I started this series with Red Abishai to showcase on a lesser-known monster. This time, I’m going with an old favorite. Easily one of the most feared and hated monsters among the people I’ve played with, Mind Flayers (also known as Iliithids) are almost synonymous with D&D.
Why is that? Well, the Mind Blast is where it starts. This cone-shaped blast of psionic energy stuns creatures who fail their intelligence saves, and deals a whopping dose of psychic damage on top of that. Once grappled with by their tentacles, the player remains stunned, and at the mercy of the Mind Flayer’s insatiable hunger for brains. Here is where the players fear of the Mind Flayer meets it’s grisly conclusion. They are one of the few monsters in the game that can instantly kill a character. They do this by chewing through the victims skull and consuming the contents.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters significantly expands on the lore of the Illithid in 5e. Most interestingly, detailing their reproductive lifecycle. It also provide a stat block for an Elder Brain. Why not build yourself a nice little community of Illithid to scoop your players brains out?
Illithid in the Coliseum
Mind Flayers are especially deadly in arena combat, at least in my experience, because players tend to lean away from intelligence based classes in the arena. I highly recommend using their reasonable talent at stealth into play. Get them hidden, and then have them used a held action to mind blast PCs when they step into line of sight. Instant brain buffet!
Mind Flayers Mystique Without the Body Count
So, let’s say you want some Mind Flayers in your campaign without the attendant body count. How do you incorporate them in the story? They key lies with what I think should be true about every PC in D&D (outside of the Dungeonsports Coliseum, that is). They are someone special in the world. Major events of the world revolve around them.
Illithid are very intelligent creatures. Much like the players, they seek to shape and control the world around them. As such, they should recognize the PCs for what they are: A valuable resource to help them achieve their aims, not just a hot meal on two legs. Illithids will be interested in capturing a party and making use of them.
So, put some Mind Flayers in that campaign of yours. Melt some PC brains with a mind blast. Let them feel the clammy grasp of the tentacles and the teeth grinding into their cranium. Perhaps more important than that, let them see what compromises their heroes are willing to make to fulfill the demands of a cruel and inhuman taskmaster. After that you can find some nice magical items to reward your players with!