Friday, November 4, 2011

New Article: Rary the Traitor

Aww yeah, Wizards of the Coast is slowly lurching back to Greyhawk. Last time as you may recall, the History Check column of Dragon Magazine #402 was a Greyhawkian subject involving Vecna and Kas. Now in their latest "issue #405" a new History Check article is out by Sterling Hershey entitled Rary the Traitor. It should go without saying of course, you need a D&DI subscription to download the content. For those not willing to take this leap, I'll summarize the article for your enjoyment.

The narrator is a female Vistani storyteller, one Marov Zarovan of the same clan as Menodora Zarovan from last episode's Vecna story. Marov relates:

"I will tell of the rise and tragic fall of the most powerful group of wizards and sages to hold sway over the lands of Oerth and the mighty City of Greyhawk: The Circle of Eight. What, no stir at their name? Surely at least a few of you have heard of them. Those of you who dabble in the arcane arts-"

Marov plays to an audience that may or may not be of Oerth. Fitting from a person whose race originates from the Ravenloft setting. It's still important that Oerth, Greyhawk and so on are now prominently finding their way back into D&D literature. Keep it coming Marov....

“As great and powerful as the Circle of Eight was, its roots were in another company of great heroes assembled long ago by the legendary Mordenkainen at his Obsidian Citadel. Although he often openly supported the side of good, Mordenkainen strove to maintain the balance between good and evil, law and chaos. Therefore the great mage secretly worked to undermine any being, group, or nation that he deemed was gaining too much power and influence."

Wonderful! Mordy mentioned (and not as the owner of an Emporium) as well as the Balance. This concept somehow escaped the scrutiny of 4e's changed and perhaps simplified alignment system. More on Mordenkainen...

“The Citadel of Eight started with Mordenkainen and his apprentice Bigby. Together they recruited the powerful warrior Robilar, and the cleric Riggby along with his fanatical assistant Yrag. The wizard Tenser joined, despite his righteous morality that sometimes conflicted with Mordenkainen’s belief in the sacredness of balance. Tenser then convinced his friend Serten to join, despite the latter’s—how shall I put this delicately?—lack of intellectual acumen. Finally, a woodsman called Otis completed the group."

Wow. Referencing the Citadel of Eight is a huge gold star for this author (though I'd like some verification on the actual roster here). I also wasn't aware that Serten was dump statting intelligence. Hrm. By the by, Otis can be found in the Temple of Elemental Evil modules. Anyhoo, time goes by, the members die, the Citadel retires and we move on to the creation of the Circle of Eight...

 “Over the next few months, Mordenkainen worked in secret to form his new Circle of Eight. Members would come and go, and not all of their names are known to this day—not even to me. Bigby returned, ever the faithful apprentice. There was Drawmij, who loved the sea, and Nystul, a master of disguise, tactics, and puns. Also found worthy, if astoundingly overdressed, was the great Otto, formerly a priest of Boccob and now wholly dedicated to the arcane arts. Rary brought his many years of knowledge, research, and sage advice to the group. Bucknard, a familiar figure in royal courts from Keoland to Nyrond, completed the Circle."

Again, I'm pleased with the thoroughness of name dropping in this article. Bucknard is a rarity and mention of Keoland and Nyrond is a nice touch. I wasn't aware that Nystul was a punster but I can go with that. Apparently the narrator hints that the Circle had other unnamed members who came and went. Clever. It'll probably take better than a DC 25 History check to learn who those were! Moving on, the make-up of the Circle changes over the years. Tenser joins, Jallarzi Sallavarian, Otiluke, then things start to go bad...

“The Circle rarely ventured forth in force, so the signs and warnings must have been dire indeed on the day when all except Mordenkainen traveled to the hills south of Verbobonc. There they found the burial mound where Halmandar the Cruel lay. When Halmandar rose from his grave to confront them, they realized too late that they were overmatched, for Halmandar bore the Hand and the Eye of the evil demigod Vecna. He slew the Eight in the blink of an eye..."

Blink of an eye! Oh Nystul would be rolling with laughter if he weren't dead! Also, it's correctly spelled Halmadar but hey I can't blame the Vistani too much for pronouncing it wrong, the guy is pretty obscure to begin with (see the module Vecna Lives!). Needless to say Mordenkainen (who was to blame for sending them to their deaths) had to pick up the pieces and clone all the Circle back in time for the Greyhawk Wars. In hindsight, perhaps not all the clones were as identical to their originals as Mordy thought...

“Most of the Circle’s members joined the fight, but soon the fractures that shattered the Citadel of Eight were beginning to appear in the Circle. Rary showed the strain most of all: He argued endlessly with Otiluke and other members, and the effort of keeping the balance began to seem fruitless to him. Finally Rary retreated to his tower in Lopolla and refused to take part in the conflict."

"...a few of the mages noticed that Rary had become brooding and distracted. It was as though his attention were fixed on some other matter."

