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General Help me build a mini-campaign: The Mindflayer Empire returns from the far future

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Hi all! So I've recently begun using my miniature collection as a constrain (the idea that having constraints breeds creativity), and recently wrote a pretty fun adventure between a zombie plague against a vengeful church. Building off that success, I turned to the miniatures that I haven't used; because they are from Warhammer. Chiefly, a collection of 30k space marines, which oddly look a lot like sci-fi armored dwarves.

So I was thinking, "Where can I have sci-fi dwarves in a game of D&D?" and realized the weirdest solution is that they came... from the FUTURE! And as I did more research, there is an interesting theory of behind the Mind Flayers, that the reason there is nothing that remains of their destroyed empire, is they actually escaped into the far future, taking their greatest works with them.

The idea was perfect, chiefly because the Mind Flayers enslave dwarves (or duergar), and the source I was planning to use to help run this (Dark Matter) includes some great stats for monsters like "Brain in a Jar" which is incredibly on theme.

So I have the basis of a pretty great storyline set up; that the Mind Flayers not only escaped with their Empire into the far future, but took the time to refortify and militarize. Now, after fully dominating the universe at the end of time, they have returned to the present conquer the Material Plane, in EVERY TIME.

It's reverse Samurai Jack essentially. Aku is back from the future with his evil army.

My first idea was relatively simple, to use Halo: Reach as the basis of the storyline as a crew of heroes attempts to defend their world traditional D&D-fantasy-world from the invading Nautiloid armada that has inexplicately appeared in the sky, complete with legions of enslaved Duergar and Gith, armed with advanced technology from the pages of the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

But with that basis, what else should I include? What possibilities have I missed? Sources I should delve into?

Here's some art that helps explain the ideas I'm planning;

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aco175

Hero
I would also work in something where magic died in the future and that is why they turned to technology. Magic could be some link to defeat them.
 

Eltab

Hero
Potential inspiration from War of the Worlds: Mind Flayers are weak against disease. Which is why they send their thralls to interact with people, and stay safely aboard their sterilized ships at high altitude.

Possible flaw: sounds too much like IRL.
 

Bitbrain

Black Lives Matter
1. Maybe have the Spelljamming nations oppose the Mind Flayers?

While I can definitely see the present-day Githyanki and Githzerai marching out to fight the invading Illithids, I can also see the Giff opposing the Mind Flayers to protect their own interests on the planet.

2. In Storm King’s Thunder, the Fire Giants are trying to rebuild a colossal machine called the Vonindod. I can very easily see them attempting it again as a sort of nuclear option against the Mind Flayers.

3. In every time you say... Might I suggest you look up Where Chaos Reigns? It’s a D&D module where
time traveling cyborgs from the future seek to manipulate past events to ensure their timeline becomes dominant.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
The disease they are weak against ... is magic!

The magicclorions which are omnipresent and infuse this era with magic that is.

They use technology and psionics.

Even their time travel doesn't work well with magic. So they have to invade backwards through time past the edge of what they have conquored.

To fuel their tech/psionics, they actually eat the magic of the world as fuel (humans find oil toxic, but useful). Once they do so, they jump back again and conquor another piece of time, then strip mine the magic again.

Even if the PCs win against this invasion, the mind flayers have already won in the PCs future. In order to stop the mind flayers, they have to time travel themselves to the start of the chain.

They can't go just anywhere with time travel; only places just before the mind flayers strip mine the magic are valid targets. But the last time they did this in the far future was also the first time; by attacking then, the PCs can put an end to the mind flayer infestation forever and always.

Of course having done so they erase everything that happens to them since the mind flayers invaded. So you then cut back to the scene where the much lower level PCs first saw evidence of the invasion and have it not happen.

So, for setup, have the invasion end some big threat the PCs where getting ready to fight. The mind flayers had access to history, and smashing a rival power as an initial move makes sense.

The PCs on the pruned timeline naturally manage to send back help somehow before ceasing to exist.
 
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J-H

Explorer
I don't have any good ideas to contribute, and I'm sure you've already looked at Lords of Madness (3.5)... but this is a great idea.
 


Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
My current campaign that I'm creating has a similar frame, except for the invading back through time aspect, which is really cool (may borrow). Not much to add, except that Mind Flayers mashed up with Barrier Peaks is :french chef kiss:

Ok, I guess one thing. It might be interesting to have the PCs go into the far future where the mind flayers have already moved on and it's post apocalyptic; or we see a the post invasion and now the mind flayers are the occupying force.

Who else is working with the mind flayers? What other monsters are you developing? I had the aboleths, hags, and svarts (svarts were mostly food...) in partnership with them.
And I had the Giff, Gith, Tortles, Loxodons all arrayed against.
 

Ash Mantle

Adventurer
I'd definitely love to play in something like this!

Since you've mentioned the mind flayers wanting dominance in EVERY TIME, what if they do seek to conquer different and all timelines? That might also give you an excuse to introduce different settings into the mix as well, and possibly even work in the modern day (depending on your inclination).

Chasing after the mind flayers then might open up time portals, rather than just portals across extreme distance.

As they say "A Stitch in Time", so your heroes succeeding, or retreating in defeat, might also send ripples of consequences forwards in time or backwards into the past.
 
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Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
What would be cool is if the Mind Flayers were invading Earth 2020; and the characters get to meet (and save?) the players.
 

Redwizard007

Explorer
Great idea, you could base some of the pace off the Dungeon campaign that they did for the Gith invasion. I think it was called Insurrection.

As someone currently running a campaign using Incursion, I feel obligated to point out that it is only an outline with some stat blocks and the DM is required to build the actual adventures, and is heavily catered to githyanki, although it did give suggestions for using other races.

Personally, I'd use the gith invasion as the basis for an alternate power base to counter the Illithids. They could turn your world into a war torn wasteland while enslaving the natives to bolster their army, or make surgical strikes on vulnerable illithid bases. Just remember that githyanki may be allies of convenience, but they have their own motivations and probably consider the destruction of your planet beneath their notice.
 

I'm actually in the middle of prepping a full Gonzo Universe Game on roll20

The Rule Sets to start with

S&W White Box (it's free and has a good core foundation)

Ruins of Arduin (Arduin is the OG play anything, anywhere, and anytime game.)

Skyscrapers & Sorcery (Modern City Magic with Dragons) *has a monster that is a dead ringer for Mind Flayers

White Lies (She said her name is Janette Bond)

White Star (yes we are going to Space and Beyond!)

White Box Gothic (Spooky Stuff - Yes!)

more rule sets all for S&W White Star

Have Death Ray Will Travel (Campy Golden Age Sci Fi)

Stark Space (Space Edge Lords & Cyperpunks)

Outer Space Raiders Omnibus Vol 1

Star Sailors from Okum Arts Games for S&W White Star (Magical Girls why not)
 

from Ruins of Arduin
Also, certain Character Classes from the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox derived White Star RPG are acceptable in a Ruins of Arduin game: Star Knights, Sisters of the Aquarian Order, Aristocrats, Mercenaries, Robots, and Two-Fisted Technicians.

I think the Star Sailors would go good with the Star Powered Mages from Ruins of Arduin.

Mindflayers could have angered governments and have Cleaners from White Lies sent after them.
 

A few resources from the 2E era that may help....

“Monstrous Arcana: The Illithiad”. This is the definitive guide to the Illithids and has a ton of lore. I don’t recall that it touches on the time travel stuff, but it definitely delves into the science aspect. It’s an excellent resource for inspiration.

There was also a trio of adventures that went along with it: “A Darkness Gathering”, “Masters of the Eternal Night”, and “Dawn of the Overmind”. This revolved around their goal of darkening the sun, but they could be tweaked if needed, and you’ll likely fond some good material within.

Finally, “Chronomancer” was a book about temporal magic, those who use it, and the impact it has. This may be worth a look, especially if you expect any additional time travel in your campaign.

