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The githyanki (sing & pl; pronounced: /gɪθˈjænki/ gith-YÆN-kee listen or: /gɪθˈjɑːŋki/ gith-YANG-kee listen) were a race of Astral Plane-dwellers. Survivors of a long enslavement by mind flayers, they became ruthless pillagers and raiders of many worlds in the Prime Material plane.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Description
- 3 Abilities
- 4 Personality
- 5 Combat
- 6 Ecology
- 7 Society
- 8 History
- 9 Notable Githyanki
- 10 Appendix
Like all gith, githyanki were tall and slender humanoids with rough, leathery yellow skin and bright black eyes that were sunken deep in their orbits. They had long and angular skulls, with small and highly placed flat noses, and ears that were pointed and serrated in the back side. They typically grew either red or black hair, which they styled in topknots. Their teeth were pointed.
As a result of their long period of enslavement and manipulation by the mind flayers, all githyanki possessed psionic abilities. They were all capable of minor telekinesis in a similar fashion to the mage hand spell and could also hone their abilities to become capable of innately casting jump and misty step.
Githyanki were typically cruel, arrogant, and aggressive. The few exceptional individuals who deserted from the rigid githyanki militaristic society tended to develop a disdain for rules. The high value they placed on individuality also caused them to become ambitious and self-centered. They were also known for their long memories.
Even the most open-minded githyanki came across as smug, sarcastic, rude, and overconfident, but they were generally capable of withstanding adversity without complaining. Clever and resourceful, githyanki adventurers were not known for their loyalty or ability to make new friends, but they were extremely persistent in the face of danger. Although rare, it was possible for githyanki to become disillusioned with their people's unsavory habits and to try to set up a reputation on their own acts.
As a result of their long-lasting presence in the Astral Plane, where time did not pass, the githyanki developed a decadent lifestyle, picking up hobbies, arts, and studies in an endless search for novelty. After centuries, they developed a hollow culture of shallow and unfinished undertakings, never truly mastering any task or seeing any personal project to completion. This constant interest with novelty also reflected in their dressing style: githyanki were fond of collecting and wearing extremely ornate and elaborate tokens of their defeated foes. It was common for their armor and weapons to be overly decorated with gems, feathers, precious metals, and other ostentatious ornaments.
In accordance with their culture of combat, the githyanki were merciless warriors. They excelled at blending their psionic abilities with their combat skills, in an effective and deadly combination. Typical githyanki warriors, sometimes referred to as "githwarriors", had the ability to innately reproduce the effects of the mage hand, jump, misty step, and nondetection spells, while the more powerful knights were also capable of plane shifting and telekinesis.
Githyanki military hierarchy was divided in companies of ten warriors, each led by a sarth. Each group of ten sarths was in turn supervised by a kith'rak, and every group of ten kith'raks was led by a "supreme commander". At the top of the hierarchy stood the leader of all githyanki, Vlaakith.
Knights were among the most influential githyanki and stood outside of the military hierarchy. Their deadliest weapons and a signature of githyanki culture were their silver swords, which were wielded by every knight. Silver swords damaged the opponents' minds as well as their bodies, and, in the Astral Plane, were capable of severing the silver cord that connected the soul of a traveler using the astral projection spell to their body in the Material Plane. These weapons were treasured by all githyanki, who relentlessly pursued any outsider who wielded them.
Githyanki who honed their psionic skills as well as combat were known as gish. They were typically employed as assassins and spies and were capable of casting spells such as fireball, magic missile, counterspell, and haste, among others.
Githyanki were similar to humans in many superficial respects, but generations of experimentation at the hands of mind flayers, as well as prolonged exposure to the Astral Plane, generated noticeable differences in their physiology, in addition to their innate psionic abilities. As a result of spending long periods of time without consuming food, their digestive systems had atrophied. For that reason, whenever they were outside of the Astral Plane, githyanki required frequent meals, often rich in meat. In addition, they found the gravity of Prime Material worlds uncomfortable.
Blood in the water.
Look to the spirit,
Turn from sensation.
Threat comes from beyond,
Safety from within.
Crush flesh and bone,
Mind and spirit soar.
Inner passions rule,
Change destroys all.
Threat comes from beyond,
Safety from within.
Githyanki society was extremely well organized and orderly. It had a martial and meritocratic structure, with no regard for blood ties, and with both males and females training heavily in magic and combat. Although they were loyal to each other, they were also fiercely individualistic. Raiding illithid strongholds was considered a rite of passage.
