Discussion:
Some Villains Don't Deserve Sympathy - Mind flayers are a good enemy, but empathizing with them is moral quicksand.
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Ubiquitous
2018-05-20 09:31:17 UTC
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: Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings,
: apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.

The mind flayer might be the creature of Dungeons & Dragons. They’re
purple humanoids with octopus heads. They use powerful mental abilities
(psionics) to mind control, paralyze, and wipe the minds of their
enemies. Instead of a mouth, they have a beak surrounded by powerful
tentacles. That beak, combined with their mind-destroying magic, allows
them to attack their victims and literally suck the brains from their
head. Mind flayers are weird, dangerous, and feel right out of the
strange sci-fi fantasy of the 1970s. When a mind flayer shows up,
players of Dungeons & Dragons know that things just got _very_ real.
Advertisement

They’re evil, they eat brains, and they enslave other races. So when
Dungeons & Dragons Lead Designer Mike Mearls suggests that they’re a
species that might generate empathy in a player, my ears perk up.

It all hinges on the word tragedy. In an interview with Todd Kenreck,
Mearls says this about mind flayers:

Mind Flayers have very powerful mind powers, that will let
them dominate entire kingdoms, entire worlds, so they can
once again ascend and rule everything. That, to me, makes
them very interesting, because it's very scary what they do.
They eat brains, but they are also, in some ways, they're
very evil, but there's this element of tragedy to this story,
that they are a fallen empire, and they're hunted mercilessly
by the Githzerai and Githyanki.

To be clear, what Mearls is proposing here is generally in line with
the storytelling of the fantasy epics that first inspired D&D. . The
mind flayers once dominated all of known reality. They had a powerful
empire, and now they have been driven into the dark corners of the
world where they plan to rise again; they want to fulfill their destiny
as a people. This is the stuff of fantasy stories: Aragorn is the
rightful ruler of Middle Earth, and The Lord of the Rings gets him from
wilderness wanderer to king.

The difference is here, of course, is that the mind flayers are a
species of slavers. Their empire was founded on the back of _entire
species_ of slaves. One of these species was the gith, and Volos’s
Guide to Monsters clarifies that the mind flayers relied on the gith to
“provide physical labor and sustenance when other forms of sustenance
grew thin.” While the gith eventually rebelled and overcame the mind
flayers as an empire, they still remain as a species in the multiverse
of official Dungeons & Dragons canon (which is why you can find them in
your games). The gith still hunt them, and the mind flayers live in
fear of being found.

Mearls’s choice of the word “tragedy” in his description of the
remnants of the mind flayer empire is based in the way that the current
D&D books describe them. Volo’s Guide to Monsters tells us two
important facts about the mind flayer. First, each individual is merely
a subservient creature to massive creature that houses each mind flayer
colony’s collective consciousness, the Elder Brain. Second, each Elder
Brain “views itself as both a refugee and a victim, forced into hiding
by barbaric monsters.” Each of these Elder Brains sees itself as “a
savior of the mind flayer race and a living memorial.”

The way that Mearls tells the story, it’s clear that it’s possible for
us to experience some empathy with these creatures. After all, they’re
the last of their kind. They’re at the end of their rope, and this is
the position from which our fantasy heroes rise. These are creatures
being written as the heroes of their own story (a method I’ve critiqued
before in this column). The official writeups on mind flayers,
including Mearls’s summary of how they function in the game, gives you
all of the tools and backstory to make the mind flayers into the heroes
of their own story. It allows a Dungeon Master to ask philosophical
questions of their players: Are players comfortable with extinguishing
a species? Would players act the same way if they were put in the same
position? What if you were them? And, explicitly, by highlighting these
qualities in the written D&D manuals and presenting them in an
audience-facing interview, Mearls is suggesting that this is how
they’re intended to be run.

The problem with this way of both running a game and designing a
villain in a tabletop campaign is that you can justify literally any
behavior this way. Anyone can make the claim that they are meant to be
in the place of power. When white nationalists chant “blood and soil”
or get tattoos of “14 words”, they’re doing so in order to make a claim
about something that they had that they perceive that they’ve lost. To
be clear, this too is a fantasy tale. There was never an all-white
Europe. Whiteness was never the sole generator of philosophical,
scientific, or artistic progress. Nevertheless, these groups evoke that
fictional past in order to conjure up a tragedy that a contemporary
audience can empathize with.

