The Illithids are quite dangerous creatures, are they not? One of the most famous enemies from Dungeons & Dragons, Mind Flayers are powerful with psychic powers, have a few variations worth using, and can even be turned into a potential BBEG for your story. And an army of Mind Flayers is quite the challenge to face.
How can they act as the main baddies, though? And how do they fight a group of players? Well, let’s talk strategy and see how your tentacle-bearded monster can withstand the might of your adventurers in D&D.
5 Understand Their Weak Points
First, the main Mind Flayer’s CR is seven, meaning they’re deadly for beginner parties, but you may need multiple of them in a fight as their levels get higher. Now, every creature has weak points, and it’s your players’ job to figure that out while you try to avoid letting them know.
As you’d expect from a creature with many psychic abilities, they lack physical prowess. They don’t necessarily have penalties in their Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution scores, but those are the weakest ones, especially Strength.
Your AC is 15, which is good when fighting lower-level characters, but if a strong Barbarian, Fighter, or Paladin starts constantly attacking you, you may get into trouble. However, they’re not the worst since you actually have powerful melee options. Your worst enemies are ranged martials. Their attacks will bypass your magical resistance, and they’ll be too far for you to attack and grapple properly.
Still, magic resistance or not, keep clear of attacks that force you into Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution saving throws, and magic do those often – though they can happen from other sources, such as Fighter using Trip Attack on you. Still, there are ways to counter them, as you’ll see.
4 Beware Of Your Positioning
The Mind Flayer is mostly a melee combatant, as their spells don’t cause damage, and their main source of attack is their tentacles. They’re pretty strong, with an average psychic damage of 15, and they can grapple creatures, who’ll need to do an Intelligence saving throw to escape.
They also have Mind Blast, a rechargeable action, which hits everyone in a 60ft (18m) cone. It causes 22 psychic damage on average, and it stuns the creatures who get hit by it for one minute. They need to fail another Intelligence saving throw to suffer the damage and the effect, and they can try to escape again on their turn, but that’s still very powerful. It can turn the tide against melee characters ganging up on you.
Their Intelligence will likely not be high, so you can stun them and give yourself an advantage for the next attack.
3 You Can Instantly Kill People
This entry is more of a warning than anything, but in case you don’t want to go too far with your players, then beware; Mind Flayers can instantly kill people, bypassing death-saving throws entirely.
When you attack someone with your tentacles and successfully grapple them, it’ll also stun the victim, giving you an advantage as well. Then, you can use Extract Brain on them, which causes 55 piercing damage on average – which is a lot. If you kill someone with Extract Brain, their brain is, you guessed it, extracted and eaten by the Flayer. And that kills people.
What you can do here to warn players of the danger ahead is have their first encounter with a Mind Flayer to have a victim NPC. They can approach as the monster takes the brain out of the NPC’s head and eats it, showing their skills and scaring your players, too, which is always nice.
2 Turn The Players Against One Another
Another crucial battle tactic is taking advantage of whoever has a low Wisdom Score. Mind Flayers have Dominate Monster, which allows them to take over someone. You could even use this during a conversation between the Flayer and the characters before the fight actually starts, so your victim won’t have an advantage on the saving throw.
By doing that to a brute such as a Barbarian or a Fighter – even Paladin if their auras don’t save them from charming effects – you can spend all their rage, multiple attacks, and smites on their allies. Even if they do free themselves eventually, they can cause a lot of chaos, and they’ll be weaker against you for wasting their resources, such as superiority dice or spell slots on their friends instead of you. Expect players to curse you for this.
We recommend you to stay clear of classes with high Wisdom scores, such as Druids or Clerics, as their chance of passing the saving throw is higher. Still, if you manage to get support on your side, you can spend all their healing spells on you.
1 Fitting Them In Your Story
This is probably the easiest part. They’re creatures from other Planes who want to enslave everyone who isn’t an Illithid, so it’s a very straightforward reason to have them as a threat, and they can be the main villain for a save-the-world type of adventure.
You can have armies of these creatures, use other Illithids such as the Elder Brain, and you can even mix concepts – Did you know that there is a Lich Mind Flayer, the Illithilich? Having them in the story is also a good way to introduce the Githyanki, so your players could even choose such species for them to play as.
They also present a big hierarchy and a desire to spread their Grand Design – restore their empire while enslaving or eliminating everyone who isn’t one of them. So they would normally be respectful of their kind and obey their superiors.
Bonus: Homebrewing A Mind Flayer
In case you want to beef them up or create your own version, we recommend focusing on all spells that involve psychic abilities. You can have them use nightmares, alter the target’s memories, dominate multiple people at once so you can control more party members, or even have them fight ally NPCs. If you have the time and patience, we’d also recommend making them an actual spellcaster instead of using innate spellcasting so you can use your spells more often.
Everything they do revolves around their Intelligence, even melee attacks, so focus on buffing it if you want to make them more dangerous. Still, buffing their Constitution for them to keep their concentration would make them more deadly. You could always give them the War Caster feat, too.
Next: Dungeons & Dragons: Tips To Homebrew A New Species