Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel’s creator was inspired by the solarpunk and hopepunk movements, but what even are those?
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Lucas: [00:00:00] D&D’s newest adventure book Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel is an original solar punk spectacular wrapped around a fossil monster.
This is Making a Monster, the bite-sized podcast where we investigate the monsters in D&D and other tabletop RPGs, and discover how they work, why they work and what they mean. I’m Lucas Zellers. Wizards of the Coast will be releasing its newest adventure module “Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel” in June of this year. It’s an anthology set in a multiversal hub city adrift in the Ethereal plane.
There is a monster at the heart of Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, or “Citadel” as we’ll call it for the rest of this episode, whose fossilized remains form the basis of the city’s architecture. Moreover, the monster is one of an extinct species lost to time. I’ve been using D&D to tell the stories of extinct animals since about January 2021, so you might guess why I think this adventure is the most exciting thing Wizards has yet produced for fifth edition, but there’s more. Ajit George, one of the Citadel’s project leads, tweeted that the project is inspired by the hopepunk and solarpunk movements in its optimistic vision of a community collaborating to overcome long odds.
Finally, while I feel the Citadel is #solarpunk and the book is #hopepunk, it has enormous complexity, moments of hardship, and challenge. The directive to the writers was to create was neither utopian nor dystopian lands. Yet, I believe the book has an underlying note of hope.
— Ajit George (@ajitgeorgeSB) March 24, 2022
It’s exactly what real life solarpunks like the ones I’m partnering with through Book of Extinction are doing in the present to make a brighter future. So in this episode, let’s look at what Citadel is, what solarpunk is and how it relates to other punk genres like cyberpunk or stonepunk, and why it matters for the future of the worlds we play in and the one we live in now.
New Anthology Adventure for D&D
Citadel is a collection of 13 short standalone D&D adventures set in the radiant Citadel, a multiversal hub city floating adrift deep in D&D’s ethereal plane. [00:02:00] The heart of the Citadel is a massive gemstone called the Auroral Diamond, a beacon of life in the gray, endless expanse of ether. The fossilized body of a seemingly-extinct creature wrapped around that diamond formed the foundation of the city’s rock cut architecture when 27 civilizations from all over the multi-verse built the city in the distant past. 250 years ago, descendants of 15 of those civilizations re-established the city.
Orbiting the Citadel are 15 smaller crystals called Concord Jewels. Each of those gems is connected to the material plane, the world as we know it in which adventures begin, and each serves as a gateway to one of 15 of the Citadel’s founding civilizations. If you’re keeping up with the math, that means 12 of them are now missing doorways to anywhere.
Citadel continues some recent design trends from wizards. It’s an anthology adventure, like Candlekeep Mysteries and Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. It’s also the next in a growing line of multiversal adventures that runs all the way back to the city of Sigil, the multiversal hub from the much-beloved second edition Planescape setting.
And by the way, Planescape is the same setting that gave us the D’vati, the only player race option that lets you play two characters at once. So check out my interview with the 2E and 5E creators of the d’vati if you want to learn more about second edition or Planescape.
Those missing 12 Concord jewels are deliberate opportunities for DMs to connect the Radiant Citadel to other adventures or their own homebrew worlds.
The First D&D by an All-POC Team
By contrast, this adventure is a first for Wizards of the Coast in a couple of important ways. And believe it or not, an extinct behemoth isn’t even the most exciting one. First, the setting is entirely original. The Radiant Citadel isn’t a glow up or a rewrite from earlier editions. It was made from whole cloth by the book’s creative team. Second, the book deliberately steps away from gritty, crime-ridden cities like Waterdeep [00:04:00] and Sigil to present an optimistic view of society working together, what Ajit calls hopepunk.
Third, the book was written entirely by people of color. 16 black and brown writers created the book, including Iranian-American Justice Arman, who you might recognize from our season one episode on The Bagger and who recently announced his hiring as a Senior Game Designer at Wizards. Each of the book’s 13 adventure writers drew on their own lived experience, and three of these adventures have been previewed ahead of the book’s release.
