D&D 5E Mind flayer PC race experiment

JEB

Legend
EDIT: Updated version is available further down in the thread.

Almost five years ago, I pondered an approach to allow players to choose monstrous races that were stronger than the normal races, but without cutting back the monster's abilities all the way to standard PC levels, through the use of feats. But I never actually tried it out. On a whim, I decided to change that, and tonight I threw together an experimental illithid PC race build. Feedback appreciated.

Illithid Traits

Ability Score Increase.
Your Intelligence score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1. [If you are using post-Tasha's guidelines, assign the +2 and +1 wherever you wish.]
Size. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Magic Resistance. You have advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. [If you are using post-Tasha's guidelines, remove "and other magical effects".]
Superior Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 120 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Telepathy. You can speak telepathically to any creature you can see, provided the creature is within a number of feet of you equal to 10 times your level. You don't need to share a language with the creature for it to understand your telepathic utterances, but the creature must be able to understand at least one language.
Tentacles. Your tentacles are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with your tentacles, you deal psychic damage equal to 1d6 + your Intelligence modifier, and the target is grappled (escape DC 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier). Until this grapple ends, you can’t attack another creature with your tentacles.
Mind Stun. As a bonus action, you can stun a creature grappled by your tentacles. Unless it succeeds on an Intelligence saving throw against a DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier, the creature is stunned until the grapple ends, and you can't use this trait again until you finish a short or long rest. [If you are using post-Tasha's guidelines, this is changed to a number of times equal to proficiency bonus before a long rest.]
Brain Extraction. As an action, you can make a special attack with your tentacles against a stunned creature grappled by your tentacles. If the attack hits, you deal 2d6 piercing damage. If this damage reduces the creature to 0 hit points, you kill the creature by extracting and devouring its brain, and you can't use this trait again until you finish a long rest.

Illithid Feats

Illithid Psionics

Prerequisite: Illithid
  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Increase the damage inflicted by your Tentacles trait to 2d6 + your intelligence modifier, and the damage inflicted by your Brain Extraction trait to 4d6.
  • You can cast detect thoughts and levitate at will, without needing any material components. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
Greater Illithid Psionics
Prerequisite: Illithid, Illithid Psionics feat
  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Increase the damage inflicted by your Tentacles trait to 3d6 + your intelligence modifier, and the damage inflicted by your Brain Extraction trait to 6d6.
  • You gain the Mind Blast trait. As an action, you emit psychic energy in a 30-foot cone. Each creature in the area of the Mind Blast must make an Intelligence saving throw against a DC equal to 8 + your Intelligence modifier + your proficiency bonus. A creature takes 2d8 psychic damage and is stunned for 1 minute on a failed save. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. Once you use this trait, you can't use it again until you finish a short or long rest. [If you are using post-Tasha's guidelines, this is changed to a number of times equal to proficiency bonus before a long rest.]
Superior Illithid Psionics
Prerequisite: Illithid, Illithid Psionics and Greater Illithid Psionics feats
  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Increase the area of your Mind Blast trait to 60 feet, and the damage inflicted by your Mind Blast trait to 4d8.
  • You can cast each of the following spells once, without needing any material components: dominate monster and plane shift. You may only cast plane shift on yourself. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for these spells. You regain the ability to cast these spells when you finish a long rest.

Design notes
  • Magic Resistance is based on the yuan-ti (pureblood) version.
  • Superior Darkvision does not include Sunlight Sensitivity, both because the Monster Manual mind flayer lacks that trait, and because it seems like that's passe in current design anyway.
  • Telepathy is based in part on the kalashtar's Mind Link.
  • Tentacles is based in part on the naga's Natural Weapons from Plane Shift: Amonkhet.
  • Brain Extraction is based in part on the lizardfolk's Hungry Jaws.
  • Mind Stun and Brain Extraction are definitely stronger than a typical starting character's traits, but I feel like they're balanced by the very specific requirements and limited uses. I recognize that others may disagree.
  • The Illithid Feats generally are based on Svirfneblin Magic and the Telepathic feat. Note that as intended, you'd pick up the first feat at level 4, the second at level 8, and the last at level 12; though an illithid fighter could have all three by level 8. (I'm not inclined to set a level limit to thwart this, but I'm willing if folks think I should.) I tried to keep the damage in line with the original dragonborn and spells of the approximate level.
 
