One of the longest-standing non-natives upon the astral, the githyanki (gith-YANG-kee) — fierce opponents to githzerai and illithid alike throughout the planes — are far more complex than many would give them credit for. They may be vicious when angered, but when it comes to outsiders, githyanki are far from the bloodthirsty tyrants they are often accused of being.
The history of the githyanki begins some millennia ago, in the midst of the illithid empire. Born from one world's transplanted population of humans, at the time little more than illithid slaves, the people that would become the githyanki were formed out of generations of selective breeding to create a people that would best serve the mind flayers. And so they did, until an event near some 15,000 years ago that even today resounds in their culture: the rebellion of Gith. Having slowly grown psionic powers over the centuries prior to the rebellion, they had grown less and less susceptible to the control of the illithid, but few thought to rise up. Gith and her compatriot, the warrior Zerthimon, were the first to do so, but soon the entire population followed. Within a matter of years, the Prime-spanning illithid empire, already crumbling under its own weight, had been toppled.
This was not the end of things, however. While Zerthimon sought to come to peace with themselves, to learn just who they were as a people now that they were their own people, Gith sought to continue the rebellion on and engage in a genocidal pogrom sweeping the planes until every last illithid was wiped from the multiverse. The two people split during a final confrontation known today as the Pronouncement of Two Skies; those following Zerthimon are known today as the githzerai — roughly, "Opponents of Gith" — while those following Gith took the name githyanki — "Children of Gith". Ever since, the two peoples have served as blood enemies to one another, a hatred only slightly less fervent than their shared hatred towards the beings who once enslaved them.
Following the Pronouncement of Two Skies, the githyanki established their first fortress cities, including the great capital Tu'narath, upon the god-isles of the Astral Plane, a place where they could keep a close eye on the machinations of the illithid within both the Prime and the Outer Planes. Knowing they could not destroy the illithid and githzerai alone, Gith, under the guidance of her chief adviser Vlaakith, journeyed out to seek aid against their enemies. The first attempt, an allegiance with the slaad following the githzerai occupation of Limbo, was an utter failure, but far more success was gained upon her arrival in Baator, as she sought out the aid of the powerful Tiamat. Gith never returned from this journey, but the eternal pact was sealed with the return of Vlaakith alongside Ephelomon, consort of Tiamat, at Tu'narath, and to this day the githyanki can still count on the aid of any red dragon throughout the planes; a great boon in fighting illithid (and githzerai) strongholds in the Prime. Taking the reins of the empire, Vlaakith stabilized the githyanki people in the aftermath of the disappearance of their greatest hero, becoming Vlaakith I. All queens since then have descended from Vlaakith's lineage (according to official githyanki histories, though the zerai claim otherwise) even down to the present, having been led for the last thousand years by the lich-queen Vlaakith CLVII.
The githyanki are an intensely martial people, a quality that suffuses nearly their entire way of life. From the first days of adulthood, all githyanki are expected to train to defend the nation, with even those not part of its armies expected to have at least some training. The longsword — Gith's own chosen weapon according to most stories — is most common, with almost 9 in 10 githyanki trained in its use, but so long as they can hold a weapon, they are accepted. Most githyanki communities are designed with war in mind as well; the common term "fortress-city" is by no means just a name, ass no githyanki settlement is designed without a strong eye towards defense, bristling with watch spires facing in all directions to ensure an invading force has no good means of approach even within the three-dimensional navigation of the Astral. Even civic life functions more like a regimented battalion. Githyanki culture has few laws for githyanki, because the chain of command holds over all members; the concept of "civilian" barely exists within the culture, and is usually equated with "weak" or "infirm". What little crime there is isn't the matter of breaking a law, but rather of disobeying ones superiors either explicitly or implicitly. While those cities major enough to allow outsiders access do tend to possess a code of laws, even these tend to boil down to "respect the githyanki and their wishes or die".
On the combat side of things, githyanki soldiers can be divided into a number of categories. Those without any level of arcane or psionic ability (beyond what all githyanki innately hold) are known as "githwarriors", and serve as the backbone of githyanki forces. The highest of githwarriors are brought into the level of "knight", a group held in highest esteem, serving as the guthyanki nation's shock troops or special forces. Direct servitors of Vlaakith, they are the closest thing the githyanki have to divine forces, akin to (and granted many of the powers of) an antipaladin. Though technically outside the normal command structure of the githyanki, they still are trusted to handle the most important tasks. Arcanists of any sort are all known as "warlocks" (as are the few true warlocks amongst the githyanki). Warlocks are almost wholly combat mages, with the noncombat needs delegated to specialists described below. Combatants of all styles are accepted, including necromancy, but necromancers that animate the dead are rare; not due to any actual disgust, unlike many peoples (among the githyanki, the dead are seen as nothing but empty shells deserving no more disgust nor concern than a rock) but merely because few githyanki pursue the course. Blending the two are the gish, or "skilled", a term for those that blend swordplay with the arcane arts into a single style of combat. Far more common than in most cultures, gish easily make up nearly half of the githyanki arcane combatants. Finally there are the psions, who are held in no greater nor lesser esteem than the warlocks despite the heavy reliance of psionics throughout the githyanki. To the githyanki, magic and psionics are both nothing but tools, applicable in different times but both just as useful as one another.
