Thursday, April 2, 2009

Poll Result: Beholder

I've closed the current Eleven Foot Poll early because I'd accidentally set it to run for an absurdly long period. Luckily we've ended up with a clear winner, with the Beholder pulling ahead of the Gelatinous Cube over last night and claiming a whopping 34% of the vote.

You two guys who voted for the Carrion Crawler, I feel your pain.

The Beholder is a mainstay of Dungeons & Dragons right from its earliest editions. It's been a regular foe of mid-to-high-level adventurers, it's headlined multiple sets of the D&D Miniatures line, and it's been the star villain of its own computer game in Westwood's excellent Eye of the Beholder (and to a lesser extent the two mediocre sequels).

It's hard to get a handle on what makes the Beholder so memorable. Its it merely that it is an abomination, a thing-that-should-not-be? So too are the Galeb Duhr, the Xorn, the Gibbering Mouther and the Otyugh, and none of those creatures have reached the Beholder's level of celebrity.

Possibly some of what makes the Beholder memorable comes from the way we react to faces. We have a natural talent for identifying human faces; we are so naturally inclined to react to our own kind that we can see faces in the grills and headlights of cars, in the gnarls of tree trunks, and in the random scatter of rubbish. What's more, we react strongly to vulnerable faces. The reason we regard large eyes as "cute" is because we are reacting to a perceived newborn; the eyes of a baby are disproportionately large compared to its skull and it is only with growth that the proportions align to adult norms.

The Beholder subverts those expectations; it uses the shape of a human face, complete with "hair", to create something wholly aberrant and unnatural. Its large main eye and plethora of secondary orbs are not its vulnerability but its strength, able to fire beams that bring death or debilitation.

Part of the charm of the Beholder, too, is its versatility. Much like the Dragon, who is able to fly, claw, use breath weapons, spells, and a fear aura, the Beholder is not bound to any single tactic or method of offence. Each eye delivers a different yet potent attack, and an enemy of the "eye tyrant" can never be sure exactly what being hit by a Beholder's beam will do, other than have a surety that it will not be pleasant.

The move to 4th Edition has not left the Beholder unscathed. 4th Edition puts an end to "save vs death" effects. As a result, the Beholder can no longer kill or petrify enemies with a single attack. How does it compensate?

4th Edition offers Beholders in all flavours and level ranges, but the Beholder Eye Tyrant is the most archetypal version on offer. As a level 19 solo, this monstrosity is well suited to act as an endgame adversary for the Paragon Tier of play.

The Eye Tyrant packs 900 hit points, gets a free beam attack on each and every enemy that starts its turn within 5 squares of the monster, and delivers a further two beams on its turn, increasing to four when it gets bloodied.

The Death Ray's still there, but like most death effects it's now a track, with the target needing to fail two saves without passing one in order to actually die, and getting weaker along the way. The Petrification Ray works much the same. There's a Charm Ray that causes characters to make a basic attack against their allies, and a Sleep Ray that sends characters unconscious until they make a save.

The star of the show is the devastating Disintegration Ray, dealing 2d10+9 followed by an ongoing 2d20 untyped damage. Making your save against the ongoing doesn't end the effect - you'll just be dialling it down to 2d6 ongoing, requiring another save to escape completely.

Unfortunately like all 4th Edition solos the Beholder Eye Tyrant is disproportionately affected by debuffs. Despite being theoretically as tough as five equivalent level monsters, it still only takes one successful hit to leave it dazed, stunned, or paralysed. Wise DMs will give the Beholder favourable terrain and an array of minions to make sure it presents an appropriate challenge.

Still, the Beholder retains its charm and flavour in this new edition, and I'm personally looking forward to running my players into one at the first opportunity.


Jimi said...

I don't know if it's indicative of the company I keep, but ofttimes the group I DM for never figure out that they should use as many status effects as possible on Solo mobs. Instead, they just heap piles o' damage at it and hope it drops before they do. Then again, my group consists of three(!) Strikers, a Controller and a Leader, so they succeed more often than not.

