Mythological Figures: Circe (5E)

We’re back in Ancient Greece for today’s Mythological Figures post with Circe, transmuter of men and one of the truly unique antagonists in The Odyssey.



While ashore on the island of Aeaea some of Odysseus’ sailing crew went inland and found a mansion where a beautiful woman treated them to a fine meal. The feast was drugged however and before they knew it, she’d changed them all into beasts (depending on which translation you look at it’s usually hogs). Odysseus came to look for his sailors but Hermes stops him along the way, giving crucial advice on behalf of Athena that keeps the epic poem’s hero safe from the oceanid nymph’s wiles. All the same he stays with Circe for an entire year before setting off again, given special directions to hasten his journey back to Ithaca (how to navigate either between the monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, or the route he took: through the Wandering Rocks of Planctae) and how he can reach the Underworld.

There’s no proper nymph for 5E (making an oceanid out of the question) so I’m taking a page out of the Epic Monsters playbook: converting the statblock from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Bestiary 4 with some extra bells and whistles specifically for Circe (for a standard oceanid nymph, drop the Sleeping Brew and Transformative Wand traits, and reduce Challenge Rating to 6).

Circe

Medium fey, chaotic neutral

Armor Class
16 (natural armor)
Hit Points 95 (10d8+50)
Speed 25 ft., swim 60 ft.

STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
14 (+2)​
19 (+4)​
20 (+5)​
14 (+2)​
19 (+4)​
21 (+5)​

Skills Animal Handling +7, Athletics +5, Insight +7, Intimidation +8, Nature +5, Perception +7, Persuasion +8, Stealth +7
Damage Vulnerabilities fire
Damage Resistances cold; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons not made from iron
Damage Immunities acid
Senses darkvision 120 ft., tremorsense 30 ft. (water only), passive Perception 17
Languages Greek, Sylvan
Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)

Amphibious. Circe can breathe both air and water.

Innate Spellcasting. Circe’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 16; spell attack +8). She can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components, as long as she is in the ocean or within 1 mile of the ocean.
Constant: speak with animals (sea creatures only)
At will: create or destroy water, water breathing, control water
3/day: conjure animals (sea creatures only), conjure minor elementals (ice and steam mephits only), gust of wind
1/week: control weather

Regeneration.
Circe regains 10 hit points at the start of her turn if she has at least 1 hit point and is in contact with saltwater.

Sleeping Brew. Circe can spend 1 minute preparing a tasteless liquid able to put those who drink it asleep. Any creature that drinks her concoction makes a DC 16 Constitution saving throw 1 minute afterward. On a failure, the creature falls unconscious for 1d4 hours, until it takes damage, or until someone uses an action to shake or slap the creature awake.

Transforming Wand. Circe possesses a very special wand of polymorph with 13 charges. While holding it, she can use an action to expend 1 of its charges to cast the polymorph spell (DC 16 Wisdom saving throw) from it, transforming one target humanoid into a beast. Unlike normal castings of the spell, the effect lasts for 24 hours, at which point a target can attempt a new save. After two failed saves, a polymorphed target is permanently transformed into its new form. The wand regains 2d6 expended charges daily at dawn. If the wand’s last charge is expended, roll a d20. On a 1, the wand crumbles into ashes and is destroyed. Any creature that has consumed the herb moly is immune to the effects of Circe's Transforming Wand for 24 hours.

Water Telekinesis. While Circe is in contact with a body of water she can manipulate the water around it as if under the effects of the telekinesis spell without the need for concentration. This includes her waterspout attack (and when outside of water she cannot use it).

Waveglide. An oceanid can create waves and currents to double or halve the speed of creatures or objects traveling on the surface of the water, affecting up to 100 contiguous 5-foot squares in a shapeable area (typically enough for one warship or two small sailing ships). This ability has a range of 1,000 feet, requires line of effect to some part of the area, and lasts as long as the oceanid concentrates. An unwilling target can ignore the effect for 1 round by succeeding at a DC 16 Charisma saving throw.


ACTIONS

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4+2) bludgeoning damage.

Waterspout. Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 100 ft., one target. Hit: 26 (6d6+5) bludgeoning damage.
 
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Mike Myler

Comments

dave2008

Legend
Another nice entry - thank you. I'm not sure how you figured her CR, but it must been difficult with a very low DPR
 

Kobold Stew

Adventurer
What you have here would be a really interesting NPC/opponent, but I don't see the connection with Homer's Circe at all.