In the fictional of Dungeons & Dragons, mind flayers were, and continue
to be, slavers. If they came to dominate the world again, they would
still be mind-controlling, freedom-annihilating slavers. The work of
painting mind flayers as the heroes of their own cultural story is that
their cultural narrative is ultimately one that asks us to have empathy
toward with slave owners.

This critique isn’t just about Mike Mearls’s particular flavor of mind
flayer. Instead, I think that the example of Mearls’s interview opens
up an important space to talk about what really matters in Dungeons &
Dragons: your own table. At the end of the day, Mearls is demonstrating
that it is very easy to fall into equivocating situations that,
accidentally or not, suggest that subjugated people fighting against
their oppressors are somehow the exact same as the people who are doing
the oppression. To run the mind flayers as the heroes of their own
story, to extend empathy to the mind flayer as a storytelling method,
is to entertain, for even a brief moment, that their rise to power
might be ok. Everyone has a different point of view, right? Can’t mind
flayers exist in the world alongside all of the other fantasy species
with their respective fantasy ideas about how the world should work?

The formerly-enslaved gith hunt the mind flayers across the universe
because they know that any advancement in the mind flayer agenda spells
the doom of that universe. If the mind flayers regain their foothold,
if they can be the savior of their species, then they will pursue their
goals without fail. Those goals are subjugation and slavery of everyone
else.

I challenge individual DMs and players to think beyond the dynamics
that Mearls and contemporary D&D gives us for the mind flayers. Maybe a
species of slavers doesn’t need their story told at your table, and
maybe individual designers should avoid creating empathetic scenarios
for fantasy creatures that would put the entire universe under their
boot heel. Maybe the “good storytelling” of villains being the heroes
of their own stories is, in fact, bad storytelling because it demands
empathy for mind-controlling Nazis.
--
Dems & the media want Trump to be more like Obama, but then he'd
have to audit liberals & wire tap reporters' phones.
JimP
2018-05-21 17:31:33 UTC
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Post by Ubiquitous
: Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings,
: apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
The mind flayer might be the creature of Dungeons & Dragons. They’re
purple humanoids with octopus heads. They use powerful mental abilities
(psionics) to mind control, paralyze, and wipe the minds of their
enemies. Instead of a mouth, they have a beak surrounded by powerful
I have no empathy for mind flayers. Wipe them out.
Anonymous Jack
2018-05-22 18:22:51 UTC
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Raw Message
Post by JimP
Post by Ubiquitous
: Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings,
: apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
The mind flayer might be the creature of Dungeons & Dragons. They’re
purple humanoids with octopus heads. They use powerful mental abilities
(psionics) to mind control, paralyze, and wipe the minds of their
enemies.
I have no empathy for mind flayers. Wipe them out.
Those poor mindflayer refugees should be allowed unlimited immigration opportunities into your kingdom. Don't be racist. Build bridges, not walls.
JimP
2018-05-22 19:25:20 UTC
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On Tue, 22 May 2018 11:22:51 -0700 (PDT), Anonymous Jack
Post by Anonymous Jack
Post by JimP
Post by Ubiquitous
: Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings,
: apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
The mind flayer might be the creature of Dungeons & Dragons. They’re
purple humanoids with octopus heads. They use powerful mental abilities
(psionics) to mind control, paralyze, and wipe the minds of their
enemies.
I have no empathy for mind flayers. Wipe them out.
Those poor mindflayer refugees should be allowed unlimited immigration opportunities into your kingdom. Don't be racist. Build bridges, not walls.
No kingdom, but I do have a game world. And, no.
Zaghadka
2018-05-22 20:52:20 UTC
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On Tue, 22 May 2018 11:22:51 -0700 (PDT), in rec.games.frp.dnd, Anonymous
Post by Anonymous Jack
Post by JimP
Post by Ubiquitous
: Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings,
: apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
The mind flayer might be the creature of Dungeons & Dragons. They’re
purple humanoids with octopus heads. They use powerful mental abilities
(psionics) to mind control, paralyze, and wipe the minds of their
enemies.
I have no empathy for mind flayers. Wipe them out.
Those poor mindflayer refugees should be allowed unlimited immigration opportunities into your kingdom. Don't be racist. Build bridges, not walls.
When it comes to illithids, I'm building a wall.

