Elite Githyanki Tactics

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes goes into gith lore in considerable depth and offers stat blocks for five new gith variations: the githyanki gish, kith’rak and supreme commander, and the githzerai enlightened and anarch. To recap, githyanki and githzerai are divergent lines of the same race, once enslaved by mind flayers. Upon seizing their freedom, the githyanki claimed license to pillage and enslave in the mind flayers’ stead, whereas the githzerai retreated into pacifist isolationism and monastic reflection. Both lines possess psionic abilities.

The githyanki gish is a sort of eldritch knight or war mage, both a fierce shock attacker and a potent spellcaster, with high ability scores across the board. (This variant was introduced in edition 3.5 and has become an archetypal example of the fighter/magic-user multiclass combo, so that any such character is often referred to as a “gish.”) With proficiency in Perception and Stealth, it also excels at ambush. And its proficiency in Constitution saving throws dramatically improves its chances of maintaining concentration on sustained spells while taking damage.

Since psionics exist in fifth-edition Dungeons and Dragons as reskinned magic, the githyanki gish has a number of “spells” it can cast innately alongside its conventional wizard-spell repertoire: mage hand (essentially telekinesis lite), jump, misty step, nondetection, plane shift and telekinesis, of which misty step, plane shift and telekinesis are the most broadly useful.

As for its arcane spells:

  • Dimension door is inferior to plane shift, but (a) the gish can cast it twice, and (b) because plane shift doesn’t consume a spell slot, it’s not an either/or choice. A gish can dimension door into battle and dimension door out—and still have plane shift in reserve in case of unexpected pursuit.
  • Counterspell is a scornful rejoinder to enemy spellcasters.
  • Fireball is everyone’s favorite classic kaboom spell.
  • Haste is murder in a can, and because of the massive bonus psychic damage inflicted when the gish lands a sword hit, it’s as likely to cast this spell on itself as on someone else. Requires concentration.
  • Blur also requires concentration and simply isn’t as good as haste or the gish’s competing 2nd-level spells.
  • Invisibility needs no sales pitch.
  • Levitate is of limited usefulness, since it also requires concentration. It can be used against an enemy, telekinesis-style, targeting Constitution rather than Strength—but then what? A longsword Multiattack will hurt an enemy more than dropping him or her from ceiling height.
  • Expeditious retreat is handy if there’s no 3rd-level slot left for haste.
  • Magic missile is useful for dealing with opponents at range or who are proving hard to hit with melee attacks.
  • Sleep isn’t going to accomplish much against a mid-level or high-level party; the gish doesn’t have enough of an abundance of higher-level spell slots to boost it with.
  • Thunderwave is situationally useful for knocking down two or more melee opponents, since War Magic allows the gish to follow up with a longsword attack (with advantage against a prone opponent).
  • Blade ward would be useful if it lasted more than a round, but it doesn’t, so it isn’t. The gish is a shock attacker. It wants to be dealing the damage, not dodging it.
  • Light and message are useful outside combat, not so much during.
  • True strike has exactly one use: ensuring advantage on the first attack of a failed ambush attempt. Otherwise not worth bothering.

As we often see with spellcasting monsters, there’s a traffic jam at 3rd level, with counterspell, fireball and haste all competing for three spell slots. Counterintuitively, of the three, fireball is the least useful, because (a) it doesn’t enhance the gish’s action economy, and (b) it relies on opponents’ being clustered together in the area of effect. Thus, the gish will cast fireball only if four or more of its enemies are thusly clustered, and even then, it will probably do so either before combat begins (thereby initiating it) or while acting as backup to a group of other gith. More commonly, a gish will instead cast haste on itself and keep its other two 3rd-level spell slots in reserve for counterspell.

With both high Wisdom and proficiency in Insight, a githyanki gish has a good sense of when a situation might be resolvable through talk rather than combat. However, to make this happen, it has to have some way of communicating with its foes, or vice versa. It’s clever enough that if (a) it and its allies can achieve their goals without fighting, (b) it looks like a fight might go poorly for its side (that is, if the encounter is Hard or easier), and (c) its opponents seem like they might be amenable, a gish might try to communicate a willingness to avoid engagement through nonverbal means—gestures, actions and movements. If a githyanki knight is present, the gish might have it translate.

The gish is also very good at coordinating with allies and at assessing opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. It does ferocious damage with its weapon hits, but its first priority is going to be figuring out the worst things its opponents can do and neutralizing them. Generally, the greatest threat is going to be a spellcaster who can cast area-effect spells that require Dexterity saving throws—and anyone dressed in wizardly fashion is likely to be able to do this.

A good way of shutting this threat down is to use a bonus action to misty step next to the spellslinger (make a Stealth roll with that misty step spell, to see whether the target noticed the gish’s materialization), then whack him or her with a longsword Multiattack (with advantage on the first swing if the target didn’t see the gish appear) and counterspell his or her next attempt to fight back or get away. Meanwhile, if the gish has other githyanki allies, they’ll engage enemy melee fighters to try to lock them down.

