The Next D&D Adventure Book is a Vibrant, Personal Multicultural Anthology

The Next D&D Adventure Book is a Vibrant, Personal Multicultural Anthology

In June, Dungeons & Dragons is releasing a new anthology of adventures, titled Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel. Located in the ethereal plane, the Citadel is one-step removed from any location in the world. Imagine a massive diamond-like moon surrounded by sheer-faced floating gemstones, a circling ring of portals that allow any creature on the material plane the ability to access the Citadel, if they only know the right steps to take. This exciting bit of worldbuilding creates a clever framework for the adventures within the book.

Much like 2021’s Candlekeep Mysteries, and 2017’s Tales from the Yawning Portal, Radiant Citadel is an anthology book comprising 13 individual adventures for character levels 1-14. Each level gets its own adventure (with one of the lower-level adventures combining a pair) and each chapter is penned by a different author, who have all collaborated to leave hints about the other works within their own writing. The tone of these adventures varies as well, from comedies to horror and everything in between.

But there’s something else, and I wanted to give this a bit of a lead in before the big reveal: Every single adventure is penned by an author of colour.

The project was co-led by Ajit George (a D&D vet who wrote for Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft) and Wes Schneider (Senior Game Designer), and the writers who were available at conference for press on to reveal Radiant Citadel included contributors Surena Marie, Erin Roberts, and Justice Ramin Arman. George has been a groundbreaker in many ways for Wizards of the Coast. He was the first person of Indian origin to write specifically from his culture for D&D, and was able to create a totally new land and domain for Ravenloft — the land of Kalakeri, if you’re curious.

In fact, this project had over fifty people of colour working on it, and both the traditional and alternate colour were drawn by women of colour. This groundbreaking achievement surpasses the inclusion efforts of any previous Dungeons & Dragons book, and is a clear indicator of the commitment that George and Schneider had to making sure that Radiant Citadel was unique not just for the breadth of adventures it would present, but for the diversity of ideas that would be apparent in the book. When you provide space for people of many cultures to create a multi-cultural book, you will get something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Much like the Radiant Citadel itself.

George explained during the press conference (lead by Greg Tito, Senior Communications Manager for D&D) that he first pitched the core idea of Radiant Citadel to both Jeremey Crawford, D&D’s Lead Rules Designer, and Schneider during the pandemic. “I couldn’t shake the idea of a whole book written by Black and brown writers, writing from our own cultures, myths and stories,” George added. He wanted to create something that would allow a nuanced, considerate, and thoughtful exploration of minority experience and understanding, inspired by their own lives, that would be specifically created to examine stereotypes within the greater fantasy genre.

Schneider and Crawford were all in. By September of 2020, George and Schnider had assembled the writer team that would create the adventures within Radiant Citadel. George remarked that one of the best pieces of advice he received before starting this project was that, “the key to the book’s success [would be] to create adventures that would be a gateway to new lands.”

George and the team have developed an incredibly lore-savvy way to allow Radiant Citadel to become that gateway. Schneider explains that because the Citadel is located in the ethereal plane, it’s “floating on the multiverse, just one step away from reality,” and can technically be accessed by a great number of ways according to the established D&D canon. What this means is that even if you are playing through the adventures of Ravenloft, Waterdeep, or even your own created world, there is a way for you to seamlessly access the adventures included in Radiant Citadel without breaking any of the rules that you’ve already established in your own games.

The lore of the titular city itself is key to the book’s mechanical function. The Citadel is a previously-abandoned city which has been resurrected by fifteen separate cultures. The original founders of the Citadel came from 27 cultures, 12 of which were “lost,” or have been forgotten. When any culture finds its way into the city, they get a concord jewel set in the orbit around the Citadel, which serves as a portal to that culture’s roots in the material plane. It’s through these portals that each of the adventures takes place.

