The 3rd Edition D&D sourcebook Lords of Madness says the illithid species originated in the distant future and somehow traveled to the distant past to avoid extinction. A trilogy of 2nd Edition modules says they came from another plane known as Penumbra without the time travel. Has the origin of these creatures been rewritten for 5th Edition, and if so, as how?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It depends greatly on the campaign setting. For example, in the book Lords of Madness you suggested, it mentions that the Daelkyr created the illithid race to serve as lieutenants in Eberron. So, which campaign setting are you using? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @InterstellarProbe- I was asking about (for lack of a better word) 'generic' D&D, not any one world in particular. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 23:57

2 Answers 2


Volo's Guide to Monsters (p. 71) offers the most concrete background I could find for mind flayers in 5th edition:

Thousands of years ago, the illithids were the dominant power of the Inner Planes. From their astral domains, they launched flying vessels called nautiloids, able to cross between planes, so that they could harvest intelligent humanoids from hundreds of worlds.

The mind flayers relied on a slave race, the gith, to provide physical labor and sustenance when other sources of food grew thin. Eventually, the gith revolted. Whether the mind flayers became decadent or the gith discovered a weakness, none can say. What is known is that after centuries of domination, the mind flayer empire collapsed in less than a year. The gith rose up, slaughtered their masters, and destroyed almost all traces of the illithids' astral domains.

I can't find anything that explicitly says the mind flayers came from the Astral Plane (although the section quoted goes on to theorize that the mind flayers are hiding their empire in the future, so enjoy that reference), but it is implied that the Astral was where they had their original empire. After the war with the Gith, the only survivors were the mind flayers who hid on the Prime Material Plane, thus explaining how and why they're in the various setting worlds.


The Far Realm is the most likely origin

DMG, page 68, in the description of The Far Realm:

The Far Realm is outside the known multiverse. In fact, it might be an entirely separate universe with its own physical and magical laws. Where stray energies from the Far Realm leak onto another plane, matter is warped into alien shapes that defy understandable geometry and biology. Aberrations such as mind flayers and beholders are either from this plane or shaped by its strange influence.


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