Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Imagine yourself, as some of you are already inclined, as an adventurous hero in the sort of world where we may happen upon mazes and manticores, basements and basilisks. You've slain demons, devils, dinosaurs and doppelgangers with your arsenal of sorcery and steel. By now, you're sure you've seen it all.
Ghouls and Ogres don't dare approach as you walk the gloomy forest path on a routine quest to slay another Black Dragon. You have to admit, though, that something is feeling a little bit off today. You can't seem to shake the feeling that you've just forgotten something.
And something else.
...Hey, there it is again!
It's a feeling as if your thoughts are just...slipping away.
As if something is taking them.
Your mental capacity is dwindling so fast that it no longer occurs to you to wonder why or how. You haphazardly wipe the drool off your chin as you gawk at a passing squirrel...or is that an elk? Are elks the things with all the leaves and branches? As you struggle to remember what branches are, you finally black out.
Your still-living but mindless husk will probably be picked apart by vultures.
Had you the perception necessary to gaze into the Ethereal Plane, you might have caught glimpse of the fiendish abomination that literally consumed your mind:
Yes. This. A ghostly pale, emaciated, hypercephalic, googly-eyed platypus shaped creature, its snaggle-toothed bill stupidly agape as it paddles its way through nothing. It's small. It's sickly. It's pathetic. It's ridiculous. It just ate who you are and left your body to die.
That. Is. Awesome.One of the first things I learned from the original monster manual was just how far the definition of "monster" can stretch. They can be titanic or tiny, deadly or benign. Repulsive, majestic, adorable or just plain freaky. Nothing exemplifies this diversity quite like the Thought Eater, an unassuming little creature that dwells on the ethereal plane, invisible to those of us in the material realm, but capable of sensing and metabolizing our mental activity. Psychic and magical powers are the first to go, followed by the victim's actual intelligence until they are reduced to a vegetative state and effectively dead. Most disturbingly of all, the Thought Eater is itself devoid of thought, driven purely by autonomous response to its hunger for raw, psychic energy.
The Thought Eater's feeding behavior is positively chilling, but its true form looks absurdly nonthreatening and bafflingly surreal, like the product of a small child's fevered nightmares. This pitiful, even comical appearance is exactly what I would expect from an invisible mental parasite, not unlike the modern theme of the dream eating tapir. I love absolutely, positively everything about the Thought Eater, right down to the complete lack of intelligence in its glazed-over eyes, not unlike a certain other psychic duck-billed monster.
Unfortunately, the hapless Thought Eater has been hit hardest of all by that strange, tragic mania in which anything whimsical is slowly retooled according to what the average
person is expected to find "cool." The second time the Thought Eater was published in
official game materials, it was given this far less entertaining skeletal design. On the upside, it was now rumored to be the final form taken by psionicists after death, adds a horrific new dimension to such a lowly and degenerate being. It was also said to be unable to live in a physical form, instantly dying if dragged into reality, which is interesting, and hey, even without the googly eyes, at least the monster still looks like a platypus, right? SIGH.
Meet the most recent official incarnation of the Thought Eater, completely robbed of everything that made the concept unique and special. Trying far too hard to appeal to ten year olds with extremely narrow definitions of "scary," the new Thought Eater trades in its duck bill and webbed feet for a bald eagle skull and jaguar claws. An otherworldly, degenerate parasite of the mind became a spooky griffin. Hooray.
When I checked around the web for a second opinion or two, I have to admit I was taken aback. General consensus among gamers appears to be that the original Thought Eater was nothing but a "stupid looking joke" and impossible to "take seriously"...you know, in that game where grown men pretend to be dwarves and decapitate bugbears. Apparently, players just don't want to get the Thought Eater. Dungeons and Dragons is serious business, and a monster can only be threatening if it looks like a walking heavy metal concert, or something.
If you want a cooler, more believable update done right, this Thought Eater by Penanggalan excellently captures what was appealing about the original with a realistic attention to anatomy, incorporating the bizarrely alien skull shape of an actual platypus. It's as puzzling a creature as ever, but a little more natural and functional. There's really no excuse for that griffin thing if the Brain Mole made it all the way to third edition totally unchanged and isn't near as cool and creepy as this duck-billed brainsucker.
Though I don't like the outcome as much as Penanggalan's or the original drawing, I thought I'd try my hand at making the Thought Eater "scarier" by the game's current standards. Originally, the creature was said to absorb thoughts by sheer proximity, but I imagine this gelatinous entity operating more like a leech or lamprey. Mindlessly attracted to consciousness like a moth to a flame, its sucker-bill would anchor it to the host mind to ride along in a remora-like fashion, the victim's faculties deteriorating over the course of days. Their reduced intellect and coordination could get them killed in any number of ways, before anybody ever thinks to peer into the Aether...
Brontozaurus has conceived another cool Thought Eater, its anatomy calling to mind the strange and formidable amphibians of the Permian age. It's a much fiercer and more alien creature, but the eyes are as oblivious as ever! I could see this Eater consuming actual, physical brain tissue if its prey were unlucky enough to meet it on its own terms.
I think we've established fairly well here that the Thought Eater was never a stupid, silly concept, and that any concept can be modified any number of ways without neglecting its original intent. So go ahead, you Dungeon Masters. Add the Thought Eater to your next session. The Thought Eater as it was meant to be. Burn this visage into your player's darkest nightmares: