You've just come back from your friendly local gaming store (or maybe from your mailbox with a package from Amazon.com) with a brand-new D&D book in your hot little hands, and you can't wait to spring a surprise on your players. Trouble is, your game's in an hour, and you don't have time to read through the whole book looking for good stuff before the players show up.
That's where this column comes in. Every month, I'll take a look at one of the current D&D releases, pointing out elements you can drop into your game with (virtually) no prep work. I'll supply chapter references, DM tips, tactics, study notes for new rules -- whatever it takes to get you ready for your next gaming session. In less than an hour, you'll go from 0 to 60 in using whatever new book you've just brought home. And who knows? You might even impress your players with your newfound ability to integrate brand-new material in your campaign. (Don't worry, it'll be our little secret.)
Our column kicks off with a look at Races of Destiny. The second entry in the series of race-themed supplements, Races of Destiny provides insight into humans and their kin, including half-elves, half-orcs, and the mysterious illumians. Perhaps the most exciting new element of the book -- and almost certainly the most unusual -- the illumians are the focus of this month's column.
What You Need to Read
While you can probably get by with little more than what's presented here, consider perusing these sections as well if you have a few minutes.
Illumians in a Nutshell
The illumians, detailed in Chapter 3 of the book, are an offshoot of the human race and were created by sorcerous rituals. They are contemplative, studious individuals, with a powerful love of language. In fact, their racial identity relates entirely to the power of the word . . . or in the illumians' case, the sigil.
Every illumian bears a set of softly glowing runes that orbit his head. This gives your illumian NPC an instant visual signal that he isn't like anyone the characters have ever met, which makes for an instantly memorable encounter. While a pale, bald human might not merit a second glance, a pale, bald human with glowing symbols circling his brow certainly does!
Among these runes are one or more power sigils: particular runes that grant the illumian certain benefits. In addition to each power sigil granting a +1 bonus on certain checks or on caster level, each combination of two power sigils grants an additional unique ability related to the sigils that make up the combo. One combination might allow the character to cast certain spells spontaneously, while another lets him use turn/rebuke attempts to achieve alternative effects (somewhat like divine feats). The illumians also have a variety of other language-based racial traits, but you shouldn't concern yourself with learning those -- they're almost certainly not going to come into play right away.
Like humans, illumians are extraordinarily versatile. With seven different power sigils and fifteen combinations, any two illumians can present very different faces to your PCs. To you as the DM, it helps prevent illumian NPCs from becoming too predictable. Even two illumians with the same class and level might have different power sigil choices.
Also like humans, illumians take pride in mastering whatever situation they find themselves in. They value mastery over victory and would prefer to lose to a superior foe -- as long as they demonstrated skill -- than triumph over a lesser opponent. (Of course, they're almost certain to return to defeat the superior foe at a later point, after further study.) They have extraordinary drive -- occasionally appearing to outsiders as obsession -- tempered only by their innate caution.
Since this will almost certainly be your PCs' first encounter with an illumian, you should use it to highlight some of the race's traits. In this case, you can show off not only their unique visual appearance, but also their thirst for knowledge as well as their keen ability to plan.
The encounter uses the illumian spy presented in Chapter 8. A 6th-level character, the spy makes a fine encounter all by himself for characters up to 7th level. Even groups as low as 3rd level will work for this encounter, though the outcome is more likely to result in the illumian's favor. With more powerful (or unusually large) groups, you should add more spies -- use two (EL 8) for parties of level 8 or 9, three (EL 9) for levels 10 or 11, or four (EL 10) for levels 12 or 13. The spies have a bit of an edge on the characters, so it's okay if the EL for the encounter is a little below the party's level. (The notes below assume one spy, so keep that in mind when adjusting for more!)
The setup is that some item recently acquired (and kept) by the party -- a scroll, a tome, or virtually any magic item -- holds some secret knowledge desired by an illumian cabal (the primary social unit of the race, as well as their version of the guild). Perhaps a scroll holds a message concealed by illusory script or a secret page spell, or the lining of the fighter's shiny new breastplate hides a slip of paper, or those meaningless runes along the rogue's sword blade turn out not to be so meaningless after all. The beauty of this hook is that it doesn't require any previous planning on your part -- it's entirely "new" to your campaign's continuity. Of course, the players don't know that, but that's why you're the DM. It's even better if the item has been around for a while, since this makes the illumians' "discovery" of it all the more impressive.