Reflecting on #RadiantCitadel this morning and one thing I think that truly makes it special is our process working together as a cohesive team.
— Surena Marie 🍓 (@SurenaXMarie) March 26, 2022
“Salted Legacy” throws gamers into a generational feud between two rival vendor families after a series of vandalisms and thefts begin to appear. According to writer, Surena Marie, who is also the Product Marketing Manager for Critical Role. It’s written from Marie’s experience as a first-generation Thai American watching different vendors try to cherish their own traditions while competing in a new cultural and business context. It’s a low-stakes drama played for comedy, very reminiscent of the narrative design in Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall from my very first episode. The bustling night market where “Salted Legacy” takes place is now the cover of the adventure book.
Reflecting on #RadiantCitadel this morning and one thing I think that truly makes it special is our process working together as a cohesive team.
— Surena Marie 🍓 (@SurenaXMarie) March 26, 2022
The next adventure “Written in Blood” brings players to a location as sprawling as the Dessarin Valley called God’s Breath, an homage to the black experience in the Southern United States. Writer Erin Roberts, a contributor to the Pathfinder and Starfinder lines at Paizo, was inspired by her great-uncle’s book Growing Up Black in Rural Mississippi. Her adventure centers on a ritual of oral history called the Awakening Song.
Finally, Justice Arman’s adventure “Shadow of the Sun” presents the isolated city state Akharin Sangar, ruled by Atash, a benevolent but dogmatic angel whose subjects have mixed feelings about his totalitarian rule. Atash’s story and design draw from the 10th-century work of Persian poetry Shahnameh, [00:06:00] or The Book of Kings. The complicated relationship Sangarians have with outsiders, full of misconceptions and stereotypes, is part of the Iranian experience Justice wanted to explore with his adventure.
All of these adventures picture the way in which culture and storytelling work together to create the societies we build. For Ajit and the rest of the Citadel team, that picture is a discal agrihood, where crime and rebellious nihilism are replaced with community and radical optimism. And that peculiarly green radical optimism already has a name, solarpunk.
What does punk mean in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel?
Lucas: “Punk” means a lot of different things to a lot of people. So it’s important to be clear on the suffix. You might remember that conversation with David Somerville, author of the Planegea campaign setting with Atlas Games about his idea of stonepunk.
David Somerville: I recently was super lucky enough to read Neuromancer for the first time. And that book is brilliant and it took me a minute to get into it. And then when I did, I was just in it. And that’s punk. I mean, cyberpunk was like, “Fight the man! Be a punk!” Like it actually had that like punk anti-authoritarian aesthetic, anti commercialism, like rage against the machine. And that was a real thing. And both of those words were meaningful. “Cyber” was meaningful and “punk” was meaningful and it meant the mashing up of these two things.
I feel like in geek culture, “punk” has become a shorthand for this thing, but a lot of it and sort of exaggerated. So we’re going to take whatever comes before -punk and crank it to 11 and build all of our assumptions around that. So if you have “piratepunk”, it just means it’s very pirates. And if you have, you know, whatever steampunk, it’s very steam and it means that all the aesthetics are going to be exaggerated and intensified. I think it implies like a less safe world. Like, I think whenever you have “-punk” on [00:08:00] there, there’s sort of an implication that, that those extremes are going to cause a lot of tension.
What is Cyberpunk?
Lucas: Of the litany of literary “punk” genres, “cyberpunk” is probably the most famous, buoyed by movies like The Matrix, Akira, and Bladerunner. Maybe the best cyberpunk property I can point you to with this show is Fun City, the actual play Shadowrun podcast that wrapped up my discussion of monsters and villainy with GMs. For the Fun City creative team, cyberpunk is a grim vision of the near future.
Taylor Moore: Our version of Shadowrun, in the world we play in, is very much a, an answer to the question of if, if technology got better with things still be bad, you know, like, yes.
Mike Rugnetta: Yes.
