Beholder (Dungeons & Dragons)

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Beholder (D&D).JPG
Alignment Lawful Evil
Type Aberration
Image image
Stats [No Open Game License stats]
Publication history
First appearance Greyhawk (1975)

The beholder is a fictional monster in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game. Its appearance is that of a floating orb of flesh with a large mouth, single central eye, and many 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. Different breeds of beholders have different magic abilities. Beholders are one of the few classic Dungeons & Dragons monsters that Wizards of the Coast claims as Product Identity.[1]

Publication history[edit]

Unlike many other Dungeons & Dragons monsters, the beholder is an original creation for D&D, as it is not based on a creature from mythology or other fiction. Rob Kuntz's brother Theron O. Kuntz created the Beholder, and Gary Gygax detailed it for publication.[2]

The beholder was introduced with the first Dungeons & Dragons supplement, Greyhawk (1975), and is depicted on its cover (as shown in the section below).[3] It is described as a "Sphere of Many Eyes" or "Eye Tyrant," a levitating globe with ten magical eye stalks. The beholder later appears in the Companion Rules set, in the Dungeon Masters Companion: Book Two (1984).[4] In 1991, it appears in the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia.[5]

With the release of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition, the beholder appeared in the first edition Monster Manual (1977), where it is described as a hateful, aggressive, avaricious spherical monster that is most frequently found underground. Ed Greenwood and Roger E Moore authored "The Ecology of the Beholder," which featured in Dragon #76 (August 1983).[6] Second edition supplements to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, especially those of the Spelljammer campaign setting, added further details about these classic creatures' societies and culture. Beholders feature prominently in the Spelljammer setting, and a number of variants and related creatures are introduced in the Spelljammer: AD&D Adventures in Space campaign set, in the Lorebook of the Void booklet (1989). It also appeared in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989),[7] and is reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993).[8] The book I, Tyrant (1996),[9] and the Monstrous Arcana module series that accompanies it, develops the beholder further. I, Tyrant expands the information on beholders through details of the race's history, religion, culture, settlements and psychology, and more.[10]

Based on Tom Wham's depiction in the first edition Monster Manual, TSR artist Keith Parkinson characterized its popular appearance with plate-like armored 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.[11] The Beholder's xenophobia towards other subraces of Beholders was added after Jim Holloway submitted multiple designs for the Beholder's spelljamming ship and Jeff Grubb decided to keep them all and used xenophobia to explain the differences in design style.[12]

The third edition of Dungeons & Dragons included the Beholder in the Monster Manual (2000) with the expanded monster statistics of this release.[13] Beholder variants appear in Monstrous Compendium: Monsters of Faerun (2001).[14] The beholder then appears in the revised Monster Manual for the 3.5 edition (2003). The beholder receives its own chapter in the book Lords of Madness: The Book of Aberrations (2005).[15] With the release of the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the beholder once again appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2008), including the beholder eye of flame and the beholder eye tyrant.[16] Variants of the beholder also appear in Monster Manual 2 (2009), and Monster Manual 3 (2010).[17]


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


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.

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 the motion of objects or beings, 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.

In 4th edition, different breeds of Beholders have different magic abilities. Beholder Eyes of Flame only have Fear, Fire, and Telekenesis Rays ; Eyes of Frost are the same, with fire replaced by frost. The Beholder Eye Tyrant is mostly unchanged from traditional beholders, but the Death Ray causes ongoing necrotic damage rather than an instant kill, and the Disintegration Ray does not automatically kill its target.[18] Other Beholder types each have their own set of abilities. In this edition, the Beholder's central eye no longer cancels out magic, instead dazing or giving some vulnerability to its victim.[16]


Beholders are extremely xenophobic. They will sometimes take members of other, non-beholder races as slaves; however, they will engage in a violent intra-species war with others of their kind who differ even slightly in appearance. This intense hatred of other beholders is not universal; the most prominent exceptions are Hive Mothers, who use their powers of mind control to form hives with other beholders and beholder-kin. 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 gases.

Some beholder strains have mutated far from the basic beholder stock. These are aberrant beholders, of which there are numerous different types. These aberrants may have differing abilities and/or appearances but the unifying feature among beholders and the various aberrant beholders seems to be a simple, fleshy body with one or more grotesque eyes.

Campaign settings[edit]

Forgotten Realms[edit]

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.


