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Mind flayers made their 4e debut back in the first Monster Manual. This entry adds more lore to them, and more stat blocks.

The Lore

Mind flayers maintain one of the most evil civilizations in the Underdark, and that’s saying something. Illithids are aggressive supremacists who prefer to engage with even drow and duergar through slave-taking raids rather than anything resembling diplomacy. Their settlements consist of a large population of permanently mind-controlled thralls from every other sapient species in the Underdark, supporting a small collective of illithid masters, who in turn might be led by an Elder Brain.

Elder Brains live in special life support vats, and are psionic powerhouses. Third Edition had Elder Brains as deceivers who absorbed the knowledge and power of deceased illithids. Fifth Edition would make mind flayers into a full-on hive mind centered on the brains. Here in Fourth they’re neither of those things. Instead, they are revered leaders and masterminds. They form the center of a telepathic network linking all the illithids in the collective, who can communicate and share information instantly through it while retaining their individuality.

When an illithid collective passes a certain threshold of size and combined power, it performs a specific procedure on its wisest and most respected member. The volunteer’s head is severed and placed in the support tank, where it is kept alive. The other mind flayers then focus their psionic energy on the head over an extended period of time, causing it to grow in size and power until it becomes an Elder Brain.

As mentioned before, mind flayers don’t really “do” diplomacy. Their non-illithid allies are almost all slaves and mind-controlled thralls. They usually come from some of the other sapient people of the Underdark, though a mind flayer with access to the surface will happily enthrall surfacers as well. Occasionally you’ll find other aberrant monsters working alongside them, either as thralls or as allies of convenience in a symbiotic relationship.

Lone illithids might end up making actual alliances with other villains, though they only cooperate on their own terms even then.

The Numbers

As before, mind flayers are Medium Aberrant Humanoids with Darkvision and Speed 7. All of them have psychic powers and something that lets them mess with other people’s brains, but the specifics vary per stat block. The entries in the MM1 and Monster Vault focus on the mid Paragon tier. These show stronger individuals in the early Epic tier.

Mind Flayer Inquisitor

As the name implies, inquisitors are strong telepaths. The flavor text describes one of them hiding in abandoned tunnels and kidnapping nobles and sages to feast on their brains and memories.

Inquisitors are Level 20 Controllers with 190 HP. Their basic melee attack are the classic grabby tentacles, which target Reflex. A hit damages and grabs the victim (Athletics DC 31 or Acrobatics DC 33 to escape). Once the inquisitor has grabbed a victim, it can use Implant Delusions on them. This targets Will, does psychic damage, and inflicts the custom “delusions” condition (save ends). Victims suffering from delusions inflict a -2 penalty to all attacks and defenses of adjacent allies.

Their ranged powers start with the classic mind blast (recharge 5+) that inflicts psychic damage and dazes (save ends). A miss does half damage. Their Own Worst Enemy ability is an Area Burst 2 with a range of 10 squares. It hits automatically and forces every enemy in the area to use an at-will power of the inquisitor’s choice against themselves! Thankfully it’s an encounter power that recharges when the inquisitor is first bloodied, but it’s still rough on those Essentials martials.

As a minor action, the inquisitor can force an Unwilling Confession from an enemy within 10 squares. This is an attack against Will, and though it does no damage it prevents the victim from being affected by healing and by powers that grant saves (save ends).

And finally, when the inquisitor sees an enemy succeed at a saving throw, they can use Forceful Submission to force them to re-roll that save with a -2 penalty.

Inquisitors work well with a solid frontline of brutes or soldiers who can keep them safe and isolate possible victims for melee attacks. They also pair well with other monsters loaded with save-ends powers.

Mind Flayer Scourge

The flavor text here tells the story of how early surface psionics honed their abilities by raiding mind flayer lairs and trying to steal their secrets. The discipline of the mind flayer scourge was developed in response to these raids.

Scourges are Level 21 Skirmishers with 199 HP. They have Resist 10 Psychic, which does help a lot against most psionic PCs.

They have the usual grabby tentacles and dazing mind blast (recharge 5+). Their tentacles also daze the grabbed victim while the grab lasts, and the Mind Leech passive trait allows them to make an extra saving throw or recharge roll while grabbing a victim. They can even recharge their Psychic Assault encounter power with a roll of 6+.

Psychic Assault targets the grabbed victim’s Will. On a hit it deals a bit of psychic damage and dominates the victim (save ends, but with a -4 penalty). On a miss, it deals half damage and still dominates the victim (save ends). As mentioned above this is an encounter power but the scourge can recharge it with Mind Leech. It’s extremely bad news for the PCs. Scourges prefer to use it on spellcasters or psionics.

