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Heirs of Gith
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

C ontinuing the little tour of the planes we started last week, I'll pick up where we left off—in Limbo—and then head into the Astral Plane as we talk about the githzerai and the githyanki.

As with last week, we haven't yet nailed down a direction for the gith races, so I'll be asking some more probing questions in the polls at the end.

A Shared History

True confessions time: This text mostly comes from "Knights of the Lich-Queen," which I wrote for issue 100 of Dungeon magazine.

Long ago, the githyanki and the githzerai were a single race of evil humans who were conquered and enslaved by mind flayers. The mind flayers bred their new slaves to be effective warriors for the mind flayer cause—much like grimlocks now serve the mind flayers as warriors and bodyguards. Through their long years of slavery, the ancestors of the gith races slowly changed in ways both subtle and obvious until they were no longer recognizable as the humans they once were. In particular, they developed their inherent psionic abilities, which led eventually to their liberation.

A psionic foe, no matter how submissive, is a more serious threat to a mind flayer than a nonpsionic one, and the giths were bred as warriors, not meek mindslaves. With the development of their psionic powers, the giths became more difficult to control, and their mind flayer masters grew increasingly brutal in their attempts to keep them subservient and obedient. A number of small-scale revolts arose among the giths as among other populations of slaves, but all were quickly and brutally suppressed.

Then came Gith. Little is known for sure about this heroic woman, despite the wealth of legends told about her among the githyanki to this day. Some tales say that she was a prominent slave to a powerful illithid master, serving as the creature's personal bodyguard; others claim that she was nothing more than a lowly foot soldier and barely more than a child. Whatever the truth, she grew to hate the mind flayers and successfully organized the revolt that liberated her people.

Something about Gith—her great charisma, an ability to form alliances among different groups of rebellious slaves, perhaps the consuming fire of her hatred and rage, or possibly her extraordinary psionic power—made her successful where so many others had failed miserably. Under her leadership, slaves rose up like a mighty wave to sweep away their mind flayer masters. The followers of Gith launched a crusade to topple every mind flayer stronghold and annihilate the illithids.

This crusade, however, was sabotaged by a splinter group led by one Zerthimon, who claimed Gith was leading her people into a new form of slavery, their illithid masters replaced by Gith's new rulership. Civil war replaced the fight against the mind flayers, and the gith peoples—githzerai, the followers of Zerthimon, and githyanki, the "true children of Gith"—were forever sundered.

Githzerai

Medium Humanoid
Alignment: Lawful neutral
Level: By type
Environment: Limbo, any wilderness, or any underground

According to githzerai legend, the prophet or war leader or god Zerthimon challenged Gith's rule of the liberated gith people shortly after they won their freedom from their mind flayer masters. Zerthimon declared that Gith was unfit to lead the people once the rebellion was done, because her hatred and evil made her no better than the illithids they had overthrown. In the resulting civil war, Zerthimon died in a great sacrifice that secured his followers' freedom, forever separating the githzerai from the githyanki to the point where they are now two distinct races (or perhaps subraces).

Githzerai dwell in fortress-monasteries in the chaos of Limbo (or similar planes), a force of stability and order in the midst of the roiling entropy. They live according to a strict rule that dictates sleep schedules, their meals, their martial or magical training, and their times of meditation or worship according to the teachings of Zerthimon.

This strict monastic lifestyle presents the first bit of lore about the githzerai that needs some sorting out. In their original incarnations, despite this rigid life and their ability to become monks, the githzerai were described as chaotic neutral, presumably to match the plane where they dwelled. That changed in 3rd Edition (any neutral), and they were unaligned in 4th Edition. My inclination is to make the race's default alignment lawful neutral to reflect their lifestyle. Share your thoughts in the polls and comments!

