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You probably heard of beholders before. You know, floaty spheres with a toothy mouth and an arbitrarily large number of eyes. They’re kind of a big deal. I believe they’ve been in the game since at least the BECMI era, and were one of the handful of creatures declared off-limits by Wizards of the Coast when they opened the door for third-party content through the OGL.
As classic boss monsters who nevertheless don’t quite get the same level of hype as dragons, it’s quite possible more D&D players have faced beholders than have faced the monster mentioned in the game’s own title.
Both the Monster Manual and the Monster Vault contain stats for beholders. We’ll look at both in parallel.
The lore bits in the monster manual say barely more than the first two sentences in this article. Beholders are among the most feared monsters of all, and are so egotistical they normally can’t get along even with others of their kind. They like to rule over “lesser” creatures, a category which includes pretty much anyone other than themselves.
The Monster Vault elaborates on the above. It says beholders come from the Far Realm, but that unlike lots of other aberrant creatures that either cross over into our world by accident or to cause destruction, they come here as conquerors. There are many beholder varieties, and this diversity is further increased by the fact that some of then are changed by the passage from the Far Realm into the world.
All beholders are anti-social megalomaniacs, though, believing themselves the rightful rulers of everything they see (and yes, the book does make the pun that they see a lot with all those eyes). Beholders don’t really have allies - they have minions they lord over or masters they constantly plot to overthrow, Starscream-like.
Other interesting beholder facts gathered by osmosis from other editions:
Their flight is natural, not magic (their organisms contain pockets of lighter-than-air gas).
Beholders reproduce asexually, by nightmare. By this I mean that when a beholder has a particularly bad nightmare, that nightmare will manifest physically and take the form of a new beholder. No wonder they’re so antisocial. Each beholder is some other beholder’s literal worst nightmare.
You decide which of these are true in your game, of course.
Beholders are aberrant magical beasts. All are highly intelligent and of Evil alignment. They move via flight, and can hover. With all those eyes, they’re trained in Perception, have darkvision, and all-around vision, which means they can’t be flanked.
Their signature ability are the infamous eye rays, both from the little eyes on stalks and from the large central one. Each variety has a different set. They’re all ranged attacks, but they don’t provoke opportunity attacks from PCs. Let’s look at them sorted by level:
This is a fun-sized version from the Monster Vault. The only Medium beholder, it’s Level 5 Elite Artillery with 102 HP. As a standard action it can bite or fire two of its eye rays at different targets, chosen from its list of four possible options:
The fire ray targets Reflex and does fire damage.
The exhaustion ray targets Fortitude, does somewhat less necrotic damage and weakens.
The sleep ray targets Fort, does no damage and slows, with the condition worsening to unconsciousness on the first failed save.
The telekinesis ray targets Fort, does no damage and slides a target 4 squares.
As a minor action, it fires a beam from its central eye that targets Will, does no damage and immobilizes.
The gauth’s non-damaging beams means it works better when together with other monsters that can take advantage of them. I guess that as the weakest beholder, it’s either going to rely more on its servants, or it’s going to be made a servant of a more powerful villain.
The classic model, from the Monster Vault. It’s a Large aberrant magical beast, and a Level 9 Solo Artillery menace with 392 HP. It flies a bit slower than the gauth (Speed 4 instead of Speed 6), which fits since it’s more of a battleship than an agile corvette.
For its standard actions, we have the standard bite, which does decent damage but it’s not likely to see use if the beholder has its way. The main attraction are its ten different eye beams. It gets to fire any two of its choice against different targets per standard action.
- Charm: Targets Will, no damage, dominates for a turn.
- Wounding: Targets Fortitude, straight necrotic damage.
- Sleep: Targets Will. No damage, immobilizes, and that turns into unconciousness after the first failed save.
- Telekinesis Targets Fort, slides 4 squares.
- Slowing: Targets Reflex, does necrotic damage and slows.
- Brilliant: Targets Will, does radiant damage and blinds.
- Terror: Targets Will, does psychic damage and pushes the target its speed.
- Petrifying: Targets Fort, does no damage but petrifies right away! This is a (save ends) effect, so it’s not quite fight-ending but it’s still scary. After you save from the petrification, you’re still immobilized until you pass another save.
- Death: Targets Fortitude. More necrotic damage than the wounding ray. If it bloodies the target (or hits an already bloodied target) it sets off a chain reaction: the target becomes dazed; on the first failed save, that turns into dazed and weakened; on the second, the target dies.
