The Illumination

Foreward: Selecting a Setting


Illumination Summary

The Illumination is an urban fantasy setting that imagines a world where the advent of smartphones and the internet confirmed the existence of the supernatural instead of effectively disproving it.

While supernatural entities and phenomena are extremely rare, they loom large in the zeitgeist. As a result, modern society has twisted into a superstitious and paranoid reflection of itself.

Yet, some witch hunts do have merit. It's an open secret that billionaires and Senators employ paranormal advisors and bodyguards. Charlatans become pop culture icons, and each revelation inspires a new cult.

The world is changing.

The secret societies that pull humanity's strings are scrambling to adapt.

Now's a good time to move up.

Using Other Settings

This world is the default setting for The Contract. However, The Contract’s system and format are not tightly-integrated with the Illumination. Unlike some TTRPGs, the vast majority of the game's content (Gifts, dice system, Character advancement, and Scenarios) are independent of the primary setting and are suitable for any modern / urban fantasy setting.

During Contracts, the setting acts mostly as backdrop for the Contracts. However, it defines Downtime (between Contract) activity.

As your Playgroup's Contractors grow in power, their stories must grow beyond the Contracts themselves. They have risked their lives for power. They have compromised their values and stepped over the bodies of their friends to gather that power. Why? To what end? This is where the setting comes in. It provides the status quo that the Contractors want to change. This conflict is key if you want your Contractor's motivations to remain believable and engaging past 10 Victories or so. 

While we hope that our players find The Illumination intriguing, we encourage each Playgroup to select a setting that interests and excites them.

Scope and Scale

Regardless of the setting you select, it's a good idea to try to focus the action of The Contract around a relatively small area. This means all Contractors live in the selected town / city / region, and most Contracts occur in that area. This makes the action of the Contracts more relevant to the Contractors and provides more opprotunities for Contractors to form meaningful relationships with the NPCs and eachother. 

The Illumination is particularly well-suited for the California bay area, however selecting an area your players have real-life experience with or even creating a fictional town/city are also excellent choices. 

An Era of Change and Discovery


They named that time The Illumination, and it was by the flash of a camera phone.

The year was 2004. Until that point the Earth was as we had always known her. We filled her cruel vastness with legends, superstitions, and rumors. Warlocks, monsters, and gods lurked on the edge of the collective consciousness, always a possibility but never more. We lacked evidence. That evidence came as humanity filled its pockets with technology equipped to capture and transmit.

An iPhone found on High School senior Nate Klienman’s mangled corpse held a video of his girlfriend’s bone-snapping transformation into a monstrous wolf creature. A Brazilian widow documented a series of conversations with the misty figure of her late husband. A Chinese fishing boat caught a mermaid in a net and put it on display in the Beijing aquarium.

Each week brought a new revelation that we were not alone. Superstitions reversed their slow death overnight. Salem held their first witch trial in a century. The jury rendered a verdict of “guilty on all charges” and sentenced Maxibelle Horux to death. A week after her lethal injection, half the jury died from a tainted batch of flu vaccine. A fearful, populist movement arose to rid humanity of the creatures lurking in its ranks. Suspects are forcibly subjected to bizarre tests of their humanity, and the results are often open to interpretation. A mob’s justice is swift.

Yet the paranormal is not merely relegated to a persecuted class. Politicians and Aristocrats employ odd-looking individuals as "advisors" or "protection." Entertainment magazines publish revelations every week about which celebrities shed their human skins at home. Charlatans of all stripes, from palmistry mediums to televangelists, have flourished despite the risks. The treatment of the paranormal varies from place to place, person to person.

Long have cabals, cults, and secret societies thrived in the shadows. Their roots run deeply through humanity’s oldest systems of power. Machinations are challenged, and sleeping dangers awaken. The world is changing, forcing long-dormant powers into desperate action.

It is in the midst of this great period of change that The Powers That Be have once again turned their attention to the blue marble. For the first time in five hundred years, Harbingers approach worthy individuals with a Contract they won't refuse.

Defining Features

History Diverges in 2005

  • Although the supernatural has existed for the whole of human history, the Illumination's recorded history is essentially the same as our own until the year 2005. However, the supernatural's hand in changing-- or even directing-- the course of said history may be significant. 

Unnatural, Uncommon

  • Only a handful of supernatural beings exist in most cities. Most people will never have a direct encounter with the supernatural, and many of those who do don’t realize it. Paranormal creatures that live “out of the closet” either find employ with the rich and powerful or meet with a less fortunate fate. There are no celebrity werewolves. . . at the moment.

Humanity Bears Witness

  • There is no grand, unified conspiracy or phenomena that obscures the supernatural from mankind. Any smartphone can livestream high-definition video to the distributed streaming platform CryptoLeak. Even the most powerful world governments can't scrub a video from CryptoLeak, although they can censor it within their borders or upload convincingly-fabricated videos.

No "Popular Magic"

  • No one has discovered any magic ritual or alchemical formula that can be mass-distributed via the internet in a functional form. While some paranormal effects can be taught or spread through various means, breaking the barrier of physics requires channeling a specific source of energy. You can't scan the Necronomicon, upload it to 4chan, and teach a billion people to raise the dead. 

It's 1984 Somewhere, but not Everywhere

  • While all world governments have procured and harnessed terrifying supernatural assets, this does not mean they will immediately crush any unrest or unexplained phenomena with an iron fist. Real world governments possess extraordinary millitary arsenals and assassins that can untracably kill with radioactive pellets, yet most governments do not use these powers against their citizens as a matter of course. 
  • In The Illumination, each government wields its supernatural assets in a way similar to how they wield their millitary and covert operatives in real life. 

Contractors Make a Splash

  • Contractors are no joke. The Gifts they stand to gain by participating in Contracts are significant. Even Novice Contractors can become overnight celebrities by displaying proof of their powers, and more seasoned Contractors have a chance to truly change the status quo. Of course, no one makes a splash without getting some unwanted attention, and no one can change the world without making powerful enemies. . .

Terms commonly used in by those who speak English in the Illumination.

