She taught me the magic of bringing people together with food: How this writer's Thai mother inspired a D&D adventure

Surena Marie wrote a D&D adventure inspired by her Thai mother and her culture.
PHOTO: Wizards

A Bangkok night market in an official Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) adventure might seem like a dream to Asian players as the genre tends to be very Eurocentric.

However, Wizards' new book, Journeys through the Radiant Citadel, is taking us down the road less travelled.

An anthology of 13 short adventures, this will be the first book written entirely by people of colour in nearly 50 years of D&D history.

Speaking to AsiaOne via an email interview in July, author Surena Marie (who wrote Salted Legacy, the first adventure of the book) said that her adventure was very much inspired by her Thai mother and her childhood.

The 35-year-old, who was born in the US, said: "She loves to cook and taught me the magic of bringing people together through shared meals. This was a huge reason why I decided to create an intimate adventure around food and family. We would also go to festivals at the temple where food and community walked hand in hand."

Another huge inspiration for the story and the setting was her experience growing up as a first-generation kid in the US.

"We weren't wealthy, my mother was a waitress at an Airforce Base and is to this day one of the hardest working people I have ever met," she shared.

In fact, her mother's first name is even included in the adventure under a list of suggested names that one can use and "the idea that someone will play a character named after my mum makes me emotional".

The Salted Legacy takes place in a region called Siabsungkoh and follows the feud between two rival families.

Surena added that as a first-generation kid, the idea of the American Dream came with "the pressure of needing to assimilate and succeed to ensure that our parents' struggles are worth it". But, at the same time, "there is a part of us who longs to know more about our culture and feels torn between two places".

This struggle is reflected through the rival families in the adventure which are said to be "two sides of this same coin".

Additionally, this theme is also present in the location where the adventure takes place with Dyn Singh Night Market — no prizes for guessing what it's inspired by — being the cosmopolitan centre of trade and industry, and the rest of the region being more connected to nature and spirituality.

Introducing Thai street food to D&D

As someone who is very passionate about her heritage and culture, Surena also wanted to incorporate and represent parts of it in her story.

And when she had a chance to visit Bangkok and Phuket a few years ago, her absolute favourite part of the trip was the street food.

PHOTO: Wizards

She explained: "The amount of care and pride that so many vendors take in preparing these bite-sized meals is legendary — I think about chefs like Raan Jay Fai who have gained worldwide recognition for their skill.

"I also wanted to deeply emphasise the importance of community and family within Thai culture. Our families are big and include not only blood-related families but also close friends. It was important that I created an adventure that allowed players to participate in the culture and community to earn respect within the market rather than being a tourist."

Surena also paid homage to the Monkey Buffet Festival in Lopburi through the inclusion of a new creature called the wynling, a mix between a slow loris and a bat.

An illustration of a wynling. PHOTO: Screengrab from DnDBeyond

Through the adventure, she hopes that people will feel that strong sense of community that is apparent in Thai culture.

"I can only speak on my individual experience as there are an infinite number of stories and perspectives that can be told around Thai culture. But for me, I hope people can take away a strong sense of community," she shared.

"People might look at this adventure and see just 'vendors' within a night market. But what they have is a community that is sharply aware of the impact of tourism and takes pride in their families and efforts across generations. I hope that players can enjoy this adventure over a shared meal and lots of laughter.

"Ultimately, that is what life is all about."

More diverse stories to be told

Though the inclusion of diverse cultures in the book — beyond just Western and Eurocentric cultures — is a step in the right direction, Surena pointed out that there are "there are way more stories to be told".

She said: "Some might see the success of this book and think 'They've done it!' but these stories are just the tip of the iceberg. If you were to ask another Thai person to come up with an adventure, I can guarantee it would be different from mine. That is because we are not a monolith...

"I will also say that mentorship within this [tabletop role-playing game] space is immensely important. As people of colour, we do not get the same type of career experience at first and it can take years longer to succeed than our peers. But when given mentorship and access, I have seen people, including myself, flourish and rise to the occasion."

Journeys through the Radiant Citadel releases in Southeast Asia today and will be available at authorised retailers or the online store (Singapore only).

bryanlim@asiaone.com