D&D General An In-Depth Review of Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel

Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel is the latest D&D adventure anthology and like Candlekeep Mysteries, it's overflowing with ideas and inspiration.

d-d-5th-journeys-through-the.jpg

JTtRC contains 13 adventures for players 1st through 14th level. Prefer a single, longer campaign? JTtRC could easily be run as one campaign with an episodic feel or a DM could come up with their own plot to tie the individual adventures closer together. Or just pick and choose adventures to slot into your existing campaign. JTtRC is set up with the perfect blend of structure and flexibility to accommodate almost any DM's campaign needs.

In fact, you could ignore the citadel portion itself and set the adventures in your own homebrew campaign or an established D&D setting. Each adventure has useful information on placing the location within the Forgotten Realms or another known setting like Eberron, Greyhawk, or Dragonlance, or connecting it as intended to the Radiant Citadel

No matter how you choose to run JTtRC, it's a book that feels big and expansive. The adventures range from a night market to a lush jungle, colorful festivals to a fiery volcano, haunted locations to an underwater city. If your group loves the exploration pillar of D&D and seeing new things, JTtRC offers a lot.

JTtRC is also the first truly new setting D&D released in many years (Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft had new Domains of Dread, but Ravenloft itself is old), not counting Critical Role collaborations. Yet because the titular citadel is in the Ethereal Plane it's already part of D&D's Great Wheel Cosmology as described in the DMG, just in a previously not described deep pocket of it.

Citadel Map.jpg

Entering the Radiant Citadel​

The Radiant Citadel itself is a floating city carved from the gigantic fossil of an ancient, unidentified creature, much like real-world rock-cut architecture. The fossil itself is wrapped around the Auroral Diamond, a font of healing and life-giving magic. It powers the light, water, and agriculture in the citadel as well providing maximum results from healing spells cast within the citadel and eliminating the need for material components for certain spells. It's called the Radiant Citadel because it functions as a beacon for those lost in the Ethereal Plane.

But the citadel is more than a location. It's a transition point to 27 civilizations that founded the Radiant Citadel ages ago, carving it out of the fossil. Concordant Jewels connect the citadel to those civilizations, only the connections were lost for a time. Fifteen have been rediscovered and reconnected (13 of which are explored in the anthology's adventures). Twelve are not, which allows a DM to connect any setting, official or homebrew, to the citadel.

Life in the citadel is egalitarian and utopian. Resources are shared fairly. Basic needs for life, like food and housing are provided. Refugees are welcome within the citadel, either temporarily until they move on, or permanently. The citadel itself feels very much like a hopepunk or solarpunk version of New York City (according to project lead Ajit George the Statue of Liberty inspired the Auroral Diamond) and its melting pot of many cultures, food, and arts.

But don't think that because the citadel itself is hopepunk that there isn't conflict or that the adventures are about calmly drinking tea. Within the citadel itself there are political conflicts between the various factions and civilizations, and the adventures cover a range of styles complete with hauntings, fiends, and one of the creepiest monsters I've seen in a D&D book.

Inside the Court of Whispers, information is bartered. The House of Convalescence attracts both healers and the sick and injured desperate for aid. The Trade Discal is a place where food and items from the founding civilizations can be purchased. Druids bring animals that can't survive anymore on the Material Plan to the Preserve of the Ancestors, in addition to it being a place where spirit forms gather, inhabit jewels, and become Incarnates. The Palace of Exiles provides refuge for those driven from their homelands. Any of these citadel locations could be the destination for a group of adventurers needing healing, an item, to find someone, to trade information, or to gain a respite themselves—and that's with just a superficial overview. The NPCs and locations provide a lot more adventure fodder before you even get to the anthology portion.

JTtRC_Alt_Cover_Art_full_by_Sija_Hong.png

Setting the Stage​

The book provides guidance for how to connect the adventures as well as how your players may have ended up at the Radiant Citadel. A short chart provides further ideas for adventures within the citadel.

JTtRC does not contain player options, but that's not unusual. Several other adventures haven't, and new subclasses and such are more likely to show up in resource books like Tasha's Cauldron of Everything or Fizban's Treasury of Dragons than in adventure books. I'm fine with that because I prefer quality over quantity in terms of player options. JTtRC does have 11 monster stat blocks I'll discuss below.

However, each adventure chapter does contain a gazetteer to help the DM run that setting and adventure. It also provides information useful for any player who creates a character from that area, assuming their DM approves. It includes a pronunciation guide, significant locations, information on life in the location, sample names (male, female, gender neutral, and surnames), legends, and seeds for further adventures. It also includes questions the players can ask themselves if they're making a character from that region.

