Githzerai

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And they're the good guys, who could guess?

The Githzerai are a race of extraplanar humanoids native to either Limbo or to the Elemental Chaos, depending on whether you use the Great Wheel or World Axis cosmologies. As their name suggests, they are relatives of the Githyanki, separated due to a particularly bitter civil war fought eons ago about whether to follow the path of Gith or of Zerthimon. They first appeared alongside their githyanki cousins in the Fiend Folio for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition. Updated to second edition in the Monstrous Compendium Appendix: Outer Planes, they then made the jump to player status in Planescape. In fact, they have the honor of being one of the three original Planescape PC races, alongside the Bariaurs and the Tieflings.

So, who are they?[edit]

The Githzerai are a contradictory sort of race. Whilst they cherish personal freedom, they are also a very monkish race, believing that the path to freedom can be found through spiritual enlightenment and understanding of one's self. This behavior is particularly prominent in the Zerths, who as the pseudo-priests of Zerthimon follow his Unbroken Circle, which emphasizes the knowing of oneself. They are quiet, taciturn even, not fond of speaking unless they have to, and then only as much as they need to. Most believe in patient contemplation and understanding of every aspect of what they are about to do before they make a decision; others follow the path of instinct, trusting in their knowledge of their body and their inner harmony to intuitively guide them along the correct path, making snap decisions.

Githzerai don't do anything without a reason. They're naturally pragmatic and extremely stoic; they don't behave foolishly. In honesty, they tend to be kind of paranoid; though certainly healthier than their githyanki kinsfolk, their history as slaves to mind-controlling, brain-sucking monsters has left its scars upon their psyches. They're slow to trust, but loyal if you can prove yourself. They value independence, and have a strong atheistic streak, outside of their reverence for Zerthimon as a secular messiah; they don't believe the gods are inherently evil or tyrannous, unlike githyanki, but they prefer to rely on their own strength and are unwilling to trust to the benevolence of deities.

Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but they fucking well hate mind-flayers. Perhaps the closest thing to rowdies in typical githzerai culture, the rrakkmas are warbands of githzerai who go roaming across the planes looking for brain-suckers to kill, although they're happy to psy-stab and bludgeon to death with their bare hands any other enemies of the githzerai that they encounter in the process.

Githzerai traditionally place a lot of importance on both psionics and magic, although that's partially because of the confused relationship between the two in D&D. They are the monk race in D&D, but they also have a pronounced tradition of arcane magic use, and their Zerths traditionally are fighter/mages who also double as the closest thing the githzerai have to clerics.

Change, Limbo, Etc.[edit]

That said, despite their hyper-lawful associations now - in contrast to the githyanki, who are essentially mixture of the three most annoying prick archetypes - the githzerai weren't always this way. Whilst some lore trappings have remained the same, originally, githzerai were a highly Chaotic race, to the point that one of their original PC limitations was "you cannot be a Lawful alignment".

Why? Well, at their core, the githzerai are essentially the "good but still morally ambiguous counterpart" to the githyanki. So, when they were first created, their whole schtick was tightly wound up in the concept of them being anarchist survivalists who hid in the chaos of Limbo because it matched their desire to be free and never-restrained. So, what changed? We can sum it up in two words: Planescape: Torment.

See, the reason githzerai are the famous and (semi-)popular PC race that they are is because of the party member Dak'kon the Pariah from that game. And while he was originally-intended to be an aberration, a lawful member of a mostly-anarchic race, he's also the most famous and iconic githzerai character in the history of the franchise. Players who want to play a githzerai want to play one who's like Dak'kon. Frankly, it also gives their race some cool themes and motifs, especially when some of their old shit was just lame copies of the githyanki's shit. Seriously, we went from "less edgy githyanki" to "spiritualists who live in the realm of chaos to test their powers of mental and spiritual control to the limit" - that's a huge improvement.

So, over time, the designers have found it easier to recast the entire race in his image. Chew on that, Drizzt.

Another bit of weirdness, not related to the alignment, is that githzerai used to be hugely different in looks. Apparently, the initial idea was that the githyanki were so divergent from their human-like ancestors because of their prolonged habitation of the Astral, so whilst they were somewhat skeletal-faced jaundiced elf-like beings with reptilian aspects, the githzerai were portrayed as... humans. Oh, skinny humans with long faces, but still fundamentally humans. Take the clothing into account, and you probably wouldn't look twice at an AD&D githzerai if you saw him on the street. From 3e onwards, they were portrayed as looking a lot more like the githyanki, ultimately becoming all but visually indistinguishable from each other.

Is this also Dak'kon's legacy? Well... yes and no. Dak'kon was given a more "Fu Manchu Elf" sort of appearance for his personal model, but was still pretty Caucasian-skinned. Torment did recycle the githyanki sprites for githzerai sprites, though, so it might have influenced WoTC... or it just might have been the new management deciding it made more sense that the two races with common ancestry should actually look alike.