  • Supernatural: Rare and unexplainable creatures, objects, or phenomena. Often defying the laws of physics as we understand them.
    • Formal: Supernatural, Paranormal (GB)
    • Common: Weird, Magic, Spooky
    • Vulgar: Freaky
  • Illumination: Evidence of the supernatural, usually video or physical. Alternatively, the event of new evidence of the supernatural becoming widely-available. 
    • Validated: Illuminations that are widely-accepted as factual.
    • Debated: Illuminations that do not rise to the level of scientific and widespread acceptance. Also referred to as Unconfirmed.
    • Phoney: An Illumination that is confirmed to be-- or widely-believed to be-- a hoax, a mistake, or otherwise misleading and untrue. 
  • Unnaturology: The scientific study of the supernatural. Considered to be a legitimate academic field, though it is starved for subject matter. A scientist who researches in the field is called an Unnaturologist.
    • Vulgar: Fairy-chaser, ghost-hunter

  • Escort: A mysterious individual who often accompanies someone rich and/or powerful. They are assumed to be a paranormal advisor or bodyguard. Some wealthy/powerful individuals keep a quiet, oddly-dressed person around simply for appearances.
    • Formal: Escort
    • Common: Escort, Buddy, Bodyguard
    • Vulgar: Jafar
  • Paranormal Entity: A creature that exhibits supernatural nature or abilities. 
    • Formal: Paranormal/Supernatural Entity
    • Common: Curiosity, Alien, Cryptid
    • Vulgar: Freak, Monstrosity, Abomination
    • (Editor's note: religious terms are often misapplied to these creatures including "angel", "demon", "asura" etc)
  • Debunker: A pop-culture personality who vets viral supernatural videos and reports. 

Landmark Illuminations

These Illuminations represent a small selection (but not all) of the most influential validated evidence of the supernatural. All but the most remote / removed humans know about these events, and the evidence (video and otherwise) is readily availble. 

 

The Werewolf of Montgumery High

One of the earliest validated illuminations occured in 2004 at Montgumery high. A high school senior named Nate Klienman was on a date with his girlfriend Kelly Whethers. They drove to the limestone quarry outside of town, a popular "makeout point" with the local teens. For some reason, Nate decided to film the encounter on his flip phone. In doing so, he achieved several "world's first" titles, including "first person to record a werewolf's transformation" and "first person to be mauled to death by a werewolf on camera." Security footage from the quarry was cross-referenced with the footage from his phone, allowing the encounter to be confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt. Since then, several werewolves and other varieties of lycanthrope have been captured and studied, though scienfitic findings are slim.

Kelly Whethers herself did not attend school the next day and has not been seen since the event. Her current whereabouts are the subject of much debate online. 

 

The Sanger Family's Comeuppance

For seven hundred years, the mysterious Sanger family held the lordship of a great deal of Eastern England. Despite siding prudently with the winning side of several major conflicts and accumulating incredible power, wealth, and land, the Sanger family was rarely encountered by those who did not serve inside the estate itself.

One of the few public appearances made by the family was an event held every fourty years wherein girls from all of Britain would visit the estate for a chance to be selected to aid the family in continuing their bloodline. The "winning" girl would join the Sangers in isolation, and her family awarded a handsome dowrey. 

So the tradition continued without much question until the year of 2011. Martia Smith-- one of the "losing" girls-- snuck through the estate's opulent hallways to try to catch a glipse of the family welcoming her winning sister into the family. She was caught on the balcony overlooking the forbidden "inner-sanctum," but welcomed to finish viewing the event. To her surprise, the family did not seem upset with her decision to quietly livestream what followed. 

She, and the entire world, witnessed a horrific blood ritual wherein her sister's life essence was consumed by the elder Sangers, restoring their youth before her very eyes. Afterwards, she was brutally executed by the family, her camera still rolling.

That evening, the Sanger family arranged the transfer of two generous dowries to the girls' family. Only seconds later, the estate was stormed by an enraged mob from the village. It is said that the men of the mob were so enranged, they ripped the family members apart with their bare hands. 

We presume the family was so unfamiliar with modern technology, they had no idea the risk posed by little Martia's phone.

Queen Elizabeth and parlement issued a general pardon the villagers and distributed the family's land to the public, though the estate itself has been sectioned-off and remains under guard for "investigation" to this day. 

 

Dr. Yamazaki's Conquest

In May of 1998, a meteorite struck the side of Sahuasiray, a mountain in Peru. A small expedition lead by Professor Eiko Yamazaki was sent to study the site of the impact. He and his team reported little of interest. The meteorite was quickly forgotten by most, but not by those close to the members of the expeditions. 

The research team's friends and families noticed a remarkable anti-social shift in the scientists' behavior. Dr. Yamazaki took a sabbatical from his position at the University and moved to a remote town near the site of the impact. Several of the researchers moved with him. Over the next few years, they cut contact with the outside world.

On May 21, 2014, sixteen years from the initial impact, the village housing Dr. Yamazaki's team went dark. Communications with the outside world suddenly ceased. The next day, the nearby city of Confresa with a small army of viscious, insectoid mutants. 

Video footage from many citizens of Confresa captured horrifying images of the city being overrun by dozens of centipede-like creatures, each the size of a city bus. These monsters destroyed the roads out of the city while other, smaller creatures corralled the populace into detainment centers.

Those who resisted were eaten alive. Those who did not resist were systematically stung by the smaller monsters or force-fed via a disgusting probiscus extruded from their mouths. Footage shows those who were "treated" slumping over, gasping for breath, and being dragged away. 

That evening, Dr. Yamazaki published a video. In an utterly unhinged rant, he declared himself warden of the Earth and demanded that the world governments set aside their arms and prepare to be "taken by her glory to the outer realms of esthesia." 

The Government of Peru deployed five thousand troops from Peruvian Armed Forces, leading a combined operation with Brazilian, Bolivian, and Chilean militaries. Little care was taken to rescue any potential survivors, and over the next 14 hours, thousands of bombs were dropped on the city and the surrounding countryside, reducing the entire area to a field of rubble. Followup from the infantry confirmed the destruction of the enemy forces. 

All-in-all, over five thousand Peruvians lost their lives. To date, this is the largest clash between supernatural and conventional forces and the single deadliest Illumination in the history of mankind. It has inspired a great deal of distrust of the scientific community and the supernatural around the world, and a tightening of government control in South America. 

