In this chapter the darkest secrets of the illithids will be revealed. These plots are sure to challenge the characters through countless adventures, and provide an underlying theme to adventures in the Shattered Sphere. Combining this information with that found in the next chapter will provide the makings of an in-depth storyline that will puzzle and amaze your players for months to come.
The Birth of a Race
The Astromundi Cluster is the birthplace of the illithids, the sphere in which the mind flayers first raised their tentacled faces thousands of years ago.
In the History section of Chapter One in The Astrogator’s Guide, there was talk of a race of mutants that disappeared from known space after unleashing the Second Cataclysm. Those mutants were the illithids. Humans and other races have all but forgotten the legends of the mutants and their god, and virtually no one has made the connection between those deformed children of legend and the powerful race of the present. This lack of attention to the history of the Cluster may very well spell the end of all other races who call the Cluster their home.
In the beginning, the illithids were forced to live in the damp interior of the planet Astromundi, huddled in squalid tunnels and darkness. Shunned by their human parents, the illithids were a race bound together by hate for a mutual enemy. Though there were disputes over leadership and territory, the illithids were united as a race. From this unity and their desperate, dreaming wishes, the illithids began to forge their empire.
The mind flayers stole forth under the cover of darkness, stealing from their human parents. They took books of art, sciences, language — anything related to understanding the world they had come from. They also took any and all information that would help them build a world of their own. Some illithids began the building, hewing great halls and massive dwellings out of rough stone.
Others, more introverted, delved into the depths of their own minds, exploring the strange regions they found there. From their studies came the illithids’ mastery of the strange powers of the mind, and most notably their command of the dreaded mental blast.
For generations the mind flayers built their empire, forging weapons of steel and magic in their hidden laboratories. Above their heads, the human empires leapt toward the stars and sank into depths of their own excesses.
The mind flayers finally believed themselves ready to attack, planning to use their powers to spread the darkness of their caverns to the world of light.
But the human empires were already laid to waste. The illithids could scarcely believe the destruction: entire cities laid to the torch and great golden Hell-barges floating serenely above it all.
The Unbidden fell like a scourge upon the shoulders of the illithids, and the mind flayers were forced into retreat.
From their rage and confusion, they mustered the power to break dimensional barriers, and the avatar of an unhuman god answered their desperate call. Lugribossk appeared in the fire-ruddied skies, his massive tentacles crushing the Hellbarges in his slimy grasp, his clawed feet stamping out the armies of the Unbidden.
Still the illithids were not satisfied. They had been cheated of their revenge, they had been banished for ages, and now they screamed for vengeance. Once again, Lugribossk answered. With one hand, the illithid deity cradled the deformed race and with the other Lugribossk destroyed Astromundi.
The Second Cataclysm was terrible, powerful enough to grind the planet Astromundi into a smattering of asteroids and comets, gas nebula and frozen pockets of ice. To complete his vengeance, Lugribossk laid his wrath upon the Unbidden, banishing them to the Abyss and sealing the Shattered Sphere from them forever.
The Shattering took great power from the avatar, however, and his power was drained dangerously low. To preserve himself on this plane, Lugribossk sealed his essence into a device of his own making. Called the Sunslayer, this device was entrusted to the illithids, so that when the required time had passed they could call their rejuvenated god back to the sphere.
The illithids believed themselves to be the only survivors of the Shattering. They enjoyed their new homes and the serenity of their moons as they orbited the dark bulk of the gas giant Ushathrandra. Their only regret was that for a period of a few days each month, the moons were bathed in the fiery rays of Firefall and Denaeb. Still, the moons were chill, shadowy and wet, perfect homes for the illithids.
The illithids were caught by surprise when the human agents of the Unbidden fell upon their benighted empire. Though few in number, and armored only with their cunning and scant magical weapons, the Unbidden agents dealt great harm to their enemies before being beaten back.
During the attack, the Sunslayer was disassembled, its parts scattered throughout the Sphere by the servitors of the Unbidden. The Dispersal was complete.
The illithids immediately turned their great power toward hunting those who had attacked them. They stalked the servants of the Unbidden across the astral plane, killing them wherever they were found. But all their savagery, all their hate, could not undo the damage visited upon the Sunslayer.
Centuries passed, and the illithids nursed their loss like a festering sore. They studied their ancient texts, studied the arts arcane and probed the inky darkness of the Cluster with tendrils of thought. Yet nothing came of their efforts, and they feared they had lost their god forever. The pieces of the Sunslayer seemed to have disappeared forever, and Lugribossk with them.
Independent of the other races, the illithids developed their own form of spelljamming ships, powered by the force of their minds rather than magical energies. They took to the stars, eager to seek out any information of the Sunslayer, hoping they could find physically what they could not find otherwise.
