In a short series of articles, I will detail six examples of Factions that are appropriate for the Greyhawk setting. Some of these might be old hat for setting purists, but are written up in the somewhat simplified, player-friendly manner of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition factions. Others are heavily modified or all-new creations, meant to provide a few more widespread organizations as options, but keeping them relatively loose-knit so their sudden appearance in the setting isn’t jarring if you’ve already spent a lot of time using the Greyhawk setting.
Remember, these are just examples. Use them to your own ends, whether it’s whole-cloth or as templates for your own factions!
First up is an all-new one: The Circle.
Mordenkainen the Archmage (N male human archmage; stubborn, doesn’t tolerate fools, listens more than he speaks) 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 a 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. [ED. – Some of this text comes from Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (2000).]
In the same manner, the Faction known more simply as The Circle was formed by current and former henchmen, allies, and other people that associated with the members of the Circle, especially with Mordenkainen himself. This organization is “unofficial” in many ways, existing as a loose knit organization of people believing in Mordenkainen’s ends and attempting to carry out actions in the world that might promote the ideal of balancing the various active deities, demon lords, nations, and powerful secret societies in the Flanaess. Without a direct line to the real Circle of Eight or any singular leadership, members of the faction tend to act as a complex information network, more than anything more intrusive.
- Preserve the stability of the Flanaess’ major political powers.
- Monitor the actions of powerful threats to local stability, specifically the activities of deities, planar forces like demon lords and angels, and secret societies.
- The Flanaess is a place of diversity, and that must be preserved. Good and evil, law and order may exist side-by-side, but neither may dominate.
- Otherworldly threats by their very nature endanger the diversity of mortal life in the Flanaess, and that is why deities, demons, angels, and similar planar creatures must be watched, and their movements checked.
Member Traits & Typical Quests
Members of The Circle are not vetted very heavily: anyone that proves a good informant for the greater network tied to The Circle of Eight is a fine candidate to be asked to continue such services as a Monitor. Members that wish to excel, however, need to be patient, wise, and well-connected, and increasing rank to Investigator or above requires much more difficult tasks and quests.
The Circle’s nature is that they gather information and share it. As such, their quests involve monitoring the activities and recording the forces behind potential threats to the kingdoms and free cities of the Flanaess. While sometimes this can be done from afar or from the relative safety of town and city walls, increasing in rank requires exponentially more dangerous tasks: watching the troop movements of the Bandit Kingdoms, uncovering the activities of cultists of Iuz or Nerull, or even infiltrating societies like the Scarlet Brotherhood [ED. – click that link for the Greyhawk Grognard’s write-up of the Scarlet Brotherhood as a 5th edition D&D faction] or antagonistic nations like the Orcish Empire of the Pomarj.
The following is a listing of NPCs with 5th edition stat ideas. You’ll note that most (all?) of these are generalized and extremely under-powered from what was provided in earlier editions of the game; this is on purpose, creating a much more player-driven, don’t-rely-on-the-NPCs-to-do-the-dirty-work mindset for an adventurous Greyhawk campaign.
The Circle of Eight
- Mordenkainen the Archmage (N male human archmage; stubborn, doesn’t tolerate fools, listens more than he speaks)
- Jallarzi Sallavarian (NG female Suel human mage; willful, hot-headed)
- Bigby (N male human evoker [Volo’s Guide to Monsters 214]; quiet, soft-spoken, anxious)
- Drawmij (N male human summoner [Adversaries & Allies 27]; silent, intensely secretive)
- Nystul (N male human enchanter [Volo’s Guide 213]; flippant, humorous, master strategist)
- Otiluke (N male human abjurer [Volo’s Guide 209]; aggressive, gestures wildly)
- Otto (N male human enchanter [Volo’s Guide 213]; sociable, full of energy, bit-time foody). Add the following Spellcasting trait and increase his Challenge to 6 (2300 XP). Otto casts the following spells as a 14th-level spellcaster using Charisma (DC 16, +8 to hit): Cantrips (at will): light, mending, message, prestidigitation, shillelagh; 1st level (4 slots): chromatic orb, comprehend languages, cure wounds, detect magic, identify; 2nd level (3 slots): augury, detect thoughts, locate object, see invisibility; 3rd level (3 slots): glyph of warding, magic circle, speak with dead, tongues; 4th level (3 slots): compulsion, conjure minor elementals, conjure woodland beings, locate creature; 5th level (2 slots): geas, legend lore, modify memory; 6th level (1 slot): guards and wards, true seeing; 7th level (1 slot): etherealness.
- Rary (N male Baklunish-Suel human diviner [Volo’s Guide 213]; quiet, dignified, insatiable lust for knowledge)
- Tenser (LG male human transmuter [Volo’s Guide 218]; polite, quick-witted, sociable)
Unofficial Leaders of The Circle
- Allentar Grassfield (N male halfling spy) is an informant and secret-gatherer for Drawmij, mostly active in the Free City of Greyhawk.
- Sverdras Meno (N male human immortal archdruid [VGM 210]) is the Hierophant of the Azure Sea for the druids of the Old Faith.
- Warnes Starcoat (CN male Suel human wild mage [AA 31]) is a student of Drawmij. He is a Counselor to the Courts of Urnst and Chief Sorcerous Councilor (an office also known as “Chief Magical Councilor”) to Duke Karll of the Duchy of Urnst.
- Felnorith (N male human berserker) is Mordenkainen’s henchman and bodyguard.
- Count Imiric von Suss-Varren (NG male gnome illusionist [VGM 214]) acts as Otiluke’s henchman, but is also a prominent count in the Principality of Ulek.
- Agath of Thrunch (NG male human priest of Celestian) is a scholarly priest of Celestian who runs a temple and library in Magepoint, home of the esteemed mage Tenser.
As a reminder, this article is not meant to be official and does not accurately reflect the most up-to-date or detailed Greyhawk lore. At its heart, it utilizes information from The City of Greyhawk box set for AD&D 2nd edition, as well as scattered bits of lore from Gygax’s home campaign mixed with some of the early AD&D and AD&D 2nd edition events (pre-Greyhawk Wars). Please use or abuse this information as you wish!
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