Mind Flayer Advice Request

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My PC's are about to encounter a Mind Flayer. This will be my first time running one--or any abyssal creature with otherworldly, presumably unfathomable, intelligence and motivations. Any advice on how to run an encounter with one of these guys that imparts that otherworldly, unfathomable aura? Any particular encounter or setting tweaks that you've used successfully?

Couple notes: This thing is pretty deeply embroiled in the world I've created. Encounter will take place in the Underdark. Neither the players nor the PC's know that a MF is ahead of them, although they might figure it out beforehand. 

As I said, I know how this creature fits into my world and storyline, so I'm not looking for general integrating-a-MF-into-your-campaign advice, as much as encounter-specific stuff. Battle tactics, room layouts, flavor, flourishes, accompanying monsters--things like that.

Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions! 
My PC's are about to encounter a Mind Flayer. This will be my first time running one--or any abyssal creature with otherworldly, presumably unfathomable, intelligence and motivations. Any advice on how to run an encounter with one of these guys that imparts that otherworldly, unfathomable aura? Any particular encounter or setting tweaks that you've used successfully?

When I'm trying to present something to players that I want to make them feel a certain way, I talk to them about what would make them feel that certain way.

Couple notes: This thing is pretty deeply embroiled in the world I've created. Encounter will take place in the Underdark. Neither the players nor the PC's know that a MF is ahead of them, although they might figure it out beforehand.

If they do, you're in luck, because then you can bring them in on it, to help you convey what you're trying to convey to them.

As I said, I know how this creature fits into my world and storyline, so I'm not looking for general integrating-a-MF-into-your-campaign advice, as much as encounter-specific stuff. Battle tactics, room layouts, flavor, flourishes, accompanying monsters--things like that.

Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions!

What I personally like for aberrant creatures like mind flayers is to treat them like inscrutable aliens, and Lovecraftian horrors. They have motivations that inhabitants of the world simply can't understand. So, I like to give them what seem like unusual, illogical goals. Stand in this location for two rounds. Move to this location and stand there for one round. Undergo strange transformations at each location. An odd, hard-to-look-at device of crystal and wire sits in the corner, pulsing weirdly. It seems to be empowering the aberrant creatures, but it's hard to see how. Attacking it causes strange side effects, so you'll have to figure it out on its own terms, with Dungeoneering and highly penalized Arcana checks. Good luck.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

1) Those things are super-geniuses with a hive mind. If one doesn't see a reason to risk it's life against the party, it will know better than to do so, so it will have escape plans, distractions...

Most importantly, once one of them knows you're there, the entire colony does: if you're caught infiltrating, then the entire fortress will go into instantanous lockdown; if you're caught attempting an assassination (or a direct fight), then every flayer within a dozen miles will instantaneously know to find and seal off any possible escape routes.

2) You know how cute it looks when your pet does different tricks like high-fives or playing dead when you tell it to do different things, even though you know that it was simple conditioning instead of true understanding? That's how Mind Flayers view the sentience and accomplishments of every single intelligent species on the planet.

As such, rules of engagement would not matter to Flayers any more then they matter to poachers, and sadistic tactics like leaving wounded hostages for invaders to spend time and effort caring for until they get themselves killed would not be below them.

Founder - but not owner - of Just Say Yes!

Member of LGBT Gamers

Odds are, if 4-6 people can't figure out an answer you thought was obvious, you screwed up, not them. - JeffGroves
Which is why a DM should present problems to solve, not solutions to find. -FlatFoot
Why there should be the option to use alignment systems:
Show
If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

What lvl?  How many PCs have superior will?

I'd recommend going very heavy on the control to get the right flavor. 

First, give it a few thrals as meat shields, and give them an ability to help defend their master by redirecting some attacks to themselves. 

Whatever stat block you run, I'd add a recharge power similer to the Mind Flayer Mastermind's Enslave that inflicts "Dominated (save ends)".  Have it recharge whenever no one is currently dominated, and make it accurate enough to almost always hit.  Have it dominate different party members as each one saves.  Players don't usually see domination (make sure you know the right rules to use for it! Dominated creatures are dazed and can take only at-will actions on their turn, with that action chosen by the dominating creature) so this will make it different from other encounters. 

Also, play up the mind blast.  Maybe have Mind blast stun on a hit and daze even on a miss (also make it not recharge unless the creature is bloodied). 

