FR Scales of War
Long after the Dawn War, but before the great empires of known history dominated their regions, mind flayers ruled a great dominion in the Underdark. They consumed or enslaved all other humanoids within their reach. With their foul powers, they created innumerable monsters, some of which still trouble the world today.
In time, they acquired or created a caste of humanoid slaves to live among them as servants and expendable warriors. Who or what these humanoids were before they came under the sway of the illithids is lost to history. It is likely that the mind flayers, at the zenith of their power, created these folk from a combination of humanoid creatures and unclean Far Realm forces.
Githyanki and githzerai issue from these folk, whom they refer to as “the forerunners.” The slaves suffered untold horrors at the tentacles of their masters. The most common was the constant fear of being selected as a meal, an experimental subject, or a sacrifice to some alien monstrosity. Prudently, the mind flayers initially kept their slave populations small enough to easily control.
As is the way with those who rule secure holdings for too long, however, the illithids grew complacent in their supremacy. Desiring more time to pursue their alien ways, as well as more servants and ready food, the mind flayers paid less and less attention to their culling practices. The forerunners grew in numbers, until they easily outnumbered their overlords.
Meanwhile, the slaves developed secret powers and subversive cabals. The forerunners nursed their hatred of their masters and longed to be free. They spoke furtively of revolt, and more than once, a brave few tried to rebel and failed. Then, a warrior woman named Gith rose among the ranks of the rebels, and she became the final catalyst for all-out rebellion.
The war that followed was long and bloody. With each battle, more slaves joined the ranks of the rebels and more mind flayers were slain. Eventually, none of the forerunners remained enslaved—all had won their freedom or died at the hands of their fearful overseers.
Seemingly unsatisfied with mere freedom, Gith then began a pogrom to wipe out all mind flayers, their servants, and any of the free forerunners who opposed her. Her ambition knew no bounds, as she then planned to turn her armies toward the conquest of the world and the planes beyond. Rather than allow her people a moment to enjoy their hard-won freedom, to explore what they were and what they could become in peace, she planned an unceasing war.
A philosopher named Zerthimon rose to oppose Gith. He did so at first with words, teaching that Gith’s crusade simply led the forerunners into yet another form of bondage. In her rage and warmongering, he claimed, Gith proved she was unfit to lead. To follow her was to follow yet another tyrant into a hopeless cycle of destruction. Zerthimon preached that the mind flayers were beaten beyond hope of recovery. He said that the forerunners really needed to retreat into introspection—to learn about themselves so they could grow in unity, wisdom, and strength.
Zerthimon was influential, but Gith saw him as a threat to her rule. Instead of tolerating dissent and accepting debate, she proved Zerthimon right. Civil war erupted between those who supported Gith and those who followed the teachings of Zerthimon.
The battles ended with both sides so crippled that they retreated far from one another to recuperate. The githyanki—or “children of Gith” in Deep Speech—departed for the Astral Sea with their queen. Zerthimon perished in the fighting on the world, but his followers, the githzerai—or “those who spurn Gith”—remained there, listening to their inner voices and the primal spirits.
Githzerai still maintain holdings in the world, more so than the githyanki. Eventually, however, large numbers of them left the world for the Elemental Chaos. They did so to gain distance from the githyanki and, as Zerthimon had taught, to better know themselves in the face of adversity.
Common threads unite githzerai, but disparate groups maintain autonomous settlements. Each fortress, monastery, or settlement has githzerai connected by family and traditional lines, such as a school of philosophy or monastic practice. Worthies referred to as “elders” guide the development and tasks in each locale, using wisdom rather than strict laws to mete out justice and do what is best for individuals and the group. An elder might, in fact, be quite young, but he or she must be a proven pillar of the community before being granted the title.
A given circle of elders, as an assembly of elders is called, keeps in contact with other githzerai settlements to facilitate dealing with large-scale threats. Zerthimon’s respected teachings serve to keep most githzerai on at least similar philosophical ground. The concept of the circle of elders is ancient, based on Zerthimon’s fellow philosophers, among whom he was the most vocal.
Since ancient times, all githzerai have also maintained a common vigil against the influence of the Far Realm on the world and the planes. They watch their estranged kin, the githyanki, for any sign of unacceptable advancement. In both cases, githzerai move, without committing to full-scale war, to oppose any tip in the balance of power. They still consider mind flayers to be sworn enemies, and they pitilessly thwart the violent machinations of the githyanki.
Although this behavior is often attributed to hatred, this is a gross oversimplification. Githzerai strive, with limited resources and a measure of fanaticism, to make sure their adversaries never gain a serious advantage that could lead again to the enslavement or harm of the githzerai as a people. They do so for a variety of obvious reasons, many among them good. The apparent intolerance githzerai have for their enemies is also attributable to a proactive and preemptive mindset among the conscientious githzerai. Although githzerai can and do hate, such emotion is a flaw of the mind that Gith suffered from, according to Zerthimon, and most strive to purge themselves of this emotion.