There is a balance to the encroaching Void in my home campaign of D&D taking place in a Spelljammer-esque setting. A warlock can strike a bargain with a star drake in the same fashion as with a void dragon. The Illumination Pact warlock acts as a counterpoint to the Void Pact. In both situations, excellent material from Kobold Press does the heavy lifting. For the Illumination warlock, Deep Magic: Illumination Magic is the source material.
Star drakes and void dragons both appear in the Tome of Beasts. Both of these amazing creatures fired my imagination on all cylinders when I began conceptualizing the Spelljammer elements introduced to a traditional D&D campaign early on. I won’t reveal too much about the specifics here, since my players read these articles. But as more is revealed to them through our gameplay sessions those details will be shared.
This material is an evolving work in progress stemming from my home game. Although it’s inspired by the Spelljammer setting, it can be adapted for any D&D campaign.
The stars, like dust for Spelljammer warlocks
In astronomy, a cosmic void is the vast space between galaxy filaments. In my D&D Spelljammer game the Void represents a force beyond space with designs on the prime material plane. It’s a threat on a literally astronomical scale. Knowledge of the Void is not widely known, and even among the relatively few who have heard of it most consider it a myth. Warlocks make pacts with Void entities the same fashion as the pacts in the Player’s Handbook – often unwittingly or without fully comprehending the beings on the other end.For those who are aware and wish to keep the Void in check, or those seekers of knowledge peering at the stars for enlightenment, the Illumination Pact has the answers. Star drakes are the entities behind this pact, curious universal and planar travelers who protect the prime material plane. The powers granted to a warlock through this pact delve into divination and illusion, blending astrological observations with manipulation of both light and shadow.
Some of the spells, powers and abilities draw on darkness or absence of light, which may seem antithetical to its position in the Spelljammer game. Since these warlocks work subtlely, and operate mysteriously throughout the universe, it makes sense for them to take advantage of both star light and the space where the light doesn’t reach. Several abilities are buffed in places where light is dim, too.
Like Void Magic, Deep Magic: Illumination Magic is designed as an arcane tradition for wizards in D&D with new feats, spells and lore. But its just as easy to adapt for warlocks.
“This school is not simply about controlling shadow, however; its focus is simultaneously light and the absence of light. Starlight, in particular, holds special meaning within this school. Illumination mages study the ever-shifting alignment of the stars in their effort to read the road map of fate—a study that inevitably leads them out of the starless shadow plane and into contact with the mortal world.” – summary of Deep Magic: Illumination Magic from Kobold Press
Modifying the feats, spells and arcane tradition in Deep Magic: Illumination Magic for a warlock was just as easy as the Void version. I’ll go over these tweaks in a broad sense. For details on what these feats, spells and abilities do you’ll have to pick up a copy of the book for yourself. The PDF is $3.99 for the 10-page book.
New warlock Otherworldly Patron features
The level-based abilities granted through the Illumination arcane tradition are used basically as-is straight from the book. Warlocks in the Player’s Handbook are granted Otherworldly Patron features at levels 1, 6, 10 and 14.
Similarly, Arcane Tradition features are earned at levels 2, 6, 10 and 14. Nearly identical level breaks, except for the first one. Since my Spelljammer campaign leans into a bit more powerful characters frequently facing deadly threats, it works out okay.
As mentioned in the Void pact article I let the player in my game keep his warlock’s 1st level ability in addition to granting the new one from his Void pact. If he decides to change his allegiance and make an Illumination pact, I would still allow him to retain Awakened Mind.
This decision was based on introducing these elements after the characters were already 3rd level. Starting new warlock characters using either Void or Illumination pacts I would simply swap their 1st level Otherworldly Patron feature for the 2nd level Arcane Tradition feature.
Comparison and contrast with official warlock material is focused on the Great Old One pact specifically, since that is how I’ve used these things in my D&D game. The same guidelines and issues should apply to the Archfey and Fiend pacts, as well as those in Unearthed Arcana playtest material or Xanathar’s Guide to Everything content.
- 1st level: Omen of Warning – studying the stars gives a sort of cosmic awareness translating into advantage on initiative for 24 hours. This is a perfect ability to illustrate the path this warlock is set upon. Looking to the stars for answers is what the Illumination pact lets the caster use a bonus action before casting a spell to utter Void speech and weave dark magic it into the spell to disorient targets. Introducing this ability was great fun. The party barely made it through a Madness-infused dungeon, hearing whispered Void speech the whole way. The final chamber was utterly silent. This was the first time the warlock’s patron directly contacted him, offering to impart knowledge of Void speech so he could cast spells in the battle.