The githzerai hate both the mind flayers and the githyanki, and they frequently plan raiding missions to strike against one foe or the other. They often establish smaller monasteries in the Material Plane to serve as launching points for these expeditions—either delving into the Underdark to exterminate mind flayers or warring against a similar githyanki fortress in the world. They hold a special tradition of organizing small teams, called rrakkma bands, to hunt mind flayers. Typically consisting of five to seven githzerai, these bands do not return to their home until they have slain at least as many mind flayers as their own numbers.

Here's a funny thing: For all their rich story background, there's not much to the githzerai as a monster or even a race—the githyanki too, for that matter. Most of their original monster entry points to a creature's class, level, and gear to determine its statistics. They have high Intelligence, Wisdom, and Dexterity, and significant psionic ability. Fighters, wizards (or sorcerers), monks, and multiclass fighter/wizards (which they call "zerths") make up their leadership. Since they usually revere Zerthimon rather than any deity, clerics and druids are all but unknown among them. (Some few githzerai are devoted to gods of thought, learning, or psionic power, such as Zuoken in Greyhawk.)

Githzerai are somewhat resistant to magic, perhaps as a natural quality, possibly as a special psionic ability (like the iron mind power they have in 4th Edition). Their other psionic abilities are largely defensive in nature: Some of them can block physical blows with an inertial barrier, and others rely on a psionic sensitivity to alert them to danger.

In early editions, githzerai fighters used silver swords just like those of the githyanki. Those disappeared in 3rd and 4th Edition, possibly to make the two races more distinct and emphasize the martial-arts tradition among the githzerai. I'm inclined to think that's a good idea—tell me what you think in the polls.

At a superficial level, githzerai look much like humans. They are tall and gaunt, averaging over 6 feet tall but weighing only about 170 pounds. Their skin is yellowish, sometimes shading into brown or green. They have distinctive angular features and pointed ears, deep-set eyes, and flattened noses set high on their faces.

Male githzerai usually keep their heads shaved or tonsured and braided, and they grow controlled facial hair (often a forked goatee with no mustache). Females wear their long hair close to the head in braids or tight buns. Githzerai hair is typically russet, occasionally black or gray. Their commitment to an ascetic lifestyle means that githzerai generally disdain displays of wealth. They wear simple, practical clothing and armor.

The monastic life of the githzerai extends to their general personality traits as well. They seek inner harmony and self-mastery, and believe in personal responsibility and accomplishment. Their social hierarchy is based entirely on merit, and they revere great heroes, leaders, and teachers of the past. They are generally austere, prudent, pragmatic, and tenacious, conservative in speech and emotional expression.

Githyanki

Medium Humanoid
Alignment: Any evil
Level: By type
Environment: Astral Plane, any wilderness, or any underground

After the rebellion of Zerthimon, too weakened by years of civil war to pursue their crusade against the illithids, the githyanki retreated to fortresses on the Astral Plane, where they have lived ever since. Soon after their establishment on the Astral Plane, a wizard named Vlaakith began advising Gith on matters of state. In search of allies, Vlaakith appealed to the dragon goddess Tiamat. Gith herself ventured into the Nine Hells to meet with Tiamat.

Only speculative legend tells what happened in this meeting, but the results are well documented. Though Gith has not been seen since, Ephelomon—a fiendish red dragon who serves as one of Tiamat's consorts—traveled to the Astral Plane to give Vlaakith word of the agreement that had been reached. To aid the githyanki in their unending mission of conquest, red dragons would forever be the allies of the githyanki race. In addition, Ephelomon proclaimed that Gith had named Vlaakith as her successor, to lead the githyanki and carry on Gith's legacy of conquest. He would not say what happened to Gith.

Githyanki live in great castle-cities that float through the Astral Plane, sometimes built upon the forgotten astral remains of long-dead divine entities. Each city is ruled by a tyrannical "supreme leader," a fighter or fighter/wizard who rules with absolute authority in the name of Vlaakith. Vlaakith has become as much a title as a name; the current Vlaakith is an incredibly powerful lich-queen who rules the githyanki from her palace in the great city of Tu'narath. Githyanki also frequently build outposts on the Material Plane, from which they launch assaults against mind flayers or any other races that live nearby, driven by their racial need for conquest.

