by Peter Metcalfe
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People become illuminated in Hero Wars in pretty much the same way they did in RuneQuest - through the study of Paradoxes formulated as cryptic riddles. Hence I would suggest that illuminates have a skill called Nysaloran Riddles that denotes their knowledge of various Nysaloran Paradoxes.
There are other paths to mystical awareness in the Empire that are known as Illumination, in particular the Lunar Mysteries and the White Sun Lords (Yelmic mysticism). But these are much closer to traditional mystical paths or worship of enlightened deities, than the Hero Wars description of Illumination.
Most people in the Empire would (in my opinion) see Nysaloran Riddles as a road to mystical consciousness. Even Lunars see nothing wrong in doing so because they know that their goddess was illuminated and that studying Riddles would make help them reach their destination much quicker. Think of it as a fringe practice on the outskirts of normal religion or even as a self-help course. Unless one is a proclaimed Riddler, illuminates and wannabes look like other Pelorians from all walks of life with their extra-curricular activities known to their friends or perhaps not even them.
There is a cult known as the Order of Day which is regarded as the official vessel of Nysaloran wisdom. Although its adherents ask riddles in the market square, I believe it uses this as a hook to get people involved on its own mystical practices rather than making illuminates while the Sun shines. The Lunar religious authorities are complicit in this for they believe that Nysaloran Riddles are too dangerous for most people.
To delve further into this, I'll suppose I will have to explain my understanding of various concepts of the Hero Wars mysticism rules.
Mysteries of Mysticism
What the rules call a Counter is actually equivalent to the realized Buddha nature or Awakened Draconic Self. What is described as being the Secret of the Taraltara cult is actually the equivalent of Nirvana and the mystic achieves this through repeated refutation of the world.
Orthodox Mystics can get into Nirvana/Vithalash/Summerland Heaven/etc alone by their Counter since it is thorough, while the manifest mystics are forced to acknowledge the world because their counter is at some level incomplete. To achieve their version of Nirvana, Manifest Mystics have to acknowledge the mystical reality of the world in some way as a crutch to help them into Nirvana.
This appears in the Hero Wars rules as a Strike. What this actually is (in my opinion) is a Cosmic Truth that affirms the World's (and other people's) existence. An example of the Truth behind a strike might be "Everybody has Cosmic Dragon Nature". While a Strike is meant to be used as a constructive engagement with the world, it can be used to manifest mystical reality upon the unprepared and so appear to the vulgar as a magical tool for kicking the shit out of people.
Illumination is described as the rules as an unintentional replacement of one's belief system with the mystical. What I think the situation is that illumination is a profound Cosmic Truth/Strike that has become divorced from any stabilizing Mystical Philosophy/Counter.
Becoming Illuminated is probably a contest between one's riddle knowledge and the cosmos (the barrier might be 2 or something) resolved at appropriate times (in RQ3, this was during the Sacred Time but it could happen on other occasions). Success means that you gain an illumination 'strike' and can improve it.
How to Stay Sane
As a result of being illuminated, you achieve the realization that everybody is wrong. Real mystics view illuminates as cursed because they don't know how to refute these lies to find Nirvana. Instead the illuminates have a desire to find something... anything! that will stabilize their insight or else become insane.
In Hero Wars terms, stabilization will mean they have to find or develop some sort of philosophy/counter. One could learn this from the Lunar Mysteries or the Order of Day but those philosophies will not mesh very well (in my opinion) with the Illumination and there still is some risk of derangement. The best philosophy was, of course, Nysalor's, but he's gone. Although the Lunars say they are Illuminates, their sevenfold path is structured that they achieve mystical consciousness with their balance intact - the same balance that has been disrupted by Nysaloran Illumination.
Perhaps the best way for an Illuminate to achieve balance is to observe the spiritual bewilderment in other illuminates and realize that he's far from alone and that this is a true thing. He then begins to asks riddles of others so he could follow their searchings and draw comfort from it. Doesn't actually start him on the road to Nirvana but he's safe.
As for other abilities, I assume that illuminates still have the capacity to join multiple cults and the like to learn their powers (but do not have to devote their attention for theistic cults etc) but they are prevented from learning the secrets (and vice versa, people who learn secrets cannot become illuminated via Nysaloran Riddles because they are already connected to the mystic realm - I'm basing this on the fourth paragraph of Hero Wars: Roleplaying in Glorantha p.166).
In my opinion, the classical illuminate abilities are obtainable from the illumination 'strike' rather than from any counter. I don't think it's a matter of simply joining a cult and unloading the freebie feats into your shopping cart without being unmasked by the temple authorities, but applying your illumination to the magical abilities or philosophical issues to see if it's true or not.
Thus an illuminate might use his illumination to find out whether his cult's spirit of reprisal is something to be feared or not. If he wins (pitting his illumination against his fear of the spirit which is perhaps equal to the spirit's might), he will find out that he has lost all fear of it. (If he loses, he lose the usual points of his illumination HW:RiG p225). For a magical ability, the question might be whether the power truly comes from his god or not.
These questions are tested through a period of personal meditation. I do not see the illuminate abilities as being teachable although a riddler could set another illuminate off on a train of thought to arrive at certain powers.
There was a comment in a draft about how illuminates could do HeroQuest challenges in the mundane world, but it wasn't developed and I don't know the reasoning behind it - it might even be completely wrong.
Turning to the Dark Side
The decisions you take when creating illuminated Lunar bad guys depends on whether you want them to be dark illuminates or just plain crazed. Bad mystics have destroyed their realized great self (in my opinion this is their philosophy/counter) for worldly power, and this is something that an illuminate could stumble into, while crazed illuminates are more deranged than purposely evil (they can act rationally, they have just lost their moral balance such that they can no longer be certain whether it is still evil to eat babies).
The difference between the two is this: falling into the Dark Side is described in Cults of Terror as drawing the false conclusion that there is no difference between one's personal ethics and desires (it's not simply a matter of voicing this opinion, one has to truly believe it), while a crazed illuminate might still think there is such a difference but be deluded enough to think his actions are purposeful.
Becoming a dark illuminate would require an illuminate to use his illumination against his unrealized Great Self in considering the question of his desires and ethics. There's no warning to the illuminate saying that this is a bad thing he's doing to himself and tragically he might become a dark master without ever comprehending the existence of Nirvana.
In my opinion, this struggle is not like other contests in which the illuminate considers a question and resolves it. It is much harder, as the object of his attention is still inchoate and unrealized. However if an illuminate does not discover some meaningful philosophy to partially stabilize him, he will soon exhaust all other possibilities and begin to storm the walls of his own soul.
You might consider giving Dark Illuminates a 'strike' (at the strength of their illumination) to reflect their realization of this false truth. It should be a manifestation of a deeply rooted desire of theirs and at the same time twisted enough to give people a scare.
Hence if a Dark Illuminate wants to live forever, then he might have the ability to steal life from another. If he lusts after knowledge, then he could steal part of somebody else's skills and add a fraction of that onto his own. If wealth is desired, then he can cheat people in a trade. He could also like hurting people, but designing a twisted strike around that shouldn't be too hard.
These strikes shouldn't be teachable to other dark illuminates as they are really manifestations of the dark illuminate's own desires.
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