One of the reasons I keep coming back to Magic: the Gathering is its lore and world building. I’m an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, so when I was first introduced to Magic I used D&D as a frame of reference for a lot of the creatures and settings. Like many players, I imagined running a campaign set on one of these worlds, and I always wondered if Wizards of the Coast would ever dare to mix their intellectual properties together.
A few years ago Wizards finally bit the bullet and released a .pdf called Plane Shift: Zendikar, a short set of rules and suggestions for running a D&D campaign on one of Magic’s most iconic worlds. It was well received, and a few months later we got Plane Shift: Innistrad, then Kaladesh, Amonkhet, Ixalan, and Dominaria. Finally, a few months ago Wizards announced the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, a full-fledged D&D supplement for Magic’s city plane. I was expecting another .pdf, so when I heard about the book I was over the moon.
The Plane Shift documents are a great resource, but they are somewhat limited in scope. This is reasonable, considering they are free .pdf downloads meant to be tie-ins with the Art of Magic books. You need to be pretty familiar with the plane already to get the most out of them; given the enfranchised target audience this isn’t a big concern, but nevertheless it’s a point against them. They were a great place to start but felt incomplete.
In contrast, the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica promises to be a more in depth book, providing a useful starting point for D&D players who are unfamiliar with the setting. At least, that’s my hope. As of the writing of this article I don’t have a ton of information regarding the actual contents of the book, but I can’t imagine it omitting basic information about the world, its history and the guilds. This book ought to be a good introduction to the setting for anyone who is new to Ravnica, and if recent Dungeons & Dragons publications are any indication, it will be.
If you’re reading this article you’re likely already familiar with the City of Guilds. Your friends might not he, though, and that’s where a more detailed book can come in handy. Having a basic overview of the world will save you a lot of time explaining who the Boros are to a new player, and why anyone should care about the Gateless. Moreover, having clear-cut rules for character backgrounds, monsters and class choices makes it a whole lot easier for Magic players to get into D&D if they haven’t played it before. By tying the mechanics directly to a world a player knows it makes the transition much smoother.
Every D&D group needs a Dungeon Master (DM) to run the world, to control the monsters and non-player characters (NPCs), and to guide the plot. It can be a lot of work, but it can also be very rewarding. The hardest part, I find, is finding inspiration and coming up with an interesting story for the players to follow. DMing is sometimes a delicate act of subtle plagiarism, stealing plots and characters from movies and books and tweaking them just enough so that the players don’t notice right away. With a campaign set on Ravnica, an aspiring Dungeon Master has a resource he or she can draw on for inspiration that most other settings lack: Magic cards.
Full of great art and flavour text, Magic cards are useful starting points to generate encounters, plot hooks, NPCs, and locations on their own. That said, while a Magic card can serve as inspiration for any RPG, by using cards from Ravnica sets for a campaign on Ravnica, most of the heavy lifting has already been done for you. You don’t need to come up with your own backstory explaining why the players might run into a Rakdos Shred-Freak in a back alley, and if the players meet Niv Mizzet in your story you don’t need to change anything about him; he is the brilliant, arrogant founder of the Izzet guild: the dragon we already know.
By playing in a well-established setting it also allows groups to use a sort of short-hand when describing things to each other. For instance, instead of having to describe in detail a wild-eyed human with vicious blades going up his arms, a DM could start off by describing a human from the Rakdos guild, or possibly even going so far as to call him out as a Shred-Freak. This is especially true of any legendary creatures you introduce; Teysa, Orzhov Scion, for example, is already a well-established character in the lore, and needs very little introduction. Players familiar with the cards in question will quickly have a clear picture of what the DM means, allowing the focus of the campaign to be on other details.
So, with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some cards that could serve as inspiration for a D&D campaign on Ravnica:
Tin Street Market
Every D&D campaign needs a place where the players can spend some downtime. The market is always a convenient place for players to overhear gossip, or spend their hard-earned gold, and it’s usually pretty peaceful. Tin Street is a prime example on Ravnica. Players might meet Otak, a shopkeep mentioned in the flavour text of Selesnya Sagittars:
“What’s their strike range, you ask? Let’s put it this way: sagittars aim their bows using maps.”