Tentacle should auto-hit stunned or dominated targets.  This is the *classic* moment in a mind-flayer encounter when one party member is tentacle-grabbed and stunned and the rest are frantically trying to save them by bull-rushing the creature or trying to pull the ally away.  A strong hit could cause the creature to release its grab to use "Interpose Thrall" giving them a great feeling of having just escaped death. 

To compinsate for the very strong control (dominate at-will, stun from the mind-blast), make sure the creature has weak defenses and doesn't have too much HP (if you use an elite stat block, reduce the HP to somewhat closer to standard-creature levels).  Perhaps make its fortitude especially low, close to auto-hit territory, and give them a knowledge check to realize this so they can capitalize on this weakness.  Don't let the thralls deal too much damage.  Once some of its protecting thralls are killed or it is bloodied, probably have it run away, even if it isn't loosing that badly.  Give it no qualms about leaving its thralls behind to die in order to delay the party's pursuit.

That's some of what I'd do anyway. 

Oh!
For the setup, I love playing up the complete darkness of the underdark for parties without darkvision or a way to get it constantly at-will.  The more light they use the more unwanted attention they will attract, and so they end up using only like a single dim candle and even that is a risk.  Then they hear something coming and have to decide if they want to put out the candle and try to hide or run forward to face something completely unknown.  You can describe the sounds of the thralls coming and let them try to identify what they might be...why would these different, normally mutually hostile creatures be traveling together?  They start to piece it together...then the boss comes along, you have them make more stealth checks, or even let them recognise the sound, know its a creature that can sense their fear and make bluff checks to mute their thoughts against detection instead.  (I've had a party successfully avoid a mind flayer this way, and it was super memorable, maybe even more so that if they'd ended up fighting it - if they'd fought it they'd probably have won, but in this case they were convinced that they'd just avoided certain thralldom by a hair's bredth). 

And if the creature finds them...boom! Mind blasted in the dark! One or two party members are missed but still dazed and use that one action just to get out a light.  That should have them feeling frantic and like they are the underdogs, so that when they're able to come out on top they feel especially good.
My PC's are about to encounter a Mind Flayer. This will be my first time running one--or any abyssal creature with otherworldly, presumably unfathomable, intelligence and motivations. Any advice on how to run an encounter with one of these guys that imparts that otherworldly, unfathomable aura?



When trying to "make" players feel a certain way about something, I ask them framed questions about it. A framed question points to your prep (a mind flayer), offers new information to build context and make it easier for players to respond, and is open-ended. A hastily put together question might be: "The mind flayer Yuinthu has an otherworldly, unfathomable aura about him. What specifically about his presence makes him so unsettling and threatening?" When the players respond, they're telling you what details make THEM feel that the mind flayer is what you say he is in terms they can best relate to. I'm sure you can come up with several better questions that would fit your campaign better. Give it a try, and if you haven't done this before, tell your players nothing they say can be wrong provided it doesn't contradict existing fiction.

Any particular encounter or setting tweaks that you've used successfully?



I've generally tried to play "super-genius" villains and such as having thought about a lot of stuff ahead of time and planned for contingencies. Sometimes this may include specific counters to the PCs' abilities, if it makes sense in the fiction that the monster would know and prepare for such eventualities. "Foolish simpletons! I can anticipate your every thought and action. For I am Yuinthu, Chosen of Xith-Magar and I have prepared for all possible outcomes." (Except the one that kills him in typical villain-hubris fashion, of course. Love, perhaps.)

As I said, I know how this creature fits into my world and storyline, so I'm not looking for general integrating-a-MF-into-your-campaign advice, as much as encounter-specific stuff. Battle tactics, room layouts, flavor, flourishes, accompanying monsters--things like that.



Use lots of minion thralls that do things other than attack. Perhaps they're completing the construction of the Doomsday Device in 5 rounds. Or they hang back out of the fight and jump in to give the mind flayer saving throws via Heal checks. Or they have an interrupt that allows them to take an attack that would have hit their master.

Mind blast is another good thing to play up. Perhaps he has some sort of half-machine, half-biological device in his lair that amplifies it, increasing its area of effect or allowing rerolls on a miss or something. This creates another objective for the PCs, if they want.

An overlapping skill challenge might also be a good idea, one in which the mind flayer has cast some sort of ritual over time and space and it's warping the very fabric of reality. Throw specific complications at the PCs each round and ask how they deal with it. You can get pretty creative with this.