In the Welcome to the Radiant Citadel introductory chapter the authors also provide an overview and some useful guidance for how to run and play the adventures in JttRC. One of the points is that just like you don't have to be able to breath fire to play a dragonborn you also don't have to be from one the cultural inspirations to play or run JttRC. The chapter then follows up with good, concrete advice on how a DM can describe NPCs and set a scene, how to avoid stereotypes, and what to do and not to do when playing a character. It's excellent advice that I hope makes it into the upcoming anniversary editions of the PHB and DMG.

Fiend of the Hollow Mine shrine.jpg

Onto Adventure!​

While I'm avoiding significant spoilers, if you're a player who wants to experience JTtRC without any influence, you should stop here. DMs can proceed.

The adventures in JTtRC don't just vary by their real-world inspiration. They also have a variety of tones and goals.
  • Salted Legacy, by Surena Marie for 1-2nd level characters, is a comedic mystery focusing on investigation and building renown so the NPCs are more likely to share information. Can your players approach it from a “knock heads together” viewpoint? Sure, but why not embrace the scenario and try something new? Set in a night market, two families of rival merchants had, perhaps, been inching their way toward peace, until a series of incidents cause renewed paranoia and hostilities. The players need to find out who really did what and restore harmony in the night market, but that requires cooperation that will only come through boosting their renown by winning games. It's an appropriate adventure for players just starting out and can encourage teamwork.
  • Written In Blood, by Erin Roberts, is a 3rd level adventure that evokes Southern Gothic Horror. During the Awakening Festival, violence breaks out that forces the characters to investigate a haunted farm. The adventure is also designed to force the players to travel with residents of Godsbreath, providing an opportunity to explore the land. While Salted Legacy was lighter in tone, Written in Blood is possibly the darkest scenario in JTtRC, and while the former took inspiration from exotic Thai markets, this one conjures the rural Mississippi of a horror novel.
  • The Fiend of Hollow Mine is a 4th level adventure by Mario Ortegón that is inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. A curse is killing people, and the players should end up working with a local outlaw to discover the source, which leads to a fiend. While presumably the characters will defeat the fiend, the players' choices in this scenario will determine whether the ending is tragic or provides happy relief.
  • Wages of Vice, by TK Johnson, for 5th level characters, is set in Zinda during a Carnevale/Mardi Gras-type celebration, when a murder happens. This story involves a type of zombie that aren't undead, a parade as a key location, and a lot of community conflict.
  • Sins of Our Elders is a 6th level adventure written by Stephanie Yoon. A wronged and angry spirit is exploiting local tradition to trap locals into a cycle of suffering in this horror tale inspired by Korean folklore.
  • The 7th level adventure, Gold for Fools and Princes by Dominique Dickey, is set in Sensa, a prosperous empire beset with intrigue and drama, partially caused by a creature long thought to be extinct. Soon, two rivals angle to take the throne after a tragedy.
  • Trail of Destruction by Alastor Guzman is for 8th level characters and is inspired by Aztec culture and Mexican locations. Earthquakes and volcanic activity are wreaking havoc, requiring the players to travel through dangerous areas to discover the source of the turmoil.
  • In the Mists of Manivarsha is a 9th level adventure by Mimi Mondel. An ancient corruption has returned, leading to a destructive flood threatening the city of Sagorpur and the competition being held there. The players must help rescue the population and get to the core of the calamity.
  • Between Tangled Roots by Pam Punzalan is a 10th adventure with a gigantic creature at the center of the story, but it's not the typical monster hunter tale. Instead it presents a challenge for the players as to how they handle the situation, once they figure out what's going on.
  • Shadow of the Sun by Justice Ramin Arman is an 11th level adventure involving factions fighting for control in an angel-ruled city. Nothing is what it seems and the Iranian folklore-inspired scenario includes a new celestial being that fills the gap between deva and planar. The adventure even has an opportunity for aerial combat.
  • The Nightsea's Succor by D. Fox Harrell is for 12th level characters investigating a mysterious haunting. It involves restoring lost lore and a visit to a mysterious underwater city.
  • Buried Dynasty, a 13th adventure by Felice Tzehuei Kuan, features an ancient regime facing potential instability and intrigue. Secrets that have helped preserve the dynasty have been lost, and some want to hold onto power at any cost.
  • Terry Hope Romero's 14th level adventure, Orchids of the Invisible Mountain involves a journey to the Feywild. It also features a creature that is attracted to conflict in a setting that blends Venezuelan folklore with Lovecraftian creepiness.
Wynling.jpg

More Monsters​

While JTtRC doesn't have a ton of new monsters, the eleven they do have are evocative and provide variety. The cutest is the chaotic neutral wynling, a low CR Fey creature whose sense of mischief can cause a lot of problems.

