Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Favorite Monsters - Githyanki

We all have them and we all have them for various reasons. They are those monsters we love as either gamers in general or as GMs. They are our go-to monsters or the ones that make us think up fun scenarios or perhaps they are those creatures that fascinate us in ways that we cannot quite explain. The githyanki are something of the latter for me.

Ever since I saw them on the cover of the Fiend Folio, I have been enchanted by their evil, gaunt visages. They are powerful and they seem to have purpose beyond simply stocking a dungeon. They are evil and vengeful and wield powerful items that they very much wish to keep to themselves. Their kinship with red dragons adds even more mystique to these denizens of the Astral Plane and gives them potential for some serious punch. Their listing in the Fiend Folio gives them so much to work with, including their ongoing conflict with the githzerai, the other offshoot of the original gith race. The creators of the githyanki seem to have really built they and the githzerai with an intention for some very intricate gaming.

My interest in them grew even more when I read an adventure in Dragon #67, called Fedifensor, that I borrowed from an upper classman in grade school (I never got it back to him before one of us had moved away). In this adventure a magic sword, Fedifensor is being held in one of the githyanki astral fortresses. This adventure put the githyanki front and center as the party's main foes and battling them on their home turf.

The back story is that a high priest (Astramal) of the god Amphabese, had two prophetic dreams. In the first one, his temple was overrun and by a demonic horde. The second dream was of a paladin, wielding a mighty blade, defeating a singularly powerful demon.
Distraught by these visions, he went to visit an enclave of gray elves. Convinced that his dreams were prophetic in nature, and that a horde of demons would be as bad for them as for the temple, the gray elves agreed to make a blade such as Astramal had seen in his dream.

It took years, but finally they delivered to him the blade Fedifensor. Astramal thanked them for their gift, and pledged that he would watch over the blade above his own life, and that only the most virtuous of hands would wield it.

It took months to determine who that would be, having to choose from among the paladins who came to their temple to renew their holy vows, but Astramal finally settled on Boyd de Thalion as the one to wield Fedifensor.

It seemed that no one was Boyd’s equal, until another paladin named Karl appeared. He might have also passed the tests to wield Fedifensor, save that the first test was to meet Boyd himself, upon which he immediately recognized Karl as a powerful demon in disguise. As in Astramal’s dream, they fought, and with the blade, Boyd was victorious.

Although the second dream had come to pass, Astramal’s fears about the first were not allayed in full. As such, the temple remained vigilant; rightly so. A horde of evil finally emerged from across the sea. Thousands of lesser demons succeeded where one powerful one had failed. The temple fell, and many powerful defenders, including Boyd de Thalion, died in its ultimately unsuccessful defense.

Taking the fallen champion’s blade, Astramal used a spell to send his spirit to the Astral Plane, taking Fedifensor with him. However, before he could do more, his material body was slain in a fire that had started in the temple during the battle, and the sword was lost there. A band of githyanki found it, and, determining that it was magical, took it back to their fortress on the Astral Plane, where it remains. (Until the adventurers who played this adventure recovered it, anyway.)

In the hands of a non-paladin of lawful good alignment, Fedifensor is a +2 bastard sword. It has an intelligence of 17, an ego of 18, and (of course) is aligned lawful good. It cannot be touched or carried by anyone of another alignment unless the blade is sheathed in its special scabbard.

In the hands of a paladin, Fedifensor is a +5 weapon and also exhibits these other abilities:

1) Magic resistance of 50% in a radius of 5 feet .

2) Dispel magic can be cast upon any spell cast on the sword or its wielder whenever the paladin desires, at a level of spell use equal to the experience level of the wielder.

3) At a range of 1”/level of the paladin, the sword can detect the presence of major evil entities [demons, devils, undead, or any evil creature that can only be hit by a magic weapon). If the blade is unsheathed, it will immediately begin to glow bright red, as if just drawn from a forge furnace.

4) It inflicts an additional point of damage (beyond the usual +5) for each experience level of the wielder when used against a demon.
I was only able to encounter the githyanki once as a player. This was during a pretty over-the-top era of D&D for me when characters got built up to impossible levels of power and did truly epic things. We were in late grade school/middle school when these were played and admittedly we were a bit out of control. Regardless, I recall fondly the last stand at the gates of a hidden thieves hold where my barbarian, Balor, faced off against a savage party of githyanki and their red dragon mounts bent on the recovery of one of their coveted silver swords. The sword had been taken by the other players in the game - two thieves of great infamy. They left my poor barbarian out to hang. Balor was missed but he died in battle as any good barbarian should.

Later game releases revisited the githyanki, but in variant forms, building even more complexity into their background. Dark Sun had a race of savage, degenerate gith while Spelljammer offered them up as a sort of cosmic race of corsairs in the form of the "Pirates of Gith". When Planescape was released, the githyanki were necessarily included. who better to menace adventurers travelling the planes than a race who's been there since the earliest days of AD&D. There were even stats given in one book or another for allowing you to play them as a PC race.

Throughout these products, the visual elements of the various races of gith played around with the original version. 2nd Edition D&D and Spelljammer left them mostly alone, preserving the style of the original Fiend Folio cover. Dark Sun's savage gith were bent and carapaced and obviously a sub-species of their own. It was Planescape, where the imagery of the talented Tony DiTerlizzi had a profound effect on the visual interpretation of many of D&D's existing denizens. Under tony, the githyanki became less monstrous and much more "human" in appearance. I am not sure what made this happen, but they were suddenly no longer the gaunt undead look-alikes.

