Table of Contents:
Radiant Gem or Dull Rock?
The 5e library just got a new official addition in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel. I think more than any recent 5e release this one has had the weirdest marketing that has led to the understandable question: what is this book about? Is this some weird new spelljammer location? A collection of one-shot adventures? What the heck is a radiant citadel? Well hop into a giant magical gemstone spaceship as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s in the Book?
The radiant citadel clocks in at 224 pages, which is exactly the same page length as the other most similar 5e release Candlekeep Mysteries. It’s also at the same price point of $29.99 which is right on par with the other WotC “slim” volumes.
The book is mainly composed of 13 short adventure paths, each one set in an entirely new setting revolving around a new culture. We then also have the lore for the radiant citadel itself, two more cultures/regions that strangely don’t include their own adventure paths and sprinkled between the adventures we get 11 new monsters to play around with.
All told you can find the following within Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel:
- Radiant Citadel Rules and Lore.
- Salted Legacy, 1st Level Adventure.
- Written in Blood, 3rd Level Adventure.
- The Fiend of Hollow Mine, 4th Level Adventure.
- Wages of Vice, 5th Level Adventure.
- Sins of Our Elders, 6th Level Adventure.
- Gold for Fools and Princes, 7th Level Adventure.
- Trail of Destruction, 8th Level Adventure.
- In the Mists of Manivarsha, 9th Level Adventure.
- Between Tangled Roots, 10th Level Adventure.
- Shadow of the Sun, 11th Level Adventure.
- The Nightsea’s Succor, 12th Level Adventure.
- Buried Dynasty, 13th Level Adventure.
- Orchids of the Invisible Mountain, 14th Level Adventure.
- Tayyib Empire Gazetter.
- Umizu Gazetter.
- 11 New Monsters.
The Radiant Citadel
This shining city is new to D&D lore and resides within the previously little explored “deep ethereal”, the deep reaches of the infinite mists in the ethereal plane. It’s a gigantic magic diamond wrapped in the fossilized remains of some long-dead and unknown creature. The magical gemstone staves off the worst dangers of the ethereal plane and radiates life-giving energy, making it a beacon of safety amidst the otherwise hostile and confusing ethereal plane. Some unknown time ago a city was carved into the fossil by people of each of the cultures detailed in the adventures and a dozen more “lost” cultures that can easily be made into whatever homebrew cultures you’d care to include.
At a functional level, the radiant citadel is a quest hub. It has a very utopian “solar punk” vibe and while the society there can potentially have some political intrigue or other disputes, there’s not a lot of call for people with swords (adventurers). Rather, the radiant citadel acts as a near-infinite source of potential quest givers as the speakers for each of the component cultures along with the “incarnates” (gemstone animals composed of the combined souls from a specific nation) have their own agendas and can send the players hurtling towards adventure in any number of far-off lands.
I’ve seen a lot of people compare the radiant citadel to Sigil, which is a much more established “extra-planar hub” of editions past, but functionally it’s very different. I think a lot of this comes from the cover art which could look very sigil-ish, but the art actually depicts the Dyn Singh night market, a central location to the first adventure rather than the citadel itself. The radiant citadel exists in the ethereal plane rather than the astral plane for a start, which means despite all the early signs pointing that way, this really isn’t a spelljammer book. You could potentially have some spelljammer ships make their way through the astral plane into the deep ethereal, but I’ve yet to spot any talk of spelljamming in my read-through. There might be some hints or references squirreled away in there, but it certainly isn’t a central theme. Where sigil was a dangerous extra-planar bazaar, the radiant citadel is more like a utopian co-op. You can easily start a quest on the citadel or pass through it as essentially a teleportation hub, but it’ll be hard to find conflict on the citadel proper.
Speaking of starting quests, each of the short adventures found in this book introduces us to one of the founding cultures that are inexorably linked to the citadel. Each culture has a magical gemstone ship that can take people and goods through the deep ethereal to wherever that culture is in the multiverse and is thus our main conceit for how the players start all these unrelated quests.
Salted Legacy: 1st Level, 1-2 Sessions
Inspired by Thai culture, Salted Legacy takes the players to the Dyn Singh night market where they get embroiled in a family feud over allegations of fish market stall sabotage. It’s a fun light-hearted and low stakes adventure that has the players compete in fantastical games and investigate colorful characters to find the true mischievous culprits. I adored the NPCs here and the night market is very easy to plop down into any setting as a fun aside to other adventures.
