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Dungeons & Dragons creature
FR1ModuleCover
A beholder (center) pictured on the cover of Waterdeep and the North.
Beholder
Alignment Lawful evil
Type Aberration
Source books
First appearance Greyhawk (1975)
Image Wizards.com image

In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, the beholder is a fictional monster. Resembling a floating orb of flesh with a large mouth, single central eye, and lots of smaller eyestalks on top with deadly magical powers, the beholder is among the most classic of all Dungeons & Dragons monsters, appearing in every edition of the game since 1975. They are also notable for being one of the few classic Dungeons & Dragons monsters that Wizards of the Coast still claims as Product Identity.

Publishing historyEdit

The beholder was introduced to the game in its first supplement, Greyhawk (1975), and is depicted on its cover (as shown in the section below). Second edition supplements to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, especially those of the Spelljammer campaign setting, added further details about these classic creatures' societies and culture.

LicensingEdit

The beholder is considered "Product Identity" by Wizards of the Coast and as such is not released under its Open Gaming License.[1]

Physical descriptionEdit

Greyhawk Supplement 1975

The original Greyhawk booklet cover, featuring one of the earliest depictions of a Beholder.

A Beholder is an aberration comprising a floating spheroid body with a large fanged mouth and single eye on the front and many flexible eyestalks on the top; it was once described as "a big eye with a bunch of little eyes that eats adventurers for breakfast."

A beholder's eyes each possess a different magical ability; the main eye projects an anti-magical cone, and the other eyes use different spell-like abilities (disintegrate objects, transmute flesh to stone, cause sleep, slow motion of objects, charm animals, charm humans, cause death, induce fear, levitate objects, and inflict serious wounds.). Many variant beholder species exist, such as "observers", "spectators", "eyes of the deep", "elder orbs", "hive mothers", and "death tyrants". In addition, some rare beholders can use their eyes for non-standard spell-like abilities; these mutant beholders are often killed or exiled by their peers. Beholders wishing to cast spells like ordinary wizards relinquish the traditional use of their eyestalks, and put out their central anti-magic eye, making these beholder mages immediate outcasts.

SocietyEdit

Beholders are extremely xenophobic, to the point of being engaged in a violent intra-species war with others of their kind who differ even slightly in appearance. They will sometimes take members of other, non-beholder races as slaves. Beholder communities in the Underdark often, when provoked, wage war on any and all nearby settlements, finding the most resistance from the drow and illithids.

Beholders worship their insane, controlling goddess known as the Great Mother, though some also, or instead, follow her rebel offspring, Gzemnid, the beholder god of gazes, who is allied with the illithid god Ilsensine.

Aberrant BeholdersEdit

Some beholder strains have mutated far from the basic beholder stock. These are aberrant beholders, of which there are numerous different types. Some of the creatures described below are relatively similar to true beholders, while others appear wildly different and have very different abilities. The unfying feature among beholders and the various aberrant beholders seems to be a simple, fleshy body with one or more grotesque eyes. True beholders do not consider these aberrant beholders to be of the same race; they view them as abominations and mockeries of the true beholder race and rarely if ever associate with them.

BeholderkinEdit

Beholderkin is a subcategory of aberrant beholders comprising a very large number of beholder-like creatures. As opposed to the Death Tyrant, Elder Orb, Hive Mother and Orbus described later, which are just variants, these are actually different species to true beholders. Beholderkin have a very wide range of appearances and abilities. Not all share the xenophobia of true beholders; though most are still evil and cruel in nature. Beholderkin are hated by true beholders.

AstereaterEdit

The Astereater is a beholder-like creature from the Spelljammer campaign setting, which is set in outer space. Drifting within asteroid fields, at first glance it resembles an asteroid itself; however its stony eyelid conceals its eye and ridges hide its toothy maw (the Astereater has no eyestalks). It waits for Spelljamming Ships (ships that fly through space) to pass by; then comes alive and snatches people off the decks to eat.

Death KissEdit

The Death Kiss has ten blood-draining tentacles instead of eyestalks, and its body roils with an electrical aura. Rather than with eye-rays like true beholders, it kills with its deadly tentacles.

