The illumians are a race created by sorcery. Through painstaking ritual, they have developed a mystical connection to the magic runes that make up their alphabet. Glowing sigils surround them, granting the power of an eldritch language made flesh.
Illumians are driven by the need to understand a given situation, then master it. An illumian wants to be the one who finds the flaw in the blackguard's strategy, or who casts the perfect spell to destroy the lich forever. Illumians would rather lose a fight to a superior foe than defeat a less capable enemy -- especially if they were able to demonstrate grit and brains in the losing effort. Winning and losing don't matter, but mastery does (and mastery and victory tend to go hand in hand).
Of course, illumians are realistic enough to recognize that no individual can master everything. Accordingly, illumians settle for demonstrating competence at tasks beyond their "true calling." An illumian fighter, for example, might seek mastery of the dire flail, but he'll take enough ranks in Ride to call himself a competent equestrian.
The flip side to an illumian's drive for mastery is his predilection for variety. Once an illumian is satisfied with his level of competence or mastery in a specific area, he'll enthusiastically move on to something new. This craving for variety eventually pushes illumians beyond the walls of their cabal's stronghold. Illumians often progress in completely different fields, which is why mid- to high-level illumians are so often multiclass characters. An illumian paladin, for example, might have become satisfied with his martial prowess and now seeks expertise in the shadow arts of stealth and subterfuge by taking a level or two in the rogue class.
Roleplaying Application: If you're playing an illumian character, keep in mind that an illumian is driven to study a situation before jumping in. Your character is more likely to ready actions in combat and even delay to achieve a better sense of how a fight is shaping up before he or she acts.
An illumian character is eager to demonstrate his mastery. If your character is confident of his abilities, he might take extra risks to win a fight or contest in spectacular fashion. In a sword duel, he might try to disarm a wounded foe and extract a surrender rather than ending the fight as soon as possible. He'll be tempted to use flesh to stone when hold person would be just as effective. But when his life and his comrades are endangered, he won't engage in wasteful displays of power.
The drive for mastery among illumians manifests itself in another way: a complex, hierarchical social structure. In any group, an illumian is acutely aware of her position in the hierarchy. Even more than humans, illumians have an instinctive drive to be at the top of their hierarchy. Vying for social position is entirely natural to illumians, and they are puzzled by social structures that limit advancement by birth, gender, race, or other immutable characteristics. Until they've studied the matter, illumians might have a hard time understanding why a serf can't become a lord or why the elderly king retains his crown when his sons are clearly more capable rulers.
When the social structure in question is populated entirely by illumians (as is the case in most illumian cabals), the competition for social status can grow intense, with each illumian plotting her own rise to power while guarding her position against the predations of rivals. But because the drive for mastery is so instinctive to illumians, they rarely take the ebb and flow of political fortunes within a cabal personally. Illumians are pragmatic enough to realize that within their cabal, today's rival may be tomorrow's ally. They don't bear grudges unless the political machinations of their fellows have unusually cruel or disruptive results.
Illumians love language and are intensely social, eagerly engaging friend and stranger alike in conversation. But just as with other activities, an illumian isn't conversing simply for the sake of comradeship. He's assessing his relative position in the social hierarchy, trying to learn as much as he can about his conversation partner, and looking for opportunities to demonstrate his mastery of a conversation. Perceptive conversationalists who spend time talking to illumians feel as if their every word is being scrutinized. They sense that they're being "sized up" even in casual conversation, as if the illumian is looking for potential allies and possible rivals.
Roleplaying Application: The illumian tendency to foment plots and intrigues isn't an excuse to spread discord within your character's party or around the gaming table. But an illumian character probably takes an interest in who's running the kingdom -- and an intense interest in who is the power behind the throne. An illumian character tends to be the first to suspect a double-cross from patrons or allies, and a particularly amoral illumian is probably the first character to suggest a double-cross if it'll help the group.
Society and Culture
The main social bond a typical illumian feels is to his or her cabal. Because the cabal raises its children together, bonds of family aren't nearly as important as they are to other races, but loyalty to the cabal is reinforced each and every day within the walls of the enclave.
A cabal consists of between one hundred and three hundred members. At any given time, more than 90 percent of a cabal's members live within the walls of the cabal's fortresslike enclave. There they study, raise their children, provide for the cabal's defense, and hatch plots for use in the outside world. Some illumians never leave the safety of their cabal's enclave, although most journey beyond its walls on missions from time to time.
| The rulers of an illumian cabal take their responsibilities very seriously.
Every cabal has its own structure, but most adhere in general terms to the structure of the first cabals established by Tarmuid when he created the illumian race and bade them spread across the world.