Written in Blood: 3rd Level, 1 Session
Inspired by African American culture, Written in Blood has the players confront a sinister presence in the outskirt farmland of Godsbreath. The most overtly spooky of the adventures here, written in blood has a distinctly horror feel as an undead monstrosity preys on the memories and feelings of the farmers as it feeds on them literally. It’s a comparatively quite short adventure and really only consists of a few major combats and some time spent investigating. Great if you’re wanting a spooky adventure you can finish in a single session.
The Fiend of Hollow Mine: 4th Level, 1-2 Sessions
Inspired by Mexican culture, The Fiend of Hollow Mine has the players fighting undead and chasing an owl demon through busy and colorful streets amidst a day of the dead-like celebration. This one mixes some very dour tones with a celebratory mood and feels both fun and serious. Of the whole book this I think is the one I'm most likely to run myself and I adore how they brought Mexican traditions into a fantasy setting.
Wages of Vice: 5th Level, 1-2 Sessions
Inspired by Louisiana and Mardi Gras, Wages of Vice embroils the players in the politics of Zinda and they must prove their innocence and find the real murderers when they come upon a murdered dwarf amidst the chaotic parades and excitement of the march of vice celebration. Vibrant and detailed, this adventure hits the ground running and I think is just fleshed out enough to be a fun locale for your own homebrew adventures.
Sins of our Elders: 6th Level, 1-2 Sessions
Inspired by Korean culture, Sins of our Elders takes the players to Yeonido where they must calm ancestral spirits angry that they’ve been forgotten. Players must investigate the local magistrates while fighting off the enraged spirits as they learn the history of these ancestors and how to bring them peace. This adventure gives us a very fleshed out city to play around with and bring into other game settings.
Gold for Fools and Princes: 7th Level, 1-2 Sessions
Inspired by West African culture, Gold for Fools and Princes tasks the players with investigating a collapsed gold mine and rooting out the creatures within. This one was very straightforward, but man I love the monster they invented for it. Gold-eating many-legged weasel creatures may just be popping up in my own games now!
Trail of Destruction: 8th Level, 1-2 Sessions
Inspired by Aztec culture, Trail of Destruction challenges the players to stave off a natural disaster as a volcanic eruption looms and elemental creatures like salamanders and fire snakes run rampant across the jungle. This is another one where the new monster is the star of the show as we get what is basically a giant lava axolotl and I can’t express enough how happy it makes me.
In the Mists of Manivarsha: 9th Level, 1-2 Sessions
Inspired by Bengali culture, In the Mists of Manivarsha tasks the players with appeasing the river spirits after they cause the river to overflow and flood the temple. I found this one relied a bit heavily on random encounters for my taste but in has some excellent character development and opportunities for roleplay.
Between Tangled Roots: 10th Level, 2-3 Sessions
Inspired by the Filipino culture, Between Tangled Roots is at its heart a classic dragon hunting adventure with a lot of decidedly new flavor and a twist. I love the skybridges in this setting and the final combat has a lot more going on than “fight the thing” which I always appreciate.
Shadow of the Sun: 11th Level, 2-3 Sessions
Inspired by Iranian culture, Shadow of the Sun has the players fighting purple wurms and defending the bazaar from anarchists on flying carpets. This one felt a bit odd to me because it just sort of assumes that the players will side with the guards, and I know a lot of my playgroups would rather let anarchy reign, but results may vary.
The Nightsea’s Succor: 12th Level, 2-3 Sessions
Inspired by African cultures, The Nightsea’s Succor takes players to a city of phantoms beneath the sea and puts them at the center of a dispute between the ideologies and practices of opposed magical traditions. They must stop a threat from the darkest depths and bring peace to the disturbed spirits. I’m a sucker for undersea encounters and the phantasmic aquatic city was just (chef’s kiss).
Buried Dynasty: 13th Level, 2-3 Sessions
Inspired by Chinese culture, the players are tasked with searching an ancient temple for a powerful potion of longevity to keep the emperor alive. Fundamentally a dungeon crawl, I found this one to be the most basic of the adventures but it’s a fun romp nonetheless.
Orchids of the Invisible Mountain: 14th Level, 2-3 Sessions
Inspired by Venezuelan folklore, Orchids of the Invisible Mountain pits the players against an almost Lovecraftian threat and sends them on a journey through not only the new setting of Atagua but also into a dark and forgotten corner of the feywild. Out of all the adventures here this one felt the most specifically “D&D” and it’s incredibly rare to find quality one-shots at this high of a level and I applaud the writing on display here.