The githyanki culture is built around unceasing warfare. They lavish attention on the construction and decoration of weapons and armor, paying much less attention to any other ornamentation. Fundamentally, they are a predator race, surviving in the desolate Astral Plane by raiding and pillaging members of other races, including settlements on the countless planes that border the Astral. Further, they carry a burning hatred both for the mind flayers who enslaved their ancestors and for the githzerai, whom they do not even honor with Gith's name (calling them simply zerths, Zerth-lovers, or betrayers of Gith). When they are not raiding for essential supplies, they carry out assaults on their hated enemies. Like the githzerai, they form ritualistic bands to hunt illithids—for the githyanki, it is a rite of passage into adulthood, cementing each githyanki's place in the history of the people as they participate in a small-scale reenactment of Gith's war of liberation.

Githyanki are almost uniformly evil, though individuals might be lawful, chaotic, or neutral in bent. Their society is focused toward ends of hatred and death, with its militaristic regimentation balanced by a strong ethic of personal freedom and individual accomplishment. They are sharply divided into castes based on each individual's function within githyanki society: githwarriors (including fighters and other martial combatants), knights (blackguards or evil paladins in the service of the lich-queen), warlocks (including wizards and sorcerers as well as warlocks), "gish" (multiclass fighter/wizards or similar class pairings), mlars (magical artisans who use arcane magic to craft items and shape stone), and hr'a'cknir (including healers, seers, caretakers, and others who harness the magical energies of the Astral Plane for ends not directly aimed at warfare). The lich-queen does not tolerate the worship of any god among her people, demanding their absolute devotion, so clerics and druids are unknown in githyanki society.

Like the githzerai, there's not much in the way of game mechanics that really sets the githyanki apart. They have high Intelligence, Dexterity, and Constitution, and they have powerful psionic ability. They lack the magic resistance of their githzerai cousins, and in general they have psionic abilities that are more offensive in nature—slicing at opponents' minds, dazing them with psychic energy, or empowering tremendous leaps into battle.

Githyanki knights are famous for their silver swords—magic greatswords that have the ability to sever the silver cord of an astral traveler. These weapons attack a target's mind as well as its body, dealing psychic damage and slashing damage with a single blow. The most powerful knights, supreme leaders of a city or fortress, carry silver swords that are also vorpal weapons.

Githyanki appear superficially human, similar in size and proportion. They are tall and gaunt, averaging 6 1/4 feet tall and typically weighing around 170 pounds. They possess rough, leathery skin that is pale yellow in color, and they have red or black hair that is often pulled into one or more topknots. Their black eyes are sunken deep into their long, angular skulls, their noses are small and highly placed, and their ears are pointed and serrated in back. They enjoy elaborate dress and baroque armor.

Githyanki are a living contradiction: ruthlessly cruel and sadistically violent toward almost all nongithyanki, but unfailingly polite, respectful, even refined among their own kind. The key to this paradox is their self-identity: The githyanki have never forgotten that they were slaves of the mind flayers for generations, and they blame everyone but themselves for that fact. A thousand years of hatred and resentment has corrupted the entire culture of the githyanki into a seething cauldron of violence directed toward anything that is not included in their own circle of fellows.

What Do You Think?

And there are the twin races of the gith. Again, the polls this week aren't so much about how we're doing but about where we should go from here.

  Overall, how does my description of the neutral, monastic githzerai fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—This is vile illithid propaganda.
2—There are bits of truth scattered amid the lies.
3—Like order within the chaos, there is a balance of truth and falsehood here.
4—You begin to understand the greatness of the githzerai.
5—Zerthimon is pleased.

  Do you think githyanki and githzerai should be playable races?  
Just githzerai, not githyanki.
Just githyanki, not githzerai.
Both, as two distinct races.
Both, as a single race with two subraces.
Neither.