The githyanki armies are most strongly brought to bear along their two great feuds; the illithid and the githzerai. The former manifests itself in the great hunting parties sent into the Prime and, less commonly, the Outlands to purge illithid cities and fortresses. Expeditions to the Prime often take advantage of a pact made in the distant past between Gith and Tiamat, giving the githyanki access to powerful red dragon mounts. As for the latter, there have been many great skirmishes in Limbo over the years as the githyanki strike out against their ancient kin, though usually far less successful due to lack of familiarity with the soup of chaos matter. Of course, the forces of the githyanki are mustered for other, lesser concerns as well. Of these lesser concerns, the most prominent is the psurlons, another species of astral refugees that occasionally causes problems for the githyanki. Less often but still quite violent are fights against the shedu and buomman, as well as the occasional conflict with gold dragons upon the Prime on Tiamat's request.
Of course, not every single githyanki is a soldier; while the githyanki are thought of by most as one massive army, and this is for the most part accurate, every army still has need of its specialists. Especially due to the plane they've chosen as home, the githyanki have a number of special and unique needs, and these organizations help to fill them. The g'lathk serve as the githyanki nation's provisioners and, tangentially, its healers, developing ways to nurture and harvest food even within the timeless Astral. Using vast artificial chambers designed to allow for growth without time, they cultivate hydroponic or underwater gardens in the depths of a city's mass, providing for their regular incursions into the Prime. These chambers, on a smaller scale, also form the rejuvenation pods that allow injured githyanki to gain the benefit of natural healing without leaving the plane — a direly important role for a people with no divinities. The mlar act as the their engineering corps, magically- and psionically-talented artists and builders that design and construct the fortress-cities, enchanted devices, and flying vessels used by the githyanki; many githyanki with arcane talents that prefer to shy away from combat — and yes, such do exist — instead join this class, allowing them to pursue their gifts nonviolently yet still in service to the state. The hr'a'cknir have no real analogy among traditional armies. On one hand, they serve as seers, observing the numerous varieties of energy, psionic and otherwise, that run through the plane in order to get a sense on the current condition and situation about them. On the other, they also serve as harvesters, collecting this energy for the use of g'lathk and mlar in their own projects, and for the benefit of the githyanki as a whole. And least common are the varsh, the caretakers and wet-nurses of the githyanki. Varsh are rarely seen upon the astral, as most hatcheries are located on the Prime, but they are obviously among the most important roles for the githyanki. These four organizations form the backbone of the githyanki at-home forces, the support structure on which the military front-line men rely to survive.
In spite of their firm military command structure, the githyanki are ferociously opposed to the idea of slavery of any sort; ironically according to some, given the fierce level of devotion they have to their god-queen. However, unlike many, this derision is directed not at the slave-masters, but at the slaves themselves. In the eyes of the githyanki, those enslaved need merely throw off their bonds as Gith did millennia ago, and those that have not are simply cowardly. Any sign of purely servile behavior, behavior setting a person below another — grovelling, pleading, begging, or even merely signs of submission offered out of politeness — usually lead to sneering at best, with few githyanki desiring to interact with such. The insult "dog" is common towards such individuals, the githyanki seeing them as akin to the spectral hounds they themselves raise within their cities. While servitude is sometimes at some level necessary, every githyanki understands that it is undertaken willingly, done (in their case) for the benefit of the nation as a whole, and that in no way does it imply that a person is superior merely by virtue of being above another in caste or status.
This, however, does not change the fact that githyanki almost as a whole possess a near-fanatical devotion to the lich-queen Vlaakith. This devotion is so great that nary a single order of hers is questioned regardless of how sensible or otherwise it may be; not out of lack of thought, but merely because most assume she is so wise that if an order appears questionable, it is simply that they do not understand its purpose. This includes the long-standing policy of sacrifice she's held over her people — all githyanki that reach a pinnacle of skill are "honored" by their queen with sacrifice, their spiritual energy captured for her use, though none can say to what end. While some do attempt to disobey and flee when their time arises (and nearly all are captured, for Vlaakith seems to have an innate sense of the location of all her people), most follow suit willingly. Rumors always circulate of one underground or another existing in the shadows of her kingdom — some even speak of joint githyanki/githzerai efforts at reunification, blasphemous to most githyanki as this may be — but the survival of any such group is unlikely for long among their number.
