Deep Dive - History of Bigby

Deep Dive - History of Bigby

The wizard Bigby has over a dozen spells with his name in it. Not bad for just an apprentice, even if that person is Mordenkainen’s apprentice. But who is Bigby and why are so many hand spells named after him.

Before we go any further, let us say that there is a ton of information about Bigby out there and much of it contradicts itself. It feels like almost anyone could (and probably did) make up their own history and lore about Bigby and then tried to call it fact. We’ve cobbled together the best information we could and tried to make sure that anything in the following article was confirmed by at least two official publications, mainly from TSR and/or WotC. 

Let’s take a dive into this famous wizard and see what makes him so great.

Early Years

Bigby was created by Rob Kuntz, but played by Gary Gygax. While a lot of sources begin with Bigby being the original apprentice of Mordenkainen, they gloss over the fact that our friendly Bigby actually started off as an evil NPC. In a Q&A session Gygax explains the following about Bigby’s background:

"Mordenkainen did indeed manage to get the drop on Bigby, [and] charm him. At the time Bigby was a 3rd-level [Evil] dungeon dweller. By word and deed Mordie brought him around from [Evil] to [Neutral], and thus Bigby became his apprentice. I got to roll the stats for that character after Rob [Kuntz] determined he was a loyal henchman of Mordenkainen."
"Gary Gygax: Q & A". EN World. 2005-02-19.

I’m not sure I like the idea of Bigby being a “loyal henchman” to anyone, but I guess if he had to study under someone, Mordenkainen is the guy.  From this auspicious beginning, Bigby’s history was developed.

Research has shown that Bigby is of Oeridian heritage. The Oeridian tribe was from the Kingdom of Aerdi (which no longer exist) and Bigby is a scion of the Aerdi House Cranden. Born in the city Oldridge, there is no history of his early youth. What his wealthy family did is unknown, but it obviously allowed Bigby to learn magic and travel the wilds with his friends in his youth.  He is described as a man approximately 6 feet in height and very thin. His symbol is that of an open palm behind a large, stylized bumblebee.

Living Greyhawk #0 , 2000 WotC

Living Greyhawk #0, 2000 WotC

There is the famous picture of him wearing a brown hooded cloak, a goatee and a wry smirk. It’s not how he is portrayed in much of the lore, as he has been described as extremely cautious and apprehensive about most things.  He’s also listed in many sources as an introvert, but later in life, while still cautious, was much more outgoing.

So in the development of Greyhawk and Bigby’s lore, it states that as a young man, Bigby traveled, and one can assumed, adventured in the Wild Coast and afterwards became the apprentice of Mordenkainen. So how does this mesh with the early creation of Gygax’s Bigby? I guess it really doesn’t. Bigby was developed along with and as a part of Greyhawk. The Gygax-Bigby was just a NPC who went from evil to neutral. So, I like to think that as Greyhawk and its characters were developed, Bigby was just a young man looking for a teacher after becoming tired of adventuring. I have no basis for this, but it’s what I would like to think of him.

Circle of Eight

This is where we start to get into the meat of Bigby’s history. To do so, we will have to really dive into a lot of stuff that may not pertain directly to Bigby, but is important to know so that we can see how Bigby developed and the reasons behind what happened to him.

The Circle of Eight is the most famous wizard cabal in all the history of Greyhawk. It’s funny though, how such a simple dinner could be the beginning of Mordenkainen’s legendary group.

The series of alliances that would evolve into the Circle of Eight began simply, over a meal of venison and wine in a posh inn near the shores of the Wild Coast. At that table, Mordenkainen debated with his young apprentice, Bigby, the merits of taking an active hand in maintaining the celestial balance of power. Thereafter, the two struck upon a plan to gather a group of like-minded individuals that would act to hinder advances by those who would dominate the Flanaess.
Living Greyhawk #0, Circle of Eight

So there you have it folks…why every adventure starts in a tavern! Ok, probably not. But I find it funny that just like so many players, the start of something great started over a jug of wine and some bar food. Mordenkainen gets all the credit for this idea, but without Bigby at his side, who knows if he could have pulled it off.