Anatomy of an Illumination

Mass-distributed evidence of supernatural phenomena are called “Illuminations.” When a video of something supernatural goes viral online, what happens?

Assessing Validity

Anyone who cares about the phenomena (be they an individual or an organization), must assess its validity. Government organizations may offer official evaluations on what is proven, but these are rarely trusted outright. 

Evidence of supernatural phenomena fall into one of three categories: Validated, Debated, or Phoney.

 

Indisputable proof: Validated

  1. Some phenomena have many witnesses, multiple camera angles, are publicly on-display, or live-streamed and performed on demand repeatedly in various conditions. Phenomena with this amount of evidence are generally considered to be validated.
  2. Some people will still not believe phenomena with excessive evidence, especially if it makes them feel like they are less in control (big implications, terrible tragedies, things that go against their fundamental world views, etc).
    1. Note: for the most part, these people are not good skeptics. They generally distrust second-hand experiences, certain forms of media, and/or certain organizations. They are likely to believe conspiracy theories that make them feel like they are “in the know” of a grand plan. They are also susceptible to hoaxes they experience first-hand.

Questionable evidence: Debated

  1. Fiercely debated on line and in the public conversation.
  2. Professional and pop-culture Debunkers vet videos and news reports for authenticity.
    1. They can be corrupt and accept bribes and stuff as well. 
    2. May themselves be charlatans that sell “magic detecting” glasses.
  3. These sorts of Illuminations inspire the imagination, and often lead to new conspiracy theories, fan clubs, cults, and fictional entertainment media. 

Obviously a hoax: Phoney

  1. Hoaxes occur every day in the real world, and even more often in The Illumination.
  2. Hoaxes are common, from trick in-camera photography to advanced CGI effects funded by powerful organizations.  Various forms of evidence (video and not) may be planted or faked.
  3. Motivations for creating hoaxes range from “because it was fun” to charlatans vying for credibility, to advanced conspiracies by shadowy supernatural organizations. Sometimes supernatural-looking or occult evidence is planted to obscure a mundane crime. 
  4. A combination of confirmed effects/tricks, strong profit motive, lack of quality evidence, lack of context / follow-up will usually end with a phenomena being declared phoney
  5. Some people will believe certain hoaxes even when they are fairly easy to disprove.
    1. Most people are likely to believe evidence that aligns with their world view regardless of the quality of the evidence. 
    2. Some people are under the impression that admitting evidence of a phenomena has been faked makes that phenomena less likely to be real, or that people are less likely to believe it. 

Complicating Factors

  • Gen-Wyld is a highly-successful company that offers extreme body mods, transgenic alterations, advanced surgical tattoos, giving odd-looking supernatural entities more plausible deniability if witnessed / recorded. 
  • The COVID-19 epidemic has led to social acceptance of mass mask-wearing, making it difficult to identify individuals caught on film wielding supernatural powers. 
  • Many bystanders and witnesses fear any involvement whatsoever and so run instead of filming the event. Others are stunned, and in many parts of the world, cell phones are not 100% common. Some evidence is destroyed or concealed before it is posted. 
  • Censorship by some governments is not uncommon. Despite its many issues, the United States has some of the best freedom-of-speech laws of any country. Totalitarian governments exert much stronger control over the media and their citizens' access to CryptoLeak. 

Any Illumination that is validated or debated has some degree of fallout. The details of what happens next depends on many factors, especially the nature of the supernatural phenomena that has been illuminated. 

 

Dangerous, grand, and terrifying  phenomena may cause a large reaction. Some phenomena are seen more as curiosities than anything else and may not prompt a significant response. Phenomena that stick around an observable area always prompt a greater reaction than a mere sighting or bizarre evidence.  

 

Gold Rush

  • Those who want to potentially profit off of the discovery. 

Defense

  • Governments always show force around Illuminations but, in general, will only take overt action if the phenomena poses a clear and present danger. 
  • However, private citizens, populist groups, and militias almost ALWAYS appear. They are driven by fear and may be armed and violent. They may be manipulated by fear-mongering individuals and organizations, especially politicians, charlatans, and religious leaders, but really anyone who is looking to gather a following or catalyze action. 
  • “Monster Hunters” arrive as well, looking to make a quick buck off of those locals who are especially scared. 

Policy

  • Destructive or terrifying phenomena often prompt policy changes. Theseoften take the form of security theater like enhanced TSA screening or mandated blood tests for certain actions / positions. 

Science and Magic

Scientists (called unnaturologists) across the world have been given access to various supernatural artifacts and creatures. The results of their research are all over the map. In most cases, scientists have only successfully quantified the unexplainability of supernatural phenomena. For example, they may be able to tell you how much mass a werewolf gains during their transformation, but not where the matter comes from. No means of detecting “magic” in a general sense has been developed yet.

However, science is occasionally successful at replicating and harnessing the supernatural. Several companies and governments now manufacture ultra-high-end products and technologies that are not yet available to the general public.

More than once a scientist has been corrupted by their work. Infection, obsession, and insanity are not uncommon. Several scientists have stolen their subjects and gone off to become wizards, free agents, or monsters themselves.

Advanced Technology

Due to a subtle advancement of productivity from the supernatural, technology in the Illumination is slightly more advanced than our own. 

  • In general, all end-user consumer devices are one "generation" (3-5 years) ahead of where they are in the real world. 
    • While this enables better cameras and higher-speed internet, connectivity at the edge (ie reception in rural / remote areas) is about as limited as it is today, and satallite phones are still only capable of low-quality voice calls and messages (no data). 
  • A company known as Gen-Wyld (pronnounced "jen-wild") offers advanced cosmetic surgery and body modifications. While cosmetic surgeries are mostly limited to improved versions of existing procedures, their body mods are more outlandish and include features like pointed ears, altered skin tones, altered eyes, drastically enlongated tongues, and even tails. 
    • More extreme Gen-Wyld body modifications are rare and almost as uncommon as sub-dermal implants, full-body tattoos, or other extreme body mods in real life.

The increase in interest in the supernatural and overall unknowableness of the world has led to a resurgence of services that claim to be supernatural. Everything from palm reading to televangelism is more common than ever. The vast majority of witches, psychics, magicians, hypnotists, cures, potions, faith healers, and clairvoyants are complete fakes, yet they have experienced surprising success in recent years.

