© Wizards of the Coast by Kari Christensen

Creature Feature DnD 5e: The Beholder – Tactics & History

Beholder

Large aberration, lawful evil

Armor Class 18 (natural armor)
Hit Points 189 (19d10+76)
Speed 0 ft., fly 20 ft. (hover)

STRDEXCONINTWISCHA
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.
Languages Deep Speech, Undercommon
Challenge 13 (10,000 XP)

Simply click on a trait or attack to copy a Roll20 macro to your clipboard.

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 ft. of it:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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 ft. 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 ft. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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 nonmagical 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.

10. 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.

Legendary Actions
The beholder can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used 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.

Source: Monster Manual

“Many tales are told,” began the sage, “of the dreaded eye tyrants.” – Ed Greenwood, and Roger E. Moore, “The Ecology of the Beholder”, Dragon Magazine #76, August, 1983. 

Beholders are one of the most feared, enduring monsters in the history of Dungeons & Dragons.

Outside of the giant, fire-breathing lizards that, you know, are actually featured in the name of the game, the beholder is probably the D&D’s most iconic foe – at least, the most recognizable one that isn’t pulled directly from centuries of preexisting myths and legends. 

Rather than being adapted from some of mythology’s most pervasive monster myths – like the werewolf, the vampire, and the mighty dragon – the beholder sprang from the mind of one of the game’s earliest playtesters.

The creature was allegedly invented by Terry Kuntz, one of the players in the very first campaign run by D&D’s co-creator Gary Gygax.

Terry (the brother of Rob Kuntz, one of the key collaborators on the development of the Greyhawk setting) had been playing in Gygax’s campaign for two months when he floated the concept at one of Gygax’s sessions.

People agreed it was a cool idea and then everyone went home and didn’t think much more of it, until several sessions later, the players came upon a beholder in all its glory. 

Original DnD Beholder Line Drawing
© Wizards of the Coast

Well, maybe the art doesn’t quite do it justice, but I’ve no doubt that Kuntz and his fellow players were absolutely gripped with fear to see their idle discussion brought to life before them. 

It’s a testament to just how uniquely terrifying and memorable the beholder is that it’s become something of a mascot for the game itself.

I pored through dozens of lists, articles, forum discussions – all variations on the theme of “D&D’s most iconic foes”, and rarely does the beholder fail to clinch the top spot – although sometimes it trades places with the evergreen gelatinous cube and the titular dragon.

See here, and here. And here. In 5e, the beholder even takes center stage on the cover of the Monster Manual

What is a Beholder?

“One glance at a beholder is enough to assess its foul and otherworldly nature.” – Monster Manual 

One of the reasons behind the beholder’s enduring presence in the collective consciousness of dungeon masters and players alike is definitely its wholly unique appearance. 

A beholder’s body is a spheroid – an eight-foot diameter orb covered with leathery skin or chitinous armor plating, with a single giant eye nestled above a vast, ravening maw, that levitates above the ground. 

Wherever the gaze of this great eye falls, the light is suffused with a grayish tinge and all spells and magical effects are snuffed out like a candle in a high wind.

The eye at the center of a beholder’s face isn’t it’s only source of sight. Protruding on fleshy or sometimes crablike stalks from its head are ten additional eyes, which not only allow the beholder to keep multiple eyes on its surroundings (even when it sleeps) but also manifest a number of terrifying magical effects. 

The rays from a beholders eye stalks are a huge part of what makes it such a fearsome opponent in battle, shooting random magical rays from its eyes capable of doing everything from disintegrating, petrifying, and lifting hapless adventurers 30 ft into the air, to addling their minds and turning them against their allies.

Not only can a beholder target three enemies with random ray effects (although it can choose the ray’s target after determining which ray it is shooting) on its turn, it can also take a legendary action to shoot more rays at the end of up to three player characters’ turns.

An unlucky or unprepared party can find itself quickly disabled, turned against their friends, and wiped out in the course of a single turn. 

The scariest part is, I’m not convinced that the beholder’s anti-magic field, or the magical rays projected from its eye stalks are what makes it a truly terrifying foe. 

The beholder is not only an intelligent creature, but unburdened by just about any of the redeeming qualities that might make meeting one a less than petrifying process.

All beholders are instilled with an abiding and overwhelming xenophobia and paranoia – a feature that persists even in those born and raised in a loving environment. 

“Beholders are convinced that other creatures resent them for their brilliance and magical power, even as they dismiss those lesser creatures as crude and disgusting. Beholders always suspect others of plotting against them, even when no other creatures are around.” – Monster Manual

Megalomania and mistrust run deep within a beholder and translate into an almost preternatural gift for scheming. If you think you’re two steps ahead of a beholder, you’re probably five steps behind. 