Their journeys led them to the other races that littered Clusterspace, and the Antilans became the first target of the illithids. The mind flayers’ lightning raids disrupted the supply lines of the Sun Mages’ empire, crippling the once-mighty humans.
In the heat of their ecstatic conquering, the illithids forgot their ancient ways and forsook their search for a way to rebuild the artifact of their god. The leaders of their military stirred the hearts and minds of their followers, and the illithid military exploded into the Cluster. Their squid ships became a sight to inspire fear into the heart of even the mightiest warrior.
Eventually, other races struck treaties with the illithids and bought their peace with the mind flayers with yearly quotas of slaves. But the Antilans would not surrender, their fierce pride unbending even in the face of superior forces. And the illithids continued to destroy the Sun Mages wherever they found them.
The Arcane changed all that. They delivered powers to the Antilans that the illithids could not counter. Fueled by the strength of the sun, the Antilans returned to the stars with renewed vigor. To this day the battle between the two races continues.
With the Arcane as allies, and the enhanced power of sunmagic, the Antilans were able to strike back. Their power had increased dramatically, and they were fast overtaking the mind flayers in power.
Stunned by this turn of events and looking for any advantage available to them, the illithids returned to their ancient ways and the worship of their almost forgotten deity Lugribossk. To show his appreciation, the faded deity used the last dregs of his real power to deliver another avatar to his people.
Currently, the priest-caste has taken charge of the mind flayer empire, and the illithids stand poised to take back what they claim is their own: the Astromundi Cluster.
The Avatar’s Message
When Lugribossk sent his avatar, he sent with it a message, known as the Mind Dark Prophecy. The following is the pertinent portion of the Prophecy (alien histrionics and praises to Lugribossk omitted):
In the time of burning suns
Of masked ones dominant and
Vermin cloaked in the flesh of merchants
The Dark Mind returns, a binding
Force of the Tentacled One.
Gather to you the pieces of
the Sunslayer, font of
Call to them; the Egg of Night
the Sword of Fecundity
the Crowns of Midnight Sorrows
the swollen Seeds of Fornever.
’Ware the Ones Who Wait In Ice,
the ancient race who rebelled.
Cull from the vortex the shades of
Phlogiston’s might and watch well
for the Constellations.
Do these things in my name,
and I will come.
The Prophecies are more numerous than those, but this is the most relevant section. The illithids have done much to make sure that the Prophecies do not fall into the hands of other races, and have been largely successful. The above text, however, has found its way into the hands of scholars who are still troubled over its meaning. None have made the connection to the illithids, however. For now, the dark secrets of the illithids are safe.
Meanings of the Prophecy
The prophecy is a surprisingly straightforward piece of dogma, unlike most religious statements. The avatar has spelled out for the illithids exactly what they must do to bring back the glory of their early days, and it is helping them do just that.
The time of burning suns is now; the Arcane and the Antilan Sun Mages are increasing the brilliance of Firefall with regularity, and the illithids have taken note of how this fits into the prophecy. Of course, the rise of the sun’s power has correspondingly increased the power of the Antilans; thus, the “masked ones [are] dominant.”
The neogi are “vermin cloaked in the flesh of merchants,” although some illithids consider the Calidians the fulfillment of that part of the prophecy.
The return of the Dark Mind (the illithid honorific for avatars of their deity) has also recently come to pass. The mind flayers now know the importance and purpose of the Sunslayer, and are searching in earnest for the pieces.
The magical items listed in the prophecy are all parts of the Sunslayer. Without all of the pieces, the Sunslayer cannot be constructed and the prophecy will remain unfulfilled.
The Egg of Night is the black egg discussed in “Frozen Secrets” (see the preceding chapter). The powers listed in that adventure are only some of the powers that the egg could possess. The egg is crafted of a mystical material that picks up the thoughts of its owner, and slowly transforms its powers to conform to what the owner most wishes. Because the neogi have such an affinity for umber hulk servitors, the egg currently is capable of creating umber hulks out of gold coins. If the characters were to come into possession of the egg and did not know its powers, the egg would slowly change its powers to something more appropriate to the beliefs of the characters.
The Sword of Fecundity is crucial to the survival of the illithid race once the prophecy has been fulfilled. When engaged as part of the Sunslayer, the Sword will endow the illithids with the ability to reproduce much more quickly than they now are able. The current gestation period of the illithids is twenty-seven months, and nearly half of all mind flayer children die in birthing or shortly after. The Sword of Fecundity will reduce gestation to a mere ten months and insure the survival of the children.
Used apart from the Sunslayer (by enemies of the illithids), the blade is a terrible weapon. Because of its link to the illithids, the weapon does triple normal damage against the mind flayers. In addition, the wielder is protected from the mental attacks of the illithids (if psionics are used, the wielder is more difficult to affect, reducing the effect of any psionic attack by one half). This weapon is very dear to the illithids, and they will stop at nothing to retrieve it.