According to Ken Rolston, the beholder and the mind flayer "win starring roles as intergalactic menaces" in Spelljammer, and notes that the beholders, "with their abundant magical powers, are perhaps the most formidable warrior race of the universe, but fortunately they are too busy slaughtering one another to present a big threat to other spacefaring races".[19]

Beholders in the Spelljammer campaign are common antagonists, like the deadly neogi and sadistic illithids. However, one thing prevents them from being the most dangerous faction in wildspace: the beholders are engaged in a xenophobic civil war of genetic purity.

There are a large number of variations in the beholder race with some sub-races having smooth hides and others chitinous plates. Other noticeable differences include snakelike eyestalks or crustacean like 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.[20]

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.[21]


Beholders served as living artillery during the Daelkyr incursion, using the terrible power of their eyes to shatter whole goblin armies. In Eberron, beholders do not reproduce naturally and have not created a culture of their own — they are simply the immortal servants of the daelkyr. Most continue to serve their masters, commanding subterranean outposts of aberrations or serving as the hidden leaders of various Cults of the Dragon Below. Others lead solitary lives, contemplating mysteries or studying the world. Such lone beholders may manipulate humanoid communities, but their actions are rarely driven by a desire for personal power.

Members of the Cults of the Dragon Below believe that these creatures function as the eyes of a greater power. Some insist that they serve Belashyrra, a powerful Daelkyr who is also known as the Lord of Eyes. Others claim the beholders are the eyes of Xoriat itself — that while they serve the daelkyr, they are conduits to a power even greater and more terrible than the shapers of flesh.[22]

Variants and kin[edit]

Information about beholder variations and related creatures has been made available in Dungeons & Dragons publications.[23]

Name Description
Elder Orb A rare variant of the traditional beholder. These creatures have a long lifespan and are more powerful than traditional beholders.
Hive Mother These are even rarer than elder orbs. Although their name implies a feminine gender, these beholders are as gender-neutral as typical members of their species. Their name stems more from the fact that they have the ability to magically dominate other beholders.
Death Tyrant A Death Tyrant is an undead beholder that has retained some magical ability.
Death Kiss This creature’s eyestalks are replaced with blood-draining tentacles, and its body roils with a powerful electric aura.
Director A director is often found dwelling in a beholder community led by a hive mother or an overseer. It has six eyestalks and three clawed tentacles with which it bonds with monstrous vermin mounts.
Eye of the deep An eye of the deep rarely comes into conflict with true beholders, for this aquatic variant dwells deep underwater. It has only two eyestalks, but its massive pinchers make it a dangerous combatant.
Eyeball An eyeball is a Tiny beholderkin with four eyestalks; they are popular familiars in some wizardly and sorcerous circles.
Gauth A gauth is a beholder-kin that feeds on magic as well as flesh. A gauth has six eyestalks (one of which is used to drain magic from items) and four feeding tendrils. The most obvious feature of a gauth is that its central eye (which affects the viewer's mind) is surrounded by a ridge of flesh and many small eyes used for sight.
Gouger 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.
Overseer An overseer is the most dangerous of the known beholderkin. Rivaling the power of a hive mother, an overseer resembles nothing so much as a large, fleshy tree with mouths on its trunk and eyes on its branches.
Spectator A spectator is an extraplanar beholderkin with four eyestalks. Somewhat mild and even-tempered, spectators have even been known to form friendships with other creatures, a trait that no other beholderkin or true beholder ever displays.
Umbrascarred Once a proud member of the infamous race of Eye Tyrants, these Beholders were captured by the Umbragen and immersed within the writhing pits of shadow. This cruel and vicious process warped their very flesh, amputating eyestalks and tearing out their central eye, and transforming them into feral beasts who no longer seek their own ends but instead tirelessly pursue the destruction of all that lives.[citation needed]


A reviewer for Arcane magazine described the beholder: "11 eyes, paranoid, xenophobic, having a taste for live animals and being deadly with magic."[10]

Wizard magazine's top 100 greatest villains ever list selected the Beholder as the 99th greatest villain.[24]

The beholder (gauth) was ranked sixth among the ten best mid-level monsters by the authors of Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies. The authors described the true beholder as an iconic creature of the game, "What could be more fantastic than a giant floating eyeball with little eye stalks sticking out, all of which shoot magic rays?" Of the gauth, the authors say "its ability to inflict a bewildering variety of damage on a party of heroes is unparalleled... until they fight a true beholder, that is."[25]

