Githyanki

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Arrogant, haughty raiders of the Astral.

The Githyanki (also known as the Gith, or "them damn Yankis") are an evil race in the Dungeons and Dragons setting, and look like either emaciated, jaundiced elves or some horrible cross of elf and goblin, depending on the edition. The Githyanki are classic 1st edition monsters; as denizens of the original Fiend Folio, they first appeared in the pages of Dragon Magazine -- in fact, they showed up back in issue number 12, back in 1979.

The githyanki are the twisted, estranged kin of the githzerai, divided from their cousins by a philosophical breach that occurred centuries ago. To recap, the original Gith-kin were humanoids (and/or humans) who were enslaved and mutated by the Mind flayer empire for untold generations, until two figures rose up and led their people in a massive slave uprising; Zerthimon the mystic, and Gith the warrior-woman. At the brink of total illithid annihilation, Gith began planning to "truly" free her people by... well, basically enslaving every other race and making the Gith-kin as bad as the illithids had been. Zerthimon objected to this, an act called the Pronouncement of Two Skies, and thus the illithid's former slaves were divided into "Those Who Spurn Gith" (Githzerai) and "The Children of Gith" (Githyanki), with the former bogging off to Limbo (or the Elemental Chaos) and the latter disappearing into the Astral Plane.

Gith herself disappeared after a trip to Baator to secure an alliance with the dragon-goddess Tiamat, but one of her greatest warriors, Vlaakith, took her place as Warrior-Queen of the Githyanki and kept her people on the path that Gith had said. More than one person has wondered if Vlaakith didn't betray Gith in some way, earning the pact with red dragons by, say, feeding Gith to Tiamat, but the githyanki won't hear of it.

In fact, githyanki don't like to hear a lot of ugly things about their race, mostly because they're all true. The first and foremost is that they're a bunch of hypocrites, who are so obsessed with "being free" that they have become convinced their manifest destiny is to conquer & enslave every other race in the multiverse.

Secondly, they get really snippy if one notes that their practice of raiding Astral communities, taking a certain amount of the goods and then leaving in a form of "sustainable pillaging" is essentially a master-slave relation dressed up in piracy clothing. See, although the githyanki aren't completely dependent on raiding to survive, the simple truth is that their choice of residence and their war-focused culture means they can't produce enough food, goods and other essentials to support their own population. And, if they steal everything from the astral villages they raid or ships they rob, then they'll ultimately starve to death because those sources of goods will either die out or stop coming where they can get them. So, they steal the bulk of the goods from their victims, do as little damage as they can, and let them scrape a living until eventually they have enough of a stockpile to make robbing them profitable again. But, if you ever point out that this basically makes them slave-owners collecting their serfs' taxes in a very dramatic way, they'll immediately kill the entire band they were robbing from in order to "prove" they're not slave-owners. Yeah, they're not the sanest race in the multiverse by a long shot.

Mind you, this "we're not slavers, honest!" thing varies a little depending on edition/cosmology; in the World Axis, Tu'narath is home to a sizable population of slave-farmers who exist to try and cultivate food for their githyanki masters - and who are summarily eaten by both the resident dragons and the githyanki themselves when they are used up.

And, finally, don't call them out on how they preach total freedom for themselves, but in reality they've become nothing but a race of warrior-slaves for their "divine" god-queen. Oh, yes. See, Vlaakith was so beloved by the first githyanki that they made her daughter their ruler, and her daughter, and her daughter, and so on, an unbroken line of god-queens that lasted until Vlaakith CLVII (that's Vlaakith the 157th, if you don't know your Latin numerals). She never had a daughter, but she turned herself into a lich, so it's all good; now she can reign forever as an immortal, undying tyrant.

If you need more proof that the githyanki have turned themselves into slaves and never even realized it; one of the drawbacks of being a lich (or at least a githyanki lich, depending on edition) is that Vlaakith CLVII needs to eat souls on a regular basis to sustain herself. More importantly, she's terrified of being ousted from power by a stronger githyanki even though they've been worshipping her and adoring her for generations. So, she solves both problems by making it a simple cultural practice that when a githyanki gets powerful enough, they are granted the "honor" of having her eat their souls. And the githyanki are so mindlessly loyal to her that they actually do consider this an honor!

