Monster talks at Nerdarchy?! I’m there. Illithids and beholders in Dungeons & Dragons are super iconic and really weird foes for your players to be pitted against. Both of these creatures tend to be Underdark denizens, but its not unheard of for beholders to create lairs closer to the surface or in some instances, near or within cities. I have quite a bit of experience with beholders, so I’d like to walk you through my method for bringing D&D beholders to life and making their alien nature really shine through creating a beholder lair that its mere existence is a puzzle for the players to deal with.
Bringing D&D beholders to life
Creating a beholder lairIf you sit down and think about how different of an experience it is being a creature that naturally has no limbs to interact with the world but instead always floats and uses its mind to lift and move about, it starts raising all manner of questions about the home of a beholder. If it were trying to live comfortably, but giving into their paranoid nature, they would likely make their lair in a way difficult for other walking creatures, especially if there are adventures in the world keen on stealing its beloved artifacts.
Vertical is no different from lateral movement to the beholder. This would lead to a maze-like structure, but one built up and down, rather than on a stable level. Moving from one room to another would require dangerous climbing or the expenditure of magical strength, all while the beholder just simply glides along. The fact that the beholder’s means of building its chambers and passages are its eye beams means the angles and craftsmanship would be completely at odds with what the characters know as normal. A dwarf’s stonecunning might be useless or even detrimental to figuring out where to go as the lair follows no humanoid logic. The beholder’s anti-magic capability allows it to deploy all manner of awful and powerful magical traps and never have to do more than bat an eye to pass by it safely. All these factors along with mechanical traps and servants can make an arduous journey for our heroes. But who would follow a beholder?
Cranking up beholder paranoia
I like to think beholders are often so paranoid that even if they have living servants, they will vaporize them without warning on unfounded suspicion. My beholder’s dearest servants are those that have no choice but to follow. Raising the dead to act as hungry watch dogs on the ground floor make for easy pets.
Creating different constructs and golems to serve as mute bruisers can really bolster the beholder’s numbers, especially the glass golems I made for mine. Their reflective nature allowed the beholder to fire his eye beams from other chambers and scorch intruders without them ever seeing him. This also gave them a natural ability to deflect beams and rays. The sorcerer was very surprised when his scorching rays started cutting into the walls and allies.
Natural growing fungus like shriekers can be a great warning to anyone trying to sneak in and steal his wonderful treasures. Maybe a trash pit filled with ghouls and the beholder periodically goes out to collect more, picking up the defenseless creature in his telekinetic beam and dropping it into a hole. All those interloper bones have to go somewhere.
What do you think? Do you use beholders in your games? Have you given a lot of thought to just how weird they are and in turn, their lairs? I hope some of these ideas help you make a memorable beholder dungeons. For more ideas on bringing beholders to life check out the video below and also Volo’s Guide to Monsters, which has a terrific section on these iconic D&D monsters including their ecology, makeup, more tips on creating a beholder lair and cranking up beholder paranoia to present a terrifying threat to adventurers.
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Child of the Midwest, spending his adolescence dreaming of creating joy for gaming between sessions of cattle tending. He holds a fondness for the macabre, humorous and even a dash of grim dark. Aspiring designer spending most of his time writing and speculating on this beautiful hobby when he isn’t separating planes.