I am trying to build a city populated almost entirely by monsters, but I am having difficult conceiving a power structure that can exercise proper control over this city.

Given the evil dispositions of the variety of monsters within the city, what power structure might be constructed by the creators of the city to allow the city to last?

A few points:

  1. The creators, Mind Flayers, have access to a variety of mind-control magic and require a constant supply of fresh human brains to survive.
  2. The creators have access to a large variety of magic and labor; they can construct almost anything that might help.
  3. The world has medieval-level technology.
  4. The city should be open to all creatures who follow its laws, including humans, dragons, demons, and other monsters. (Structures will be along the lines of How does one design a city meant for creatures of greatly varying sizes?)
  5. Passage to and from the city is easily controlled because it is underground with several specific entrances.

The problem that I have run into while considering this power structure is that given the large variety of powerful, evil inhabitants, it seems that the city would collapse eventually under a creator-run oligarchy unless these inhabitants are managed well.

How can the creators use their resources to create a lasting, open city of monsters?

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    – Secespitus
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ How is it different from a busy medieval human city, with respect to public order? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander - The power difference (physical and magical) between inhabitants and their more evil disposition will make public order more difficult to achieve compared to a fully human city. Combine that with inhabitants being an everyday part of each others' diets and you get a recipe for the city to collapse. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ Medieval society had many remedies for evil disposition. Hanging, beheading, burning at stake etc. If you want to live in a city, you have to behave. The "diet" part is more difficult. You can divide your city into sections and limit creatures' movement between them. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ At first I was reading the question as referring to infrastructure rather than political power, as in "How can we keep the lights on when Gidra lives on the same block as a pack of werewolves?" $\endgroup$
    – Rache
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 21:33

5 Answers 5


So I am going to approach this from synthesized Forgotten Realms/political science perspective (I love being able to say that).

So your mind flayers.

Mind flayers are crazy powerful. They can control the minds of the weak willed and make them their pawns and eat the brains of basically any intelligent creature. You mention they have to eat human brains specifically, not sure if that is necessary in your world or not. Psionics are neat..and scary.

The scales of society.
In the forgotten realms perspective you have both the evil/good axis and the law/chaos axis.

Good and evil is pretty obvious and you already mentioned that the city is predominantly inhabited by evil creatures. Evil doesn't necessarily mean crazy though. An evil setup can be just as lawful (often times moreso) as a good setup. Just a few of the many examples that come to mind, both real and fictional.

  • Luskan and Thay (forgotten realms)
  • Qaddafi's Libya, Saddam's Iraq

So how do they create and maintain a city.

This is pretty standard (apart from the brain eating) dictator 101.

Tools to maintain power

  • Power (both information and violence)

Information is a big one in this scenario. Mind Flayers can generally read the minds of creatures around them at will (adventurers being able to sometimes resist). With that kind of ability you can know the secrets of virtually everyone. Heck they could make it a prerequisite that to enter the city everyone allow their mind to be read. Knowing everyone's secrets can give you a great deal of control over them.

Violent power will probably come in the form of dominated thralls and willing thugs wanting to serve the powers that be. Basically hit-men and secret police. The violence doesn't have to stop what most good societies would consider crime it just has to maintain the power structure and reinforce the fact that the flayers are not to be messed with. Thieving and murder would be ordinary and the police would not need to care so long as it didn't impact leaders.

  • Fear

The idea of having my brain eaten by a tentacle faced monster that I can only assume has a beak like an octopus is terrifying.

  • Mistrust

Sowing fear and mistrust among the populace. If the people don't trust anyone, and after all most anyone could be a thrall its tough for them to organize and overthrow the government.

  • Money and resources

Control them...control the peoples...er monsters I guess.

All in all its really not that hard to fathom, its actually likely easier for the flayers to pull this off than it is in our world and it happens an unfortunately often number of times in reality.

