Beholders are one of my favorite monsters in all of D&D. For such a bizarre creature, no other monster has performed quite as well for me as the beholder. Every encounter that I’ve done with them is electrifying, action packed, and heart pounding. After doing an entire series about dragons and their lair actions, it was inevitable for me to cover the coolest monster in the game.
The Mind of the Alien
Beholders are one of the most unique intelligent creatures in D&D because they don’t think like a normal human would. They are eccentric and otherworldly creatures that don’t obey the normal laws of physics. This makes beholders a dangerous opponent because what the players may think the beholder will do, couldn’t be further from the truth.
Beholders are intensely paranoid. They believe that everyone and everything is out to get them. And why shouldn’t they? Beholders also believe that they are the most important creature to ever float across the face of this planet, and it’s in everyone else’s interest to destroy them. This combination of egocentric-ism and paranoia leads beholders to have contingency plans for their contingency plans. Nobody should ever be able to surprise a beholder.
However, as the Dungeon Master, creating contingency plans ahead of time is downright impossible. Your players are crafty, and when it is 4-6 brilliant minds against 1, your wickedly smart beholder may end up looking incompetent when you forget that the wizard picked up Greater Invisibility. To compensate for this, I believe that it is OK for DM’s to listen to the plans of their players and then add in countermeasures to plan for them.
This of course doesn’t work with everyone’s style, but in the interest of portraying a beholder in it’s proper way, some concessions have to be made. It’s impossible for any Dungeon Master to understand how a beholder would prepare for every possible scenario. When performing this kind of quantum dungeon physics, however, it is vitally important that you don’t change what the players already know about. Doing so will break your players immersion and make them feel cheated, whereas when done correctly your players will feel like they are facing a brilliant foe.
When adding in countermeasures retroactively, one thing that I would advise to do is create wrinkles in your players plan rather than outright negating their plan. It would suck for your players if they spent an hour devising a plan, and the second they walk through the door they have to scrap it for a new one.
Beholders make for fantastic lair monsters because of the way in which they construct their domain. With a combination of floating and their disintegration ray, Beholders can create lairs that will confound unprepared adventurers. With high vertical shafts and holes in the wall 40 feet up, exploring the den of a beholder should be as difficult as scaling a smooth cliff side. The lair being designed this way also equalizes the movement disadvantage that a beholder would typically have. Hovering 20 feet per round is not exactly impressive, but a well-designed lair should make the beholder look more nimble than the monk.
This brings us to the 11 eye rays that the beholder has at their disposition. Three eye rays are chosen at random and then targets are chosen, which gives the beholder time to make tactical decisions about how to best use the eye rays. Let’s discuss each one in detail.
Antimagic Cone: This effectively counts as an eye ray. At the start of it’s turn the Beholder can choose to face a specific direction and whether or not the cone is active. Antimagic fields are incredibly powerful, especially at such a high level where players would be fighting a beholder. Turning off not only their spells, but also their magic items can give the monster a huge edge. But, the antimagic cone also shuts off the beholders rays neutering it’s offensive capabilities.
A beholder will most likely start a fight with the ray on. It shuts down any buffs players may have (flight, invisibility, strength, etc.) and shows the beholder what the players rely on the most. It wants to be far enough away that the entire party can be caught in the ray, and eep them in the ray for at least a minute so that most spell durations will go away. Insert monologue about the might and power of the beholder here.
During the actual battle, the beholder will have to be much more sparing in it’s use of this ray. It’s a lot harder for dead parties to kill the beholder than non-magical ones. When they get into melee combat the beholder can actually turn the cone back on because at such close ranges it’ll only affect 1-2 targets and it can divert the rest of it’s eye rays on other targets. Carefully consider this move at the start of each of the beholders turn as it is very powerful when used correctly.