The original group was not the Circle of Eight, but its precursor, who called themselves the Citadel of Eight. The name was created by Mordenkainen, as he styled it after his massive Obsidian Citadel in the mountains of Yatil. Mordenkainen recruited a famous warrior named Robilar, the cleric Riggby, and his acolyte, Yrag.  Mordenkainen also brought in the righteous Tenser, a powerful wizard in his own right. Tenser brought Serten into the group who, while not the brightest bulb in the group, was a powerful cleric of St. Cuthbert. Last there was a young woodsman named Otis, who is an unknown outside of the Citadel of Eight.

The Citadel of Eight spent time adventuring and growing in fame and power. One of Bigby’s most famous battles during his time with the Citadel was when Bigby ventured beneath Castle Greyhawk with Tenser in an attempt to stop Robilar’s scheme to release the demigod Iuz from Zagyg’s Godtrap. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The plan was to release Iuz and kill him for good. They arrived too late to prevent the release, but helped Robilar attempt to finish the weakened Iuz off. Bigby nearly succeeded in destroying Iuz’s physical body with his Crushing Hand spell, but Iuz managed to escape through teleportation. The failure was the second worst in Bigby’s career, but we do get to see him using his hand spells!

Before the start of the Great War, there were the beginning of cracks starting to show within the Citadel of Eight. Robilar had started to not believe in Mordenkainen’s ideas after the whole Iuz debacle, which was thought up by Mordenkainen. Tenser, who had grown much more powerful in his own right as a wizard, started to argue with the other members over issues of morality behind their core ideas. Serten lacked respect within the group, and outside of his friend Tenser, was not taken seriously. And poor Otis hated the cities and the dungeons they were always in… He was a woodcutter after all.

At the beginning of the Great War, the Citadel was noticeably absent. Too busy with their own adventures, they started to believe their own hype and continued to seek out more power and more fame, Bigby amongst them. The only one that was there to fight in one of the first battles was Serten, who died fighting the masses of Elemental Evil that descended upon Greyhawk. At the immense funeral that was held for him, the rest of the Eight were there, and the Citadel started to fall apart. Tenser, who had recruited Serten to the group, blamed himself and was the first to leave the Citadel. The rest followed, including Bigby.

What happened to Bigby after the fall is vague. Most references say that Bigby returned to Oldridge, where he adventured for a time with a band of boyhood friends. Beyond that we have been able to find little information.

Mordenkainen, not discouraged by the failure of the Citadel, decided that a change in a philosophy would allow him to rebuild a new Citadel. Only those who understood and used magic would be invited into this new group. He believed that such people were more interested in the greatness of the arcane than material possessions and religious beliefs.  Over the next year, Mordenkainen invited some of the most prominent wizards in the Flanaess to join him. He was able to gather eight mages to his cause, among them Bigby, who had decided to return to once again follow his master. Otto, Rary, Nystul, Drawmij, Leomund and Bucknard rounded out the original members. Leomund left the group after three years and was replaced by Tenser, from the original Citadel. Bucknard went missing, and two more members were added in the following years, Otiluke was the president of the Society of Magi and he brought with him a seat on Greyhawk’s Directing Oligarchy, thus giving the Circle political and arcane might. He was followed by Jallarzi Sallivarian, who was the first female to join the group.

Bigby remained in his tower in Oldridge for the first two years in the Circle of Eight. He was however forced from his tower in Oldridge, thanks to intrigue with Xaene, the court wizard to Ivid V. Xaene was introduced in Dragon Magazine #59, 1982. This is another one of those pieces of Bigby’s lore that is mysteriously blank. We know that Ivid V was known as the Mad Overking and that Xaene was his court wizard. Not only was he the court wizard, but a two headed lich! What the intrigue was is unknown to us, but if it involves a Mad King and a two headed lich, it can’t be good. Bigby left Oldridge for good and took up residence in Scant (a city he grew to love and consider his home). Working under the guise of a wealthy merchant, he developed a relationship with the Iron League, a group of smaller states that opposed Ivid V.

Vecna, Clones, and Betrayal

Bigby led the Circle of Eight to investigate a new power that sought to disrupt the balance between good and evil that the Circle has charged themselves with protecting. Mordenkainen stayed behind as the group tried to discover what the evil was, and prevent it from corrupting the magical order of the known world.

