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D&D 5E Beholder mechanics

pukunui

Legend
I was given Keith Ammann’s The Monsters Know What They’re Doing book for Christmas. I was just reading through his bit about beholders, and it reminded me that I don’t like the mechanics for beholder eye rays in 5e.

There are a number of factors that don’t sit right with me here, but I’ll start with the main one, which is that I don’t like how some of the eye rays require a Dex save while others don’t.

In this context, I see a Dex save as representing a target’s attempt to physically dodge out of the way of an incoming effect - i.e. to physically avoid being “hit” by the beholder’s eye ray.

If we accept that as being the case, why then can some rays be dodged while others can’t? Why can’t I dodge the telekinesis ray or the fear ray?

On top of that, I think the four rays that do require Dex saves would make more sense requiring Con saves instead. For instance, almost every other effect that causes petrification requires a Con save. (And having to make a second Dex save, with disadvantage due to being restrained, to avoid being fully petrified is somewhat nonsensical).

I suppose it depends on how you envision the rays working: are they physically visible “laser beams” that shoot from the beholder’s eyes, or does the beholder just need to look at you to “hit” you with a ray?

If the former, I feel like the rays should all require Dex saves, as they all ought to be dodge-able.

If the latter, then maybe none of them should require a Dex save, since it’s pretty hard to avoid being looked at and so all you can do is try and resist the effect.

Thoughts?
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
There are a number of factors that don’t sit right with me here, but I’ll start with the main one, which is that I don’t like how some of the eye rays require a Dex save while others don’t.

Note that it's always been the case with the beholder, since some of the eyes replicate spells, some with saves, others not, etc. so it's not specific to 5e.

In this context, I see a Dex save as representing a target’s attempt to physically dodge out of the way of an incoming effect - i.e. to physically avoid being “hit” by the beholder’s eye ray.

If we accept that as being the case, why then can some rays be dodged while others can’t? Why can’t I dodge the telekinesis ray or the fear ray?

Because some just create a magical field effect instead of a simple ray, or even a cone.

On top of that, I think the four rays that do require Dex saves would make more sense requiring Con saves instead. For instance, almost every other effect that causes petrification requires a Con save. (And having to make a second Dex save, with disadvantage due to being restrained, to avoid being fully petrified is somewhat nonsensical).

I suppose it depends on how you envision the rays working: are they physically visible “laser beams” that shoot from the beholder’s eyes, or does the beholder just need to look at you to “hit” you with a ray?

It depends on the eye, it's a very magical aberration, it does not obey the laws of our realm. :)

If the former, I feel like the rays should all require Dex saves, as they all ought to be dodge-able.

This would favour certain classes/stats a lot compared to others, at least the monster is more balanced as it is today.

If the latter, then maybe none of them should require a Dex save, since it’s pretty hard to avoid being looked at and so all you can do is try and resist the effect.

Thoughts?

See above, the word "ray" is misleading....
 

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
I agree with your points about why the beholder doesn't make sense, and I do like @Lyxen and the idea that, as aberrations, they don't need to obey laws of our understanding of physics. I think it goes back to a perception of what's 'balanced' - a Dex save for every ray will definitely help some classes and builds and punish others, so I think having the mix is to have something for everyone.

On a side note, I was terrified to discover about Large Luigi on an episode of Um Actually... Large Luigi
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Overlooking the very concept that a floating eye-monster with spell powers even exists, the beholder was probably born from the idea of what constitutes a monster that can threaten an entire group of adventurers with magic powers of their own. In other words, the beholder is designed to be the antithesis of an adventuring party. So however you envision "eye rays", it can't be a universal definition that can be defeated by a single mechanic. That would defeat its intended purpose.

Think of "eye rays" are a generic expression. Some may be physical beams that can be evaded. Others might send telepathic or psychic waves that invisible to sight. That is why Will... er, mental saves are appropriate.

I agree with you about petrification, to an extent. The save to avoid the beam itself makes sense, but then a second one should be used to resist the effects (i.e. DEX, then if hit, CON to resist petrification. If succeed, then slowed or dazed or something for 1 round? I don't know. 4e had this down pretty good.).

Great book, btw. I have it on Audible. It really helps making tactical combat decisions interesting and portraying monsters differently in 5e. It should be a required supplement for the Monster Manual and the DMG.
 

Well, the purpose of the beholder is to challenge a whole group of adventurers. Having only one type of save would weaken this monster quite a bit. Also, as stated above, these different saves help in challenging different kind of characters. An all Dex save beholder would be pretty much a sitting duck for a rogue with a single short bow.
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
I think its mostly a game balance choice, but as others have said, it could be justified with beholder weirdness. Some rays are slow and can be dodged, some are fast and can't. Why? The same reason it can float and shoot eye rays at all.

I don't think it would be the end of the world to change things up, but I'd probably go no Dex saves rather than all, so at least there are a few different saves.