If surrounded, they can use Alter Reality as a minor action to teleport an adjacent enemy 2 squares, allowing them to potentially disengage from a defender without triggering any reactions.

Thoon Hulk

Mind flayers aren’t a very religious lot, but there is at least one entity they speak of with the reverence others would reserve for a god. Its name is Thoon, and that’s pretty much all non-illithids know about the subject. Whatever relationship Thoon might have with these brutish monstrosities remains a mystery, but they do show us that mind flayers have no problem performing horrific experiments on their own.

Thoon Hulks are much stronger and less intelligent than a typical mind flayer, but they still retain their psionic powers. They’re found as servants to “baseline” mind flayers and to other powerful aberrants like aboleths. They’re Level 22 Brutes with 255 HP.

The hulk’s basic attack is named Eviscerate, and uses its giant axe hands. This deals extra damage against creatures grabbed by the hulk. It can still grab using tentacles, which do no damage but are a minor action. This means it can grab and eviscerate on the same turn. Its mind blast is the usual psychic damage + daze combo, but it happens a little less often (recharge 6+). Once per encounter it can focus its powers and issue the Call of Thoon (ranged 10 vs. Will), which does heavy psychic damage and pulls the target up to 10 squares so it ends up adjacent to the hulk.

When the hulk dies, it triggers a Psychic Explosion, which covers a Close Burst 2 and inflicts ongoing 15 psychic damage (save ends).

Hulks are excellent front-liners, and the Call of Thoon also allows them to pull a PC squishy into Eviscerate range.

Elder Brain

As mentioned above, Elder Brains are the big bosses of a medium-to-large illithid enclave. They rule with absolute authority and live in ooze vats that amplify their powers and allow them to communicate with their subjects over vast distances.

Getting to an elder brain’s vat is an adventure in itself, since it will inevitably be in the most secure and heavily guarded part of a sizable illithid enclave. Once there, the PCs will have to contend with the brain itself and with whatever bodyguards are in the chamber with it. Elder Brains are usually too arrogant to run away from a fight, though they may change their tunes after their bodyguards are taken down and they’re reduced to low HP. However, getting there is harder than it looks, because not only can the brain fight, it can also move.

Elder Brains are Large Aberrant Magical Beasts with the Blind keyword. They have Blindsight 10 and are immune to the blinded condition and to gaze attacks. They have a ground speed of 2 and a teleport speed of 6, which I think is a first in the game - earlier edition brains were pretty much confined to their vats.

Brains are Level 23 Elite Controllers with 436 HP. They start off with a host of passive traits. The first, Warp Reality is an aura (5) that deals 10 damage to any enemy that teleports while inside. The second, Absorb Thoughts, grants the brain a saving throw or recharge roll whenever a non-minion ally drops to 0 HP within 10 squares. And the third, Unseeing Telepathy, allows it to communicate telepathically even when it doesn’t have line of effect to the other creature.

Warp Reality’s effect doesn’t care whether it was the enemy who initiated the teleport, or if someone else teleported the enemy. Damage happens either way. This is important because most of the elder brain’s attacks teleport the target.

The basic melee attack is a Reach 3 Tentacle Warp, which does light physical damage, teleports the target 3 squares, and immobilizes them for a turn. Flailing Warp allows them to make three such attacks in a single action, each against a different target. Instead of a mind blast, they have a mind burst (recharge 5+), which targets all enemies in a Close Burst 5 with the usual effects.

They can also use Sensory Overload as a minor action, which works almost identically to the mind burst. It does a little less damage, and instead of dazing it blinds and deafens for a turn and teleports the target 3 squares.

Finally, every time the elder brain successfully saves against an effect, Baleful Transfer automatically afflicts an enemy within 5 squares with the effect the brain just saved against.

These stats seem to reward aggressive tactics. All of the brain’s attacks have a range that’s equal or less than that of its aura, so it wants to fight from close range. It will probably try to teleport to be near the PC’s squishier back line, using Tentacle Warps to keep them close and to keep defenders away. It also has enough melee reach to fight from behind a wall of soldiers or brutes, and pairs well with other enemies that inflict forced teleports.

Final Impressions

All the mind flayers here have interesting mechanics, and I particularly like this edition’s take on the elder brain as a highly mobile close-range combatant. It’s probably the last thing your players will expect if they’re used to the more static depiction from other editions.