Most people scoff at most supernatural services, but those same people often buy into at least one personal “supernatural” aid.

Monster hunters and exorcists are one amusing form of charlatan. The vast majority have never encountered anything supernatural and do absolutely nothing besides burn sage and carry a gun with silver bullets. Even so, they see surprising success calming the nerves of people and communities that believe they are haunted by paranormal phenomena.

Conspiracy Theories

Just a theory

Conspiracy theories in the real world range from completely unhinged brain rot, to plausible, but lacking in hard evidence. In a world that has gone through the Illumination, we can crank this up way past ten.

From seemingly impossible microchip technologies, to literal ghosts and ghouls, everything that could go bump in the dark in the Illuminated setting could be a much more plausible answer for people’s day to day woes.

Subjects

Anyone with even a moderately sized social footprint can have a conspiracy weaved about them these days, but here are some of the bigger ones.

  • Prometheus Ventures (and linked agencies)
    • Only the real gumshoes can even see the outline of this organization. The Shredded Veil Pod talks about the connection between a number of CEOs, but few public members know much more than that.
    • Offr
      • A Gig-Economy TaskRabbit type app. People use it as a side hustle, some make it their whole job, but there are whispers of offers that have broke bad. A not insignificant number of users have gone missing and people are asking questions.
        • Prometheus Connected through leadership
  • City Government and "The Ritual Committee"
    • Primarily a push from Stoughton and acolytes, no proof of existence of any such committee.

Amplifiers

Whether it's an individual shouting on a street corner, or a couple folks talking into a microphone there will always be individuals or groups . Here is an incomplete list of the most interesting ones.

  • Stoughton
    • A user on anonymous message boards that claims to be at a seat of power in the "Ritual Commission" within city government. Claims to have direct access to the word of God through their access to this commission.
      • There is no other verification that this commission even exists. That said, sometimes big predictions line up, and Pope has developed a rabid following.
  • Sons of Stoughton
    • A militia of rabid followers of Stoughton. Located primarily in Vallejo, but love to venture into the bay to cause trouble.
  • The Shredded Veil Podcast
    • Hosted by Ben Blau and Lena Kowalski
    • Both Bay Area natives with deep ties to the underground music scene. Ben spent a significant amount of time on the streets while he struggled with addiction and has had up close and personal experiences with the worst this city has to offer. Lena is a bit more straight laced with significant interest in the financial dealings of city politicians, and the connections between tech firms. They tend towards hyperbole, and jump to conclusions, but where they land is a lot closer to the reality than many of the more popular outlets.
  • Jessica Parsons
    • A homeless woman struggling to get by who lives around the Tenderloin. A white woman with matted brown hair who would probably be tall if she weren't completely hunched over. Her skin is incredibly damaged both due to years of exposure and
    • Jessica was a 'catch and release' from the Prometheus linked firm "Offr".
    • Offr has been experimenting with memory erasing tech to reduce the number of people they need to disappear that could potentially be linked to the firm.
    • The magic and ritual based tech used on her has left a deep sympathetic link with the going-ons on the Offr campus. She feels a numb pain and receives shadowy visions when rituals and sacrifices are committed in the bowels of that place.

The Supernatural


Contractors and Harbingers

The Contracts have been on pause for 500 years. 

 

Even among those “in the know,” direct knowledge of The Games is rare. Only ancient creatures or those with an advanced intelligence network tend to know about them. Of course, all it would take is a single Contractor interview on TV to change the situation dramatically. . .

After all these Illuminations, what do we know about specific supernatural entities and phenomena?

Werewolves

The existence of werewolves has been validated through several videos from around the world, mostly taken in North America and Europe. Despite several captured specimens, little is known about the werewolf. Scientists believe the phenomena known as “lycanthropy” may be an umbrella term applied to a variety of transformative diseases, curses, and creatures.

Some captured werewolves transform on the full moon, others when they are angry. Some morph into wolf-human hybrids, others into full animals; some barely change at all. At least one specimen was shown to be contagious. Many are known to commit crimes of passion (including murder) when transformed. One werewolf who was interviewed described the experience as bringing on an altered mental state.

No known werewolves live as private citizens. One is displayed at the national zoo in China. Others have been murdered once they were discovered. Several have been jailed. The subjects of several illuminations featuring werewolf transformations have disappeared, and it is assumed that they have either been kidnapped or started new lives under a new identity.

Vampires

Despite their ubiquity in international myth and legend, no fully-validated illuminations document the existence of vampires at least what westerners would generally consider a vampire.

Popular opinion holds that they are out there somewhere and that they have the capacity to hide from cameras or erase records of their existence.

If they do exist, they are likely extremely rare and various in type, behavior, and appearance.

Ghosts

Ghosts have been validated several times, however their nature and the manners in which they manifest are various and ephemeral. Often ghosts are observed only a single time on film and never appear again. However, several convincing videos of poltregeist behavior have been taken, along with apparitions witnessed by many people, voices heard by many people, and other “spooky phenomena.”

While many people claim to converse with ghosts (and there is validated evidence of a ghost communicating with a medium on at least one occasion), there are no “resident” ghosts that can be reliably conversed with. The field of “medium” is filled with charlatans.

Although ghosts are generally accepted as “real,” their nature is fiercely debated. The vast majority of videos of ghosts are hoaxes, and they are met with extreme skepticism. Many realtors claim their properties are haunted as a way to drive sales of non-desirable houses.

Psychics, Telepaths, Empaths

There are several well-documented cases of people who were either born with or developed psychic or intuitive mental powers. Because these powers are often discovered when the subject is young, it is postulated that a large percentage of the psychic population is known to others. If not in popular culture, at least by the government or the subjects’ families.

The United States government runs a special school for “gifted” children. Its official location is unknown, but many believe it is tucked away in the mountains of Marin, California.

Magic-wielders

Magic-wielders are not eager to demonstrate their abilities en-masse in public unless they are trying to gather a following. Most find private employment.

Charlatans exist in both circles, both private and public.

Supers

Certain individuals have demonstrated superhuman strength, speed, intellect, or other abilities. They are officially banned from participating in sports and the olympics.