Githyanki society was divided into three main castes. Although rigid, there was the possibility of moving between castes through intense competition. The major caste was the military, followed by the smaller mlar, who were in charge of crafts and specialized tasks, and the g'lathk, who were in charge of food production and labor.
Within each of the castes, there were further subdivisions according to specialized professions. The military caste included the knights and the warriors within the military hierarchy, in addition to the gish and other spellcasters.
The mlar were responsible for the construction of weapons, including silver swords, and astral ships. They were also in charge of constructing and repairing all githyanki buildings and tools, as well as the occasional art piece. Mlar used their psionic abilities to replicate the effects of the fabricate, stone shape, and wall of stone spells, as well as other unique abilities to decorate and repair structures at a much higher efficiency than that of a regular worker.
The g'lathk were most closely associated with farmers, although their main ability was to induce food growth in the Astral Plane, where nothing grew. Some channeled their psionic abilities to grow a type of fungus that required no sunlight, while others harvested an edible substance that grew only on the bodies of the god-isles. A third group cultivated plants and animals in tanks of magically treated water. This caste did not receive a lot of respect from other members of githyanki society, despite their importance. They were always found in small numbers, given that the githyanki only required food while outside of the Astral Plane.
Some githyanki specialized in manipulating the raw energy of the Astral Plane for various purposes. Known as hr'a'cknir, they worked as healers, seers, and as helpers to the mlar, depending on the type of energy they specialized in.
- The ghustil were healers, specialized in channeling Astral energy into effects similar to cure wounds and remove curse, among others. Their abilities were crucial, since natural healing did not work in the Astral Plane.
- The var'ith'n were responsible for converting energy into materials that the mlar could use to build special structures, such as astral ships.
- The senja'si were seers, focused on concentrating Astral energy into abilities similar to clairaudience/clairvoyance and legend lore.
- The y'rn specialized in transportation. They were capable of teleporting large amounts of material within the Astral Plane.
At an odd position in githyanki society were the tl'a'ikiths, invisible undead spirits of knights who could only interact with their environment through combat. They still had access to their silver swords and all their martial abilities, but could not speak or affect any other objects. Typically ignored by other githyanki, tl'a'ikiths usually remained in the posts they occupied in life, such as guarding egg chambers, treasure vaults, and quarters of high-ranking officials.
Cities and Communities
In the timeless Astral Plane, the githyanki inhabited numerous fortresses constructed from materials imported to the plane, as well as cities built upon god-isles, the corpses of dead deities that could be found throughout the Astral Plane. Their largest residences were massive, lavishly decorated castles that, owing to the xenophobic nature of githyanki, were usually avoided by other creatures in the Astral Plane. These fortresses were sometimes as large as cities and were the centers of githyanki commerce and manufacturing.
Within their communities, githyanki typically lived alone, unless they chose to share their dwellings with someone close. Since there were no family units, those bonds were most common among training partners.
The githyanki capital and largest city, Tu'narath, was built on the corpse of a deceased power known only as The One in the Void. The most important commercial city was Githmir, also the most cosmopolitan of githyanki communities. Other cities of note were T'n'rekris and Xamvadi'm, which were notorious rivals. Most of the githyanki population, however, lived in countless, much smaller communities scattered across the Astral Plane.
There was no religion in githyanki society. Their culture was too strongly based on individuality for any organized religion to thrive. Moreover, as a civilization that built its cities on top of the corpses of deities, they had difficulty in recognizing divinity. However, they revered Vlaakith almost to the level of religious worship, and the lich-queen herself destroyed any githyanki who would start following another deity. For that reason, githyanki clerics existed, but were extremely rare and had to live in hiding.
The closest the githyanki had to religious figures were the knights, whose devotion to Vlaakith was comparable to that of paladins, even granting them a few powers similar to those of a paladin, such as detect good, cause disease, and protection from good. Since Vlaakith was not a true deity, they did not receive spells or powers against undead.
The central aspect of githyanki society was its culture of plunder. Their ultimate goal, under Vlaakith, was to treat all worlds of the Material Plane as the githyanki's gardens, which they could loot at will and bring the spoils to their home in the Astral Plane, where they would never have to worry about food, water, and other concerns that were considered to be beneath them. The secondary goal was to root out and destroy as many illithid colonies as they could find, so illithid hunting parties were common. Since mind flayers were usually well hidden, githyanki warriors in the Material Plane were in a state of constant readiness for combat.
