The illuminates of Urizen are priests who use their understanding of the Net of the Heavens to perfect the world. Unlike many other Imperial priests, their focus is not on trying to ensure everyone is virtuous, but to identify pivotal individuals and use them to spread virtue to everyone around them. They understand that spiritual forces are contagious, and by ensuring that prominent nodes of the Net of the Heavens are occupied by virtuous people, they cause virtue to spread throughout the Empire and ultimately the entire world. Sometimes their work involves promoting people of virtue, sometimes it means encouraging those who already possess influence to act in a virtuous manner.
However they also understand that unvirtuous people and spiritual corruption also spread outward from influential people. If a pivotal node of the Net of the Heavens is occupied by someone whose behaviour is actively harmful to spiritual development they can wreak incalculable harm on the lives of a great many people. It is vital in these cases that these people be removed from prominence even if there is no obvious appropriate candidate to replace them.
The most obvious prominent nodes in the Empire are those associated with Imperial titles. While this is not the entire focus of their work, this understanding that people in prominent positions should be virtuous means that illuminates are some of the most politically active Imperial priests.
The path of the illuminate is significantly older than the Way. The philosophy and techniques used are believed to be as old as the Net of the Heavens, indeed some believe that it was the illuminates who first articulated the Net of the Heavens to understand how virtue spreads. While the understanding of the virtues was not as refined as it is today, the ancient Urizeni still understood the role spiritual power played in shaping individuals and influencing humanity. When the first Highborn missionaries came to Urizen, the illuminates were quick to embrace the structured analysis of the virtues they provided, along with the benefits of liao.
"No Cardinal, I am not rejecting the doctrines of the faith - I am simply saying that in my opinion they are irrelevant to questions of virtue."Haïta the Shepherd, during their inquisition on charges of heresy
However, the illuminates have often been ambivalent about the Doctrines of the Faith. They do not deny them, but some illuminates argue that the doctrines of the Way are a distraction from the true goal to perfect the mortal world. Most illuminates focus on the mundane world in which people live their lives; they are concerned with virtue because of the effects it has on the existence of living people, not for how fast it speeds a soul's passage through the Labyrinth.
Their pre-Imperial roots mean that some illuminates do not restrict themselves to the virtues identified in the the Doctrine of Seven. In fact the doctrine states that "Other qualities may benefit humanity, but lend no aid through the passage of death to rebirth"' - given the illuminates emphasis on the goal of spreading virtue to benefit humanity, it is perhaps no surprise that some choose to consider these other virtues when making their decisions. Obviously, such heretical beliefs must be concealed.
Very few examples of prominent historical illuminate exist, possibly because illuminates strive to promote others into pivotal positions in the Net of the Heavens rather than taking such roles themselves. A few names are well-known enough that their legacy persists. Arria of The Weave, a prolific philosopher whose text A Light In Dark Places is still considered a valuable reference by illuminates 300 years after her death, touched on this state of affairs in her closing chapters. "Our role is to change others, to be successful we must become the node that moves all the others. But such arete demands that we eschew the quest for personal status. The more prominent we are, the more our time is eaten up by the demands of that prominence. We illuminate - we bring the light so that others may be seen."
The Tools of Virtue
The goal of the illuminate is to use the Net of the Heavens to transform the world into a virtuous paradise, starting with the Empire. There are three primary approaches they use to achieve their goal, all of which are based on the presumption that while virtue spreads naturally, the more prominent a role that person plays, the greater their ability to influence others. By ensuring that virtuous people occupy the positions of power, the illuminate helps virtue to spread throughout the Empire.
The first approach is to identify truly virtuous people whose current position in the Net of the Heavens limits their ability to influence others. When they find such a person, they work to promote them to a more influential position. Some illuminates will approach a virtuous individual to find out how best to aid them to gain a position of power, others prefer to keep their distance and work unseen.
The second approach is to make the occupants of existing nodes more virtuous through spiritual support and advice. This can be a challenging approach and works best when the person is already predisposed towards virtuous behaviour and just needs a little encouragement. While any individual can be encouraged to become more virtuous, the core principle of the Net of the Heavens is to focus your efforts on key nodes to achieve the most wide-reaching response.
The third approach is to identify dangerously unvirtuous people and reduce their influence. While it may be possible to remove them from their prominent position, it is always useful to publicly or secretly oppose them and their goals, to restrict their ability to influence others, or to expose their corruption for others to see. Illuminates are often members of the Imperial Synod, which has the power to remove anyone from Imperial office if their behaviour is deemed sufficiently unvirtuous.
Within the Empire, the most important pivotal nodes are usually Imperial titles. A courageous general will inspire their troops to greater Loyalty and Courage, a prosperous senator will enable Prosperity and Ambition throughout their nation. Ultimately, whether the Illuminate helps to make a virtuous person become a pivotal individual, or to make a pivotal individual become virtuous the outcome should be the same.
Each illuminate, or illuminated sect, has their own opinions on which virtues are most important for which key nodes to possess, which unvirtuous behaviours are most damaging, and even which nodes are crucial. Illuminates with different goals can often cooperate, but it is not uncommon for two rival illuminates to come to blows (usually metaphorically) in their efforts to ensure a key node is represented by a character with their preferred virtue. An illuminate who thinks that it is vital for Imperial Generals to be courageous might be opposed by another who considers vigilance to be most pertinent virtue for that node.
