Circle of Eight

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The Circle of Eight (formed from the earlier Citadel of Eight) is a fictional group of wizards in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. The Circle was originally created by Gary Gygax around 1975 as an alliance of most of his Dungeons & Dragons characters. In 1992, the concept of the Circle was redeveloped by TSR as a powerful cabal of wizards as part of a new storyline for the World of Greyhawk campaign. This new Circle of Eight is based in the Flanaess, the easternmost portion of Oerik, and its chief purpose seems to be the preservation of the balance of power between the forces of Good, Evil, Law, and Chaos in the Flanaess, ensuring that one does not dominate the other for an extended period of time. To this end, the Circle often works behind the scenes, especially when aiding the cause of evil.

Despite claims to the contrary, the Circle of Eight does not rule the Free City of Greyhawk, though some of its members have simultaneously been members of the city's Directing Oligarchy, Greyhawk's governing council.

Despite the organization's name, the Circle of Eight actually has nine members, being composed of eight powerful wizards and their leader, Mordenkainen the archmage. In fact, the group is sometimes referred to as "Mordenkainen and the Circle of Eight."[1]


Gary Gygax, in helping to create the game of Dungeons & Dragons, developed a home campaign in and around the City of Greyhawk. He was also a player when his friend Rob Kuntz was the dungeon master, and Gygax created many different characters for the Greyhawk world. At the point where these characters had collectively accumulated both enough wealth that they couldn't easily spend it, and standing armies that rivalled most nations' forces, Gygax gathered all eight of the characters together—Mordenkainen (wizard), Yrag (fighter), Bigby (wizard), Rigby (cleric), Zigby (dwarf), Felnorith (elf), Vram (elf) & Vin (elf)—as the Circle of Eight. Pooling their resources, Gygax had the Eight construct a stronghold in the middle of an evil land so they would not have to travel far to find adventure.[2] After three years of game time, the result was the Obsidian Citadel, a massive and impregnable octagonal castle[3] from which any of the Eight could sally forth in search of adventure.[4]

After Gygax was ousted from TSR in 1985, the company took over creative control of the published Greyhawk setting. In 1988, The City of Greyhawk boxed set by Carl Sargent and Rik Rose remolded Gygax's old "Circle of Eight" into a new plot device. Instead of a group of eight companions belonging to Gygax who sallied forth from an impregnable bastion to fight evil, the Circle became eight wizards led by Mordenkainen (although he was not part of Gygax's original Circle himself). Gygax's own wizard, Mordenkainen, became the head of the Circle, while other wizards from the Greyhawk campaign, made famous from their spells published in the original Players Handbook, became the actual Circle, although several of them had not been particularly powerful characters in the Greyhawk campaign. For instance, Rary was a low-level wizard created by Brian Blume and played only until he reached 3rd-level, at which point Blume retired him, having reached his objective, which was to be able to introduce his character as "Medium Rary".[5] Gygax borrowed the name for the spells Rary's mnemonic enhancer and Rary's telepathic bond. Ironically, the original Rary was never powerful enough to cast either of "his" spells. In addition to Mordenkainen, the seven well-known names were Bigby, Otiluke, Drawmij, Tenser, Nystul, Otto, and Rary, a group which game designer Ken Rolston describes as "a powerful and influential local organization of wizards".[6] The eighth wizard was a new name, the female wizard Jallarzi Sallavarian. The Circle's mandate was to act as neutral referees between Good and Evil, never letting one side or the other gain the upper hand for long. In addition, Sargent & Rose took Gygax's original Obsidian Citadel, repurposed it as Mordenkainen's castle, and placed it in an unspecified location in the Yatil Mountains.[7]

In 1990, TSR decided that the decade-old world of Greyhawk needed to be refreshed, and moved the campaign timeline forward a decade, from 576 CY to 586 CY, in order to provide the setting for a new storyline.

In the Greyhawk Wars, the booklet included with the game, Greyhawk Wars Adventurer's Book, described the war in detail: In 582 CY (six years after Gygax's original setting of 576 CY), a regional conflict started by Iuz gradually widened until it was a war that affected almost every nation in the Flanaess. A peace treaty was finally signed in the city of Greyhawk two years later, which is why the conflict became known as the Greyhawk Wars. On the day of the treaty-signing, Rary—once a minor spellcaster created and then discarded by Brian Blume but now elevated by TSR to the Circle of Eight—attacked his fellow Circle members, aided and abetted by Robilar. After the attack, Tenser and Otiluke were dead, while Robilar and Rary fled to the deserts of the Bright Lands.

A later development of the storyline in 1998 by Roger E. Moore, in the adventure Return of the Eight, filled in the three empty spots in the Circle with Warnes Starcoat, Alhamazad the Wise, and the high elf Theodain Eriason, the Circle's first non-human member, bringing the membership back to Eight.[8]

Fictional history[edit]

Using various TSR and Wizards of the Coast publications, a historical timeline of the post-Gygax Circle of Eight can be drawn:

The Citadel of Eight[edit]

The Citadel of Eight was formed at some point after 561 CY, and was dissolved in 569 CY. Its initial membership was Mordenkainen (its founder) and Bigby, his apprentice. The two decided to form a group to attempt to maintain the balance between the extremes of Oerth. They recruited Robilar, Riggby, Yrag, Tenser, Serten, and Otis. The name of the group was based on their number and Mordenkainen's Obsidian Citadel.