Participation in raids was seen as a great honor, met with excitement and anticipation by all members of githyanki society. Raiders expected to honor Vlaakith's will by maximizing plundering and the destruction left in their wake.
Raids were organized by the opening of gates into a Material Plane world by Vlaakith herself, who could hold it open long enough for thousands of soldiers and tens of sky ships to pass through in tight formation.
Raiding ships consisted of different kinds of flying ships operated by spelljamming helms, whose technology the githyanki obtained from the mind flayers' nautiloids. Typical githyanki fleets consisted of small astral skiffs, capable of carrying about a dozen passengers; larger astral brigs that were more heavily armed and could carry up to 60 passengers; and a few planar raiders, their largest ships that could transport up to 100 passengers and served as their mobile headquarters during the raid. Each ship was usually piloted by a gish. Supreme commanders usually rode their red dragons into battle.
Raiding ships also frequently engaged in hunting, in particular astral whales, which were used as an additional source of food for raiding parties outside of the Astral. They sometimes also hunted other powerful creatures, such as astral devas, dhours, foo creatures, and shedim. They never hunted astral dreadnoughts.
The faction of githyanki society that remained most loyal to their original project of revenge against the mind flayers was known as the gul'othran. They were usually the first responders whenever an illithid threat was detected, and they usually organized their main offensives on illithid colonies outside of the Astral Plane. Their ultimate goal, however, was to eliminate the illithid threat by conquest, permanently occupying worlds they invaded in order to prevent mind flayers from ever presenting a threat to those worlds again. Their goals differed from the rest of githyanki society, in the sense that they sought permanent conquest instead of mere plunder.
Family and Parenting
Since it was impossible to age while in the Astral Plane, githyanki needed to hatch their eggs and raise their young in other planes of existence until they reached maturity. This difficulty, added with the githyanki's extremely long lifespan while in the Astral, led to a very low birth rate. Their favored locations to raise and train young githyanki were hidden crèches located in remote places of the Prime Material Plane. There, caretakers known as varsh were responsible for hatching the eggs and collectively raising the young. The length of an egg's stay in the Material Plane was timed carefully so that all eggs in a clutch hatched simultaneously. There were no families in githyanki society.
From a very young age, githyanki went through a rigid regime of training and combat practice, with increasingly higher expectations and more severe punishments, all the while hearing tales of Vlaakith and her immortal warriors. Fights to the death during training were not uncommon. Finally, at the conclusion of a young githyanki's training, the last test was to slay a mind flayer and bring its head to Vlaakith in Tu'narath. This rite of passage marked the githyanki's entry into adulthood and into the community.
As a people, githyanki were generally proud and xenophobic. They viewed all other races with contempt and were generally unwilling to learn anything about other cultures, including other languages. They viewed Material Plane–dwellers as ignorant and incompetent, or, in worse cases, as potential slaves. They could only bring themselves to use magic items not of githyanki design if they were extremely powerful, and even then by rationalizing that any such items must have been designed with githyanki knowledge to begin with. It was uncommon, but not impossible, for a githyanki to overcome the prejudices of its people and start regarding others with respect.
A small contingent of red dragons served high-ranking githyanki as mounts and companions, following a treaty established with Tiamat early on in their history. They served their riders dutifully and without complaining or offering advice, which kept them outside of githyanki politics. Typically, the dragons served the githyanki during their young age, stationed at Tu'narath waiting to be dispatched on raids or as guards protecting their crèches in the Prime Material Plane. As soon as they reached adulthood, the red dragons were dismissed, keeping the wealth accumulated over their years of service. They were then replaced by younger dragons, who were recruited by githyanki promising large treasures and long lives.
Since dragons did not age while in the Astral Plane, their preferred postings were those that allowed them to spend the most time in the Material Plane, such as overlooking crèches or participating in raids as frequently as possible. Some dragons forged a particularly strong mental bond with their riders, which turned the pair into a deadly weapon. Gul'othran dragon riders preferred to bond with dragons native to the Material Plane, while Tu'narathi dragon riders, who were in charge of defending the city of Tu'narath, tended to prefer to bond with red dragons native to the Astral Plane.