Taylor Moore: And the answer, and we play in the world of yes, but how, yes? That’s, that’s the, in what specific manner?
Mike Rugnetta: In a lot of Shadowrun games, you see the same attitude develop, which is I’m a, I’m a player, character living in a dystopia. The corporations control everything. It’s very hard to get by. You have to do whatever you look out for number one, you do whatever you can to like, make sure that you survive by hook or by crook, or literally just, just by crook. And so what you get is you get a lot of games that I have described as “Capitalism Made Me Do It: The Game,” and that people just wash their hands of any moral consideration because they have to do whatever they have to do to survive. It doesn’t matter what it is that they’re doing. Like the world is bad. And so they have to be bad in the world because that’s the only way that you make it.
Lucas: I think that reflects the difficulty for current futurists under 30, it’s easy to feel like there’s no future left to imagine for those born after America’s so-called “greatest generation”, as though the best opportunities for innovation and exploration have already passed us by. In his book, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures, cultural theorist Mark Fisher, put it this way:
“The slow cancellation of the future has been accompanied by a deflation of expectations . . . the feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush, is as omnipresent as it is disavowed.”
What is Solarpunk?
Solarpunk rejects this ominous ennui entirely. According to a 2014 manifesto on the genre by a writer calling themselves Hieroglyph,
“Solarpunk draws on the ideal of Jefferson’s yeoman farmer, Gandhi’s ideal of swadeshi and the subsequent Salt March, and countless other traditions of innovative descent.”
In other words, we are not satisfied with the world we’ve been given and we’ll do whatever it takes to change it. Probably something clever with reclaimed wood and leftover railroad spikes.
The Radiant Citadel itself is inspired by Indian rock-cut architecture, a practice as old as the third century BC, where structures are created by carving them out of solid natural rock – or in this case, petrified bone.
Comic artist CJ Bell wrote in The Tree of Liberty, “This is a green pepper. It costs 75 cents at the grocery store. Inside the pepper are enough seeds to make hundreds, even thousands more peppers. In a world where nothing comes free and it’s profitable to control what people copy and create, gardening is a revolutionary act.” [00:12:00] In other words, you have to keep the punk in solarpunk.
The Radical Optimism of Solarpunk
Despite being speculative or future fiction, “punk” genres are often transparently about now. The radical optimism in the future solarpunk envisions isn’t possible without radical change in the present. For the past year, I’ve been telling the stories of extinct animals in the medium of Dungeons and Dragons. And through that project, I’ve gotten to meet some real life solarpunks who are working to make that radical change happen at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Kierán Suckling: My name is Kierán Suckling and I am the executive director and founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, which is a endangered species protection group that mostly works, here in the U.S., but also internationally. And we try to save all species great and small from, from butterflies and insects to polar bears and wolves, keep them alive.
Lucas: Rarely do my guests have a Wikipedia page. There is a quote in here from The New Yorker that describes you as a trickster, philosopher, publicity hound, master strategist, and unapologetic pain in the ass. Uh, how do you respond to that?
Kierán Suckling: I would think that’s a pretty accurate description, uh, at least of what I attempt to be at least. Um, and, and, and that’s what’s needed, to save species from extinction and to be a successful activists, uh, you gotta be a trickster. You gotta figure out all the different angles you can take you.
You’ve also got to realize at some level, this is all street theater, whether you’re in the court or in a scientific paper or in a protest, it’s all finally human theater and you have to sort of keep that, that in [00:14:00] mind. Uh, and certainly I started this while working on my PhD in philosophy, uh, and to this day am motivated, uh, by the philosophical issues around, uh, extinction, animality, our relationship with other, other earthlings. Cause we’re just one and we’re just one of the earthlings, and everything we do, whether it’s some formal-looking law or scientific study or playing Dungeons and Dragons, these are all at the end of the day, ways of interacting with this living planet that we live on and in some way recognizing and exploring the insane diversity of animal life on this living planet.
And that’s what we’re all doing in one way or another. I think we forget that. And it’s, it’s good to step back and realize that’s what’s going on.
