They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder...
But what happens to your beauty when you are in the eyes of the Beholder?
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 one of the few classic Dungeons & Dragons monsters that Wizards of the Coast claims as Product Identity.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
BEHOLDERS IN VARIOUS CAMPAIGN SETTINGS
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 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 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.
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.
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.