Indeed, as the story continues, Rary turned traitor and tried to blow up the Great Signing in Greyhawk City which would end the Wars, but not before Tenser, Otiluke died stopping him. Fleeing to his tower in the Bright Desert, Rary is joined by his accomplice in treachery, the turncoat Robilar (DC 30 History check to know the true story behind that deception). Anyways, there isn't much new to point out in this well-wrought telling of Rary the Traitor, but it does come down to an interesting point:

“Now, my friends, you are among the few who know the true story of Rary the Traitor and how he betrayed the Circle of Eight. Today the spells of Tenser or Mordenkainen are easy to find, but Rary’s
remain obscure, perhaps because the mage’s contributions to magical learning fell out of favor when he turned to evil. Perhaps you would like to learn more of such spells?"

This is somewhat true in my experience even if unintentional. Despite the fact that there ARE many Rary spells out there (the 1st edition hardback Greyhawk Adventures has twelve new spells), his magic never seemed as ubiquitous as Tenser's or Bigby's when it came to player's selection. Sterling Hershey's article thus ends by directing the reader toward acquiring the two most well known Rary spells in the 4e format. Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer is in Dragon #399 and Rary's Telepathic Bond is a ritual in the book Arcane Power. So there. Lastly, the article sums up several adventure hooks involving Rary and Robilar. These will not be anything new to the seasoned Greyhawk fan, but their inclusion in this article is the perfect endcap for a well spun history lesson. Even though there is little new to be found in this article, we Greyhawk fans should at least be content that nothing was retconned or retrofitted canonwise. And that makes this Rary the Traitor at least worth a look for the collector of Greyhawk lore. With that said, I for one am looking forward to the next History Check. Let's hope that Greyhawk goes 3 for 3.

Addendum: Marov's story was nice, but for the true story of Rary the Traitor check out this old Greyhawk comic on the subject.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Mortellan!

I don't subscribe to the D&D Insider, so I appreciate your summary very much. Like you, I am pleased at Greyhawk continuing to be mentioned in print (at least to some degree) and with the author's canonnical accuracy.

I remember a Sterling Hershey from my youth. He was a kid a few years younger than me. Can't be too many people by that name. Now, I'll have to look him up to see if it my old acquaintance. :)


Anonymous said...

Well, I looked him up on facebook, but it didn't give any personal information to verify whether or not he's the guy I knew years ago. However, it is clear from his blog that he is from the Kansas City area and we grew up in Independence, MO. He's also 40 years old - a couple years younger than me. So, I'm still hopeful.

I found the Sterling Hershey, the author, on facebook, as I mentioned and commented on his post about this article. I encourage any other Greyhawk fans to do the same to let him know that there is lots of interest for more well-researched articles on Greyhawk lore.


Icarus said...

Wow ... amazingly cool content. I mean, it's a summary from old gaming material that is long since out of print, but I would imagine that there are a lot of gamers that don't know the history of Greyhawk by memory. So, even though it's not necessarily new to a few ... it's still a great compilation of information that brings Greyhawk to new players!
There is one thing that I dislike about the article, and two that I positively adore.
The first is the Vistani. Clearly, they wanted something with a GH feel, but, wanted to make it accessible to general gamers that don't' play Greyhawk. I am a Rhenee fan, and love their culture, so, the Vistani were sort of a disappointment, but, I would've rather seen the Rhenfolk in it.

The things I loved, though, far outweigh my disappointment at the non-inclusion of the River Gypsies. First, is the artwork by Ben Wooten. In the background, one can spy tapestry-banners hanging on the wall. AMAZING!! Thank you, Mr. Wooten for doing the research and painting those in. They are, in order, from right to left, The Free City of Greyhawk, the Shieldlands, The County of Urnst, the Hold of the Sea Princes, and lastly, the Kingdom of Furyodny. LOVE IT!! Yes, I am both an art-geek, and a Greyhawk buff ... so, yeah. :D

Finally, The biggest thing that I loved about the article is a reference in the narrative introduction. Mind you, Greyhawk is a setting that is currently out of print, but my heart soared when I read that gypsy storyteller say,
"In fact, our Elder informs me that some of you may find this tale quite helpful in the days to come."
Yes, I am likely reading too much into that. I'm a hopeful gamer. Forgive me for hoping there's a little content with Greyhawk in it coming.

mortellan said...

Xaris: Cool deal. Yes I would encourage the same because with all the old Greyhawk white knights over at Paizo who else will champion GH inside Wizards?

mortellan said...

Icarus: Good catch on the banners. I didn't notice that. Sweet!

Argon said...


Once again the question why Greyhawk?

My original argument gains validity consistently. What's old is new again! Yes that artwork is amazing.



mortellan said...

Yeah new art is always good, I can't wait to see what they draw out of Greyhawk next. My chips are on the Temple of Elemental Evil.

Scortch said...

Robilar was Rob Kuntz, Drawmij was Jim Ward.