The newest editions of D&D (3.5 and 4E) have brought that original look back to them. They maintained their original yellow skin-tone and the bejeweled adornments of the scant armor and the jagged edges of their wicked weapons. this pleases me very much. Newer issues of Dragon and Dungeon have even given them new life and new details including a series of articles that details how to run an extended githyanki incursion into your campaign world. In fact, the githyanki have spawned a number of articles and have wormed their way into many publications official and unofficial (See list at the end of the post).

In game terms the githyanki can be used across a number of levels. They have an entire hierarchy full of monsters with levels in a number of classes. In addition, their associations with other creatures and their talent for magic crafting. They are the sort of enemy that can plague you all through a campaign through direct action as well as their agents.

Love them or leave them, the githyanki are one of my top favorites from D&D if not the top favorite.

List of Githyanki and Gith-related Sources
From a thread on the Planeswalker Forums (

Gith races - published sources
White Dwarf 12 (first appearance of githyanki)
1E Fiend Folio
1E Manual of the Planes
2E Monstrous Compendium Outer Plane Appendix
2E Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix 1
2E Monstrous Manual
2E Planescape Guide to the Astral Plane
2E Planescape Planes of Chaos
2E Planescape Faces of Sigil (several NPCs described)
2E Illithiad
3.5E Monster Manual
3E Manual of the Planes
3E Psionics Handbook
3E Lords of Madness
3E Planar Handbook - Tu'narath
Dungeon Magazine 100/Polyhedron 159 - Knights of the Lich Queen
Dragon Magazine 281 - Calm Amid the Storm: Hidden Teaching of the Githzerai
Dragon Magazine 309 - Incursion
Dragon Magazine 306 - Killing Cousins: Githzerai Hit Squads

Gith races - published modules
Fedifensor - Dragon Magazine 67
Into the Astral Plane - OP1 Tales of Outer Planes Module TSR 9225
Blood Fued - TSR Jam Module TSR 11445
The Citadel of Gith Reborn - Vortex of Madness Module TSR 11326
Into the Silver Realm - Dungeon Magazine 42
Interlopers of Ruun-Khazai - Dungeon Magazine 92
The Lich-Queen's Beloved - Dungeon Magazine 100
The Lich-Queen's Beloved - Dungeon Magazine 100 Web Enhancement
Tunarath City Guide - Dungeon Magazine 100 Web Enhancment
Death of Lashimire - Dungeon Magazine 116
Seekers of the Silver Forge - Dungeon Magazine 125
The Astral Blade - Side Treks by Chris Thomasson, publication unknown

Black Spine Module DSE2 (Dark Sun) TSR2428
Dragon Magazine 78 - Ecology of the Mind Flayer (narrated by a githyanki knight)
Module MA3 2 Masters of Eternal Night TSR 09571 (description of "forerunners")
Dungeon Magazine 95 - Critical Threat: Yu'thiol Mansecho (Githyanki spy)
Dungeon Magazine 99 - Map of Mystery: Githzerai Monastary
3E Map Folio 1 - Githyanki Citadel
Dragon Magazine 117 - Hounds of Space and Darkness
WTC Web Module Tower of Deception (githyanki artifact)
The Eyes of Gith by James Wyatt (fiction) at
Unearthed Arcana 3E (brief mention of half-gith bloodlines)

* And of course, don't forget the articles from!


  1. Great post! Oddly enough, the Githyanki are my favorite race next to Umber Hulks. I was 8 or 9 when I first saw the Fiend Folio book (I used to think it was Friend Folio) and the Githyanki really capture my imagination.

    Githyanki would make a great villain for VSF also, maybe a rival to the red martian race. Or, dare I say it, Gith"Yankees" vs. the British?

  2. Ha! Cut from the same fabric, it seems.

    I too am a big fan of the Umber Hulk.

  3. I concur, very comprehensive post good sir!

    Love the Wayne Reynolds Githyanki!

    Don't forget Githyanki fansite keeping them ALIVE:

  4. Cool post. I very thorough review.

  5. I think we can accept this as the definitive compilation of all things githyanki. A very thorough thesis.

  6. Well, I cannot take credit for it all. I have sited my sources well though.


  7. Ah the good ole things brings back some good times.

  8. Great post! I've been a big fan of the Githyanki since the first time I saw the original Fiend Folio on the shelf.

  9. Fedifensor! Defender of the Faith!

    I remember that article very well. Not only were my players and I fascinated by the Githyanki but the name Fedifensor was so cool we used it as the name of one of our starships in a Star Trek campaign I ran.

    I too loved that cover illustration. Fiend Folio gets some red-headed-stepchild treatment from time to time but I gotta say it was one of my favorite D&D books back in the day.

  10. Ha! We also used Fedifensor as a ship name in Star Trek.

  11. "The creators of the githyanki seem to have really built they and the githzerai with an intention for some very intricate gaming."

    Charles Stross created them. He's been one of my favourite SF writers for a few years now but only a few months ago did I figure out his connection to the Gith. If you've never read any of his work, I highly recommend his novel Accelerando and his Laundry stories (the latter being a Mythos/Kiss Kiss Bang Bang mash-up).


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