Dungeons & Dragons Online

The Anatomy of a Mind Flayer: A Practical Guide

"Often when questions of anatomy and physiology are concerned, I find that those writing the textbooks seem to have quite the talent at avoiding exactly what it is the daring adventurer needs to know! This archwizard or that might wax for ages on theories about the origins of the creatures we call mind flayers or illithid, but never tell you anything about the quality of their hides or the curious alcohol one can brew from their mucus. Have no fear, however, for your solution has arrived, and I will tell you precisely what you may stand to gain by dismembering the corpses of these monsters you seek to slay!" -Dent Salermo, Adventurer and Gourmand

When it comes to biology, there are certainly fewer creatures more bizarre than the illithid. Starting their lives as parasitic tadpoles injected into a humanoid host, they soon force the body through a process known as ceremorphosis that changes it into the distinctive mauve-skinned and cerebrally enhanced visage of an adult mind flayer. The end result of this process has led many scholars to posit that the illithid only recently evolved to live on land, though a more chilling prospect is that there may exist communities of mind flayers in the seas that prey on aquatic humanoids as well. Regardless, it seems apparent that they are a type of cephalopod, related to the cuttlefish in much the same way humans seem to be related to apes. Like their bestial relatives, the illithid lay large clutches of eggs, have green-blue blood, an enlarged cerebrum, a powerful sense of sight, and three hearts. Unlike them, however, the illithid lack any gills (to which two of the three hearts are normally dedicated in a mundane cephalopod), lack any way to produce ink, and of course possess incredible psionic power. A secondary mass of gray matter connected to the digestive tract is often considered the organ responsible for the flayer's dependence on a brain rich diet.

Mind flayers are naturally curious and ambitious, regularly probing minds with their innate ability to detect thoughts as naturally as a man might visually scan an area. They possess sensitive skin that must remain perpetually covered in a protective mucus, and as such most observed specimens favor levitation as their primary form of locomotion. In a fight, these creatures tend to hang behind ranks of thralls and weaken their enemies with potent mind blasts, but they also possess deceptively strong tentacles should a single creature manage to close the distance. If, however, a mind flayer finds itself outnumbered or surprised, it will trigger a rather strong fight or flight response, either choosing to dominate monster on the strongest enemy facing it or plane shifting away to some more hospitable location.

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Their powerful psionic abilities mean that the prepared adventurer has much to gain from harvesting parts of the flayer's nervous system. The vestigial remnants of aquatic life also contain some value as well. Below is a list of what I have found useful at some time or another, whether in my own labs or on the market. I suggest using a sharp knife and having some knowledge of Survival or Medicine before attempting this harvest.

DC to harvest Value in gold pieces Weight in pounds
Telepath's Brain DC 15 60 gp 4
Videoportive Ganglia DC 22 190 gp 0.1
Telekinetic Cortex DC 20 80 gp 0.5
Extraction Tentacles x4 DC 10 8 gp 4
Vial of Memory Mucus x6 DC 10 25 gp 0.1
Hide DC 10 12 gp 8
Hands and feet x4 5 gp 1
Flesh 75, total

Telepath’s Brain: An illithid brain contains sensitive receptors and broadcasters of psychic energy. They prove to be eternally useful to artificers who create items that can be activated by thought. Though other telepathic creatures' brains may be used for the same base purposes, the superior intellect of a mind flayer renders it perfect for the most advanced applications. I have it on good record that prime specimens have found themselves as important components of Headbands of Intellect.

Videoportive Ganglia: Activated when a mind flayer experiences a strong flight instinct, these nervous bundles are located behind the eyes and allow subconscious scanning of possible realities to flee to. I've encased a pair within a crystal ball to allow me to scry on different places of existence, but I hear they are also quite useful at reducing the error rate of teleport as well when used as a material component for that spell. You will want to find a way to preserve them, though, they decay quickly.

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Telekinetic Cortex: The hyper-developed frontal cerebral zone can be magically reactivated to produce effects similar to the levitation it provided its master in life. Though I've yet to personally use one of these, an artificer I sold a sample to said he was planning on animating a candlestick with it. I wish him luck.

Extraction Tentacles: Glands on the tentacles create powerful digestive enzymes to help drill through skulls, and sharp ridges provide the rest of the requisite power. Unfortunately, the enzyme quickly loses potency when separated from the tentacles or if dried out, but I have been able to create a fine whip +1 by connecting them end to end. It must remain stored in brine, so its portability is somewhat limited.

Memory Mucus: This secretion is incredibly psionically charged as a result of the flayer’s diet. It can be consumed to gain a skill or tool proficiency had by one of the flayer’s previous victims for one minute, but failing a DC 18 Int save causes incapacitation for the same duration. I enjoy adding some of this to my unfermented mash to create a nice "Memory Juice." It's like I'm a whole different person when I'm drunkk in that stufff… Oh look, Ni pole- quet- eldarin! (You gain one tool or language proficiency of your choice for the next 8 hours after consuming "Memory Juice." Side effects may include dry mouth, stuttering, and Multiple Personality Disorder, as well as those of mundane vodka. One vial of mucus makes one dose of "Memory Juice.")

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Hide: With a sickly mauve color and subtle unpleasant odor, illithid hide actually cures into a remarkably supple, naturally watertight leather with an attractive purple hue. It’s thinness renders it unsuitable for armor, but cloaks, bags and even tents could benefit from being constructed of the exotic material.

Hands and feet: Evidence of a likely aquatic origin, the hands and feet of illithid both have vestigial webbing between their digits. Feet have only two toes, while hands grow long but harmless claws on each finger. To date, I have found no use for either but both prove to be popular souvenirs, especially if you know any githyanki.

Flesh: Much like a human, about 75 lbs. of edible flesh can be salvaged from an intact illithid corpse, but most sentients would only resort to eating it in dire emergency. Not only does consumption of illithid flesh carry the same dangers as cannibalism, but it has an unpleasant rubbery texture. It does provide a suitable distraction for many of the less intelligent Underdark predators you may come across when trying to return from your hunt, however, and may prove useful to carry depending on your current supply situation.

There you have it! The anatomy of an illithid, for practical people.

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