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Midnight Circus

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The Midnight Circus is a major villainous organization in White Wolf Studio's roleplaying game franchise, the World Of Darkness. The circus is not confined to any one of the games set in the World of Darkness, instead drawing both its membership and its adversaries from just about every single game on record: entities from Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Changeling: The Dreaming and Wraith: Oblivion are all represented within the ranks of the circus. It is this diversity - combined with its loyal service to the Wyrm, Apophis and other monstrous forces - that makes the Midnight Circus one of the most dangerous groups found in the series.

Purpose

To the general public, Anastagio's Olde-Time Lunar Carnival And Midnight Circus is a legitimate group of entertainers: an old-fashioned circus complete with animal shows, clowns, magicians, freaks, sideshow games and rides, visitors rarely - if ever - notice anything amiss in any of the performances, and few suspect that the managers are interested in anything other than mundane profit. However, this is only because the Circus carefully disguises its true nature with a powerful Glamour Veil, preventing any of the audience members from observing the murder and mistreatment that occurs on a daily basis throughout the show.

In reality, the Midnight Circus is an active force for corruption with the World Of Darkness, and exists solely to spread moral and spiritual pollution by any means available. Every single show, ride, sideshow game or service provided by the carnival has been specifically designed to corrupt human souls, if not simply remove them altogether: in its wake, the Circus leaves a trail of soulless or spiritually-defiled victims, many of whom are driven to criminal acts as a result of their corruption. Whether fragmentary or forfeit, the Circus claims the souls of its audience for its own sinister purposes, usually to harvest their spiritual power; however, the Circus must also pay off its Patrons, and at the end of every last night in town, the representatives of the "Old Shareholders" arrive to collect their cut of the profits.

These shareholders are in fact Apophis and the Wyrm, two powerful evil entities within the World Of Darkness: primordial creatures of perversion and chaos, darkness and destruction, they have sponsored the Circus solely for its ability to spread corruption wherever it goes - and, of course, for its generosity in providing them with more souls to consume.

As such, unlike other villainous organizations like the Sabbat, the Technocracy or Pentex, the Midnight Circus has no grand plan in mind: its only goal is to remain active and continue corrupting the world.

Of course, entities within the Circus may have something else in mind: from the Fifth Circle upwards, almost every single inhabitant of the Circus has a hidden agenda that they will pursue, sometimes to the detriment of their official work. The higher the rank, the more ambitious the agenda: at the Third Circle, for example, Koba the Clown only wishes to destroy Bishop's clown show and take over all comedy acts in the Circus, while in the Infernal Trinity, Astarte hopes to somehow recreate the lost fairy homeland of Arcadia on Earth. Needless to say, Cavendish has the most spectacular ambitions of them all, having plans to remake himself as a god through the power of the carnival.

Structure And Hierarchy

The Midnight Circus is divided into five ranks - called "circles," likely a reference to the circles of Hell found in Dante's Inferno and a further reference to the Circus' infernal patrons. Placement within a Circle refers to an employee's standing in terms of influence within the Circus, not their physical or magical power - though not many especially powerful entities are found among the ranks of the Fifth Circle, of course. A position in one Circle need not be permanent: through trickery, violence and possibly the favor of the Infernal Trinity, many lowly workers have risen to join the upper echelons of the Circus.

The Fifth Circle is the lowest ranking in the Circus hierarchy: the men and women who populate this circle are the dregs of the Midnight Circus, often looked down upon by the other employees; even the inhabitants of the Freak Show regard them with contempt. Carnies who have fallen from grace can be found here, along with performers too dysfunctional to achieve much status, and entities directly enslaved by the Infernal Trinity; their ranks include the brainwashed werebear Dimitri Babinov, the aptly-named Tub Of Flesh, the terminally alcoholic animal trainer Bill Biloc, and psychotic vampire mime Tamiko Tanaka.

The Fourth Circle is the backbone of the Circus: the everyday employees of the Midnight circus can be found here, including riggers, vendors, barkers, ride operators, and other carnival hands. However, the bulk of the performers can also be found here, including clowns, acrobats, sharpshooters, equestrians, storytellers, fortune-tellers, fire-eaters, and many others. Though few of them command any influence, some subgroups can command a certain degree of power - usually by reputation or the favour of the Infernal Trinity: the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, the show's equestrian performers, are greatly feared for their role in hunting down escapees and killing unwanted interlopers; the Hetaerae, the prostitutes of the carnival's secret brothel, command great political influence due to their efficiency in seducing new recruits into the show; and the Freaks are widely feared and respected for their show's tendency to corrupt visitors to their show by presence - and because most of these visitors quickly become freaks in their own right.