Sometimes, beholders harness their disdain for other races and gift for machiavellian plots in order to become terrible despots. These beholders – often referred to as eye tyrants – enslave other creatures, founding and ruling vast empires as monuments to their egos.

Eye tyrants will also frequently carve out a domain within or under a major city, commanding networks of agents that operate on their master’s behalf as one of D&D’s most proficient and ruthless crime lords.

Most beholders, however, prefer to isolate themselves within vast mountain cave complexes in the far-flung corners of the world, where they can carve out lonely kingdoms as the comfortable pinnacle of the local food chain, and stock their lairs with a mixture of magical items, gold, and ghoulish trophies. 

An Adventurer’s Guide to Surviving a Beholder 

After a moment, the young boy who had caught the sage’s attention earlier spoke up. “Teacher,” he said, “what is the best way to kill one of them?” – Ed Greenwood, and Roger E. Moore, “The Ecology of the Beholder”, Dragon Magazine #76, August, 1983. 

Beholders are a truly nightmarish prospect for an adventuring party. There’s never a moment when a beholder is truly unaware of its surroundings, so sneaking up on one is probably out of the question, given its +12 bonus to perception checks.

Their antimagic cone can lock onto the party’s spellcaster and effectively neutralize them immediately; there’s no saving throw. The only advantage to being inside a beholder’s antimagic beam is that the beholder’s own eye rays don’t function inside it, but the beholder can turn the field off at will. 

In “The Ecology of the Beholder”, Greenwood and Moore write that “The great eye, with its anti-magical influence, will focus on anyone who appears capable of spell casting, that is, anyone not wearing armor,” which actually presents a potential ploy for letting your party’s magic user switch armor with your Fighter – as it might let you get the drop on a beholder.

Then there’s the fact that beholders perpetually levitate at a flying speed of 20 ft per round. “Beholders prefer not to close with an enemy, and will stand off a distance to use their spells.

The little eye that performs telekinesis will come into play first, to hurl missiles at its opponents, catch light opponents and cast them into the air to be dropped, or to deflect oncoming missiles one at a time,” note Moore and Greenwood’s sage.

Trying to engage a beholder out in the open is going to be a painful experience. Unless you can restrain them somehow, the beholder will just fly 120 ft up into the air and bombard you with death rays. Far better to try and catch them at home. 

However, fighting a beholder in its lair is no mean feat either. They will use their disintegration ray to carve out a highly vertical system of large caverns that allow them to move freely.

Also, in 5e, a beholder’s lair actions allow it to coat the floor with slime, sprout grasping appendages, or shoot even more eye rays at an adventurer foolish enough to think they’re safe behind cover

“The Ecology of the Beholder” suggests that the best ways to kill a beholder would be to “attack it at long range with masses of archers, stout and paid well, and supported well by magic-armed fighters,” or to leave poisoned food somewhere in its hunting grounds.

Personally, I would strap as many explosives as possible to a tasty-looking horse, as well as to the supporting walls of the cave, in the hope of crippling it or burying it under a mountain of rubble.

But the prevailing wisdom on fighting a beholder toe-to-toe is to cover yourself in as much magical resistance as possible and try to stay inside its anti-magic cone for as long as you can, while you try to keep it in range for as long as possible.

You’re still going to have to contend with its nasty bite attack, but 4d6 piercing damage is a gentle breeze compared to the 10d10 necrotic damage from its death ray. 

You could also try a nonviolent approach. Beholders are incredibly vain, which could make them susceptible to flattery and the ruse that your party has come to swear fealty to it. One of the classic D&D adventures involving a beholder, Eye of Doom, centers on players trying to infiltrate a beholder’s guild. 

The Dungeon Master’s Guide to Running a Beholder 

All players, turn back now. You’re done; the rest of this article is for DMs looking to run the beholder as a villain, monster, or conniving crime lord. 

Beholders are a far more fun enemy to run in D&D 5e than, say, a dragon – which is largely just a big bag of hit points with a breath weapon. The randomization of their eye stalks, ability to levitate (an effect which can’t be dispelled as it isn’t magical in nature; the beholder’s flight is tied to a special organ called the levator magnus), and antimagic field make for a really interesting solo monster encounter.

Or, if you’re feeling particularly evil, embrace the beholder’s tendency to recruit minions to serve and protect it. 

Because of the fact that the beholder’s antimagic cone stops its own eye rays from being effective, the ability might initially seem a bit flawed on paper.

However, Renowned D&D monster tactics analyst Kieth Ammann, author of the fantastic book The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, suggests that “with a little geometry, we can see how the Antimagic Cone can be made to work effectively.”

He notes that, while the cone isn’t particularly effective at range, and interferes with its magical abilities, once the players get up close, and surround the beholder, the range of the ray means that it can “isolate one or two opponents within the cone while projecting Eye Rays in other directions.”