Unless the two can reach some sort of compromise, their efforts are likely to cancel each other out - or worse result in a third party controlling the node who is disinterested in virtue altogether. While the politician might be ready to accept a compromise, the illuminate knows that such things are not always possible. "Compromise in spiritual matters is a sweet poison," wrote Porphyry of Arbiter's Seat. "Every time we choose short-term political gains over virtue, we take another step away from the light into the darkness."
Creating an Illuminate
The illuminate archetype is intended to let you create a politically active Urizen priest who uses virtue to decide who should have influence. They encourage virtuous characters to become more prominent, guide prominent people toward more virtuous behaviour, and oppose unvirtuous people whose ambitions threaten the spiritual fabric of the Empire.
When you play an illuminate, you are a priest, first and foremost. While it is not essential to have religious skills, you do need to be familiar with the virtues, their tenets and teachings, and with the philosophy of the Net of the Heavens. It is very useful to be able to perform insight, testimony, and the aura-creating skills of anointing, and hallow. Likewise, most illuminates will want to take a congregation as their personal resource, not only for access to liao but because membership and understanding of the Imperial Synod will provide access to powerful tools for pursuing your goals. By contrast, it is not essential to study the Doctrines of the Faith - the path of the illuminate is one of virtue and philosophy not adherence to religious dogma.
If you're creating an illuminate as part of a group then the most important thing to know is which members of your group intend to play virtuous characters - especially if they are hoping to gain an important position, or can be persuaded to try. Helping them to try and achieve their goal is a great way to start playing an illuminate. One of the great things about illuminates is that you don't need to have your own personal character goals, you can pick and choose the characters you like and support them in their goals because that achieves your philosophical ambition to perfect the world. The other members of your group don't have to know about the virtues, it is down to you to guide them to act in ways that are ambitious or proud or whatever virtues you chose to promote.
The crucial choice in playing an illuminate is to decide which virtues are important to you - and which virtues you think key people should possess. Your goal is to ensure that people who embody these virtues are in the right position to spread that virtue - but to do that you'll have to pick the virtues you want to promote and who you think should have them. The more unorthodox your choices, the more fun you are likely to have with them - it's easy to assume that a general must show courage. wisdom or loyalty. But you may find it's more fun to be striving to ensure that the Empire's generals are ambitious, or vigilant or prosperous. Likewise, it's easy to assume that the holder of a Bourse Seat needs to be prosperous, but it might be more challenging to try and ensure the occupant is loyal or courageous.
Playing an Illuminate
Playing an illuminate gives you three core character goals: to help virtuous people get Imperial positions, to encourage people in positions of power to be more virtuous, and to oppose the actions of people who are not virtuous. Empire is a vast game, so to pursue these goals it may help to identify which Imperial positions you care most about or which individuals or virtues you care most about.
While it might seem simplest to focus on Urizen, there is no need to confine yourself to one nation. Perhaps your goal is to ensure that one or both of the Imperial Orcs generals are properly virtuous, knowing that this could have a profound impact on the newest of the Imperial nations. Perhaps you're planning to evaluate the League senators, with an eye towards determining which of them are virtuous, and which of them are influential. Once you're in play, you might identify a nemesis in the Marches, someone who you know to be corrupt and who will you need to oppose at every turn.
When you help virtuous citizens achieve positions of power, you don't have to know how every position of power is appointed - you can quickly discover that in the field. It's worth remembering that your goal isn't just to help the virtuous in their ambitions - you can also encourage people who you think are virtuous to try and get a position. Getting elected is hard - it will be an uphill struggle with no automatic chance of success - but striving to help people achieve their goals is something anyone can do. Out-of-character it might help to think of yourself as a campaign manager or cheerleader; it's not the winning that matters but having as much fun as possible trying to win.
It is harder to make people be more virtuous - at least in terms of having a clear goal of what you want to achieve. But this character goal can provide you with a lot of interpersonal roleplaying - you have reasons to talk to everyone in positions of influence, to get know them and to understand them. Where appropriate, you can provide advice and guidance based on the character and what you know about them. Other characters in Urizen who know you are an illuminate should be motivated to roleplay with you about virtue - you're one of the acknowledged experts on the matter aft all. Even better, if they can persuade you that they are virtuous then they might hope that you will support them in their goals.
When you identify someone you think is unvirtuous, the straightforward approach is to try and use revocation or writ of excommunication against them but this is only one tool, and only works on people who Imperial titles that everyone agrees need to go. Locating a nemesis is a roleplaying gift - you can make sure everyone knows about their corruption, do whatever you can to stymie their ambitions, challenge them publicly to explain their actions, bring external social and political pressure to bear on them, have them cursed, find out how they achieved their position and persuade the people who appointed them to choose a more virtuous candidate next time... It's the perfect excuse for social conflict.
As an illuminate, you'll have plenty of opportunities to disagree with other priests. You should trust on your own judgement as to what makes someone virtuous, or how a virtue should be interpreted. It's fine for the Synod to judge such-and-such a person to be full of Courage, but that doesn't mean you have to consider them virtuous. The opinions of other priests are, however, a great excuse for you to take a personal interest in someone and see if they merit your attention - for good or ill.
You're also explicitly given "permission" to be dismissive of Doctrine, and the teachings of the Way. Your philosophy predates both, and is focused on the world everyone lives in rather than being concerned with reincarnation. Most illuminates are not heretics - someone who wilfully rejects the Doctrines of the Faith - but by treating Doctrine as a distraction from your calling you can prompt a lot of discussion with priests who treat such things more seriously.