- 6th level: Master of Endless Night – Unlike Entropic Ward or Rebuke from Beyond, this ability has no interaction with a warlock (or wizard’s) reaction. Instead of preventing or causing damage, the Illumination warlock finds their spellcasting enhanced in dim light or darkness. For my Spelljammer game I considered tweaking this bonus to affect spellcasting done under the light of stars. Then I reconsidered since that would basically be almost all the time. Instead I imagine it represents the warlock’s connection to the stars and an ability to be a light within the darkness.
- 10th level: Illusions of Permanence – This one affects illusion spells requiring Concentration. The Venn diagram of illusion warlock spells with Concentration is a small sliver. Of 13 spells overall in with these properties in the Player’s Handbook, only four are warlock spells. However, there are a few new ones as you’ll see further ahead. And all of them would benefit from this feature. In general, my gaming group has noticed any warlock spells with Concentration are a nice value add to stretch out those limited spell slots.
- 14th level: Comprehension of the Starry Sky – This one is a little tricky to convert for warlock use, but well worth the effort. The Illumination warlock’s connection to the stars bestows this variable ability with terrific utility. Four possible effects give you a choice of bonus action options to use after consulting the stars during a long rest. Also, the options are cool and thematic, but compared to Void’s Manifestation or the standard Create Thrall, Hurl through Hell and Dark Delirium features it feels a little lacking in the oomph department. In any cases where Intelligence modifiers are used, this would be changed to Charisma for the warlock. One of the options involves treating a spell cast as if it were a higher level spell slot. Since all of a warlock’s spells are cast at maximum spell slot levels, I would likely tweak this to allow the ability to cast a particular kind of spell without expending a spell slot.
As an alternative you could use any of the above Otherworldly Patron features as new invocation options for a warlock. As invocations I would make make prerequisites for Master of Endless Night 5th level, Illusions of Permanence 9th level and Comprehension of the Starry Sky 15th level.
New warlock Illumination spells
There won’t be any spoilers for any of the spells in Deep Magic: Illumination Magic. But I will list them here with a brief description and thoughts. Cantrips are cantrips. Spells level 1-5 make for a handy pact-based Expanded Spell List for an Illumination pact warlock. Spells level 6-9 simply become new additions to the warlock spell list a warlock can acquire through Mystic Arcanum at levels 6, 13, 15 and 17.
Like with the Otherworldly Patron features and/or invocations, any references to Intelligence would be changed to Charisma when it references the warlock caster’s ability score.
- Cantrips: shadow bite, shadow blindness, silhouette, starburst – I’m a big fan of anything giving eldritch blast a run for its money. One of these is an attack cantrip with a saving throw rather than attack roll and adds a utility feature. I would change the damage type to psychic it feels more thematic. Frankly, I also think psychic damage is cool. Another is oddly very specific and feels like one of those spells no one would ever pick, except the one person who does and when it comes in handy, it comes in REALLY handy. Next is a flavorful cantrip imaginative players will no doubt find endless uses for. And finally another attack cantrip, this one dealing radiant damage in an area of effect similar to acid splash. It’s worth noting three of these are illusion spells, one of which will be affected by Illusions of Permanence.
- 1st level: cloak of shadow, guiding star, shadow hands – First up a bonus action spell again taking advantage of Illusions of Permanence to provide extra Stealth. Following that up with a ritual spell (squee!) giving some navigational utility. I would expand the parameters of this one for a Spelljammer game to account for the 3-D nature of wildspace travel. Nothing all that flashy about this spell, but the usefulness makes it an auto-include. Rounding out the selection is a solid area of effect damage spell with add-on effect. Damage spells with extra effects win out over big ticket damage dealers every time in my spellbook.
- 2nd level: orb of light, slither – another add-on effect damage spell! Woot woot. As for slither… the mechanics of the spell aren’t mind-blowing but the flavor is phenomenal. It’s about this point in the Illumination warlock’s career that the theme really starts to take shape. On one hand the abundance of darkness-related magic seems counter-intuitive for a class option based around a star theme. On the other, there’s a sense of tapping into not only pure starlight but the shadows it can create as well and the blackness where stars hang. So I can dig it.
- 3rd level: compelling fate, shadow trove, shield of star and shadow – Thematic and variable effects make the first spell here an all-star among the complete list. The stars reveal another creature’s intention to the caster, translating to an attack bonus, a defensive bonus or out of turn movement! Higher spell slots increase the duration of this non-Concentration spell too, so a warlock will get a ton of mileage from this. Another ritual joins the mix with a spell that creates a portal into space where you can stash stuff for an hour. The shadowy door is mobile, too, creepily floating in the air nearby following the caster. Lastly, you can wrap yourself up in a snuggie of wildspace stuff for 10 minutes for protection against certain damage types of your choosing.
