Sunday, September 16, 2012

Githzerai are awesome

So I feel like githzerai don't get a lot of love from D&D players, at least old school D&D players, and with some fair reason. The githyanki were originally some crazy alien race from the Fiend Folio who didn't really have much definition beyond a cool illustration and something something goblins from outer space. But they were evil. And we all know it is perfectly righteous to despise anything that takes evil D&D monsters and gives them a way to be good guys, all because some player said "I want to play as one of those!"

good art is hard to find also

However, if you try to forget the history of the gith and just look at them as they are today, they are an awesome concept for a race. I don't know when exactly the idea was conceived of them having been former slaves of the illithids, but it gives both strands of the gith a depth of history that other demihumans generally don't have. A whole race of slaves! Possibly brought from a distant world, or possibly created from scratch through unholy alchemy! Like the Jews in Egypt, but with mad psychic powers. The gith should be defined by their interactions with the illithids.

The second thing that's cool about them is the duality of the two races. Drizzt Do'Urden is kind of lame because he's just one guy who rebels against his evil society and is really obviously somebody's PC. But the githyanki and the githzerai are each a discrete race and culture, each a dark mirror of the other, which I like. The githzerai are monastic and severe because they're trying to expiate their horrible past as slaves of the mind flayers. The githyanki, on the other hand, survive by embracing that brutality. A githyanki is just a githzerai who gave up the constant struggle for discipline, and vice versa.

and of illithids, tbh. it's hard to find that sweet spot between 4E's glowing ninjas and AD&D's terrible newspaper cartoon

I don't know how much this has been explored already in official D&D materials, but I like the idea that the brutal githyanki represent what the gith were like under the control of the mind flayers. They were the illithid empire's secret weapon and shock troops, sailing out in fleets of voidships to lay waste to entire worlds (or planes, or whatever, depending on your cosmology). The githyanki are now their own masters, but other than that they haven't changed much. But the githzerai are taking up the greater existential challenge of redeeming their race. You could say that they're trying to get back to the Edenic state they were in on their homeworld before the illithids found them and shaped them into a race of war. On the other hand, I also like the idea of them being created through bio-magic because then they have an even greater void to overcome - there is no template for a good gith, they just have to make it up for themselves, piece by difficult piece. Nietzschean, man!

I love the githzerai so much that I'm getting excited about an all-githzerai campaign. Possibly you could invent different 'castes' which equate to races, so that the players wouldn't be stuck being forced to pick only one race for every PC. The thing is that, as I outlined above, the most interesting things about the githzerai only emerge when you see them from the inside. If a bald green dude just turns up and is all "look at my enormous wisdom and my psychic powers, also a long time ago my people were enslaved and it was all angsty, for real" then the players will most likely be like "whatever, just give me the quest". This probably goes for NPCs and githzerai PCs within a party of other characters from the Prime Material Plane. But if everyone is a githzerai, you have more motivation to explore their interesting traits and their relationships with the mind flayers and the githyanki.

So what would a githzerai campaign revolve around? How about the most dramatic event in all of gith history - the escape from the illithid empire. There is probably a bunch of canon about how this occurred but of course I'm going to ignore that and make up my own. Why would I be interested in something another person thought of when I can think things myself. And what I think of is an enormous voidship, with thousands upon thousands of githzerai refugees, travelling between the planes. The campaign begins with the gith overthrowing their masters and escaping aboard two vast generation ships. In one ship are those who will become the githzerai, in the other are those who will be githyanki, and they soon go their separate ways. Each ship must stay in transit, a la Battlestar Galactica, to avoid the pursuit of the still-extant illithid empire.

this is my favourite gith picture. space pirates!
After the initial setup phase, the PCs are free to do whatever they want. Will they try to find a place for the voidship to rest and found a secret colony? Will they fight against the brutality of their githyanki brethren? Will they challenge the might of the illithids themselves? Adventure!


  1. The Gith/Illithid thing has been there since the very first, probably inspired by that Larry Niven story with the mind-control squid-aliens.

    I don't know about other old school players, but my problem with the githzerai is the same as with tieflings, genasi, aasimar et al: they were created (or made a PC race in the githzerai case) to be weird quasi-alien playable races for the Planescape setting. Porting them over into mainstream settings genericises them and makes them more boring. A githzerai-only campaign doesn't have that problem. Plus it sounds awesome.

    1. Ah, I didn't know the gith/illithid connection was so early on. I agree with the Planescape races thing. It seems to me that a character has got to have some sort of motivations that are in line with the general motives of the campaign. Sure, you *can* have a githzerai who just wants to find treasure and slay dragons, but that's probably chucking out the most interesting bits.

  2. As for your idea of different castes, may I suggest you look at the psionic feats from 3.5(horror!)? Each feat is a different power and they are reasonably well balanced with each other. I really like the psionic focus mechanic for recharging powers as opposed to keeping track of psionic points.

  3. Also, I would check out The Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon, all 8 circles. Give a history of the Gith in general. I think you'd enjoy it.