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I suggest something as a subclass inspird in the prestige class "Flayerspan Pyschic".

Natural weapons in the head as horns, claws and tentacles aren't too useful when the enemies aren't "bites with a good taste".

96347.jpg
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Honestly I like it, and think you've got a nice breakdown. But it does muck with existing balance points... how much of an issue that is will likely depend on your play style...

Imagine I play an Illithid Fighter taking these feats in sequence at 4th, 6th, and 8th levels...
  • My baseline race eclipses the yuan-ti pureblood in power (probably the most OP of the races).
  • At 4th level, I can levitate at will, while the party warlock needs to wait til 9th level to select the Ascendant Step eldritch invocation to do the same thing. Oh yeah, I can also detect thoughts at will, cause screw that warlock.
  • At 6th level, I can group stun more creatures than the 5th level monk spamming Stunning Fist... you thought you had a niche, monk? That's cute. On top of this, all the group stun spells don't start coming online until 13th level spellcasters get spells like divine word (or later on psychic scream).
  • At 8th level, I can cast planeshift while the party wizard needs to be 13th level to cast that spell, and I can cast dominate monster while the party wizard needs to be 15th level. Oh, the DM didn't plan for us to be able to traverse the planes until Tier III? The schmuck.
 


Stormonu

Legend
Overall I like it, but I think the Improved Psionics “feats” should be changed to abilities that are gained at set level (like the Tiefling getting Hellish Rebuke at 5th), dropping the ability score gains. This frees the player to choose ASIs related to their class or regular feats and not be siloed into a specific advancement.
 


Not to mention that their grapple lockdown capability is massive. They're well set up to grapple by optimising all their capabilities in that one score, while also targeting a generally weak score in opponents. Just a bonus action and you've taken an opponent out of the entire fight.
If they manage to make their save, you can just try again next round.
If they fail you can just hold onto them and they have no recourse to break out. Or just kill them by munching on them for 2d6+ damage each round while they are unable to resist or escape.

I would have to see just how much more powerful your other races are before knowing whether this is too powerful for your game. If all your other races are similarly boosted, it may well fit in OK.
 

JEB

Legend
Thanks for the feedback, all! (Especially yours, @Quickleaf, very good to know what each feat should be balanced against at a given level.)

Let me give this another try.

Illithid Traits

Ability Score Increase.
Your Intelligence score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1. [If you are using post-Tasha's guidelines, assign the +2 and +1 wherever you wish.]
Size. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Magic Resistance. You have advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. [If you are using post-Tasha's guidelines, remove "and other magical effects".]
Superior Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 120 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Telepathy. You can speak telepathically to any creature you can see, provided the creature is within a number of feet of you equal to 10 times your level. You don't need to share a language with the creature for it to understand your telepathic utterances, but the creature must be able to understand at least one language.
Tentacles. Your tentacles are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with your tentacles, you deal psychic damage equal to 1d6 + your Intelligence modifier.
You can use your tentacles to grapple a Medium or smaller creature (escape DC 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier). Until this grapple ends, you can’t attack another creature with your tentacles.
Mind Stun. As an action, you can stun a creature grappled by your tentacles. Unless it succeeds on an Intelligence saving throw against a DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier, the creature is stunned for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. Once you use this trait, you can't use it again until you finish a short or long rest. [If you are using post-Tasha's guidelines, this is changed to a number of times equal to proficiency bonus before a long rest.]
Brain Extraction. As an action, you can make a special attack with your tentacles against a creature stunned using your Mind Stun trait. If the attack hits, you deal 2d6 piercing damage. If this damage reduces the creature to 0 hit points, you kill the creature by extracting and devouring its brain, and you can't use this trait again until you finish a long rest.