When Tito asked about the audience for these adventures, George and Schneider explained that they, for the most part, aimed at the usual D&D audience, although some of the early adventures are suitable for kids, especially “Salted Legacy,” which we’ll get into a little more later. It’s the Citadel itself that’s really the crown jewel of this new book, George explained, and that’s where any number of adventures can materialise.

The Citadel is not meant to serve as an urban battlefield, it’s designed to be a place of rest, wonder, and full of colourful characters who are eager to get adventurers out on their next journey. Carved out of a massive fossil left over from a creature lost to time, George said he was inspired by Indian rock-cut architecture when he developed this setting. It’s an ecological paradise where the dead give back to the living. Surrounding this world-diamond is a cyclone of keening gloom. While the Citadel is a place of refuge, there is a sense of impending doom just on the outer-edges of the setting. This creates a tension between safety and insecurity, and allows for more investigations in the city itself for the cunning adventurer.

There is much about this setting that allows adventurers to fill in the blanks of the lore. You can import your own cultures through one of the twelve missing jewels; you can create your own fusions within the Citadel itself. There are suggestions written at the beginning of every adventure to not only allow you to port between the Citadel and the various settings described in each chapter, but also between any individual adventure and the material world of your own game. Versatility and framework have been baked into the design of this book at every step, a guidebook of hints and measures to take to incorporate any single city, valley, or marshland into your own world.

“It’s meant to be a respite, a place to regroup and rebuild. I wanted a place of home, that feels good to return to, but which can launch out adventures,” George said. “There’s a lot of ways to expand… and organically generate outwards adventures.”

During the press meeting we were given previews of three of the thirteen adventures. “The 1st-level adventure, “Salted Legacy,” presents a comedic mystery set in a bustling night market; “Written in Blood,” the 3rd-level adventure, sends characters to investigate a farm with a terrifying haunting; and the 11th-level adventure, “Shadow of the Sun,” encourages adventurers to choose allegiances while navigating the escalating tensions of an angel-ruled city.

Image: Wizards of the Coast
Image: Wizards of the Coast

Surena Marie described her adventure, “Salted Legacy,” as a comedic Family Feud with food. The adventure, for character levels 1-2, sees the adventurers transported into the bustling Syn Singh Night Market, nestled in a Sub Sunco Valley surrounded by verdant green mountains. The location is the commercial jewel of the region, surrounded by farmland, and a mysterious, magical forest, and these opposing natures of industry versus tradition are expressed in the adventure itself. In “Salted Legacy,” rival food vendor families accuse the other of robbing the other, and the players are asked to figure out what’s really happening. But in order to solve the mystery they have to play market games to earn the trust and renown of the vendors.

Marie, who has a background in Chicago improv, said that she wanted to create a lighthearted and fun adventure that can be performed at the table, not just played. Her goal was to make this accessible, not just to new players but to streamers and content creators as well (Marie got her start as an Actual Play actor, and has starred on the Rivals of Waterdeep stream). Inspired by cooking shows like Chopped and Hell’s Kitchen, players must defeat giant prawns in order to make prawn patties to serve at the market. There’s also a hot wing eating contest and a drastic chase through the night market inspired by the chaotic and playful monkeys of Lopburi. “I wanted a sense of chaotic wonder with these ridiculous challenges to be reflected in the story,” Marie added.

“These are almost icebreaker games when you’re at a new table,” Marie said, “they put you in right away even when you don’t have any story established.” Marie also dived deeper into the themes of her work, saying that her Thai roots inspired the way this game comes together, and how she designed this game with her mother’s cooking in mind. Marie uses the adventure to reflect on the responsibilities we have to each other and our community, the legacy of families, and how to resolve problems and trauma even if they’re generational.

“I didn’t want to create a game about a lone wolf slashing through a dungeon, this is about helping a community resolve issues… it’s about helping resolve generation trauma, at least a little bit,” Marie said. The adventure evokes duality of the first generation immigrant experience, “where we want to live the big American dream, we want to live the life that our parents had [in mind]. And, meanwhile there’s a part of us that worries about losing our culture, or we aren’t given full access to it because of the pressure to assimilate.”

