Circle of Eight
Part of the Greyhawk setting for D&D, these guys are supposed to be this bad-ass group of wizards who maintain some kind of status quo for the world of Oerth. In practice, they end up being a bunch of dysfunctional frenemies who can barely get along, much less Get Shit Done, supposedly being led (read: manipulated) by the highly intelligent Mordenkainen, who notably bears a strong resemblance to Ming the Merciless.
The whole thing started with the Citadel of Eight, which was a group of eight characters participating in the newly-formed setting. The idea was that they had accumulated enough wealth, power, and other resources to start setting themselves up in a nice place where they could spend time between adventurers pondering whatever it was that they pondered between bouts of being murderhobos. The original members were:
- Mordenkainen (wizard)
- Bigby (wizard)
- Tenser (wizard)
- Robilar (fighter)
- Riggby (cleric)
- Yrag (Rigby's "assistant", possibly a cleric as well)
- Serten (some guy)
- Otis (a "woodsman", prototype of the ranger as we know it and love it)
They staked out a claim in a set of mountains full of evil shit and after a few years they had built the Obsidian Citadel, a gigantic eight-sided fortress built with the help of stone giants, dorfs, and other sundry types.
The group basically set themselves up as a kind of United Nations group. See, they felt that just as too much evil in the world was a bad thing, so was too much good. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thought in and of itself. I mean, you've known those players who play Lawful Stupid; can you imagine a world where those dipshits actually won and took over? Exactly. That was the plan, anyway: just keep any of the idiot extremists of both good and evil from getting an upper hand, so all the happy murderhobos of the world could do their thing. What actually happened is that each of the above members just did whatever the fuck they wanted anyway, and didn't really give much of a damn about anything. They figured if something big happened, they'd just deal with it in due course.
What they didn't expect was the Battle of Emridy Meadows. While they were sipping bourbon and sniffing about the lack of appreciation for their values, there was this cult who thought they were worshipping some run-of-the-mill evil deity, the kind that apparently would fulfill all their wishes (though why they didn't just learn to be wizards and summon efreet for that purpose tends to make one's eyes roll; seriously, once you get three wishes PER DAY, at virtually no cost, you've basically won at life). In truth, the Cult of the Elder Elemental Eye was really worshipping Tharizdun.
And Tharizdun was not your typical evil god. Oh, no. This is a god that helped form the cosmos, then went off his meds, went promptly insane, and decided reality was a mistake that needed to be corrected with total annihilation. In the dawn of time itself, every god, good and evil, who gave a shit about keeping reality as it was basically turned the entire considerable might of the multiverse against Tharizdun. They won (barely), and sealed the BBEG up in a prison that would keep him locked away forever. The prison got cracked, though; exactly what happened to cause this varies with which story is being told, but the point is, Tharizdun was able to grant spells. He had to be a lying bastard about his intentions (only the truly mentally ill would actively seek the dissolution of all reality with nothing set to replace it), but he managed to find enough idiots gullible enough to give him worship in exchange for being CoDzillas.
The Cult finally got enough power, decided to start trying to take over the world. The Citadel of Eight? Those assholes were nowhere to be seen. To them, this was a political thing, and there's not much of a loot margin in open warfare (as opposed to robbing dragons and other things of their treasures), so they didn't see a need to get involved.
Except little ol' Serten, whom nobody really thought much of. He apparently realized that this Cult was bad news and went to go help fight it. The Cult was, eventually, defeated, but Serten died. This caused epic levels of drama back at the
frat house Obsidian Citadel. Tenser, who was bro-tier Lawful Good, realized he had slacked off while someone was fighting no-shit evil, and blamed Mordenkainen; he left for his own castle kind of close to the City of Greyhawk. Terik and Yrag also apparently got fed up and ragequit, never to be heard from again. Even Bigby, Mordenkainen's own apprentice, left. Robilar and Otis left, deciding that the whole thing was a stupid idea anyway, and tromped off in search of adventure.
All Mordenkainen did was shrug it off and put up a "For Rent" sign outside the Citadel, then went back to convincing himself he was smarter and wiser than everyone and everything in the world.
The First Circle of Eight
After a while, Mordenkainen realized he had fucked up something bad, and tried to reform his boy band with a new label, the Circle of Eight. This time, he'd get it right, and only invite wizards, because obviously only other wizards could understand what he was trying to do.
