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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Comprehensive Look at the Githyanki

In this article, I am going to examine one of my favorite monsters in D&D - the githyanki. The point of this is to have all the lore in one place, so that if you want to use the githyanki in your campaign, the basic material is all right here at your fingertips. You can pick and choose the stuff that fits your game.

The Githyanki are gaunt, psionic escaped slaves who wander the astral sea hunting mind flayers (their former slave-masters) and warring with their "cousin" race, the githzerai.

I'm not going to discuss the githzerai much. All you need to know is that the githzerai and the githyanki were once the same race (the gith forerunners) but now they hate each other and have opposing philosophies.

There's so much material on the githyanki, I had to pick and choose what to write about. I don't even mention the pirates of gith from Spelljammer, or the gith in Dark Sun in this article. I am focusing on the core material. Otherwise I don't think this would ever be finished!

This blog has a nice list of most of the githyanki appearances in D&D products. It's interesting to me how many people just shun 4e completely. They are missing out on a lot of awesome art and lore, as you will see.

Real Life Origin

Githyanki actually first appeared in White Dwarf Magazine, and were part of the Fiend Folio (a product full of White Dwarf content published by TSR known for it's bizarre monsters, such as the Flail Snail). The creator of the D&D monster, Charles Stross, took the actual name "githyanki" from a novel written by George R. R. Martin. Yep. The Game of Thrones guy. How weird is that?

AD&D 1st Edition

The githyanki were originally "evil humans" enslaved by mind flayers. For centuries, their descendents served the mind flayers. They evolved into the race known as the githyanki, developing psychic powers in secret. Under the leadership of a woman named Gith they fought their way to freedom.

Since that time, they have lived in the astral plane in huge castles. They worship a "...lich-queen said to have powers at the 24th level of magic-use.."

They have a pact with red dragons. The agreement goes like this: Red dragons will act as their steeds when the githynki travel to the prime material plane, and in exchange the githyanki give the dragons shelter, food and treasure in the astral plane.
A 7th level githyanki kight always has a silver sword.

Githyanki Silver Sword
  • A +3 two-handed sword.
  • Has a 20% chance of cutting the silver cord (basically it kicks you out of the astral plane altogether).
  • The swords are sentient, with an INT of 8 and it has "appropriate powers".
  • If a silver sword is stolen, a very powerful raiding party of githyanki will stop at nothing to get it back.
Dragon Magazine #67 - Fedifensor

I didn't even know this adventure existed. It's only about 5 pages, but they packed a lot into it. It has a gigantic backstory. Basically, a monster army attacked a church (of some god named "Amphabese"). A priest sent the magic sword known as Fedifensor into the Astral Plane so it didn't get claimed by the horde. Our heroes have been hired to retrieve it.

Fedifensor can only be wielded by lawful good people. It is a +5 (!) weapon that gives the wielder 50% magic resistance, can dispel magic at will, and does extra damage against demons. Wow.

The heroes search the astral plane for a while. They may encounter a band of githyanki on a void cruiser - a sailing ship with no masts and batwing-shaped sails on either side of the hull.

Eventually they find a githyanki outpost. The sword is here. The githyanki have great names such as: Okemocik, Mimhanok, Perrasourp, Morikemoe and 'Gish' Quazmo.

They have a "net of matter transmission". If the net is thrown on PCs (it is ten feet in diameter), it teleports them to a prison cell called a "suspension cell".

Suspension cells: Prison cells with a magic effect that allows jailers to pass things through the glass.

It's a pretty standard githyanki outpost.

Tales of the Outer Planes
When I was a kid, I saw this adventure in a book store (Walden Books, I think). I wanted this so bad, but I didn't have the money. A few years ago, I finally got it. I started to read it. Major disappointment!

This book is full of "mini-modules" and lairs for DMs to insert into their campaigns. It's all linked together with this "World Serpent Inn" (a "multi-dimensional tavern that exists on every plane") and the godlike bartender named.... Mitchifer. He is basically Santa Claus as a bartender, complete with helper elves who serve the booze.

TSR was so jokey in this era. They put out that Castle Greyhawk parody module, and every year Dragon Magazine would have an April fool's issue which for me was a publication that might as well go straight into the garbage can. What a waste of time and resources! It's one thing to put in a jokey article in each April issue. But to devote an entire magazine every year to Looney Tunes D&D humor is just not my thing

To get in to the World Serpent Inn, you have to knock in the air on an imaginary door and invoke the name of a god. Inside are all sorts of weird creatures, and some of them are gods in disguise "...relaxing safely in the protection of the Inn's powerful magic".

There's an adventure where the PCs go to the astral plane to rescue a wizard. They have to break into a githyanki fortress. Some cool stuff:
  • These githyanki ride nightmares
  • The githyanki play a game called "gith-flay", a game involving small black and white stones, a cup and a sharp knife.
  • The wizard is trapped in a magic gem.
The lair in the back of the book is a short, kind of ridiculous adventure where there's a cave. In the cave are 4 githyanki studying a red dragon egg. A mind flayer pops out of the egg and attacks them. I am not making this up. That is the adventure.