The creepiest monster in the book is the soul shaker, a collection of severed limbs that combine and steal vitality. They can also charm people and use them to lure more victims. Worse, when a soul shaker is reduced to zero HP it explodes into seven crawling claws. If at least two of those survive after two days the soul shaker can reform.

The aurumvorax is a creature from older editions of D&D that has been updated for 5E. It gets two stat blocks—one for the normal, gold-eating creature, and one for its den leader, which gets a pack tactic ability.

The huge, neutral alignment, fire elemental tlexolotl has a multiattack with a bite, tail, and lava attack. It gave me a Godzilla-type vibe, which kaiju fans will love.

The riverine is different from other water spirits in 5E in that it's more like an awakened river. The art by Claudio Pozas adds new meaning to the term “thirst trap.” This neutral, CR 12, fey creature gets legendary actions and legendary abilities, in addition to other abilities.

Bakunawa is a new dragon type inspired by both lore from the Philippines and koi fish. Don't underestimate it, though. With a CR 12 this huge, typically neutral dragon is a challenge with abilities like Storm Slam and Nimble Glide.

Gold for the Fools and Princes.jpg

Art That Sets the Scene​

I've been a fan of the 5E artwork managed by principal art director Kate Irwin and art director Emi Tanji for a long time. While a few earlier books were a touch inconsistent, the last several books have had near perfect designs that ideally fit the tone, and have been incredibly consistent despite each book having roughly 20 or more artists.

The art for JTtRC is absolutely gorgeous, and the artists do an amazing job of blending D&D fantasy with the real-world cultures that inspired the book's 15 settings to create something new and fresh that expands the scope of what a D&D campaign can look like. Whether it's a character figure like Jabari Weather's Proclaimer Tungsten in Written in Blood, a monster like the Haint by Claudio Pozas for The Nightsea's Succor, or a scene like the diva art by Ejiwa Edge-Ebenebe for The Wages of Sin, to just name three examples, the art provides specific, indelible images that beautifully complement these new settings.

The book covers are equally lovely and distinctive. Evyn Fong featured the night market in Salt Legacy for the beautiful standard cover. It's packed with clever details and makes it abundantly clear that this is different than the standard D&D adventure. Sija Hong's alternative cover is absolutely stunning. The metallic inks shimmer and glow, thematically reinforcing both the “radiant” in the adventure and location's name, and its hopepunk tone.

Sins of Our Elders.jpg

Assessing the Journey​

JTtRC is the D&D adventure book I've been wanting for a long time. It doesn't hit just one item on my checklist but many.

First, as much as I love the old settings and am looking forward to the announced Spelljammer and Dragonlance revivals (and, I'm sure Planescape is coming, too), I also want to see something new. JTtRC hits a sweet spot because the citadel itself and the 15 connected locations are all new but because the citadel is in the Ethereal Plane it slides right into the established cosmology.

Second, it's not grim dark or focused on scarcity. I know people love grim dark settings—it seems like every other D&D Kickstarter I come across is grim dark—but I feel like they've been done to death. Plus I game to escape and grim dark is a bit heavy considering the state of the world. And I was tired of settings built around scarcity before Dark Sun came out. My feelings haven't changed in all these years.

A hopeful setting and even a utopian one can still have conflict that drives adventure. Star Trek has been proving that for more than 50 years. JTtRC smartly splits the difference by making the citadel itself hopepunk/utopian while the connected worlds can be more typical in the type of threats.

The shift in tone is especially appreciated after the run of dark, horror adventures WotC did for a while. Icewind dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden was survivalist horror, Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus had machines fueled by people's souls, among other disturbing things, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft was practically the ultimate guide to running D&D horror, and even The Wild Beyond the Witchlight had its share of creepy images things mixed with the whimsy.

Third, D&D has largely been rooted in a certain style of European, mostly British, medieval fantasy. When it did branch out with settings like Oriental Adventures or Al-Qadim the creative team weren't associated with the real-world inspiration. By contrast, JTtRC only used writers that could tap into their cultural backgrounds, adding an authenticity and vibrancy to the new settings. Instead of cliches or superficial trappings we get settings depth, nuance, and complexity. At the same time, the adventures evoke universal feelings of fear, grief, greed, etc., making the NPC's motivations relatable.