DirectorEdit

Directors are a special warrior-caste of beholder who sometimes dwell in communities led by Hive Mothers or Overseers. It has three clawed tentacles, its main eye deflects attacks and their six eyestalks are retractable and possess powers different from that of a normal beholder. With its three tentacles, the Director bonds with specially-bred verminous mounts; Crawlers, which look like a cross between spiders and centipedes, and Crushers, a kind of monstrous pseudoscorpion.

ExaminerEdit

From the Spelljammer campaign setting, these are the tool wielders of the beholder race. They are four-foot spheres with no central eye and only four small eyes, each on the end of an antenna mounted atop the sphere. They have one small lamprey-like mouth which is surrounded by four multijointed limbs ending in gripper pads.

Eye of the DeepEdit

The Eye of the Deep is an aquatic beholder variant, dwelling underwater. As such it rarely comes into contact with other beholders. The Eye of the Deep has only two eyestalks, a mass of tentacles trailing from its bottom, and two lobster-like pincers which are deadly in combat.

EyeballEdit

The Eyeball is a tiny, weak, amiable beholderkin with a small size, only four eyestalks and no magical abilities. It is sometimes kept as a familiar by wizards and sorcerers.

GauthEdit

By far the most common beholderkin (and the only one mentioned in the Monster Manual), the Gauth is a beholder variant that feeds upon magic as well as flesh. It has six eyestalks (one of which is used to drain magic from items), a central eye that can stun its enemies, and four feeding tendrills. Most notatble, however, is that its central eye is surrounded by lots of little eyes (non-magical). It is rapacious and tyrannical, using its gaze attacks for its amusement and advancement.

GorbelEdit

Floating, 3-ft-wide orbs with reddish skin, small eyestalks which are on top, and a mouth and two arms that extend from below. They are filled with flammable gas that smells of sulfur.

GougerEdit

The Gouger is a variant bred to stalk and kill normal beholders. A Gouger's ten eyestalks are magically useless. Its central eye retains the antimagic properties of true beholders, and four small legs hang from the creature's underside. A Gouger's most hideous feature, though, is its long, barbed tongue, which is adept at temporarily neutralizing beholder eyestalks. What can kill a beholder can kill a party of adventurers.

LensmanEdit

The ultimate lackey caste of beholder society, from the Spelljammer campaign setting, these lack eyes and their limb configuration relagate them to roles of menial labor and cannon fodder. They have a single eye set in the chest of a five-limbed, starfish shaped simian body.

OverseerEdit

An Overseer is the most dangerous of the known beholderkin. Second only to the hive mother, these beings' duties include the organization of world forces and the cataloging and analysis of information. Overseers have very different forms to most other beholders; they resemble fleshy, black trees with tentacle-like branches and roots ending in eyes; and three mouths set in the trunk.

SpectatorEdit

Spectators are extraplanar; hailing from the Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus. They are smaller than true beholders, and have four eyestalks. Their powers are less combat orientated. Spectators have very different personalities from other beholders; they are friendly and mild-mannered, and often form friendships with other creatures; something which no other beholder type does. Spectators are often summoned to the material plane to guard treasure.

Death TyrantEdit

The Death Tyrant is an undead beholder, akin to a zombie. They retain some of their innate magical abilities. These creatures are used by powerful wizards as guardians; but other beholders find them repulsive.

Elder OrbEdit

One in every several hundred beholders is born with amazing longevity. These beholders are known as Elder Orbs, and the source of their longevity is hotly debated. The Elder Orbs themselves believe that it is proof that they embody the primal purity of the Great Mother. An Elder Orb is effectively immortal; it never grows senile or infirm from age and can live forever unless it perishes from violence or disease. Elder Orbs lack as many eyestalks as younger beholders, but are compensated by having powerful sorcerous abilities. They are the wisest and most cunning of the eye-tryants.

Hive MotherEdit

Even rarer than Elder Orbs are Hive Mother beholders. Hive Mothers have the magical ability to dominate other beholders. Using this ability, they rally the usually xenophobic and lonesome ordinary beholders under their control to construct huge hive-cities bent on serving the Hive Mother and taking over the world. Although their name implies a feminine gender, these beholders are as gender- neutral as typical members of their species. Twice the size of a typical beholder, these have no eyestalks, but its magical eyes are protected by hooded covers in the flesh of the creature's body.

