I've been playing, or at least keeping up with the D&D game ever since Gary Gygax introduced it. All I can say about Wizards of the Coast's latest foray into the genre is that this project could have used some more adulting or at least some adult supervision.
When one is writing color and backstory for what is essentially a trading card game, the story can be piecemeal and ephemeral -- hints and suggestions which don't even have to have any internal consistency or hang together with any semblance of substance. This is not the case for an FRPG, where the entire point is story. A trading card game is, at the end of the day, a game. An FRPG is a kind of immersive literature. Details matter. Substance matters. Ravnica is 100 percent whimsical.
It is an incredible creative effort full of fantastical ideas, but there is no substance which really ties any of it together. It looks like the product of creative sheltered children who have essentially no real world experience in anything but game playing. It is astonishing to consider a creative team, funded by a relatively successful publisher of FRPG's could put together a group of "creatives" not one of whom seems to exhibit any familiarity with any knowledge of substance in any fields useful for designing a campaign milieu -- fields of study such as: Astronomy, Cosmology, Mythology, Geology, Evolution, Meteorology, Climatology, Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, Economics, Logistics, Botany, Zoology, Ecology, Politics, Linguistics, Religion, History, etc. Yes, we are talking a fantasy world here, but somewhere there has to be some sort of substance which ties the whimsical together in a way that sustains the suspension of disbelief, or at leas has something interesting to say that resonates with some kind of human experience, so that coherent dramatic stories may be erected on the framework. Ravnica is woefully lacking in this crucial category.
Ravnica is a hodge-podge of a dozen playable races, plus who knows how many non-player races, but at least dozens more are intimated. Where do they all live? Why so many different forms when Ravnica is essentially a mono-biome? Why did all of these cultures decide to essentially live cheek-by-jowl in a world-spanning megalopolis? What essential material reality drove such an outcome or sustains it? The creators of Ravnica offer the reader nothing along these lines.
Other essential questions, whose answers would have given Ravnica some sort of depth also remain puzzlingly unasked or even considered: Where do all of these different races and creature types live? From where did they come? How did their languages, religions, cultures, politics, etc. evolve?
Ravnica is astonishingly two-dimensional. What does their environment and history contribute to their physiology, culture, practices, beliefs, society etc.? Why do the guilds exist? The ideologies of these guilds are entirely abstract and disconnected from any material reality or cause and effect. It was mentioned that religion was once a factor on the planet but no longer. Why? Did the gods just give up?
Similarly economics and material reality are entirely neglected, or more accurately, remained unsuspected, by the writers. From Where do the raw materials come? Where do they grow chocolate, or wheat? Where do they brew beer or distil whiskey? Do oranges and sorghum grow in the same biome? Apparently, they do, right in the middle of world-spanning urban environs. Where do they mine iron, or molybdenum, or silver, or platinum or gold? Is it evenly distributed throughout the planet's crust? How does that happen? Does Ravnica have continents or plate-tectonics? If all of the oceans are subterranean, how does that affect ocean ecology? Where do the different kinds of trees grow? How can everything, the entire planet, be a uniform urban megalopolis when different resources are grounded in different essential characteristics? For example, you cannot seriously imagine a wine grape plantation growing on rooftop gardens. Similarly, it takes a certain climate and water resources and land to grow coffee beans. Ravnica gives zero consideration to this. It is entirely whimsy.
Commerce is mentioned but it has no substantial rooting in material production. Why do the Orzhov practice pseudo-capitalist syndicalism and the Selesnya embrace a simplisticly unrealistic agrarian socialism when there is essentially no material difference in outcomes, as presented? There is practically no reason to trade, as production and distribution are after-thoughts, at best. Everything is produced everywhere, in equal amounts, for all that the book says on the economy of Ravnica. Things just "happen"...because, reasons. For no reason other than that something needs to be going on in the background to provide color. This would also mean that all trade and exploration are essentially tourism. Of course, one would also have to question what the tourists would be travelling to see. What would be the point?
This is a Kardashev Type II Civilization but it's technology is a mix of whimsical high fantasy and quirky steampunk. How did this world civilization even evolve, much less be sustained? No thought was given to this. A globe-spanning megalopolis would severely impact the natural ecology of such a world. No effort is made to handle or explain this, or account for it. The text claims that there is very little in the way of natural wild spaces and yet the world is full to the gunwales with enormous herbivorous and carnivorous megafauna. What supports them? Apparently, they live on air. How does primitive technology handle the waste products build up that a city-world full of such beasts would produce? Nineteenth century New York city was careening toward a full-scale disaster due to only horse manure until the advent of the internal combustion engine. Even given "magic," such a clean up by the Golgari, a guild notably lacking in either magic or tech, would require at least a little explaining, if it is to have any substance or the story any coherence. The book offers the DM nothing in the way of help for extracting any kind of coherent story rooted some sort of consistent system.
All of the cultures are crammed together into a multiculturally diverse mix of ethnicities which extend from horizon to horizon and pole to pole. The effect of this is that the entire planet Is not "multi-cultural;" it is entirely uniform in its crazy-quilt distribution of everybody everywhere, such that, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, California, "There's no 'there,' there. That is to say, once one has seen one corner of Ravnica one has seen it all, as the setting's authors present it. The multiculture has been essentially stagnant, and its history, geography, and uniformly diverse (an oxymoron) cultural mix, practically featureless and unchanging for ten thousand years. How is this conducive to any kind of drama? Clue: it isn't. There's no history, only monotony. There is no substance upon which to found a lasting campaign. Once the DM has exhausted the two dozen or so tropes that a setting like Ravnica will support, there's nothing left to see, without an enormous load of work on the DM's part. Good luck with that.
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (20 November 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786966599
- ISBN-13: 978-0786966592
- Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 1.8 x 28.4 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 907 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)