Interestingly, the 4th edition article on Tu'narath and githyanki society explicitly states that this has had serious negative effects on githyanki society, and that Vlaakith's actions are basically pushing her people to be made up of the mediocre. Which is harming their race's long-term goals.

Fifth edition, in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, which devoted an entire chapter to discussing the gith race, instead reframes or reflavors most of the above. Rather than explicitly eating her people's souls when they get too strong, Vlaakith is sort of deliberately holding them back, preventing any one of her lieutenants from gaining too much experience and power and so overthrowing her. And because they live in the Astral Plane, where no one ages and time has no meaning, the githyanki are instead basically jaded war-hipsters, spending all the time they aren't fighting or raiding bored out of their fucking minds and desperate for some novelty as they futz about their decadent metropolis of a city toying with various hobbies without ever really getting into any of them. Thus, as Mordenkainen himself notes, Vlaakith's system does a great job of churning out indoctrinated fanatics without actually creating people fit for doing anything useful.

Also, rather than taking slaves for slavery's sake, they mostly just abandon or kill captives who have no extrinsic value, though there is a small community of random people they've kidnapped living in a slum of the great city.

Aside from their practice of flying around on red dragons, githyanki are most known for two things in terms of combat ability.

Firstly, githyanki are big believers in the concept of multiclassing, with a long tradition of fighter/wizard combatants. Indeed, the idea of the warrior-mage is so iconic, and so associable with the githyanki, that their culture's name for it - the Gish - has been adopted as a general term in greater /tg/ culture. Well, the alternative was the githzerai term "Zerth", but that wasn't as catchy.

Secondly, their most iconic weapon; baroque greatswords forged of a strange, silvery metal native to their extraplanar environment. Known simply as Silver Swords, or, at most, Githyanki Silver Swords, these weapons are uniquely suited to fighting people who are using astral projection, as they can cut the "astral thread" of these people which is, generally, instant death (ironically, less lethal in 1e, when it just booted you back to the material). The other bonuses of the Silver Swords varies from edition to edition; in 1e, they were sentient +3 weapons that weren't very smart, but did have nebulous other magical powers. In 2e, they lost their sentience, but there was also a "Greater" version that was a +5 weapon and a Vorpal Sword in addition to its astral cord-cutting and it could cut the threads of people under the Mind Bar power. In 3e, they were initially downgraded to +1 weapons that could potentially nullify a victim's psionic abilities for 1d4 rounds, but in the Psionics Handbook, the classic +3 astral cord-cutters and +5 vorpal versions returned. 4e gave them the ability to convert damage dealt with them into the Psychic type, gaining the feat support that brings, and 5e made them into just +3 weapons. Needless to say, githyanki are extremely protective of these swords and will go to almost any length to retrieve them.

Needless to say, being that they are huge dicks and pretty much all willing slaves to their evil god-queen, githyanki aren't traditionally considered suitable for PCs, unlike their Githzerai cousins, who were actually in the first wave of Planescape PCs, alongside the Tiefling and the Bariaur. They do, however, have PC writeups in about a dozen Third Edition books, because Third edition will make a playable or pseudo-playable race out of literally fucking anything, and in the Monster Manual for 4e.

In D&D and 5e, the githyanki have a particular interest in the material plane; not just because it's where they go to hunt illithids, but because nothing ages on the Astral Plane, so they need to lay their eggs (yeah, they do that) and rear their children on the prime so they can reach maturity.

They were also the subject of a pair of epic, edition-spanning campaigns; 3.5 gave us Incursion, a combination adventure path/campaign setting spread over the pages of Dragon Magazine #309, Dungeon Magazine #100, and Polyhedron #159, in which the players fight against a githyanki conquest of their home world, and 4e gave us a sequel in Scales of War, which ran from Dungeon #156 to Dungeon #175.

These adventures introduced the Duthka'giths; fiendish half-red dragon githyanki bred at Vlaakith's creation, and the source of considerable consternation from many other githyanki despite the eons of loyal partnership between the two races.

