Eye think that you should run, because you’re being stalked.
A creepy feeling flies up your spine, and a shadow crosses your cone of vison.
Behold your doom!
The Beholder is a freakin classic. The very most iconic of all the Dungeons & Dragons monsters, besides the Red Dragon itself. It didn’t always look so cool, but it comes in all sorts of flavors. A hateful creature, with a paranoia unparalleled by any creature, it can see in all directions, but continues its attempts to see farther than that. A Beholder would be the type to attempt controlling fate or destiny, luck or purpose.
The reason the Beholder is so iconic is their ten eye stalks. The Beholder has a wide list of powers and abilities, all of which are unique, odd, and fun. It’s great center eye has a cone of vision that acts as an Anti-Magic zone. Each other eye ray does one of many things. Some are disintegration rays, that burn away all matter. Some are telekinetic rays, that move things for the Beholder, who sadly doesn’t have hands.
Beholders come from the good ole Greyhawk supplement, from the very first edition of D&D. They received the bulk of their style and lore in an article included inside Dragon magazine issue #76. The Article was titled “Ecology of the Beholder”. This article was written out by Roger E. Moore and Ed Greenwood, two of the D&D greats.
(As an aside, I really cannot recommend the old Dungeon and Dragon magazines enough. They are chock full of great ideas and lessons that work easily for 5th edition.)
Some of those details include the birthing of Beholders. Which is shockingly, not that gross. When a Beholder dreams, it has intense psychic power. The Beholder’s nightmares, for that matter, will be of a Beholder that can kill it. This nightmare will usually come to life and fight the one who dreamed it up. These battles are extreme, and chaotic. The smartest Beholder survives, and so the cycle continues.
The paranoia of the Beholder is not to be played lightly. Attempting to get the drop on a Beholder is so incredibly difficult that even when it’s delivering a monologue, it has a specific and thought out reason. A Beholder’s mind is one of intense and constant storm.
The Beholder has a lot of disturbing imagery and senses brought on by it’s presence, so lets start with what it looks like.
Each Beholder species is different, some with solid plates all over its body, some with fleshy skin and bumps all over, some even with solid and sharp spikes that protect it. The only consistency is the general silhouette, with the huge glowing main eye, and the ten smaller eyestalks. Each eye will be a color and style that has to do with it’s particular ray: bloodshot eye for petrification, a fiery orange eye that emanates heat for disintegration, and even a black eye with a purple pupil for enervation.
The pure and retched stench of a Beholder is equal only to how well they take care of their teeth. Usually, this isn’t very well, so as a Beholder discusses the finer points of your bad situation and impending murder, you’ll be awash in all sorts of absolutely funky junk air. Rotting fruits or vegetables, the shredded and sour remains of a human body, rancid fluids from the sick and twisted creepy crawlies that call the Beholders realm home. These and many more are examples of what you will wish you had never experienced.
Feeling a Beholder is on the bucket list of many a sick little adventurer. To touch one and live would prove that you’re a true-blue fighter of monsters. It would prove you a thing to be feared, a person to be respected, or it’ll get you killed; but that’s your own fault. The Beholder was merely protecting it’s home. The slimy eyeball of a Beholder feels like the firmness and sponge of a human’s own eyeball, with a thick coating of goo that keeps it nice and preserved. It’s like sticking your hand into a bowl barely filled with corn syrup. The skin of a beholder feels solid, like a thick callous. If you aren’t sure what that is, find your nearest guitar player and ask to give their hands a rub.
The third most chilling thing about a Beholder is it’s voice. The movement is silent, so when a Beholder speaks, it catches you off guard with it’s relative loudness. Many Beholders have deep voices, with a slightly chilling echo to it. Some Beholders hiss through their teeth, as if they are so disgusted with you they’d rather not even open their mouths. Some Beholders are so lazy they just telepathically transfer their orders and ideas, and if you don’t agree, bwaaam you’re disintegrated. All the rays sound like that by the way, basically whatever lightsaber noise you can make with your mouth. Telekinetic Ray is like a bwum bwum bwum, but really, it’s up to you. Have fun with it.
Every single time I do these articles I have to think about the taste of the monster. It’s honestly disgusting, but I love it all the same. Who wants to eat a Modron? Y’know?
But a Beholder wouldn’t be a delicacy at any party a hero would go to. No no, a Beholder tastes like the ass end of something vile. Something cruel and putrid. Something with so much hate you can taste it in your blood. Beholder meat is tough and can only be softened in it’s own blood. It’s eyes are made for popping and juicing, easily used in potions or alchemist’s ingredients. Baked eye and stalk steak anyone? No? More for me.