In the Odyssey, Circe has nothing to do with the water, except for the fact she lives on an island. She's the daughter of an Oceanid, but not one herself (in the same way, having a Nereid as a mother does not make Achilleus a Nereid, nor a god).

So the swim speed, fire vulnerability, acid immunity, Amphibious, Regeneration, Waveglide, water Telekenesis, and Water Spout have no basis I can think of (based on Odyssey, Hesiod, Apollonius).

Somnambulatory Brew is perhaps what Helen makes in Odyssey 4, but not Circe. (and why somnambulatory? What does it have to do with sleepwalking?)

The innate spellcasting list is also a bit odd, given you tie her directly to Homer. There is evidence for Speak with Animals, Animal Friendship, Dominate Beast, etc., but not for controlling the weather or speaking to sea creatures exclusively, or water breathing, or elemental summoning.

Finally, the one ability she does have, polymorph, is not innate but ascribed to a wand, and the explicit resistance to it (the herb moly) is not mentioned.
 

dave2008

Legend
What you have here would be a really interesting NPC/opponent, but I don't see the connection with Homer's Circe at all.

In the Odyssey, Circe has nothing to do with the water, except for the fact she lives on an island. She's the daughter of an Oceanid, but not one herself (in the same way, having a Nereid as a mother does not make Achilleus a Nereid, nor a god).

So the swim speed, fire vulnerability, acid immunity, Amphibious, Regeneration, Waveglide, water Telekenesis, and Water Spout have no basis I can think of (based on Odyssey, Hesiod, Apollonius).

Somnambulatory Brew is perhaps what Helen makes in Odyssey 4, but not Circe. (and why somnambulatory? What does it have to do with sleepwalking?)

The innate spellcasting list is also a bit odd, given you tie her directly to Homer. There is evidence for Speak with Animals, Animal Friendship, Dominate Beast, etc., but not for controlling the weather or speaking to sea creatures exclusively, or water breathing, or elemental summoning.

Finally, the one ability she does have, polymorph, is not innate but ascribed to a wand, and the explicit resistance to it (the herb moly) is not mentioned.
I'm glad you clarified, I was think I had completely missed something. Of course the last time I read any of the Odyssey was about 26 years ago.

So, while not faithful to the source material - it is an interesting statblock
 

Kobold Stew

Adventurer
:D Read it again!

There's a number of new translations. Emily Wilson's is getting a lot of really good press; she's now working on an Iliad.
 

dave2008

Legend
:D Read it again!

There's a number of new translations. Emily Wilson's is getting a lot of really good press; she's now working on an Iliad.
I should have re-read it when my son was reading for school. Oh well, I will have to pick it up - thanks!
 

Mike Myler

Adventurer
Nice. Would make for a very interesting stop over in any campaign. Thanks Mike.
*tips hat*


Another nice entry - thank you. I'm not sure how you figured her CR, but it must been difficult with a very low DPR
It was a toss-up and I rounded up a bit for her transforming wand. I've started balancing the results from Blog of Holding's Monster Manual breakdown and the actual rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide.


What you have here would be a really interesting NPC/opponent, but I don't see the connection with Homer's Circe at all.

In the Odyssey, Circe has nothing to do with the water, except for the fact she lives on an island. She's the daughter of an Oceanid, but not one herself (in the same way, having a Nereid as a mother does not make Achilleus a Nereid, nor a god).

So the swim speed, fire vulnerability, acid immunity, Amphibious, Regeneration, Waveglide, water Telekenesis, and Water Spout have no basis I can think of (based on Odyssey, Hesiod, Apollonius).

Somnambulatory Brew is perhaps what Helen makes in Odyssey 4, but not Circe. (and why somnambulatory? What does it have to do with sleepwalking?)

The innate spellcasting list is also a bit odd, given you tie her directly to Homer. There is evidence for Speak with Animals, Animal Friendship, Dominate Beast, etc., but not for controlling the weather or speaking to sea creatures exclusively, or water breathing, or elemental summoning.

Finally, the one ability she does have, polymorph, is not innate but ascribed to a wand, and the explicit resistance to it (the herb moly) is not mentioned.
As always it's great to get your feedback sir!

Circe's the daughter of a nereid and a god (Achilles/Achilleus is the son of a nereid and human). So she's either a demigod or a nereid. She's often referred to as a nymph and I went with that as there's absolutely precedent for it and I've always thought about her reluctance to leave her home at all to be strange.