At any rate, good luck. Nothing's better than a fun villain and I'm particularly fond of mind flayers.
Thanks to all. This is incredibly useful feedback. My faith in the forum is renewed!!  
Another good thing you can do is flavor some of the attacks, add weird twists that don't really change the mechanics, but make them more unique. A psychic attack isn't just an attack against Will, it is a flurry of vicious alien images, twisted things writhing in your brain, whispered secrets in a dark tongue.

Have the villain react in inappropriate ways, it shivers with pleasure when hit by certain attacks, becomes detatched and curious when attacking, or even better, is working on something else the entire time it is fighting the PCs (standing at a table full of strange and sharp instruments, mixing slimy chemicals or disecting something).
or even better, is working on something else the entire time it is fighting the PCs (standing at a table full of strange and sharp instruments, mixing slimy chemicals or disecting something).



I really like that.
or even better, is working on something else the entire time it is fighting the PCs (standing at a table full of strange and sharp instruments, mixing slimy chemicals or disecting something).



I really like that.



I have an upcoming adventure which will feature a mind flayer enemy, and this is what I will have him doing. It will drive the players crazy, in the best possible sense
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I have an upcoming adventure which will feature a mind flayer enemy, and this is what I will have him doing. It will drive the players crazy, in the best possible sense


  One thing I've always liked is when the mind flayer completely ignores their presence until they physically attack it, at which point it continues working without turning around - only rotating its head completely around 180 degrees and then inverting the joints in its arm with wet popping sounds so that its arm is pointing towards the party...


Show

I am the Magic Man.

(Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

 

I am the Lawnmower Man.

(I AM GOD HERE!)

 

I am the Skull God.

(Koo Koo Ka Choo)

 

There are reasons they call me Mad...




Another good thing you can do is flavor some of the attacks, add weird twists that don't really change the mechanics, but make them more unique. A psychic attack isn't just an attack against Will, it is a flurry of vicious alien images, twisted things writhing in your brain, whispered secrets in a dark tongue.

Have the villain react in inappropriate ways, it shivers with pleasure when hit by certain attacks, becomes detatched and curious when attacking, or even better, is working on something else the entire time it is fighting the PCs (standing at a table full of strange and sharp instruments, mixing slimy chemicals or disecting something).






I have an upcoming adventure which will feature a mind flayer enemy, and this is what I will have him doing. It will drive the players crazy, in the best possible sense


  One thing I've always liked is when the mind flayer completely ignores their presence until they physically attack it, at which point it continues working without turning around - only rotating its head completely around 180 degrees and then inverting the joints in its arm with wet popping sounds so that its arm is pointing towards the party...



Oh, I like both of these


Advice from the 5th Edition Call of Cthulhu RPG rule book might prove appropriate as well:  "Playing Alien Entities:  ...Frequently, monsters just snarl or trumpet and then attack.  This is a shame somtimes, because predictable behavior is not mysterious.  Intelligent creatures might build, experiment, worship, learn, perform magic, question, torture, or anything else humans might do.  They might do much more as well.  If the investigators are able to observe aliens for very long, the creatures also should do things which are odd, inexplicable, or incomprehensible.  These motifs are difficult to create, but worth keeping in mind.  The keeper will be served if behaviors are dark or mysterious in tone.  Conversely, if aliens do ordinary things... play may be better served if the investigators do not learn if they do, unless what seems obvious behavior actually has entirely different meanings or functions...."


If you haven't already revealed that the PCs are up against a Mind Flayer, then I would suggest not giving name to the horror they are facing, only a suggestive, impressionistic description that hints at little bits of sight, sound, smell, action, and so on, but generally leaves filling in the blanks to create the full picture to the players' imaginations:  I tend to find that a lot more scary than having something served up in broad daylight with a clean description and definite name.


I rather like to imagine a model for Mind Flayer behavior to perhaps be similar to some of that of the alien from Predator:  it probably regards humanity as cattle and horses, and not much more than that, it probably doesn't speak Common but could mimic Common for its own purposes ("what the hell are you?"), and perhaps one or two eccentric Mind Flayers might go so far as to wonder if some PCs have souls or rudimentary intellects worthy of further study through bizarre experiment or vivisection, if they spend any time thinking about humanity at all.


Good luck - I've never actually had a chance to play in a game that had a Mind Flayer in it.  Lucky players
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
perhaps one or two eccentric Mind Flayers might go so far as to wonder if some PCs have souls or rudimentary intellects worthy of further study through bizarre experiment or vivisection, if they spend any time thinking about humanity at all.