  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps a power struggle amongst mindflayers can prevent too many mindflayers to be around in the city to require too many brains to be eaten? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ Accepted for stressing the mind flayer's variety of options for controlling the populace. I opted in the end for a small and simple law code enforced by mind flayer squads. Murder is completely legal, and larceny is enforced and punished by the victim. Public property, mental violations, or other threats to the mind flayers are punishable by brain harvest. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ Ah the good old fashioned brain harvest...definitely a powerful way to keep people in line. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Just make the punishment for every crime having your brain eaten. Theft, brain eaten, adultery, brain eaten, impiety brain eaten, you can't lie to a mind reader so they know if you are guilty. In many medieval societies people will think the people being eaten deserve it. just make the mind flayers enforcers of law and order and the people will love them for it. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ @無しっぽ murder of someone of equal or higher social standing being legal seems like it should be illegal in a lawful evil society. $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 14:30

You might be very well served if you were to read "The Prince" by Machiavelli for tons of detail on how to pull something like this off. Machiavelli only envisioned humans, but he was extremely cynical.

Outside of that, Your Mind Flayers could set up a fairly low maintenance power structure that could handle all of the nastiness they invite into the realm.

Set some fairly basic rules. the fewer the better. Things like "Don't kill your neighbor in the city unless you have a really compelling reason to do so, and no, "I'm Hungry", is not a good enough reason". Think along the lines of the John Wick movies: "No business is to be conducted in the Continental".

Make your very few rules punishable by swift, gruesome, death at the hands of the mind flayers. Make executions public and very painful.

Make the rules local to just the city and surrounding area itself. If you kill your neighbor and eat him in the forest outside of city limits, no problems.

Enforce super strict secrecy. Have the city limits stretch well beyond the actual underground lair and make everyone go well outside, away from the entrances in order to be outside the city limits. You don't want nosy villagers coming around and hiring murder hobos, aggressive clergy, and other idiots to come and mess your place up.

One last bylaw, If you do kill something within a certain radius of the entrance, leave no trace of it. Consume the carcass completely and remove any evidence that the victim was there. Violators of this rule don't get to die quickly.

Finally, Outright kill anything that might be strong enough to resist the mind flayers. You don't want anything getting ideas.

To carry on with the D&D theme here, keep in mind that the Chaotic Evil types aren't really going to thrive here. They may come and hang out for a bit, but sooner or later they will likely violate one or two of your rules and the Mind Flayers get a snack.

These are some simple ways to keep a variety of monsters in line.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the rule setup and idea of secrecy. All passage to the city is controlled by the mind flayers and they issue IDs to all inhabitants. Teleportation is punishable by being sent to another plane. As for the Chaotic Evil types, I think for the most part the rules will weed them out quickly as you said. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ Сynical, realistic potatoes, potahtos. $\endgroup$
    – DRF
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ Chaotic evil need not be stupid evil either. Just because I don't believe in laws doesn't mean I can't be smart enough to only violate them when I know I can get away with it. In reality chaotic good should be much worse at following rules than chaotic evil. Chaotic good might feel they have a good reason to do something (save someone etc.). Chaotic evil don't give a flying f*** so they just do what serves them well, since not getting eaten/tortured sounds important they won't risk it if smart. $\endgroup$
    – DRF
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DRF Fair point. My mind always goes to Goblins, troglodytes, kobolds, and others when I think of chaotic evil, not the very smart types. Those guys will get eliminated in short order. The smart ones will do fine. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 15:15

What is a city? A city is a deck of many things to many people:

  1. The name itself, city, comes from the same Latin root as Citadel -- a place strongly held, a place of safety for those within.

  2. A place of commerce and interactions, where people come to trade what they have in excess for what they lack. Physical proximity allows easier interaction.

  3. A seat of power projected over a neighboring area, each city has a natural support basin. This includes the imposition of law, an agreed upon set of behaviors and corresponding penalties for infringements.

What does this mean for our city of so-called monsters? In a world where magic is real, where honest-to-god magic-resistant fire-breathing dragons roam the land, where mind-flayers literally feast on human brains, humans are most definitely not at the top of the pecking order here.

However, all the power dynamics of groups of rational selfish actors are still very much in play. Since the existence of the city is a given, we can make a few assumptions about the city that must be true or the city would not exist:

  • The Flayers have sufficient numbers, sufficient cohesion and sufficient overall power to be the dominant power in the city. I.e. no roving Bhaalspawn or flight of dragons or dwarf clan can simply waltz in and ravage the place or seize control. This must therefore mean that the Flayers number at least in the hundreds and quite likely in the thousands.

