Their rivals, the githzerai, don't grab you in the same way. They are thoughtful monks, masters of psionics. It's harder to come up with cool things to do with them. But once I played Planescape: Torment, I had a whole new appreciation for them through the githzerai character, Dak'kon. I would say that Dak'kon is one of the best NPCs I have ever come across in a computer game. Through him, you get an appreciation of the depth of the githzerai lore.
I am going to run down what we know about the githzerai from published D&D products. Then at the end of this article, I am going to write a bit about what Planescape: Torment revealed about the githzerai, which in my opinion shows you how to use the githzerai in a compelling manner.
This is the Story of Gith and Zerthimon
Once her people were free, Gith wanted to lead her people on to further war. Another of her kind, named Zerthimon, did not. In some editions, this dispute led to Gith slaying Zerthimon. In the 4th edition account of this event, Zerthimon defeated Gith in a duel and spared her life.
Whatever the outcome, there was a split. Zerthimon took his people, the githzerai, to the chaotic plane of Limbo. Gith led her people to the Astral Plane. Since that time, both races have waged war against each other as well as the mind flayers.
My Goal: The point of this article is to give DMs a nice foundation of knowledge to work from. If you want to use githzerai in your game, this hopefully will give you a basic idea of what you should know to give your players the "full" and "official" experience. Now, let's go through each edition and see what we can learn about the githzerai.
I am sure there are more D&D products out there with githzerai in them. If I find them, I may come back and update this.
Here's a handy Githzerai Name Generator.
AD&D 1st Edition
The githzerai had their major league debut in the Fiend Folio. The art depicted them with noses. It took me aback when I saw that the githzerai are listed in this book as Chaotic Neutral, as the modern interpretation is that the Chaotic Neutral alignment is for "crazy" people. You'd think they would be Lawful Neutral, which is more befitting of a monk-type.
- The githzerai live in limbo, co-existing with the frog-like slaadi.
- They roam the prime material plane and are at war with the githyanki.
- Githzerai and githyanki are offshoots of the same race that was once enslaved by mind-flayers.
- They fight with silver swords like the githyanki (!), but they have not developed the "special silver swords".
- They are ruled by an undying wizard-king who is a 16th level fighter and a 23rd level magic user.
- They are monastic. Their fortresses on the prime material have adamantite walls and they house about 500 githzerai.
- They have highly-developed psionic powers.
- Their silver swords are two-handed swords +3 and are of religious value.
- They can plane shift to many planes.
- We are told that when Gith freed them from the mind flayers, the githzerai fell sway to the teachings of a powerful wizard who proclaimed himself king - and later, god - of the people.
- Githyanki cities in Limbo hold 100,000 githzerai or more.
- The city of Shra'kt'lor holds 2,000,000 (!). It is where military types plot against the githyanki and the mind flayers.
- The legend of Zerthimon is explained (see above).
- The githzerai sometimes form rrakma bands: 30 to 60 githzerai head out into the planes for three months, hunting mind flayers.
The Planewalker's Handbook
Three Truths: To the githzerai, there are only three truths:
- The githyanki and illithids will never be anything but mortal enemies.
- They will allow nothing to hinder the survival of their race.
- No one will ever enslave them again.
Role-playing Notes: "Everyone you know is a slave - but you won't let the shackles of easy conformity and control wrap their seductive chains around you."
Planes of Chaos
Those who specialize in this activity are known as anarchs or chaos-shapers. Powerful anarchs can maintain entire cities, even when not fully concentrating.
The Wizard-King: The leader of the githzerai is Zaerith Menar-Ag-Gith - the Great Githzerai. A common githzerai saying: "Better the heartfelt devotion of a free soul than the grudging obedience of a slave."
D&D 3rd Edition
We get this quote: "The githzerai's history of imprisonment was the foundation of the monastic lifestyle in which all githzerai learn from childhood how to eradicate potential oppressors and enemies (anyone not a githzerai)."
D&D 4th Edition
Githzerai Cenobite: They have a stunning unarmed strike, and they can focus for a round so that they gain a +5 to hit and an auto-crit on their next attack.
Githzerai Mindmage: They fire off mindstrikes, which do psychic damage and daze their targets. They can also unleash concussion orbs once per encounter, that knock people prone.
The githzerai are officially Unaligned! I know some people hated that, but I always liked the Unaligned option as it ended alignment debates at my game table.