Statblocks[edit]

Whilst githzerai have never achieved the same popularity as the tieflings (lucky bastards), they've at least done better for themselves than the bariaur, having managed to appear in every edition between AD&D and 5th, an their fans are hopeful that they'll make it into 5th once WoTC finally decides to do something planar or psionic in nature. They've also done a lot better than the githyanki have.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons[edit]

Githzerai first appeared in the Planescape boxed set, specifically on page 12 of "A Player's Guide to the Planes", the player's section of the boxed set. They were reprinted in The Planewalker's Handbook, and also made an appearance in Player's Options: Skills & Powers.

+1 Intelligence, +1 Dexterity, -1 Strength, -1 Wisdom (PO:S&P instead presents them as having no racial ability adjustments)
Infravision 60 feet
Alignment Restriction: Cannot be Lawful
Class & Level Limits: Fighter (9), Wizard (12), Thief (15), Fighter/Mage (9/12)
Magic Resistance: Githzerai Fighters and Thieves have Magic Resistance 5% per level (maximum 95%); this power cannot be suppressed, and the first time a githzerai attempts to use an item, make a Magic Resistance check; if succeeded, then that item's magic will never function for that githzerai as a result. Githyanki wizards do not have magic resistance, and fighter/wizards must choose whether or not they have it.

3rd Edition[edit]

Githzerai first appeared in 3.0's Manual of the Planes, alongside their githyanki cousins - however, they were presented with no more specific a character statblock than any generic 3.0 humanoid monster. They received a full racial writeup in 3.5's Expanded Psionics Handbook (having first appeared in 3.0's Psionics Handbook, but nobody talks about that) and were made into a racial class in Complete Psionic.

For their EPH writeup, Githzerai were presented as having the following stats:

+6 Dexterity, +2 Wisdom, -2 Intelligence
Medium
Base Land Speed 30 feet
Darkvision 60 feet
Naturally Psionic: Increase Psionic Power Points Pool by +2 Psi Points.
Psi-Like Abilities: A githzerai can use the psi-like abilities of Inertial Armor, Psionic Daze, Catfall and Concussion, all 3/day. At 11th level, they can also use Psionic Plane Shift 1/day. Manifester level is equal to 1/2 Hit Dice (minimum 1st) and save DCs are Charisma based.
Power Resistance: Hit Dice +5
Favored Class: Monk
Level Adjustment: +2

4th Edition[edit]

4th edition actually gave Githzerai not one, but two statblocks; the first, an immediate stop-gap, appeared alongside the githyanki in the Monster Manual 1, where it looked like this:

Ability Scores: +2 Dexterity, +2 Wisdom
Size: Medium
Speed: 6 Squares
Vision: Normal
Skill Bonuses: +2 Acrobatics, +2 Athletics
Danger Sense: +2 to Initiative checks.
Racial Power - Iron Mind: Usable 1/encounter, when you would be hit by an attack, you can increase all of your defenses by +2 until the end of your next turn as an Immediate Interrupt.

Then, when the Player's Handbook 3 came along and psionics were formally introduced to D&D 4e, githzerai took pride of place as the traditional and iconic psionic race. Surprisingly, this second version of their statblock was all but identical to their original version, but with some tweaks that made the 'zerai even stronger than they had been.

Ability Scores: +2 Dexterity or Intelligence, +2 Wisdom
Size: Medium
Speed: 6 Squares
Vision: Normal
Skill Bonuses: +2 Acrobatics, +2 Athletics
Danger Sense: +2 to Initiative checks.
Shifting Fortune: When you use your Second Wind, you can shift 3 squares as a free action.
Racial Power - Iron Mind: Usable 1/encounter, when you would be hit by an attack, you can increase all of your defenses by +2 until the end of your next turn as an Immediate Interrupt.

The 4e PHB 3 also gave githzerai a racial paragon path in the form of the Rrathmal, based on the traditional leaders of the githzerai rrakkmas, or elite trouble-shooting bands dedicated to hunting illithids and other enemies of the githzerai people.

5th Edition[edit]

In 5th edition, githzerai 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. The accompanying video spends a tiny amount of time talking about the entire gith race compared to the labor of love that was the eladrin, and included an admission that they're basically throwing together something uninspired because people keep asking them about it rather than out of any actual creative passion for the project. You know, same reason the dragonborn sucks? Hell, they couldn't even be bothered to write up a paragraph of racial fluff for them, instead putting a big ol' "See Monster Manual for details" right in the text.

Anyway, like the dragonborn, they're not bad, but they're definitely underpowered in comparison to most other PC options, including, weirdly, their much less PC-friendly cousins:

+2 Wisdom, +1 Intelligence
Medium
Speed 30 feet
Vision: Normal
Monastic Training: When you are NOT using a shield AND are NOT wearing Medium or Heavy Armor, increase your AC by +1.
Githzerai Psionics: Mage Hand at-will, Shield 1/day at 3rd level, Detect Thoughts 1/day at 5th level, all keying off of Wisdom.

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 - Idra - Kender - Minotaur
Mystara: Aranea - Ee'ar - Enduk - Lizardfolk (Cayma - Gurrash - Shazak)
Lupin - Manscorpion - Phanaton - Rakasta - Tortle - Wallara
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
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