Once combat begins, it may become apparent that the biggest threat is actually an enemy shock attacker, such as a rogue, monk or barbarian. Against a rogue or monk, the gish can use telekinesis to push the target away from its allies or, possibly, into a trap or environmental hazard—something that immobilizes the opponent. Or it can use its normal movement to interpose itself between any shock attacker and its targeted ally, cast haste, immediately use its second Attack action to strike with its longsword, use its bonus action (thanks to War Magic) to do so again, and be set up on its next turn to make two more longsword attacks and cast another spell. Or, if it has to travel more than 30 feet to engage the shock attacker, it can trade its bonus action attack for misty step.

The gish isn’t stingy with misty step, since combat isn’t likely to last so long that it will ever need to cast it a fourth time. If it does, that may be the signal for the gish to teleport out of there with dimension door or plane shift.

Remember, incidentally, that dimension door lets you bring a friend along, and plane shift lets you bring eight. A gish that’s done its reconnaissance and is confident in its ability to win a fight (read: you, the DM, created it to be a Deadly encounter), rather than save plane shift for an emergency evacuation, might use it to transport itself and a cadre of allies into a battle for a round of surprise attacks. But note two restrictions on this maneuver: First, the githyanki have to be airdropping in from a different plane of existence. Second, this consumes the gish’s action during the surprise round, and depending on initiative (which you should roll for first), its allies may get only reaction attacks rather than full turns. On the other hand, I don’t see that there’s anything stopping the gish from casting haste on itself before casting plane shift!

Githyanki in general are highly disciplined, and gish are no exception. They’ll call a retreat when they’re seriously wounded (reduced to 49 hp or fewer) or when half or more of their allies are, but knowing that they’re more powerful than rank-and-file githyanki warriors and knights, they’ll stick around and keep fighting while their allies retreat even if they themselves are only hanging on by a thread, or possibly try to parley.

The githyanki kith’rak is, essentially, a captain of a company of githyanki. Fundamentally, it differs from an ordinary githyanki warrior only in its Rally the Troops and Parry features. It uses Rally the Troops as applicable, and whenever it has a reaction available, it uses Parry against a melee weapon attack roll of 18 to 21. Consider it seriously wounded when it’s reduced to 72 hp or fewer, but note that it will nearly always be the “least injured” githyanki that stays behind to cover its allies’ retreat.

The githyanki supreme commander is to the githyanki knight as the githyanki kith’rak is to the githyanki warrior, and consequently shares most of its tactics as well. To the knight’s features, it adds the innate “spells” Bigby’s hand, mass suggestion and levitate (self only); the Parry reaction; and the legendary actions Attack, Command Ally and Teleport. It lacks the innate “spell” tongues, though.

Bigby’s hand is a concentration-required spell and an action economy enhancer, making it a much better use of the supreme commander’s concentration than levitate, which is mainly just showing off. It’s good for whomping low-AC spellslingers with the Clenched Fist, immobilizing rogues and monks with the Grasping Hand or shoving them into lava pits with the Forceful Hand, or foiling would-be pursuers with the Interposing Hand.

Mass suggestion seems like it ought to synergize nicely with the supreme commander’s Intimidation skill as a way of convincing opponents that resistance is futile (“You have no hope of victory—drop your weapons, surrender and kneel before us!”). However, the supreme commander lacks the ability to communicate with anyone who doesn’t speak Gith and consequently needs a githyanki knight to act as its translator, which undermines its ability to use mass suggestion. (Then again, there’s nothing stopping you from deciding that a particular githyanki supreme commander does possess an ability equivalent to tongues; it wouldn’t affect the challenge rating.)

The fact that the supreme commander’s legendary Attack consumes two legendary actions also strikes me as strange, but on reflection, I think I can understand why it costs so much: It’s an incentive to use the other two legendary actions first. After all, it’s the “supreme commander,” not the “supreme attacker.” The commander could make an attack itself, but why do that when it can tell someone else to? Plus, when the supreme commander orders an ally to attack, the ally—presumably cognizant of what happens when you displease a githyanki supreme commander—gets advantage on the roll.

The legendary Teleport action is a disengaging maneuver, for use when two or more enemies have managed to engage in melee with the supreme commander and are doing more than minor damage to it—say, 57 points of total damage in a round. As soon as the damage crosses that threshold, the supreme commander uses the legendary Teleport action at the end of the turn of the opponent who dealt it. This also applies if only one enemy is engaged in melee with the supreme commander but that enemy’s melee damage, on top of other (ranged or area-effect) damage done to it that turn, carries the total over the threshold.

