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Using Monsters Beyond Their Stat Blocks: Mind Flayers

Today we’ll tackle the infamous inter-planer menace: Mind Flayers. Let’s take a look at how a DM could incorporate these monsters into their campaign and what kind of tactics can inform their use in combat. 

If you missed our previous articles, check them out here:

Goblinoids

Goblinoid Tactics

Orcs

Gnolls 

Finding the Story of the Mind Flayers

Mind flayers come with a huge amount of material detailing their motivations and lore in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. So the question becomes how do they fit into your campaign world? 

Their desire to see their vast multi-dimensional empire rise again can lead to all kinds of meddling in local politics. They make excellent masterminds to motivate other monsters, like goblinoids and orcs, to attack settlements and take hostages. 

What impact would the presence of a Mind Flayer colony have on your campaign setting? How would that tip the balance of power? What factions might be manipulated by the mind flayers? What factions would be formed or would direct their efforts to try to combat the mind flayers?

Why are the Mind Flayers there?

A good place to start is to detail out the mind flayer’s plan. You don’t need to be a mastermind yourself, but instead create a basic sketch of what they plan to do. An example could look like this:

  1. Acquire control over a local medium size population for harvest
  2. Expand the colony and build a sizable force
  3. Open a portal to call in more Mind Flayers
  4. Maintain secrecy of the operation until an overwhelming force has been achieved
  5. Conquer the world.

The starting circumstances of the mind flayers can heavily influence the plan. Perhaps the colony is sheltering an elder brain, or is a lone mind flayer, the sole survivor of a gith raid. They may have chosen their lair because of its proximity to humanoids or because of an interesting psionic feature that keeps them hidden.

You can then make a table to include options of how they proceed to roll on at the beginning of each session to see what happened. Here’s an example table:

1d6Action Taken by Mind Flayers
1They send out raids of servitors to capture slaves and food
2A few mind flayers are sent out to scout the local population for threats
3-4Mind flayers assemble an elite force to track the party
5-6Mind flayers attempt to make an alliance with another local evil power

Motivations to Shape Combat

You can use the table that you’ve made or the master plan to shape how the mind flayers engage the party, how they direct their minions, and how you set up the encounters. 

If the mind flayers are wanting to test the power of the party, to test their limits, they may order a retreat before things get too hairy. They may use more guerrilla tactics to drain the party of their resources so that they are easier to take as slaves.

A big consideration can also be what other enemies are part of the mind flayer’s army. Perhaps they have brainwashed the leader of a githzerai cell and are now using them to call strikes on key figures in the area. They really only need to control the leader of a hobgoblin army to gain command over the entire legion. Think about what alliances could be brokered and whether or not those alliances are strong or tenuous. A fun opportunity for the players could be exploiting these fractures in their alliances.

What do the Mind Flayers know?

An important piece to the puzzle is figuring out what the mind flayers know both about the competing factions and the players. Are they scrying the players in order to kepe ahead of their actions? Do they have a mole planted among the players’ allies that could be feeding them erroneous information?

You can roll before each session to find out what the mind flayers know using a simple table like this one:

1d4 What information do the Mind Flayers gain?
1-2The mind flayers learn a new piece of information about the players
3-4The mind flayers learn a new piece of information about a rival faction

Mind flayers are masterminds of knowledge and deception, so try to play to those strengths as much as possible. 

Next week we’ll take a huge step forward and look at Giants.

Art from Wizards of the Coast