The dragons resented their time of servitude, but were easily convinced to participate in raids by the promise of treasure and of growing in power. The terms of the treaty forbade the githyanki to influence the dragons' behavior with psionics, but the dragons remained loyal as long as they were treated respectfully and were given ample opportunities to pillage. Although not all red dragons participated in the alliance with the githyanki, most did not consider them as enemies.
A common trait among all githyanki was their burning hatred of mind flayers and githzerai. They never ignored an opportunity to harm either, but were not above teaming up with githzerai against the illithids, their common enemy. In addition, githyanki generally abhorred flumphs and attacked them on sight.
The githyanki spoke their own dialect of the Gith language, which used a unique form of writing called tir'su. It was an alphabetical set of runes in which words were formed in circles instead of linearly, with the letters of a given word being linked in a ring clockwise from the top. Sentences were formed by a series of these rings. Much as runes were given a mystical significance, the githyanki employed the tir'su when creating magical wards and symbols.
There was a small sect within githyanki society that fostered a reunification between the githyanki and the githzerai, known as the Sha'sal Khou. Led by Zetch'r'r from his stronghold in Tu'narath and composed of both githyanki and githzerai agents, the group acted by discouraging skirmishes between the two gith races, while at the same time looking for new recruits. The group maintained redoubts in the Prime Material Plane and hoped to build a nation where members of both races would call their children simply "gith".
Another githyanki sect broke off from their hierarchy at the time of the founding of Tu'narath. Pledging to never give up their freedom and mobility, the group, which became known as the far travelers, adopted a nomadic lifestyle of raiding and pillaging, living aboard their ships and never settling down in any location. Cut off from the rest of githyanki society, the far travelers did not participate in the pact with red dragons and did not have access to silver swords, but they still honored the rest of their race by sending annual tributes to Tu'narath.
The origin of the gith race before their enslavement was largely unknown. Not even the original name of the race was remembered, but it was referred to by some as "the forerunners". Some sources claimed that they were originally humans from a world called Pharagos. In all accounts, the forerunners had at some point become slaves of the illithids, a race devoted to mentally dominating sentient humanoids to work as the backbone of their vast empire, and were transformed through selective breeding and genetic experiments for several millennia.
After eventually developing mental resistance to their masters' mind control, the slaves revolted. Led by Gith, the several rebellious factions united, thus causing the fall of the illithid empire.
Not satisfied with regaining their freedom and splintering the illithids' empire, Gith advocated for a campaign of total annihilation of the mind flayers and the subsequent destruction of any race that could potentially enslave them again. However, a faction within the society fostered peace, arguing that the race should focus on rebuilding their society in seclusion instead of persisting in a tyrannical conflict. Led by Zerthimon, the splinter faction started undermining the githyanki's war efforts. After a long civil war, Zerthimon was killed and the githyanki moved to the Astral Plane. The defeated faction, who called themselves githzerai, retreated to Limbo. A third faction chose to relocate to wildspace to hunt down spacefaring mind flayers. They were known as the pirates of Gith.
In the aftermath of the civil war, the once-slave race had been splintered into the githyanki and the githzerai, the latter of whom were hated by the githyanki because their betrayal allowed the surviving illithids to retreat to isolated subterranean strongholds. The two races then began pursuing their separate agendas, but they grew a deep hatred of each other and were at war ever since.[note 3]
In the first years after their independence, the githyanki started experimenting with breeding dogs in their colonies in the Material Plane in order to create a species that could aid them in their war effort against the mind flayers. This effort culminated with the creation of the breed of gith dogs known as the kaoulgrim, a race of vicious bear-like dogs that excelled at detecting and hunting illithids.
Years after their exile in the Astral Plane, during the continuing war with the illithids, Gith's advisor, Vlaakith I, suggested that she search for allies in the Outer Planes, in particular from Tiamat. Gith agreed to visit the Nine Hells for an audience, but never returned. Instead, the red dragon envoy Ephelomon returned with a pledge from Tiamat that all red dragons would be allies to the githyanki and that a small contingent of red dragons would serve them as steeds. The envoy also decreed that Vlaakith I and her descendants would rule the githyanki in Gith's stead. Vlaakith I also played a crucial role in securing the githyanki's position in the Astral Plane. Ephelomon remained Vlaakith's consort ever since.