The Circle traveled to the hills south of Verbobonc, where they came upon the tomb of a long-dead Oeridian tyrant who was thought to have possessed the Hand and Eye of Vecna. And guess what, they found him! Not good, not good at all. If that wasn’t bad enough, the tyrant BBEG wasn’t actually the real BBEG, since it was Vecna himself that was controlling him.

Most sources we looked at had the same line about the battle with Vecna

Finding the tyrant alive, after a fashion, and completely controlled by the Vecna, the ill-prepared Circle of Eight panicked, and was defeated.
Vecna destroyed the entire Circle, save Mordenkainen, who had elected to remain in Greyhawk as a safeguard against just such an occurrence. When news reached the archmage, he mobilized the Circle's allies, and a small cadre of apprentice wizards, former companions, and long-time confidantes embarked on a nearly hopeless bid to thwart Vecna's apotheosis
Circle of Eight; Living Greyhawk #0

That sucks. First off, they knew something was up and they would have been prepared in some fashion. It was seven powerful wizards, most at the height of their powers, who knew something bad was afoot.  Did they expect to run into Vecna, the most feared Lich in all of D&D history? Probably not. But to say that they were ill prepared doesn’t do Bigby, or any of the Eight justice in my opinion.

And so Vecna kills all of them, save Mordenkainen, who stayed behind. He gathers up a bunch of allies and minor magic users and defeats Vecna, hopefully making him gone for good. Again, this stinks. I get that Mordenkainen is the biggest, baddest wizard in D&D lore. But he and some underlings kill Vecna?  There are some references to the demi-god Iuz, yes the same Iuz that barely escaped death at the hands of Bigby, helping, but none of them have been verified. I’m sorry and with all due respect of Mordenkainen, I just can’t see him beating Vecna, not when the next seven most powerful wizards together, no matter how “ill prepared” they were couldn’t. Mordenkainen was able to get some body parts from all his fallen comrades after Vecna’s defeat and he returned home, whereupon he started the process of cloning his fallen comrades. Which makes you wonder why they didn’t do that for Serten.

Cloning takes time, about 2-8 months; and during this time the Greyhawk wars had begun in earnest. Within the 8 months it took to grow Bigby and his friends back, the War had taken a great toll on the land, and the Circle of Eight weren't there to prevent it. Once the clones had fully matured, they did not fight on the front lines, but did pick and choose the fights to take part in, mainly those they thought were of utmost importance. Mordenkainen, Bigby, and Otto fought against the Old One’s army at the Battle of Critwall Bridge. After that, Otto and Bigby left Mordenkainen to do what they could for Bigby’s allies, the Iron League. All the other members fought in various battles also, except for Rary. Citing pressing personal needs, Rary retreated to his tower and refused to come to the aid of his companions.

After the wars had taken a great toll on the land, the political forces of Greyhawk started the process to the end the fighting. A treaty was created, with Bigby and the entire Circle were on hand to make sure that everything with the proceedings went smoothly. However, as they focused their attention on outside saboteurs, they never realized that Rary was planning his attack from within. Rary, along with his allies, including the former Citadel member Robilar, planned his attack for the day of the peace treaty signing. Finding out too late, a great magical battle ensued. In the end, Tenser and Otiluke were killed. Bigby himself was wounded so badly that he too almost died. He attempted to chase Rary, but his wounds were too great and Rary escaped to the Bright Desert.

Bigby returned to Scant, but was later forced out to Veluna by the Scarlet Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is the enemy that most consumes Bigby’s time now, as they currently still occupy Scant, which Bigby considers his true home. Bigby’s other major enemy is Rary, who still lives in the Bright Desert and has started his own kingdom there by conquering the local tribes and nomads that live there; Rary also teleported his tower in Ket to the center of his new founded city. He’s still a member of the Circle of Eight and acts primarily as a diplomat for the Circle.

Finally, one random fact that keeps coming up is that there is a statue of Bigby in Sigil. No one seems to know when it was built or where it came from. Beyond that, all attempts to find more information have ended in dead ends. Nothing like being immortalized in stone at the center of the universe!

All Those Hand Spells

So what’s up with all the Hand Spells? Honestly, we don’t know. Apparently he just liked to create hand spells. There is nothing we can find on why he decided to go the way of the hand, but he sure made a lot of them. The following list is all of the Bigby’s Hand spells through the editions.