Greg Tannahill said...

I tend to find that with more than one Striker in your party, if your players are able to get a clear shot at the Solo, they can drop it in about two rounds of sustained damage, so debuffs aren't that big a deal.

It's only a complex board where some of the party are distracted by other monsters that a well-placed debuff can make a big difference.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've noticed that solos don't really work solo very well. The last two solos my party faced always had minions or other monsters to distract the party, since the very first solo I threw at the party went down like a b*tch.

Anonymous said...

This blog is absolutly usless and stupid.

Greg Tannahill said...

"This blog is absolutly usless and stupid."

This comment wins the interenet. And also a couple of free uses of the letter "e".

Jeremiah said...


Went back and pored over all your earlier posts and enjoyed each and every one of them. Sharp wit. Solid voice. Very nicely done.

And Anon? I think it'd be preferable to everyone involved if this blog were "youless" rather than "usless."

Run along now.

Greg Tannahill said...

Hey, don't scare off the trolls. :-) I do my best writing when I'm responding to flames.

And thanks for the compliment, Jeremiah.

Anonymous said...

In theory, wouldn't the Beholder's multiplicity of attacks make it more equal to a party-sized group of same-level enemies? Aura seems disproportionately strong against melee-focused parties too...

Out of curiosity, what happens in 3.x when you crit a Beholder with a Vorpal Sword?

Jimi said...


The Beholder is an Aberration in 3.5 if I recall correctly, so its head can't be "removed". The vorpal weapon just does a regular critical hit.

Then again, it's been almost a year since I played 3.5.

Greg Tannahill said...

Thanks for the 3.5 answer, Jimi, I didn't have a clue.

16lettersonly - A genuinely melee-focused party are certainly going to be in a bit of trouble. The Beholder, like all 4th Edition monsters, is designed to compete with a balanced party that includes both ranged and melee and good coverage of most roles. Realistically, most parties are only going to have one or two guys inside the aura, a couple of ranged strikers or controllers hanging back, and then a healer keeping the melee fighters standing. Without debuffs it will certainly be a touch fight; on the other hand a controller and a forced-movement-focused Rogue could completely trivialise the Beholder.

Shane said...

Heya. Before I say anything else: I voted for the carrion crawler, so thanks for the sympathy.

I've looked over a lot of your posts since I found this a week or so back. I have yet to play 4E, (but that's mostly because I'm in a few 3.5 games at the moment) but I've liked what you have to say on the subject. You sound clever and I trust you know what you're talking about. This (and the D&D Penny Arcade podcasts... Haha...) have really got me psyched for 4E.

As for the beholders: I always just thought that they were popular because WotC paraded them around so much, and never really thought about it any other way. I've always loved their name, though.

Carrion Crawlers ftw!

Greg Tannahill said...

My first real experience with D&D was the Basic Edition Red Box. The adventure that came in that featured a Carrion Crawler - I don't remember if it's in the two levels of dungeon they mapped out or in the nebulous "third level" that they encourage you to make yourself. Anyway, as a result, I've had a fondness for this beastie ever since.

Hope you enjoy 4th Edition!

Anonymous said...

The carrion crawler typified what I hated most in old school d&d monsters. Most of the time it was easy to kill and wouldn't damage anyone before dying. However with 8 paralysing attacks and luck on it's side the whole party could be out in a single round. Far too much variance.


Raymond said...

I like the idea of the Beholder, and would have liked to fight one.

I also have a strange love of giving monsters class levels that shouldn't have them (like the Gelatinous Companion Cube that turned up in a joke one-shot I ran, which had Bard levels and used Vicious Mockery. A lot. Accompanied by terrible puns from me.) and am toying with the idea of a Wild Magic Sorceror Beholder for sheer randomness and attacks rolled on tables.