The latest descendant of the Vlaakith bloodline was Vlaakith CLVII, the Lich-Queen, who had no heirs. She was the first of her line to follow the path of lichdom, feeding off the souls of her most powerful knights. She also secretly aspired to ascend to godhood by capturing the spark of divinity from The One in the Void. She was supported by a small sect of sycophants known as the ch'r'ai. After approximately 1,000 years of repeatedly casting wish spells for that purpose, she believed to be close to her goal, but some hr'a'cknir foresaw that the deity would instead awaken and destroy Tu'narath.
Vlaakith also devised a method to infuse red dragon blood into newborn githyanki, which resulted in the creation of a new hybrid race known as the duthka'gith. Generally despised by the rest of githyanki society, the duthka'gith served as elite shock warriors and palace guards.
In the 10th century DR, a great githyanki lord was killed in battle by a bloodthirsty planewalking adventurer, who seized the lord's sword, known as Giventhar. Vengeful githyanki pursued the adventurer back to Toril, but they too were defeated, but not before dealing a severe injury. However, the mage Shraevyn found and took Giventhar, hiding it where not even the githyanki could find it.
In the Year of the Helm, 1362 DR,[note 4] in a stroke of good fortune and coincidence, a githyanki hunting party in the Astral Plane discovered the astral component of the elder brain of Ch'Chitl on Toril. They, of course, attacked without hesitation or question. The elder brain fled fully back into the Prime Material Plane, crippling its own dual-plane nature and leaving it dying. Incidentally, this halted a plot to dominate the whole city of Waterdeep. The githyanki continued to raid Ch'Chitl over the next century.
A band of githyanki were captured and dominated by the Dragonking's Eye, and served it loyally as bodyguards and soldiers in the Spiderhaunt Wood. They protected it against adventurers seeking it in the Year of the Sword, 1365 DR.
Several decades before 1370 DR, a group of githyanki secretly set up a military settlement in the ruins of Torglor, one of the kingdoms of Deep Shanatar. From their encampment, which they named Gatchorof, they conducted systematic attacks on the mind flayers of Oryndoll, backed by three red dragon children of Hulrundrar. Visitors were only allowed into the hamlet if their express purpose was to kill illithids. Despite the githyanki's efforts to remain secret, while gathering allies and planned an all-out assault against Oryndoll, their activities called the attention of the Twisted Rune.
In the late 15th century DR, a group of githyanki led by Al'chaia maintained a crèche in Stardock, which they called Crèche K'liir. The githyanki also controlled the Crystal Labyrinth level of Undermountain, from which they launched attacks against the mind flayers who dwelt in the neighboring Seadeeps level.
- Ahmaz, the captain of a damaged spelljammer in the mid‒14th century DR who had to dock at Ust Natha for repairs.
- Lae'zel, a warrior from the late 15th century DR.
- Simyaz, the leader of a party tasked with retrieving the Silver Sword of Gith in the mid‒14th century DR.
- Their lifespan is reported to be about 200 years in p. 67 of A Guide to the Astral Plane, but later sources place it close to one century.
- The term "githyanki" first appeared in George R. R. Martin's 1977 novel Dying of the Light. It was then used by Charles Stross when introducing the race on White Dwarf #12, according to an interview.
- The separation between the two races is referred to as the Pronouncement of Two Skies in Planescape: Torment.
- Canon sources are contradictory when describing the year in which a githyanki raid fatally wounded the elder brain in control of Ch'Chitl. Two later sources, including The Grand History of the Realms, place it in 1250 DR, but three earlier sources place it in 1362 DR. Because this event has repercussions in the history of the Unseen and Waterdeep, this wiki will use 1362 DR as the accepted date. You can read the relevant discussions here and here.
- Dungeon #43, "Into The Silver Realm" • Tales from the Infinite Staircase • Into the Dragon's Lair • Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage
- Referenced only
- Charon's Claw
- Video Games
- Planescape: Torment • Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn • Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal • Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone • Neverwinter Nights 2 • Baldur's Gate III
- Card Games
- AD&D Trading Cards • Dragonfire (Moonshae Storms)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following links do not necessarily represent the views of the editors of this wiki, nor does any lore presented necessarily adhere to established canon.
- Githyanki article at the Eberron Wiki, a wiki for the Eberron campaign setting.
- Githyanki (Race) article at the Baldur's Gate Wiki, a wiki for the Baldur's Gate games.
- Githyanki article at the NWN2Wiki, a wiki for the Neverwinter Nights 2 games.
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