Dungeons & Dragons is a game firmly rooted in Western culture, one invented and traditionally written almost exclusively by white men. While the franchise has at various times tried to step outside itself, many of its attempts to delve into other cultures have stumbled, falling victim to tokenism and orientalism while also giving in to damaging stereotypes. Now, for the first time, Wizards of the Coast has brought together a group of Black and brown writers for a book of adventures called Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel. The result is an epic anthology that feels as progressive and inviting as classic Star Trek.
Using the same format as the critically acclaimed Candlekeep Mysteries, Radiant Citadel contains 13 short adventures for parties levels 1-14. The fabric that ties them together is the titular Radiant Citadel, a mysterious city floating in the Ethereal Plane with an esoteric backstory all its own. It’s a cosmopolitan and utopian realm that welcomes refugees, while at the same time deploying heroes known as Shieldbearers to places in crisis to defend those in danger.
The setting is simply dripping with a Gene Roddenberry-inspired feel. It invites players to venture on episodic adventures to new realms where they’ll get to know different peoples and cultures. And, as in The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, players can often solve problems through diplomacy and information gathering rather than straightforward combat.
The tone and the stakes of these missions are as wildly varied as the cultures they represent. The starting adventure, “Salted Legacy,” has players trying to stop a feud between merchants in a Thai-inspired night market, which requires earning renown by participating in a hot pepper-eating contest and a cooking challenge. The second adventure, “Written in Blood,” is a ghost story inspired by the Black experience in the American South. In a high-level Chinese-inspired adventure, the agent of a dying emperor will send players to explore the tomb of his predecessor, who was obsessed with achieving immortality. Few of the book’s antagonists are truly evil, with most villains driven by guilt, fear, and trauma.
I was particularly impressed with how many of the adventures provide respectful ways for players to enjoy classic adventure tropes and settings, while simultaneously creating action-packed storylines and fully developed characters. Along with the run-of-the-mill tomb raiding, there’s a lovely chase scene through a Middle Eastern-inspired bazaar that does interesting things with the well-worn concept of a magic carpet. Additionally there are adventures set during in-fiction celebrations inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead and Carnival. Stories are filled with surprising and charming characters like a friendly skeleton who runs a bar and a djinn who just wants to sightsee and catch up with his cousin.
Having writers from historically marginalized groups also means the adventures avoid the tropes of more traditional D&D adventures. Rather than simply taking a job from the local feudal lord, in “The Fiend of the Hollow Mine” players will work to help a revolutionary bandit locked in battle against a corrupt, demon-worshiping politician. In “Shadow of the Sun,” players must choose between helping a stifling angelic theocracy maintain its rule or aiding a group of secular artists in their fight against isolationism. Along with its emphasis on racial and cultural diversity, Radiant Citadel also features queer romance, numerous nonbinary characters, and a prominent NPC with a prosthetic arm.
For those who might be intimidated running an adventure that’s a little outside their wheelhouse, know that Wizards has included lots of guidance for would-be Dungeon Masters. Every adventure opens with a pronunciation guide of the relevant places and characters and ends with a brief gazetteer providing hooks for players who want to come from that civilization and additional details about the culture’s food, dress, and values. The book also opens with advice on describing characters in ways other than skin tone, and a warning against offensive costuming and accents. Every culture even gets a section on names with masculine, feminine, and gender-neutral options.
Radiant Citadel’s writers have created a good balance between making things easy on starting characters and keeping things challenging for high-level ones. That begins with a magical diamond at the center of the Radiant Citadel that removes the expensive material cost for restoration and resurrection spells while maximizing healing. It allows players a hand-wavey way to quickly recover between sessions and get ready for their next adventure. Individual adventures have been thoughtfully tweaked as well to reward alternate play styles. The tomb in “Buried Dynasty,” for instance, is warded to prevent teleportation and then filled with fragile artifacts, making explosive spells a particularly bad idea. It basically forces powerful casters to come up with other solutions to the problems they face.
D&D is a multiverse, but the civilizations connected to the Radiant Citadel aren’t other planes of existence. Instead, they are city-states and individual settlements of varying sizes. While being deployed as Shieldbearers might make players feel like the crew of a Federation starship, these aren’t meant to be isolated or alien worlds but places that could just as easily be slid into an established campaign setting. There are ideas for having PCs come from each civilization as well as suggestions for where on the map they might be if you want to add them to Eberron, the Forgotten Realms, and even Mystara, which hasn’t received much attention since 3rd edition.
Not all of the civilizations tied to the Radiant Citadel get their own adventures. The book features several lost civilizations that will give DMs room to add their own connected societies to the game — or even loop in established D&D locations. The book ends with brief descriptions of two recently rediscovered settings with plenty of promise: the war-torn Tayyib Empire and Umizu, a Japanese-inspired setting filled with corrupt samurai, a thriving crime syndicate, and pickle-loving tritons.
Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel shows the kind of explosive creativity that can come by bringing new voices to the game. Hopefully Wizards of the Coast will continue to embrace the creators it united for this project and let them bring fresh perspectives to future adventures and sourcebooks.
Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel arrives on July 19. A special alternate art cover designed by Sija Hong is only available at your friendly local game store, while the standard edition is available at major retailers including Amazon. Digital versions are available for the D&D Beyond toolset, Roll20, and Fantasy Grounds.
Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel was reviewed with a pre-release copy of the book provided by Wizards of the Coast. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.