Having descended from (most likely) humans with no extraplanar blood, githyanki are wholly mortal, if greatly transformed from the selective breeding programs of the illithid. When not dwelling upon the Astral, a githyanki has close to twice the lifespan of a human; accounting for the qualities of that plane, many githyanki live far longer. Though of course they have no need for food on the plane, when they do eat they require much larger amounts of food than most peoples, as their digestive systems spend long periods in dormancy. Githyanki are omnivorous, usually eating whatever seaweed or mushrooms the g'lathk grow alongside meat gathered from hunting expeditions — usually astral whales.
Of course, by far the largest change forced upon the githyanki is the transformation of their reproduction. Though still mammalian, githyanki are egg layers. when laid, eggs are kept in communal hatcheries hidden in various githyanki strongholds on the Prime, where they are raised by varsh and trained by githwarriors and gish until they reach adulthood. As such, githyanki have no conception of traditional family structures and, more than likely, will have no clue who their parents even are. Instead, their families consist of their fellow rookmates and, occasionally, the varsh that helped to raise them.
The efforts of the illithid, encouraged by the rituals of Queen Vlaakith, have also given the githyanki a number of innate abilities. The weakest of these begin to emerge at their coming of age, usually around 18 years of age. It is the emergence of their innate abilities that in fact marks a githyanki's passage into adulthood, and as this tends to happen about the same year for all githyanki from a given year's clutch, a massive celebration is held once a year to mark the occasion.
Githyanki, in spite of their biology, appear vaguely reptilian or even corpse-like, with tight, dry-looking skin ranging from sickly-white to sallow yellow to pale green and often covered with blotches that resemble liver spots. They tend to be quite tall, males and females both averaging around 6 feet, but they appear to have have very slim, almost unhealthy builds, and often have the exposed ribs and cheekbones associated with severe hunger; this belies their very dense makeup, with the average adult githyanki tending close to 175 pounds. In truth, despite their appearance githyanki no more tend towards sickness or injury than any other species.
Githyanki bear long black talons on their hands and feet, though these tend to be too brittle to use as weapons. Their visible teeth tend to more resemble a row of fangs, all sharp and thin, which helps contribute to their diet leaning towards meat when food is necessary. Their ears are tipped in swept-back points reaching around the tip of their scalp, while their eyes, though unchanged in structure from their human ancestry, are most often yellow or light green, with occasional brown or hazel eyes seen. Their hair runs from deep black to reddish-brown, with most githyanki growing theirs long and keeping it in elaborate braids or top-knots. The most striking facet of a githyanki's face to many is the nose, so small and pug-like as to appear almost missing, barely more than a pair of open nostrils and doing much to add to their corpse-like visage.
Githyanki prefer to dress in tight-fitting clothes or cloth wrappings with perhaps the occasional cloak or mantle, the better to move freely on the Astral without overly worrying of catching a loose item on an outcropping. They usually eschew gloves or shoes, given that with sharp yet brittle talons, neither clothing nor claw holds up well for long. Many, both male and female, wear elaborate and unique arrangements of jewelry — ear piercings, necklaces, brooches, armbands — both as a show of captured trophies and to help better identify a person from a distance through the Astral fog.
Aaryl, B'nor, Ch'a'nev, Dulurin, Eri'inth, Haranor, Ilaareb, Jen'lig, Madivh, Malastra, Merical, Pah'zel, Quorstyl, Sharqad, Sirruth, Tarain, Tonuin'li, Un'ruth, Vaira, Venel, Venelzi'ir, Vharist, Vo'ryd, Yessune, Zar'ryth
Bvid, Debrelx, Elirdain, Gaath, Galdvisk, J'ladmir, Ja'adoc, Joarth, Kar'i'nas, Karluth, Kel'i'jith, Lykus, N'a'rai, Ninir, Oso'zhen, Quith, Rech, Ris'a'n, Su'lukel, Tehv'in, Terath, Tropos, Veldrada, Vheld'r'r, Viran, Zamodas, Zaryd'ai
- Dungeon #100 - The Lich-Queen's Beloved, pp.96-139
- A Guide to the Astral Plane, pp.44-67
- Tales from the Infinite Staircase, pp.84-97