"The conduit in the egg dissipates into the earth along with the yolk once the shell is broken. However, the broken shell pieces are worth up to 2,500 gp to a collector." I am so glad young me never bought this adventure.

AD&D 2nd Edition
Some details and lore have changed from 1st edition:
  • "Gleaming black eyes that betray their inhumanness"
  • They speak their own tongue, and no others.
  • Githyanki knights serve the mysterious lich-queen and have anti-paladin powers (detect good, command undead, etc.)
  • The silver sword has a 5% chance of cutting a cord, now.
  • Once a githyanki hits 12th level, the lich-queen devours their life-force.
  • Githyanki never fight each other.
There's some cool information on Githyanki society. There's different cultural groups:
  • G'lathk: Fungus farmers (there's no sunlight in the astral plane). Sometimes they have massive water-gardens.
  • Mlar: Spellcasters who specialize in architecture and construction.
  • Hr'a'cknir: They collect the weird energies that exist in the astral plane...? OK. Needs more detail!
Dungeon Magazine #43 - Into the Silver Realm

The author of this adventure, Steve Kurtz, wrote so much great stuff for 2nd edition. His work is very lively and smart. This scenario uses a lot of material from the 2e Complete Psionics Handbook, a book which had a profound impact on my campaigns way back when.

This is set in the Forgotten Realms, which is so weird. It is located just north of Waterdeep, the place where The Rise of Tiamat is. I've never been a realms guy, but it is cool to look at this map from 20 years ago and understand what is located just south of it.
I almost don't want to spoil this. Basically, the PCs think they're out to kill a red dragon, but they're actually being chucked into the middle of a dispute between a very clever githzerai and a band of githyanki.

Steve Kurtz does an epic job of using the spells and powers of the game in a logical way:
  • Spell-casting prisoners are kept feebleminded.
  • The person who hired the PCs checks in with them once per day with her crystal ball and uses it's telepathic ability.
  • An NPC scouted out the githyanki lair by polymorphing into an insect.
The heroes find out that the githyanki are working on making a permanent portal to the world. The heroes will need to go through, kill the githyanki, and shut the portal down.

D&D 3rd Edition

This is around the time when, in my opinion, Wayne Reynolds' art got scary-good. He was on fire drawing these githyanki. Even though I am more of a Clyde Caldwell/Larry Elmore guy, to me it is pretty clear that Wayne Reynolds is the ultimate D&D artist.

Anyway, let's see the changes made to the githyanki in 3rd edition:
  • They now know Common and Draconic, in addition to their own secret language.
  • Githyanki wizards are called warlocks and multiclassed githyanki are called gish.
  • They have defined psionic powers that includes blur 3 times a day. Higher level githyanki can use dimension door, telekinesis and plane shift.
  • They have spell resistance.
  • The lich-queen now devours the essence of any githyanki that rises above 16th level.
Silver Swords
  • Now they are +1.
  • "When drawn, the silver sword transforms into a column of silvery liquid, altering the weapon's balance round by round as the blade's shape flows and shimmers." Awesome.
  • If hit by a silver sword, a target must save or lose any psionic abilities for d4 rounds (!).
Dragon Magazine #309 - Incursion

The last 30 pages of this issue of Dragon is devoted to an outline for an entire campaign involving a githyanki invasion. It's pretty epic. That said, the whole thing is sort of vague and overloaded with massive statblocks. The githyanki airships are too sci-fi for my liking (and I am a Spelljammer fan). Here's the gist of it:
  • Levels 1-3: The heroes encounter the githyanki scouts here and there.
  • Levels 4-6: The lich-queen's scouts look for military targets. They raid caravans, cause scandals in temples, sow strife among knightly orders.
  • Levels 7-9: The lich-queen starts sending ships through a gate, assaulting and taking control of a kingdom.
  • Levels 10-12: The githyanki army marches on a larger kingdom.
  • Levels 13-15: The lich-queen names her new Material Plane kingdom "Krr'a'gith'farak".
  • Level 16: Our heroes must go to the astral plane to kill the lich-queen in the adventure called "The Lich-Queen's Beloved".
Dungeon Magazine #100 - The Lich Queen's Beloved

...written by the mighty Chris Perkins! There is a lot going on in this, with major additions to the lore. Let's break it down as best we can.

This adventure is about Vlaakith (a descendent of the original lich-queen. There have been many Vlaakiths). She devours githyanki souls with an artifact called the crown of corruption, tuning them into undead servants:
  • Tl'aikith: Incorporeal githyanki knights wielding spectral swords.
  • Kr'y'izoth: Former warlocks and gish, now entities of flickering black flame in tattered robes.
Vlaakith is now creating new creatures, her "children":
  • Duthka'giths: Brutal githyanki shock troops with red dragon blood. Other githyanki resent these creatures and think Vlaakith has strayed from what Gith wanted.
There's also some new factions within the race:
  • Sha'sal Kohu: Radical githyanki and githzerai who want to re-unify the race! Their greatest ally is a githyanki warlord named Zetch'r'r (we'll see him again in 4th edition).
  • Ch'r'ai: Githyanki spellcasters who think Vlaakith is going to become a god. They want to be her clerics. They are led by a warlock named Xam'kras.
This adventure takes place on Tu'narath, the githyanki city built on a dead god. Dragon put out a web enhancement for it in conjunction with this adventure. I am going to discuss the 4th edition version a little further down.

