This article is the first of many that will look at what player characters can do to enhance their odds of defeating specific foes. This time, we'll look at the great illithids. If your Dungeon Master recently picked up a copy of Lords of Madness, you'd do well to hone your aberration-fighting techniques. This article expands on the aberration hunter information on page 175 of that book.
Few creatures are as creepy and unsettling as a mind flayer. This brain-sucking tentacled monstrosity is as cunning and evil as it is repulsive. While it has all manner of disturbing attacks, the creature's intelligence increases its dangerousness. It is apt to safeguard itself with allies, traps, and other challenges.
The illithid has a variety of impressive attacks.
Mind Blast: The mind blast is the mind flayer's signature ability and it's the toughest to circumvent. The lone rogue or ranger scouting up ahead is terribly vulnerable to this attack because of their poor Will saves. In fact, they may not fight again this side of a raise deadspell.
Even when attacking the creature as a coordinated group, the 60-foot cone is apt to get most, if not all, of the party. Thwarting the mind blast ability is a difficult proposition requiring powerful magic. The spells to use are spell resistance, protection from spells, or spell immunity (since mind blast is the equivalent of a 4th-level spell). Even without these powerful preventive magics, having a large group attack enhances the chances that at least one of your party will make her saving throw.
Another suggestion from Lords of Madness is to use a summoned creature that is immune to the stun, such as an elemental.
Psionics: All of the mind flayer's psionic abilities are useable at will: charm monster, detect thoughts, levitate, plane shift, suggestion.
Charm Monster: As with all charm spells, charm monster makes for a dangerous situation where one party member might attack another. Since mind flayers are smart creatures, they tend fighters or rogues, and they often figure this out by looking over each foe's choice of weapons and armor. In their experience, they know that rogues and fighters have a lower ability to resist their charm ability (low Will saves) than other types of foes, while spellcasters tend to have a greater chance to shrug off the effect.
Dispel magic is an essential tool for trying to free your friend from the charm. The frequency with which a mind flayer can use this ability means that someone is almost certain to fall under its influence. The best defense is a protection from evil or a magic circle against evil spell since both of these block attempts at mind control and charm.
Detect Thoughts: This ability tends to be the most useful to the mind flayer before combat begins. Before initiative is rolled, the illithid might know all of your tactics.
Levitate: This ability enables the mind flayer to get away from land-bound opponents. Wise parties that have a good mix of melee and ranged attacks do not allow levitate to become a great benefit to the creature.
Plane Shift:Plane shift is the mind flayer's best escape route. If you don't want to face a recurring master villain, be sure to pack a dimensional anchor. However, note that you need to make a ranged touch attack with dimensional anchor.
Suggestion: Like charm monster, this is a Will save. The intelligent mind flayer might offer suggestions that take one of your party members out of the fight. "Go stand in the corner without moving until the fight's over." "Leave and hurry to a merchant to get better weapons." Again, protection from evil and magic circle against evil are the best defenses.
Improved Grab: Mind flayers don't have great grapple modifiers. Their base attacks are good, but not great, since as Medium creatures they don't gain a benefit from their size, and they're often not very strong physically. The true peril from this attack option is the mind flayer using it on a stunned opponent.
Extract: The extract ability is a bit difficult to achieve when a mind flayer is facing a group.
The mind flayer has only two special qualities: rather impressive spell resistance and telepathy out to a range of 100 feet.
Spell Resistance: Tips on dealing with SR is a topic all of its own, so watch for it to come up in a Tips and Tactics column!
Telepathy: The mind flayer might use this ability to bring in allies, so prepare for reinforcements. Mind flayers often operate in pairs or small groups.
As an aberration, a mind flayer tends to have a very poor Fortitude save. The trick is to select attacks that take advantage of this weakness while bypassing its very strong spell resistance. Many spells of the conjuration school are perfect for this. For example, cloudkill, a 5th-level sorcerer/wizard spell, has a Fortitude save and doesn't allow SR. Almost all of the "cloud" spells have this advantage (stinking cloud at 3rd). Even spells that allow a Reflex save that bypass SR are extremely useful.
Must-Haves:Protection from evil or magic circle against evil.
Best Buys for Lower-Level Spells: Melf's acid arrow and stinking cloud.
Wish List: Powerful summon spells, spell resistance, protection from spells, and spell immunity.
Mind flayers are not tough melee opponents. If you can summon in a creature of the construct, elemental, ooze, plant, or undead type, you can negate most of the mind flayer's advantages and quickly defeat it. Such creatures of Large or larger size do very well grappling illithids.
Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, Lords of Madness: The Book of Aberrations.
About the Author
Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel works full-time as a game designer for Wizards of the Coast. Recent and upcoming books include d20 Past, Races of Eberron, and Planar Handbook. She simultaneously leads the lives of an avid gamer, Ph.D. student, trio of birds of prey, and a hedonistic cat.