A council of elders known as the Black Table rules each cabal. They set broad objectives for each of the cabal's directorates: groups of several dozen illumians led by a director. The directors make the day-to-day decisions that keep the cabal running, from how to acquire provisions to which magical experiments to attempt.
A cabal might maintain directorates for defense, child rearing, magical research, espionage, internal loyalty, resource acquisition, and religion. The Black Table assigns all adult illumians to a directorate, and the director who leads that directorate assigns daily tasks that further the directorate's (and by extension the cabal's) goals.
Most cabals include a few nonillumian members, but these individuals rarely interact with the culture of the enclaves, instead acting as go-betweens or long-term spies in larger communities near the enclave. Members of other races find long-term residence among an illumian cabal to be stifling and monotonous. Short-term visits are another matter. Illumians tend to be hospitable (to invited guests, anyway) and accommodating, so those who have spent a week or two within the walls of an illumian enclave remark more on its orderly, peaceful nature than on the regimented, driven aspects of cabal life.
Black Table: The original cabals set nine seats at the Black Table, although the size of this ruling body can vary between six and twelve. Illumians and only illumians sit at the Black Table, and they do so for life. When a vacant seat opens at the Black Table, those who hold seats send an invitation (often but not always to a current director) to someone satisfactory to at least two-thirds of those currently seated at the Black Table.
By custom, the oldest illumian at the Black Table acts as a chairperson when the group meets, but each seat at the table has an equal say in the affairs of the cabal. The youngest illumian at the Black Table functions as a liaison between the ruling body and the rest of the community, issuing decrees and taking matters of import back to the Black Table for consideration. The other illumians who sit at the Black Table remain aloof from the rest of the cabal, preferring the company of their fellows and relishing the deference that other illumians show them.
Director: While those who sit at the Black Table can be aloof, mysterious figures, the directors are the hands-on leaders of the cabal and the most well-known (if not always the most popular) members. Cabals have between six and twelve directorates, each with dozens of members. Some directorates handle mundane tasks required to keep the community functioning, such as gathering food, maintaining the enclave, and caring for children. Other directorates handle more dangerous or difficult work: protecting the cabal from attack, keeping rivals under surveillance, or conducting magical experiments.
Directors serve at the pleasure of the Black Table, and they can be removed or reassigned by decree of the ruling body. In practice this happens only when a director's ethics or competence is called into question, because bad directors reflect poorly on the Black Table that appointed them. Directors suspected of wrongdoing or guilty of frequent failure are summoned before the Black Table long before the rest of the cabal knows of a leadership crisis.
The directors of large directorates empower subdirectors to make decisions on minor matters. For example, the director of a large cabal's defense directorate might have subdirectors for day watch, night watch, magical defenses, strategic reserve, and training. Directors can hire and fire subdirectors as they wish.
Arbiter: Almost every cabal has a justice directorate, which in a small cabal consists of just one illumian: the arbiter. An arbiter is the judge and jury for crimes committed within the walls of the cabal's enclave -- he or she orders arrests, questions witnesses, decides the case, and metes out punishment. If the cabal has more than a few dozen members, the justice directorate will be filled out with subarbiters who act as investigators and court officers for the arbiter. Subarbiters can make arrests, question suspects, and research illumian case law, but only the arbiter can render judgments.
Lorekeeper: Lore directorates are also common among illumian cabals. The director, referred to as the lorekeeper, functions as the head librarian for the cabal. Lorekeepers are expected to have great familiarity with the tomes in their keeping, and as a result lorekeepers are great sages and researchers. Many illumians aspire to the position of lorekeeper because of their love of language. In some cabals, the lorekeeper is more highly regarded than the illumians who sit at the Black Table.
Final Seed: From the earliest days of the illumian race, cabals have sent one or more capable members to live away from the enclave. These members, known as the final seed, have only one duty: rebuild the cabal should misfortune befall it. Final seeds are given copies of key illumian texts so they can start a new library if they have to, and they know how to contact friendly cabals for aid.
While illumians agree that being chosen as a final seed is a great honor -- they are considered paragons of the cabal's ideals -- many accept the honor only with great reluctance. A final seed must live apart from the safety of the cabal, visiting it only briefly. For illumians who have grown up in the structured environment of their enclaves, the outside world can be a lonely, bewildering place.
Roleplaying Application: Think about the position your character held in his or her cabal before he or she became an adventurer, and how he or she interacted with the cabal leadership. Perhaps you studied at the elbow of the loremaster, or maybe the arbiter investigated you for a crime you didn't commit.
History and Folklore
As a bookish people, illumians are acutely aware of their histories. The traditions and laws of their cabals are drilled into them from an early age. But because illumian cabals don't mix much, illumians have less shared folklore and common history than most races. Still, some events are so crucial to illumian history that every child knows about them. Others have spread from cabal to cabal over the centuries, growing and twisting with each telling until they have become legends not found in any illumian history book.