Vlaakith has been casting wish spells for 1,000 years, trying to steal the dead god's divine spark and transfer it to herself.

This adventure is a gigantic, epic assault on her palace. Her phylactery is guarded by a two-headed red dragon named Dessakrul.

D&D 4th Edition

Check out that githyanki art by Michael Komarck. I figured that nobody would be able to match or top Wayne Reynolds, but Komarck did it, in my estimation.

The 4e githyanki are broken into a few different types/classes:
  • Githyanki Warrior: Has a silver sword, can use telekinesis to immobilize people, and can make telekinetic leaps up to 25 feet.
  • Githyanki Mindslicer: Can make a ranged psychic "mindslice" attack, can make telekinetic leaps and can cause a psychic barrage of damage in an area burst.
  • Githyanki Gish: This elite warrior gets multiple attacks (up to 4 in a round!), can fire off force bolts and can teleport up to 30 feet every round.
They sail the Astral Sea in astral ships, looking for debris of dead gods and shattered realms to add to their own fortresses and hoards. They don't have families, they have military training groups called cadres. The githyanki usually don't know the names of their parents or siblings. The most important thing in their life is their weapon.

Dragon Magazine #377 - Tu'narath, City of Death

This is a large article that details the githyanki city with some awesome art. This is extremely useful to use in conjunction with the adventure "Tyranny of Souls". Tu'narath is the biggest githyanki city, built on the body of a dead god. I don't have much to say about the city details, I just had to include this artistic rendering. Really, really great.

Dungeon Magazine #168 - Tyranny of Souls

This adventure assumes that Vlaakith was killed in Lich Queen's beloved, and that Zetch'r'r now rules. It is part of the Scales of War adventure path. The githyanki are pretty much Tiamat's soldiers throughout the paragon tier. It culminates in this adventure.

To rule Tu'Narath, Zetch'r'r needed Tiamat's help. Tiamat agreed under the condition that he swore loyalty to her.

Zetch'r'r is a puppet of Tiamat and the pact with the red dragons has been broken. Red dragons no longer have to act as mounts of githyanki. With the pact broken, the soul of Gith is free of the grip of the devil Dispater! Gith's spirit enters into the body of a young githyanki, and she wants to lead a rebellion to overthrow Zetch'r'r.

This adventure has some of the best encounters in all of 4th edition. Zetch'r'r transformed the lich-queen's spine into a sort of demi-lich. Vlaakith's Spine killed my entire party! The session report of it is here.

Sheesh... 2010! Hard to believe it's been 5 years.

D&D 5th Edition

I didn't think the art could top 4th edition, but somehow they did it. This is a fantastic depiction of a githyanki.

There's two types of githyanki, Warriors and Knights. Their "psionic powers" are pretty much just spells from the PH labeled as "innate spellcasting". Warriors have misty step, while knights have misty step, plane shift and telekinesis.
  • They go on raids, leaving "...shattered survivors enough food and resources to weakly endure". 
  • Gith perished way back when, and the githyanki are now ruled by Gith's undead advisor, Vlaakith. Vlaakith forbids worship of all beings except herself. So basically, Scales of War never happened. How annoying.
  • Silver Swords are +3 weapons.
  • The bond with red dragons was through some shady deal Gith and Vlaakith made with Tiamat. They actually met with Tiamat in her lair in the Nine Hells (from our good pal Fires of Dis).
  • This is cool: Creatures on the astral plane don't age. So githyanki young are raised in the prime material in military academies. When a githyanki grows up and slays a mind flayer, only then are they allowed to go to the Astral Plane.
And that's where we're at! I know there's a lot more material out there, but I think this covers the basics of what the githyanki are all about.


Timothy Brannan said...

It certainly looks like you left no stone unturned in this. Great retrospective/analysis.

I love seeing how the Githyanki evolved over the years.
I do have to admit that the cover of "Tales of the Outer Plans" is the worst, but loved the art for them in 4e and 5e. Though nothing is quite as iconic as that Fiend Folio cover.

Great job!

Sean said...

Timothy: Thanks! Yeah, the Tales cover isn't the best, but it was kind of badass-looking with the trade dress back in the old days.

Mask said...

The first adventure that comes into my mind when thinking about Githyanki is "Black Spine" from Dark Sun.

It's not much of a ressource for Githyanki however, the city is not described in detail, only the prison and the palace are mapped and there is a short overview for the Quarters of the city.

Sean said...

Mask: I didn't include much on the dark sun gith because I always considered Dark Sun as completely separate from everything else. From what I remember in 2e, Dark Sun was a "closed sphere", inaccessible via spelljammer. I'll check out black spine. Thank you!

Rich Howard said...

Love it! Thanks so much. Just linked it to my recent Tribality post.

Rich Howard said...

Love it! Thanks so much. Just linked it to my recent Tribality post.