists vast swathes of Guildless members of Ravnican society. Whether through lack of talents, previous exile from a guild, or some sort of moral stance, they life without any Guild affiliation. As a result, their political voice is almost nothing. There has been a growing unrest from the Guildless, as they are the ones most likely to be caught in the proverbial crossfire between the others.
We Can Re-Guild Him; We Have The Technology
The mould given by the Guild system lends itself very well to Dungeons & Dragons.
Bard: The Rakdos are the premiere entertainers on Ravnica, while a Dimir lore bard or Boros valor bard also work within the system.
Barbarian: Gruul make a lot of sense for standard Barbarians, but a particularly unhinged Boros Legionnaire or a Rakdos strongman also make a lot of sense.
Cleric: Orzhov lends themselves naturally to Clerics, especially Trickery Clerics. Azorius can represent the Order domain, and Selesnya Nature. There isn’t really a diverse Ravnican pantheon to follow, so representing an “aspect” of a guild might be necessary.
Druid: Any of the green guilds (Gruul, Selesnya, Golgari, Simic) could represent different types of Druids. Gruul would likely correspond with Moon Druids, Golgari with Spore Druids, and Selesnya with Shepherds.
Fighter: Any. Boros and Azorius might have more Eldritch Knights, while Rakdos or Gruul might have Brutes.
Monk: None of the guilds seem to have any overt ascetic practices, but a Selesnyan monk or a Rakdos acrobat could work with some flavour tweaks.
Paladin: Azorius work with the Oath of the Crown, Boros with Vengeance, Orzhov with Devotion or Conquest, or Selesnya with Ancients.
Ranger: Selesnya and Gruul would work closely with animals and protect nature, while a Boros officer might also serve as a monster hunter of sorts. Golgari rangers might be Gloom Stalkers.
Rogue: Dimir seem the most innately rogueish, representing each of its archetypes well. You could have a neat Orzhov mastermind or Boros Inquisitive too.
Sorcerer: Sorcerers are an odd bunch in the magic world. The Izzet guildleader is the only remaining true dragon on the plane, so perhaps draconic sorcerers would be drawn to that guild to further their magic. A chaotic Wild mage would also make a great fit for Izzet, while a Favoured Soul likely belongs with the angels of Orzhov or Boros.
Warlock: A fiendish Warlock makes most sense in Rakdos. A Great Old One Warlock’s ability could be the result of Simic experimentation. Ravnica doesn’t really have “fey” in the D&D sense, but those that do exist are with the Selesnya.
Wizard: All of the guilds have spellcasters, meaning wizards find themselves in the ranks of every guild. However Dimir, Izzet, and Simic have the most explicit focus on knowledge and magical.
If You Guild It, They Will come
Ravnica is a really fertile setting for Dungeons and Dragons experience. The party could be Guildless hired help, agents of a particular Guild, or represent a rare team-up between multiple Guilds with aligned interests.
At its heart, Ravnica is about political intrigue. A noir-style game makes a lot of sense, as the different guilds vie for power or favours over other. They might employ hired help, unattached to any Guild in particular. Staying on each Guild’s good side while playing the Guilds off each other could be really cool. How does the Azorius lawmage of the party react when the Gruul Barbarian roughs up an important contact, or when the Izzet evoker destroys half a city block with an explosion?
What if the players are all Guildless on a plane that treats them like trash? Exposing the tyranny of the Guilds, or merely surviving, could be an interesting twist on a Ravnican campaign. Why have these talented adventurers not found a guild? What are they going to do to change things for the better?
Ravnica is also a very good setting for a more episodic, mission-of-the-week style of game. The Dimir want you to bust one of their agents out of an Azorius prison. The Boros need extra security cracking down on a Rakdos riot. The Selesnya have noticed their animals are missing, and they think the Simic have been experimenting on them. The Gruul have been stomping around too loudly, awakening an ancient evil inside a Golgari rot-farm. An Izzet scientist owes funding grant money to an Orzhov high-priest, and wants you to help him weasel his way out of it.
While the game of Magic doesn’t focus on dungeon-delving as such, there is some precedent. In its Dragon’s Maze storyline, each Guild sent a champion to explore this massive subterranean Maze to determine leadership on Ravnica. With some tweaking, having a party represent a given Guild against nine other teams of adventurers could make for a cool mega-dungeon experience.
My Guild-ty Pleasure
As someone who has loved both of these games for over half of his life, I can’t wait to read this campaign setting and never actually run a game within it because none of my in-town friends play Magic. That being said, I’m even more excited for the D&D players who are about to take their first plunge into the world of Magic, and the Magic players who are going to give role-playing a try.
Enjoy this content? Check out my guide on creating unique D&D characters!