In a weird move, the final two locales in radiant citadel don’t have adventures associated with them. We get the same amounts of lore and setting fluff that we get with the other locations, but no quest. Which is a shame because I’d have liked to see a quest within Tayyib, a nation ravaged by civil war and littered with forgotten undead used for war inspired by both the Indian culture and the American wild west.
Just like Tayyib, we get the lore and fluff for Umizu but no adventure path. I don’t know if one was written but cut for space, or what happened in production, but it’s incredibly odd that these two got the short end of the stick. Umizi is based on Japanese culture, and honestly sounds like an incredible place to have adventures between the corrupt samurai officials and anti-whaling tritons, but I guess that’ll be left to people’s own homebrewing.
11 New Monsters
Sprinkled amongst the adventures we get 11 new creatures ranging from bat-winged eye-eye fey to giant lava axolotl. Each monster here is brimming with flavor and I’m happy to report they all feel new and interesting. I particularly love the gold eating snake weasels and you better believe I’ll be using them to hassle my players in an upcoming game.
What’s Good About the Book?
Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel serves 3 major purposes.
The first is the citadel itself that can be a great questing hub location for your adventures. It’s essentially a safe room that your players can easily use to quickly take them to the next adventuring locale you have planned in your campaign.
The second is as a collection of one-shot adventures. Each adventure has a selection of strong starting hooks, most of which only require the players to be around the area with very little setup. We get fewer adventures than we did in candlekeep, but I think overall these quests are more fleshed out.
The third use is as a collection of potential settings for your own adventure. Each of the 15 new settings included here is an authentic reimagining of a real-world culture in a fantasy world and that’s something we haven’t had in 5e. Each setting can make for its own entire campaign world or just as a new region to introduce to your existing world.
What’s Bad About the Book?
The radiant citadel is good, and the adventures are good, but I can’t shake the feeling that they were written independently of each other. The radiant citadel chapter plays up the importance of the interconnected nature of each of these nations and how they constantly trade with each other using the citadel as a hub. The problem is that once we get to those places, a lot of these cultures are tiny villages, and the culture has literally nothing to do with the citadel. I realize this was intentional to make the regions easy to move into different settings, but I found it incredibly jarring to ride down on a magical gemstone ship, only to land in the middle of the jungle somewhere and then walk into a city that has no relation to this supposedly interconnected community whatsoever.
This leads into the other major issue, unlike Candlekeep that was designed for you to potentially run through every one-shot adventure as a full campaign, you can’t really do that with radiant citadel. There’s no narrative reason why the players would head down to the region with the 1st level adventure before the 14th level adventure. It’s not a problem that a savvy DM can’t overcome but you’ll have to invent some sort of contrivance and even beyond that the adventures aren’t really built for it.
Finally, this is a point of purely personal taste, but the radiant citadel is a bit too upbeat and perfect for me. Things are going so well in the citadel that while it works as a perfectly good quest hub I don’t think you’d ever really have a reason to run adventures in the citadel itself. There aren’t many opportunities for conflict, or at least the types of conflict that some adventurers could sort out.
I think that WotC set out to make a book of multicultural adventures, and they’ve done that. But I think somewhere along the line somebody in the marketing department decided that wouldn’t sell well and that it needed a more fantastical selling point. And thus, the radiant citadel was invented and slapped on top of an already otherwise finished product. Maybe it didn’t go like that, maybe something else happened, but it really feels like something disrupted the production and concept along the way for this project and it feels like two very different concepts that got hastily stitched together. I honestly think that using the radiant citadel as the plot conceit and hook for these adventures is the worst way you could possibly run them. Both the citadel and the adventures are great content, but I just don’t think they mesh.
With all that being said, we still end up with some quality content here. The adventures found here work like a beautiful marriage of Ravenloft and Candlekeep adventures. The issue with Ravenloft’s domains of dread was that we got fluff but no real meat to run adventures with, and the issue with candlekeep was that the adventures were solid but there wasn’t anywhere to go with them and the market was full of one-shots anyway. Radiant Citadel gives us the solid adventures WITH the setting fluff you’d need to spin these short experiences into the beginnings of longer campaigns, or to drop little adventures and regions into your existing worlds.
So where does that leave us? Production hiccups aside, these are good adventures with interesting settings attached, and the radiant citadel is a solid hub world. I don’t think running these adventures with this hub world is a good idea though. As a book it’s a bit of a mess but each component of that mess is of such a good quality that it’s worth picking up. If you’re at all interested in getting some short adventures for when your gaming group needs a one-shot, or if you’re looking for a hub world to base your own unique adventures out of, then consider taking a trip into the deep ethereal and making a stop at the giant glowing diamond city you’ll find there.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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