Thursday, 25 July 2019

Alternate Oerths - Mythic Greyhawk: Wizardry & the Circle of Eight

I mentioned in the introduction to Mythic Greyhawk that:
The occult workings and experiments of the eccentric scholars, alchemists and mystic savants called "wizards" can somehow tame Chaos and produce so-called "arcane magic". But how controlled is it really? And who can say how tainted they become? Godly and Law-abiding people do not meddle with such forces. Witch hunts are rare, but wizards mostly stand outside the social ladder on the fringe of society, somewhere between shunned and exiled.
A contributing factor to this is the fact that Alignment Language is a thing in Mythic Greyhawk and wizards are in the disreputable position of having to learn Chaotic and Neutral in order to cast their spells.

Archetypical member of the Circle of Eight
But a large part of the distrust of wizards is historical: It was wizards who catastrophically wiped out the two biggest empire in human history (not to mention sinking the Isles of Woe, creating the Bright desert and probably also the Rift Canyon and Land of Black Ice). And when it was time to build something new from the ashes it was mostly ordinary Oeridian men, and divine assistance, that built the foundations for the Flanaess as we know it. So who needs wizards anyway?

Which brings us to the Circle of Eight. They are not mentioned in the folio, so could easily be dropped, but I am thinking to include them anyway. Except, I've already established that there is no real Balance position in the Mythic Greyhawk cosmological alignment scheme. Neutral is more like 'unaligned' and can flip either way. So what is the Circle's Raison D'Etre? Enter Jack Vance and "Murgen's Great Edict" as found in the Lyonesse trilogy:

Murgen's Edict basically bans all wizards from getting involved in the political arena. When the wizard Twitten defies the edict, Murgen shows up and turns him into an iron post.

I like the idea, it solves a lot of issues with magic in a medieval world. So here is:

Slerotin's Stricture

"Under penalty of death, or similar finality, no wizard may act directly in, interfere with, or intervene in, worldly affairs or secular conflict."
Slerotin was the last Mage of Power who survived the Rain of Colorless Fire's destruction of the Suel Empire. After founding the Silent Ones in Keoland to uphold his Stricture in the Sheldomar Valley, he retired to act as overseer of his Stricture across the Flanaess as needed and nothing else, hoping that he might precent such disasters as Vecna, Keraptis, the sinking of the Isles of Woe and the Twin Cataclysms in the future. A short history of the Stricture:

  • From a pocketworld chamber outside space and time, Slerotin monitors Flannae wizardry for over six centuries, from the founding of Keoland till the 300s CY.
  • Zagyg then becomes the temporal ruler of the city of Greyhawk. Slerotin disappears after attacking Zagyg in Greyhawk. The Stricture is largely unenforced from here, except at local level.
  • A century later, his apprentice Iggwilv conquered and ruled Perrenland for a decade by use of demonic summonings
  • When her son Iuz began cultivating his own realm in the howling hills, he was likewise unopposed, until Zagyg imprisons him for reasons of his own.
  • Two centuries after Slerotin's disappeance, Mordenkainen founds the Circle of Eight to enforce the Stricture at a higher level again.

The Circle of Eight

Traditional wizard's manse
The Circle of Eight are the primary present enforcers and interpreters of Slerotin's Stricture. Mordenkainen founded the group out of the belief that if such a group had been around in the early years of Iggwilv and Iuz, they could have been stopped much earlier. By making it a Circle, Mordenkainen hoped to avoid the gaps that followed in the wake of Slerotin's disappearance after his battle with Zagyg and also that the consensus of a circle of eight of the most powerful wizards would make their judgements less arbitrary. He hopes for the Circle to endure for many generations to come.

Their primary foe is Iuz, who stands out as the clearest violator of the Stricture, and any wizardly apprentice and lieutenants he may have.
The wizard of the Valley of the Mage is something of a gray zone. So far his isolationalist and non-intervenist approach, and the unclear nature of his arrangement with the inhabitants of the valley, have kept the Circle from acting against him.

There are presently a number of wizards who are councilors to rulers, or rulers themselves of domains in the Flanaess. These have been visited by the Eight with strong edifications on the Circle's interpretations of the Stricture (basically - you may use divination to help your realm and overt magics to protect yourself and your nearest. You not use overt magics against political foes, nor charms and similarly subversive magics).

The Circle is known, and feared, by pretty much all wizards of the Flanaess. The exact members are a matter of speculation. A few, such as Mordenkainen, Tenser and Bigby, proclaim their membership as a matter of pride no matter the dangers of such public knowledge, while others are rumoured and a few members wholly unknown.

Most all of them are 'neutral' and, as is typical of powerful 'neutral' wizards, temper having a modest conscience with being a bit mad, self-absorbed, power-hungry and vain. (though Tenser is said to be burdened with a virtuous absence of these qualities and afflicted with a polite dignity and empathetic spirit in its stead. And rumored member Rary of Ket is said to be harrowed with an always calm and discerning intellect bordering on being considered 'wise')

They all have lower tiers of agents, apprentices, henchmen and even private troops to act as proxies, informants and muscle - Both to uphold the Stricture and to serve the personal ambitions of the Circle wizards.

The Present State of Wizardry

Although wizards are generally an independent and competitive bunch (if you think stage magicians on earth like to guard their trade secrets, they've got nothing on wizards on Oerth) who rarely organize into more than loose cabals of hard bargained exchanges, most agree that the Stricture is a useful safeguard, also from potential repercussions of the common people.

As a result, since wizards stand mostly outside the conventional social and political ladders, they perceive themselves as being a social class of their own (as do most common folk) with status amongst themselves granted by might, discoveries and knowledge. All this has led to a culture among wizards of the Flanaess wherein temporal power, or even overt use of magical power, is seen as boorish and vulgar. More salient signs of real power and attainment are peer recognition, and preferably peer jealousy.

Of course there are wizards who break the Strictures, believing they can get away with it. Either from flying under the radar of the Circle's attentions, or from going undiscovered altogether, or, more rarely, from being powerful enough to deter the Circle from enforcing it. A few do get away with it, but rarely for long. Most who violate it are punished in extremely public and demonstrative ways, to show the common people, and other wizards, that wizardry in the Flaness is governed by their own.


  1. Man, I’m loving the articles!

  2. This is a great article! I am building my own campaign world and have a smaller group of wizards that maintain a balance "The Triumvirate". One of Law, one of neutrality and one of Chaos. A member may be of any bent (Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral or Lawful Evil, for example). It's a little Dragonlance-ish but I like it.

    They do not prevent political involvement but they "manage" it, as it were. :-)

  3. Someone linked to this from Enworld so I just discovered - this is a great article, Anders! I love the self-policing of wizardry applied to restrain wizardry from traditional Medieval politics.