Githyanki Castes[edit]

As the githyanki race is basically one giant army, they have divided themselves into a number of different ranks, which function effectively as castes. These first debuted in "A Guide to the Astral Plane" for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and continued over to 3rd edition, where they were discussed in the Polyhedron #159 part of the Incursion campaign tie-in. In 4th edition, they explored in the article on Tu'narath in Dragon #377, and in "The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea".

Precise details have fluctuated over the editions as certain titles have risen and fallen in favor; this has also prevented a concise list of ranks from every being established. Still, these are the various castes that have appeared over the many editions...

Knights: Also known as Antipaladins, githyanki knights are the direct servitors of Vlaakith CLVII, and their devotion to her gives them a number of paladin-like abilities, but reversed to evil - they were some of D&D's first blackguards.

Githwarriors: Also called simply "Warriors", these are the mainstay of the githyanki culture, representing the fighters and other martial types. Known ranks include Sarth (Sergeant), Kith'rak (Captain) and Supreme Commander (District Ruler) - 4th edition renamed the Sergeant-equivalent rank to Terrth, and the Captain-analogue to Kithrak. In 3rd edition, it was established that barbarians, monks, rangers, rogues and assassins are all considered part of this caste.

Warlock: Created before the warlock became a class, this is the caste of the githyanki's users of magic and psionics - back in AD&D, this meant Wizards, but the term has grown as the editions have grown. Most obviously, from 3rd edition on, this caste included the Sorcerer and the actual Warlock.

  • Githyanki sorcerers in 3e were stated to trace their ancestry to similar unions as the duthka'gith, which resulted in their tendency to manifest distinctly draconic traits as they matured. This was presented as a mechanical option called "The Path of the Duthka'ariy" in Polyhedron #159.
  • In 3rd edition, the Blackweave Warlock was introduced as a particularly elite sub-caste of warlock, building from AD&D lore on the unique approach githyanki necromancers had of focusing on necromantic damage-dealing spells over the traditional "master of the undead" archetype. Presented as a prestige class in Polyhedron #159. They retained this status in 4th edition.

Gish: These are multiclassed warrior-mages - specially Fighter/Wizards back in AD&D, but the term again has grown more diverse since 3rd edition. These guys are considered particularly elite. In 3rd edition, bards are considered part of the gish caste. The Gish Mindslayer is a gish class prestige class featured in Polyhedron #159, as is the Holocaust Warrior and Sword Stalker

Mlar: One of noncombatant castes, mlar are basically artificers, but existed before that class became a thing. Their role is using magic to create and repair all the various physical goods that githyanki society needs. This is also the "artisans" caste, covering sculptors, painters, and other artistic types. In Polyhedron #159, they were presented as a 16-level NPC class, similar in nature to the Magewright of Ebberon.

Hr'a'cknir: These inpronouncable bastards are githyanki mages who have learned to manipulate astral energies, giving them access to certain spells and abilities closer in nature to divine magic or otherwise used for utilitarian purposes that aren't covered by the Mlar. There are several subcastes of Hr'a'cknir:

  • Ghustil: Healers. These were presented as a prestige class in Polyhedron #159, and as a monster for 4th edition in "Secrets of the Astral Sea".
  • Var'ith'n: Arcane engineers who work with the Mlar to create things like astral ships.
  • Senja'si: Seers.
  • Y'rn: Masters of teleportation able to carry large quantities of goods through the Astral Plane.
  • Varsh: The caretakers for githyanki eggs and younglings, as well as their tutors. These were described as their own caste in AD&D, but became part of the Hr'a'cknir caste in 3e.
  • In 3e, the Y'rn were removed from this caste (disappearing entirely), and whilst both Ghustil and Senja'si were still mages (arcane healers for the former, diviners for the latter), the Hr'a'cknir and Varsh were considered to be made up of Experts and Commoners.
  • In 4th edition, they were renamed the Hracknir and made a subcaste of the Mlar. The term became almost synomynous with the Ghustil (who appeared as monsters in Secrets of the Astral Sea), and the caste becamse loathed and scorned for its connection, however dim, to the gods.