Plus, I want something fresh in my entertainment. I know Grimm's fairy tales, Tolkien, and all of the associated fantasy tales and components. I've been asking my friends for ages, where are the stories and games from the cultures I don't know? In JTtRC project leads Ajit George and F. Wesley Schneider found the right team of creators to answer that question and empowered them to create new D&D worlds inspired by a variety of real-world cultures.

I really like the Aztec-inspired tiefling and dwarf, just to name two examples. I want more of that in D&D. I'm not sure who decided that all dwarves dress the same, regardless of the setting, and have a Scottish accent, but it's been done, a lot. I love the fresh perspectives JTtRC provides.

And much like Candlekeep Mysteries, a DM can return to JTtRC over and over for inspiration or resources. Use the name lists, repurpose maps and NPCs, place one of the settings in your world—there are a lot of options.

Speaking of which, JTtRC is promoted as having 13 adventures, but it actually contains a lot more than that. Each adventure ends with a list of four to six ideas to continue the adventure in addition to other adventure seeds scattered through JTtRC. So if you need a new idea for your next session, grab a chapter or adventure prompt.

On top of that, JTtRC has lots of room for expansion. Leaving 12 of the Concordant Jewels unassigned so DMs can fill in what they want was smart. So is all of the material to help with fitting the citadel or one of the other locations into another campaign setting. This setting flexibility serves modern D&D much better than the “fish bait” strategy used by TSR, as described in Slaying the Dragon: The Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons.

The adventures are solid. Which ones you prefer may depend upon your taste, but there's enough variety to have something that will appeal.

Wages of Sin-Diva.jpg

So What's Wrong with JTtRC?

Very little, in my opinion. I have my standard complaints, like the art credit captions should be easier to read in the physical books like they are in the D&D Beyond versions. I wish the body copy font was one size larger. I wish the books had an index. None of those are specific to JTtRC.

Do I wish the gazetteers were longer? Yes, but I'm a sucker for world-building, settings, etc. It's hard to give me just enough.

Everything else I'd single out are more along the lines of suggestions than actual problems. For example, the user experience would be better if WotC released a PDF similar to the Volo's Waterdeep Enchiridion that they did for Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, only this PDF would collect the information in each location's gazetteer that's useful for players creating characters from those worlds. Why? JTtRC is a book DMs are going to buy far more than players. In the book's layout it's a bit too easy for players to accidentally see the adventure's conclusion while reading what they might need from the gazetteer. Hopefully the D&D Beyond version provides an easy way to split those segments out for player purchase, but a PDF like VWE would also work. WotC could even have the proceeds from the PDF go to charity like the Domains of Delight PDF benefited Extra Life. Considering the themes of JTtRC, a refugee aid charity or World Central Kitchen would be good fits.

I love that each section has a pronunciation guide. I wish they repeated the pronunciation on the monster entries instead of making you flip back and forth. Pronunciations in parentheses would have also been nice in the name suggestion lists. Like I said, these are the most nit-picky of suggestions and not actually reflecting any downsides or drawbacks to JTtRC.

Written in Blood.jpg

Conclusions​

Normally in this part of a review I give a list of items that will help a reader figure out if they'll like the adventure or not. Here, that's a bit trickier because of how smartly JTtRC was crafted. Don't like anthologies? As I said at the beginning, it could be run as one complete campaign, without much work. Don't want to run everything? It's an anthology. Use what you like and ignore the rest. Don't like horror? Skip the adventures with those elements.

Don't like new settings? I guess that could be a thing, but it seems unlikely. You only DM/play settings derived from fantasy Europe/Tolkien inspiration/etc.? I guess that's possible, but it feels to me like choosing to eat the same sandwich every day for your entire life.

So how does JTtRC compare to prior D&D releases? Extremely well. Even though Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel is very different from Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft the creativity, versatility, and quality are equal. There's a certain symmetry to that since George pitched the concept of JTtRC after working with Schneider on VRGtR. It's also clear that both projects were labors of love for the participants.

So like VRGtR, Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel earned an A+ from me. It's the breath of fresh air I wanted, and flexible enough to fit into not just my current campaign but any I might run in the future. That's impressive, and so is this book. More, please, WotC.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

log in or register to remove this ad

Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Rhineglade

Explorer
I have to admit that I actually got a little misty when I was first looking over this book. I don't know why. The book itself is a veritable work of art. I haven't read all of the adventures in depth yet but certainly got a good sense of the various cultural flavors involved. I think that maybe I found it rather refreshing to look at adventures centered around something other than the very traditional Medieval-European standard. I still love the Medieval-European but it is not the only way to view the world.
 

