Circle of Eight
The mysterious assembly of wizards known as the Circle of Eight has long benefited from a past obscured by misinformation and enigma. The group’s influence reaches from the Baklunish west to the Solnor Ocean, though its secretive methods ensure that few know the extent of its ministrations.
A Balance is Struck. The Circle of Eight’s reputation spans the breadth of the Flanaess. Its name (if not its exact demeanor) is common currency among noblemen and villagers alike. Despite this, the Circle’s full membership has never been known to those outside the organization.
The group has not always been so reclusive. Its precursor, the Citadel of Eight, was a known opponent of darkness in its many guises. Its members stood, and fell, protecting the balance and defending Oerth from the influence of malign beings and, rarely, benevolent interlopers, as well.
The Citadel. The series of alliances that would evolve into the Circle of Eight began simply, over a meal of venison and Celenese nectarwine in a posh inn near the shores of the Wild Coast. At that table, nearly thirty years ago, Mordenkainen debated with his young apprentice, Bigby, the merits of taking an active hand in maintaining the celestial balance of power. Thereafter, the two struck upon a plan to gather a group of like-minded individuals that would act to hinder advances by those who would dominate the Flanaess. That their expected exploits would impart upon the mages no small amount of lost magical lore only served to hasten the alliance.
Within months, Mordenkainen had brought the renowned warrior Robilar to his cause, as well as the cleric Riggby, and his zealous assistant, Yrag. From the shores of the Nyr Dyv, Mordenkainen recruited the righteous Tenser, who in turn introduced the dim-witted though well-meaning Serten to the assembly. Finally, the young woodsman, Otis, rounded out the group.
They called themselves the Citadel of Eight, taking the name from Mordenkainen’s renowned Obsidian Citadel, in the Yatil Mountains. In the years that followed, their adventures focused on Greyhawk and the Selintan Valley, and the crags of the Cairn Hills and depths of the Suss Forest were opened to their prying vision.
In the years of their companionship, both Robilar and Yrag were ennobled by Greyhawk, and Riggby was promoted speedily within the church of Boccob in Verbobonc. Tenser, Bigby, and Mordenkainen likewise advanced in their own wizardly ways, gaining arcane knowledge and power.
For a group that so decisively defeated its enemies, there remained several problems. Robilar never quite bought into Mordenkainen’s philosophy, and he and Tenser often bickered over matters of morality. Serten, though seen as useful, was never truly respected and Otis, tired of underground excursions and forays into urban territories, left the group, decrying his friends as cave-delvers and treasure seekers blind to the real problems of the world.
Over the years, the Citadel played home to such luminaries as Prince Melf Brightflame, of the Olvenfolk, the half-orc Quij, Felnorith, Robilar’s brother Terik, and even, at one point, the Quasi-Deity Murlynd, in disguise.
Nearly a decade after the Citadel’s formation, Otis’ critical words took on the air of prophecy. In 569 CY, when the first arrow flew at Emridy Meadows, the Citadel was noticeably absent. Whether investigating magical secrets far to the west or unearthing lost passages in Urnst’s Maure Castle, these self-absorbed celebrities were too preoccupied to influence one of the century’s most critical battles. All were absent save Serten, who fought valiantly at the side of Prince Thrommel against the hordes of Elemental Evil. When Serten fell, none of his friends stood at his side. Though most attended his ostentatious funeral service in Verbobonc, a crucial rift had been torn in the organization. The Citadel was crumbling.
Tenser blamed Mordenkainen for the death of his friend, and retired inward to his castle. Terik and Yrag vanished, some said to the anonymity of the Bandit Kingdoms. Even the loyal Bigby left the side of his onetime master and returned to Oldridge, where he adventured for a time with a band of boyhood friends. Mordenkainen, the man who had brought the Citadel together, simply shrugged and returned, with cold eyes, to his studies.
Formation of the Circle The chaos surrounding the return to power of the demigod, Iuz, in CY 570 prompted Mordenkainen to consider a new paradigm. Though the Old One worked to check the growing power of the Horned Society, and kept Furyondy’s eyes on its northern borders, Mordenkainen knew well that the situation would not last. The dissolution of the Citadel left Mordenkainen without a tool to shape events as he would and though he hardly admitted it to himself, he longed return to a life of adventure.
The Citadel’s primary failure, he surmised, had been its inclusive philosophy. As its founding concept had been arcane, he had been foolish to assume that men like Robilar or Riggby would rally to his cause without subtly working against it for reasons personal, spiritual or political. Men of intellect and sorcerous skill, whose primary interests were more than material, would replace them. Thus was born the Circle of Eight.
Over the next year, Mordenkainen invited some of the most prominent magi in the Flanaess to join him. By the first month of 571 CY, he had gathered eight mages to his cause, among them Bigby, Otto, Rary, Nystul, Drawmij, and the affable Bucknard.
The Circle in those early days worked to check the power of influential beings in Eastern Oerik. When they could not directly intervene, they sponsored groups of adventurers, as in the sacking of Iggwilv’s former haunt at the Tsojcanth Caverns in the mid-570’s. Whether or not those agents always knew who set them upon their quests is a matter of some debate.
Privately, members of the Circle explored fantastic corners of Oerth, including the strange and foreboding City of the Gods, near Blackmoor, further depths of Castle Greyhawk, and even the manifold layers of the infernal Abyss. More importantly, through their own adventurers and the exploits of those related to them, the Circle began to formulate what soon would become one of the most impressive networks of informers and agents the Flanaess has ever known.
