I'm reading through the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure. On page 28, there's an encounter with

Nihiloor the mind flayer. Note that Nihiloor is CR7 and the characters are first-level. Any hit from Nihiloor will drop a player character.

When the group bursts into Nihiloor's hideout, it: "rises from the stone chair, sets its pet [an intellect devourer] down, and glides across the room, intending to leave through the double door in the west wall. The mind flayer expects [its minion] Grum'shar and the intellect devourer to cover its escape.

This seems so lame!

The player characters are in Nihiloor's base, killing its minions. Nihiloor could kill them easily, but instead it abandons its minions, expecting them to cover its completely unnecessary escape.

I'm confused, because I don't understand why the villains are acting this way.

As a DM, one principle I try to stick to is that the characters' actions should matter. But this development seems to contradict that pretty strongly. I'm worried that running this encounter will make the group feel like their actions don't matter, because they're grossly outclassed by the villains and the villains simply don't care enough to kill them.

I understand that one explanation for the villain's behavior might be that

Grum'shar has just captured and tortured an innocent civilian, so Nihiloor thinks letting adventurers kill him will just save it the trouble of killing him itself.

I also understand that, in this adventure, the villains "don't really want" to kill the player characters -- but it seems to me that catching the player characters attacking their base should be an exception.

In your experience, what's the best explanation for the villain's motives here? What's the best way to run this encounter?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I had trouble with this encounter, too--thanks for posting this. +1! \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Dec 28 '18 at 3:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ We may not be able to answer this question, but I might recommend TvTropes to better understand a variety of of villains. Start here imo \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Dec 28 '18 at 5:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have ideas for you...but they are definitely opinion-based with nothing solid to back them up. If you want to start a chat or post this somewhere else and send me a link...we can talk through it... \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Dec 28 '18 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was a bit worried too. However, having just run this, my characters (even with Ranier Neverember's active help) had more than enough on their hands with the minions left behind. Even as a pretty well-balanced party of 4, I'm not sure they would have won without him. They were more than happy to let that big baddy glide off, and didn't even feel like running after him in case he'd actually stuck around. \$\endgroup\$ – T.E.D. Aug 14 '19 at 17:42

Nihiloor prefers to operate in the shadows - and that means he's not interested in engaging in open combat unless it threatens his life or his goals, because player characters with a believable, supported story about a mind flayer would likely get the city watch to investigate his dealings.

Thus of course he's just going to walk away from the characters in chapter 1. Sure, there's a bit of hubris there, but mostly it's just his desire to keep his own hands clean especially in a clearly-insecure location (and you can see that same desire in all of the villians of Dragon Heist - rarely do they do anything themselves).

Now, if the characters follow him back to a location that he has some control over, he'd have no issues destroying them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 thanks for answering, but I have some concerns still. If the villains felt comfortable torturing (spoiler) in this location, is it really that insecure? And, if Nihiloor really wants to avoid witnesses, isn't it better to murder them all than to let them report back to the City Guard with the corpse of an intellect devourer as proof? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Dec 28 '18 at 17:35

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