Perhaps the most dangerous of the Sunslayer’s pieces are the six Crowns of Midnight Sorrow. These devices appear to be crafted of flawless obsidian, inset with pale blue gems. They are designed to siphon the energy from the six wizshades that settled in the Cluster shortly after the First Cataclysm. The wizshades originally entered the sphere in order to protect the Cluster from any further Cataclysms, which could conceivably spread to the phlogiston and wreak great havoc there.
Unfortunately, when Lugribossk came to the aid of the illithids, the wizshades were nearly destroyed by the Second Cataclysm. In trying to stop the Second Cataclysm, the wizshades became permanent fixtures of the Cluster, frozen and locked in the constellations (the illithids do not know their current location). Note that there are thirteen constellations and only six wizshades. DMs are free to place the wizshades in whichever constellations they like, and populate the remaining constellations with whatever bizarre creatures suit their fancy.
The Crowns can be used as spelljamming helms, operating exactly as a crown of stars, save that the SR = level/2, rather than level/3.
The Seeds of Fornever are extremely powerful magical items, scattered throughout wildspace during the First Cataclysm. They are rumored to be artifacts belonging to the first race to exist, but no one can say for sure whether this is true.
In appearance, the Seeds are deceptively smooth, but when touched they seem to have sharp edges that cut the holder. The Seeds are a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from the size of a marble to roughly as large as a man’s head.
All told, there are six Seeds of Fornever, each possessing a special power of great magnitude. DMs are encouraged to make the Seeds items of great mystery and decide upon unusual powers for them.
The Seeds are the final component of the Sunslayer, and once attached to the Crown of Midnight Sorrows will allow the illithids to fulfill their long-promised “destiny.”
No magical item (except, perhaps, for the Darkgate) is as powerful as the Sunslayer. Once it is put together, the artifact will be able to extinguish the suns of the Astromundi Cluster. To do this, the illithids will only have to put the Sunslayer on a spelljamming vessel and sail it toward either of the suns. Once the device is at the proper distance (the Sunslayer will allow the ship to go no further), shadowstones will be placed into the Egg of Night.
The power source in place, several members of the illithid priest caste will focus their mental powers on the Sunslayer, igniting its inner forces.
The Sunslayer will then draw on the power of the Negative Material plane, creating a gate to that plane within Firefall. By forging such a link with the Negative Material plane the Sunslayer will be able to funnel the sun’s energy into that plane. Over the course of a few days, the sun will grow progressively dimmer, until it is at last extinguished.
There is one weak link in the whole of this plan: the illithids have no idea where all the pieces of the Sunslayer are. Their plan could take a year or more, as they comb the deeps of wildspace for the artifacts they so desperately need. And while they are searching, their enemies are going to be on the move. Once the plan of the illithids becomes known, the Antilans will certainly do what they can to stop the mind flayers, and other races will likely oppose them as well.
The Sunslayer does have a good application as well as the evil one for which it is being assembled. Clever characters may discover a way to use the Sunslayer against the Antilans, reducing their power. This can be done, but care must be taken lest the power of the Sunslayer overcome the power of the shadowstones that bolster Firefall’s strength. See Chapter Five: The Mystery of the Arcane for more information about this method of using the Sunslayer for good rather than evil.
Plan of Attack
The illithids have only recently mobilized to search out the pieces of the Sunslayer, but their avatar has a plan already laid out. First off, they intend to locate the Egg of Night. Once they hear rumors that an item fitting its description is being used by the neogi, the illithids will be satisfied just to know where the Egg is. To force their hands with the neogi would be detrimental to their search, as it would deprive them of an important information source. The illithids can always hire someone to steal it later.
Following that, the mind flayers would desperately like to begin exploration of the constellations. Because they themselves are not too keen on endangering their slimy hides in this unknown area, they are more than likely going to hire adventurers (the PCs) to do the searching for them. They do not know that the wizshades are imprisoned there, but they do know that the prophecy has instructed them to watch the constellations, and they intend to do so.
Their next priority is to recover the rest of the artifacts necessary to construct the Sunslayer. To reach this goal the mind flayers will be using their own ships and captains, as well as hiring mercenary adventures to seek out the pieces of the Sunslayer. The illithids know that it is dangerous to let non-illithids handle the pieces of the Sunslayer (because the Sunslayer could be potentially be used against them) but they feel the risk is worth furthering their quest.
Once all the pieces of the Sunslayer are brought together and assembled, and the wizshades placed beneath the Crowns of Midnight Sorrows, the illithids will put their final plan into action. After that, it will be only days before Denaeb is destroyed. Firefall will be much more difficult to destroy because of the Antilan presence near that sun, but the illithids have only to slip one ship through in order to use the Sunslayer on that sun as well.