  What should the default alignment of the githzerai be?  
Chaotic neutral, as it was in the beginning.
Any neutral, as in later editions.
Lawful neutral, to reflect their monastic society of order in the midst of chaos.

  Should githzerai fighters use silver swords, or should that be a githyanki thing?  
No, save it for the githyanki.
Sometimes, but they’re inferior to githyanki swords.
Yes, just like the githyanki.

  Overall, how does my description of the evil, marauding githyanki fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—This is vile illithid propaganda.
2—There are bits of truth scattered amid the lies.
3—Your life may be spared if you correct your ignorance.
4—You begin to understand the greatness of the githyanki.
5—Vlaakith approves.

  What do you think about crazy, apostrophe-filled githyanki names like hr’a’cknir and Tu’narath?  
Change them so I can read and pronounce them!
Leave them as is. I like the exotic feel.
Tu’narath should have at least two more apostrophes.

  What makes a monster or race power feel psionic to you?  
Mind reading and other telepathic elements.
Telekinesis—moving stuff around.
3—Your life may be spared if you correct your ignorance.
Mental assault like a mind flayer’s blast or a single-target attack that dazes and/or does psychic damage.
Mind reading, telekinesis, and mental assault.
Pseudo-scientific names like inertial barrier or molecular agitation, even if the effects are just like shield or heat metal.
Ectoplasm! Dripping gooey stuff all over the place.
All of the above.

Previous Poll Results

Do you think this description of modron society and hierarchy is the right direction to pursue?
1—No, the game just doesn't need modrons at all. 149 10.0%
2—No, you need to work harder than that to sell me on these guys. 81 5.5%
3—I guess it makes sense, but it's hardly compelling. 282 19.0%
4—Yeah, it's the way a lawful neutral society should be. 495 33.4%
5—Yes, these are the right and proper modrons. 477 32.1%
Total 1484 100.0%

What do we do with modron appearance?
Embrace the goofy polyhedrons and tentacle things! 385 25.8%
Try to make the same basic ideas look cool. 551 36.9%
Totally reconcept the modrons' appearance. 556 37.3%
Total 1492 100.0%

What do you think about modron emotions, individuality, and hive mind?
Modrons should be virtual automatons, part of a hive mind with no emotions or sense of self. 82 5.8%
Modrons should be part of a perfectly ordered society where 'we' is the only first-person pronoun, serene and tranquil if not totally emotionless, but able to think and act with flexibility. 277 19.6%
Modrons should be individuals with a lawful nature who choose to live together in an ordered society but sometimes rebel against it, particularly if it swings too far toward good or evil. They have emotions and as much a sense of self as other creatures do. 198 14.0%
Use the first option for base modrons (virtual automatons) and the second option for hierarch modrons (tranquil society). 311 22.0%
Use the first option for base modrons (virtual automatons) and the third option for hierarch modrons (lawful individuals). 154 10.9%
Use the second option for base modrons (virtual automatons) and the third option for hierarch modrons (lawful individuals). 393 27.8%
Total 1415 100.0%

Do you think we should pursue the direction of making slaads more like aberrations—emphasizing alien powers and body horror?
No, make them fiends—I want more demonic options for my game. 43 2.9%
No, emphasize their randomness instead. 386 26.1%
They make perfectly good aberrations as they are, without emphasizing that direction. 336 22.7%
Yes, make their magic abilities feel more psionic and play up the corrupting transformation angle. 713 48.2%
Total 1478 100.0%

Should slaads have lords, like Ssendam and Ygorl (described in the original Fiend Folio)?
No, they're creatures of chaos, for Pete's sake! 259 17.1%
Sure, there can be super-powerful slaads without establishing a lawful hierarchy. 963 63.5%
Yes! Ssendam and Ygorl are an important part of the game's history. 295 19.4%
Total 1517 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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