Charm Ray: The charmed condition is something that varies from DM to DM. For some it can turn the charmed character into a temporary ally of the beholder. For others, it simply means that they can’t attack the creature but can still cast buff spells that will end up killing the monster anyways. I heard a DM once describe the charmed condition as seeing an old friend getting attacked by your party, and putting it in the hands of the player to decide what their character would do. The beholder just needs to simply target the character with the lowest wisdom and see what happens.
Outside of combat, the Charm Ray can be used by the beholder to try to gain the upper hand in any social situation. To the beholder it doesn’t matter that the effect will wear off in an hour and they will know they’ve been charmed. They will try to use this time to get the character to agree to any demands the beholder asks and will accuse them of backing down from their deal if they change their mind. This makes beholders fantastic villains behind the scenes as everyone will have made deals with the beholder that they didn’t want to make, but are unable to back out of now.
Paralyzing Ray: Is that pesky rogue trying to get the jump on you? Simply paralyze them mid-air and see what happens to them. Paralyzing Ray is best used against low constitution characters, and when it works it can completely invalidate them for a turn or more. If they are still paralyzed the next turn, toss a Disintegration Ray or Death Ray at them for an auto-fail and to see the party collectively realize how much trouble they are in.
Fear Ray: With this ray the beholder no longer has to worry about certain party members being a threat. If the fighter gets hit with this, the beholder can move 10 feet in front of them without worrying about getting attacked (ranged weapons aside). If the beholder does successfully frighten a creature, they should send as many rays as they can afford toward that creature next turn as they will have disadvantage. When they are making 3-4 saving throws at the end of every turn with disadvantage they might as well be dead.
Slowing Ray: This is the ray for the polearm master fighter who tries to make the most of their action economy. Shutting down everything besides an action can cripple certain character builds. Slowing down a character’s speed doesn’t matter as much, but can be meaningful if the beholder sets off a trap that they are now unable to run away from.
Enervation Ray: Finally we come to our first damaging spell. Constitution save is a really tough one for most characters to deal with and Necrotic is a good damage type. Out of all the damaging moves though this one deals the least. Beholders win combat by incapacitating characters and then killing them, and this move is one of it’s weaker hits as a result.
Telekinetic Ray: Out of all the rays, this is one that I find to be the most fun, and rewards lair building the most. In a blank square room, this ray is almost useless, but once you put boulders, traps, and hazards into the room this quickly becomes one of the most versatile eye rays. Throwing a PC into a pit of lava, opening a trap door from above, or throwing a statue at the players makes this move unpredictable and capable of giving the beholder area of effect attacks it otherwise wouldn’t have.
Sleep Ray: This ray will take a target out of the fight for a potentially long time. No save at end of turn to wake up means another party member will have to waste time to wake them up. As long as the beholder is careful to not damage them with any attacks in the meantime they can neutralize the target. If the beholder pulls up any strength or dexterity save rays as well, it should consider targeting that player for the auto-success.
Petrification Ray: If a party member fails the first save the beholder should do it’s best to make them fail the second saving throw. If it paralyzes or puts the target to sleep they will automatically turn into stone and will require greater restoration to be turned back. Without the spell, this effectively becomes a save or die.
Disintegration Ray: 10d8 force damage is no joke, and dropping a creature to 0 outright kills them. At the level that the adventurer’s will be fighting the party this is unlikely to kill them, but if they face the beholder already weakened this is a death sentence. It’s utility to carve out new avenues of escape shouldn’t be underrated either. If the beholder drops low, it can blast a hole in the ceiling and run away while keeping it’s antimagic cone trained on the party. After it finds the stache of healing potions it can come back and wreak havoc again.
Death Ray: This is just like Disintegration Ray but deals 10d10 instead. It’s a simple ray in terms of mechanics but is terrifying to those subjected to it. If the beholder rolls multiple damage rays in one turn, it should focus down the weakest character and blast them with the death ray last.