Stopping the Sunslayer
The illithids are still quite a ways off from their final goal, giving characters some time to put an end to the mind flayers’ dreams of conquest.
Of course, in order to stop the illithids, it is going to be necessary to gain possession of at least one piece of the Sunslayer. The more pieces that the adventurers can keep out mind flayer possession, the longer they can delay the construction of the Sunslayer. The illithids will not stand idly by as characters snatch the pieces of the holy artifact, though, and are going to hunt down the pieces with ruthless efficiency. Characters who flash around pieces of the Sunslayer are going to attract attention, and eventually tales of them will reach the illithids. Then the mind flayers will send out hordes of Varan assassins and sorcerers to recapture the pieces.
Another way to stop the illithid threat is to stalk the mind flayers that are hunting down pieces of the device. Clever characters may be able to follow found pieces to the place the device is being constructed. This will allow them to attempt to seize the device after it is constructed. This is the most dangerous plan, and the least likely to succeed. There will be hundreds upon hundreds of illithids seeker ships scattered across millions of miles. Finding the right one to follow will be next to impossible. Stealing the Sunslayer from under the noses of the illithids will be no easy task, either, making this the choice of desperation.
In all likelihood the illithids will be stopped through a combination of the two methods. Characters may find a piece of the Sunslayer themselves, and have to fight off illithid and Varan assassins to keep it out of mind flayer hands. Then, once they know what it is that is happening, they may set out to lure illithids into traps in the hopes of finding where the mind flayer are putting the Sunslayer together.
DMs should make this a difficult, but not impossible task to complete. After all, once characters learn of the prophecy, the will know nearly all the illithids know. Though they do not have the manpower and resources the illithids possess, characters are, after all, heroes.
Consequences of the Sundeath
It is possible that the characters may not be able to stop the Sundeath from occurring. Despite their brave attempts, the illithids may be able to go on with their plans unimpeded.
If this happens, there are going to be some major, major changes in the Astromundi Cluster.
The illithids will put out Denaeb first. The sudden death of a sun will alert the Antilans to the foul play and it won’t be hard to track down the responsible parties. This will lead to an no-holds-barred outbreak of the war between the Sun Mages and the illithids. Despite the so-called Neogi Treaties that forbade war within the Inner Ring, the two powers are liable to tear the Ring apart in their war.
The illithids will have a definite advantage, as their avatar’s power will be greatly increased by the death of Denaeb. It is likely that the avatar itself will step into the battle, perhaps using enough of Lugribossk’s power to turn the tide in favor of the illithids.
As illithid predations increase, the Arcane and Antilan forces may appear as heroes to the beleaguered people of the realm. The Antilans will be the only force able to form any opposition to the mind flayers, and factions normally opposed the Antilans may throw in their lot with the Sun Mages.
If the illithids succeed in extinguishing Firefall, things will be grim indeed within the sphere. With their god fully charged up with the power of his people, and no longer having to worry about the burning rays of the sun, the mind flayers will rampage throughout the Cluster, enslaving any race that they encounter.
Eventually, without the sun to power their magic, the Antilans will no longer be able to oppose the illithids, and the Arcane will flee for greener pastures, so to speak. In the end, the success of the illithids’ plot spells the end of civilization in the Cluster.
The worst case scenario will occur if the illithids achieve total victory over the Cluster and discover the secret of the Arcane and their Darkgate. If this occurs, the illithids will be able to use that device to manipulate the tanar’ri and spread their empire to other crystal spheres by passing through the outer planes. In this case, only powerful magic and the blood of heroes will be able to stop the mind flayers’ advance.
The Illithids Defeated
The failure of their plans will put the mind flayers in a terrible position. Characters who manage to swipe more than half of the pieces needed to put together the Sunslayer will naturally be on the illithids’ hit list. The mind flayers have only a limited time to recapture the pieces of the Sunslayer. If they cannot recover the necessary pieces within the space of a year, Lugribossk’s power will fade to nothing, and the avatar itself will dissipate.
Without their avatar to lead them, the illithids will find themselves overextended and will no longer able to maintain the illusion of a powerful empire. The Antilans will fall mercilessly on their ancient foes, hunting the mind flayers nearly to extinction.
At this time the illithids may strike a deal with the baatezu. This is strictly up to the DM and makes for a particularly lethal sort of campaign.
Once the illithids have been defeated and hook up with the baatezu, they will begin hunting the characters down. Though they can no longer use the Sunslayer to extinguish the suns of the Astromundi Cluster in order to power up their god, they can use the terrible weapon to open a gateway to the realms of the baatezu. And, of course, this could lead to a war between the Arcane allies (the tanar’ri) and the baatezu, a war that could destroy the Cluster entirely.
Right-click and choose "Save link target as" for the .markdown files.