20 November 2022
Anthology of Awesome
The latest adventure anthology for Dungeons & Dragons’ wildly successful fifth edition is a delight to play, run, and read. Over the course of 13 different quests, it blends Star Trek-esque optimism with high adventure and uses a talented cast of authors to take us on a whistle-stop tour of settings that reach beyond D&D’s traditional comfort zone of western fantasy.
As with most of the other anthologies Wizards of the Coast have published in recent years, the array of adventures found in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel are all linked by a common theme. In this case, each one of them can be accessed through the titular Radiant Citadel – a utopian city-state built around an enormous diamond drifting through the mist of the ethereal plane.
Though it has very little impact on the adventures themselves – indeed, you can easily run every single one without sticking a toe across the planes – the Citadel functions as a fantastic metaphor for the book as a whole. It’s shamelessly idealistic in tone, with a culture based around acceptance, peace, and generosity and a population mainly drawn from inter-planar refugees. The brief primer that opens the book even mentions that wealthy inhabitants often over-pay their taxes simply because they can.
Of course, this wide-eyed aura of hope doesn’t necessarily lend itself to exciting adventures. The utopian feel of the place clashes with the idea of anything but the most amicable of conflicts. However, that’s not really the point of the Radiant Citadel. Just as the name implies, it’s a place that facilitates adventure rather than hosting it.
It does this by giving the players an excuse to wander out into the material worlds linked to the Citadel, whether that means performing a favour for one of its factions or simply hopping out into the world to explore. Beyond this, leaping across the worlds also provides a handy method for waving away the wild leaps in culture between every adventure.
For example, the first quest in the book – Salted Legacy – is a relatively light-hearted romp through a distinctly East Asian night market. Rather than murder or monsters, the main thirst behind the adventures lies in a fierce grudge between rival stallholders, while a lifetime supply of noodles makes up a core part of the potential rewards.
Skip to the next chapter and you run into a huge shift in both tone and setting, with Citadel opening up a path to a farming community inspired by Black experiences in the American South. With the ominous title of Written in Blood, this creepy adventure mines a rich vein of folk horror that culminates in a confrontation with one of the gnarliest monsters to ever grace the pages of a D&D hardback.
This kalidescopic waltz through cultures and civilizations runs the length and breadth of the book. While each adventure only exists as a snapshot, they are all accompanied by a gazetteer that paints a broader image of the setting it explores. This falls well short of a full guide to the world, of course, but there’s usually just enough information on show to give more experienced DMs the chance to delve off the beaten – or written – path.
Some adventures, of course, hit better than others. A handful of the middling-chapters have a tendency to drag and rely on join-the-dots adventuring, but even these are still reliably enjoyable. Perhaps the standout of the entire book is the gloriously creative Shadows of the Sun, which throws the heroes into a mess of politics and morality that delivers real choices and a chance to make a tangible impact on the setting.
Ultimately, Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel is a book riven through with heart and warmth. Even its villains are portrayed with a smattering of sympathy – their evil deeds the product of some hurt that can be soothed with words just as well as weapons.
Its idealism won’t appeal to every group. If your players revel in the
dirt and darkness of pseudo-history, or view RPGs as a dice-powered looting simulator, they may find the utopia of the Radiant Citadel stifling rather than comforting.
For those who have been looking for a more diverse, more eclectic take on D&D’s traditional climes, however, Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel represents a golden opportunity. It offers a way to explore fascinating worlds from fascinating writers, in a way that feels exciting rather than exploitative.
PLAY IT? YES
One’s of D&D’s strongest books to date, stuffed with fascinating cultures and cunning adventures
TRY THIS if you liked Candlekeep Mysteries…
An obvious choice, but if D&D’s previous anthology tickled your tastebuds, Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel will set them on fire
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
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