Changing the second petrification save to Con is super reasonable. Prismatic spray already works like that.
 

pukunui

Legend
Thanks for all the responses. I completely understand why the beholder was built this way (for game balance reasons). I just think it comes across as nonsensical.

I do appreciate the idea that the rays don't necessarily all work the same way, though. I think I can work with that. Thanks!

On a side note, I was terrified to discover about Large Luigi on an episode of Um Actually... Large Luigi
Whoa! Too bad Dungeon of the Mad Mage only visits Stardock and not the Rock of Bral.


I agree with you about petrification, to an extent. The save to avoid the beam itself makes sense, but then a second one should be used to resist the effects (i.e. DEX, then if hit, CON to resist petrification. If succeed, then slowed or dazed or something for 1 round? I don't know. 4e had this down pretty good.).
I remembered that I posted a whole thread about this specific eye ray back in 2018: Petrification Ray

The consensus there seemed to be that a Dex save to avoid the initial ray, followed by a Con save to resist going from restrained to petrified, was reasonable. That's how I intend to run that ray in the future, should my PCs come up against beholders down the line.

Great book, btw. I have it on Audible. It really helps making tactical combat decisions interesting and portraying monsters differently in 5e. It should be a required supplement for the Monster Manual and the DMG.
I'm mostly enjoying it so far. It's making me want to design my own adventures so I can more easily follow his advice.
 

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
Overlooking the very concept that a floating eye-monster with spell powers even exists, the beholder was probably born from the idea of what constitutes a monster that can threaten an entire group of adventurers with magic powers of their own. In other words, the beholder is designed to be the antithesis of an adventuring party. So however you envision "eye rays", it can't be a universal definition that can be defeated by a single mechanic. That would defeat its intended purpose.

Think of "eye rays" are a generic expression. Some may be physical beams that can be evaded. Others might send telepathic or psychic waves that invisible to sight. That is why Will... er, mental saves are appropriate.

I agree with you about petrification, to an extent. The save to avoid the beam itself makes sense, but then a second one should be used to resist the effects (i.e. DEX, then if hit, CON to resist petrification. If succeed, then slowed or dazed or something for 1 round? I don't know. 4e had this down pretty good.).

Great book, btw. I have it on Audible. It really helps making tactical combat decisions interesting and portraying monsters differently in 5e. It should be a required supplement for the Monster Manual and the DMG.
I can't find it now, but I was always under the impression that the beholder, the roper and some other weird creatures came from random plastic toys they had found and decided to use. Best I can find for backstory is that Rob Kuntz' brother first sprung the beholder on people.

I love random facts that are not relevant to the discussion at hand :)
 

aco175

Legend
I was going to say what @Helldritch about having to challenge the whole party. Some rays are Dex saves and others Con saves. Some could be a ToHit and still be ok. The best part is the randomness of which you get targeted by each round. The player of the fighter cheers when it is a Con save and cringes the Dex. Same for the others.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
The one time I've run a beholder in 5e, I actually narrated the eye rays as always "hitting" – narrating them as a sort of concentrated floodlight bathing the character in light. Then I narrated the growing/mounting/escalating effect of the ray. For example, the Slowing Ray had a faint white light that distorted visuals in the area and caused pebbles and small untended objects to vibrate or levitate slightly, accompanied by a slight distortion of sounds for the affected PC – and then I called for a Dexterity saving throw for the PC to be able to seize control of their fine motor control and/or get a burst of speed to spin/dodge out of the illuminated area. When they successfully saved and escaped the light, suddenly they returned to normal time/speed and sounds came rushing back in.

It was just a little narrative nuance, but actually looking back at it did a good job of avoiding the whole "doesn't Dex dodge a ray?" question.
 

I have this great image in my head of a beholder in greasy overalls telling me that my tranny is shot and it's gonna cost me.

EDIT: But he knows a guy who knows a guy who can get me one "as good as new" that fell off a truck.
 


jgsugden

Legend
Presumably those rays hit instantly
Bingo - All eye rays do not need to be described the same.

When I add a beholder the to the game, I give it unique eyes. I have dozens of central eye powers, and hundreds of eye stalk powers I've used over the editions. I've assembled beholders that have beneficial eye rays that use their powers to buff armies. I have beholders that are divine, natural, psionic and arcane in nature. And I have a wide spectrum of 'normal' beholders that can do a wide array of things, with mostly single target attacks - but the occasional cone, explosion or even summoning popping up.

GENERALLY SPEAKING (there are exceptions) - I try to give all beholders at least one eye ray that impacts each defense (AC, 6 saves). The remaining three might be duplicates of one of the defenses, or they might be things without saves (Power Words, Magic Missile type effect, Create Walls, etc...)

When I describe the eye rays of my beholders, I consider what a saving throw or attack might represent if I wrote it in a story. Con and Strength saves are often big blasts that hit instantly. Wisdom and Intelligence saves go directly into the mind. Charisma saves tend to create lights around the target instantly. Dex saves and attacks are described as shooting across the way. It is all about how you describe it.
 

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