Beholders are perpetually paranoid, and will build lairs that are difficult to intrude upon without dying. Foolish mortals who have to deal with such pesky appendages such as legs will step on multiple traps as they walk through the lair. Antimagic zones can also pepper areas above traps, in case someone were to cast fly. There should also be many tunnels for the beholder to escape through that are high above the ground of where the beholder is challenging the party.
- An area within sight of the beholder becomes slimy. That area becomes difficult terrain until the next round.
This action, on it’s own, doesn’t accomplish much. Unless the party is within melee distance (which the beholder will do it’s best to avoid) moving at half speed isn’t that useful. However, in conjunction with a well-designed lair, this suddenly makes it impossible for the party to escape otherwise trivial traps. Flick a switch and have a boulder begin rolling down a ramp towards the party. Make the ground slimy and watch them trip over each other trying to get away.
- The walls sprout grasping appendages. Each creature within 10 feet of the wall must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or be grappled.
With an antimagic cone, nobody will be flying towards the beholder but acrobatic nimble types such as monks will try to use the walls to their advantage. This move can slow them down and give the beholder time to get away from them before they can cause any damage.
- An eye opens within 60 feet of the beholder and shoots a random eye ray.
This ability is impossible to prepare for outside of what was mentioned above, but it is an incredibly cool ability and gives the beholder an additional eye ray per turn. Combined with it’s legendary actions a beholder can shoot up to 7 eye rays in a single turn cycle.
Unlike with dragons, these lair actions don’t mesh as well with the beholders stat block. This is hard to do when the beholders main attack is random. Regardless, the lair actions fit into the theme of the lair, and that is restricting the movement of the party. With bizarre tunnels that go vertically, antimagic, slimy floors, and tentacles that come from the walls it’ll be incredibly hard for a party to travel through the lair without significant planning.
- Creatures within 1 mile of the lair sometimes feel as if they’re being watched when they aren’t.
This ability will make your players as paranoid as the beholder. In a city setting such as Waterdeep, telling your players that they are being watched will throw them for a loop and make them second guess most things they do. In the wild they may prepare themselves for a fight (and even use up resources) for nothing. Player’s fear nothing more than that which they don’t understand.
- When the beholder sleeps minor warps in reality occur within 1 mile of the lair and then vanish 24 hours later. Marks on walls, eerie trinkets, harmless slime, and so on.
This is such a weird ability that it is hard to grasp it on first go. The advantage of this regional effect is that players who are familiar with beholders may not know that this is caused as a result of them. It can mess with players as they are trying to navigate, they may grab something that will only disappear, and they may see mirages that mean nothing. Use these abilities to drive up the paranoia and make sure the party never feels safe.
Lair of the Psychotic
Beholders have the advantage of putting their lair anywhere they please. With their disintegration ray and ability to “coerce” humanoids, they can build anything they please. The traditional beholder lair is likely to be underground with a heavily guarded and hidden entrance. It is going to have a large central cavern with plenty of space for the beholder to float around, along with many side tunnels leading to hiding places and more traps.
Nowhere inside the lair feels safe with the feeling of being watched, and strange alien things happening every so often. Statues of petrified heroes will adorn the environment with grimaces on their faces. Treasure of all sorts covers the ground, and the more disposable of goods can be used as bait for traps.
Beholders are one of the most iconic monsters in Dungeons and Dragons, and they have a reputation for being terrifying and awesome. A fight with a beholder will always start off well for the heroes, but once they start failing saving throws things will turn downhill fast. A beholder can easily be overwhelmed before they can get the party to this desperate state, but with a well-designed lair that neutralizes their movement options, you can create an edge of seat game where a slowed, half-petrified, and 20 health warrior can land the final blow. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!
The bizarre perpendicular tunnels lead to a chasm filled with gold and statues. Every step meant more eyes would follow, and threatened to reveal a brand new trap. A stone slab ground against the ceiling revealing a terrifying monster floating high above. It cackled as rays of death and debilitation rained down on the party, while they were helpless to defend themselves.