Authors: Justice Ramin Arman, Dominique Dickey, Ajit A George, Basheer Ghouse, Alastor Guzman, D. Fox Harrell, T.K. Johnson, Felice Tzehuei Kuan, Surena Marie, Mimi Mondal, Mario Ortegon, Miyuki Jane Pinkard, Pam Punzalan, Erin Roberts, Terry H. Romero, Stephanie Yoon; June 2022 printing.
I picked this up at Hex & Co way way way up by Columbia. I hadn’t intended to. I knew about it, in that vague ‘I saw it on the Internet and somebody tweeted once, I think?’ way that so many RPG products flash across my cortex these days. I didn’t know much, except that it was a different take from different authors.
The variant cover was a selling point. Seldom do I see anything so beautiful – very dreamlike, it reminded me of Vertigo comics from back in the day. Sija Hong outdid herself!
The Citadel drifts in the plane Ethereal linking twenty-seven civilizations in one central hub, itself speared through by the Auroral Diamond, a luminous gemstone shard that acts as a beacon for those lost in the twisting void. Lost for uncounted generations and reclaimed by explorers and heroes, the Citadel is a place where immigrants from across creation gather. They make their home in the great carved gem and use its portals to travel to and from other worlds.
Those other worlds are what most of the book is about. Everything from the ghost-haunted streets of Yeonido to the suffering arid lands of San Citlan and the packed, happy bustle of Dyn Singh Night Markets – plus plenty more besides.
As with all collections there’s going to be some ideas you’ll leap on with cries of joy and some that leave you going ‘ehhh …’ That’s not the issue. The issue is, is there enough variety, enough on offer, that even if you don’t like the idea of thus-and-so there’s something here you’re more than happy to have?
If you’ll recall I said something similar about San Jenaro Co-Op’s Guide To Heists, which boasts 35 Heist scenario seeds. I lacked enthusiasm. The collection felt very weighted. I said at the time:
So if you're, say, a fantasy or sci-fi Keeper looking for inspiration, you're going to feel left out. Ditto if you're a gamer looking for material set anywhere other than North America in the 2000s, really. The problem's fixable - change up some names, fiddle with the locations. Still, with about 40% of the scenarios set in the US or a US-centric location, mostly modern day, the collection feels unbalanced.
Journeys doesn’t share that problem.
Journeys is bloody excellent.
Do you want social roleplay? Done. Do you want to penetrate the heart of a ghastly, ghostly mystery? Done. Like Ravenloft? Here’s a setting. New and memorable creatures? Got you covered. Forgotten temples? Hidden mines? Yes, yes, and over here’s another sunken undersea yes for those of you seeking extra goodies.
I shan’t go deeply into the production values or art since this is a 5E product and 5E is the top of the food chain when it comes to that sort of thing. I know I’m selling the artists short by not talking about their work, but I only have so many fingers, guys, and they’re being worn to nubbins against the unforgiving keyboard. Mercy!
The tales I like best are the ones that focus less on saving the world and are more about interacting with it. The Dyn Singh Night Market and the fabulous vice-ridden city of Zinda are my two favorites, closely followed by hunting ghosts in Yeonido. In each the characters are asked to delve deep in the mystery, uncover secrets, perhaps gain renown by completing tasks or earning favor. That’s the kind of thing that really gets me going.
There's a good spread of adventures from low level to high, and while I wasn't as fond of the high level stuff I think that's mostly down to my personal hang-ups about high level play and not the scenarios themselves. For me, high level play exposes some of the innate weaknesses in a combat-heavy system, and for all its tweaks over the years D&D is still a combat-heavy system. While I see the appeal of, say Orchids of the Invisible Mountain (14th level characters) it's never going to get my blood flowing the same way Wages of Vice (5th level characters) does, because I know in my heart that Orchids will end up being a dungeon bash where Wages is more of a race-against-time thriller.
The best thing about this collection isn't so much the scenarios themselves as it is the world Gazetteers that go with them. You don't have to play any of the scenarios if you don't want to. Each setting has enough detail for a campaign of your own, whether you want to have the entire plot arc in, say, bustling Yongjing or the holy lands of Akharin Sangar, or whether you just want someone to visit there briefly from their base in the Radiant Citadel. Each land has its own aesthetic, its own unique voice, and the Citadel is a handy means of linking all those voices in a conjoined narrative. It's a bit like living in a wide archipelago of nations, with a gleaming spire at its center drawing them all together.
Is it worth your $50? Absolutely. In fact, I'd recommend this to first-time DMs in particular because those are the folks who need the most support when running their games and there's plenty of support here. Someone lost for what to do or where to go next should have no problem working this into their ongoing campaign and perhaps the best thing about it is, with the Citadel at its center, you don't need to worry about ever getting bored. There's always a new adventure just over the horizon and unexplored lands awaiting discovery - or perhaps rediscovery. The Citadel isn't complete, after all; its dormant sections might be reawakened, by determined and clever heroes.