The beholder is one of the most dangerous and intelligent monsters that you will ever encounter in a fantasy role-playing game. A beholder to a D&D adventurer is like an agent is to someone in The Matrix; if you face one, you will most likely end up dead. Every time a beholder shows up, the adventurers will end up dead. Game designers seem to love to put beholders in their adventures, but I have never had a single character actually survive after going up against a properly played beholder.
The beholder is a large floating spherical creature (about 5 feet across), with a large central eye, and a dangerous toothy mouth below it. The beholder has ten more smaller eyes that are on stalks above its head. The body of the beholder may be furry, armor plated, slimy, scaled, or any combination thereof (there are literally hundreds of beholder species).
The most dangerous thing about a beholder are its eyes. All eleven of a beholder's eyes have a magical power, and all eleven of them can be used constantly (bringing even an army to its knees in mere minutes). The central eye projects an area of anti-magic with quite a long range. The beholder can turn this on or off at will, but no magic can function inside of its cone of effect (not even the magic of the beholder's other eyes).
The other eyes each have a unique power.
- The first eye can bring any man under the beholder control (called a charm person spell in the D&D world).
- The second eye can bring almost any other creature under the beholder's control (this is known as a charm monster effect).
- The third eye can put any lesser creature to sleep instantly.
- The fourth eye can move up to 250 lbs telekinetically.
- The fifth eye can turn men to stone (like the gaze of a medusa).
- The sixth eye can simply vaporize a small area, people, equipment, stones, air and all
- The seventh eye causes a fear effect.
- The eighth eye can cause a slowing effect on any single creature (they can only move and attack at half speed, as if weighed down by a great weight).
- The ninth eye can rip open flesh and break bones on any target at a range (known as a cause serious wounds effect).
- The tenth eye can cause any single creature to drop dead instantly.
The beholder can use all of those powers at the same time. Even an army has little chance against a beholder as it vaporizes columns of troops left and right, takes control of the officers, cause other troops to flee, rips open the flesh of one of the army clerics, puts horses to sleep, turns other troops to stone, all while tossing around men with its telekinetic powers (and this is just the first few seconds of the battle). The only way to defeat a beholder is with a small group of very powerful individuals, and even then some of them will die (the beholder can basically kill even a few powerful characters every few seconds, and it can just kill lesser characters en masse).
The best strategy for killing a beholder is to surround it with skilled archers (at the long range of their bows). Although even this strategy will take a lot of archers to do, and most of them will die (not to mention the fact that the majority of the arrows fired will just bounce of the beholder's body without causing any harm). Spells are fairly useless against a beholder, as it will simply spin itself around to point its anti-magic eye at any spell caster around. A group of 12 or so very powerful warriors can usually defeat a beholder in hand to hand combat rather quickly (suffering about 75 percent casualties, as the beholder will kill a man every few seconds).
The beholder is almost always the most powerful creature in the area. If a ruin or dungeon has a beholder, then that beholder will be running the entire place (with most of the lesser creatures under direct control, while the more powerful ones are kept in line through fear). Beholders are often solitary due to their extreme xenophobic attitude. A beholder will consider any other beholder that is even slightly different (as little as a change in the color of a single eye is enough), to be of a different and inferior race. The beholder will fight these other inferior beholders to the death. This xenophobe attitude is the only thing that keeps beholders from overrunning the entire planet.
Beholders create offspring that are almost genetically identical to themselves. Only these offspring (or other genetically identical beholders), will live in peace with each other. The exact method of beholder reproduction is not known (but they are thought to give birth to live young).
The beholders are even more dangerous in the SpellJammer universe. The SpellJammer universe has an infinite number of worlds, and on some of those worlds the beholders have managed to kill off all "inferior" beholders and take over entire worlds. They then take to space and attempt to take over even more worlds (luckily there are multiple species in space, all trying to take over the universe, so they pretty much keep each other in line).
The AD&D world has around 30 different variant beholder types (from the underwater ones, to the skeletal undead ones, to the spell casting variety). All of them are similar in culture and level of power (although the exact powers vary with some variants). No matter what kind of beholder you may encounter you should follow this simple bit of advice: RUN.
About my monster nodes: My monster nodes are usually based upon material in the various AD&D rulebooks. But they are my own work, as I often expand the information (and in some cases plain disagree with the source material). None of them are cut and paste. You are free to use my descriptions in any material of your own (even commercial material), as long as I am given some sort of credit.