I prefer prismatic. Haha! Walk through that, squid boy! ;^)
--
Zag

No one ever said on their deathbed, 'Gee, I wish I had
spent more time alone with my computer.' ~Dan(i) Bunten
Anonymous Jack
2018-05-23 15:13:29 UTC
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Post by Zaghadka
On Tue, 22 May 2018 11:22:51 -0700 (PDT), in rec.games.frp.dnd, Anonymous
Post by Anonymous Jack
Post by JimP
Post by Ubiquitous
: Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings,
: apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
The mind flayer might be the creature of Dungeons & Dragons. They’re
purple humanoids with octopus heads. They use powerful mental abilities
(psionics) to mind control, paralyze, and wipe the minds of their
enemies.
I have no empathy for mind flayers. Wipe them out.
Those poor mindflayer refugees should be allowed unlimited immigration opportunities into your kingdom. Don't be racist. Build bridges, not walls.
When it comes to illithids, I'm building a wall.
I prefer prismatic. Haha! Walk through that, squid boy! ;^)
"Nobody builds prismatic walls better than me, believe me --and I'll build them very inexpensively, just verbal and somatic components. I will build a great, great prismatic wall on our Underdark border, and I will make the Illithids provide the permanency spells for that wall. Mark my words"

- -Zag campaign speech :)
Justisaur
2018-05-22 20:04:33 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Ubiquitous
: Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings,
: apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
The mind flayer might be the creature of Dungeons & Dragons. They’re
purple humanoids with octopus heads. They use powerful mental abilities
(psionics) to mind control, paralyze, and wipe the minds of their
enemies. Instead of a mouth, they have a beak surrounded by powerful
tentacles. That beak, combined with their mind-destroying magic, allows
them to attack their victims and literally suck the brains from their
head. Mind flayers are weird, dangerous, and feel right out of the
strange sci-fi fantasy of the 1970s. When a mind flayer shows up,
players of Dungeons & Dragons know that things just got _very_ real.
Advertisement
They’re evil, they eat brains, and they enslave other races. So when
Dungeons & Dragons Lead Designer Mike Mearls suggests that they’re a
species that might generate empathy in a player, my ears perk up.
It all hinges on the word tragedy. In an interview with Todd Kenreck,
Mind Flayers have very powerful mind powers, that will let
them dominate entire kingdoms, entire worlds, so they can
once again ascend and rule everything. That, to me, makes
them very interesting, because it's very scary what they do.
They eat brains, but they are also, in some ways, they're
very evil, but there's this element of tragedy to this story,
that they are a fallen empire, and they're hunted mercilessly
by the Githzerai and Githyanki.
To be clear, what Mearls is proposing here is generally in line with
the storytelling of the fantasy epics that first inspired D&D. . The
mind flayers once dominated all of known reality. They had a powerful
empire, and now they have been driven into the dark corners of the
world where they plan to rise again; they want to fulfill their destiny
as a people. This is the stuff of fantasy stories: Aragorn is the
rightful ruler of Middle Earth, and The Lord of the Rings gets him from
wilderness wanderer to king.
The difference is here, of course, is that the mind flayers are a
species of slavers. Their empire was founded on the back of _entire
species_ of slaves. One of these species was the gith, and Volos’s
Guide to Monsters clarifies that the mind flayers relied on the gith to
“provide physical labor and sustenance when other forms of sustenance
grew thin.” While the gith eventually rebelled and overcame the mind
flayers as an empire, they still remain as a species in the multiverse
of official Dungeons & Dragons canon (which is why you can find them in
your games). The gith still hunt them, and the mind flayers live in
fear of being found.
Mearls’s choice of the word “tragedy” in his description of the
remnants of the mind flayer empire is based in the way that the current
D&D books describe them. Volo’s Guide to Monsters tells us two
important facts about the mind flayer. First, each individual is merely
a subservient creature to massive creature that houses each mind flayer
colony’s collective consciousness, the Elder Brain. Second, each Elder
Brain “views itself as both a refugee and a victim, forced into hiding
by barbaric monsters.” Each of these Elder Brains sees itself as “a
