Tips For Running A Beholder In D&D

Unlike dragons and other fearsome foes in the Monster Manual, beholders are original to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. They make for a fearsome encounter, and if one of them makes an appearance in your campaign, it’s almost guaranteed that someone in the party is going to die.

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Dungeons & Dragons: 6 Tips For Fighting Beholders

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This is a big moment for any new DM, but it’s easy to mess this up. Too many new DMs fall into the trap of running every monster the exact same way, denying their encounters the glory they deserve. Beholders are unique enemies, so here are some tips to run them that way.

7 Beholders Hate (Almost) Everyone

Every Beholder’s True Love Is Themselves

D&D artwork of a bard and a beholder at a fancy party
The Bard and the Beholder By Zozanna Wuzyk

  • Beholders’ paranoid nature makes them see the worst in everyone.
  • If a beholder doesn’t hate another creature, there’s usually a weird reason.

The Monster Manual has several unflattering things to say about beholders, but none compare to the lengths it goes to describe their paranoid nature. Beholders are prone to assuming the worst of everyone they meet. Their psychic dreams also enable them to assume the worst of people they haven’t even met, so keep that in mind if you need a reason for a beholder to antagonize your group.

Of course, you can always carve out a few exceptions to this rule. Forgotten Realms, for instance, does this with the beholder crime lord known as the Xanathar. While the Xanathar is just as self-absorbed as a stereotypical beholder, their love for their pet goldfish is a noted deviation from this rule. Just remember that every exception gives beholders more reason to suspect other people, who might threaten their friends.

6 Go Wild With The Machinations

Every Ridiculously Circuitous Plan Is On The TableDND mad Beholder rushing into a fight, teeth bared and mouth open

  • Beholders will suspect everyone and see patterns that aren’t there.
  • They will also tend to have ridiculously complex plans to set in motion.

In addition to their paranoia, most beholders believe themselves to be a perfect being. Their arrogance and love for overly complicated schemes can quickly get into cartoon villain territory, so have fun with it. Play into the worst excesses of a beholder’s mindset by concocting schemes too ridiculous for your other NPCs.

The best part about a beholder’s machinations is their ability to make sense to absolutely nobody but the beholder themselves. This is great if you need to retroactively justify decisions you previously made in your campaign that were madewhen flying by the seat of your pants. Just make sure this level of DM shenanigans doesn’t look too obvious.

5 Customize The Eye Rays

The Eye’s The Limit

Artwork of large green Beholder firing eye ray
Baleful Beholder art by Lars Grant-West

  • The stat block’s eye rays are a mere suggestion. Every beholder is different.
  • Use effects of the same or similar spell slot level to existing eye rays.

A beholder’s eye rays are its signature ability. From petrification to reducing your adventurers to dust, there are all sorts of ways for your party to meet a gruesome end. Every beholder can shoot an eye ray up to three times per turn, making each round a wild ride.

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The signs were there the whole time.

However, there’s no reason for you to feel constrained by the eye rays presented in the Monster Manual. If you’re feeling creative, try switching out one or more eye rays for different homebrew effects. To keep things balanced, try using effects based on sixth or seventh level spells. We recommend an Irresistible Dance ray to keep your party on their toes.

4 Craft Unique Minions

Most Beholders Have At Least A Few

Xanathar's Guide To Everything Cover Art with a beholder looking at a trapped creature grinning
Xanathar’s Guide To Everything Cover Art via Wizards of the Coast

  • Like other high CR creatures, beholders tend to have minions of different creature types.
  • Try to think about what motivations the minions have for serving the beholder.

Every boss needs minions, and this goes doubly so for beholders. While beholders loathe and mistrust other creatures, they still make use of henchmen to do their dirty work. There are a few reasons why someone may want to serve a beholder. Maybe these henchmen are cultists worshipping Far Realm entities. Or maybe the beholder simply offers good pay and benefits.

There are endless beholder varieties, so do your research and choose minions that fit your specific monster. The Xanathar, for instance, chose minions from a diverse array of criminals that inhabited the cities of Waterdeep and Skullport. Meanwhile, a death tyrant might have an array of undead minions to serve its needs.

3 Action Economy Is King

And Beholders Have Action Economy In Spades

Artwork of red-eyed Beholder skeleton floating in a cavern
Ghastly Death Tyrant by Peter Polach

  • The deadliest monsters in Dungeons & Dragons wield several actions per turn.
  • You can tweak this a bit to balance an encounter.

While the beholder is listed as CR 13 in the Monster Manual, it tends to punch above its own weight class in terms of difficulty. It shares this feature in common with the hydra, a CR 8 monster that’s far less complex and has been the cause of many a TPK. What both of these creatures possess is the ability to take several actions per turn.

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Each beholder can fire its eye rays three times per turn, and each eye ray has a unique and powerful ability. This is on top of several passive abilities a beholder typically has in effect, such as the antimagic effects of its central eye. If an encounter with a beholder ever seems unfair, you can try subtracting eye rays to make things easier…or add more to crank up the heat.

2 Break Past Tired Old Tropes

Remember, Beholders Are Characters

Dungeons and Dragons Spelljammer Rock of Bral Large Luke Friendly Beholder At Tavern With Human Women
The Laughing Beholder by Ralph Horsley

  • You’re free to ignore as much or as little lore as you like.
  • Try to build characters that feel organic.

Up until this point, we’ve said a few things that are meant more as general statements rather than hard and fast rules. Yes, most beholders are highly intelligent and self-absorbed. Yes, most of them are fixated on complex schemes. But this doesn’t mean you can’t create a memorable character.

Think about the standard lore and brainstorm ways to tweak the usual tropes into interesting story hooks. Perhaps your players encounter a city full of beholders, and must now explore a settlement full of highly powerful, malevolent beings. Or perhaps one of your players wants to romance the beholder NPC you made. The sky’s the limit.

1 Put Special Effort Into Lairs

Beholders Are Like Onions

halfling runs from beholder, xanathar
Destroy the Lair by Wizards of the Coast 

  • Every beholder’s lair is different, so lean into their personality.
  • A beholder’s lair is going to be one huge death trap.

Beholders are monsters known for putting a special amount of effort into their lairs. While other monsters might be content with a simple cave or fortress, a beholder’s lair is typically labyrinthine in scale and layout. There’s a large amount of customization you can do to fit your specific beholder, as long as the lair is sufficiently complex.

Take some time and make sure your beholder’s lair has all the traps, minions, and treasures it deserves. The lair should be a full-on dungeon crawl rather than a simple map that can be traversed in under one session. If you need a more in-depth guide, check out our article on creating beholder lairs.

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