OrbusEdit

From the Spelljammer campaign setting, these are a genetically bred or stunted and immature form of beholder. Weak, small, pathetic and with a sickly, chalk-white coloration, these exist only to power, pilot and navigate the beholders' spelljamming ships, and are absolutely hopeless in combat.

Related CreaturesEdit

These creatures somewhat resemble beholders in some way and might be thought to be aberrant beholders; but are in fact different creatures as detailed below.

Gas SporeEdit

Often mistaken for a beholder, this floating fungus explodes violently if struck. The gas spore made it's first appearance in the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual.

Gibbering OrbEdit

A great, bloated, floating mass of eyes and mouths, described in the 3rd Edition D&D rules as perhaps a common ancestor of both the gibbering mouther and the beholder.

Lurking StranglerEdit

A floating pair of eyeballs connected by muscle tissue which serves as a pet and companion to beholders.

Beholders in various campaign settingsEdit

Beholders in the Forgotten RealmsEdit

Beholders are especially prominent in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, where they infiltrate and seek to control many sectors of society—many beholders are allied to the Zhentarim, some work with the Red Wizards of Thay, and a particularly powerful beholder, known as "The Eye" or "Xanathar" controls Skullport's influential Xanathar's Thieves Guild. Beholders also compete to control the Underdark from where most of them originate, with their base of power in the City of the Eye Tyrants, Ootul.

Beholders in SpelljammerEdit

Beholders in the Spelljammer campaign setting are said to be deadlier than the neogi and more sadistic than the illithids. However one thing prevents them from being the most dangerous faction in wildspace. The beholders are engaged in a xenophobic war of genetic purity.

There are a large number of variations in the beholder race with some subraces having smooth hides and others chiton plates. Other noticeable differences include snakelike eyestalks vs crustaceanlike eyestalk joints. Some variations seem minor such as variations in the size of the central eye or differences in skin colour. Each beholder nation believes itself to be the true beholder race and sees other beholders as ugly copies that must be destroyed.[2]

Lone beholders in wildspace are often refugees who have survived an attack that exterminated the rest of their nest or are outcasts who were expelled for having some form of mutation. The most famous lone beholder is Large Luigi, who works as a barkeeper on the Rock of Bral.

Beholders use a large number of different ship designs. Some of these ships feature a piercing ram but others have no weaponry. All beholder ships allow a circuit of beholders to focus their eye stalks into a 400 yard beam of magical energy. These ships are powered and navigated by the "orbus" (plural "orbii") race of beholders, who are stunted, albino, and very weak in combat.[3]

Beholders in other mediaEdit

BeholderGBA

The cover for the Game Boy Advance version of the video game Eye of the Beholder features a modern version of the beholder

