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D&D’s new starter adventure isn’t about saving the world — it’s about family

A preview of the first-level adventure from Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel

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A kobold runs through the market, a bundle of shallots in their hand. In the background a woman with a spoon screams at them.
A scene from the night market at the center of Surena Marie’s adventure, Salted Legacy.
Image: Vicki Pangestu/Wizards of the Coast
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel is the next anthology of adventures for Dungeons & Dragons. The project was conceived of by designer Ajit George and co-led with Wizards of the Coast’s F. Wesley Schneider. It will be the first book written entirely by people of color in the nearly 50-year history of D&D. As such, it will include a very different take on the classic first-level adventure.

If you’ve ever played through an introductory adventure from a Dungeons & Dragons starter set, you know how awkward that experience can be. Sure, there’s always a few green players at the table, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. To me, the stakes at level one always feels a bit higher than they otherwise should be. The excellent Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit, for instance, makes you more or less responsible for protecting an entire region from a marauding dragon. That’s a heavy lift, even for a bunch of heavily armed newbies. But what if that first taste of D&D was a bit more focused on ... let’s call them soft skills?

Designer Surena Marie got her start with Wizards of the Coast as a member of The Rivals of Waterdeep, an actual play program that kicked off in 2018. She has since moved on to become the marketing and communications manager for Critical Role. Marie is an illustrator as well as a performer, with a background in Chicago’s improv theater scene. That’s partly why co-lead designers George and Schneider tapped her for Radiant Citadel’s level-one experience, an adventure titled “Salted Legacy”.

“Salted Legacy” is the story of two rival families who make their living in a vibrant night market, one filled with many different in-fiction races like kobolds and dragonborn. Players will literally hold the fate of these two families in their hands. But don’t expect this adventure to play out like it usually does in mainstream D&D, which traditionally leverages a multiverse born out of Eurocentric tropes and deep Tolkien and Tolkien-inspired lore.

“My mom is from Thailand, and that’s where largely this adventure is inspired from,” Marie said during a presentation for the press. “With being first-generation, there is this strange duality that you have to navigate where you want to live the big American dream; you want to live the life that your parents had come from a different country to give you. But at the same time, there’s a large part of us as being first-generation that worries about losing our culture, or we aren’t even granted full access to it because of the pressure to be more Americanized.”

Marie says her adventure uses those two ideas as a fulcrum, while at the same time setting the story against larger thematic idea of “the push and pull between industry and tradition.”

“I think it was important to also focus on more intimate adventure,” Marie said. “It’s not about saving the world necessarily. The stakes aren’t as high as some other amazing, incredible adventures in the [book], but I believe that everyone can empathize and understand what it’s like to care about your family, or [identify with] the idea of a rival family, [where] they’re part of this vibrant community. [...] To me, it’s just more personal.”

The adventure is inspired in part by reality television, specifically the cooking show Chopped. It will, according to Marie, also be the perfect starting point for other actual play troupes to begin their journey into performative tabletop role-play.

“One of my biggest goals when I was writing this was not only for it to be accessible to new players,” Marie said, “but also with streamers and content creators in mind. [...] I wanted these themes and the sense of chaotic wonder and ridiculous challenges to be reflected in the story.”

Journeys through the Radiant Citadel will arrive in stores and online starting June 21 and will cost $49.99. It will also be available in digital formats, including on Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, and through the D&D Beyond toolset.