Old-school Advanced Dungeons and Dragons players will remember the githyanki as the poster monster of the Fiend Folio, the first supplement to the original Monster Manual. (They’ll also remember the FF as the book that gave us the flumph, but let’s speak no more of that.) Githyanki aren’t native to the world the player characters inhabit but rather travel there from their original home on some other plane of existence, to raid and conquer. They share a common origin with the githzerai.
Githyanki warriors are shock troops, with high Strength and Dexterity. Their Intelligence and Wisdom are also above average. They have innate psionic ability (so far, treated in fifth-edition D&D as a form of spellcasting) that grants them at-will telekinesis in the form of the mage hand spell along with limited uses of jump, misty step and nondetection. They have proficiency bonuses to Constitution, Intelligence and Wisdom saving throws and a melee Multiattack.
What makes githyanki combat interesting is the intersection of their high damage-dealing capacity, low Constitution relative to their Strength and Dexterity (though it’s still above human average) and mobility spells. Githyanki should move fast, strike hard, then be somewhere else. The fact that misty step is a bonus action rather than a normal action is the key ingredient in this recipe, enabling combinations such as:
- Move toward an opponent, Multiattack (action), misty step (bonus action) past the opponent.
- Misty step (bonus action) toward an opponent, Multiattack (action) to finish the opponent off, move.
- Multiattack (action), misty step (bonus action), move out of sight.
Jump isn’t a bonus action, but it doesn’t have to be sustained, either. The effect of one jump spell, tripling a subject’s jumping distance, lasts a full minute. Jumping isn’t one of the best-understood rules in D&D 5E and apparently I got part of it wrong myself, so let’s go over what this means:
- A running long jump with a 10-foot head start carries a character his or her Strength in feet; a standing long jump covers half that distance. A jumping character can also clear an obstacle up to one-fourth the length of the jump in height. Thus, a githyanki warrior with Strength 15 can normally cover 15 feet in a running long jump or 7 feet in a standing long jump. With jump in effect, these become 45 feet and 22 feet respectively, with the ability to clear a heights of 10 feet and 5 feet. However, within a single combat round, a creature is still constrained by its movement speed, meaning that even under the influence of jump, a creature with 30 feet of movement speed can jump no farther than 30 feet during the round without using the Dash action to gain additional movement. If it jumps farther, the movement carries into the next round.
- A running high jump with a 10-foot head start carries a character his or her Strength modifier plus 3 feet up in the air; a standing jump reaches half that height. Thus, a githyanki warrior with Strength 15 (modifier +2) can normally jump 5 feet in the air with a running start or 2 feet without one. With jump in effect, these become 15 feet and 7 feet, respectively.
When might a githyanki want to use jump? In close-quarters fighting, misty step offers far more utility, and even in areas with lots of horizontal and vertical space, misty step still costs only a bonus action, while jump consumes a full action.
The githyanki’s action will normally be a Multiattack, so logically, the time to use jump is when the githyanki isn’t attacking. This could mean that the opponents have run away, that the githyanki has just defeated an opponent and is looking for another, or that the githyanki itself is fleeing.
Githyanki have a base movement speed of 30 feet, just like many player characters. Suppose a PC has Disengaged from combat with a githyanki warrior and is retreating. The githyanki can use jump, move 10 feet, leap 30 feet over the PC, then come 10 feet back to re-engage while cutting off the PC’s escape (assuming there’s enough clearance above the PC’s head). If the githyanki has already cast jump earlier in the encounter, it can even overtake a Dashing PC this way—move 10 feet, leap 45, move another 5—and still have an action left to Multiattack with. Similarly, a retreating githyanki that’s cast jump on a previous turn can Disengage, withdraw 15 feet, then leap 45, gaining the full benefit of a Dash action without risking an opportunity attack. As long as githyanki warriors are able to choose the time and place of an encounter, you can assume that they cast jump before combat begins; only if the PCs surprise them, or the two groups come across each other unexpectedly, will they have to use an action to cast it. In this paragraph, I presumed that jump allowed a creature to jump 3 feet for every 1 foot of movement expended; apparently, I was incorrect. Since the effect of jump is still subject to a creature’s movement speed, I’m not sure it can be used to gain any tactical advantage.
Githyanki warriors are intelligent and disciplined and will Disengage when retreating. The least wounded warrior will cover others who are retreating and will fight to the death in order to do so. Other githyanki warriors will retreat when seriously wounded (reduced to 19 hp or fewer).
Githyanki knights have a more brute-like ability score contour, with a Constitution that’s higher than their Dexterity. In addition, they have access to one use of plane shift and one of telekinesis, a more sophisticated form of the ability than mage hand offers. With telekinesis, a githyanki knight can push (or pull!) a PC up to 30 feet in any direction or even hold him or her suspended in the air. With plane shift, a PC can be transported permanently to another plane of existence, or the githyanki knight and its allies can abscond that way themselves.
In a group consisting of both githyanki knights and githyanki warriors, the knights will engage the most formidable melee opponents and keep them occupied; they’ll use misty step only to intervene if an opponent somewhere else is proving problematic to another githyanki, or after defeating one opponent to close swiftly with another. They’ll also serve as the rearguard to allow their retreating allies to escape, making their own exit with plane shift when all their allies have gotten a safe distance away. They’ll use telekinesis to hoist a pesky skirmisher up in the air, to shove an enemy off a ledge or into a hazard, to pull an enemy into an ally’s melee reach, or to drag a fleeing enemy back to the fight—choosing conservatively, since they get to use this power only once each. They can make a good educated guess about which PCs have Strength or Charisma low enough for telekinesis or plane shift to work against them, though they can be fooled by appearances.
Githyanki knights don’t retreat as long as githyanki warriors are present. When alone or accompanied only by other knights, they’ll plane shift away when seriously wounded (reduced to 36 hp or fewer), unless they’re duty-bound to guard a location.
Finally, unlike githyanki warriors, githyanki knights have the innate ability to cast tongues, meaning if anyone’s going to be able to parley with the PCs, it will be the knights. They’ll do so if given a chance, but they are lawful evil, so their idea of “parley” is going to consist mostly of telling the PCs how it’s going to be; they’re not going care about the PCs’ interests and will only indulge negotiation offers that meaningfully further their own.