Lucas: The solarpunks Kierán has gathered at the Center come from a variety of backgrounds, some with the kind of tragic backstory that would be right at home on a D&D character sheet. This is Tierra Curry, Senior Scientist, director of the Center’s Saving Life on Earth campaign, and science consultant for Book of Extinction. You’ve heard her voice already a couple of times, but this is a piece of an interview that I haven’t released yet.
A solarpunk with a bone to pick
Tell me why you decided to choose a career in conservation in the first place.
Tierra Curry: I grew up in the mountains of Southeastern Kentucky, which are absolutely beautiful. There’s so many birds and frogs and snakes and lizards and trees and fireflies. I had played outside all the time when I would get grounded. I wouldn’t be allowed to go outside. I’d have to like sit inside and watch TV.
So I just soaked it up and I feel like it became part of me, the beauty of the mountains and all the wildlife. And then the coal companies came and strip mine the mountain behind my house and in front of my house. And so these places that I knew so well where I had grown up just playing and roaming were reduced to bare dirt and they caused the streams to start running polluted.
They polluted my well water. And I, even as a kid, I was like, this is wrong. You can’t just take a mountain and reduce it to rubble. And so I, from a really young age, I just had the sense that that had to change and that I wanted to do something about it. And ironically, I decided not to go to law school because I didn’t want to be inside all the time.
I was like, I want to be outside. I don’t want to be inside. So I’m going to go into biology instead. And as I started taking environmental science classes, extinction is the issue that resonated with me the most. I think it’s the ultimate injustice. It’s so unfair. That the plants and animals that we happen to like be here with that were driving them off the planet.
I don’t think that’s right. And so that’s where I drew my line in the sand and said, I want a job that focuses on extinction. [00:20:00] And I didn’t know how I was going to find that. I was taking an environmental science class and my professor talked about the center for biological diversity and was talking about how they were opposing the construction of an elementary school in Arizona because the cactus region is pygmy owl lived there.
And I was like, oh my goodness, that people are going to hate them because like an elementary school is not a popular thing to oppose. And I’ve never heard of a cactus for regional pygmy owl, but whoever these people are, that’s what I want to do. I want to be the person that’s like, no, the owl lives here. Put your school somewhere else. So I, I went back to grad school. I wrote in my grad school essay that I wanted to work at the center when I graduated. And then when I saw a job come up at the center, I wrote a cover letter that basically said, pick me. I went to grad school so I could work for you someday.
Who are the bad guys in the extinction crisis?
Lucas: We’ve talked about mining companies, we’ve talked about city planners, and it’s very easy to cast certain people or industries as the villains of the piece in this. You know, I think heroic fantasy, really, especially heroic fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons being the, its example, we’re very used to telling that story of like, this is the good guy with a sword, and this is the big, scary monster. And we know what’s going to happen here. But in real life, it’s very difficult to say that even if it is a mining company or, or a city planner or, uh, ingoing development of, of houses, that those are the big, scary monsters.
How do you reconcile that? How are you able to talk about people who have goals and values that, that conflict with the preservation of endangered species, even in places like plain city and still talk about them as like people who have worthwhile goals and are trying to solve problems?
Tierra Curry: Yeah. So humanity at large is like the big, scary monster that’s driving extinction. You don’t have to point your finger to one faction, you know, human, the causes of extinction are CHIPPO: climate change, [00:22:00] habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, human population growth, and overutilization. So those are the drivers of extinction and humans, there’s just so many of us now that literally the fate of all wildlife is in our hands. So I don’t want to point fingers at one camp of villains. It’s, it’s all of us, it’s all of our responsibility, but there are so many ways that we could do things differently. There’s just so much inertia and funding to keep doing things the same way.
And literally it’s as suicidal war against nature. As the UN secretary general just said, kicking off the convention on biological diversity meetings like that opening statement of the global biodiversity meetings. So as we have to end our suicidal war against nature. And that that is so true. And so all of us, we need to just stop and reset and think about how do I build a smarter city?