Ritual of Words Made Flesh
The most important event in illumian history is the founding of the race itself -- an event that happened mere centuries ago.
Tarmuid was a monk, scholar, and powerful wizard who lived in a far-off island monastery. A natural linguist, he began to notice certain patterns in ancient magic texts he was translating. Over time, Tarmuid discerned a common pattern to how various ancient languages expressed magical concepts. After years of research and experimentation, Tarmuid developed his own language, based on the underpinnings of magical expression. Tarmuid called this language, invented from the bones of long-dead languages, Illumian.
As Tarmuid became more adept at speaking Illumian, he noticed that each word he spoke carried residual magical power that infused both the speaker and anyone who heard the words. Tarmuid sought a way to use the language itself to create a vessel that would be receptive to the power within his words. After countless failed experiments, Tarmuid developed the Ritual of Words Made Flesh, a spoken rite that would transform any human who heard it into a creature infused with the power of the Illumian language. Through the ritual, what was once human would become illumian -- the Illumian language in tangible, humanoid form.
Tarmuid performed the ritual on himself, becoming the world's first illumian. He quickly shared his discovery with the humans living in the monastery, and they too became illumians. Only after creating several hundred illumians did Tarmuid begin to worry that the Ritual of Words Made Flesh could be twisted to other purposes, creating less useful transformations or even utterances that would destroy those who heard them.
Tarmuid convinced his fellow illumians of the ritual's danger, but they in turn persuaded him not to destroy the instructions for performing the Ritual of Words Made Flesh. Instead, the illumians split up into small groups and scattered across the globe, each group taking along part of the ritual's instructions. Those groups soon evolved into the cabals that are today the foundation of illumian society, and each cabal still guards part of the Ritual of Words Made Flesh. Because illumians now reproduce infant illumians normally, the ritual isn't needed to sustain the illumian race.
Adventure Hook: Through theft, murder, and subterfuge, cultists of Wathaku have assembled many of the parts of the Ritual of Words Made Flesh. Ultimately, they intend to reverse the ritual and "uncreate" illumians everywhere. The PCs must chase Wathaku's agents from cabal to cabal, trying to safeguard the parts of the ritual that Wathaku doesn't yet have.
The Journey of Neverlost Kaodei
Popular folklore among the illumians contends that Tarmuid performed the Ritual of Words Made Flesh one last time in secret before splitting up the instructions and scattering the illumians across the world. The only human to hear the final performance of the ritual was a bard named Kaodei, who happened to be visiting the monastery when Tarmuid created the first illumians.
Tarmuid made a risky, improvised alteration to the ritual as he performed it for Kaodei. As a result, Kaodei became an illumian who never ages, suspended forever as a young adult. Kaodei isn't immortal, says the legend, but he doesn't age naturally and needs only fear death by accident or violence.
To this day, Kaodei walks the earth at Tarmuid's behest, traveling from cabal to cabal and safeguarding the future of the illumian race. Kaodei is a powerful spellcaster and a master of disguise, say the legends, so he doesn't reveal his true nature. The handsome illumian is credited for dozens of heroic efforts on behalf of his people, often arriving just as beleaguered illumians are losing hope.
Adventure Hook:A mysterious illumian lies delirious and ill, referring to himself as "Kaodei" and describing how doppelgangers have infiltrated an illumian cabal. The PCs must decide whether it's better to try to find a cure for Kaodei's illness or to rush to the cabal and do Kaodei's work for him. They might try to discern whether the sick illumian is really Kaodei or simply an illumian inspired by his legend.
Creating Illumian Characters
Illumian characters obey all the rules for characters described in the Player's Handbook. As an illumian, you'll want to consider carefully the power sigils you choose at 1st and 2nd level. Once you've studied the available options, you'll notice that only a few of the illumian words (the combinations of two power sigils) are particularly effective for any one class. That's one reason why many mid- to high-level illumian characters are multiclass characters; they're exercising the maximum benefit from the power sigils that float around their heads. Look carefully at the combinations offered among the power sigils, since they make certain multiclass choices particularly attractive.
Special Illumian Options
As an illumian character, you qualify for some illumian-specific feats and prestige classes unavailable to PCs of other races, all described in Chapters 5 and 6 of this book.
Feats: Bright Sigil, Enhanced Power Sigils, Human Heritage, Improved Power Sigil (Aesh), Improved Power Sigil (Hoon), Improved Power Sigil (Krau), Improved Power Sigil (Naen), Improved Power Sigil (Uur), Improved Power Sigil (Vaul), Subtle Sigil.
Prestige Classes: Loredelver, shadow sentinel.