All are available on the DMsGuild or DriveThruRPG for a pretty reasonable price.
 

squibbles

Explorer
there is an interesting theory of behind the Mind Flayers, that the reason there is nothing that remains of their destroyed empire, is they actually escaped into the far future, taking their greatest works with them... So I have the basis of a pretty great storyline set up; that the Mind Flayers not only escaped with their Empire into the far future, but took the time to refortify and militarize. Now, after fully dominating the universe at the end of time, they have returned to the present to conquer the Material Plane, in EVERY TIME.
Maybe this is not your jam, but that setup seems like that would create time paradoxes. Wouldn't it butterfly-effect-to-death the mind flayer empire at the end of time if the mind flayers returned to conquer the present (err... past).

Riffing on this idea:
  • maybe there is a fanatical mind flayer faction at the end of time that is broadly okay with this, but that has enemies.
  • Said faction has a specific reason for arriving at your player's planet that makes it worth-while for them, i.e. buried tech that they weren't able to take with them in the escape, the prophesied mind flayer messiah, a magical land of milk and honey-brains.
  • The hostile mind flayer factions at the end of time could also time travel to the present for a sweet sweet terminator ripoff. (which is one way to give your players a faux-Pillar of Autumn to escape faux-Reach upon)
  • Though the anti-fanatic mind flayer faction might not want to work with the players for fear of a-sound-of-thundering-to-death their co-factionists back at the end of time. Which could set up a fun terminator-related mystery.
  • Also, intra-mind-flayer dissension provides a pretext for the empire at the end of time to not immediately steamroll your player's planet.
  • It would depart from the Reach storyline setup, but maybe you could throw in elements of the Covenant civil war as the invasion escalates... or kick things off with a massive nautiloid space battle visible from the ground, and seed some damaged mind flayer ships into the player's hands before the planet gets rolled.
My first idea was relatively simple, to use Halo: Reach as the basis of the storyline as a crew of heroes attempts to defend their world traditional D&D-fantasy-world from the invading Nautiloid armada that has inexplicately appeared in the sky, complete with legions of enslaved Duergar and Gith, armed with advanced technology from the pages of the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
So much awesome.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Maybe this is not your jam, but that setup seems like that would create time paradoxes. Wouldn't it butterfly-effect-to-death the mind flayer empire at the end of time if the mind flayers returned to conquer the present (err... past).

Riffing on this idea:
  • maybe there is a fanatical mind flayer faction at the end of time that is broadly okay with this, but that has enemies.
  • Said faction has a specific reason for arriving at your player's planet that makes it worth-while for them, i.e. buried tech that they weren't able to take with them in the escape, the prophesied mind flayer messiah, a magical land of milk and honey-brains.
  • The hostile mind flayer factions at the end of time could also time travel to the present for a sweet sweet terminator ripoff. (which is one way to give your players a faux-Pillar of Autumn to escape faux-Reach upon)
  • Though the anti-fanatic mind flayer faction might not want to work with the players for fear of a-sound-of-thundering-to-death their co-factionists back at the end of time. Which could set up a fun terminator-related mystery.
  • Also, intra-mind-flayer dissension provides a pretext for the empire at the end of time to not immediately steamroll your player's planet.
  • It would depart from the Reach storyline setup, but maybe you could throw in elements of the Covenant civil war as the invasion escalates... or kick things off with a massive nautiloid space battle visible from the ground, and seed some damaged mind flayer ships into the player's hands before the planet gets rolled.


So much awesome.
So personally, I loathe the "butterfly effect" theory of time travel, mostly because I find that it almost always breaks down in various ways, and just makes everything not work eventually.

So I only use two theories of time travel ever, which I detail below (and I haven't picked which one to use yet).

- Multiversal Time-Travel:

This is time travel in Avengers: Endgame. Essentially, when you travel in time, you create an alternate timeline instead of changing "your" timeline.

- Self-Repairing Time-Travel:

This holds that when someone does time-travel, this damages the timeline, and it needs to repair itself. Either it does this minutely to create a "loop" so that the time travel is still possible and doesn't impact the flow of time, or it changes the timeline so that the time-travel never happened. There may also be an organization/anitbodies that the timeline spawns to literally just destroy the time-travel at its source (time police!)

I'll probably go with the Multiversal Time-Travel, as that makes more sense in this context (it's a bit like Thanos invading the future with his army, except the Mind Flayers are invading the past).
 

