D&D 5e has settled into a comfortable and reliable publishing schedule that gives us a variety of new supplements, player options, and adventures in different formats a few times a year. This summer’s release is an ‘adventure collection’, a kind of adventure supplement that features a sizeable number of ‘one-shot’ adventures, collected under a single theme.
For Tales From The Yawning Portal, it was classic and iconic D&D adventures from prior editions. Ghosts of Saltmarsh gave us nautical adventures. Candlekeep Mysteries gave us mysteries, natch.
Journeys Through The Radiant Citadel feels like a very different beast, providing a whopping thirteen adventures all inspired by non-medieval European cultures and folklore. At first glance, these adventures draw from Caribbean, North and South African, Thai, Filipino, Peruvian, Brazilian, and rural Chinese cultural stories and peoples (Though there’s likely more).
All of them are still fantastical and fit right at home in the worlds of the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Exandria, and others, but their stories and monsters skew away from D&D’s more traditional queens, castles, and pseudo-European or Colonial American roots.
So what do the many locales of the Radiant Citadel have to offer?
The titular citadel is a floating city in the Ethereal Plane: a lone bastion of multicultural brilliance amid the tulmet of a vast world-spanning storm called the Keening Gloom. It is made up of peoples from all over the multiverse, but specifically from the assorted cultures in the adventures to follow.
The Radiant Citadel is presented as a miniature utopia that strives towards equality and sustainability with the nature around it (which makes sense for a gorgeous arboreal landmass surrounded by a world-ending storm). All are welcome in the Citadel, and it acts as a planar refuge for explorers and those seeking to escape the violence of their homelands.
Another unique feature of this setting are the Incarnates: sentient crystalline animals possessed by the accumulated spirits of their respective cultures. The Incarnates are keepers of great wisdom and insight, often acting as quest givers to adventurers seeking specific knowledge.
While not explicitly stated, the Radiant Citadel as a setting seems to be a fantastical bastion for fantasy cultures that are analogues for civilizations either destroyed, marginalised, or gentrified by colonialism. In this way they provide a fantastical vehicle for players to explore and become enriched within these cultures, or play a member of one getting in touch with their roots.
It’s an incredibly novel idea for a setting, and the shape and design of the Radiant Citadel is absolutely brilliant (no pun intended). This is a location that every D&D campaign needs to visit at some point. It feels very akin to Sigil, the city of doors, but without the alien Dickensian vibes.
There are thirteen adventures in JTtRC, more than any of D&D 5e’s prior collections. They span levels 1 through 14, and each one comes with its own city or five by five mile region to explore. This book is a full D&D campaign in its own right, but is also designed to be a collection of side adventures taken during another published adventure (Princes of the Apocalypse, Storm King’s Thunder, and Acquisitions Incorporated would be ideal choices to play through JTtRC).
Most of the adventures also feature a 2-3 page gazetteer that details their settings and what adventure can be found there. This is a really nice touch that expands the settings for revisitation and further adventure hooks.
I won’t go into all thirteen adventures, but here’s a handful of them that really spoke to me and made me excited to run this book:
Salted Legacy is a 1st-2nd level adventure set in a prominent night market where players are tasked with investigating the rivalry between two opposed vendor families, all while partaking in fun challenges and competitions. It’s an absolute romp that’s funny and fast paced. It also prominently features wynlings, the big-eyed bat winged creature on the cover of the book.
Written In Blood is a 3rd level adventure that draws players to a struggling farming community rife with conflict and superstition, where one beleaguered woman is being hunted by a truly horrifying undead creature called the Soul Shaker. This adventure fits right at home in Ravenloft as a domain of dread, and I love it.
Wages of Vice is a 5th level adventure that takes place during a Carnivalé/Mardi Gras style festival parade called the March of Vice. A murder has taken place, and the players reveal the descendants of the city’s rulers are being targeted by a mysterious group with ties to the city’s founding. This adventure has who-dun-it energy and is centred around a festival parade, which is peak good.
Orchids of the Invisible Mountain is a 14th level adventure that’s an adventure movie with horror elements in its tone. The vast rainforest of Atagua borders the splendor of the Feywild, but over time has become corrupted by the Far Realm and an entity known as the Drought Elder. It’s a jungle-crawl filled with trippy imagery, thri-kreen, and eventually players must explore the desiccated carapace of an insectoid great old one. This is my jam!
JTtRC feels incredibly unique and novel compared to previous official 5e releases, despite its structure and setup being similar to what’s come before. I cannot state enough just how well this book handles non-European fantasy civilizations without relying on a colonialist lens like so much of past D&D has.
What this means in practice is that JTtRC is a joy to read through, prepare, and run for players, and its numerous adventures are sure to feel fresh and new to even the most experienced of players.
What I like most of all is how despite all of the settings’ and civilizations’ fantastical elements (a giant ringed crystal landmass, ancient deities, underwater cities, and ridiculous monsters) none of it is presented as ‘alien’ or ‘other’. It all fits into traditional Dungeons & Dragons easily, and its NPCs and their problems feel relatable rather than foreign.
Such is the care and dedication that this teams designers, editors, and managers have put into this book, as well as the credited cultural consultants. It stands as a highlight of this kind of adventure book format, and of all the ones that have come before it, it feels like the format has been perfected with this one.
Art and Maps
Guess what folks? We’ve got Mike Schley up in this book! *Air horn*
My fave fantasy cartographer has about a dozen maps in this book, including the big full colour map of the Radiant Citadel. It’s absolutely gorgeous. That map is almost worth the price of admission for this book alone.
The other cartographer in this book is Sean Macdonald, a long time freelancer who I’ve actually worked with before on EN World projects back when I first freelanced as an adventure writer (EN5ider circa 2015-2017). Sean’s maps are simple and straightforward, though he’s too reliant on three-line hatching to fill in dungeon walls for my tastes. Still, the maps are all well made.
The only full colour map is the one of the Radiant Citadel, the rest are greyscale with small single colour elements, or monotone shading with just one or two colors. It works well enough and the maps are highly legible, but it’s a shame the region and city maps aren’t also in full colour.
Contrasting this, all of the art in this book is colourful, vibrant, and dynamic. There is so much personality in the NPC illustrations, and I suspect several of them will be reused by players as art of their own characters. They’re so good.
The real star of the show is all the new monster art. JTtRC doesn’t have an appendix of monsters, instead introducing its bespoke beasties as they appear in the adventures, but the art of them is top notch! I especially love the Tlexolotl, a huge fiery elemental axolotl that’s as terrifying as it is adorable.
Wizards of the Coast, if you’re reading this (and I know you are), we need a Squishmallow of this boy, pronto!
Go buy this book. If you’re a dungeon master in search of a new campaign to run, or just something to invigorate or inspire you to get back into running D&D, get this book!
Journeys Through The Radiant Citadel is a masterclass of adventure design and the most unique and innovative book D&D 5e has published in a long while. It’s the kind of concept that I love to support, but the final product is also just a superb supplement that ranks alongside heavy hitters like Curse of Strahd and Descent Into Avernus.
Definitely, definitely, check it out!