The city of Zerthadlun (new spelling) is described as an austere walled settlement, an oasis of calm where githzerai contemplate order, destiny, entropy and destruction.
Players Handbook 3
We also learn that their commitment to asceticism means that they generally disdain displays of wealth and that githzerai live about as long as humans.
Dragon Magazine #378 - Playing Githzerai
- Githyanki means "Children of Gith"
- Githzerai means "Those who spurn Gith"
Storvakal: A storvakal is a githzerai who meditates in the hopes of leaving the ego behind in exchange for blissful silence. They refer to this as "knowing oneself". They have the power to teleport enemies around, and they can redirect ranged attacks and teleport around.
Manual of the Planes
|Life in Limb...err..the Elemental Chaos|
The Plane Below
There is a great sidebar that discusses Zerthimon's fate. It is known that he trained his monks and led the people and then disappeared. Theories:
- He achieved enlightenment and became an immortal being of pure energy no longer troubled by thoughts of violence against his enemies.
- Others say he simply died and had a grand funeral.
- Others say he became a lich and went into hiding, afraid that if this became known, his people would turn away from his teachings. This theory is offensive to githzerai, especially considering that the githyanki are ruled by a lich-queen.
Sanzerathad is ruled by the leaders of two factions:
- The Blades of Discipline: The protect the physical grounds, patrolling the streets and slaying slaads.
- The Hands of Order: They spend their time meditating, mentally keeping Sanzerathad from physically crumbling apart.
Dungeon Magazine 160
The fortress has a githzerai mind trap that teleports you around to different chambers, a training room with a waterfall and aqueducts, a meditation hall protected by githzerai psionic echoes. It is a pretty great location for you to base a githzerai outpost on.
Dungeon Magazine 164
|The Siege at Akma'ad|
It's a complicated story, but basically the githyanki are working with Tiamat to kill Bahamut. The githzerai oppose them.
There's some NPCs in this who were pretty popular with my group, including Tokk'it (also known as "Hot Tokk'it"). This adventure kicks off with the heroes having a huge airship fight against the githyanki, and then they go on to help defend a githzerai fortress called Akma'ad against a githyanki siege.
They meet a blind githzerai monk named Odos who drinks a lot of fekk - a githzerai hard liquor. He is dour, pessimistic and suspicious. Check out this flavor:
D&D 5th Edition
The githzerai are back in Limbo. "Under the teachings of Zerthimon, who called on his people to abandon the warlike ambitions of Gith, the githzerai focused their mental energy on creating physical and psychic barriers to protect them from attack, psychic or otherwise."
On Zerthimon: "Although Gith won her people's freedom, Zerthimon saw her as unfit to lead. He believed that her warmongering would soon make her a tyrant no better than the mind flayers."
They are lawful neutral. At last!
- Githzerai sayings.
- The Karach (the githzerai's answer to the githyanki silver sword)
- The Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon: The bible of Zerthimon, basically. Yes, the game writes the whole thing out.
- Githzerai always talk about knowing, truly *knowing* things and places: "The city exists, but it does not know itself. In not knowing itself, its existence is flawed."
- Farewell: "Endure - In enduring, grow strong."
- Somber declaration: "In Zerthimon's name."
- There can be no compromise on this: "There cannot be two skies" (this is a reference to what Zerthimon told Gith after the rebellion).
- If someone hits on you: "Is it your will that our two paths become one?"
- None of your beeswax: "Our history does not need to be made known to you. We would bleed to death on time's blade before I recited a fraction of the histories of our people."
- What the githzerai do in Limbo: "There, we mold the matter of Limbo with our minds. We forge cities with our thoughts. In its chaos we dwell, with only our *knowing* to preserve us. We are the githzerai."
This is the githzerai's answer to the infamous silver swords of the githyanki. These weapons are wielded by zerths. The karach is a two-pronged blade, made of some metal whose surface swirls like a film of oil on a pond. The blade shifts with the wielder's temperament.
So, if someone says something your githzerai doesn't like: The weapon suddenly turns a flat black, mirroring the githzerai's icy glare.
Talking to Dak’kon in the game reveals that his karach is shaped and sharpened by his mind. Dak’kon’s blade is somewhat degraded due to a spiritual crisis. The Karach is a status symbol, a window to the soul and a companion. As said in the game:
"It is a mirror that reflects the will of the wielder on its surface and in its edge. When one knows themselves, the blade is strong - harder and stronger than steel. When one does not know themselves, the blade is as water - formless and weak."