  • A beholder appears in the interactive movie Scourge of Worlds: A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure.
  • Two beholders are seen briefly in the 2000 motion picture Dungeons & Dragons.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons TV cartoon series featured a beholder in the 1983 episode, Eye of the Beholder.
  • Beholders appear in a number of Dungeons & Dragons computer and video games, most notably the Eye of the Beholder series.
  • The movie Big Trouble in Little China has a floating monster that resembles a beholder, though it is not described as such.
  • Beholders are also present in the Might and Magic and Heroes of Might and Magic series but tend to differ a little in form. Generally represented with tentacles for legs and a smaller body than in Dungeons & Dragons.
  • In the Ultima computer role-playing games, there exists a beholder-like monster called a gazer; when slain, it explodes into a cloud of bees (possibly a pun on "bee holder").
  • In the Tibia (computer game) as a magical creature. There are also Elder Beholders gazers, and braindeaths (extremely old beholders who's brains have grown out into it's eye, making it blind).
  • The very similar Cacodemon from the Doom series of first-person shooters was inspired by D&D's beholders and by the cyclopean astral dreadnought from the Manual of the Planes.
  • In Dungeon Siege, there are creatures named Furies that closely resemble beholders.
  • A Beholder appears on a special level of the NetHack offshoot Slash'EM. The original NetHack game has "floating eyes", which appear somewhat Beholder-like, but actually gained their inspiration from an entirely different Dungeons & Dragons species.
  • In Age of Wonders, the Azraks can train beholder units. Also, beholders sometimes guard caves, castles, prisons, etc.
  • In Westwood's Nox, Beholders guard an underground temple. They can partially paralyze the hero, making him slow to walk, and can emit dangerous bolts of energy.
  • The Futurama episode How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back features a beholder who "guards" the Central Bureaucracy. It is a Grade 11 bureaucrat that begs the Planet Express crew not to tell it's supervisor it was sleeping on the job.
  • In the anime Bastard!!, Dark Schneider defeats a beholder referred to as a "Suzuki Dogezaemon". This was possibly due to a naming controversy between the publishing right holder and the publisher of manga. In the initial print of manga, when a beholder initially appears, it is called beholder but this name was changed for all other prints.
  • The online comic Planescape Survival Guide features a beholder as one of the main characters.
  • The computer roleplaying game series Geneforge includes a creature called the Gazer, which is a beholder. A variant of the Gazer is the Eyebeast.
  • The roguelike game Angband includes a variety of different types of beholder, including the unique beholder "Omarax, the Eye Tyrant".
  • A series of monsters in Final Fantasy Legend 3 for Game Boy had the appearance of Beholders, but were not so described.
  • Beholders appear as enemies in Pazuzu's Tower in the game Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. They are simply a more powerful version of a previous enemy known as a Gather. This Beholder looks like a large eye supported by numerous thin tentacle-like pseudopods; it has the ability self-destruct, attack with a pseudopod, create a blinding flash of light, and reflect magical attacks.
  • The original Japanese Famicom and MSX versions of Final Fantasy had creatures called beholders and eyes that looked like the traditional beholder. However, for the US release and later editions, the sprite was changed and the beholders were renamed.
  • A beholder appears briefly in The Order of the Stick [1] along with a mind flayer as a joking reference to the non-inclusion of "product identity" monsters in the Open Game License materials and SRD.
  • In Teen Girl Squad #11 from Homestarrunner.com, Beholders are mentioned by D & D Greg in an argument with Science Fiction Greg.
  • A Beholder-like creature appears in the computer game Fate as a monster called a Watcher.
  • A Beholder model (and also a baby Beholder model), can be found in the game data of World of Warcraft (The burning Crusade). The Beholder-Model is used for multiple enemies in the game (e.g. Broggok in the Hellfire-Citadel).
  • A Beholder-like creature appears in the 1987 computer game Dungeon Master (computer game), the first real time 3D computer role-playing game. This beholder casts lightning bolts to attack players, as well as casting Zo spells to open doors.
  • A Beholder-like creature appears in the 1989 first person, real-time RPG adventure Bloodwych [2].
  • Several kinds of Beholders appear as aerial enemies in Drakengard and Drakengard 2.
  • Beholders appear regularly throughout the RPG Baldur's Gate 2. All but one are hostile. The exception to the rule being a Spectator, whom you have to persuade to let you retrieve an item from a chest it is guarding.
  • A traditional Beholder appears in the game Argentum Online. They occasionally reside in forests, and are found in Dungeon Dragon, one of the game's dungeons. Their visual range is extremely far, and while they have no spells, defeating them can be very difficult, as they are immune to magic.
  • A beholder appears on page 67 in the online comic Looking For Group.
  • Beholder-like creatures appear in the computer game "Shadow of the Prophecy" by SSI. Most as bad, some are good though.
  • Toy Vault, Inc. produces a stuffed "Eye Tyrant" toy, based on the Beholder.

Creative originsEdit

Unlike many other Dungeons & Dragons monsters, the beholder is an original creation for D&D, as it isn't based on a creature from mythology or other fiction. Rob Kuntz's brother Terry thought up the beholder, and Gary Gygax detailed it for publication.[4]

The beholder was later altered by TSR artist Keith Parkinson, who gave it plate-like armoured scales and arthropod-like eyestalks. Jeff Grubb cites Keith Parkinson's artwork as the inspiration for the beholder-kin created for the Spelljammer campaign setting.[5]

ReferencesEdit

FootnotesEdit

  1. "Frequently Asked Questions". The Hypertext d20 SRD. http://www.d20srd.org/faq.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  2. I, Tyrant p 36, TSR 1996
  3. Lorebook of the Void, from the AD&D Adventures in Space boxed set
  4. "Gary Gygax Interview". http://ridureyu.tripod.com/ggygax.html. Retrieved 2007-02-19. 
  5. "Jeff Grubb's blog Saturday, October 29, 2005". http://grubbstreet.blogspot.com/2005_10_01_archive.html. 


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