Those who know me know I am a sucker for solid planar content, and this truly delivers (from what I've seen in the preview). As someone who spent 15 years co-managing Planewalker.com I cannot applaud this loudly enough! I would also add that as a French Creole seeing stuff rooted in other cultures is WAY overdue. Looking forward to the "Mardi Gras style" adventure in particular!

Thanks for the terrific review. I am, if possible, even more excited to get this into my grubby little paws.
 




Looks good!

brimmels wrote:
Each adventure has useful information on placing the location within the Forgotten Realms or another known setting like Eberron, Greyhawk, or Dragonlance, or connecting it as intended to the Radiant Citadel
Okay cool, but no Mystara? Aw! The crown jewel of earthly cultural analogues!
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how the real-world cultures are lined up FR, EB, GH, and DL. Especially DL, since Krynn's earthly analogues are more blended than, say, FR or GH.
I wonder if there are cosmological connections between the various parallel cultural analogues. In the back of the GAZ series, there were inter-planar portals connecting the Mystaran cultures with their counterparts in Toril and Oerth. (E.g. Khanates of Ethengar + FR's Hordelands + GH Tiger Nomads and Wolf Nomads).
 









I have to say, the three hispanic and mesoamerican touched settings are literally some of the best content written for 5th Edition, period. Each setting is immensely rich with incredibly unique ideas that are soooo inspired by their cultures that its nuts. I have always wanted some nice, first-party fantasy dealing with Central and South American beliefs and myths, and this is it.

Their adventures, especially "The Fiend of Hollow Mine" for San Citlan, are excellent. The final adventure for Atagua asks (intentionally) the DM to flesh it out more, as does the "Trail of Destruction" for Tletepec, but the Fiend of Hollow Mine is damn near perfect as it is. All three have great NPCs, but this one has such moving emotions in it that I am just enchanted.

Their dawn incarnates were chosen perfectly as well. The Xolo for San Citlan, capturing the psychopomp nature of that setting; the eagle for Tletepec, capturing the root ideas of the Aztecs and their omens for a better land; the Kopak Tree for Atagua, representing how that setting is heavily rooted in both the Feywilde and Far Realm, the Kopak itself being the world tree in Central and South American cultures.

Stunning. I really hope we get a Radiant Citadel 2 in a few years.
 


I find I don't like the art. Both the current style but mostly the colour palettes. It must be me because they cause some discomfort when I look at them, especially some of the pink/purple hues. Won't buy for this reason ( but doesn't stop me being a player if I get the chance).

Never heard of hopepunk/solarpunk.
Hopepunk sounds an odd combo (does not flow right in my head).
Solarpunk on the hand I really like, and smoothly flows when read/spoken. A setting where the 'earth' made it and didn't suffer an Apocalypse, so no post-apocalypse grim. Not sure what adventurers would do in such a setting but I do like the word!
 

JThursby

Adventurer
I'll take hopepunk over grimdark any day of the week - especially in gaming!
Blow for blow, I prefer Grimdark more in settings that try to pull inspiration for historical Earth. The best "hopepunk" setting I can think of is Star Trek of the TNG and DS9 era, which works very hard to distinguish the humans of the future as a product of their exceptional enviroment and upbringing. The Federation of Planets and Starfleet do not behave like institutions from, or have the culture of, modern or ancient Earth. They are not a superior society because they have embraced a particular political doctrine or outlook on life from our present or past, they've invented a new one out of necessity. When you have a portrayal of ancient societies as having better answers to the human condition it comes across as naive at best; it's the one thing I really do not like about Tolkien's writing, despite his skill at storytelling.

To pull an example from the book in question, the "Life in the Citadel" section has an array of implausible solutions and outcomes. A citizens political affiliation and specific rights are compulsory based on their lineage, yet this is described as paradoxically resulting in a transparent and free political system. The idea that a citizen would not want to be subordinate to their cultural traditions as codified by their cultures law and representatives, or have political desires that align with anything other than their heritage, is not addressed. The central government controls all housing, land and food distribution like in most ancient societies, but this is portrayed as egalitarian and efficient rather than totalitarian and tyrannical. Peoples wants and desires are portrayed as being predictable based on their lineage and station within that lineage. This is the central contradiction within the citadel that makes it implausible for me; a citizen within the citadel is by design entirely subordinate to their heritage and their elders within it, a political structure of the ancient world that is considered oppressive and wrong, yet this is supposedly a superior form of society because the people of the Citadel are assumed to have no identity or wants outside of their assigned heritage. If this contradiction was more adequately addressed within the book it would be much easier to excuse, but as it stands any conflict within the citadel is hand-waved away as being the result of the odd miscreant or malicious foreigner.
 


Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top