  • There is a reason why the Flayers maintain the city open to non-Flayers and non-thralls, i.e. independently willed actors. This could be trade, military alliances, or other political arrangements.

  • There is a reason why other monsters and creatures (even free humans) would consider entering or even taking residence in the city -- there must be something to be gained from entering a flayer nest. This means that the Flayers are able to restrain themselves from psionic attacks agains all comers, and are able to impose a degree of order and some level of violence control and contract enforcement. Most likely candidate is money, or whatever the average monster values. It could also be that as a society predicated upon the consumption of sentients, certain practices and behaviors are considered acceptable here while frowned upon in the rest of the sentient world out there, such as ritualistic sacrifice, various types of blood magic, interactions with powerful demons, etc.

  • Since the OP states that Flayers need a fresh supply of sentient brains, and since we have determined that to maintain independence, the Flayers must number at least in the high hundreds, a steady supply of human or humanoid victims must be provided. Assuming a rate of consumption of 1/week, the flayer city must consume at least 50,000 and possibly as high as 500,000 sentients per year. While sentients can be violently acquired through warfare and enslavement, this would place the Flayer at some degree of personal risk, which seems unacceptable when it comes to something as basic as feeding for a creature as sophisticated as a Flayer. It thus seems reasonable that any sizable Flayer city would maintain a herd of sentients for consumption. With humans reaching reproductive age at about 15 and possibly sooner given magical stimulants, and the average human female able to bear 1 child every other year, there would need to be several hundred thousands, perhaps 1 million sentient feedstock (90% of whom would be children), making the city one of the largest in the medieval setting world. Even if a significant fraction of the feeding needs could be externally provided (a steady stream of slaves), there would come a point where the cost of maintaining and growing an in-house supply would equal the (presumably nontrivial) cost of acquiring sentients from consumption through raids by the Flayers or allied forces. In either case, it would ironically (and tragically for those living within) be one of the largest cities in the world.

  • $\begingroup$ Love the attention to the necessary size of the city and why it exists in the first place. Since the mind flayer's enjoy the experiences of their prey, they also won't simply be farming the humans without exposing them to anything. Portal-style tests might also be conducted large-scale. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 17:27

The only thing evil people understand and respect is brutality, and they won't even respect that unless it follows rules. Otherwise they wouldn't be evil, if they were held back by principles, or empathy, or sympathy, they couldn't do the things that they do.

So in this case, as per your setup, the most powerful entity is going to rule, but it cannot be by whim: There must be clear rules about what is allowed and what will get you killed in the most painful way possible for you, and they must magically enforce that penalty, even if it costs them more than they'd like, on every monster that violates the rules.

I would add, even though you didn't ask, that if the Monsters cannot exercise their evil then they probably won't stay, and your city will eventually be abandoned. They aren't going to live in peace with each other just because it is a city! The value of a city is proximity and opportunity, usually at the hub of some kind of trade or attraction (e.g. movie studios, financials, shipping and trading, farm or ranch markets, etc.)

For plausibility, I'd expect monsters to be there for a reason, to ply their evil trade perhaps, or live on the magic energy. The most probable rules to pass first are "don't damage the infrastructure," "don't steal from the shops", etc. Murdering and eating a pedestrian may be okay, but shoplifting gets you shredded alive, buster.

  • $\begingroup$ You said it better than I did. Well played sir, well played! $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 19:32

Real life examples abound, some of which endured 1000 years and more.

In Polynesia it was done by basically terrorising anyone who broke the rules and executing their entire extended family if they got out of hand, or sometimes their whole region if it was a sub leader, in addition to making them cook up and serve their kids to the rulers at feasts during more peaceful times just to keep them in mind of who is boss.

One king travelled in a canoe that was used on land and carried from place to place by conquered high chiefs to underline his absolute power.

Yet overall the economy thrived, no one went hungry etc,. because control over leaders was tight and strictly enforced.

People endured a lot before breaking the rules when the consequences are so bad. So you just need powerful, ruthless leaders.


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