G'lathk: The farming caste of the githyanki, who study special ways of manipulating astral energy in order to make it possible to grow food on the Astral Plane. Since said plane prevents the githyanki from needing to eat, they aren't very respected. In 4th edition, they were renamed the Glathk, and defined as the farmers and laborers, as well as the thrall overseers.

Ch'r'ai: Introduced in Dungeon #100 for 3rd edition, the Ch'r'ai are warlocks who have either cottoned onto Vlaakith CLVII's plans to achieve godhood and want to throw in with her, or who have become so devoted to her that they're already worshipping her as a goddess. She thinks of them as being spineless toadies, but eagerly exploits their fanaticism, using them as her special inquisitors. They remained in 4th edition.

Hierarchy[edit]

The clearest and most explicit outline of the githyanki appeared in 4th edition, as part of the article "Tu'narath, City of Death" in Dragon #377. Prior to this, the castes had generally been described as pretty much equal, although the militant castes were more important. In the 4e version of the hierarchy, the caste system goes like this, from greatest authority to least:

Military Caste: Combines the Githwarrior, Warlock and Gish castes of past editions. Githwarriors are the base of this caste, led by terrths (sergeants) who serve under kithraks (captains), who serve Supreme Commanders. Gish and Warlocks are generally ranked analoguous to terrths and kithraks. Githyanki knights are the elite of the sect, and hold equal rank to the Supreme Commanders.
Mlar Caste: The "civilian" caste, defined by at least limited access to magic. Their writeup cites "landowners, crafters, mages, seers, healers and artisans". The Hracknir are the closest thing to divine magic users in githyanki society, and whilst this makes them technically a subcaste of Mlar, it also earns them the scorn of their antitheistic fellows.
Glathk Caste: Farmers, laborers and thrall-overseers, completely lacking in magical/psionic talent or unsuited for military life. They are the lowest of the githyanki, but at least they have it better than the...
Thralls: The githyanki's multitude of slaves, who serve as labor, sport, and even food.

Githyanki Sects[edit]

Sha'sal Khou: This is a secret and slowly growing faction devoted to mending the age-old rift between githyanki and githzerai, arguing that their two races restored as one would be finally able to end the illithid threat and know true peace at last.

Gul'othran: Only mentioned in 4th edition's "Secrets of the Astral Plane", this is a githyanki sect that is marked by its extreme militantism; they are devoted to the "Eternal Crusade", an endless ongoing search-and-destroy mission against the entire illithid race.

Playable Githyanki[edit]

Given their rather heavy-handed "Always Evil!" setup, it goes without saying that Githyanki have been rather absent from the line-up of PCs. Still, D&D really does have a solid tradition of Monster Adventurers, and so whilst the githzerai get all the press, the Githyanki have been playable since AD&D too.

The first appearance of githyanki PCs was in "A Guide to the Astral Plane", which admitted that rogue githyanki are a possibility and not all of them fall for Vlaakith's efforts. Their writeup looked like this:

+1 Dexterity, +1 Intelligence, -1 Wisdom, -1 Charisma
Racial Maximums of 19 Dex and Int
Class Restrictions: Fighter, Mage, Gish (Fighter/Mage), Psionicist
Astral Movement rate of 96
Double odds of having psionic wild talents
Same access to psionic Sciences and Devotions as humans
Malign Reputation: -2 reaction penalty with Good NPCs, -1 reaction penalty with Neutral NPCs
Racial Enmity: Githzerai: -8 reaction penalty with Githzerai, stacks with Malign Reputation
The Lich-Queen Is Watching: Upon hitting 11th level, the PC has Vlaakith CLVII's attention; if they reach 12th level, she senses it and will dispatch several waves of githyanki "retrieval teams", then turn to local resources (assassins, etc), not stopping until either she or the githyanki character is dead. Githyanki can choose to deliberately not gain any levels after 11th to avoid her wrath.