- 4th level: black hand, flickering fate – Here I would tweak the fluff and dub it something like radiant hand. This Concentration spell doesn’t deal damage, but is one of the most unique spells I’ve ever come across. It is a dual-purpose buff for the caster and debuff for single targets. The other shadowy stuff on the list I can live with, but this one strays too far from what I envision for the Illumination warlock so in addition to renaming it I would change the school to conjuration and the description to dazzling the target with pure starlight rather than the dark necromantic flame that siphons their energy away. As regards the second spell, it is a little wonky. I think the range might need errata and I would make it 30 ft. Outside of that, the effects could be a tad confusing in practice. Also the more I look at it I wonder if the names got mixed up and flickering fate should be compelling fate and vice versa. That makes more sense to me.
- 5th level: starfall – Now this is an Illumination magic spell for a warlock aligned with the stars. Solid area damage with two (!!) add-on effects. This makes the perfect cap for a warlock extended spell list.
- 6th level: black well – Great spell, but like several others on the list needs some tweaking to fit our theme. First, the name: let’s go with gravity well, to stick with the star-based theme. The school will change from necromancy to conjuration and the damage from necromantic to radiant, with descriptive fluff to match. Other than that, everything can stay the same and you’ve got an amazing spell crowd control spell with great damage potential.
- 7th level: icy grasp of the ether, last rays of the dying sun, starry vision – Starting off with another darkness-related spell but this time we’re leaving it as we found it. Most of the changes I’ve made were to move away from the necromancy stuff but here it’s repping the cold and dark of wildspace and I’m okay with that. Plus it has add-on effects…have I mentioned my affinity for those sorts of spells? Following is a spell that captures the flavor of its namesake terrifically. A huge blast of energy deals fire damage and then in the absence of the sun a wave of frigid cold. If I’m not mistaken there are no spells in official D&D material that deal both fire and cold damage, giving this one distinction. And then we have an amped up version of compelling fate making casting time a reaction and increasing range and duration. The language of the spell settles the question of potential mixup between compelling fate and flickering fate but it still seems weird to me.
- 8th level: summon star – Bet you were imagining your Illumination warlock as Sephiroth on this one, huh? Nope. The star takes the form of an entity equivalent to a deva with one addition – EVERYTHING THAT CAN SEE IT IS CHARMED. There’s a saving throw to avoid the effect but still, all creatures other than the caster who view it – allies included – are potentially charmed. The star is under the caster’s command for the duration as well, with the deva’s abilities and actions.
- 9th level: star’s heart – Along with black well (or, gravity well) these are my two favorite spells. I love a little science in my fantasy (and also psychic damage if you hadn’t picked up on that yet). The effects of this spell are many. A huge area comes under the effects of a massive gravity sink, dealing damage, causing conditions, and affecting movement and ranged attacks – including spells that create missiles with mass.
Time for the stars
Buttoning up the warlock options adapted from Deep Magic: Illumination Magic for the D&D Spelljammer game, one new feat is also included. Star and Shadow Reader represents a deep understanding of cosmology. The connection between starlight and darkness and the movement of celestial bodies grants unique insights to the character who chooses this feat. A character must have the ability to cast at least one spell to choose this feat, which grants three abilities. One provides a buff to a certain damage type of your choice, one allows you to cast a divination spell without using a spell slot and the last gives darkvision, or increases the range if the character already has it.
One of the best things about fifth edition D&D is how the streamlined design lends itself to creating or modifying new options. Inspiration from Deep Magic: Illumination Magic, Deep Magic: Void Magic, and the star drakes and void dragons of Tome of Beasts allowed me the opportunity to do just that. Adapting the wizard material to a warlock chassis was not difficult at all. The Illumination warlock required a bit more work than the Void, but mostly in terms of fluff.
For my Spelljammer game, I’m really enjoying the way all these elements add a unique quality to the setting my players and I are creating together. Discovering the interactions between cosmic creatures and the agents associated with them in our game is a lot of fun. Although the basis for these elements stems from the warlock class, they inform a great deal of other story elements, NPCs and lore that affect the other characters, too. For example, the monk character has become a sort of champion of a lunar god, wielding a customized magic item called the Moon Spear. And in the current leg of the campaign the party is about to uncover [REDACTED BY EDITOR – SORRY, PLAYERS IN MY GROUP!]
If you’re looking for even more warlock goodness, check out the E-Zine from Kobold Press. Available through their Patreon, this booklet delves into dark fantasy genre content for tabletop roleplaying games.
There is even an expansion article for Void Magic in the first issue, written by the author of Deep Magic: Void Magic himself – Dan Dillon![amazon_link asins=’0312878605,1936781565,1936781735′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’nerdarchy-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’a4a9e5e5-8164-11e7-a733-3b19b70dc46c’]
Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, world building, or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy or his own blog The Long Shot, he’s a newspaper designer, copy editor and journalist. He loves advocating the RPG hobby and connecting with other nerds and gamers on social media and his site thelongshotist.com.