A Sundered World: What Is Going On...Also Mind Flayers

It has been awhile since we last talked about A Sundered World: I moved and have been busy with a new job, play-testing a Super Dungeon Explore expansion, reading up on 13th Age and Numenera, Josh has been busy with his existing job (and his schedule got a bit wonky for awhile, too), etc.

So partly this update is to say that we are still working on the Dungeon World version of A Sundered World (with other systems to come). The page count breached pages out of a projected 150, and we are still working out the gazetteer, class playbooks, equipment, magic items, monsters, and more.

The other part is to talk about the direction we are taking mind flayers or, given that mind flayers are considered Product Identity by Wizards of the Coast, whatever we end up calling our version of them. Mind you none of this stuff is specific to A Sundered World; it could easily fit in any setting with a Far Realm.

Which should frankly be all of them.
Mind flayers come from the Far Realm, a void beyond the known regions of the Astral Sea, where space, time, and reason have no meaning or appreciable purpose. Instead of starting out as defenseless tadpoles they look more like facehuggers: vertebrae-like tails and spidery limbs extend from a fleshy mass covered in eyes of various shapes and sizes. Since they can crawl about this already makes them more dangerous, but they also possess an array of primitive psionic abilities that can induce panic in potential victims, hide them from sight, maybe even a one-target mind blast?

Instead of having to be implanted in a victim they just latch on to your spine, digging through flesh and bone with their sharp limbs to get a nice, solid grip. Once the victim is immobilized it is only a matter of suffering through an incredibly painful, lengthy transformation, and that is where baby mind flayers come from.

Sigh. They grow up so fast...
Josh pitched this idea awhile back after reading Perdido Street Station, likening them to the handlingers. I loved the idea of making them more parasitic, but also wanted to make them more dangerous on their own. Since they can move, attach themselves, and are pretty good at hiding I think it will add a lot of tension when creeping into (or trying to escape from) a mind flayer enclave or vessel. This also better allows for someone to get it removed before the transformation is complete, paving the way for a compendium class or one possible origin for psionics.

I think it is kind of silly that 3rd Edition mind flayers had the exact same suite of psionic powers across the board, with customization basically limited to slapping on spellcasting/manifester levels until you get something reasonable. Since mind flayers are derived from other creatures one idea is to have what mind flayers do be layered on top of an existing creature (think 3rd Edition template), even going so far as to affect what kind of psionic powers that they develop.

For example a dwarf mind flayer could manifest powers that let it manipulate metal (or even transform its body into weapons) and regenerate quickly, while an elf would be more graceful, mess with your mind, and manifest precise bolts of telekinetic force. This is not meant to replace one explicitly defined list with another, but give you some thematic groups that you can use or change as you see fit. In Dungeon World this is a pretty simple matter of citing some flavorful moves, while 4th Edition and 13th Age would require power groups and a list of psionic features and/or nastier specials respectively.

Something I pitched while we were talking was if mind flayers were servants, creations, or even just somehow related to an ancient one (probably something that at least looks Cthulhu-ish given all the face-tentacles). Other ancient ones would have their own humanoid-turned-horror servants, like Dagon's deep one hybrids. This not only adds more variety, but also makes it easier to develop plots where agents working for various ancient ones oppose each other. The characters might have to work for one, or ultimately choose the lesser of two or more impending dooms.


  1. Don't forget Yog-Sothoth, maybe his servitors have lots of arms? I'm thinking of the monster from 'The Dunwich Horror' here, maybe the hundred handed one is a good stand-in?

  2. Precisely! I think it adds a lot of flavor and gives you better themes to work with if you want to start brainstorming a specific ancient one's brand of flora and fauna. This is good food for thought for the setting I elevator pitched here: http://daegames.blogspot.com/2013/05/star-wars-as-lovecraftian-horror-fantasy.html

  3. I love the idea of mind flayer as a sort of template you can add to other creatures. That opens up huge possibilities. And Cthulhu is the perfect uber-flayer god.

  4. Isn't Lovecraft stuff public domain these days? If it isn't, you'll have to re-fluff some stuff.

  5. Lovecraft died in 1934, so his stuff will have been public domain since 2004 or so.

  6. He died in 1937, actually. But it doesn't change the fact that copyright for his writings has now expired.

  7. Actually, the Lovecraft Mythos was always intended to be open source. Other authors have been referencing it for generations, from Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard, to Neil Gaiman and Stephen King.


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