The spy makes his move the next time the characters bed down for the night, whether that's in town or out in the wilderness. The latter is preferable (from your standpoint), since you can more easily generate a quick map of a wooded clearing than an inn, but if you're up for it, a B&E job on the characters' own rooms is a classic adventure-starter. (For an interesting inn map, please check out this particular inn!) Preferably, the characters should be ready to embark (or continue) on an adventure, since this lets you drop in a single encounter without needing immediate follow-up.
The spy has already observed the party at some length, thanks to disguise self, and he has also used charm person to ask questions about them. Thus, he is well-acquainted with the party's capabilities and won't be surprised by any spells or magic items the characters use.
Unless the party has given the illumian good reason to prefer lethal tactics, the spy arms himself with a sap, which he uses in preference to his spiked chain (Atk or Full Atk +5 melee [1d6 nonlethal, sap]). Whoever holds the item in question is the target. If indoors, the illumian slips into that character's room (he can easily open any lock with a DC of 20 or less, and even DC 30 is within his reach); if outdoors, he tries to time his assault to coincide with that character's watch to limit the number of other active opponents.
In either case, the illumian approaches under the cover of invisibility (thanks to his scroll), and with mage armor active from his wand (increasing his AC to 16, touch 12, flat-footed 16). Furthermore, he casts disguise self to appear as some other NPC the characters have met recently -- a bartender, blacksmith, sage, or other familiar face. To aid his stealth, the spy has doused his luminous sigils (which reduces all his Int- and Dex-based skill check modifiers by 2). The character must succeed at a DC 23 Listen check (including a -10 penalty if asleep) to hear the approaching spy.
Assuming the character isn't alerted by the approach, allow another check to hear the spy rustling through the character's possessions for the desired item, and another as the spy slinks back away. The illumian would prefer to take the item without a fight, but he doesn't hesitate to deliver a sneak attack the moment that any PC displays any sign that she has heard the spy. As he does so, he also expends a 1st-level spell slot to increase his bonus sneak attack damage to +4d6 (thanks to his vauluur illumian word, the combination of his two power sigils).
If this fails to incapacitate the PC, the illumian immediately restores his sigils to visibility (a free action), hoping to win initiative and deliver another sneak attack before fleeing the scene -- with or without the item. In any case, the spy prefers escape over defeat, knowing that he can return later for another attempt.
If the illumian escapes with the item, he returns to his masters in the cabal. He is almost certain to have a significant head-start on the characters, though a ranger or other skilled tracker might be able to follow his trail if in the wilderness. (In town, he'll disappear within minutes thanks to disguise self.)
If he escapes without the item, he lies low for several days, allowing the characters to let down their guard. His next strike will come when the characters are recuperating from an adventure -- all the better to take advantage of their fatigue.
If the characters kill the illumian, his body releases the stored Illumian language within for the next 6 rounds in the form of ululating gibberish. A DC 15 Listen check allows a PC to make out a phrase couched in the nonsense: "You know not what you hold!" (This final utterance is a racial trait of the illumians, but it is likely to creep out the characters for some time.)
Should the characters capture the illumian instead, he tries to pass himself off as having been blackmailed into stealing from them; only an opposed Sense Motive check (opposed by the spy's Bluff check) or magical divination can detect this falsehood. If the characters dawdle in their interrogation, the illumian's magical disguise wears off (it lasts less than 10 minutes after the encounter begins), which pokes an obvious hole in his tale. Though the illumian resists most mundane attempts at coercion, he is far from immune to intimidation. Unless mistreated, the illumian spy doesn't bear the PCs any ill will, and if they convince him to talk, he admits that the item they hold has a particular importance to his cabal. If they offer to share the item with his cabal, the spy promises that no further attempts will be made upon it. Otherwise, he assures them that his cabal -- or others more ruthless -- won't stop trying to recover it.
Regardless of exactly how the encounter plays out, the PCs have a mystery (or three) on their hands. What is the significance of the item they hold? Who is this strange person (or people), and what is the nature of the cabal that employs him? And who else might come looking for them? If the spy remains alive, have they made a new enemy, or perhaps met a new friend? And what's with those crazy glowing runes, anyway?
You don't have to answer any of those questions in this first encounter (though you should be ready to explore them in future sessions). Whatever the result of the meeting, make sure the characters feel like they don't have enough information to continue investigating the encounter just yet (that is, unless you're ready to run with it). Let them finish up whatever other adventure they're on -- by the time they're done, you'll have read the rest of the book and will be ready with more mysteries of the illumians to explore.
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About the Author
By day, Andy Collins works as an RPG developer in Wizards of the Coast R&D. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Destiny, and Complete Adventurer. By night, however, he fights crime as a masked vigilante. Or does he?
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