As DM, keep track of the initiative order; use Teleport as soon as it applies, but don’t use Command Ally until you reach the third-to-last turn in the order before the supreme commander’s turn, unless doing so has a good chance of knocking out a particularly dangerous opponent. (Remember that because Command Ally consumes a reaction, it can be used only once per ally—and don’t bother using it on a kith’rak, which wants its reaction free in case it needs to Parry.) Then use Attack on the last turn in the order before the supreme commander’s if and only if it has two legendary actions remaining.

The githyanki supreme commander is seriously wounded when reduced to 74 hp or fewer. If its troops are in equally sorry shape, it calls a halt to battle and parleys, since its enemies are clearly its (near-)equals. However, since it’s proficient in Intimidation rather than Insight or Persuasion, this parley is going to consist more of threats and posturing than polite discussion of interests and terms.

Next: elite githzerai.

15 thoughts on “Elite Githyanki Tactics”

  1. You seem to have dramatically overestimated the accuracy of *Plane Shift* in a number of articles. It’s accurate enough for you to specify “New York City” but not enough for you to target “Brooklyn” and especially not accurate enough to target “The north-western corner of Prospect Park West and 9th street”.

    1. That’s a fair criticism of this article, although I don’t know whether it’s true of “a number of articles,” since usually I’m just citing it as a “Get me out of here before I die” measure. In that instance, you don’t much care whether you end up in Brooklyn or Poughkeepsie.

  2. A way to make the supreme commander even more powerful, is to use the lore that they ride ADULT RED DRAGONS into battle. So have fun with that >:)

    1. My players are coming onto githyanki soon, and will indeed by fighting a surpreme commander on an adult red dragon (and a bunch of knights on young red dragons). But Keith hardly ever talks about monsters allying with others outside of an article (e.g. here he’s only talking about Githyanki working with other kinds Githyanki).

  3. In general, if two spells are cast in a round, one of them has to be a cantrip, making the misty step trade for the bonus attack impossible if haste was cast that round (p. 202 of the PHB has the reference). You cite War Magic for this so maybe the gith have a different War Magic than the EK, but it doesn’t sound like it from your previous reference.

  4. Side note: you can’t use Levitate to drop someone for falling damage. When the spell ends, the target floats gently down to the ground.

    It can be used as CC – hold the target a few feet off the ground and it can’t flee. It’s great for this, as not only does it not give them a save each turn, they don’t even get the traditional saving-throw-when-taking-damage.

  5. Side note: you can’t use Levitate to drop people for falling damage. When the spell ends, the target floats gently to the ground.

    What you can use it for is control: hold the target a few feet off the ground and smack away. It’s unusually good CC as it allows only the one initial saving throw even if the target is taking damage

  6. In regards to this: “make a Stealth roll with that misty step spell, to see whether the target noticed the gish’s materialization”

    RAW, it doesn’t work like that unless its used to initiate combat. Outside of that it’s DM’s discretion, but I don’t think you make that clear enough .

    PHB p.177 says “In combat, most creature stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However, under certain circumstances, the Dungeon master might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack before you are seen.”

    5E doesn’t have facing rules and all characters/enemies have 360 awareness and site at all times during battle. There’s no behind or in-front of the enemy. If the player has vision of the gish when it starts its turn, then it’s impossible for the gish to sneak up on that player for a melee attack because the instant it reappears the player has vision of it again. No stealth roll.

    1. People often say there’s no facing in D&D 5E, but this isn’t entirely true. By default, attacks can target anyone within reach, and line of sight extends in all directions; however, chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide does offer an optional facing rule that governs attack direction, though not line of sight. Personally, just as general rules apply unless a specific rule overrides them, I consider real-world laws of nature to apply unless a D&D rule—general or specific—overrides them. In reality, people do not have 360-degree panoramic vision. There’s no rule that says a character can wield three weapons at once, one in each of his three hands—nor is there a rule that says a character can’t. That’s because we don’t need to be told that humanoids have only two hands. At any rate, we shouldn’t need to be told that. A character in combat achieves 360-degree awareness by constantly changing the direction they’re looking, not by looking in all directions at once.

      When a phase spider, for instance, uses Ethereal Jaunt to appear suddenly behind someone—where it did not exist before—and attack immediately, a DM may thereby justify allowing it a chance to stay hidden and gain advantage on its attack before it’s seen. This clearly qualifies as one of the “certain circumstances” described in the rule you cited. Line of sight determines whether a creature can be seen, not necessarily whether it is seen. When a gish casts misty step, a PC may know to look toward its starting position, but it has no idea and no way of knowing what its ending position will be. A Stealth-vs.-Perception contest is the most reasonable way to determine whether the PC can reorient their awareness before getting whacked.

      This is my position, and I’ll not be budged from it.

    1. Sure, in the same way that a Russian commando could pretend to be a Tibetan Buddhist monk, or vice versa. Even if they could make themself look the part, assuming a completely different physical presence would be an exceptionally challenging stunt to pull off.

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