—Otak, Tin Street shopkeep
Or players may visit the coffee shop Vraska said she liked in the Ixalan storyline. That same story even mentioned a quaint little book shop where the gorgon might be shopping. Of course, it isn’t always smooth sailing at the marketplace; just look at the flavour text for Might of the Nephilim for a convenient plot hook:
“Send a runner to Tin Street, and tell ’em the delivery has been . . . uh . . . held up.”
—Bonmod, caravan rear guard
There’s bound to be a reward for rescuing that shipment of goods, and I know just the adventurers to do it!
Not everything can be found on Tin Street, and the Moon Market may have what the players really want: dark, dangerous contraband and merchants who don’t ask questions. Here’s a description from Moonlight Bargain:
At every fifth full moon, the Moon Market convenes to peddle Ravnica’s most forbidden wares.
Whether the players are working undercover or are willing to get on the wrong side of the law, there are plenty of plot hooks available to lead players to the market, or to lure them away once they’re in….
Oppressively boring, the bureaucrats of the Azorious Senate might be some of the most frustrating and memorable characters a player can encounter. Odds are good that any campaign will see the party on the wrong side of the law at least once (say, after a visit to the Moon Market…). If they get caught, they’ll have their day in court, where all of the self-important Azorius guild members thrive. The flavour text on cards like Droning Bureaucrats and the Return to Ravnica Giant Growth gives a DM a good feel for how these characters would speak and act:
” . . . and you must also apply for an application license, file documents 136(iv) and 22-C and -D in triplicate, pay all requisite fees, request a . . .”
“The prohibition of unnecessary tossing of the citizenry by giants shall also extend to spontaneous giants.”
—Isperia’s Edict, provision VII.789.2
Depending on how well the court case goes over with the group, a DM might even steer the campaign toward these sessions more often, with the players taking on unjust laws or rooting out corruption among the Azorius. It would also be an opportunity to introduce a character like Barvisa, the courtroom scribe from the card Judge’s Familiar; perhaps they could try and befriend her, or convince her to share important records:
“It misses nothing and it has no sense of humor.”
—Barvisa, courtroom scribe
Child of Night
Not everyone on Ravnica is a member of a guild, and those living outside of them are largely left to fend for themselves. The plight of these “Gateless” has always been one of my favourite elements of Ravnica, and the flavour text on Child of Night exemplifies the mindset of a lot of these characters:
No guilds—that is her rule. The House vampires unnerve her. The Combine would dissect her, the Legion burn her, the Conclave “cure” her. The shadows are all the family she needs.
“I spent some time in the Legion, but I’m done taking orders all day.”
“Your signet is no symbol of power. It marks only your need for numbers to aid you. What do you do, guild-rat, now that you face my blade alone?”
All three of these cards could be NPCs in their own right, or could be used as a guide, painting a clearer picture for the DM of how the Gateless interact with those in a guild.
A cornerstone of any D&D campaign is the random encounter. This is usually a combat that has almost nothing to do with the main story, but serves as a fun interlude to break up a heavy role-playing session. Random encounters in cities can be hard to justify, even in Ravnica; it’s rare to run into a monster on the street… unless the street itself is the monster! Both Cobblebrute and Rumbling Slum could work in this scenario; perhaps early on the players fight a living cobblestone street, then battle a whole slum later as it’s trying to get back to its old neighbourhood.
Speaking of random encounters, take a look at the flavour text for Wild Ceratok:
Once part of a wealthy merchant’s private zoo, the herd roams feral throughout the Tenth, where it will remain until the guilds can agree to relocate, cull, or befriend it.
Is that not a perfect setup for a series of combats against a variety of beasts? If a DM wanted, this could even serve as an ongoing side quest, where the players are trying to subdue and contain rampant creatures on behalf of the Selesnya Conclave. Where’s Newt Scamander when you need him, eh?