Marie’s rival families create a commentary on the nature of being a first generation immigrant, focusing on a more intimate adventure that requires emotional buy-in and empathy, wherein the fate of these two families are in the player’s hands. “Everyone,” Marie says, “can relate to caring about your family,” even when they might not have the whole story. But that’s where the players come in.

Image: Wizards of the Coast
Image: Wizards of the Coast

Like many anthologies, the tones of each chapter tend to shift. Erin Roberts introduced her 3rd-level adventure, “Written in Blood,” as a haunted farmland adventure inspired by the American South. It’s set in a new region called God’s Breath, which Roberts describes as a “personal love letter” to her family’s roots in Mississipi, Alabama, and Florida. God’s Breath follows the American South through its agrarian roots, exploring many different regions in many contexts. There are murky coves and bayous, farmland in the silt-mud of a river, the Ribbon, a belt of farmland that cuts a prosperous swath through the region, which has been slowly shrinking every year because of an ongoing drought that nobody quite understands. “But,” Roberts laughed, “that’s not what this adventure is about.”

“Written in Blood” takes place in a port city, Promise, inspired by Biloxi, New Orleans, and Memphis, a place where the land meets the river in strange and mysterious ways. There is a sense of shared history inherent in the setting, wherein every year a large group of bards and clerics called Proclaimers get together to sing the Awakening Song, “an oral history of everything of note that’s happened in the region over the years.”

That’s when the adventure starts: in the middle of this celebration, when normally-friendly farmers attack Promise. The players have to figure out what’s wrong, why the attacks are happening, and follow Tungsten, a Proclaimer, into the dangerous, monster-infested farmland that many desperate farmers are forced to till in order to make ends meet during the drought. It’s important to impress Tungsten, Roberts joked, “because you could either have your deeds sung about for all eternity, but if Tungsten’s like ‘nah’ then your deeds are lost to time.”

God’s Breath is a larger metaphor for the Black diaspora through the American South, where gods have brought a group of people into this region from a distant land where they were under attack, and they are forced to start a new life. “It’s my way of asking ‘how do we see the richness here’,” said Roberts. Players get a chance to travel and understand the region to get a better sense of this culture, the hauntings and mystery embedded deep into the soil of this land. It is important to remember that this has a massive Southern Gothic Horror vibe, and Roberts was given a chance to create a monster, aptly named the Soulshaker. Describing it, Roberts laughed and then added “without spoiling too much… what happens if too many hands, but way, way worse?”

“Shadow of the Sun,” an adventure for level 11 adventures, was written by Justice Ramin Arman, who recently announced he was joining Wizards of the Coast as a Senior Game Designer at Dungeons & Dragons. This adventure, inspired by the ancient Sumerian cities of modern-day Iran, takes place in the city of Akharin Sangar, which is a holy city-state ruled by the angel Atash. This is an ancient land with rich traditions, but is currently wrecked by a rebellious tension as Atash rules over this city which he delivered from catastrophe 50 years ago. “My hope is that DMs and players get used to the ‘akha’ sound used in the Persian language,” Arman joked, “so good luck to you all!”

The adventure starts on the night of a lunar festival when the characters get thrown into a clash between different factions in the city. With little to no room for neutral ground, characters must navigate between various resistance groups like the Ashen Heirs and the Silent Roar as they come up against Akharin Sangar’s Brightguard, a group of holy enforcers who serve Atash and maintain the peace. “Every nexus point of this adventure there’s always going to be two decisions,” Arman explained, and characters will be forced to side with either the resistance of the Brightguard. Arman added that because of the higher level associated with this adventure, the stakes are going to be inherently a little bit higher, and he’s designed this game so that the weight of their decision will have an impact on the climax and the fate of the city as a whole. “Everyone is going to remember what you do,” Arman insisted.

