(Back when I helped run Planewalker.com, we had an email interview with SciFi author Charles Stross who originally created the githyanki, githzerai, and slaadi back when he was a teenager. I believe this interview was posted sometime in 2000. Currently only available on Archive.org. Reposted here for posterity. – Ken Marable)
We managed to skeg an interview with none other than Charles Stross, the creator of the Githyanki, Githzerai, Slaadi, and Death Knights. Read on to lann the dark of how these beings came to be, and what their creator is up to all these years later!
Compiled by: Dave Edens
To begin with we would all like to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. As you may know the Gith races have become quite popular in the Planescape campaign setting and in the recent and stunningly popular Planescape: Torment computer game. Surprisingly, very little has been written about them compared to many of the other races of equal popularity. Our net project is trying to remedy this and any insights you might add to their original creation will be very appreciated. We also realize that some of these thoughts just haven’t crossed your mind in quite sometime, so feel free to just say so. I am hoping this will be as much fun for you as it is for us.
Now, on to the questions.
1) Did you create the creatures specifically as a submission to the Fiend Folio or were the created for your own personal campaign?
I was involved in a rather weird (and long running campaign) at the time; no one of us GM’d the whole time. Rather, we tended to take it in turns, in different parts of the universe. I created those races for some long- forgotten reason (Orcs just didn’t cut it on the ethereal plane 🙂 and used ’em. At the same time, I mailed them to Iain Turnbull, who was then editing the Fiend Factory column in White Dwarf. Way back in the mists of the 1970’s, White Dwarf (British gaming magazine) and the Games Workshop (who publish it) hadn’t been taken over by the Citadel Miniatures crowd and turned into a marketing vehicle for their spiky space wombles; the Fiend Factory column focused on new, useful monsters for D&D.; Somehow the Githyanki struck a nerve and he asked me to submit an expanded version for the Fiend Folio.
2) Were the Gith and Slaadi creations tied together?
Only tangentially. I mentioned the rather odd multi-GM campaign I was involved in earlier. It’s hard to come up with original twists on something in the Monster Manual if everyone and their dog is also using it for bedtime reading. For this reason, we tended to roll our own. World building has always been an interest of mine; I tended to be more of a game designer than a GM or player, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms.
Apropos the Githyanki, the name was lifted from a George R. R. Martin SF novel (“The dying of the light”). I’ve always felt slightly guilty about that, and credit should be given where credit’s due.
3) What was your original inspiration for the githyanki and githzerai? Did they just sort of appear out of the ether of original ideas, or did something else inspire the initial idea? How about the Slaadi?
Well, the fact that I was running a fever when I came up with the Slaadi is probably not going to surprise anyone — think of ’em as my independent exploration of Lovecraftiana. (I didn’t discover H. P. Lovecraft until a couple of years later.)
4) As a follow up to these questions, was there any particular reason for the Illithid/Mind Flayer involvement or did they just seem to fit the oppressor mold perfectly?
The Illithid/Githyanki relationship probably slid into my mind as a result of reading Larry Niven’s “The world of Ptavvs”, which features a psionic master/slave race relationship far in the past that nearly killed all the sapients in the galaxy when it turned hot. (And, oddly, I suspect whoever came up with the Illithids had been reading Larry Niven, too …)
5) The entry in the Fiend Folio doesn’t give a name to the wizard king of the Githzerai, just some stats and a quick comment. I’m not sure when the name Zerthimon (the name he goes by now) surfaced for him, but what sort of ideas did you have for the Githzerai and Zerthimon beyond what was presented in those first racial entries?
Not a lot. I wanted to keep the Githzerai on hand as a foil for Githyanki plotting and evil, but lost interest before using them extensively.
6) The gith races seem to strike a some sort of deeply rooted cord with gamers as evidenced by their continued popularity, maybe touching on an “archetype” that players identify with. Did you get that feeling as you were creating them or were they just a couple of monsters you made up and that was that.
I _did_ get an odd feeling there, and went on to use them extensively in my chunk of the campaign. But, as I think I mentioned, I’m into world building: monsters are only interesting in context, in an environment that makes them monstrous.
7) Of your creations in the Fiend Folio (or other unpublished ones for that matter) do you have a favorite.
I think I’ll pass on that question. (I should add that I have been out of gaming for about 18 years now. That long-running campaign broke up when the participants headed off to university; somehow I never seem to have drifted into another.)