China was sanctioned by the olympic committee for fielding an athlete with supernatural dexterity in gymnastics, though the claim is widely contested and the ruling criticized.

Ritual Magic and Alchemy
No ritual of power has been discovered. No ritual involving magic words, symbols, or actions has ever been shown to channel or harness any unnatural power on its own. Similarly, while certain magic-users have demonstrated an ability to imbue mixtures with supernatural effects, but no one has been able to outline a mixture method that is reproducible by mundane humans or at an industrial scale.

Magic-wielders may require ritual or alchemical preparation for using their supernatural abilities, but they themselves act as a locus for the effect, and others do not see any results from performing the same ritual. Magical books and other objects may also act as a locus, allowing anyone who performs the ritual and carries the object of power to wield its magic.

Rituals that have been validated to harness magic with a proper locus have been distributed en-masse online and performed by millions with no effect. Certain rituals seem to hold power when certain individuals with “potential” perform them.

Some wizards have posted rituals online and instructed anyone who can perform them and see results to contact them for additional training.

 

GM Tip
Introducing popular magic should be done with extreme caution. Any popular magic that is usable by more than one in a million people will cause major disruption to the setting.

 

Prayers, Invocations, Miracles, and Divine Magic
There is evidence to suggest that on rare occasions, individuals have been successful at invoking the power of “greater beings” to create extraordinary effects dubbed “miracles”. Examples of these “miracles” include plague-like rains of blood, the creation of a wellspring oasis in the desert, and mass-scale mechanical failure (such as an opposing army’s guns all jamming).

The invocation itself is almost never caught on film. They are often performed unintentionally or privately with little hope of success. The effects themselves, however, are undeniable.

These “miracles” are not repeatable, and those who wield the magic can not do so on demand or even more than once. Many suggest that rather than a specific individual wielding divine powers, divine powers choose and work through normal individuals, leaving as quickly as they came.

A blanket term for a creature that exists as Some have been validated, others have been confirmed to be hoaxes.

Some are kept in public zoos, especially in the most powerful countries on earth.

Yes, though very little is known of them. At least one species has been confirmed. Other space ships and individuals have been spotted or found that did not conform to the discovered species.

Life for the Supernatural

Supernatural creatures and individuals who wield supernatural abilities lead many different sorts of lives. By and large, few choose to illuminate their powers. Most opt to keep their abilities private or semi-private either managing them like a condition or trying to capitalize on them without showing too much.

Those who choose to go public play a high-stakes game of public opinion. Living openly as a validated supernatural leads to fame, wealth, and power, but a single misstep may see them tied to a burning stake or locked in an underground science facility.

Mob Judgement and the Public Eye
Supernatural individuals are unusual by definition. If they go public, they must battle humanity’s fear of change and the unknown, and its tribal urge to scapegoat and ostracize.

The world’s population is anything but homogenous. There are always those whose opinions go against the grain, those who radicalize while others stay ambivalent, those iconoclasts who lead, and the followers who conform. Even so, the general public does form opinions. They may be united or polarized but are always subject to sudden and extreme change.

Each entity is judged based on the nature of its supernatural element and how it presents itself. In general, the less powerful, less terrifying, and less arcane, the better.

Deadly Traits and Abilities

  • Inhuman. Any inhuman supernatural creature is de-facto unable to live publicly. Radical pro-human populist movements and a legal grey area mean that any inhuman or demi-human supernatural entity that goes public is quickly captured, killed, or disappeared.
  • Power. Too much power is scary. Those who can create massive explosions, disguise themselves as anyone, or kill in unusual ways will be distrusted to a degree that makes it impossible to live openly. If adopted and endorsed by a major government’s military, the public may accept them as wielded and controlled weapon.
  • Disturbing. These powers include mind-reading, mind-control, memory manipulation, and the ability to transform or disfigure others. These abilities are disturbing and violating, and those who are known to wield them will never be accepted.
  • Game-changing. Sometimes the implications of a supernatural entity are so damaging to the established status-quo that they are rejected out-of-hand. An alien wants to bring their peaceful people to live amongst humans. A cult whose adherents transform into inhuman beasts wants to go legitimate. Even if seemingly-innocuous, things that are game-changing are terrifying to the public and established power structures.
  • Demanded. If you can cure cancer, your skills will be so sought-after that you will have a never-ending stream of patients to cure. Doing anything else is seen as murdering those you could have saved. The mob will always kill the golden goose.

Most supernatural creatures choose to live privately, either hiding their abilities or revealing them to a select few.

Private Employment
Some supernatural entities reveal their powers to a select few rich and/or powerful individuals in the hopes of striking a private bargain.

Rich and Powerful people employ supernatural entities as a matter of course, often as advisors or bodyguards.These individuals will avoid displaying any supernatural abilities unless they absolutely have to. Many politicians, businesspeople, and celebrities keep a bizarre character close by. The public assumes (correctly in many cases) that these individuals are supernatural.

Rich and Powerful people who are not approached by supernatural entities, or who cannot afford them, often employ actors and charlatans to fill the role. It is a status symbol.

Crime
Security is built under a set of assumptions about the abilities of those who would attempt to circumvent the system. Those who can break the rules can make a good living doing crime. However, the truly aspirational criminals find it difficult to make the connections they need to fence their stolen goods and launder their money. A certain level of success demands an organization, and an organization without police or scrutiny is ripe for internal crime and power struggles.

Cult Leadership
Cults are often formed around one strong personality and often grow by offering members the opportunity to be an “insider” or “chosen one.” Supernatural entities are naturally equipped to gather and maintain a radical following. Even if their aspirations are low, it can be an easy way to live well without creating a large public footprint.

However, most cult leaders do go mad after a while and either radicalize their followers or degenerate into abhorrent megalomaniacs.

A wide variety organizations exist within The Illumination, each with their own resources and motives.

An talent agency. The partners are all Harbingers, and the talent are all Contractors.

Harbinger: The Talent

Most people avoid speaking to The Talent, and that suits him just fine.

He’s not repulsive. In fact, he’s quite put-together. His slacks are pressed, and his amber button-down, though its oversized collar is a little dated, is freshly cleaned and stain-free. Perhaps it’s the attention to detail that puts people off.  His braided belt matches his leather shoes. His aviator shades’ frames match the gold of his watch, and their gradient-lenses match his shirt. 

