From the get go, Journeys through the Radiant Citadel has been touted as Dungeon & Dragon's (D&D) most inclusive offering yet, featuring 16 writers who are people of colour scribing the thirteen adventures in the book.
The adventure anthology brings cultures to the forefront, with thirteen different settings being a major aspect of each adventure.
But where does it stand as an adventure anthology book? And most importantly — does its inclusivity work?
What's in the book
Journeys through the Radiant Citadel is an adventure book for D&D 5th Edition, featuring thirteen different standalone adventures, spanning levels 1 to 14.
Each adventure takes place in a different civilisation, and all these civilisations are connected to the titular Radiant Citadel, a city in the Ethereal Plane that is connected to all these different cultures. The adventures take inspiration from various real-world cultures.
Each adventure also includes a gazetteer about its setting, fleshing out the details, people and culture of that land.
What really stood out about the book is the sheer number of festivals, holidays and celebrations in the adventures. Many of the adventures centre around a particular celebration, which serves to highlight the features of the particular culture it comes from.
It's a refreshing change from the dungeon crawls in other adventure books. But don't worry, a dungeon by any other name is still a dungeon — there's still a good measure of exploration involved, but in other forms. Even if you don't use the adventures as is, it's a good example of how to design and run holiday-based adventures.
The more pressing question is — as a person of colour (Chinese) living in a multicultural country (Singapore), do the adventures feel authentic?
The 13th-level adventure, Buried Dynasty, takes inspiration from Chinese culture — not just with the names, but in the attitudes and mentality of the characters.
The need to keep up appearances, the enormous emphasis placed on the hierarchical order of that adventure's society, and the flavour of the monsters (the climax features a battle against jade statues that clearly draw inspiration from the Terracotta Warriors, but using stone golem stat blocks) all ring true.
With this level of authenticity being represented from my own culture, I was confident that the other adventures did a good job portraying and respecting the cultures they took inspiration from.
This made me more receptive and curious about the other cultures — because I trusted that they would be more accurately portrayed than in other books.
Journeys through the Radiant Citadel isn't the first book to feature non-Western cultures.
Oriental Adventures (I'm referencing the D&D 3rd Edition one) featured East Asian cultures... but it was an amalgam of them (as it used the Legend of the Five Rings setting).
It featured East Asian-sounding classes like shugenja and wu jen, but for the life of me, I still don't understand what they are or what they're based on.
In short, Oriental Adventures didn't feel all that authentic — it was trying to be, but it felt like a hodge-podge of random East Asian things rather than a genuine representation of oriental cultures. Journeys through the Radiant Citadel has that authenticity that Oriental Adventures lacked.
An index on the cultures could have been useful
However, I felt that an index or information stating which cultures the adventures drew inspiration from would have been useful.
Understandably, this sort of information is usually omitted from books, for fear of giving offense or falling into racial stereotypes (2016 Curse of Strahd's featured the Vistani people, seemed to take reference from real-life Romani culture, prompting a revision in 2020 to address some sensitivities, although it was never openly stated that the Vistani were inspired by the Romani).
But in this case, in a book with fifteen different cultures (thirteen adventures, plus two more gazetteers) featured, I really would have liked such an index.
It would have helped point me in the right direction about the cultures I wanted to learn more about. At the very least, perhaps a list of recommended books to for each adventure's culture?
I personally couldn't identify all the real-world cultures that each adventure was based on, so this would have helped me mentally place each adventure.
The adventure anthology also set a good example for how to reskin monster stat blocks to represent creatures in other cultures (rather than creating many brand new stat blocks for the creatures in the book).
The aforementioned jade statues use stone golem stats and gwishin use ghost stats, but there are also brand new monster stat blocks for creatures with specific powers. It's inspired me to reskin stat blocks for my own homebrew monsters.
The Radiant Citadel itself is also reminiscent of Planescape's Sigil, with its multiplanar sensibilities.
Of course, both are planar hubs and feature a melting pot of cultures, so those comparisons are inevitable.
But it made the Radiant Citadel endear to me, and sometimes you just want a Sigil-like city without the accompanying backstory of the Lady of Pain and her dabus.
A more inclusive Dungeons & Dragons
Overall, Journeys through the Radiant Citadel represents a bold stride forward as D&D becomes more inclusive.
It's already openly stated that the word "race" will no longer be used in upcoming revisions of the game ("species" will be used instead), and more gender-neutral characters have been appearing in adventures.
It's new era for D&D, one that will welcome more players into the fold.
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Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for "Lion Mums", "Crimewatch", "Police & Thief", and "Incredible Tales". He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site.