Monster Manual A-Z is a series of quick looks at each and every monster presented in the Monster Manual for Dungeons & Dragons 5e. New monsters go up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in alphabetical order, touching on lore, mechanics, and ways to use them in your campaign. To search for all Monster Manual A-Z articles, search MMAZ in the search bar as we’ve excluded them from our Roleplaying Games tag to keep things tidy.
If it weren’t for the word ‘Dragons’ making up half of the game’s title, the Beholder would arguably be the most iconic monster in all of D&D, and arguably still is anyway. For those woefully unaware, the Beholder is a large, floating ball of terror, composed of one giant central eye, a horrid toothy maw, and plenty of smaller eyestocks protruding from all around its form. Extremely intelligent and resiliant, their innate magical abilities usually spell the end for any adventuring party foolish enough to challenge them. And perhaps the only thing capable of taking down a Beholder is itself, as their paranoia and disdain of all other beings, especially other Beholders, drive them to madness and conflict. As a tribute to its own arrogance, a Beholder carves out lairs and adorns them with their trophies of battle- petrified adventurers, magic artifacts, hides and skins from all sorts of monsters- and protects these trophies as much or more than a dragon protects its hoard. Of course, as with any truly horrific monster, there are some variations to the Beholder. The first variation is a Death Tyrant; a truly horrid undead Beholder that appears as a floating skull with spectral eyes instead of stalks. Death Tyrants are a result of a mad Beholder dreaming it could continue beyond death, and basically it just melts its skin off in its sleep, awakening as a Death Tyrant. It literally dreams itself into an undead version of itself. Beyond that horrifying display of power, Death Tyrants also keep zombies as undead servants and guards, distracting enemies while their master takes care of intruders from afar. And second, we have the Spectator. A lesser version of the Beholder that is somehow somewhat civil. They are usually summoned as guards in a ritual, standing guard for 101 years over treasure or a location. After that time they are free to do as they please, but since most outlive their summoner, they tend to go mad and stay in their home of the last century, making up enemies and delving deeper into madness.
Look at what a Beholder is capable of, and you’ll notice their only real weakness is a slow flying speed. Very hard to hit, plenty of vitality, and more awesome eye rays than you want to deal with. First and foremost, the giant eye. At will, the Beholder can create a cone of antimagic from its eye, extending out 150 feet. The only downside is that it affects its own eye rays, so it will be strategic with where and when it activates that field. Speaking of the eye rays, there are ten of them, three of which are cast randomly each turn. There is a Charm Ray, a Paralyzing Ray, a Fear Ray, a Slowing Ray, an Enervation Ray, a Telekinetic Ray, a Sleep Ray, a Petrification Ray, a Disintegration Ray, and a Death Ray. Most of those should be fairly self explanatory, but let’s highlight a few. The Slowing Ray works like a modified version of the slow spell, reducing speed, limiting the target to a single action or bonus action, but not limiting to a single attack when they take an attack action. The Telekinetic Ray restrains and can move targets up to 30 feet in any direction- including up! And the final one, the Death Ray, deals a bunch of necrotic damage (though none on a successful save) with the target instantly dying if they hit 0 hit points from this attack. The Beholder can also use Legendary actions to shoot random rays throughout combat as well. The Death Tyrant is not too different- slightly more armor and health, same rays, and some extra immunities. But the big difference is in the cone that emenates from the eye (or, eye socket). Rather than an antimagic cone, the Death Tyrant shoots out a cone of negative energy. This cone prevents anyone in it from healing, and anyone who dies while within it becomes a zombie and instantly begins to fight for the Death Tyrant- seriously scary stuff. Compared to those two, we then have the humble Spectator. Much lower in terms of armor and health, it only has four eyes rays, of which it shoots two. The only upside is that it can choose which two rather and shooting randomly. The Spectator has a Confusion Ray, Paralyzing Ray, Fear Ray, and Wounding Ray- a much smaller but essential sampling of their superior kin. The one thing that Spectators have that full Beholders don’t is the Spell Reflection reaction; which allows the Spectator to redirect a failed spell that targeted the beast toward another creature, potentially turning a group of adventurers against one another.
I’ve rambled on a lot about the Beholder and it shouldn’t be too hard to see where it can fit in, but setting up an intricate lair with vertical hallways, treasures that serve more as warnings to would-be intruders more than pieces of art, and maybe some local rumors surrounding it is a great start. As a matter of fact, I would set up an angle with a Beholder the same way I would a mad wizard- weird happenings in the area, missing people and livestock for experimentation, and traps galore for anyone looking for it. Also, don’t forget to take inspiration from one of the most famous Beholder- Xanathar- who is a crime lord and controls a great, underground organization. Fear is just as powerful a weapon as the Beholder’s eye rays, and you should do what you can to instill that in the adventurers who think about taking a Beholder on.
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