In the game, the karach has three forms:
- Low: "Kinstealer"
- Middle: "Chained"
- High: "Streaming"
The game actually writes out all eight circles! The entire teaching of Zerthimon. I have re-typed one circle here as I think it gives you a ton of insight into how to make a githzerai work. This story is about Zerthimon's time as a slave of the mindflayers, farming on a field full of githzerai corpses (the mindflayers had sucked the brains out of their skulls).
"Know that flesh cannot mark steel. Know that steel may mark flesh. In knowing this, Zerthimon becomes free.
Know that the tentacled ones were of flesh. They relied on the flesh and used it as tools for their will. One of the places where flesh served their will was the Fields of Husks on the False Worlds of the Illithids.
The fields were where the bodies of the people were cast after the Illithids had consumed their brains. When the brain had been devoured, the husks came to be fertilizer to grow the poison-stemmed grasses of the Illithids. Zerthimon worked the fields with no knowing of himself or what he had become. He was a tool of flesh, and the flesh was content.
It was upon these fields that Zerthimon came to know the scripture of steel. During one of the turnings, as Zerthimon tilled the fields with his hands, he came across a husk whose brain remained within it. It had not been used as food. Yet it was dead.
The thought that the husk had died a death without serving as food for the illithids was a thought Zerthimon had difficulty understanding. From that thought came a desire to know what had happened to the husk.
Embedded in the skull of the husk was a steel blade. It had pierced the bone. Zerthimon realized that was what had killed the husk. The steel had marked the flesh, but the flesh had not marked the steel.
Zerthimon took the blade and studied its surface. In it, he saw his reflection. It was in the reflection of the steel that Zerthimon first knew himself. Its edge was sharp, its will the wearer's. It was the blade that would come to be raised against Gith when Zerthimon made the Prounouncement of Two Skies.
It was then that Zerthimon came to know that flesh yielded to steel. In knowing that, he came to know that steel was stronger than the illithids.
Steel became the scripture of the people. Know that steel is the scripture by which the people came to know freedom."
In case you're curious, here's a quick synopsis of the other circles (the first circle is just the basic origin of the githzerai).
Third Circle: An illithid called Arlathii Twice-Deceased suspected Zerthimon of being a rebel. Zerthimon endured punishment - he was placed on the pillars of silence and was tortured.
Fourth Circle: A githzerai called Vilquar saw no freedom in rebellion. He became a spy for the illithids, answering to a mind flayer called Zhijitaris. Zerthimon tricked Vilquar into thinking the rebellion was over. Vilquar's "reward" from Zhijitaris was that his brain was eaten, as his usefulness had come to an end.
Fifth Cycle: Zerthimon joined with Gith in the rebellion.
Sixth Cycle: Gith's rebellion was successful. Once they were free, Gith wanted to keep killing illithids, and then bring war to other races:
"In Gith's heart, fires raged. She lived in war, and in war, she knew herself. All that her eyes saw, she wanted to conquer."
Gith said that Zerthimon must obey her. She said, "We must be under the same sky in this matter."
"From Zerthimon came the Pronouncement of Two Skies. In the wake of his words came war."
You know what the pronouncement was, right? Zerthimon told her: "There cannot be two skies."
Seventh Circle: Time is an ally, not an enemy. Patience can sharpen even the smallest of weapons.
Eighth Circle: There is nothing that can stand against unity. A divided mind is one that does not know itself.
What I got from all of this is that the githzerai are philosophers - they seek to understand why their lives have been so hard.
It is revealed in the game that after much contemplation, Dak'kon thinks that Zerthimon is a fraud. He believes that, in the third circle story, when Zerthimon was tortured, he broke under the torturing. He did not endure. Zerthimon became a spy for the mind flayers but got lucky - Gith's rebellion succeeded.
Dak'kon suspects that his "god" and his entire religion might be a lie. And so, his karach wavers. He was one of the people in charge of psychically holding back the chaos in a city in Limbo, and because he was weakened due to not *knowing* Zerthimon, the chaos collapsed in on the city and consumed it during a githyanki assault.
How epic is that?
This completes a trilogy of guides for me. Here are the other two:
A Guide to the Githyanki
A Guide to Mindflayers