Illithid Feats

Illithid Evolution

Prerequisite: Illithid
  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • If you hit a Medium or smaller creature with your tentacles, the creature is also grappled.
  • You may use your Mind Stun trait as a bonus action against a creature grappled by your tentacles. A creature stunned by your Mind Stun trait remains stunned until the grapple ends.
Illithid Psionics
Prerequisite: 8th Level, Illithid
  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Increase the damage inflicted by your Tentacles trait to 2d6 + your intelligence modifier, and the damage inflicted by your Brain Extraction trait to 4d6.
  • You can cast each of the following spells once, without needing any material components: detect thoughts and levitate. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for these spells. You regain the ability to cast these spells when you finish a short or long rest. [If you are using post-Tasha's guidelines, this is changed to a number of times equal to proficiency bonus before a long rest.]
Greater Illithid Psionics
Prerequisite: 12th Level, Illithid, Illithid Psionics feat
  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Increase the damage inflicted by your Tentacles trait to 3d6 + your intelligence modifier, and the damage inflicted by your Brain Extraction trait to 6d6.
  • You can cast detect thoughts and levitate at will, without needing any material components. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
  • You gain the Mind Blast trait. As an action, you emit psychic energy in a 30-foot cone. Each creature in the area of the Mind Blast must make an Intelligence saving throw against a DC equal to 8 + your Intelligence modifier + your proficiency bonus. A creature takes 2d8 psychic damage and is stunned for 1 minute on a failed save. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. Once you use this trait, you can't use it again until you finish a long rest.
Superior Illithid Psionics
Prerequisite: 16th Level, Illithid, Greater Illithid Psionics feat
  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Increase the damage inflicted by your Tentacles trait to 4d6 + your intelligence modifier, and the damage inflicted by your Brain Extraction trait to 8d6.
  • Increase the area of your Mind Blast trait to 60 feet, and the damage inflicted by your Mind Blast trait to 4d8. Once you use your Mind Blast trait, you can use it again after you finish a short or long rest.
  • You can cast each of the following spells once, without needing any material components: dominate monster and plane shift. You may only cast plane shift on yourself. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for these spells. You regain the ability to cast these spells when you finish a long rest.

Changes from version 1
  • Base race
    • Restored the "Medium or smaller" restriction from the Monster Manual mind flayer. (Should have been in there in the first place.)
    • Tentacles can either be used for unarmed attacks or grapples, but not both. (The ability to do both in one attack is now part of the Illithid Evolution feat.)
    • Mind Stun now requires an action, and only lasts for 1 minute, permitting a save each round. (The ability to use Mind Stun as a bonus action, and the target remaining stunned while grappled, are now part of the Illithid Evolution feat.)
  • Illithid Evolution
    • New feat, assumed to be taken at 4th level.
  • Illithid Psionics
    • Now requires 8th level.
    • Detect Thoughts and Levitate now recharge on a short or long rest, instead of being at-will.
  • Greater Illithid Psionics
    • Now requires 12th level.
    • At-will Detect Thoughts and Levitate moved here.
    • Mind Blast now recharges only on a long rest.
  • Superior Illithid Psionics
    • Now requires 16th level.
    • Added one more increase to Tentacles and Brain Extraction damage (to get as close to full mind flayer damage as possible).
    • Mind Blast recharging on a short rest moved here.
EDIT: Corrected Brain Extraction to be specifically dependent on Mind Stun.
 
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JEB

Legend
Overall I like it, but I think the Improved Psionics “feats” should be changed to abilities that are gained at set level (like the Tiefling getting Hellish Rebuke at 5th), dropping the ability score gains. This frees the player to choose ASIs related to their class or regular feats and not be siloed into a specific advancement.
This was modeled after the approach they took with the Deep Gnome and the Svirfneblin Magic feat; an approach they appear to have abandoned post-Tasha's. Combined with the realization that you can kinda-sorta come up with a CR-to-PC-level equivalency. (More on the why in my blog post.)

Also, these abilities are so potent that it doesn't seem fair to make them unlockable for free by the base race - you should have to make a calculated trade-off if you want something approaching the full mind flayer experience. I did consider integrating the damage increase into the base race, as with the dragonborn, but even that seemed too generous. (@Flamestrike's comment illustrates some of why.)

I would have to see just how much more powerful your other races are before knowing whether this is too powerful for your game. If all your other races are similarly boosted, it may well fit in OK.
No comparable races in my games - one, because I don't have any active games (thanks Covid), and two, because this is the first time I tried this experiment (despite sitting on the idea since 2017). If I can get this to work, though, maybe I'll try and build some others...
 





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