For playing through the adventures of Candlekeep Mysteries I created a character for every class based on a fictional detective type character. Detective Pikachu became a Storm Sorcerer, John Constantine became a Fiend Pact Warlock. Good times. These adventures are pretty damn good, especially as we get past level 5 and get into the Goldilocks levels when 5E gets really fun to play. One character I made I would definitely like to re-visit on another campaign someday. And that is the Githyanki Order Cleric based on Madame Vastra from Doctor Who.
I wanted a Melee Cleric for the roster of Candlekeepers. The Order Domain seemed like the most Detective-y so I started there. But it doesn’t get any weapon proficiencies so I looked around the races. Githyanki get proficiency with Greatswords and Longswords. I thought, “what fictional character could possibly be the inspiration for a Githyanki Order Cleric?” And by some miracle I got to Madame Vastra.
Vastra is introduced in the Matt Smith episode, “A Good Man Goes To War” as an old friend of The Doctor. She is a Silurian, one of the dinosaur people who went underground after the extinction. In-universe she’s hinted to be the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and killed Jack the Ripper. She lives in what I’m probably incorrectly calling the Victorian Era. She has a wife, Jenny, who is a character in her own right.
It’s bizarre how easy it is to graft Vastra’s backstory onto a Githyanki D&D character. In Doctor Who, she was awakened in the London Underground and started attacking humans until The Doctor stopped her and she eventually becomes a detective. It’s not a huge stretch to imagine a Githyanki warrior who maybe got left behind on a raid of the material plane and winds up in the same situation.
I really like the Gith lore, which is very neatly summarized in the 5e book “Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.” Once, they were one people enslaved by Mind Flayers, but they escaped. They’re split into two races, the Githzerai and Githyanki. The Githzerai are the “good guys.” They live in the plane of chaos seemingly to temper themselves and become super lawful and serene. If the words “law & chaos” aren’t a hint, the Gith are creatures of D&D planes and multiverse. The Githyanki are the antagonists and we’re here to talk about them. They live on the Astral Plane where time doesn’t flow, which is a lovely bit of culture/rule overlap. The Githyanki grow up to adulthood somewhere on some plane with time, then in their home city they just stay the same age. While the Githzerai tend to be Monks, the Githyanki are warriors, wizards, and frequently both. We get the word, “Gish” from this lore, referring to Githyanki spellcasting melee warriors.
The Githyanki deal is that they just live out on the Astral Sea and frequently raid other places. It’s almost Dothraki how they just seek to attack others and drag their stuff back to the Githyanki home city. And at the top of their society is The Lich Queen Vlaakith. Ancient, powerful in life, unstoppable in death, she’s in charge. But, as Tome of Foes relates, she’s not sure what to do next. She and the Githyanki freed themselves from slavery and time…now what? Administer healthcare for the multiverse? The raids are basically just to keep people busy. And when someone gets too powerful in this immortal society, I mean literally when they’re like, Level 17+, they “move on” to the afterlife. Also known as, the Lich Queen consumes their soul to add their power to hers.
So I imagine it going like this for a Githyanki version of Vastra. She is one of these raiders. She gets knocked out, captured, defeated, something, and is left behind. Maybe she tries to continue the war, get back home, or has to rot in prison, in this weird place where time exists and now a clock is ticking. She could’ve lived for thousands of years on the Astral Plane but now, outside home, she’s going to be dead within a mere century.
Since we’re doing Candlekeep adventures, I kind of picture her trying to research the planes to get back home. but she finds out the truth. Maybe someone tells her. Something has to happen to make her a team player. There’s a Githyanki character in Baldur’s Gate 3, she does not know the truth about the Lich Queen. The Baldur’s Gate character, Lae’zel, is actually a fascinating look at the psychology of the Githyanki, for someone who wants to play one. She’s arrogant, she looks down on non-Githyanki the same way Madadme Vastra the Silurian dismisses all humans as apes. But she’s also terrified of not accomplishing anything with her life and she comes from a society where you either excel until you achieve “the afterlife” or die. And plenty of Githyanki die long before achieving that apotheosis.
Perhaps finding out is a part of the character’s arc. But then there’s no reason for them to be a cleric? The Githyanki, in the lore, really don’t do Cleric. If I was playing this character as a fighter or a wizard then it would make sense to have finding out the truth be part of their character arc. A Cleric though is a Githyanki who has already turned their back on home. This character is kind of a build in search of a backstory rather than the other way around. So this part of it is kind of a stretch I’d want to talk to the DM about in an extended campaign.
Speaking of extended campaign, I’m definitely playing this character in Candlekeep as more comedic and faithful to the Lich Queen than the backstory I have in mind envisions. This is more about getting across Githyanki lore to my fellow players. Honestly, I don’t know what deity or faith this character would possibly follow in the Forgotten Realms. In the Planescape or Eberron campaign setting, you do get clerics outside organized religion who are devoted to more philosophical concepts.
It’s a bubbling cauldron I’d be interested to explore. Fits in to my recent desire to play a cleric in an extended campaign. And the githyanki lore has a definite arc to follow regardless of class.