savior of the mind flayer race and a living memorial.”
The way that Mearls tells the story, it’s clear that it’s possible for
us to experience some empathy with these creatures. After all, they’re
the last of their kind. They’re at the end of their rope, and this is
the position from which our fantasy heroes rise. These are creatures
being written as the heroes of their own story (a method I’ve critiqued
before in this column). The official writeups on mind flayers,
including Mearls’s summary of how they function in the game, gives you
all of the tools and backstory to make the mind flayers into the heroes
of their own story. It allows a Dungeon Master to ask philosophical
questions of their players: Are players comfortable with extinguishing
a species? Would players act the same way if they were put in the same
position? What if you were them? And, explicitly, by highlighting these
qualities in the written D&D manuals and presenting them in an
audience-facing interview, Mearls is suggesting that this is how
they’re intended to be run.
The problem with this way of both running a game and designing a
villain in a tabletop campaign is that you can justify literally any
behavior this way. Anyone can make the claim that they are meant to be
in the place of power. When white nationalists chant “blood and soil”
or get tattoos of “14 words”, they’re doing so in order to make a claim
about something that they had that they perceive that they’ve lost. To
be clear, this too is a fantasy tale. There was never an all-white
Europe. Whiteness was never the sole generator of philosophical,
scientific, or artistic progress. Nevertheless, these groups evoke that
fictional past in order to conjure up a tragedy that a contemporary
audience can empathize with.
In the fictional of Dungeons & Dragons, mind flayers were, and continue
to be, slavers. If they came to dominate the world again, they would
still be mind-controlling, freedom-annihilating slavers. The work of
painting mind flayers as the heroes of their own cultural story is that
their cultural narrative is ultimately one that asks us to have empathy
toward with slave owners.
This critique isn’t just about Mike Mearls’s particular flavor of mind
flayer. Instead, I think that the example of Mearls’s interview opens
up an important space to talk about what really matters in Dungeons &
Dragons: your own table. At the end of the day, Mearls is demonstrating
that it is very easy to fall into equivocating situations that,
accidentally or not, suggest that subjugated people fighting against
their oppressors are somehow the exact same as the people who are doing
the oppression. To run the mind flayers as the heroes of their own
story, to extend empathy to the mind flayer as a storytelling method,
is to entertain, for even a brief moment, that their rise to power
might be ok. Everyone has a different point of view, right? Can’t mind
flayers exist in the world alongside all of the other fantasy species
with their respective fantasy ideas about how the world should work?
The formerly-enslaved gith hunt the mind flayers across the universe
because they know that any advancement in the mind flayer agenda spells
the doom of that universe. If the mind flayers regain their foothold,
if they can be the savior of their species, then they will pursue their
goals without fail. Those goals are subjugation and slavery of everyone
else.
I challenge individual DMs and players to think beyond the dynamics
that Mearls and contemporary D&D gives us for the mind flayers. Maybe a
species of slavers doesn’t need their story told at your table, and
maybe individual designers should avoid creating empathetic scenarios
for fantasy creatures that would put the entire universe under their
boot heel. Maybe the “good storytelling” of villains being the heroes
of their own stories is, in fact, bad storytelling because it demands
empathy for mind-controlling Nazis.
An interesting read. Of course unlike human slavers, the illithids have
no choice, they have to eat sentient's brains to survive.

So like the poor pit bull, bred and raised to attack and kill one can
have sympathy for them, then euthanize them. Perhaps you could keep one
in a zoo of sorts (it would have to have pretty strong safeguards) and
feed them condemned criminals, or volunteers nearing their end.

There's actually debates about the mosquitoes that bite people
similarly. They spread disease which kills more people than every other
animal (including humans) combined. It's probably within our power to
cause the extinction of the species that do so, still leaving those that
don't rely on blood meals to fill their niches. But do we? Not so far.

