mercredi 1 mai 2013

Lawful Mind-flayers ?

Mind-flayers are truly a fascinating monster. Their diet of brains, their psionic powers, their cthulhoïd look... And their background (they practice slavery, particularly on githzerai and githyanki ; and
they are at war with the Dark elves). 

They are now firmly embedded in the D&D players' mind as the "bad guys". What if... it was a completely false assumption ? What Gygax had in mind when he created illithids ? 
"Law :
Mind flayer [...] highly evil but otherwise lawful."
-Gary Gygax in OD&D, Supplement III : Eldritch Wizardry. 
It could hardly be more confusing... 

I spoke about OD&D alignment in my last post.
It means that mind-flayers fight alongside the Law against Chaos (and possibly the Great Old Ones if they exist in your world. In mine, that's the case).

These creatures created by Gary Gygax appear only in one set of modules which had been writen by EGG : D1-2, Descent into the Dephts of the Earth. In D1, we learn that they are opposed to the dark elves (Chaos), have Were-rat servants (Chaos) and beholder allies (Chaos). Strange dating.

Lately, porphyre77 (a faithful commentator of this blog) rewrote the mind-flayer for Epées & Sorcellerie (we both work with snorri to realease the version 2 of E&S which is the first French retro-clone - I'd probably review it this week) and came with the following interpretation :
"Cette race souterraine à l'allure humanoïde possède une intelligence supra-humaine. Bien que loyaux, ils agissent d'une façon perçue en général comme maligne pour les races plus jeunes qui ignorent tout de leurs objectifs et façon de penser."
-porphyre77 in E&S v2.
"This subterranean humanoid race has superhuman intelligence. Although loyal, they act in a way generally regarded as malignant by younger races who know nothing about their goals and way of thinking."
-porphyre77 in E&S v2 (english translation).
That's brilliant !

Before interpreting the oddity, I must admit it made ​​me think of the Carcosa Space Aliens :
"SPACE ALIENS [Law]: Roughly human in shape and size, though unmistakably alien, these invaders from outer space have hairless, light gray bodies. They tend to be slender, and they have unblinking, bulbous eyes with black irises. Thousands of years ago, an armada of them made a hard landing on the planet of Carcosa. Since then, others of their race have come and gone while establishing bases on the planet—undoubtedly for some nefarious purposes. The Space Aliens possess a highly advanced technology, though they mostly lack such things as art, emotions, religion, philosophy, etc.
Law is the alignment of those who oppose the Great Old Ones. This opposition need not be (and is usually not) active. If, however, an Old One were to be released from imprisonment, those of lawful alignment would fight against it."
-Geoffrey McKinney, Supplement V : Carcosa (emphasis added).
So basically, we have two solutions (not necessarily exclusive) to handle the situation. Let me develop them to see where they lead :
  • Mindflayers are geniuses without morality who plan ahead the downfall of Chaos. Their devious plans may include providing assistance to their Chaotic enemies or may even include attacking other Lawful races if it can help them to strengthen their position. This disregard of their natural allies can be explained by their excessive pride that drives them to make light of the inferior races little able to fight against the Chaos and meant to be their slaves. This attitude may also be explained by their paternalism towards other races that they educate by reducing them to slavery in order to "civilize" them. 
  • Mindflayers are evil beings who oppose Chaos with a highly advanced science. Why are they fighting Chaos and the Great Old Ones that they resemble physically and mentally (they have great evil in common)? Nobody really knows. Maybe the mindflayers were previously a servant race of the Old Ones... They may have rebelled and now seek revenge. Or maybe they were the ones that the dawn of time, have imprisoned the fouls Old Ones because of a feud? Perhaps they are the immemorial Elder Ones!
Their high technology relies certainly on the minds they consume. Perhaps even navigators of their spaceships are giant brains with surnatural perceptions and terrifying mental powers immersed in vats of amniotic fluid... This is undoubtedly the reason why they enslave the inferior races: they need a lot of brain matter to create such horrors!

5 commentaires:

  1. Thanks for the appreciation! :-)

    A few remarks about the "Lawful-evil" characterization of the Mindflayer: in its firts appearance , in the #1 of the Strategic Review, this monster wasn't givan an alignmen. it was just described as "a super-intelligent, man-shaped creature with four tentacles", and I suppose that its predatory attitude would have it labelled as Chaotic or maybe Neutral.
    In the Suppl III, the species goes under à (light) makeover and now "are super-intelligent, man-shaped creatures of great (and lawful)evil."
    Intrestingly enough, the #6 of the SR had an article from Gary Gygax : THE MEANING OF LAW AND CHAOS IN DUNGEONS & DRAGONS AND THEIR RELATIONSHIPS TO GOOD AND EVIL (capitalization included) where EGG admitted that , if the former three-folded alignment system equated Law with Good (or at least heroism) and Chaos with Evil , those things were not the same, and proposed a five-folded alignment system (the one appearing in the Holmes basic Set).
    This issue of the SR is from february 1976, the same year that the Suppl III so I supposed that this mention of the Lawful (but evil) alignment of the MF illustrated the progressive shift from the "alignment as stance" to a more "Alignment as moral/ethical ways".

    Since E&S keeps the old three -aligned system, I thought that the "Blue And Orange Morality" was the best way to reflect this abiguity.

    1. Thank you for the additional information. ;)
      My preference is nonetheless to "alignment as stance" inspite of what Gygax (RIP) said.

    2. Yes, it is more in tune with the source material (ie: Three hearts and three lions

      Captcha: toukin keep : great name for a fantasy place (maybe a dwarven stronghold)

  2. Love the blog! Very interesting take on mind flayers (even if I don't personally go in that direction). Couple notes: Mind flayers first get used in Gygax's module G3 (level 3, area 17, "... who have decided to see what is going on with their friendly enemies, the Drow."). The bit on them being allied with wererats is mostly in module D1 (in random tables and 1st encounter area).

    1. Yes, I was mistaken. This is corrected.
      Thank you very much. ;)