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.
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.
Certain members of the Circle are well known and liked, their talents appreciated throughout the Flanaess. The mages Bigby, Jallarzi, and Otto, for instance, are welcome in courts far from cosmopolitan Greyhawk. Others, such as Drawmij, Nystul, and Theodain, prefer to operate away from the public gaze.
Mordenkainen the archmage formed the Circle of Eight as a tool to manipulate political factions of the Flanaess, preserving the delicate balance of power in hopes of maintaining stability and sanity in the region. Mordenkainen’s view of “enforced neutrality” is not tit-for-tat equality, but rather a detailed theoretical philosophy derived from decades of arcane research.
He has fought ardently for the forces of Good, most recently during the Greyhawk Wars, but just as often has worked on darker plots to achieve his ends. In all things, the Circle of Eight prefers to work behind the scenes, subtly manipulating events to ensure that no one faction gains the upper hand.
History: The chaos surrounding the return to power of the demigod, luz, 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.
Current members include Bigby of Mitrik, once Mordenkainen’s apprentice and now an archmage in his own right; the rotund and jovial Otto of Boccob, who favors the kitchen over the laboratory; [allarzi Sallavarian of Greyhawk, one of the most dynamic wizards in a city of mages; the reclusive Drawmij, who oversees Keoland and the south from his undersea lair near Gradsul; and Nystul, a Tenha expatriate who wishes to expand the Circle, beyond eight if need be, to combat the growing threats presented by Iuz, Turrosh Mak, and the consolidating factions of the former Great Kingdom.
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 Oerths 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.
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.