- Disintegration: Targets Fortitude, does untyped damage and 10 ongoing damage.
Once the beholder is bloodied, it gains an Eye Ray Frenzy that recharges on a 6 and allows it to make 3 beam attacks instead of 2.
Those are just the standard actions. As a minor action, the beholder can use its traditional anti-magic central eye, a close blast 5 attack that targets Will and does no damage, but prevents affected targets from using encounter and daily powers for a turn. Yes, it can prevent purely martial characters from using their special tricks, but that’s easily intepreted as a sort of enervating effect instead of or in addition to the usual magic-dampening.
Finally, any enemy that starts its turn within 5 squares of the beholder gets tagged by a random eye ray a the start of the enemy’s own turn. That’s why they’re numbered! Roll 1d10 and watch your players pray they only get the vanilla wounding beam.
Beholder Eye of Flame
This one exists only on the Monster Manual. It’s Level 13 Elite Artillery, with 204 HP. It has the same “hit everyone nearby with a random eye ray” power as the classic Beholder, but here it’s written up as an aura. It flies at speed 6, and is all about fire.
Being a MM1 monster, it shows some of the early rough design issues: its bite is ridiculously weak instead of doing level-appropriate damage like the two previous beholders. It has three different eye beams, and can use two of them against different creatures per standard action. At least one of those must be the fire ray, but the other can be chosen freely.
- Fire: Fire damage vs. Reflex.
- Telekinesis: As above.
- Fear: Targets Will, and works similarly to the fear ray from the classic beholder, but bestows an additional -2 penalty to attacks (save ends).
It minor-action Central Eye power automatically gives a target Vulnerable 10 to fire, and makes them take 5 ongoing fire damage if they take fire damage from any source. This is a (save ends) condition, so the eye of flame will try to saddle every member of the party with it eventually. That more than makes up for its lack of eye ray variety.
When bloodied, and once again when it dies, the eye of flame lets loose a fiery burst that targets Reflex and deals fire damage to everyone on a Close burst 2. I guess its buoyant gasses are more flamable than usual.
Beholder Eye Tyrant
The strongest of the lot, and present in both the Monster Manual and Monster Vault. The two versions are mostly identical aside from updated math.
The Eye Tyrant is a Level 19 Solo Artillery weapons platform, essentially a vastly up-gunned classic beholder. The bite on the MM version is evey more ridiculously weak than that of the Eye of Flame, but the MV version strengthens it to what’s expected for a level 19 monster (MM: 2d6+1; MV: 4d8+7).
The Eye Tyrant’s ten eye rays are slightly different:
- Searing: Targets Reflex, straight radiant damage.
- Withering: Targets Fortitude, necrotic damage and ongoing 10 necrotic damage.
- Sleep: Targets Will, no damage but causes instant unconsciousness (save ends).
- Telekinesis: identical to the classic beholder’s.
- Hold: Targets Reflex, no damage but restrains the target (save ends). Restrained is Immobilized’s big brother: the former only roots you to the spot, the latter prevents all action.
- Confusion: Targets Will, does no damage but forces the target to charge the nearest ally it can charge.
- Terror: The MM version is similar to the classic beholder’s. The MV version does psychic damage and makes the target move its speed away from the eye tyrant. This is different from a push because the target chooses where they end up. And it that destination is still within 4 squares of the beholder, the target takes psychic damage again!
- Petrifying: Targets fortitude and induces gradual petrification: slowed, worsening to immobilized and petrified with failed saves. Petrification this time is permanent.
- Death: Like the classic beholder’s but with lots more necrotic damage.
- Disintegration: Like the classic beholder’s, but ongoing damage is 2d20 instead of a flat 10.
The eye tyrant’s eye ray frenzy allows it to fire four beams instead of the usual 2 on a recharge 6 timer.
Its minor-action Central Eye blast dazes on the MM version, and disables encounter and daily powers on the MV version. It still has random eye rays.
I’ve never used beholders in a game before, but I still have fond memories of them from the D&D cartoon and arcade games. Their 4e stat blocks give me pretty much the same feel as the ones from previous editions, since those also had the entire explanation for what each eye ray did as an itemized list.
Fourth Edition shies away from instant save-or-die effects, so beholders end up with a lot fewer of those. Still, the classic beholder has one in the new “gradual doom” flavor, and the Eye Tyrant has two. The level 9 beholder is nastier than it seems too, because it’s a suitable boss battle for a party of level 6 adventurers who won’t have easy access to resurrection yet.