Continuing in this month’s lead-up to Halloween, this week’s monster is a spooky pick from Dungeons and Dragons. You could say that it’s a zombie’s best friend. That’s right: BRAAAAAINS.
It’s literally a brain on legs.
Well, I guess a zombie’s best friend would be a brain that stays put and just lets itself get eaten. So, zombie’s second-best friend.
Okay, so the reasonable among you – those not wondering about a zombie’s Top Eight friend order – are probably asking a different question: what the heck is this thing?
The intellect devourer dates back to 1977. First appearing in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual (first edition), its origin story in-game deviates a little from the beloved “some wizard probably got drunk and conjured god knows what” story. Like many of the more effective monsters, intellect devourers were created very intentionally.
Their creators, however, are not wizards. They are mind flayers.
If you don’t know what a mind flayer is… well, they’re bad news. Mind flayers are very powerful psionics – that’s telekinesis and its considerably more ominous cousin, mind control. Think Cthulhu. These powers make them very capable and devious villains, which makes them one of my favorite monsters from D&D lore. One of these days, you will definitely see a mind flayer post on this here blog.
Baby steps, though, eh? Let’s start with the little guys. See, intellect devourers are basically their pets.
So how does a lonely mind flayer go about adopting their very own lil’ buddy?
Well! First things first, you’ve got to take control of an intelligent creature – a human, for example, or perhaps an elf. Even a dwarf would suffice!
Got your thrall? Great! Don’t worry, the hard part is over. All that stands between you and your lovable new pet is an unspeakable ritual that reduces your thrall’s mind to a perverse shadow of its former self. The only thing left by the end will be their brain – though it couldn’t rightly be called theirs anymore.
Oh, and it will sprout four little legs. Boop! Aww. Cute, huh?
There you have it – your very own intellect devourer! Now, bear in mind that like certain other pets, intellect devourers can be very independent. Don’t get discouraged if yours would like some space. These little fellas are adept hunters, and before you know it they’ll be roaming the Underdark and collecting thralls of their own! Who knows, maybe they’ll even bring you back a fresh catch as a present.
Way to make your parent-slash-creator proud, little buddy!
Oh, hey, wait a sec.
I’m just realizing now that the majority of my blog readership is, in fact, human, and thus incapable of performing this horrifying ritual. Also, mind flayers apparently do not need to use the internet, because they are already able to read all of our minds and think that it’s kind of cute that we still need keyboards and Wi-Fi to transmit information to each other.
So, uh, to readjust to a human audience… let’s shift back to the mind-blowing threats posed by intellect devourers.
(Yes, I went there. I’m not sorry.)
As mentioned, intellect devourers are able to psychically capture and control other intelligent creatures in much the same way that mind flayers can. They often use their thralls to lure unsuspecting people back to their masters, who in turn become servants or sustenance.
Far more terrifying, though, is the power that their name alludes to: they can consume others’ minds.
Before you try to visualize how a brain on legs could eat another brain – the artistic rendition in the Monster Manual doesn’t have a mouth – let me clarify that this isn’t physical. It’s far worse: they can use their psychic powers to drain a person’s mind.
Mechanically, this means that a victim’s intelligence score goes down to zero. Far more harrowing are the implications for role-playing – the target can lose everything they’ve ever learned. All of their memories.
That loss is frightening enough in the abstract, but it cuts deeper when you think about how many people in the real world suffer from memory loss from amnesia or dementia. It can be very painful to watch someone go through that, or to be aware that you’ve lost memories that were once important to you. This isn’t just fantasy. The creature may be, but the monster is not.
If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.
Then again, this thing is literally a brain with legs. That’s a pretty ridiculous image. “Brain on legs.” It’s hard to be scared of it when you say it that way. And it’s life-sized, too, the actual size of a human brain, so you could always just, you know, step on it.
If it doesn’t reduce your cerebral cortex to grey mush first.
“Wait, hey, come on – is it creepy or silly?”
Like so many monsters, and so much of horror, it all depends on the tone you strike. Keep that in mind if you’re going to run a spooky tabletop game: how are you going to describe it? Twitching mass of grey matter that you can’t quite look at without getting a migraine? Or… brain on legs?
Trick? Or treat?
Kind of a microcosm of Halloween itself. Whether you’re running a game or a haunted house, it’s up to you just how spooky you want to be. Like the bowl full of cold spaghetti, the monsters in the book are just tools. It’s ultimately up to the players to decide if they’re going to suspend disbelief and let themselves be fooled into thinking that’s a bowl of brains.
It’s always been my experience that that’s the more fun way to do things.
Thoughts on this week’s monster? Leave a comment! Let me pick your brain… muahaha. Uhhhh I mean, thanks for reading, from one definitely normal human to another!