The Third Circle consists of individuals who have gained sufficient power within the Circus to command influence and respect; the members of this circle have usually acquired retinues of followers - either sycophantic hangers-on or slaves to their will. Dr Owl and his Museum of Oddities can be found here, as can Koba the Clown, the Cone of Flesh (currently recognized as King of the Freaks), and the Three Mystics.

The Second Circle are the nobility of the Midnight Circus. Populated by long-time survivors of the brutal Circus lifestyle, the members of this circle have all acquired significant power, either through their own efforts or by offering their services to one of the Infernal Trinity. Mr Flint serves as one of the latter, a were-raven currently serving as the Ringmaster's accountant and spymaster; conversely, the vampire necromancer Baroque has been scheming his way up the ranks largely under his own power, and may be in line to replace Calabris himself.

The Infernal Trinity rule the Circus. A tradition almost as old as the circus itself, there must always be three to manage the affairs and mechanisms of the carnival: the Magician commands the Glamour Veil, hiding the true nature of the Midnight Circus from prying eyes with powerful magical illusions; the Opener of Ways allows the Circus instantaneous transportation between grounds and protects the inhabitants from entropy and aging; finally, the Ringmaster manages the day-to-day affairs of the Circus, collects the souls of the audience, and negotiates directly with the "Old Shareholders." As the Opener of Ways ensures that the carnival workers remain effectively immortal, the only way to claim a position in the Trinity is by killing one of its members - as many have in the past.

A Nephandi mage by the name of Devyn Cavendish currently holds the position of Ringmaster, and has so since the 15th century; the Opener of Ways is filled by Astarte, a sidhe noblewoman popularly known as the Autumn Queen; finally, a Toreador vampire known as Calabris serves as the Trinity's magician, though it's implied that he is currently considered a liability and may be in line for assassination - whereupon Baroque will be selected to replace him.

Recruitment

Few, if any, join the ranks of the Midnight Circus by choice: indeed, many of the carnival's current employees were "hired" by means of the Corruption Field, having unwittingly surrendered their freedom to the show after attending one too many performances. Even spies and saboteurs sent by enemies of the Circus cannot resist the effects for long - as Aubrey Dutetre and Orendra Foam-Singer discovered too late.

Within the gamebook, a system of Snares and Barbs exists to measure the exact level of influence the Circus has over a visitor's soul: five Snares add up to a Barb, and five Barbs add up to total ownership of the visitor, as designated by the character being promptly declared an NPC and placed under the control of the Circus, whereupon they are either immediately rendered down into nothingness or press-ganged into the carnival itself. Though just about any venue can give the Wyrm a foothold in a customer's soul, some exhibits are more corrupting than others.

In terms of Snares and Barbs, the Freak Show and the Hetaerae are the most expensive attractions in the entire Circus: a night of pleasure with one of the Hetaerae adds up to three immediate Snares, and the seductive powers of the circus prostitutes ensure that the Barbs add up very quickly. Individuals recruited through the Loft may end up becoming Hetaerae themselves, though they're just as likely to become freaks. Meanwhile, the Freak Show proves corrupting by its merest presence: every single minute that a customer spends at Freak City leaves them with a Snare; worse still, every Barb also disfigures the victim, ultimately transforming them into a new member of the Freak Show.

Of course, the recruiters do not always need to resort to such subtle methods of acquiring fresh meat: over the course of its travels, the Circus has captured and enslaved countless supernatural entities unfortunate enough to cross paths with its servitors. Dimitri Babinov, the Tub of Flesh, Belle Star, and the current inmates of Dr Owl's Museum of Oddities have all been drawn into the ranks of the Circus by force and doomed to a humiliating existence as the slaves of more powerful monsters; those few who manage to escape are often recaptured by the Four Horsemen - or worse still, the Ringmaster himself.

However, the show doesn't acquire all of it's employees through corruption and violence: a large number of exiles, outcasts and fugitives from justice can be found in the first four Circles, all of them joining the ranks of the Circus in the belief that they would be accepted nowhere else. Some of these pariahs, overwhelmed by gratitude, are inclined to ignore the many crimes that the Midnight Circus commits on a daily basis; the more ambitious of them simply dismiss moral concerns as unimportant, being too busy clawing their way up the social ladder to pay much attention to human suffering.