Yet most of his conversations are with wait staff and flight attendants. It’s the energy about him. Mostly he is quiet, attentive, thinking, but when he speaks, it’s with the sorts of clever words and barely-contained enthusiasm most people associate with used car salesmen and other scam artists. He’s not trustworthy. Better not to get involved. 

Of course, this is all by design. 

The Talent looks at humans the same way most people look at rocks. Mostly, they are uninteresting, sometimes they are useful, and, occasionally, if you wander long and far enough and watch ever-so-carefully, you might just find a golden nugget. 

This is his gift: an eye for value. Not market prices or even sentimental value, but the sort of value that might only show itself in one particular place, in one particular moment. The value of a chance encounter that will change history forever. 

Contractors and potential recruits have value. Not even for the tasks they might accomplish but for the finder’s fee he charges the Powers that Be. He runs The Agency, a small collection of Harbingers that do all the heavy lifting of actually finding tasks for the Contractors. The Talent is just a middle-man who finds individuals with promise and delivers them to the tests. 

He enjoys his work immensely. Long ago, on another world, in another dimension, he signed The Contract. He participated in the Games. The horrors he witnessed, the lines he crossed, and the powers he gained transformed him, distanced him. But that look on a new recruit’s face when they hear his offer. . . it makes him feel young again. 

Playing The Talent

The Talent is a great Harbinger to use for initial introductions for new Contractors or for quick introductions with extant Contractors. 

He behaves like a cross between a hollywood talent agent, a used car salesperson, and a  coked-out investor. If he lets someone see a glimpse of the smooth operator hiding underneath, it is on purpose. 

He describes himself as a partner at “The Agency.” The connect contract workers with clients who need a group that will always deliver results. “Think of us like. . .Uber for badasses.”  Security? Sometimes. Thieves? On occasion. Assassins? Look, drop the labels, kid; we’re the ones that get shit done. He will never hint at or reveal the fact that the jobs are merely tests or that he is doing it for kickbacks from The Powers that Be. 

He often bounces back and forth between praising a potential recruit’s talents and negging them. 

Most people won’t want to talk to him, won’t give him the time of day, and will walk away. When they do, he shows a glimpse of power. He might freeze time. The recruit might find that any door they open leads back to his office. He might accomplish whatever task the contractor used as an excuse with the snap of his fingers, or transport them to a remote mountain in Antarctica. 

One he has their attention, he makes the offer. He isn’t offering a full-time position or partnership at The Agency, just some contract work. He is very clear that the jobs will be risky, perhaps even deadly, and that the payment will be an awakening of their supernatural potential, an opportunity to become something more.

He will explain that in order to accept this job and to be considered for others in the future, the recruit must be “Imbued.” This will change how they learn, making a single job worth a year of intense study. It will protect their psyches from any traumatic experiences. . . to a degree. They can back out at any time, but once you’re out, you’re out. 

When they accept, he will give them an ipad “contract” that describes the terms of imbuement (basically what’s above). To sign, they place their thumb on the ipad. When they do, they feel prick of pain, like a needle in their fingertip, and they experience a mind-bending expansion of consciousness, awareness, and one-ness with the universe. They are a drop rejoining the ocean of creation. This feeling, and any insights or knowledge that came with it, fade like the memories of a dream upon waking, and they are left knowing only that they experienced something truly remarkable. 

The Talent will also give the Contractor a burner phone (think like a motorola brick) so they can be contacted quickly in the future. With all this out of the way, he will proceed to give the brief and potentially deliver the Contractor to the location of their first Game. 

Prometheus Ventures

Prometheus Ventures is a Palo Alto-based venture capital firm that obtains, studies, and finds business applications for supernatural artifacts. It is a small organization headed by a small circle of independently-wealthy individuals, all of whom have since become exceedingly rich and powerful due to the firm’s success.

Think of them as venture capital for Bond Villains.

 

LOSE: Locate Obtain Study Enterprise

LOSE is Prometheus Venture’s business strategy and general modus-operandi.

They Locate supernatural artifacts and phenomena using software, investigative contracting agencies, connections, and other less-well-known means. Once they confirm the existence of a supernatural entity, they Obtain it using a team of mercenaries or capitol-c Contractors. They often operate in legally-grey areas and never involve authorities. (Mushroom hunt is a Prometheus Ventures contract, though their brand is underrepresented).

The obtained supernatural object is Studied using a small in-house team of brilliant, well-paid scientists. Details of their scientific facility— including its location— are unknown, but it is extraordinarily successful at studying, replicating, and harnessing supernatural phenomena.

Once a market application of the supernatural artifact is found, it is time to Enterprise. They find and approach an existing 3rd-party company— usually a start-up— and offer a deal: they will share their supernatural technology for a controlling share of the company. No company has refused this offer to date, and all have found incredible market success, creating many multi-millionaires.

A handful of Prometheus Ventures partners now sit on the board of several of the fastest-growing and most-influential new companies. They have all become exceedingly wealthy, but their true goals are their own and go beyond mere currency…

Public Footprint

Despite their ubiquity, Prometheus Ventures is relatively unknown to the public. They have no public-facing webpage or ad presence. They are not prominently-listed in any company’s webpage.

The only overt mark that a company is Prometheus-funded is the presence of a particular flame in the company’s logo. Confirming their involvement would mean researching the company’s board and cross-referencing its members with other rising tech company board members.

The Partners

The Partners of Prometheus Ventures are all independently-wealthy, either "self-made" sharks, extraordinarily-lucky investor-gamblers, or heirs to vast fortunes. They are few in number: four are known to exist. Each one brought some special sauce for a letter of LOSE: some extraordinary competency to Locate, Obtain, Study, or Enterprise.

Each partner sees Prometheus Ventures as the means to their own, individual ends. They have their own goals, and occasionally their methodologies or contracts are colored by their hidden agendas.

Ralph Turlock

Ralph is a real American Psycho type. He is professional, sharp, and well-put-together. He builds trust and makes friends easily, but he is an absolute psychopath. He transfuses himself with the blood of children, as research has shown the procedure to increase the life expectancy of smaller mammals by as much as 20%.