Wow  Just when I thought that Flayers couldn't get any scarier in how little they care about other races, I find out that the Flayers who do care are even worse. gtgr4aq3artthh5

Founder - but not owner - of Just Say Yes!

Member of LGBT Gamers

Odds are, if 4-6 people can't figure out an answer you thought was obvious, you screwed up, not them. - JeffGroves
Which is why a DM should present problems to solve, not solutions to find. -FlatFoot
Why there should be the option to use alignment systems:
Show
If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

perhaps one or two eccentric Mind Flayers might go so far as to wonder if some PCs have souls or rudimentary intellects worthy of further study through bizarre experiment or vivisection, if they spend any time thinking about humanity at all.

Wow  Just when I thought that Flayers couldn't get any scarier in how little they care about other races, I find out that the Flayers who do care are even worse. gtgr4aq3artthh5



That's the spirit Surprised
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
perhaps one or two eccentric Mind Flayers might go so far as to wonder if some PCs have souls or rudimentary intellects worthy of further study through bizarre experiment or vivisection, if they spend any time thinking about humanity at all.

Wow  Just when I thought that Flayers couldn't get any scarier in how little they care about other races, I find out that the Flayers who do care are even worse. gtgr4aq3artthh5



This is my approach personally. Creatures in old Lovecraftian horror like Yog Sothoth are completely bizarre to even the most well versed of its mad brood. They can only know of it by it's presence. It's motives and directions are angled in ways the human mind cannot comprehend, and contact with it breaks the psyche down to leave it a mear husk of its former intellect. One might go irrevocably insane from contact, but the experience was a mercy really. It saved you the trouble of living with KNOWING.

Nyarlathotep, on the other hand, makes SURE you know what's happening to you. It's subtle, and terrible, and well within the scope of what your fragile human mind can comprehend. You're driven insane to be sure, but in a way that leaves you with enough cognizance to recognize your plight... You know... You remember... It haunts your whispers with promises of dread... Every time you close your eyes it's staring right back at you from the darkness of your mind... It follows you from your waking hours to your nightmares... And it's not going to leave you alone until either your mind breaks, or you do...




....*shivers*... Whoo... Scared myself... XD
Another idea, the mind flayer's attacks are actually it searching through a PCs memories. Toss in little random flashes during the battle, like "Through the pain your thoughts unexpectedly turn to your mother. Pangs of nostalgia and loss fill your mind and heart. You haven't thought of her in ages, not since you first strapped a sword to your hip and set off to find your fortune.

But why can't you remember her face???"

Couple notes: This thing is pretty deeply embroiled in the world I've created. 



Does the Mind Flayer have Intellect Devourer pets?  You could have a known NPC turn up, only to have an Intellect Devourer climb out of the NPCs body.  The Mind Flayer could then pet it like a favourite dog and then consume it for its knowledge.  Or you could do it the other way, and have the PCs arrive in time to see the Intellect Devourer climbing into the body of a known NPC and leave to return to the surface.  How long has it been a puppet?  How many others are there?

or even better, is working on something else the entire time it is fighting the PCs (standing at a table full of strange and sharp instruments, mixing slimy chemicals or disecting something).



I really like that.

I dig the Cthulhuesquian imagery.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
When speaking as the mind flayer, use a really prominent lisp. Tentacles hanging in front has to effect your speech in some way so why not a lisp!
When speaking as the mind flayer, use a really prominent lisp. Tentacles hanging in front has to effect your speech in some way so why not a lisp!

Nice. I love enemies that talk in a strange way* but are still terrifying.

*Not to imply that speech impediments are something to remark about or find strange in actual people.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

When speaking as the mind flayer, use a really prominent lisp. Tentacles hanging in front has to effect your speech in some way so why not a lisp!



"Why not Zoidberg?"
Back to Basics - A Guide to Basic Attacks You might be playing DnD wrong if... "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein

Jul 20, 2013 -- 1:16PM, fmalchemist wrote:

When speaking as the mind flayer, use a really prominent lisp. Tentacles hanging in front has to effect your speech in some way so why not a lisp!


Nice. I love enemies that talk in a strange way* but are still terrifying.

*Not to imply that speech impediments are something to remark about or find strange in actual people.


LOL, I do too! Accents are fun too