The Circle Completed. The membership of the Circle changed little in the years between its inception and 574 CY, when Tenser, still bitter over the dissolution of the Citadel, sought membership. After one of the founding mages of the group abandoned Oerth to explore other planes of existence, the petition was granted, and Tenser brought his unique, if less-than-subtle, ambition to the ideology of the group.
Two years later, with the addition of the mage Otiluke, the Circle solidified its reputation as a political power in the Central Flanaess. As president of the Society of Magi, Otiluke brought with him a seat on Greyhawk’s Directing Oligarchy, and the group initiated its long-anticipated drive to influence the policies of temporal leaders throughout the Marklands. Jallarzi Sallavarian was invited to join in 581 CY, replacing the much esteemed Bucknard, who had mysteriously vanished two years earlier. The final week of her six-month trial membership was to be a baptism by fire.
The Return of Vecna. Alerted to a rising evil in the Flanaess, the Circle hastily gathered for a nearly unprecedented field operation in 581 CY. A new power sought to join Oerth’s vast pantheon, and its efforts threatened to corrupt the magical order of the known world.
The Circle traveled to the hills south of Verbobonc, where they investigated the tomb of a long-dead Oeridian tyrant who was thought to have possessed the awesome artifacts known as the Hand and Eye of Vecna. Finding the tyrant alive, after a fashion, and completely controlled by the Whispered One, the ill-prepared Circle of Eight panicked, and was defeated.
Vecna destroyed the entire Circle, save Mordenkainen, who had elected to remain in Greyhawk as a safeguard against just such an occurrence. When news reached the archmage, he mobilized the Circle’s allies, and a small cadre of apprentice wizards, former companions, and long-time confidantes embarked on a nearly hopeless bid to thwart Vecna’s apotheosis (see TSR9309 “Vecna Lives!”).
Somehow (it is whispered that they employed the aid of luz, who stood to lose much under the deification of the Lich Lord), the intrepid adventurers managed to banish the Maimed God at the strange stone circles known as the Tovag Baragu, and Oerth returned to relative normalcy, save for the absence of the Circle of Eight.
Shattered Circle. Mordenkainen addressed this absence by recovering what was left of his fallen comrades and cloning them. This endeavor consumed time that otherwise might have seen him addressing the reports of the Circle’s allies in the North, who warned of alarming developments in Stonefist and the Barbarian Lands. When those events spiraled into the first conflicts of the Greyhawk Wars, the Circle’s clones remained undeveloped and half-aware. By the time the clones reached full maturation, the Circle of Eight had been forced to take a reactive stance to the tumultuous events unfolding before them.
Though the Circle never acted concertedly during the Greyhawk Wars, certain “hot spots” received a good deal of their attention. Mordenkainen Bigby and Otto fought against the Old One’s army at the infamous Battle of Critwall Bridge, and Drawmij was instrumental in organizing the flood of refugees from the Lost Lands to fastnesses in the Good Hills. Nystul worked primarily alone in besieged Tenh, while Otto and Bigby left Mordenkainen in the Vesve Forest to do what they could for the Iron League. Citing pressing personal needs, Rary retreated to his tower in Lopolla and refused to come to the aid of his companions.
When the political rumblings that signaled the end to the conflict reached the Free City of Greyhawk, the entire Circle was on hand to ensure a favorable outcome to the peace process. Their network of agents researched the backgrounds of key diplomats and participants in the proceedings, and magical divinations were conducted to unmask any would-be saboteurs. Never did the view of those scrying crystals turn inward, however, toward the plans of the single individual who could do the most harm to the delegates’ cause.
The treachery of Rary in 584 CY saw the destruction of Tenser and Otiluke, leaving the Circle at five. After a successful mission to rescue one of Tenser’s clones from the clutches of the infamous necromancer-witch Iggwilv, the Circle added three new members, rounding out the membership. (Tenser, chafing at Mordenkainen’s agenda, left the group in disgust after his rescue.) New members include the redoubtable Warnes Starcoat of Urnst; Alhamazad the Wise of Zeif; and the cold, unemotional Theodain Eriason. Mordenkainen remains the ninth member, a “shadow leader” dictating his agenda to others and influencing the Flanaess through his powerful network of agents and servitors.
Rary’s treachery gained the Archmage of Ket everlasting infamy. Spurned from his family by his brother and banned from Greyhawk itself by Mordenkainen, Rary fled to the Bright Desert, to uncover its secrets and inaugurate an empire.
Coming Full Circle. Since the war, the Circle has admitted three new members, rounding out their number. From the far reaches of the ancient lands of the Baklunish, they courted Alhamazad the Wise. Theodain Eriason, the Circle’s first true demi-human member, came from the Yeomanry. The first post-war addition, however, was the most obvious. Warnes Starcoat, Counselor to the Courts of Urnst, had already dignified himself by helping the Circle recover the powerful Crook of Rao from the clutches of the Mother of All Witches, Iggwilv. Canon Hazen’s heroic use of that artifact in 586 CY validated Starcoat’s inclusion, as did the archmage’s crucial role in the horrific circumstances surrounding Tenser’s return from the realm of the dead (see The Return of the Eight).
In the last two decades, the Circle has seen members come and go, but its dedication to Mordenkainen’s goals and methods remains steadfast. In the years since the close of the Greyhawk Wars, much has been done to re-stabilize the Flanaess’ balance of power. Much work remains, however, and Mordenkainen and the Circle have resolved to ensure that it is completed.
Erik Mona and Gary Holian, Wheels with Wheels, Greyhawk’s Circle of Eight, Living Greyhawk Journal #0, May 2001