The Eyes Have it!
There is no creature more iconic and more unique to Dungeons & Dragons as the beholder. Nothing quite says D&D like a horrifying floating eyeball monster, and they’ve remained as a tentpole of every bestiary since the very first edition. There’s so much more to these monsters than meets the EYE (I’ll stop, I swear). But just what makes these ocular aberrations so interesting? Follow us deep into the beholder’s lair and be sure to compliment him as we go through everything you need to know.
Beholders harken back to a time before thorough backgrounds for all the monsters. Monsters are just there because there are monsters. Their true origins have remained mysterious, but they fleshed out the way we get more of them. Beholder magic warps reality around them in weird ways, especially in their dreams. When a beholder dreams of another beholder, a new one pops into existence. This usually results in them fighting to the death though, as there’s nothing in this world more paranoid and ingenious than a beholder.
Beholders are incredibly intelligent and universally arrogant. Each beholder believes that beholders are the superior species, and that they themselves are the superior beholder. Beholders view everyone else as lesser beings, at best to be utilized as minions or at worse as food.
These are the statistics for the standard “beholder” though there are several wonderful variations that cover lower level threats like the Gazer, the Spectator, the Gauth, or the horrifying Death Kiss. Consider the actual beholder as the apex and use the other “lesser beholders” if you want a beholder style encounter at earlier levels.
Large aberration, lawful evil
Armor Class 18 (natural armor)
Hit Points 180 (19d10 + 76)
Speed 0 ft., fly 20 ft. (hover)
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
10 (+0) 14 (+2) 18 (+4) 17 (+3)15 (+2)17 (+3)
Saving Throws INT +8, WIS +7, CHA +8
Skills Perception +12
Condition Immunities Prone
Senses Darkvision 120 ft., Passive Perception 22
Languages Deepspeech, Undercommon
Challenge 13 (10,000 XP)
Antimagic Cone. The beholder's central eye creates an area of antimagic, as in the antimagic field spell, in a 150-foot-cone. At the start of each of its turns, the beholder decides which way the cone faces and whether the cone is active. The area works against the beholder's own eye rays.ACTIONS
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (4d6) piercing damage.
Eye Rays. The beholder shoots three of the following magical eye rays at random (reroll duplicates), choosing one to three targets it can see within 120 feet of it:
- Charm Ray. The targeted creature must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by the beholder for 1 hour, or until the beholder harms the creature.
- Paralyzing Ray. The targeted creature must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
- Fear Ray. The targeted creature must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
- Slowing Ray. The targeted creature must succeed on a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the target’s speed is halved for 1 minute. In addition, the creature can’t take reactions, and it can take either an action or a bonus action on its turn, not both. The creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
- Enervation Ray. The targeted creature must make a DC 16 Constitution saving throw, taking 36 (8d8) necrotic damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
- Telekinetic Ray. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 16 Strength saving throw or the beholder moves it up to 30 feet in any direction. It is restrained by the ray’s telekinetic grip until the start of the beholder’s next turn or until the beholder is incapacitated. If the target is an object weighing 300 pounds or less that isn’t being worn or carried, it is moved up to 30 feet in any direction. The beholder can also exert fine control on objects with this ray, such as manipulating a simple tool or opening a door or a container.
- Sleep Ray. The targeted creature must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or fall asleep and remain unconscious for 1 minute. The target awakens if it takes damage or another creature takes an action to wake it. This ray has no effect on constructs and undead.
- Petrification Ray. The targeted creature must make a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the creature begins to turn to stone and is restrained. It must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn. On a success, the effect ends. On a failure, the creature is petrified until freed by the greater restoration spell or other magic.
- Disintegration Ray. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw or take 45 (10d8) force damage. If this damage reduces the creature to 0 hit points, its body becomes a pile of fine gray dust. If the target is a Large or smaller non-magical object or creation of magical force, it is disintegrated without a saving throw. If the target is a Huge or larger object or creation of magical force, this ray disintegrates a 10-foot cube of it.
- Death Ray. The targeted creature must succeed on a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw or take 55 (10d10) necrotic damage. The target dies if the ray reduces it to 0 hit points.
The beholder can take 3 legendary actions, using the Eye Ray option below. It can take only one legendary action at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. The beholder regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
Eye Ray. The beholder uses one random eye ray.
Physically, beholders are roughly spherical with a single massive central eye and a wide toothy maw. Numerous tentacles end in smaller eyes, and these “eye-stalks” can act independently and provide the creature with unparalleled awareness of its surroundings. Each beholder exhibits a unique combination of colors, textures, eye-stalk lengths and distinctive irises. Though they tend towards almost genetic similarities in certain areas owing to their bizarre method of dream reproduction.
Using Beholders as a DM
Beholders are a boss monster, and you should use them as such. Their paranoid nature and proclivity for traps and complicated dungeons is literally tailor made for big dungeon crawls.
Technically, you can throw a beholder in as a simple threat along the way, but they really deserve to be a proper big bad that the players can overcome over multiple sessions. At early levels, the beholder is an impossible fight, and they’ll need to play on the creature’s ego to survive any encounter.
Using a beholder as a BBEG gives you tons of liberty with your plotline, since beholders are powerful but basically insane. Beholders can suddenly decide the party would be useful for defeating some threat, real or imagined. Beholders can toy with the party with absurd traps, convoluted schemes, or really anything else you can come up with. Running a beholder is signing a blank check allowing you to do whatever pops into your head.
If the party gathers up their courage to actually assault a beholder’s lair, make a big deal of it. Fill it with strange rooms and traps, real classic D&D stuff. Also remember that beholders float, so you can (and should) have rooms designed for flying that your players will have to work their way through. Also be aware of which direction your beholder is “looking” each turn with their anti-magic cone.
In combat beholders are just plain fun, the randomness of their attacks means even you won’t know what’ll happen each round. Play around with it, and don’t be afraid to fudge the eye ray rolls if they keep coming up with death ray. Also, if you want to have multiple encounters, don’t be afraid to use its flight and paranoia to make some quick escapes. Beholders justify the recurring villain tropes.
Fighting a Beholder
This is it kid, you’re staring into the numerous eyes of the beholder, now what?
Assuming you don’t have ads to deal with (which you might) your priority should be getting your casters out of it’s anti-magic gaze. While D&D doesn’t have facing rules, the beholder can’t point that cone everywhere at once. Try to gain the beholder’s attention if you’re a martial class and get it to focus the cone on you while the casters fan out on the opposite side.
If your party has multiple casters, keep well away from each other, that way in a worst case scenario only one player is shut down.
Finally, pack a ton of healing, between all the legendary action rays a beholder can dish out a TON of damage if it rolls well. You should also come prepared with at least some ways of dealing with petrification. A few greater restoration spells can be the difference between life and death in a beholder fight.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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