Sit down, children, because this is a long one, even if I am giving the abbreviated version.
Long, long ago, there was a pantheon of deities who had a war over whether or not human beings should be taught magic. The short version is that the god who did want to teach humans magic got into a fight with the goddess who didn't. After being rather handily defeated, the god in question led his followers across the sea to found a new city known as Oranbega, hoping to start fresh in a different land. This worked well enough until the goddess in question, Hequat, decided to chase after her opponents and create an island, Mu, for devoted mystical followers.
Skip past a great deal of backstabbing. The underground city Oranbega and the island of Mu wound up in a long war without any clear victor for a very long time. When Mu finally found itself on the winning side, the ruling council of Oranbega, known as the Circle of Thorns, summoned a demon lord to help turn the tide. Empowered by demonic energies, the Oranbegans slaughtered the Mu in huge numbers, but possessed by a sense of mercy, they refused to make the slaughter complete, helping some of the women and children of Mu escape into the larger world. The demons, who had bargained with the Circle based on the promise that every man, woman, and child in Mu would be killed, decided to retaliate by slaughtering every citizen of Oranbega, leaving the powerful mages to wander the underground city as forgotten and disembodied spirits.
Flash-forward to 1890, when a man named Baron Zoria came onto the scene and founded an organization known as the Circle of Thorns. Again, let me condense a great deal of history and just say that Zoria led his followers to Oranbega, where they assumed the power of that long-forgotten city and sealed themselves therein after several clashes with heroes. When the Rikti attacked and managed to penetrate the protective wards of the city, however, the Circle was forced to begin fighting back. And there are a few more distractions in the world to draw out the minions of the Circle...
Group activities and powers
Remember how some members of the Mu society survived? That blood remains, passed down through generations, scattered throughout the world. The Circle's members, possessed by the disembodied Oranbegans, are trying to find and kill those individuals who carry the blood of Mu. There's still time to free themselves from the contract with the demons if they can fulfill the original terms, after all. Amidst all of that, they still seek greater mystical power, more magical knowledge, and of course more individuals to infuse with a brain slug or Oranbegan spirit.
Of course, while the followers are not precisely Oranbegan, they do possess the spirits of powerful mages, resulting in an army of capable and dangerous casters. They also still have demonic allies and the spectral forces of other Oranbegan sorcerors, resulting in a veritable cornucopia of magical force. Their insidious forces even reach through time and space itself, forcing players to spend money to acquire their new and much snazzier robes.
Baron Zoria, as the earlier paragraphs probably implied, is not really Baron Zoria any longer. The fact is that he's long since been fully possessed by the Oranbegan sorceror Akarist, although it took no small amount of time for that to take place. The precise details of why it took place would add another several thousand words to the column, so for once in my career I'm going to just leave it at the most obvious explanation: A wizard did it.
The other notable member of the Circle isn't really a member so much as a rather sadistic accountant. Lilitu is affiliated with the Circle only insofar as she's trying to make sure it actually does the job right this time around, something it botched pretty badly the first time around. She's also the mother of the hero and trainer Infernal, which comes up during a few missions involving the both of them.
Could I be one?
You can certainly dress up like one, but whether or not you can be one is another story. The Circle of Thorns is sort of the ultimate cult, since you're carrying around a dead spirit, and presumably the dead spirits who would rather just get out of Oranbega and party are not the ones infused into new recruits. Then again, that would make a pretty awesome character concept.
Of course, just because you can't be one of the more possessed members of the group doesn't mean you can't be involved with it somehow. After all, pretty much anything magical has been touched by the Circle at some point, so you can always touch upon its influence in your backstory.
The sad part about the Circle is that it takes so long to get to the coolest part of the group's backstory -- the fact that its members are, essentially, carrying on a war that long since stopped having any relevance to the modern world. It's an idea that appeals to me as a storytelling conceit, and most of what we see of the Circle in the lower levels is pretty much generic cultist nonsense. Kind of disappointing.
Also, new robes. Spiffy.
As always, feedback can go in the comments below or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I want to talk about moral choices, tips, and how well the whole alignment system is actually shaking out after a year in play, unless some other big chunk of news blindsides me.
By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.