Only a handful of individuals have willingly joined the Circus, and even fewer have done so with full knowledge of its purpose and patrons: these willing converts to the service of the Wyrm number among the most dangerous of all the Circus Folk.

History

From Cara To Corruption

The true age of the group eventually named the Midnight Circus is currently uncertain, though its origins lie in traditions dating back to the dawn of human civilization. Before it became known as the force of corruption it is today, it was actually a relatively benign cult worshiping the ancient goddess Cara, an Incarna of masks and exchange: led by a trinity of high priests known (respectively) as the White Queen, the White Priest, and the Lord of the Rains, the cult primarily consisted of Cara's male worshipers, the White Priesthood - immediately recognized by their white robes and white-painted faces. A primarily itinerant group, the cult would travel the land, curing plagues and cleansing farmland of blights in exchange for an animal sacrifice from the grateful peasantry.

However, the worshipers of Cara eventually got the attention of Namrael the Enochite, one of the earliest vampires - believed to be a daughter of Caine himself. Inspired by the benevolence of the cult, Namrael offered to protect the worshipers of Cara from her fellow vampires and other monstrous creatures; at Cara's behest, Namrael sacrificed her life and blood to strengthen the the cult's magical defences, eventually inspiring the priesthood to replace the Lord of the Rains with the Ruler of the Two Worlds (the two worlds being that of the living and the dead), a position traditionally filled by a vampire.

Unfortunately, the cult's purity didn't last: the cthonic god Apophis, banished from his homeland in Egypt and searching for new means of spreading chaos, bargained with Cara to extend the longevity of her rites in exchange for sacrifices in his name. Cara realized the nature of Apophis too late, for though she was capable of preventing his dark powers from impacting her followers, she could not keep his influence at bay for ever; slowly, the cult was corrupted from within by its own patron. Meanwhile, Rome rose to prominence, and the Dionysian revelries of its inhabitants began to infect the worshipers of Cara from without: her nature as a deity of exchange was twisted out of shape, until the magic of the cult simply began taking whatever it felt it was owed in exchange for its help. Those who the cult "helped" found themselves deprived of what they valued the most - their wealth, their strength, even their faith.

In the reign of Emperor Augustus, the Holy Tree of Cara died following years of spiritual corruption. Stripped of her power, Cara was reduced to a ghostly presence among her followers as Apophis swiftly ascended to the role of the cult's patron deity; frantic, the White Priesthood sought to fight fire with fire by summoning the influence of the Wyrm itself to counter Apophis. However, the two gods of corruption instead joined forces, destroying what little remained of Cara's powerbase and gradually forcing the White Priesthood into the background - until they became little more than clowns. Eventually, the followers of Cara became the Lunar Circus, with the defunct role of White Priest replaced by that of the Ringmaster.

A Trinity Forms

During the Dark Ages, the Circus quickly became known as an enemy of the Church, ultimately becoming the target of a witch-hunt. However, the fair folk were also being targeted for destruction by the Church at this time, and their persecution only encouraged two enemies of the Faith into a powerful alliance: Astarte of the sidhe joined the Circus and used her power to hide them from the witch-hunters, and was made the White Queen as a reward - though the position eventually became known as the Autumn Queen, Opener Of Ways.

Anastagio Salvatorio (later known as Devyn Cavendish) ascended the Infernal Trinity in the 15th century: a rogue mage in the service of infernal powers, he had initially joined the Circus as an apprentice to Carnival Master Mauritius; however, Anastagio proved more adept at dealing with Apophis and the Wyrm, and was able to oust his former master from the position in a humiliating coup, quickly assuming the role of Ringmaster. Forming a dark friendship with Astarte, the Ringmaster and the Autumn Queen easily warded off a takeover by the Trinity's current vampire, swiftly replacing him with Calabris. Since then, the Trinity has remained intact, and further assassination attempts have all failed.

1768 saw the rise of the modern Circus, and it was here that Anastagio's Olde Time Lunar Carnival And Midnight Circus finally took shape as the organization it is today. Though never as large or famous as Barnum & Bailey's circus, it quickly gained a reputation for the high quality of its acts, as well as it's willingness to visit smaller settlements that other carnivals would overlook - not to mention it's distressing tendency to appear entirely unannounced and vanish just as quickly.

Today, the Midnight Circus continues its mission of corruption across the world; whether or not it can be delayed or even shut down for good is up to the players...