Bigby's Clenched Fist
Bigby's Crushing Hand
Bigby's Forceful Hand
Bigby's Grasping Hand
Bigby's Interposing Hand
Bigby's Disrupting Hand
Bigby's Helpful Hand
Bigby's Striking Fist
Bigby's Tripping Hand
Bigby's Warding Hand
Bigby's Battering Gauntlet
Bigby's Dextrous Digits
Bigby's Fantastic Fencers
Bigby's Feeling Fingers
Bigby's Pugnacious Pugilist
Bigby's Silencing Hand
Bigby's Slapping Hand
Bigby's Strangling Grip

In the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, there exists only the one Bigby's Hand spell, though it has combined four effects from the previous "hand" spells into one, which can be chosen while casting and after casting the spell:

Clenched Fist
Forceful Hand
Grasping Hand
Interposing Hand

Now you may think that Bigby has a thing for hands, but his name is not only attached to hand spells, there are other spells that has his name on them:

Bigby's Battering Gauntlet
Bigby's Besieging Bolt
Bigby's Bookworm Bane
Bigby's Construction Crew
Bigby's Fantastic Fencers
Bigby's Force Sculpture
Bigby's Most Excellent Force Sculpture
Bigby's Pugnacious Pugilist
Bigby’s Superior Force Sculpture

For the apprentice of Mordenkainen, he sure had a lot more spells with his name on them than Mordenkainen did. Going into the detail of each spell would take a whole new article, and you can look them up if you are interested in a specific spell. People have strong feelings about his spells, as some feel they are useless and not worthy of a spell slot, while others enjoy the fun things you can do with them, who wouldn't want to smack your enemies around with Bigby’s Slapping Hand? 5e has watered down his spells and that is a shame, because while there were a lot of Hand Spells, some of them were good fun.

So there’s the history of our man Bigby. If you are interested in Bigby’s stats, look below. The first set is just his basic stats from OD&D, with the second set being from 2e.

OD&D

Bigby (from Living Greyhawk #0, Circle of Eight)
Wiz - 19 / HP - 89 / Alignment - N
Str 9 | Dex 17 | Con 15 | Int 21 | Wis 15 | Cha 12.

2e

Bigby (from Vecna Lives, TSR 1990)
18th Level Mage / Neutral / Hit Points - 46
Str: 9, Int: 17, Dex: 17, Wis: 15, Con: 15, Cha: 12
Bigby’s Traveling Spell Book:
(spells/per day)
1st Level (5): Bigby‘s feeling fingers burning hands, charm person, dancing ights, feather fall, hold portal, light, protection from evil, read magic ,spider climb, spook, taunt
2nd Level (5): Bigby’s silencing hand darkness 15’ radius, detect invisibility, ESPfog cloud, glitterdust, levitate, rope trick, shatter, Tasha’s uncontrollable hideous laughter
3rd Level (5): Bigby’s pugnacious pugilist blink, clairaudience. fireball, fly, hold undead, phantom steed, spectral force, wraithform
4th Level (5): Bigby’s Battering Gaunlet, Bugby’s Force Sculpture fear, ice storm, Leomund’s secure shelter, minor globe of invulnerability, monster summoning II, polymorph, solid fog, wall of fire
5th Level (5): Bigby’s fantastic fencers Bigby’s interposing hand, Bigby’s strangling grip, magic jar, stone shape, sum-mon shadow, transmute rock to mud, wall of iron
6th Level (3): Bigby’s forceful hand, conjure animals, death spell, disintegrate, lower water ,part water, Pinser’s transformation, true seeing
7th Level (3): Bigby’s grasping hand, control undead, delayed blast fireball, finger of death, limited wish, power word stun, reverse gravity, teleport without error
8th Level (2): Bigby’s clenched fist, Bigby’s most excellent force sculpturemonster summoning VI
9th Level (1): Bigby’s crushing hand, imprisonment, weird
Magical Items: Bracers of defense AC 5, ring of protection +3boots of striding and springing, ring of mind shielding, wand of fire, wand of frost, scrolls of protection from acid, fire, werewolves, poison, and possession
Description: Bigby is a lean, severe-looking man with brown hair and eyes. Bigby is known for being too nervous, too cautious, and too puritanical. He strongly favors defensive spells and items, believing in safety before attack. He is quick to find fault with little things and can be difficult to get along with. However, his close friends value him for his steadfastness and his sense of humor.

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