8) How do you feel in general about your ideas and work being modified by later generations of authors, undoubtedly sometimes in ways contradicting your original concepts? How sentimental are you about these old creations of yours? How often do they cross your thoughts?
For the most part, they don’t cross my thoughts: and I have no problem with other people using them. (If I did, I’d never have mailed them to Don for the Fiend Folio.)
9) You mentioned a trilogy of adventures based on the Gith races which went unpublished and soon after your involvement in D&D; dwindled as well. You must have planned to include more of your ideas for the githyanki and githzerai in those. Would you like share some of those thoughts, possibly what the thrust of the adventures was to be?
I’m trying to remember back a long way. Basically, I’d analyzed (and was somewhat dissatisfied with) some of the early AD&D; modules; notably the underground kingdom of the dark elven thingy (can’t remember it’s name) that was one of the first published. The result was a large campaign module — about 26 maps, 40,000 words of description — exploring an ancient Githyanki fortress on the material plane that had been devastated in a huge war some decades earlier. (Don Turnbull, who by then was working for TSR (UK), was interested: but it got squashed by the US, which had apparently decided — this was in 1982 or thereabouts — to deprecate the psionics rules, which were used extensively.)
10) What was it like being involved with TSR at that time. I’m not sure which incarnation of the company you dealt with as it’s gone through a few, so feel free to comment on that as well.
I wasn’t involved closely enough to comment.
11) Was your original concept of the githzerai closer to that of benevolent alien creatures that just want to be left alone, or the “lesser of two evils”?
Lesser of two evils.
12) What gave you the idea to tie the githyanki to red dragons or was that just something to spice them up.
Probably Michael Moorcock echoes — if you’ve read his Elric books you’ll get the picture. (I was a bit of a magpie when designing monsters — grab something from here, something from there!)
13) Do you remember how you pronounced the names for you creations?
14) Touching briefly on the Slaadi, were they intended as a race of tough monsters or was there some larger plan in mind.
Think “Lovecraft mythos”, as invented by someone who hasn’t read Lovecraft (or heard of him). The Slaadi were going to be basically representatives of, and devotees of, total chaos — with an added warped sense of humour.
15) Not to forget the Death Knights, they’ve mostly become a trademark monster of the DragonLance setting, and have almost never been used outside of it since. Any comments on them?
I’d forgotten all about them!
17) Do you have any favorite characters, adventures, or an anecdote form the old gaming days.
I plead guilty to eighteen years of fading memories and decline to answer that question.
16) If you were inventing these races again today, possibly for use in one of your short stories or novels, is there anything you would change? Would you create some other things related to them?
That’s a hard question to answer. Fiction is a very different field, and I tend to write SF with a non-mainstream twist. (Most of my current output is appearing in two British SF magazines, Interzone and Spectrum. You can find their web sites at www.interzone.co.uk, and www.spectrumpublishing.com.) To use an alien race and do it justice really mandates a novel-length form, otherwise you can’t really portray psychological differences effectively.
And if there’s one thing I’ve been singularly unsuccessful at, it’s selling novels. (Which is weird. I’ve earned a living as a tech author for years, published non-fiction books under my own name, regularly sell short stories, and write a couple of magazine columns.)
17) This leads us into what your up to now. You’ve got quite a few published short stories, an unpublished novel, and novella, some of which we can read on your web site. You are also a consultant and journalist. What projects do you have in the works and where can we find some of them in the future?
I have another (more recent, better) novel in circulation at present. I also began writing short stories again last May (at a rate of roughly five or six a year) and they’ve begun filtering into print — which takes months to years after you begin. Upcoming in Spectrum SF #3 is a novelette which I can only describe as an alternate history present set fifty years after the events in H. P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”; and there’s a rather weird hard-SF piece due in Interzone #153.
I’m currently working on a series of stories set in a near, but rather surreal, future, but I’d rather not say any more about that until I’ve sold some of ’em.
18) Any favorite authors you’d like to mention or recommend?
I don’t want to single any one author out — I have a severe bookshelf deficiency problem, most of mine are double-stacked — but the one thing I’m currently jumping up and down and waiting for is Mary Gentle’s “ASH: A Secret History”. It’s being dribbled out in four volumes in the US, but is actually a single novel (with the whole thing due in a mammoth volume here in the UK in another few months). It’s momentous. It’s weird. And it contains enough material for a thousand game scenarios, if it takes your fancy — beside being a bloody good literary metafiction _and_ an adventure novel.