Anyone who can steal memories is either a dangerous foe or a powerful ally. The Notion Thief might act as if he has met the party before, but none of the characters recognize him. Alternatively, a character could have lost a memory and is trying to get it back from the elusive Dimir agent. Or maybe the players need a key piece of information that only the Notion Thief can recover, but he asks for certain memories in exchange…
Five Alarm Fire
You don’t see many D&D encounters involving burning buildings, but it’s definitely an interesting adventure to be had. Perhaps the party gets swept up in a riot, or there is a person or item the players need to recover inside the building when it goes up. Maybe they are just passing by and see the fire start, or they get caught in a random explosion in the street, as depicted on the card Blockbuster:
Vendors hung cords heavy with roots and laid out boxes of salted meat, unaware of the fiery disaster swiftly approaching.
Not every tale of heroism needs to involve killing monsters; sometimes lending a helping hand and getting innocent victims out of harm’s way can be just as exciting.
The players meet Josuri, an ordinary man living in a dangerous part of town. He shows no fear, even when his neighbours are terrified of attackers on the night. When the party members make a quick assessment of his house’s defenses they see that his locks are weak and that the building is far from secure:
Although the door is flimsy and the lock pathetically small, Josuri’s family never fears the night outside.
The players determine that this man must either be crazy or he has made a deal with the local thugs to leave his property alone. If they stick around until nightfall they will learn the truth: an ancient spirit appears to defend the house from attackers. The man, the ghost, and his family could just be interesting NPCs the players meet in passing, or might provide a safe haven for the party to rest in an otherwise unsafe district. Alternatively, if the players were more nefarious, they could try to break in and steal something, only to be confronted with the Benevolent Ancestor.
Is it an artifact to recover, or is it a trap for the players? Perhaps the Bottled Cloister is both. The rumours say that those who seek the artifact are never seen again. The list of missing persons associated with the Bottled Cloister are numerous, and so the plot thickens. Finally, when the players find the Cloister, they are pulled inside and trapped! Now they must find a way out of the bottle, not only to save themselves and those trapped alongside them, but to stop the madman using the Cloister to eliminate his enemies.
At first glance it doesn’t look like there are many opportunities for a traditional dungeon crawl on Ravnica. Perhaps a chase through the sewers or a trip down into the undercity would be close, but what about above ground? Cue the Goblin Spelunkers:
Chimney sweeps, explorers of abandoned buildings, spire climbers . . . goblin spelunkers have found countless niches within Ravnica’s metropolis.
Exploring abandoned buildings: this is how you really get that classic dungeon crawl experience. It’s a treasure hunt into ruins that may have been sealed away for centuries, complete with unstable caverns, lurking monsters, and twisting passageways. It’s a great side quest for any campaign, or an opportunity to uncover ancient lore that pertains to the plot.
The Guild Cluestones
Dragon’s Maze was not the most exciting expansion ever set on Ravnica, but the Implicit Maze story could serve as a good outline for a city-spanning campaign. The Cluestones would be great excuse to introduce a series of puzzles the players have to solve as they race across Ravnica trying to help (or stop) the Maze Runners. Alternatively, a creative DM could take certain liberties with the original story and put the players in the role of the Runners, possibly even competing with each other for the ultimate prize!
There is little stranger on Ravnica than the Nephilim. These ancient creatures rose up around the same time the original Guildpact was broken, and threatened all of Ravnica. If a DM is looking for a good high-level monster for the end of a campaign, the rise of the Nephilim would be a good opportunity for a “final boss” style finish, and the cult surrounding them could provide a lot of foreshadowing. Ilromov, the storyteller from the flavour text of Sanguine Praetor, would be a great NPC who could tell the players about the threat.
“Our fealty to guilds dooms us. The old gods shall resurface. Our skins will wave upon the guild-masts over emptied streets, and our bones will clatter in the wind.”
—Ilromov, traveling storyteller
Of course, depending on when in the Ravnica timeline the campaign was set, the Nephilim could already be known to exist but thought to be vanquished and no longer a threat. Alternatively, the campaign could be set much earlier, depicting their rise during the events of the original Ravnica block.
Fblthp had always hated crowds.
There are literally hundreds of cards depicting the characters, locations, objects and events of Ravnica; I’ve only just scratched the surface here. From loyal guild members and legendary creatures, to minor threats and hidden plots, a DM could build an entire campaign based around the cards from these sets alone.
I’m really excited to see what all will be covered in the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, but one thing’s for sure, there’s no shortage of reference material for a Dungeon Master to build a campaign!