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Monster Minute: Mind Flayers

The Burrowers BeneathMind Flayers in D&D History
Illithids, more commonly known as mind flayers, are iconic to D&D and were created by Gary Gygax — who was inspired by the cover of Brian Lumley’s book, The Burrowers Beneath. The mind flayer debuted in TSR’s newsletter, The Strategic Review – Issue 1, in 1975.  The monster was described as “a super-intelligent, man-shaped creature with four tentacles by its mouth which it uses to strike its prey.”

Mind flayers appeared again in AD&D first edition Monster Manual in 1977.  Nearly 6 years later, they got an ecology article in Dragon magazine #78. They were officially described as an illithidae, in Dragon #150 (1989).  AD&D 2nd edition saw the reprint of the mind flayer in Monsterous Compendium and then again in the Monstrous Manual. They are also found in the Complete Psionics Handbook, where it further details their use with psionics. A 2nd edition Monstrous Arcana accessory book, called The Illithiad, further details the mind flayer and introduced more illithid subtypes such as the Elder Brain and illithid-roper.  The third module in the mind flayer adventure series, Dawn of the Overmind, outlines an origin story.

For D&D v3.0, the source book Savage Species describes the mind flayer as a race and playable class.  While in v3.5, the mind flayer gets a chapter dedicated to it in the source book Lords of Madness: The Book of Aberrations. They can also be found in the 4th edition D&D Monster Manual.

ADnD Mind FlayerMind Flayers in D&D
In the word of D&D, mind flayers have an octopus like head and a humanoid body. Before feeding, they will psionically stun their prey with Mind Blast.  They will then use four tentacles, which surround a lampray-like mouth, to ensnare the head of its helpless victim. The tentacles will then penetrate the skull, and extract the brain to feed upon.

Illithds are hermaphrodites, and will only spawn twice in their life.  Their young look like baby illithid heads or tadpoles with four tentacles.  After a 10 year growth period in the Elder Brain pool, the larvae will become large enough to be inserted into a humanoid host.  Humans, drow, elves, orcs, and gnolls are a few examples of hosts.  The larva will then consume the host’s brain and absorb the body, mutating it into an adult illithid.

Mind flayers have their own society and culture. An illithid city is ruled by an Elder Brain or Brain God, which lives in a pool of cerebral fluid.  When an illithid dies, its brain is taken to the pool where it will be merged with the Elder Brain.

Where mind flayers originate from varies with each campaign.  In the book Lords of Madness, they are described a star-fairing people that existed at the end of time.  Fearing their own destruction, they traveled to the past, but instead found themselves beyond the beginning of time where they spread to numerous planets.  In 2nd and 4th edition, they are said to come from the Far Realm. While in Spelljammer, the mind flayers are the mutated decedents of a human society from a world which is now destroyed.

SymbiontMind Flayers in Eberron
Illithids are the principal servants of the daelkyr and used as the overseers for the invasion into Eberron. On the other hand, Elder Brains are creations of the daelkyr and are said to be the backbone of the daelkyr telepathic network, linking them to each other and all their servants in addition to illithids.   Plane lore says that the Illithids were created when the daelkyr destroyed the world of the gith races.  The githyanki and githzerai are descendents of that world’s survivors, while the illithids are descended from those who were enslaved and twisted by the daelkyr.

The goal of mind flayers is to enslave other races with their powers. After the daelkyr invasion was thwarted by the giants, many illithids escaped to Khyber.  There they oversee cities of humanoid slaves and plot to blast Eberron into sunless land of madness.

Mind flayers are also known for crafting living objects called symbionts. These symbionts can generate destructive rays, provide temporary incorporeal protection, summon weapons, cast spells, and in general provide additional abilities at a cost to the host.

Stormreach’s most famous mind flayer is Fred, who lives in the House Jorasco enclave.  Fred will “adjust your abilities” (feat swapping) in exchange for Siberys Dragonshards.