You’ve heard it said that the mind flayers (a.k.a. illithids) once ruled the multiverse, until they were overthrown and decimated by their gith slaves. But what if I told you that they’re still in control, manipulating everything from behind the scenes?
1. Mind flayers (as presented in the Monster Manual) are too weak to have ever had a multiplanar empire.
Sure, they can use their psionics to cast dominate monster, but they can only do that once per day, and may not succeed. Even an elder brain can only cast it once per day.
2. That said, they might make smart use of guerrilla tactics.
A lone mind flayer who sneaks up on a victim to try and mind control them could planeshift away before being seen if they fail. The victim would just get a creepy feeling that something’s been probing their brain. Not empire-building material though.
3. It takes an illithid a day to make a thrall.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters says that if they have the opportunity to spend 24 hours gently mindblasting another creature, they can eventually turn that creature into a thrall. But that’s still not exactly efficient. It’s no way to rule the planes.
4. These are fake mind flayers.
I suggest that the mind flayers I’m describing are just decoys, a distraction from more powerful mind flayers who are controlling things from behind the scenes. Making the world thing that your species is weak and close to extinction would be a perfect way of hiding.
5. The illithid empire never ended.
Volo’s Guide questions how the gith could have possibly overthrown their illithid masters, pointing out that no ruins of the illithid empire can be found in the Astral Plane they ruled from. Volo’s suggestion is that they may have transported their empire into the future. Maybe the illithid empire is just moments away?
6. You just don’t remember them when they’re out of sight.
Alternatively, maybe the real mind flayers have an ability similar to the Silence from Doctor Who, meaning that anyone who sees them is unable to remember them? Maybe they’re constantly present, but never remembered?
7. Perhaps the gith never actually liberated themselves?
Maybe the mind flayers noticed that their slaves were looking for opportunities to rebel and created false memories of a revolution? Maybe they sowed conflict among the gith so they would fight amongst themselves, not realising they are still enslaved? (Volo’s Guide says that when an elder brain infiltrates someone’s mind, it can alter their perception.) My theory is that the warring gith races are actually the same, but the mind flayers give the githyanki a higher dose of testosterone.
8. There are also clues that the mind flayers still control the duergar.
Volo’s Guide talks about the mind flayers giving their slaves metal implants (eg. flensing claws). In Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes we see that some of the duergar have new body mods. Maybe these are the result of continuing mind flayer experiments? We also see that the psionic abilities that the mindflayers gave them are continuing to develop…
A couple of months ago I ran Rrakkma!, an adventure that pits a party of gith against mind flayers, trying to stop them from enslaving the gith race again. My party of four gith ended up dying in the final stage of the adventure, and the mind flayers ended up enslaving the gith once again. This got me thinking about how it would be cool run an adventure where the rulers of the multiverse once again, and the gith have to stage another revolution. But then I thought, maybe the mind flayers would try to make the gith think they were free, while secretly pulling the puppet strings? If you wanted, you could run a campaign where everything seems normal, but players gradually figure out that the world is being secretly controlled by the mind flayers.