Monday, September 16, 2013

A Variant on the Modern Mind Flayer

As I've previously stated I believe that my job as a Dungeon Master is to provide a game filled with memorable moments and challenges for my players where death is a real possibility and so often when I have thrown a Mind Flayer at them they've not only survived, but flourished in the challenging situation. A lot of that has to do with how unintimidating the third edition Mind Flayer can be by comparison to other creatures.  So for years I've hated the Mind Flayer for its weakness, but then last night I was reading a copy of Strategic Review Vol. 1, No. 1 that I had picked up when I came across an early version of the Mind Flayer. 
CREATURE FEATURES
The Mind Flayer: This is a super-intelligent, man-shaped creature with four tentacles by its mouth which it uses to strike its prey. If a tentacle hits it will then penetrate to the brain, draw it forth, and the monster will devour it. It will take one to four turns (1d4) for the tentacle to reach the brain, at which time the victim is dead. A Mind Flayer will  flee if an encounter is going against it.

Their major weapon, however, is the Mind Blast, a wave PSI force with a 6” directional range and a radius of 5’. All within the radius must save as indicated or will suffer the result shown:

Mind Blast:
Intelligence         Saving Throw at Range                Effect of
of Opponent             l - 2 ” 3 - 4 ” 5 - 6 ”              Mind Blast
3-4                             19     19     17                    Death
5-7                             17     16     15                    Coma, 3 days
8-10                           15     14     13                    Sleep, 1 hour
11-12                         13     12     11                    Stun, 3 turns
13-14                         11     10      9                     Confuse, 5 turns
15-16                          9      8      7                       Enrage, 7 turns
17                               7      6      5                        Feeble-mind
18                               5      4      3                        Insanity, permanent
Now one of the reasons why I have always been hesitant to use a Mind Flayer in third edition is that they tend to seem like the world's most dangerous pansy. With abilities like Mind Blast and their slew of at-will abilities they should be the deadliest foe on the table - but if you hit them hard enough they run away like most every bully you've ever encountered in life. 
It seems that Gary Gygax had the same sort of view about the Mind Flayer because he made this guy a real challenge when he first introduced him
I don't mind villains that run, but it bothers me that when it comes to a Mind Flayer that they are weak enough that they're actually prone to running unless you have a Dungeon Master that is willing to pull out the full run of tactical options available to the damned things - and those guys are far and few between from my experiences. It seems that Gary Gygax had the same sort of view about the Mind Flayer because he made this guy a real challenge when he first introduced him. 

Ignore the Mind Blast for a minute and instead focus on the tentacle attack that will pull out your brain. In the third edition Dungeons and Dragons the Mind Flayer has to engage in a grapple to start the process, which is actually pretty easy for it as it has Improved Grapple, but then it has to succeed on subsequent opposed grapple checks to get each of the other tentacles attached to the victim. Then, if it can manage to keep the victim grappled until the start of its next turn, it can rip out the brain. By contrast this earlier version of the Mind Flayer automatically starts boring its way to your brain if it succeeds at hitting you, and then it only has to successfully stay attached for 1d4 rounds - which averages to 2 rounds. 

How much more terrifying is that than the Mind Flayer I've been playing with?
I find myself wondering why would I ever consider using the third edition version again?
Now let's consider the Mind Blast

In third edition the ability extends out in a 60' cone and stuns the opponent for 3d4 rounds. With a creature as deadly as the Mind Flayer can be that's a dangerous ability; but when compared with the earlier version it's a timid kitty to a raging lion. The ability is so much more than what it was watered down to in third edition that I find myself wondering why would I ever consider using the third edition version again?

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