Got my words mixed up and suppose a more mundane word suffices (changing it to Sleeping Brew). Circe definitely drugs a bunch of sailors and needs mechanics reflecting that.

Per innate spellcasting - As mentioned above this is a conversion of a Pathfinder RPG statblock appropriate to the race I've ascribed to Circe here (an oceanid nymph). Because you don't see the dragon breathe fire doesn't mean it can't breathe fire. Odysseus frequently encounters and interacts with creatures far more powerful than him and while sometimes we see that, I believe that we don't always have it spelled out for us (and that this woman getting away with drugging people on the regular and turning them into animals probably has tricks up her sleeve).

The inclusion of an herb gifted to Odysseus by a god specifically to counteract her drugged wine seems super specific to him and his story, but sure--caveat added. Translations I've read and am looking at now refer to Circe's wand many times (specifically when doing the transforming people into animals thing) so I feel okay with leaving it as the object that grants her polymorph.

Thanks again for clarifying! :D
 

Kobold Stew

Adventurer
Thanks for all of this.
Circe's the daughter of a nereid and a god (Achilles/Achilleus is the son of a nereid and human). So she's either a demigod or a nereid.
It doesn't necessarily work that way in the world of myth, unfortunately (Zeus is the child of two Titans, but isn't a Titan, but a god). And while Hesiod has a sense of a demigod, Homer does not.

Odyssey 10.136 does call Circe a god. You can do with that what you want. My point was about the water-theming, which may be in the Pathfinder thing (I don't know that), but isn't part of her ancient characterization.

(And to be clear, there's nothing wrong with making changes and innovate, but if you want Homer's Circe (or Apollonius' -- the only two detailed portraits we have), it's not there.)

She's often referred to as a nymph and I went with that as there's absolutely precedent for it and I've always thought about her reluctance to leave her home at all to be strange.
That's not something that's struck me, but it's an interesting observation.

Per innate spellcasting - As mentioned above this is a conversion of a Pathfinder RPG statblock appropriate to the race I've ascribed to Circe here (an oceanid nymph). Because you don't see the dragon breathe fire doesn't mean it can't breathe fire. Odysseus frequently encounters and interacts with creatures far more powerful than him and while sometimes we see that, I believe that we don't always have it spelled out for us (and that this woman getting away with drugging people on the regular and turning them into animals probably has tricks up her sleeve).
Fair enough.

The abilities to summon/tame/communicate with wild animals could be mapped onto something with the spellcasting abilities of a Druid 11, or by a Ranger with multiple beast companions, or by a number of innately-castable spells, or other ways.

My point was that there is evidence for taming wild (land) animals but not the water emphasis.

The inclusion of an herb gifted to Odysseus by a god specifically to counteract her drugged wine seems super specific to him and his story, but sure--caveat added.
Agreed.

It's a weird word (possibly derived from Sanskrit, used only in this context) that may point to the earliest element of the story. Later authors tie it to garlic, for whatever that's worth.


Translations I've read and am looking at now refer to Circe's wand many times (specifically when doing the transforming people into animals thing) so I feel okay with leaving it as the object that grants her polymorph.
Fair enough: Od. 10.237-8 describes the process, and it is clearly a combination of the potion and her wand. The question (in D&D terms) is whether it's her ability or the wand's -- would someone else with her stick have that ability? (or, is it a magic item, or a material component of her spell). I'd say no (and that Odysseus just doesn't abandon a magic item when he leaves the island), but YMMV.
 

Mike Myler

Adventurer
Thanks for all of this. It doesn't necessarily work that way in the world of myth, unfortunately (Zeus is the child of two Titans, but isn't a Titan, but a god). And while Hesiod has a sense of a demigod, Homer does not.
The Titans and Olympians are all gods. When a god pairs with a lesser creature (mortals usually but also nymphs and such right?) the thing that comes out is usually not a god. Demigod absolutely, but not a full on god. Because Circe has one mortal (or nigh-mortal) parent that's what makes sense to me for determining what kind of creature she is.

Odyssey 10.136 does call Circe a god. You can do with that what you want. My point was about the water-theming, which may be in the Pathfinder thing (I don't know that), but isn't part of her ancient characterization.