In 3.5, your Githyanki writeup looked like this when it appeared in the Expanded Psionics Handbook:

+2 Dexterity, +2 Constitution, -2 Wisdom
Medium
Base Land Speed 30 feet
Darkvision 60 feet
Naturally Psionic: Increase your Psionic Points Pool by +3 psi points.
Psi-Like Abilities: At 1st level, you can use the Psi-Like Abilities of Far Hand and Psionic Daze 3/day each. You also gain the Psi-Like Abilities of Concealing Amorpha (3/day) at 3rd level, Psionic Dimension Door (3/day) at 6th level, before finishing with Telekinetic Thrust (3/day) and Psionic Plane Shift (1/day) at 9th level.
Power Resistance: Hit Dice + 5
Favored Class: Fighter
Level Adjustment: +2

Polyhedron's writeup was similar, but different: it replaced the Naturally Psionic and Psi-Like Abilities with "Psionics", replacing its psi-like abilities with the spell-like abilities of Mage Hand (3/day) and Daze Humanoid (3/day) at 1st level, Dimension Door (3/day) at 6th level, and both Telekinesis (3/day) and Plane Shift (1/day) at 9th level. Likewise, Power Resistance was replace with Spell Resistance (5 + 1 per character level) and they gained the Extraplanar trait, making them vulnerable to Banishment and similar spells when outside of the Astral Plane.

Over in 4th edition, although arguably somewhat weaker than many other 4e races due to being in the back of the Monster Manual 1, githyanki were a lot less of a hassle to play with and still surprisingly viable:

Ability Scores: +2 Constitution, +2 Intelligence
Size: Medium
Speed: 6 squares
Vision: Normal
Skill Bonuses: +2 History
Danger Sense: +2 bonus to Initiative checks.
Githyanki Willpower: +1 to Will defense, +2 to saving throws against Charm effects.
Racial Power - Telekinetic Leap: Usable 1/Encounter, Move Action, target Self or 1 ally within 10 squares. The target of this power can Fly up to 5 squares; if you use this on an ally, that ally must remain in your line of sight at all times during the effect.

In 5th edition, githyanki resurfaced in the September 2017 issue of Unearthed Arcana, with results that were... different to what'd come before, but technically also more of the same. Weirdly, while both subraces clearly got the shaft in terms of being designed by people who actually cared about the race in question, they're significantly more powerful and in-line with the majority of other 5e PC races compared to their poor, more PC-friendly cousins:

+2 Strength, +1 Intelligence
Medium
Speed 30 feet
Vision: Normal
Decadent Mastery: One free language proficiency and one free tool or skill proficiency of your choice.
Martial Prodigy: Free proficiency with Light and Medium Armor.
Githyanki Psionics: Mage Hand at-will, Jump 1/day at 3rd level, Misty Step 1/day at 5th level, all keying off of Intelligence.

Gith PCs were used in a teaser adventure previewing the Tome of Foes, letting fans get an early look at the official version. The only real difference for githyanki was that their Martial Prodigy feature now gives them Proficiency in the Shortsword, Longsword and Greatsword, which after all are as thematically tied to their race as the axe & hammer are to dwarves or the longsword & bow are to elves.

Gallery[edit]

Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Races
Core: Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human
Dark Sun: Aarakocra - Half-Giant - Mul - Pterran - Thri-kreen
Dragonlance: Draconian - Irda - Kender - Minotaur
Mystara: Aranea - Ee'ar - Enduk - Lizardfolk (Cayma - Gurrash - Shazak)
Lupin - Manscorpion - Phanaton - Rakasta - Tortle - Wallara
Oriental Adventures: Korobokuru - Hengeyokai - Spirit Folk
Planescape: Aasimar - Bariaur - Genasi - Githyanki - Githzerai - Modron - Tiefling
Spelljammer: Dracon - Giff - Grommam - Hadozee - Hurwaeti - Rastipede - Scro - Xixchil
Ravenloft: Broken One - Flesh Golem - Half-Vistani - Therianthrope
Complete
Book of X:
Alaghi - Beastman - Bugbear - Bullywug - Centaur - Duergar
Fremlin - Firbolg - Flind - Gnoll - Goblin - Half-Ogre - Hobgoblin
Kobold - Mongrelfolk - Ogre - Ogre Mage - Orc - Pixie
Satyr - Saurial - Svirfneblin - Swanmay - Voadkyn - Wemic
Dragon Magazine: Half-Dryad - Half-Satyr - Uldra - Xvart
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Races
Player's Handbook 1: Dragonborn - Dwarf - Eladrin - Elf
Half-Elf - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
Player's Handbook 2: Deva - Gnome - Goliath - Half-Orc - Shifter
Player's Handbook 3: Githzerai - Minotaur - Shardmind - Wilden
Monster Manual 1: Bugbear - Doppelganger - Githyanki
Goblin - Hobgoblin - Kobold - Orc
Monster Manual 2: Bullywug - Duergar - Kenku
Dragon Magazine: Gnoll - Shadar-kai
Heroes of Shadow: Revenant - Shade - Vryloka
Heroes of the Feywild Hamadryad - Pixie - Satyr
Eberron's Player's Guide: Changeling - Kalashtar - Warforged
The Manual of the Planes: Bladeling
Dark Sun Campaign Setting: Mul - Thri-kreen
Forgotten Realms Player's Guide: Drow - Genasi
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Races
Player's Handbook: Dragonborn - Drow - Dwarf - Elf - Gnome
Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
Dungeon Master's Guide: Aasimar - Eladrin
Elemental Evil Player's Guide: Aarakocra - Genasi - Goliath - Svirfneblin
Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide: Duergar - Ghostwise Halfling - Svirfneblin - Tiefling Variants
Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes: Baatific Tieflings - Duergar - Eladrin - Githyanki
Githzerai - Sea Elf - Shadar-kai - Svirfneblin
Volo's Guide to Monsters: Aasimar - Bugbear - Firbolg - Goblin - Goliath - Hobgoblin - Kenku
Kobold - Lizardfolk - Orc - Tabaxi - Triton - Yuan-Ti Pureblood
Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica: Human - Elf - Centaur - Goblin - Loxodon - Minotaur - Simic Hybrid
Vedalken
Unearthed Arcana: Changeling - Minotaur - Revenant - Shadar-kai
Shifter - Tiefling Variants - Warforged
Plane Shift: Amonkhet: Aven - Khenra - Minotaur - Naga
Plane Shift: Innistrad: Human
Plane Shift: Ixalan: Human - Goblin - Merfolk - Orc - Siren - Vampire
Plane Shift: Kaladesh: Aetherborn - Dwarf - Elf - Human - Vedalken
Plane Shift: Zendikar: Elf - Goblin - Human - Kor - Merfolk - Vampire
One Grung Above: Grung
The Gith of Dungeons & Dragons
Races: Duthka'gith - Gith - Githyanki - Githzerai - Half-Githzerai
Undead: Kr'y'izoth - Tl'a'ikith
Individuals: Vlaakith CLVII - Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith - Zerthimon
Places: Shra'kt'lor - Tu'narath
NPC Classes: Mlar
Prestige Classes: Blackweave Warlock - Ghustil - Gish Mindslayer - Holocaust Warrior - Sword Stalker
Adventures: Incursion - Scales of War
Miscellaneous: Crown of Corruption - Gish - Scepter of Ephelomon
The inhabitants of the Planes of Planescape
Upper Planes: Aasimon - Angels - Animal Lords - Archons - Asuras - Eladrin - Guardinals - Lillend
Middle Planes: Formians - Githzerai - Inevitables - Marut - Modrons - Rilmani - Slaadi
Lower Planes: Alu-Fiends - Baatezu - Bladelings - Cambions - Demodands - Erinyes - Hags
Hordlings - Imps - Kytons - Marilith - Obyrith - Succubi - Tanar'ri - Yugoloth
Transitive Planes: Astral Dreadnought - Githyanki
Inner Planes: Azers - Elementals - Genies - Grues - Mephit - Salamanders - Sylphs
Sigil: Dabus - Cranium Rats
High-ups: Archangels - Archdevils - Archfey - Archomentals - Demon Princes