- Justisaur
h***@gmail.com
2018-05-22 23:51:59 UTC
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Post by Justisaur
There's actually debates about the mosquitoes that bite people
similarly. They spread disease which kills more people than every other
animal (including humans) combined. It's probably within our power to
cause the extinction of the species that do so, still leaving those that
don't rely on blood meals to fill their niches. But do we? Not so far.
The problems with that include
a) specific targeting is hard so many other species will be hit
b) they're a huge part of the food chain so wiping them out will cause huge problems.
c) 100% wipeout of species isn't easily done deliberately, especially when malaria covers pretty much all of Africa, South America and much of Asia.
Justisaur
2018-05-23 18:19:16 UTC
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Post by h***@gmail.com
Post by Justisaur
There's actually debates about the mosquitoes that bite people
similarly. They spread disease which kills more people than every other
animal (including humans) combined. It's probably within our power to
cause the extinction of the species that do so, still leaving those that
don't rely on blood meals to fill their niches. But do we? Not so far.
The problems with that include
a) specific targeting is hard so many other species will be hit
b) they're a huge part of the food chain so wiping them out will cause huge problems.
c) 100% wipeout of species isn't easily done deliberately, especially when malaria covers pretty much all of Africa, South America and much of Asia.
It's quite probable it could be done targeting one species and if not
wipe them out then greatly reduce their occurrence, it's been tested -
they breed infertile males in greater magnitudes than natural occurring,
and when released those that mate with females then prevent them from
laying fertile eggs, after several years of this they would likely be
completely wiped out.

There are other mosquitoes and flies that compete in the same niches
that don't either bite or don't carry malaria, the studies show that
those would increase in number leaving the food chain relatively
unaffected, but as always with these things there's a possibility that's
wrong.

It could be done with a concerted effort, but it would require a large
expenditure of effort, money etc. There are concerns about deliberately
'playing god' which dampen efforts at it.

It's also been discussed for use in the US vs. mosquitoes that carry
other infectious diseases such as zika and legionnaires.

Even uninfected mosquito bites have been shown to have deleterious
effects on humans.

- Justisaur
h***@gmail.com
2018-05-24 02:01:06 UTC
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Post by Justisaur
Post by h***@gmail.com
Post by Justisaur
There's actually debates about the mosquitoes that bite people
similarly. They spread disease which kills more people than every other
animal (including humans) combined. It's probably within our power to
cause the extinction of the species that do so, still leaving those that
don't rely on blood meals to fill their niches. But do we? Not so far.
The problems with that include
a) specific targeting is hard so many other species will be hit
b) they're a huge part of the food chain so wiping them out will cause huge problems.
c) 100% wipeout of species isn't easily done deliberately, especially when malaria covers pretty much all of Africa, South America and much of Asia.
It's quite probable it could be done targeting one species and if not
wipe them out then greatly reduce their occurrence,
There are multiple species that carry Malaria.
Post by Justisaur
it's been tested -
they breed infertile males in greater magnitudes than natural occurring,
and when released those that mate with females then prevent them from
laying fertile eggs, after several years of this they would likely be
completely wiped out.
That's going to depend on how many you release, how successful they are at breeding and whether there's a subsection of the female population which preferentially mates with the fertile males for some reason.

It will certainly reduce numbers but that's a long way from being certain it will wipe the species out.
Post by Justisaur
There are other mosquitoes and flies that compete in the same niches
that don't either bite or don't carry malaria, the studies show that
those would increase in number leaving the food chain relatively
unaffected,
until we find out that this particular mosquito fertilizes a particular plant 90% of the time and that plant is a large part of the diet of animal x which ...
Post by Justisaur
but as always with these things there's a possibility that's
wrong.
It's also unlikely that the attempt would be solely based upon the release of tinkered males and other approaches will likely impact on other species.
Michael Cole
2018-05-23 00:28:18 UTC
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There's actually debates about the mosquitoes that bite people similarly.
They spread disease which kills more people than every other animal
(including humans) combined. It's probably within our power to cause the
extinction of the species that do so, still leaving those that don't rely on
blood meals to fill their niches.
Umm, those that don't suck blood are any mosquito that isn't a pregnant
female. However exterminating all pregnant females will pretty much
wipe out the species.

The blood isn't food, its used to make eggs. Mozzies feed on nectar
and water.
--
Michael Cole
h***@gmail.com
2018-05-23 01:41:16 UTC
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Post by Michael Cole
There's actually debates about the mosquitoes that bite people similarly.
They spread disease which kills more people than every other animal
(including humans) combined. It's probably within our power to cause the
extinction of the species that do so, still leaving those that don't rely on
blood meals to fill their niches.
Umm, those that don't suck blood are any mosquito that isn't a pregnant
female. However exterminating all pregnant females will pretty much
wipe out the species.
The issue is actually the species of mosquitoes that carry the parasite responsible for human malaria
It's only particular types of mosquitoes.
Post by Michael Cole
The blood isn't food, its used to make eggs. Mozzies feed on nectar
and water.
It's eaten and nutrients extracted. That makes it food.
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