Calm Amid the Storm

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 71: Calm Amid the Storm




“Calm Amid the Storm,” written by Bruce Cordell for the March, 2001 issue of Dragon (#281), is an odd tie-in to his recently published Psionics Handbook in that it doesn’t actually concern psionics1. Almost at all. However, one of the more noteworthy inclusions in that book was its reintroduction of the githyanki and githzerai races to D&D. Both were notably absent from the original third edition Monster Manual, but popped up alongside a lot of far more obscure creatures in Cordell’s Handbook. Weirdly, while both entries mention the possibility of being used as character races, that’s largely left up to the DM to work out (with the rest of the rules for optional character races contained in a small section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide). Really, it wasn’t until edition 3.5 that these options became more fleshed out and workable (which is not to say that they ever really became balanced…), which makes this article, largely focused on two githzerai monk prestige classes, particularly odd. Perhaps it’s best to consider this a sort of bridge between the Psionics Handbook and the Manual of the Planes Cordell helped write for third edition, which was just a few months away from release. 

Limbo, the location of both of the monasteries detailed in this article, had the same issue as the other chaotic planes in that their Planescape boxed set was rougher than what came later. Githzerai received pretty short shrift here, with just a few paragraphs about one of their cities and a handful of mentions elsewhere. While we knew that many of them were monks, and as such had monasteries, what exactly this mean was left until all the way until now… or at least until people played Planescape: Torment

Accompanying art is from Carlo Arellano, and I’m a fan. Here’s hoping we see more from him in the future, as his work feels decidedly otherworldly without mimicking what we’ve seen before.

Unfortunately, “Calm Amid the Storm” isn’t too interested in detailing the lore side of githzerai monasteries and monastic orders. Third edition will get much better with lore in the future, but early on that’s not its strong suit. The article details two monasteries, the Zerth’Ad’Lun and Finithamon, and spends most of its six pages on prestige classes relating to these locations. In this way, it’s one of those Dragon articles that mostly serves as a sample for what enterprising DM’s could easily add to their own campaigns. You want to know what a githzerai monastery is like? Well here’s two, now extrapolate the rest from that. I would’ve much preferred a more detailed article, with full maps of the monasteries and profiles of the heads of these monastic orders. For instance, I still find it a bit unclear what the religion of githzerai is about, and how this relates to the monks (or are they atheist monks, in which case I’d like to know even more about them?). Plus, we could use more description of these two locations, not to mention more information about how they interact with the rest of githzerai society. But at least we have this, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.


Zerth’Ad’Lun is the more typical of the two monasteries. The nice part about telling us this is that it can easily stand in for basic information about any other githzerai monastery, but otherwise there isn’t much unique or noteworthy about it. Here, monks are taught “a martial art called zerthin,” and likewise this could easily be the art taught anywhere. The cenobites2 of Zer’Ad’Lun have abilities that allow them to interact with the future—the article says that they peer into it, but one ability literally involves them warping into the future using their psychic abilities. They’re not the most interesting prestige class, but they do seem to fit well into the whole githzerai mythos, and are also quite easy to convert to a contemporary prestige class as well due to how fifth edition D&D is built so heavily from the foundation of third edition. 

An extremely creepy arcanopath.

The second class is more interesting, though its uniqueness also means it’s not as universally usable. Monks at the Finithamon monastery hate spellcasters of all kind, and their adherents are called arcanopaths. Here, githzerai learn how to fight against mages through abilities that mute mages or even deflect and reflect their spells. Given how insanely powerful third edition spellcasters are, this is one of the few prestige classes for a fighting class that can allow some sort of parity, and as such is something I’d definitely consider seeking out if I happened to be a githzerai monk.


While there is some new lore here about the githzerai people, and in particular their monks, there’s not a ton of it. This article was pre-third edition Manual of the Planes, and not just Limbo but even the githzerai as a whole were at this point obscure almost to the point of apocryphal except for the tiny population of readers already familiar with Planescape. Githzerai were a playable race, but only just barely. However, given that they tend to get short shrift compared with their cousins anyhow, I’m happy to see them for once receive the spotlight, and to learn more about their monks, even if it’s not all that much more. And if you do have players interested in githzerai monks, there’s no reason not to consider these prestige classes for them even today. I miss a lot of things about AD&D compared with what came later, but the ease of moving these things to a current-day campaign can’t be understated. 

  1. Apparently, judging from an interview with Jeff Grubb I read later, it was meant more as a tie-in to the Manual of the Planes, but was cut from there and published here instead. In any case, it doesn’t quite fit into either book.
  2. I learned a new word from this article! I really thought that cenobites only referred to Hellraiser demons and that the word was made up by Clive Barker. Turns out, it’s the word for a member of a monastic community, i.e. monks who live together in a group rather than solitary in the wilderness. Neat! Plus, this implies new things about those Hellraiser demons as well, as apparently they must be some type of monks, right? 

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