Powers and Abilities

Thanks to the patronage of Apophis and the Wyrm, the Midnight Circus has been blessed with many dark powers, most prominently the Glamour Veil and the Corruption Field. Technically the most "visible" of the two, the Glamour Veil prevents outsiders from recognizing the true nature of the Circus, hiding genuine supernatural activity and criminal behavior from the audience - or at the very least, disguising it as part of the show. Under the influence of the Veil, audiences at Koba's Progressive Klown Show will find the sight of the traitor being eaten alive by a bear uproariously funny, assuming it to be black comedy aided by special effects; any players attempting to intervene will be promptly written into the show, tripping up and pratfalling to the accompaniment of sad trombone music.

The Glamour Veil also allows the Circus folk to immediately blend in with the culture and ethnicity of their current showground, allowing them the ability to speak the local language and understand the customs. Though it is not completely immune to insight powers like Auspex (which can allow vampires to see through the Glamour), the Veil also protects the inhabitants from any mental interference; it even has the power to transfer violent visitors into pocket dimensions where they can safely exhaust their destructive impulses.

Meanwhile, the Corruption Field ensures the seduction and perversion of guests, enforcing the system of Snares and Barbs: though Snares fade over time, Barbs remain permanent, allowing the Circus to either use them as pawns outside the showground or just harvest portions of their souls. Under the influence of certain avenues of Corruption, victims may find themselves suffering hideous deformities, going insane, or simply resolving to continue the spread of corruption and death; customers at the shooting range find themselves driven to homicide, often leaving the circus to "settle old scores," which the attendants sometimes encourage by offering them guns on their way out.

Because of the carnival's infernal patrons, the Corruption Field also allows visitors to bargain with them through intermediaries among the Circus workers: theoretically, customers can buy almost anything, though the asking price will usually involve a part of their soul - if not the whole thing. Through Faustian pacts such as these, players can earn new Disciplines, Magic Spheres, Arts or Gifts (depending on their origin) though this once again runs the risk of acquiring new Snares and Barbs.

Outside of the Veil and the Field, the show's membership are possessed of many powerful abilities, including Calabris' discipline of Chimerstry, Astarte's conferred gifts of immortality and teleportation, and Cavendish's skills in the art of time magic.

However, one of the Midnight Circus' greatest strengths lies in its diversity: populated by vampires, mages, shapeshifters, fairies, ghosts and the possessed, the sheer range of powers on offer ensures that homogeneous groups cannot stop them. Player characters drawn entirely from Vampire: The Masquerade, for example, will found themselves just as easily outmatched as a group comprised entirely of changelings; only teams as diverse as the Circus itself can hope to challenge the wildly-varying powers of the Infernal Trinity and their servants.

Weaknesses

Despite its formidable powers, the Circus does have a few vulnerabilities that players can exploit, and though the gamebook warns that it might be difficult to inconvenience and borderline impossible to destroy altogether, possibilities for a hard-won victory do exist.

Though her power has been greatly diminished by Apophis, Cara is still present on the grounds, and maintains a small number of dedicated worshipers within the ranks of the carnies. Through her protection, they can remain free of the Corruption Field's effects and offer various boons to players out to destroy the Circus: in sanctuaries maintained by Cara, players can be healed of their Barbs and injuries, can disguise themselves with illusions, and even access the goddess' knowledge of the past. Unknown to even his compatriots in the Infernal Trinity, Calabris the Magician is actually possessed by Cara herself, driving him to act against his monstrous nature and even commit the occasional compassionate act; though this may eventually drive Cavendish to have the vampire assassinated and replaced by Baroque, the possession may be able to tip the odds in the players' favor.

Though they are undeniably the most powerful of all circus folk, the Infernal Trinity are also a major weakness of the show: they maintain the forces that hold the Midnight Circus together, and without their stabilizing presence, these forces will run amok. Without Calabris (or Baroque) the Glamour Veil will falter, exposing the true nature of the Circus to the audience; without Astarte, the Circus will be left unable to travel safely through realities and open to the effects of entropy; finally, without Cavendish, the "Old Shareholders" will be most displeased at the lack of payment and decide a culling of the ranks is in order. If the players are somehow able to beat the odds and kill all three, the Circus may be left temporarily or even permanently out of commission while the Patrons struggle to find replacements.

Trivia

  • The World Of Darkness canonically ended in 2004 with a series of apocalyptic scenarios bringing to end each major game in the franchise, eventually making way for the New World Of Darkness. However, no canonical end for the Midnight Circus was ever devised, whether in the original gamebook or in the End Times. As with all End Times Scenarios, however, canon is subjective and players may continue playing through the Old World Of Darkness regardless of official decisions.

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