The first lineup for the band consisted of:
- Leomund, replaced by Otiluke when he stepped down to explore the planes
- Bucknard, replaced by Jallarzi Sallavarian (the first and so far only female member) when he disappeared for unknown reasons
The fact that all of these guys have at least a few spells named after them is no accident: all of them were the most powerful wizards of the time, which I guess Mordenkainen thought would make them more amenable to his way of thinking (Robilar has some feats named after him, but that's neither here nor there). Leomund eventually retired, and Tenser replaced him (though still bitter over the loss of his bro Serten), and Mordenkainen himself stepped down to allow Otiluke to come in. That wasn't because Mordenkainen was giving up his power, far from it. Otiluke was president of the Society of Magi in Greyhawk, which gave him a seat on the city council (aka Directing Oligarchy), giving the Circle a good bit of political stroke if they ever were going to need it.
As for Mordenkainen, he had by this point become something of an egomaniac. He saw himself as manager of the band (nobody had agreed to it, he just got things done or made them happen), and that he was controlling everything. But here's where it gets a little funny.
See, Mordenkainen apparently sensed some kind of evil threat out there, so he sent the entire Circle of Eight to go face it. Only they fucked up and got a TPK because Mordenkainen finally met his fucking match: no less than Vecna, who was just then beginning to spin up his plans for godhood. Vecna had kitted out a minion with his artifact Eye and Hand, and basically told his boy to just kill them all. Either Mordenkainen was fucking stupid and couldn't see the danger despite his vast magical ability, or he was a coward and knew his going would get him killed. Either way, he goofed, his boys all died, and he had to seen a B-team of adventurers to go in and retrieve a literal pound of flesh so he could magically clone the Circle back to life.
But there was a problem. This magic cloning shit wasn't easy; it took a lot of effort and attention to do it. So while Mordenkainen was sitting in a lab, watching his buddies growing back to life (and probably trying to come up with a really good explanation why he wasn't among them when they died), the entire Flanaess erupted into a "World War" event known as the Greyhawk Wars. Essentially it was an outbreak of a half-dozen or more smaller wars between various factions and states, all of them trying to use the other conflicts as cover for various nefarious schemes. What it ended up being was a total shit-show. Iuz, the demonic bastard spawn of a witch-queen who forced herself on a demon prince (though it's a toss as to whether it was all that forced, or Just As Planned on his dad's part), ended up slaughtering and conquering huge sections of the region north of Greyhawk itself. Other tyrants and evil beings, such as Ivid (who might have raised even Vecna's nonexistent eyebrows in appreciation for his use of necromancy and demon summoning as tools of statecraft), rose and caused wide destruction.
Worst of all? The Scarlet Brotherhood took the opportunity to actually make good on their racist ideals and helped add to the chaos and carnage by toppling states, enslaving whole populations, and otherwise teaching everyone to hate the Suloise if they didn't already.
By the time Mordenkainen had the clones done, the Flanaess was a fucking mess. Devils and demons were openly walking the world and doing as they pleased. Undead were virtually everywhere to some extent. So of course, Mordy decides that the Circle just has to do something about it. Rary promptly tells him to fuck off, and removes himself back to his own place. The rest split up and try to stem the tidal wave of evil that has engulfed the region.
This time, with Mordenkainen actually working with other people, instead of acting like some back-of-the-office asshole manager who never does anything but complain about shit, the Greyhawk Wars finally got under control. States banded together to throw down the worst evil beings, and the forces of good finally got enough help to turn things around. It wasn't a total victory, though: some evil beings were just too powerful ever to be destroyed or contained, so putting them on their heels was the best Mordy & Friends could manage.
Overall, though, things settled down a bit. The Circle decided this was probably their best shot at a general treaty effort, so they turned their attention to bringing all the diplomats and ambassadors and whatnot to Greyhawk City to sign a general peace thing.
Rary the Traitor
But they all forgot about Rary. Sitting in his tower, he turned edgelord and got feels about how Mordenkainen was, in truth, a gigantic asshole with few (if any) moral or ethical boundaries. The way Rary probably saw it, Mordy had been using everyone since the start: his old buddies in the Citadel of Eight, the new band, and pretty much the whole world.
