Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Keep Githzerai Chaotic

In the Fiend Folio and the Planescape Campaign Setting, the Githzerai are both monastic and chaotic. The FF Githzerai are chaotic neutral, while Planescape Githzerai PCs can be of any nonlawful alignment. I like the idea of a chaotic monk, or, at least, someone of an ascetic disposition who is at home in the fluidity of chaos. I get the idea of a lawful neutral species refining their disciplined minds by giving structure and order to the chaos of Limbo, but that’s not what I want from Githzerai.  The Githzerai in my 5e Planescape campaign are nonlawful in nature. The following is an attempt to flesh out their philosophy a little more, written from the perspective of a sage from Sigil. I should probably refine this further before posting it, but I can always come back to it later.

Max Ernst, "Europe After the Rain," 1941

The Githzerai: Brothers and Sisters in Limbo

“To be in Limbo”: in the Common tongue, the phrase usually connotes a state of inertia instigated by uncertainty or mental paralysis: we cannot decide; the process is in limbo. The process has momentarily halted its deliberate movement.

But for the Githzerai who dwell on the Plane of Limbo, the phrase has a much different meaning. While still connoting a state of uncertainty, that uncertainty results not in stasis but in boundless possibility.

The name “Limbo” derives from the common language of a Prime world long forgotten, but scholars of the planes hold that its literal definition was “boundary.” In that sense, the Plane of Limbo is the boundary between Ysgard—a realm of individualistic creativity in the name of selfless benevolence and live-giving renewal—and the deranged, vile, and destructive chaos of Pandemonium. The Plane of Limbo, then, is a realm of amoral chaos: no meaning, only information; no objects, only matter; no telos, only process.

The challenge of taming such a realm has drawn many Lawful sentient species to Limbo. Those of a Lawful predisposition come to order the chaos, to divide its swirling intensities into islands of stability, outposts of sensibility in a nonsense world. The geometric monuments to cosmic Law rarely last more than a few generations, however, as Limbo’s accelerated entropy tears mortar from stone and batters stone to dust. It seems Limbo actively opposes any attempt to structure it.

The Githzerai of Limbo have learned to live with the chaos rather than struggle against it. Their communities are unlike any other in the multiverse, different even from those of the Slaad. Those with the will to survive the vortices of plasma and other strange states of matter eddying through the void find themselves transformed, deconstructed, reshaped.

For the Githzerai, one result of living in such a place is the realization of the multiplicity of the self. Limbo isn’t merely a static buffer between “good” chaos and “evil” chaos but a catalyst for transformation, an edge of perception beyond which anything is possible. Even the body itself is a “Limbo,” a boundary or limit, that exists to be overcome. The monastic Githzerai warriors and assassins have learned to overcome that boundary through the science of psionics. They also possess a curious incompatibility with magic. The nature of this aversion still requires additional study.

It is disorienting enough to parley with a Githzerai from Sigil or one of the Gate Towns, but to meet a Githzerai in Limbo is even stranger. Their humanoid bodies are stretched and flattened into formless blobs by the winds of chaos. They can physically and mentally combine with one another into a single entity, and when they reform as individuals, their personalities may be completely altered by the agglomeration and disaggregation of  many minds. They reproduce through a similar process of sedimentation: a dozen Githzerai assemble and then disassemble into thirteen individuals, each of them transformed in the process. It is said that the human mind contains multitudes; this is literally the case for the Githzerai.