The Iconic Dungeons & Dragons Monster – A Love Letter to Them

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The beholder was introduced with the first Dungeons & Dragons supplement, Greyhawk in 1975. The mind flayer first appeared in the official newsletter of TSR Games, The Strategic Review No. 1 in spring 1975. These are two of the most iconic Dungeons & Dragons monsters in the game. I’d love to know how many players have met their end to one of these two baddies. Of course D&D is rife with monsters what makes the beholder and mind flayer so special. I think it’s because they are so alien and bizarre that they really capture the imagination of players and Dungeon Masters alike in a way that very few other Dungeons and Dragons Monsters do.

iconic Dungeons & Dragons monsters beholder mind flayer
The beholder and mind flayer as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]

Nerdarchy has been developing and building our own D&D worlds for decades now. Way back during 3.5 D&D, Wizards of the Coast had launched a contest for the newest D&D campaign setting. Keith Baker and his world of Eberron won that competition and with good reason. Eberron is one of my favorite settings, not to mention one of the few I’ve actually run a campaign in.

Ulthe-Ganya was the world we submitted in that contest. It was the most fleshed out D&D world I had ever been a part of creating. When we decided to start Nerdarchy we knew our D&D material would begin making its way onto the internet, especially through our gameplays. Instead of rehashing Ulthe-Ganya as it was we began cherrypicking it for the things wanted to keep or sometimes we needed something for a player in a pinch and would just steal it from there.

With us having received many requests to make our material into products we’ve had to think about design in a different way when it comes to gaming. For instance we can’t use Wizards of the Coast intellectual property that doesn’t appear in the SRD for Fifth Edition.

Reimagining the beholder and mind flayer

beholder
The original Greyhawk booklet by Gary Gygax and Robert J. Kuntz

We really love these iconic Dungeons & Dragons monsters and it wouldn’t feel the same without them. Why not find a way to use them without using them? The first thing is first we need to capture the creepiness of them. Second we want to create something truly horrifying.

The current iteration of Ulthe-Ganya chaos plays a large role in the world, as does a Chaos Realm — a place of true madness that seeks to infect everything like a virus.

Spawned from the Chaos Realm are super beautiful and creepy beings of immense power. They are known only as Travelers, and no two look alike. They are possessed of power equivalent to solars, arch-devils, and demon lords. Two such Travelers made their way to Ulthe-Ganya. They were eventually cast out but not before leaving their mark.

They entered into a competition together to make the most beautiful of creatures. One enslaved a city of elves. The other a dwarven hold. They both began experimenting on the chosen medium.

The dwarves were mutated into dread spheres — giant bloated dwarven heads with one large central eye with a horizontal figure eight pupil. Their head is covered in a mass of shaggy hair, no visible ears, and long, lush thick beards adorn their chins.

Dread spheres travel about on a column of stone. They have the innate ability to shape and warp stone and earth around them with the merest of thoughts. Possibly they could have the ability to manipulate worked and unworked stone through innate spellcasting. The spells I’d look at are bones of earth, erupting earth, meld into stone, move earth, passwall, stone shape, transmute rock, and wall of stone.

There is also a part of me that just wants to create a new ability to allow them to warp stone around them to create various effects. One thought is they can meld into stone or earth and move through it via an ability like earth glide. Instead of creating the locomotion, nearby earth and stone moves them about. Of course they’d have tremorsense.

If somehow their innate ability to travel through or on stone was disabled they would be forced to use the beardacles and hair for movement, slowing them down and restricting how much hair tentacles they’d have for other things.

Dread spheres embody the worst aspects of dwarvenkind magnified a hundred fold. They worship wrought metal, coins, and things shaped by the hands of dwarves. I could see them coveting dwarves as slaves for their ability to work metal. They also need dwarf heads in order create more of their kind.

No matter the gender of the head they use to reproduce the newly created dread sphere appears male, but doesn’t actually matter to them because they are in fact genderless. These births are super rare. Dread spheres are super suspicious of their own kind. They are convinced others of their kind are after their treasures. They aren’t wrong.

This iconic Dungeons & Dragons monster remix is a work in progress. I’ll explore the dread spheres further in future articles as well as their mind flayer counterparts. Not to mention I want to delve into the mysterious Travelers. We have a deity connected to the Travelers as well as the Chaos Realm. It might be that he was the first being to awaken in the Chaos Realm or perhaps the Chaos Realm is the afterbirth of its creation.

Beholder and mind flayer remix video

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Follow Dave Friant:
My name is Dave Friant I've been gaming off and on for over 27 years. But here is the thing it's always been a part of my life I've kept secret and hidden away. I've always been ashamed of the stigma that gaming and my other nerdy and geeky pursuits summon forth. Recently I decided screw it! This is who I am the world be damned. From now on I'm gonna be a geek, nerd, or however folks want to judge me and just enjoy life. Currently one of my greatest joys is introducing my 13 yr old son to table top RPG's.

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