Rary calls up Robilar to compare notes and ask his opinion. What he doesn't know is that Robilar got fucked on his last delve into Castle Greyhawk: he was swapped with an alternate version of himself called Bilarro (get it?), and Bilarro is quietly, very, thoroughly evil. Rary, not thinking to run a detect evil spell on anyone and everyone he hasn't seen in a while - which makes it pretty standard protocol these days since DMs are evil bastards who do that kind of shit - doesn't know Robilar is literally not himself, and they hatch a plan. (Detect Evil would not have worked anyway. Robilar was always evil. He was just a good friend and an affable dude. His eviler duplicate was largely the same, but not a good friend)
The plan is that Mordy doesn't get to have his way anymore. Rary goes to Greyhawk and basically sets up some kind of a magical trap that will destroy the normies trying to work out a peace plan. He almost succeeded, but Bigby, Otiluke, and Tenser catch him in the act of the setup. They are surprised at the face-heel turn, and Rary pulls out all the stops in trying to destroy them... and does so, killing Otiluke and Tenser and wounding Bigby.
Now, any decent D&D nerd will wonder, how the fuck a single wizard beat three others of similar power level. It's not that hard to imagine. First off, Rary refused to help the Greyhawk Wars any. The others probably spent all their magic items, especially wands and staves and potions, trying to fight things like Iuz. Second, all three of the loyal Circle guys probably had already used some of their spells that day, laying out alarms and other magic security stuff so they could be sure if something went wrong elsewhere (let's not forget, some of those nations were still nursing grudges or other issues, so there was some tension in the room dealing with them).
But the last thing to remember is that Rary was already prepared to destroy the Circle in his mind. He didn't hold back; he was going for a TPK again. The other guys probably wanted to at least restrain Rary and ask him what was up, find out if he had been cursed or otherwise tampered with magically, whatever it was that was making him murder his former companions. They might not want to fireball him to death, whereas Rary was fully committed to destruction of the whole thing.
Mordy, smug as the asshole he is, thinks, "Well... fuck it, let's just clone more dudes!" Unknown to him, Rary wasn't about to let that happen again: he sent out Robilar to ALL of the Circle's little hideouts, strongholds, and other places, and destroyed their backup clones, and anything else that could help bring them back to life. Robilar's betrayal was the real shocker; he had never really cared for politics, but he had always been a very loyal and honorable man. But whatever the reason, that treachery did the job. Otiluke was more or less dead forever. Tenser ended up surviving only because he literally had a place on one of the two moons around Oerth that NOBODY ever found out about, and had him a backup clone there.
With that, the damage was done. Rary and Robilar/Bilarro retreated to the Bright Desert (a dusty shithole that was once an ancient kingdom).
The Second Circle of Eight
Mordenkainen, an epic level wizard, finally realizing how stupid and/or short-sighted he really had been the whole time, tiredly put together the new roster.
- Bigby, a level nineteen wizard, Neutral
- Otto, wizard 15 cleric of Boccob 3, a fat jolly guy with muttonchops, Neutral
- Nystul, a level seventeen wizard, the one guy on the Circle that wants to expand it beyond eight dudes, Neutral
- Drawmij, a level eighteen wizard, operating out of his awesome underwater base in the south, Neutral
- Jallarzi Sallavarian, a level fifteen wizard from Greyhawk, Neutral Good
- Alhamazad the Wise (Baklunish wizard out of Zeif and old friend of Mordenkainen's, LN Wiz 19)
- Theodain Eriason (elven wizard, first and only non-human member, CN Wiz 17)
- Warnes Starcoat (a Suloise wizard from Urnst, N Wiz 20)
After that, Mordy has mostly stepped back from dealing with the Circle too much, spending more time trying to understand where he went wrong. (Protip: it was probably back in the original Citadel of Eight, when he thought he was so smart he knew better than all the other gods how to deal with certain issues. Proving that Intelligence really isn't the same as Wisdom in D&D.)
Since the Greyhawk setting is slightly static these days, following the generally wise idea from Eberron that the campaign doesn't have to be advanced to continue being significant, the Circle hasn't really done much since about 591 CY (starting year of the Living Greyhawk campaign in 3.5). Mordy spent much of his time moping about Robilar until Expedition to Castle Greyhawk, when he realized his boy had been swapped with a Bizzaro-world copy that was all evil.
Oh, also, that same adventure is when Bigby finally dies to old age; he probably could have extended his lifespan, but after all the bullshit, he probably figures the afterlife really will be a much more suitable place to live for eternity. His fever dream of a tomb is a magical location in 3e's Complete Mage splat book, which describes it as being decorated with hundreds of depictions of hands, filled with illusions of hands doing mundane tasks like cleaning, warping the terrain around it so things look like hands, and giving wizards who visit the power to cast one of his hand spells once a day if they take one of the carved hands off his sarcophagus, which melds with their own. Moradin's beard, typecast much?
As for Rary, he's ideally still sitting in the Bright Desert, being emo about the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same.