A few weeks ago we wrote an article about the Good & the Bad, two classic monsters in D&D. I apparently forgot the Ugly (you know, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, an old Clint Eastwood movie). By request, I will now correct that error and do the ugly.
The Ugly - Intellect Devourer
There are any number of ugly monsters in D&D. (See - Owlbear). To me, the Intellect Devourer is one of the ugliest out there. It’s a brain on feet and that’s not a metaphor. It is literally a brain on feet.
In case it hasn’t sunk in yet, let me repeat that. It’s a fucking brain on feet. My nightmares have never been the same.
The hideous and gag-inducing illustrations of the Intellect Devourer haven’t changed much over the editions, though the biggest difference is that in the earlier editions their feet were more claw like, and in 5e they look more like paws… yippy. Other than that it’s pretty much the same, though even that is enough to haunt me.
This ugly ass monster has gone through some interesting buffs and nerfs throughout its history in D&D. We will be focusing on the beginning creatures (from AD&D) and the 5e version that exists in today’s game. I will be listing some of the more interesting changes below. If we have forgotten something, please let us know!
The original Intellect Devourer was listed as a medium creature, while in 5e it’s a tiny aberration. This may seem like a minor detail, but hear me out. It makes total sense to me that in 5e, the tiny aberration initiates and wins an Intelligence contest then houses himself where the victims brain used to be. Tiny creatures can feasibly fit into a medium humanoid skull. So explain to me how, in AD&D, a medium size creature can “house them inside the mindless creature”. (AD&D MM, pg 55). Seems like a stretch to me, and if we are being realistic, it should look a lot like that one movie Scanners.
Claw attack - In AD&D the Devourer can attack up to four times a turn with each of his claws. They only do 1d4 damage each, but still, four melee attacks each round is respectable. 5e allows only one such claw attack per turn (2d4+2 dmg, a minor damage per attack buff), but now it can multi attack using its Devour Intellect ability.
Devour Intellect vs. Psionic Attacks - The main attack of the the Devourer is its Devour Intellect ability. The target must make a DC12 Intelligence save or take 2d10 psychic damage. But that’s not the worst of it…not by far. On a failed save, the DM rolls 3d6. If that total is equal to or more than the target’s Intelligence, their Int drops to 0 and they are stunned until they regain at least 1 point of Intelligence. Now they are the perfect target for the Body Thief ability. This greatly differs from the world of AD&D (I could do a whole series of articles on the world of psionics in AD&D, and I’d probably still not understand completely what the hell Gygax and company were trying to say). Basically in AD&D, the Devourer can attack using his psionic abilities: Ego Whip or Id Insinuation. Used against creatures with little to no psionic strength (and few players had any back then, cause no one ever thought about it), the Ego Whip causes Idiocy, which causes the target to lose psionic ability forever, which is no great loss when they probably don’t have any to begin with. Id Insinuation is more deadly, but equally confusing. A successful Id Insinuation attack causes the target to become a Robot, meaning the victim’s mind is under the Devourer’s control for up to 2-8 WEEKS! That’s seriously messed up and it begs the larger question: Does the Devourer want to take over the victim by inhabiting its body, or use that victim as their personal servant/meat shield?
Resistances and Immunities - So here is a huge nerf from the original Intellect Devourer to our current incarnation. The 5e Devourer is resistant to most all non magical attacks, and is immune to blindness. Nothing great, so if you can get in close enough without having your brain eaten, the Devourer will fall pretty quickly (It’s AC is 12, HP 22). I can understand the logic behind this. The front liners in most parties usually have the lowest Intelligence.. They make the perfect victim for the Devourer, who can then turn the victim against his own party members. Fun times, at least for the DM (looking at you Stephen). In AD&D it states that “normal weapons and most spells have no effect on these monsters. Magical weapons +3 or more will cause 1 point of damage upon them when they hit. Bright light will drive them off…fireballs serve as only bright light…lightning bolts cause them some pain and small damage, 1 point of damage per die of bolt strength.” Seriously… What. The. Fuck. That’s crazy, not only is it destroying my psyche, but I can’t even kill the ugly monster. I get that the original Devourer was created so that psionic attacks could be used, but again, NO ONE EVER USED PSIONICS. It was such a little known ability and the guidelines were so unclear, most people just stayed away from it altogether. So the long and the short of it was, if your dick of a DM threw some of these little brain eaters your way, you were screwed. (And one final note - the Death Spell only had a 25% chance of killing one).
So there we have it. Sure, there are some other minor tweaks, but those are the big changes we found in our research.
Intellect Devourers can actually be fun to fight in 5e. Lots of times you don’t even know you’re fighting one until you kill the host and this disgusting little brain on legs jumps out. And once you are done screaming like a little schoolgirl, you best hit it with your sword and pray that that fireball actually killed the creature and not it finding a new home in your pal’s cranium pan.