SkidAce

Hero
Supporter
I think Multiversal Time-Travel is more "logical", but I don't like it.


"Why are you sad Archimedes? We saved Danica the High Mage from the clutches of eternal torment and saved the world!"

Archimedes, sighing sadly, "DID we though?"
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Destructive 2 dimensional time travel.

When you travel back in time, your original time line is destroyed at or around the point you leave. (the same technology that allows time travel lets you sustain it for a non-zero period of time; this is actually the hard part, because otherwise when the first iota of contact you make with the past happens, your time line ends).

The act of time travel successfully requires you to disconnect your timeline branch at the point where you are going, push matter back to before that disconnect, and stabalize your time line long enough to send back what you want to send back.

After the stabalized period, your entire universe falls apart and ends, without foundation.

The time between the point of disconnect, and the time you travel, remains "in existence", and is a valid target for time travel.

Interestingly, going forward in time is easier (after all, we do it all the time). Reaching one of those dead branches is not easier, because there is no "flow of time" you can follow to reach it.

Code:
-------------PCs--x-...-x---x---x---MF Empire------MF Time travel
                  |     |   |   \- Invasion 1
                  |     |   \- Invasion 2
                  |     \- Invasion 3
                  \- Invasion N-1
each of those x is a cut in the timeline. The Mind Flayers eat the universe in each Invasion, then go back in time to a reachable point and eat another universe.

At the moment the MFs invade, there is already an invasion later on in that time line. It is still there. And if you beat this invasion, that later invasion still happens. And if that one is beat? Another one happens. All the way to the end of time. And once they win, they roll back through time and continue their invasion. So the MF victory is inevitable, unless you cheat.

Having a unified elder brain is important to maintaining identity here. As each elder brain sent back in time is an earlier-time copy of the ones that arrived earlier, it is prepared to integrate with it if it exists, and then this 'patches' all of the MFs that arrive.

This permits a small number of MFs and troops to be sent back in a 'cluster'; the last wave sent first, then another duplicate wave sent just before it in the newly spawned timeline, etc. So sending back 1 piece of elder brain, a handful of MF, and a handful of troops and supplies... repeated 1000s of times over 1000s of duplicate timelines results in an invasion force that reassembles. Once large enough, it consumes reality (and magic), then leapfrogs back a bit further, sending a scouting party, then reinforcing it each and every cycle of universe destruction.

The Elder Brain at the end of this process has continuity of awareness since the end of time, going back over each invasion. It has lived every moment of time from now until the end of the universe repeatedly. It has literally seen all that there is to happen.

Which leads to how the PCs win.

They can, and should, win in their time line. They should sacrifice everything -- I mean, they should be building bombs out of gods. It should be scorched earth, and involve using weapons they cannot duplicate, and it should be by the skin of their teeth.

Then have a new invasion occur. All fresh troops. The PCs are fucked.

But they have a time travel device, and some key informatoin. So they can bop back in time to the start of the initial invasion (just them and a few macguffins), meeting their younger selves at the start of the campaign. They do a strike on the initial MF invasion in this timeline, getting the coordinates for the "end of time".

Then they invade the end of time, the start of the MF horde, and win. This erases themselves and the entire MF invasion, and possibly time travel itself (as maybe it is fueled by a unique artifact or event, which the PCs destroy as part of their plan). As a last step, they send back something that ends the mind flayer empire in their own time somehow, rewriting all of history from the start of the campaign on?

I'd suggest a box, with a big button on it. And a message, from themselves, to "go to location X, push this button, then run as far as you can for 24 hours". It contains a weapon that calls down a beam that smashes through the earth, forming a volcano, and kills the elder brain of the mind flayers. Or something similar -- this "god weapon" should be related to one of the weapons they use to defeat the first mind flayer invasion.

Or something like that. ;)
 
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Lidgar

Adventurer
For other tech ideas, might want to check out 2e Mongoose Traveller. Also, imagery from Avengers Infinity War comes to mind - especially the last battle. Perhaps give the PCs a way to gate in allies when all hope is lost, similar to that scene...
 

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