Immortality certainly seems to be one of his primary objectives, though it is unlikely to be the limit of his aspirations.

His origin and rise to power has great unpublished chapters. When a company he founded as a young man made him a great deal of money, he started researching various international black markets, particularly the underground gold trade surrounding mines in Ghana. He made connections, hired investigators to do research, and hired mercenaries as security, all from his desktop and cell phone. Soon he was the head of a vast criminal organization of black market smuggling and distribution despite rarely visiting any of the countries in which they operate personally.

His network and capacity to “get things done” quietly and effectively allows him to Obtain almost any artifact Prometheus Ventures can locate. And it is whispered amongst the partners that he has an ace up his sleeve that allows him to transport the goods without the slightest chance of discovery.

 

Successful Ventures (Funded Companies)

Prometheus Venture often invests in companies that have strong figurehead CEOs with grand visions. (Visionaries, iconoclasts, eccentrics, Bond villains).

Glamorly

Prometheus’s first successful investment was in Glamorly, a snapchat-esque app with a killer filter that makes any picture of any person look their absolute best. The secret to the social media company’s sudden success lies in a cursed mirror that Prometheus Ventures obtained.

The antique hand mirror reflects the best version who anyone who looks in it but has a self-fascinating narcissism-based curse upon it. The company reflects and re-photographs images from their users’ in the mirror. As an added benefit, the photographing and transmitting of the image lessens the effects of the curse… somewhat.

The mirror itself is secured in a facility in an undisclosed location.

Other NPCs

The Mayor's son works as an intern around the office and occasionally in the science facility. It's a nepotism hire, but woe to the Contractor who accidentally harms him during an operation.

The front desk's Administrator is a young, attractive, and intelligent woman. Her demeanor is strikingly casual and friendly but never unprofessional. She is a skilled administrator who will take charge to arrange flawless meetings and make a good impression. She is confident and will not be bullied.

CryptoLeak is less an organization than a technlogical entity that cannot be controlled or destroyed. Despite a near-universal condemnation by world leaders, most humans greatly appreciate CryptoLeak's status as a video streaming platform beyond the reach of governent and industry alike. It's the go-to platform for posting illuminations, whistleblowing evidence, and data leaks. 

In reality, CryptoLeak is a very simple and mundane technological service. It has no central backing corperation or organization. It utilizeds a distributed architecture that allows it to host content across the entire world, sharding and mirroring its petabytes of data accross millions of personal devices around the world. Content uploaded to CryptoLeak is immutable and cannot be doctored or redacted by any known means. 

For once, technology has put the power in the hands of the little guys. 

World Governments and powerful organizations can still censor or restrict access to CryptoLeak within their domains (mostly), and they do practice other sorts of misdirection and psy-ops utilizing the platform. However, for most people, CryptoLeak represents an ability to share any data with the wold without the fear of it being censored. 

Of course, simply uploading a video does not gaurentee it will be seen or gain traction, nor does it protect you from any consequences that may come along with pulling back the veil. . . 

The Band of Blood

Few organizations are as deadly or terrifying to Contractors as The Band of Blood. Its members can be identified by their rings: a simple red band that cannot be removed by any known means.

The Band of Blood is a fraternity of Contractors who have lost sight of their original ambitions but still participate in the Games as a way to give their lives meaning. As free agents without an home to return to, they allow the Harbingers to transport them from dimension to dimension as needed. Many are adrenaline junkies of the worst sort, chasing the thrill of risking their own lives. Each member is a cold and ruthless killer that will do whatever it takes to achieve their current objective.

Taking the Blood Oath offers certain benefits but comes at a horrible price. When The Band of Blood spots a Contractor they may like to recruit, they go to work separating that Contractor from their world. This involves murdering the potential recruit's friends and family, undermining their ambition, and pushing a nihilistic philosophy onto them. Mental and emotional conditioning are not out of the question. Any recruits who still refuse are killed or abandoned.

(INT OFFICE - DAY: Somber music, man in mid thirties in an office setting looks at a clock ticking away)

Time, it sure is fleeting these days.

(Brief images of teenagers looking at phones, elderly people struggling, then back to the man in the office)
Maybe your kids are growing up, maybe your parents are looking a bit older than they used to, or maybe you yourself are in your absolute prime, and you just want to enjoy yourself…

(Stressful office montage, boss yelling, stacks of papers, annoying coworkers, then a slow zoom on our main character not paying attention to any of it)
But you can't right? Bills, rent, mortgage, your manager yelling at you, coworkers trying to get you to come in on your day off. Missed Recitals, missed dinners, missed life. During these uncertain times, nothing is more important than those meaningful moments…

(EXT SUBURBAN YARD - AFTERNOON: Music swells and turns hopeful, Suddenly he's with his parents, his kids are interested in the conversation, his wife by his side)
That's where we step in. We want to give you that time back. We just ask you one question:

What do you have to Offr?

—Offr 2021 Superbowl commercial

What's on Offr

Offr is a gig-economy app that primarily has user listings of odd jobs. Moving a couch, mounting a tv, cleaning a bathroom. General common tasks. Users get alerts for jobs nearby that fit their skills and all transaction is handled through the application.

Leadership

Vera Čierne is the CEO. She is a slim pale woman in her late 40s with a rather cool, sharp look about her. A visual that is offset by a very warm demeanor. An heiress of sorts, her family has long had success in real estate and finance within the bay area. Her mother, Krista Čierne was one of the first female CEOs in the US and made Golden West Capital one of the most successful Savings & Loan institutions in the US. Vera took after her mother completely, both in her very nearly identical appearance, but also her business acumen. Vera quickly rose through the ranks at Golden West, and when Krista stepped down Vera was already an obvious choice for replacement despite her being only 32 at the time. 10 years later Vera stepped down as CEO and began working on her first forray into the tech sector.

News

Over the years there have been a number of disappearances that friends and family of the missing have attributed to jobs gone wrong. None of this has been corroborated by official investigations, but people still continue to go missing.

Financials, Investors

All Pre-Seed funding was done by Vera Čierne who at the time was already worth 570 million dollars when she left her position at Golden West Capital.