Arman, who is Iranian-American, has drawn from ancient Persia, Iranian poetry, the epic Shahnameh (known as The Book of Kings), and mythology. However, Arman said that “not all aspects of this fantasy are rooted in the distant past… ‘Shadow of the Sun’ has these themes that [will] feel relevant to modern Iranians and people of colour at home and in the diaspora.” He explained that since Akharin Sangar is an isolated city state, they have “a complicated reputation with outsiders” who have drawn their own conclusions about Sangarians from a distance. This mirrors the often negative portrayals of Iranians in the media. “Shadow of the Sun” aims to challenge perceptions and confront stereotypes. “Everything,” Arman added, “is not as it seems.”

Image: Wizards of the Coast
Image: Wizards of the Coast

Much like the tone of the adventures previewed, Schneider said that there will be a lot of different ways that people are asked to play the game. “You won’t be able to hack and slash your way through every adventure,” he says, “versatility is the name of the game.”

There was a lot of collaboration between the writers. “At every point the writer’s could see each other’s work,” George says, “it was a vibrantly communicative and collaborative process and you can see that in how the work is written.” The adventures are deeply referential, speaking not only to the structural framework of Radiant Citadel but also to the narrative of cultural exchange that happens in the Citadel itself. This is also indicative of the meta-textual ways that the writers all conferred and spoke with each other, creating a “deeply unique” collective experience.

Schneider goes into some of the nitty gritty details. There are going to be eleven new monsters in this book, including the mischievous Windling shown on the cover and the red-winged Hari present in Arman’s adventure. Some of the adventures also bring back some legacy beasts like the aurumvorax and monstrous weasels. He mentions there are no new subclasses or races established in this book but there is “a ton of guidance on how to play characters from these new locations.”

One of those character sects is the Shieldbearers, the Citadel’s rescue and relocation force that is sent out to help save people wherever there is need. They get called to hotspots of natural and magical disasters in order to rescue civilians and innocents and bring them to the citadel. However, Shieldbearers are not allowed to attack or intervene unless they are defending direct attack. “There’s a pretty high morbidity rate among their ranks,” George says, “I wanted to share a kind of hero who actually doesn’t solve the problem causing the disaster, but goes in just hoping to prevent collateral damage.”

Sija Hong's alternative cover art for the book, which will be available exclusively at local game stores. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Sija Hong’s alternative cover art for the book, which will be available exclusively at local game stores. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

Seen on the alternate cover is another piece of worldbuilding unique to the Radiant Citadel. The faceted animals are called “Dawn Incarnates,” and Schneider explained that they are manifestations of the adventures that exist in the book. They are folklore and legend made real and present the stories told at the table become characters in and of themselves. The players will be able to interact with these lore-animals inside of the city, and might even be sent on an adventure or two in their service. George helped wrap up the press conference by reminding listeners that while these campaigns are deeply rooted in the experiences of the writers, they are not one-to-one analogues with the real world. “Each adventure is a new place, full of new monsters, new characters, new challenges,” he noted, “this is still D&D, but just with a new flavour.”

Ultimately what George wanted to do with this book was to give writers freedom and build their adventures organically from the ground up. The benefit of a framework like the Citadel is that they don’t have to worry about the decades of lore attached to a place like Eberron, or the Forgotten Realms. It was up to George and Schneider to do the work to make these lands accessible and portable into a game that was based in Eberron. The book is structured to facilitate an incredible amount of different settings because, George added “we know a lot of players’ favourite worlds are their own.”

D&D gave me a lot when I needed it most. [Journeys through the Radiant Citadel] offers depth, complexity, nuance. Your characters will always be changed by the adventures,” George concluded. “The care that the writers put in will ask a lot of the players and characters… I want players to think about these games afterwards and think, my character became different after this adventure, and so did I.”

Journeys through the Radiant Citadel will be available digitally and in North American stores on June 21 with a cover designed by Evyn Fong, while a limited number of copies with an alternative cover designed by Sija Hong will be available only through game stores.

Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.