Beholder lairs are something special. Generally carved out by it’s disintegration ray. They will be stocked with slaves and creepy crawlies that would scare off any would-be explorers. Tunnels go in every direction, with areas only the Beholder can pass through, and then finally, the Beholders chamber. A nest with a big round bedded area in the center of the room far far from any doors or cover so that it can watch all in 360 degrees, even in its sleep. It has no minions in its own chambers, and has hundreds of traps and emergency exits throughout it’s design.
It stands to mention, that the Beholder would have a labyrinth of a dungeon. It would be designed to kill, tire, or enslave anybody who came in on their own. Basically, the Beholder will not pull any punches. The Beholder will foresee many of the players own plans, and the Beholder will not be afraid to win with tricks. In all eleven of its eyes, the Beholder has no honor.
The fight with a Beholder is one of truly intense chaos. It’s constant eye ray attacks, its magic-cancelling cone, and its flying cause a true collection of challenges to every single party of characters. Add in environmental concerns like heavy rocks, pre-set traps, and even ray-created hazards, and you’ve got a challenging fight on your hands. The Beholder is one of the most fun monsters to fight. Its intimidating, it’s chaotic, and it’s something that no plan would ever survive against.
Three eye rays per it’s turn, with one eye ray after three more turns. This means that the Beholder gets a total of six random eye rays every single round. That is an insane amount of damage, if the Beholder is rolling high that is. Every one of the attacks calls for a saving throw, and this is where the Beholder shines. It does not matter how high the AC of your character. It does not matter how healthy you are. It does not matter how well thought-out your tactics are.
The eye rays hit automatically, and you can only make saves for so long. However, there is one weakness of the Beholder. It’s anti-magic cone affects its own eye rays. This is a key tactic in fighting it, if you can stay within it’s main anti-magic cone, you can get in close and stab it. This means that a solid diversity of Dungeons & Dragons characters is important, in order to properly take advantage of each and every small advantage the characters have.
Once you’re done fighting a Beholder, you gain access to all that is theirs. The magical items, the collected servants, the lair. But, I wouldn’t put it past the Beholder to set the lair to self destruct once it has died. The magic items are more than likely cursed, or at the very least, highly sought after by some powerful folks. Thus, making them basically cursed. The minions won’t listen to your orders, because you just killed the only thing keeping them charmed.
The magic items a Beholder might have that aren’t cursed are the ones it finds fascinating. Immovable Rod, Magic Rings, and various other oddities, for example.
In the end, the most important things to keep in mind are the Beholders intelligence and its ability. Not just its physical ability, it’s resources. A Beholder like the Xanathar for instance, has an entire underground network of crime that it controls.
Beholders are incredibly full of personality, and entire campaigns and adventures have been designed around them. Have a good time letting yourself think like a Beholder.
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back with another Sense of Immersion every Tuesday!
Sense of Immersion is one of many materials I put out each week.
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Image Sources: Wizards of the Coast
Roll a D20 to see which Rays your species of Beholder has!
1: Charm Ray*
2: Transformation Ray (As of the effects of the spell Polymorph)
3: Paralyzing Ray*
4: X-Ray (DC 16 Charisma Save vs All Magical Effects on the target ending.)
5: Fear Ray*
6: Shrink Ray (DC 16 Dexterity Save vs effects of the Reduce spell)
7: Slowing Ray*
8: Heat Ray (As of the effects of the Heat Metal spell at 5th level)
9: Enervation Ray*
10: Manta Ray (DC 16 Constitution Save vs 3d10 Poison Damage and the Poisoned Effect for an amount of turns equal to half the damage.)
11: Telekinetic Ray*
12: Punch Ray (DC 16 Strength Save vs being pushed back 300 feet. If pushed into a solid surface, the character takes damage equal to the remaining distance divided by five.
13: Sleep Ray*
14: Blood Ray (DC 16 Constitution Save vs taking Necrotic Damage equal to 1/4th your health.)
15: Petrification Ray*
16: Glue Ray (DC 16 Dexterity Saving Throw or your speed becomes 0. Each of your turns you may use your action to attempt a DC 16 Strength Saving Throw to free yourself)
17: Disintegration Ray*
18: Beam Ray (DC 16 Dexterity Saving Throw vs 3d10 Radiant Damage. If the target is damaged, the beam bounces off and hits its closest ally. The beam continues bouncing until someone makes the save)
19: Death Ray*
20: Black Hole Ray** (DC 16 Wisdom Saving Throw or targets mouth becomes a Black Hole, sucking in all objects and creatures within 5 ft of it. All creatures that would be sucked in must make a DC 13 Strength Saving Throw to resist. All items and creatures that are sucked into the Black Hole are destroyed/killed immediately.
(*Stats in the Beholder section of the Monster Manual)
(**This one is total bullshit, but it’s nuts right?!)