Vera was joined by a large seed investment by Ralph Turlock, with several other names of note jumping in during Series A such as (other prometheus partner, other prometheus partner)

Location

118 New Montgomery St San Francisco

Sons of Stoughton

We swear to secure our people against the wickedness and evil of the invisible world.
We swear to aid the afflicted.
We swear to stay ever vigilant and seek out the abominable witchcrafts committed in this country.
We humbly pray to be blessed by God to hold all those who consort with the Devil accountable. Amen

—Opening and closing prayer for Sons of Stoughton meetings. Paraphrased from a letter about the Trials written by Increase Mather on June 15th, 1692.

 

Formerly the 2nd battalion of the 1st Infantry Regiment of the California State Militia, members became devoted followers of the anonymous account “Stoughton” and began publicly showing their allegiance to his witch hunting cause. The battalion, and its subsequent divisions were all summarily deactivated in the summer of 2018 when consensus was reached between other state militia COs. Since then they took up the banner of their chosen leader and have grown massively in number. They train just east of Vallejo, North of Lake Herman

Leadership

Enrique "Hawthorne" Romero

The Average Member

Since the origins of the organization was an actual militia battalion there are about 1000 or so members who have some extensive combat training. Many people in this core group are either ex military, or current police officers from the surrounding area.

However, as Stoughton grew in popularity and the group went national, the individual skill has greatly diluted, with many members having zero combat experience.

As such, the Average Member is dangerous in the same way that handing a gun to a toddler is dangerous. They are impulsive, quick to anger, and rarely see consequences from the legal system for their extrajudicial killings.

The Menagerie is a sort of hybrid zoo/traveling circus organization dedicated to the collection and “preservation” of supernatural entities and objects. They primarily cater to the wealthy, though anyone can attend if they can scrounge together enough for the pricey tickets. The Menagerie has an annual circuit which they make around the United States, but are also available to be booked for private events (at a premium, of course). They maintain a large enough stock of creatures at their headquarters in San Bernardino to put on up to three shows at once in different locations.

Monsters and artifacts for The Menagerie are largely gathered by The Collector, a former high-end art thief who went (mostly) legit after realizing that many jurisdictions had not passed any laws governing the rights of non-humans. The Collector spent a number of years personally acquiring assets, until he reached a point where he could afford hiring Contractors to do the dirty work for him. He sells primarily to The Menagerie due to personal connections with a couple members of the Board of Directors, but will occasionally take outside jobs if the pay is right.

Officially, The Menagerie exists in the same legal space as any circus or zoo, and they spend a lot of time and money lobbying Congress and state legislatures to make sure their work remains on the up and up. Unofficially, however, they serve a more nefarious purpose. Not many have done the leg work necessary to notice the high frequency of rotating acts, and the inability to track what happens to a Menagerie asset once it is no longer being showcased, and even fewer have made the connection between The Menagerie’s private showings and the increasing prevalence of private supernatural collections among the ultra-wealthy. The Menagerie works overtime to make sure that anyone who has noticed these things is either highly motivated to keep quiet, or is simply unable to talk.

The exhibits are deadly, the food is greasy, and the owners would do anything to keep their business running. Do you possess the courage to enter The Menagerie?

While it may seem like a blessing to some, any rational parent should be terrified to discover that their child possessed psychic or telekinetic powers. Given the uncertain and fearful culture that surrounds the supernatural (not to mention the immaturity and extraordinary power of the child), the most likely outcome is disaster. Luckily, the US Government has established Casa Verde. 

Casa Verde is a compound in the Northern California where children and young adults with psychic powers (and sometimes other supernatural traits) are rasied under the watch of the United States government. Tucked away in a secluded ocean-facing section of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, Casa Verde houses a dozen or so children and has an unknown number of staff. 

For obvious reasons, the compound is under heavy guard. However, primary caregivers may still communicate with and visit their children, and the residents are given opprotunities to socialize with society via covert and carefully-managed field trips. Visitors report pleasantly landscaped grounds and a large, green victorian-era home that acts as the main residential building. 

Unless the child in question has committed violent crimes, residency at Casa Verde is entirely at the will of the parents. 

Some conspiracy theorists speculate that the government is performing experiments on the children or that they are being groomed as covert CIA and FBI agents.

Playing in The Illumination


This section contains information about actually playing The Contract in The Illumination. 

Canned responses

Trouble With the Law

-Minor: Unpleasant questions are asked, PCs might be detained by police, will be profiled as “Troublemakers”

-Moderate: PCs are accused of serious felony crimes, possibly locked up with a bail set. They’re assets will be seized as “evidence” & they may be told not to leave the area

-Major: Warrants are out for there arrest both locally & abroad, possibly bringing in FBI or Federal Marshalls - PCs are outed as Dangerous Fugitives & Outlaws, will be placed on a list for immediate arrest at airports - they may be wanted “Dead or Alive”

Discovery of Supernatural Object

When an individual discovers a supernatural object or phenomena, they would be wise to keep it to themselves (but often are not).

Those who go public with the discovery are immediately famous. However, no insurance company is going to insure a priceless, sought-after artifact in the hands of just some "regular joe" who has no way of securing it.

The objects are often stolen or "reclaimed" through legal / political muscle. The discoverers are often left empty-handed.

Those who do keep it to themselves are rarely in a position to capitalize on the discovery, but may privately seek out people who are for partnerships. These under-the-table arrangements are fraught with danger from greed and betrayal.

Revealing Supernatural Community

To be "outed" is death for many pre-existing supernatural communities or organizations. Organizations of supernatural entities are extremely distrusted, and likely to be subject to unofficial action, violence, populist movements, etc.

Cabals must keep under the radar or be destroyed by those who are eyeing their positions of powers.

Some supernatural orgs may have faked their own extinction and moved into to replace themselves, leaving the public none the wiser.

Contractors Display Powers

If a Contractor is discovered to be Supernatural, they will not be summarily and immediately kidnapped by super-powerful government organizations. However, they will be an immediate overnight celebrity, have stalkers, be hunted by private citizens and anti-supernatural groups, and be approached with many offers.

Accepting offers from enterprising organizations and NPCs may lead to them getting into difficult situations. Orgs and NPCs will attempt to take advantage of the Contractor, and may kill the golden goose.