The group eventually dissolved for ideological reasons (in the case of Robilar and Otis), because of grudges between members (such as Tenser who blamed Mordenkainen for the death of Serten), or because of outright death in the case of Serten who fell in 569 CY fighting against the hordes of evil.[1]

The Circle of Eight[edit]

The Circle was founded in 571 CY by Mordenkainen, from the remnants of the Citadel. The exact make-up of the eight has changed over time and has continued to remain somewhat of a secret to the general populace of the Flanaess.[1]

Among the group's original members were former Citadel member Bigby, as well as the wizards Bucknard, Drawmij, Leomund, Nystul, Otto, and Rary. In 574 CY, Leomund left to explore other planes of existence, and was replaced by former Citadel member Tenser.

In 576 CY, Otiluke, president of Greyhawk's Society of Magi and member of the city's Directing Oligarchy, joined the Circle. In 579 CY, Bucknard mysteriously disappeared, and was not replaced until 581 CY, when Jallarzi Sallivarian became the first woman to join the Circle of Eight.

Later in 581 CY, nearly six months after Jallarzi joined, the group met with tragedy when all its members, save Mordenkainen, were slain by Halmadar the Cruel, a former Shield Lands tyrant under the control of the fabled lich Vecna, who had somehow achieved godhood. Mordenkainen responded by assembling a group of adventurers to thwart Vecna's plans, and was able to recover the remains of his allies and clone them. The cloning took some time, which could otherwise have been used to prevent the Greyhawk Wars.[9]

By 584 CY, the Circle was fully restored and working toward an end to the Greyhawk Wars. On the eve of the day when all parties involved were to sign the treaty bringing the wars to an end, Otiluke, Tenser, and Bigby discovered a plan by the Circle's own Rary to slay all the assembled diplomats via a great magical trap. Unfortunately, Rary witnessed their discovery, and a great magical battle ensued, resulting in the deaths of Otiluke and Tenser, and severely wounding Bigby, who was unable to pursue Rary as he escaped. Word later came that Rary's allies, among them former Citadel member Lord Robilar, had ensured Tenser's and Otiluke's deaths by destroying every clone they had prepared for such an incident. Rary and Robilar fled to the Bright Desert, southeast of Greyhawk, where they established the Empire of the Bright Lands.[10]

By 586 CY, the Circle had returned to its full membership of eight plus one. Though Tenser had been returned to life, via a clone he had hidden on one of Oerth's two moons, he had no desire to rejoin the Circle. In his, Rary's, and Otiluke's place stood Warnes Starcoat, Alhamazad the Wise, and the high elf Theodain Eriason, the Circle's first non-human member.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Mona, Erik, and Gary Holian (2000). "Wheels within Wheels: Greyhawk's Circle of Eight". Living Greyhawk Journal (Paizo Publishing) (#0). 
  2. ^ Gygax: "The original [Circle of Eight] was composed of my PCs--Mordenkainen, Bigby, Yrag, Rigby, Felnorith, Zigby, Vram & Vin. In the novel version the Circle was expanded to encompass other PCs in my campaign such as Tenser. It came into being because Mordenkainen and Associates had a lot of wealth stored up from successful adventuring, located a place for a stronghold deep in enemy territory to assure plenty of action, and then went to work building the citadel. As there was a small army of dwarves associated with the larger, mounted field army, the building project went relatively quickly, about three game years to complete. While it was in progress, the 'boys' were active in raiding the lands around to keep the enemy forces back on their heels." "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part IV, Page 9)". EN World. 2003-11-01. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  3. ^ Gygax: "The Obsidian Citadel was indeed my personal creation as a player.... It was an octagonal castle with eight wall towers and a central keep with much space between the outer wall and the inner works because of the number of troops housed in this fortress."Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part VI, Page 9)". EN World. 2004-03-26. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  4. ^ Gygax: "The Obsidian Citadel and its Circle of Eight was original to my own campaign. When Mordenkainen was at a level I considered too high for normal adventuring, I used the money he and his associates had amassed to construct the said fortress. The members of the 'Circle were Mordenkainen and...others of my PCs: Bigby, Yrag the fighter, Rigby the cleric, Zigby the Dwarf, the Elves Vram and Vin, and Felnorith as principles. A number of lesser PCs were [also] associated.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part III, Page 17)". EN World. 2003-07-08. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  5. ^ Gygax: "[Rary] was one that Brian Blume created early in the D&D cycle, a magic-user that Brian wanted to work up to 3rd level so as to introduce him as 'Medium Rary.' When he gained that level Brian quit playing that PC, pretty much dropped out of regularly playing D&D in fact.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part X, Page 7)". EN World. 2006-05-29. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  6. ^ Rolston, Ken (April 1990). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR) (#156): 84–85. 
  7. ^ Sargent, Carl; Rose, Rik (1989). "3". The City of Greyhawk: Folks, Feuds and Factions. Lake Geneva WI: TSR Inc. pp. 20–27. ISBN 0-88038-731-9. 
  8. ^ Moore, Roger E. Return of the Eight (TSR, 1998)
  9. ^ Cook, David (1990). Vecna Lives!. TSR, Inc. 
  10. ^ Cook, David (1991). Wars: History of the Greyhawk Wars. TSR, Inc. 


  • Cook, David. "History of the Greyhawk Wars." Wars (TSR, 1991). Available online: [1]