Vampiric Mind Flayer Tactics

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There’s a lot of fun to be found in mashing up creature types: crossing dragons and undead to create the dracolich, or fiends and constructs to create the hellfire engine, or—as Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons did—dragons and aberrations to create the eyedrake and the elder brain dragon. Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft gives us a few of these, including today’s featured creature, the vampiric mind flayer.

Comparing and contrasting the vampiric mind flayer with the stat blocks of the stock vampire and the stock mind flayer is the obvious exercise. However, when you look at the flavor text and see how these beasties are created (summary: not vampirism-infected adult mind flayers, but vampirism-infected mind flayer larvae), vampire spawn seem like a better analogue than full-fledged vampires, so we need to throw them into the mix as well.

The results of the comparison are … interesting. And a little odd. The result isn’t a simple average of the vampire (or vampire spawn) and the mind flayer, nor is it the sum of its parts. It’s both a little more and a little less than either.

In some cases, the vampire, vampire spawn and mind flayer aren’t that different to begin with, and the vampiric mind flayer follows their example. All of the source monsters have Armor Class 15 or 16; the vampiric mind flayer has AC 15. All of them have proficiency in Perception and Stealth (the mind flayer has a few more skills as well); so does the vampiric mind flayer. They all have darkvision, one with 60 feet of range, the other two with 120 feet; the vampiric mind flayer gets 120 feet of darkvision.

In some cases, it’s more like an average. The Multiattack of both the vampire and the vampire spawn, which comprises either two Claws or Unarmed Strike attacks or one Claws/Unarmed Strike attack and one Bite attack, becomes a choice between two Claw attacks and one Claw attack plus one Tentacles attack, a natural change. Additionally, the vampire and vampire spawn’s Vampiric Weaknesses, which mind flayers lack, are reduced to Sunlight Sensitivity alone—less onerous than Sunlight Hypersensitivity, though still an incentive to stay inside or underground. And its hit points fall close to those of a vampire spawn: greater than a mind flayer’s, less than a vampire’s.

Finally, the vampiric mind flayer has two new actions, Drink Sapience and Disrupt Psyche, and we can easily see where these come from: The former takes the form of Extract Brain but has an effect more like the hit point transfer of a successful vampire Bite, while the latter is a lower-power Mind Blast that has a smaller, differently shaped area of effect, deals no damage, and merely incapacitates instead of stunning. (Disrupt Psyche is a bonus action, though, which is a clear augmentation.)

In the case of saving throws, it’s a sum. Mind flayers have proficiency in all mental ability saving throws, while vampires and vampire spawn have proficiency in Dexterity and Wisdom saves, and vampires additionally have proficiency in Charisma saves. Vampiric mind flayers get all four: Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.

And then there’s the harder-to-explain stuff.

You might think that injecting vampiric mRNA into a wee baby illithid might make it grow up to be more robust than a typical mind flayer but not as charming and clever (vampire spawn have very high physical attributes and average mental attributes; mind flayers have the opposite). Not quite. What happens, in fact, per the vampiric mind flayer stat block, is that the vampiric mind flayer’s physical ability scores go full vampire—and so do its Wisdom and Charisma. Intelligence, on the other hand, which both vampires and mind flayers possess in abundance … craters. However that hybridization process works, it’s devastating to the poor tadpole’s future intellect, possibly arresting it where it stands at the moment of infection. The result is an aberrant undead with not quite the Intelligence of an orangutan, though more than a cat or dog. Whether it’s even sentient is an open question; don’t count on it.

Both vampires and vampire spawn have the Spider Climb trait, but neither has a climbing speed, so they’re burdened when hauling a victim over a wall. The vampiric mind flayer doesn’t suffer from this liability: Along with Spider Climb, it has a climbing speed equal to its walking speed. Vampires and vampire spawn are resistant to both physical damage from nonmagical attacks and necrotic damage; mind flayers have no damage resistance. Vampiric mind flayers lack any resistance to physical damage at all, but they’re resistant not only to necrotic damage but also to psychic damage. This enhancement would make more sense to me if mind flayers were resistant to psychic damage themselves; maybe this characteristic presages an update to the mind flayer in 2024. Or maybe the vampiric mind flayer is simply too obtuse to understand your vicious mockery.

But it doesn’t end there: The vampiric mind flayer is immune to the charmed, exhaustion and frightened conditions. That’s definitely a greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts ramification, one not attributable to any of this creature’s progenitors. Lest you think that every mystifying change is an increase to the vampiric mind flayer’s power, however, there’s one last thing that’s more of a nerf: It retains the mind flayer’s telepathic power, but because its mental capacity is so degraded, it no longer has anything to say. It can only feel at you.

With all that out of the way, what are we left with? If you were expecting a master villain as complex and sophisticated as a vampire or a mind flayer, you’d be mistaken. Stripping away all other details and looking just at challenge rating and traits, what we have is a creature that’s approximately as dangerous as a vampire spawn and does more or less the same things in the same ways, except in the service of an elder brain instead of a vampire master or mistress.

Like vampire spawn, vampiric mind flayers are most often nocturnal (they can also be subterranean, but they never wander around outside during the day) and stalk weaker or isolated prey. Unlike vampire spawn, they’re predictable in their behavior, almost mechanistic, although they have a good instinct for when they shouldn’t pick a fight. A vampiric mind flayer encounter should always be Deadly according to the encounter building rules in chapter 3 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. If it weren’t, the VMF wouldn’t engage to begin with.

During its Multiattack, a vampiric mind flayer makes one Claw attack and one Tentacles attack by default. Although two Claw attacks deal more damage on average, the vampiric mind flayer’s objective is to Drink Sapience, and it can only do that to a grappled creature, as a separate action. Tentacles is how it imposes the grappled condition, so it must always make that attack if it can. The only time it makes two Claw attacks instead is when it already has a creature grappled, is being harassed by another melee opponent and doesn’t want to let go. (It never wants to let go, unless and until its grappled victim is reduced to 0 hp.)

The fact that Disrupt Psyche is a bonus action is the vampiric mind flayer’s ace up its sleeve. If it’s in the middle of a tall, cool drink of sapience and its enemies are killing its buzz, it can set off its cerebral EMP to get them to leave it alone—provided it’s not still recharging, of course—and still keep drinking at the same time.

However, an even more powerful application of Disrupt Psyche is at the outset of combat. Because of its combination of Perception, Stealth and Spider Climb, the vampiric mind flayer is an ambush attacker par excellence. Its best opening play is to hide in the rafters, or on a lowish cavern ceiling, and set off Disrupt Psyche when at least six creatures (or an entire group of them, whichever is less) come within 30 feet of it. Since this technically is neither an attack nor a spell, it doesn’t give away the vampiric mind flayer’s position, and it can make its first Tentacles attack with advantage as an unseen attacker, then follow up with Claw, all on the same turn. If the encounter environment allows it any way to pull this stunt off, it’s absolutely how the vampiric mind flayer initiates combat, after which it uses Disrupt Psyche whenever it feels like it needs to and the ability is available.

Their high Wisdom suggests that they ought to know when to skedaddle to save themselves, but as undead, vampiric mind flayers are creatures of compulsion. And unlike vampires, their primary compulsion isn’t to feed, but rather to serve; feeding is simply part of how they do it. They’re also expendable. When an elder brain creates them, it doesn’t give them names. As far as it’s concerned, they’re valuable only operationally, not intrinsically. Regardless of how much damage they take, vampiric mind flayers won’t retreat to save themselves. Only one thing, sunlight, can force them to back off.

Next: gallows speakers (what a name!).

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