How do I reduce runoff into the Creek? What are the better ways to deal with sewer pollution? Like we don’t have to use the answers that people came up with in the forties, fifties, or even eighties. There’s so many like smart taking people and so much technology. And so many people who want to make a difference that there are solutions to these problems.
We just have the inertia and funding factor of industry right now. As for the mining companies, the fossil fuel industry is one industry. I’m not letting off the hook. We have to get off fossil fuels. Like we are all going to die. If we don’t get off fossil fuels and that’s just a reality. And so that whole industry needs to change gears and we need to develop alternate sources of energy and, and work on just transitions to agree in economy.
So that communities in Appalachia who were getting revenue from coal mining, aren’t left high and dry. And there’s, there’s a lot of funding going into economic revitalization to those communities. So I’m not saying leave people high and drive it. I’m saying we have to be smarter. [00:24:00] Like we have to be smarter.
And we can, like, we have the solutions that we need to end extinction and preserve a livable climate, but political inertia and where the money is, is preventing that. And so. Most people wouldn’t fall in the bad guys, but there are a handful of incredibly rich people who I will put solidly in the bad guy category and say your money is not as important as the survival of humanity. And we have to do things differently.
100 Companies and 71% of Emissions
Lucas: The Internet’s collective solarpunk readers agree with Tierra, if we can judge by the top all-time posts on Reddit’s r/solarpunk. 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s from a 2015 report by the watchdog charity Carbon Disclosure Project. The report concluded that of the estimated greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, excluding certain sources like agricultural methane between 1988 and 2015, 71 originated from 100 fossil fuel producers, including Exxon Mobile, Shell, BHP Billiton, and Gazprom. This includes the emissions released when the fossil fuels they sold were subsequently used by their customers.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Book of Extinction is a part of toppling that global system. It’s a monster manual of anthropogenic extinctions, a bestiary of animals lost to CHIPPO in the accelerating mass extinction crisis of the so-called Anthropocene. By supporting the solarpunk antagonism of the Center’s legal and artistic activism and echoing the hopepunk aesthetic of Wizards of the Coast’s latest adventure module, Book of Extinction makes D&D a part of the solution by doing what D&D does best: telling stories envisioning a world where those lost animals could live on.
At its core, that is the vision of solarpunk. A future that embodies the best of what humanity can achieve: a post-scarcity, [00:26:00] post-hierarchy, post-capitalistic world where humanity sees itself as part of nature and clean energy replaces fossil fuel.
How to be more solarpunk
It’s the vision of the future shared by almost every young female protagonist in a Ghibli movie. And if you want to get on board, here are three ways you can do it without maybe flying to cities in the sky or resurrecting ancient relics. First, when you talk about Journey Through the Radiant Citadel on social media, use the hashtag solarpunk. Solarpunk at the moment sort of seems like cyberpunk’s less cool art nouveau cousin, and that seems a shame to me for a genre with so much potential and beauty in it. As an audience, let’s take the opportunity to connect the two conversations and elevate them both.
Second, when you talk about Citadel in person mentioned this podcast so far, it seems to be the only article exploring the connection with solarpunk in depth. If there is another, please let me know, I’d love to read it, but again, this may be the most important connection we can make and I don’t want to miss it.
Thirdly, check out the Book of Extinction preview on DriveThruRPG or at scintilla.studio/extinction. It’s three extinct animals resurrected for D&D 5E: the passenger pigeon, the thylacine and the great auk, table-ready with stat blocks and lore alongside the stranger-than-fiction true stories of how they went extinct. You can pay what you want for it and every penny we earn from the preview will go to support the Center for Biological Diversity’s work litigating and advocating on behalf of endangered species and habitat.
That kind of radical hope becomes a beacon, just like the Auroral Diamond spinning through the depths of the Ethereal plane. And if it’s bright enough, we’ll gather around it and future civilizations will build a beautiful city on the bones we leave behind.
Thanks for listening to Making a Monster. I’m Lucas Zellers.