Appearances in other media[edit]

  • Beholders appear in a number of Dungeons & Dragons computer and video games, most notably the Eye of the Beholder series. Beholders appear regularly throughout the RPG Baldur's Gate 2. All but one of these are hostile. The non-hostile individual is a Spectator, which the player has to persuade to be allowed to retrieve an item from a chest it is guarding.
  • Other video games have also included beholders:
    • The roguelike game Angband includes a variety of different types of beholder, including the unique beholder "Omarax, the Eye Tyrant".
    • A Beholder also 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.
    • Beholders are featured as units in Heroes Of Might and Magic III.
  • The online comic Planescape Survival Guide features a Beholder as one of the main characters.
  • The online comic Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic also features a Beholder ("Bob") as one of the main characters.
  • The beholder Xanathar appears as a playable lord in the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion to Lords of Waterdeep.[27]
  • The Beholder appears in the popular online game Wizard101 as a level 100 balance spell.

D&D Miniatures[edit]

  • A Beholder is featured in D&D Miniatures: Deathknell set #32 (2005).
  • The Beholder Eye Tyrant was included as a random packed figure in D&D Miniatures: Dangerous Delves (#5/40) (2009).
  • The Beholder Ultimate Tyrant was available as a visible piece Legendary Evils set (#6/40) (2009).


  1. ^ a b Carton, Jans. "Frequently Asked Questions". The Hypertext d20 SRD. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  2. ^ "Gary Gygax Interview". Archived from the original on 8 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-19. 
  3. ^ Gygax, Gary and Robert J. Kuntz. Supplement I: Greyhawk (TSR, 1975)
  4. ^ Mentzer, Frank. Dungeons & Dragons Set 3: Companion Rules (TSR, 1984)
  5. ^ Allston, Aaron, Steven E. Schend, Jon Pickens, and Dori Watry. Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (TSR, 1991)
  6. ^ Greenwood, Ed, and Roger E Moore. "The Ecology of the Beholder." Dragon #76 (TSR, 1983)
  7. ^ Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume One (TSR, 1989)
  8. ^ Stewart, Doug, ed. Monstrous Manual (TSR, 1994)
  9. ^ Allston, Aaron. I, Tyrant (TSR, 1996)
  10. ^ a b Comford, David (October 1996). "Games Reviews". Arcane (Future Publishing) (11): 72. 
  11. ^ "Jeff Grubb's blog Saturday, October 29, 2005". 
  12. ^ Grubb Street, Friday, April 18, 2008: Beholder - So when I asked for beholder ships, he (Jim Holloway) gave me a wide variety. And we decided to use ALL of them, and since they were radically different we decided that beholders were xenophobic and hated other beholders. And since various artists over the years made beholders look doughy, crab-like, tentacled, and a variety of other shapes, the idea of different species of beholders (all looking different) made sense.
  13. ^ Cook, Monte, Jonathan Tweet, and Skip Williams. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2000)
  14. ^ Wyatt, James, and Rob Heinsoo. Monstrous Compendium: Monsters of Faerun (Wizards of the Coast, 2001)
  15. ^ Baker, Rich, James Jacobs, and Steve Winter. Lords of Madness (Wizards of the Coast, 2005)
  16. ^ a b Mearls, Mike, Stephen Schubert, and James Wyatt. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2008)
  17. ^ Mearls, Mike, Greg Bilsland, and Robert J. Schwalb. Monster Manual 3. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2010
  18. ^ Dungeon Master's Guide (2008)
  19. ^ Rolston, Ken (February 1990). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR) (#154): 59–63. 
  20. ^ I, Tyrant p 36, TSR 1996
  21. ^ Lorebook of the Void, from the AD&D Adventures in Space boxed set
  22. ^ "Eberron Expanded — Lords of Madness". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  23. ^ Smith, Mat. "In Like a Beholder, Out Like a Beholder". Previews. Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  24. ^ Wizard #177 - July 2006
  25. ^ Slavicsek, Bill; Rich Baker; Jeff Grubb (2006). Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies. For Dummies. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-7645-8459-6. Retrieved 2009-02-12. 
  26. ^ "Order of the Stick #32". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  27. ^

Additional reading[edit]