When not surrounded, hover out of reach and rain down disruptive, lethal magics upon anyone arrogant enough to challenge your supremacy. 

If your players are foolish enough to try and take on a beholder at home, you should also feel free to make gleeful use of the beholder’s various lair actions. 

Lair Actions

When fighting inside its lair, a beholder can invoke the ambient magic to take lair actions. On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), the beholder can take one lair action to cause one of the following effects:

  • A 50-foot square area of ground within 120 feet of the beholder becomes slimy; that area is difficult terrain until initiative count 20 on the next round.
  • Walls within 120 feet of the beholder sprout grasping appendages until initiative count 20 on the round after next. Each creature of the beholder’s choice that starts its turn within 10 feet of such a wall must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or be grappled. Escaping requires a successful DC 15 Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check.
  • An eye opens on a solid surface within 60 feet of the beholder. One random eye ray of the beholder shoots from that eye at a target of the beholder’s choice that it can see. The eye then closes and disappears.

The beholder can’t repeat an effect until they have all been used, and it can’t use the same effect two rounds in a row.

The presence of a beholder also has a noticeable effect on the surrounding environment, which seems to have been designed with the sole intention of royally freaking out your players.

You should employ these effects liberally as a way to not only ramp up the foreboding atmosphere (mind games are half the battle, after all), and to let your players know that they’re getting close. 

A beholder in residence imposes the following effects on its surroundings. 

  • Creatures within 1 mile of the beholder’s lair sometimes feel as if they’re being watched when they aren’t.
  • When the beholder sleeps, minor warps in reality occur within 1 mile of its lair and then vanish 24 hours later. Marks on cave walls might change subtly, an eerie trinket might appear where none existed before, harmless slime might coat a statue, and so on. These effects apply only to natural surfaces and to nonmagical objects that aren’t on anyone’s person.

I Loot the Beholder!

Beholder War in 5e
© Wizards of the Coast

If your players are clever, powerful, or just plain lucky enough to kill a beholder (or find its lair unguarded), you should reward them with some pretty awesome loot. 

Beholders aren’t consumed with the generalized lust for gold and shiny things that dragons display. They are, however, collectors of all manner of strange stuff that they find pleasing, or choose to display prominently as a monument to their egos. 

A beholder’s lair might be littered with trophies from past victories, including the petrified bodies of adventurers standing frozen in their horrified final moments, pieces of other beholders, and magic items wrested from powerful foes.

A beholder judges its own worth by its acquisitions, and will never willingly part with its prized possessions.

While a beholder’s loot might be 90% composed of half-melted enemy corpses, broken curios, and monuments to its greatness carved by captive artists (whose stone forms now reside nearby), there’s also a good chance that were also hanging on to one or two really interesting or powerful magical curios. 

Volo’s Guide to Monsters breaks beholder loot into five categories. 

  1. Tools. Anything that the Beholder can use. This does not include boots and gloves, since Beholders don’t have any hands or feet, but they can wear rings on eyestalks, and can attach a cloak to their back.
  2. Gifts. This includes anything that the Beholder itself can’t use, but a minion could. This includes swords, boots, and stuff the Beholder can’t attune to. The Beholder usually gives these out as rewards or to make a minion better at its job.
  3. Hazards. These are anything that can be used to defend the lair, such as traps or even things like an eversmoking bottle to hide pit traps.
  4. Trophy. Trophies are anything that remind a Beholder of its power, or of a defeated enemy. They can be petrified statues, crowns, or powerful magic items. Even some gems and coins can be found here.
  5. Clutter. Anything not in the above categories. Most Beholders just disintegrate this stuff.

For a thematically cool reminder of the fight, consider magical items that have effects similar to the beholder’s eye rays – which the beholder would likely have viewed as pleasing, though imperfect, imitations of its own wondrous abilities. 

Roll a d8 per adventurer (reroll duplicates)… 

  1. A dozen tiny phials of dust, each bearing the name of a legendary hero that the beholder disintegrated. If returned to the adventurers’ families, they may be grateful for the sense of closure and offer a reward… 
  2. A large golden brazier intended for religious observances, but clearly used by the beholder as a wine goblet. Worth 40 gp. 
  3. A Scimitar of Life Stealing, its hilt embedded with a single opal and inlaid with silver to resemble an ever-watching eye. 
  4. A Wand of Paralysis with 10 charges instead of eight. 
  5. A Ring of Telekinesis.
  6. Eyes of Charming, a pair of enchanted spectacles with eight additional variable lenses that can be raised or lowered over the main pair, each of a different color.  
  7. A Wand of Fear, the tip of which is carved to look like a gaping, jagged toothed maw. 
  8.  Nine Lives Stealer Greatsword, that subtly affects its surroundings, like a beholder’s dreams whenever it “sleeps” in its scabbard.