When I say mind flayer or illithid I am certain thoughts of a tentacle faced creature looking to consume your brain or dominate your mind come rushing into your thoughts. With a long gaming history every single mind flayer I have encountered or even heard about has been a villain, set out to control the subterranean worlds where they live and serve the elder brains as well as themselves. Long ago in the early days of Critical Role Matt Mercer used an illithid to aid the party because it helped with the mind flayer’s personal goals. Did they separate on even and just terms? No, they did not. It goes to show you really should be wary of trusting an illithid. Before I dive into this, Hero Forge has just released the Octofolk over on their website, allowing you to make mind flayer custom miniatures for your fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons games or a close approximation and they look incredibly sweet. I have already designed my first one and I am eagerly looking forward to getting the miniature.
Hero Forge customized miniature
To parrot right out of the 5E D&D Monster Manual, mind flayers lore comes with headings like Psionic Commanders, Hive Mind Colonies and Hunger for the Mind.
“Psionic tyrants, slavers and inter-dimensional voyagers, they are insidious masterminds that harvest entire races for their own twisted ends.”
We know from the text in the Monster Manual mind flayers eat brains and absorb memories. They need the psychic energy to survive. What if this last bit is where we make our change? I love taking existing lore and making a serious deviation from the normal path, even for a lone NPC. D&D players are trained to fear and mistrust Illithids. Let us use this for our own bit of fun.
Here is your story. We take an illithid, going about its normal life of securing workers to do menial labor for the colony, eating brains and full of life with the assurance that mind flayers are the dominant species they ought to be.
If a mind flayer eats and absorbs memories it might make them smarter, hence why they are so intelligent. What if there was something extra super special about one of the victims this illithid consumed? It is not likely a pure an innocent is wandering the halls of the Underdark, but it is possible. What if the purity of the person was needed to save the world at some time. Without the victim is the world doomed?
Perhaps this mind flayer has now set them selves on a quest to do what this pure person would have done and save the world and they need the adventurers’ help. Of course being a pure person they are hesitant to use their powers, but they could share knowledge.
Okay, I know this is a reach for a single meal to affect a mind flayer so much, but looking at it from another angle it could be a matter of luck or even fate or destiny. We usually see mind flayers as prim and proper, always having the final word and speaking with power and confidence. We never see them tripping or even being unsure of themselves. What if…
Let’s take the second example and work with this. We have a mind flayer who was not popular among the others. They always had the worst luck, which would apply to their meals as well. With a steady diet of good people perhaps combined with everything else you have a recipe for a mind flayer who is willing to step out on their own in need of finding their place in the world.
This mind flayer could be looking to find a place to settle down or trade their knowledge for simply the means to just get by. You could still have them be as creepy as you wanted, playing into all the reasons players and characters typically fear them, but with trying to make a better way in the world they would still need to find a way of acquiring psychic energy or else die of starvation.
Here is where we add even more fun, and in some ways a bit more reason for them not to be trusted. What if they made a warlock pact, or took a deal with an entity that allowed them to subsist on the ambient energy? This is why they need to find a place with lots of people around. This seems very sketchy even to me and it was my idea. Is this something you can sell to your players? How many seasoned adventurers are going to allow such a thing?
“Yes, please, let us take this powerful brain eating monster into the safety of our town so it can eat all of our villagers.”
This would be the sarcastic phrase said at the gaming table. I confident about that.
I love using NPCs who have a story that takes a while to come out and an illithid traveling with the party in hopes of finding a place to settle seems like something that would be a lot of fun. If you have read this and it inspires you to use an illithid in your game in a very un-mind flayer way please I would love to hear the story . And again if you are going to have an illithid travel with the party you have the ability to design and print your own with Hero Forge. Get that perfect customized miniature for your games with them or any of the countless options available from Hero Forge here.
Thanks for reading, Until next time, stay nerdy!