(And to be clear, there's nothing wrong with making changes and innovate, but if you want Homer's Circe (or Apollonius' -- the only two detailed portraits we have), it's not there.
If you can tell me what Circe is the goddess of (ie her domain) I'll figure on how to make her a full-on god instead of a(n ocean) nymph. In my readings I've never spotted a portfolio to associate with Circe so to me when they refer to the "goddess with a dread voice" etc. it's about her being very attractive and bewitching, not an allusion to full-on divinity.

The abilities to summon/tame/communicate with wild animals could be mapped onto something with the spellcasting abilities of a Druid 11, or by a Ranger with multiple beast companions, or by a number of innately-castable spells, or other ways.

My point was that there is evidence for taming wild (land) animals but not the water emphasis.
Druid ascribes a wider range of powers and abilities than I thought appropriate to ascribe without some existing justification (as in the build above where extraneous powers are drawn from her race) so I avoided that, but ranger might work (favored enemy human, obviously).

Fair enough: Od. 10.237-8 describes the process, and it is clearly a combination of the potion and her wand. The question (in D&D terms) is whether it's her ability or the wand's -- would someone else with her stick have that ability? (or, is it a magic item, or a material component of her spell). I'd say no (and that Odysseus just doesn't abandon a magic item when he leaves the island), but YMMV.
I don't think it's clearly a combination, I think it just makes sense to drug all the people you're about to do |horrible permanent things| so it's less likely someone will interfere with your malevolent activities.
 
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Variss

Explorer
In addition to recent translations of the Odyssey, there is an amazing novel by Madeline Miller, titled Circe. It is a re-imagining of the myths, re-imagining them as links between other elements of the Odyssey, as well as the plays Medea, and the myths surrounding Crete (Theseus, Deadelus, etc.). http://madelinemiller.com/circe/
 

Mike Myler

Adventurer
Fair enough: Od. 10.237-8 describes the process, and it is clearly a combination of the potion and her wand. The question (in D&D terms) is whether it's her ability or the wand's -- would someone else with her stick have that ability? (or, is it a magic item, or a material component of her spell). I'd say no (and that Odysseus just doesn't abandon a magic item when he leaves the island), but YMMV.
I don't think it's clearly a combination, I think it just makes sense to drug all the people you're about to do |horrible permanent things| so it's less likely someone will interfere with your malevolent activities.
This has got me pondering if creatures that are asleep from the Sleeping Brew should have disadvantage on saving throws to resist polymorph effects and maybe just autofail if targeted by her wand...
 

Kobold Stew

Adventurer
The Titans and Olympians are all gods.
<snip>
The points you raise are all part of why trying to replicate what is in the literature is such a problem. Even taking up the term "demigod" (Gk. hemitheos) means you are using a term that isn't Homeric.

There's some slippage in how we've been using the term "god" so let's be more precise.

A being can be immortal. On the most basic level, that distinguishes "gods" from mortals. It's probably the only consistent quality of those Homer labels theoi. (Though of course many heroes can be "godlike'). In this context, I don't know what "nigh-mortal" means.

A being can receive cult worship. This is what you're talking about when asking what Circe would be the god of... It's only relevant if she is reeiving worship within a public context. Though we don't phrase it that way, that's the way most people thing of "the gods" in a polytheistic system, and why (for example) immortal nymphs would not be gods but Hermes would be. (Though even then, there are various cults to the nymphs...). This is the category you are calling "full-on divinity", and I am suggesting that the qualification is not operating as you believe.

There is overlap between those two sets, and Circe is immortal, but does not receive cult worship (to my knowledge).

None of this affects the description of Circe, however. She casts spells (you can disagree about how important the potion is; ultimately that doesn't matter). She exists in a magical world where the wild has been tamed. And she has nothing to do with being an aquatic or Oceanic being, the way Thetis or the Nereids are (Thetis emerges out of the waves in Il. 1 and 18, for example).

Hope this helps.
 

SuperSam888

Villager
Kobold Stew does raise some good points, but I gotta agree with Mike on this one. And at what point does wanting accuracy become nitpicking.
 

SuperSam888

Villager
I have some ideas for characters to do in Mythological Figures.
Hercules
Sinbad the Sailor
Dorian Gray
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Peter Pan
Maui
Vlad Tepes
King Solomon
Richard the Lionheart
Triton
David (As in David and Goliath)
Boudicca
Genghis Khan
Queen Tamar
Beowulf
John Dee
Montezuma II
Hernan Cortez
Robin Hood
John Henry
Paul Bunyan
Romulus
George Washington
Nymue, Lady of the Lake
 

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