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
AD&D 1st Edition
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
- "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.
- 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!
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.
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.
D&D 3rd Edition
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.
- 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 (!).
- 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".
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.
- Duthka'giths: Brutal githyanki shock troops with red dragon blood. Other githyanki resent these creatures and think Vlaakith has strayed from what Gith wanted.
- 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.
Vlaakith has been casting wish spells for 1,000 years, trying to steal the dead god's divine spark and transfer it to herself.
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.
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
To rule Tu'Narath, Zetch'r'r needed Tiamat's help. Tiamat agreed under the condition that he swore loyalty to her.
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
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.