We've run this article (in part) back with the release of the 3.5 Edition premium reprints. Now that the 2nd Edition reprints are going on sale (and the Original Edition later this year), we wanted to update our visit to one of the game's most iconic monsters and compare how they've been presented across the editions...
Original Edition Beholder (Supplement 1: Greyhawk)
These monsters are also known as Spheres of Many Eyes, or as Eye Tyrants. The body of these creatures is a great globe of about 3' in diameter. Atop it are ten eye stalks, while in the center of the spherical body is a great eleventh eye. The body can sustain 40 points of damage, each eye stalk 10 points, and the central eye can withstand up to 20 points. The armor class of the body is 0, the eye stalks 2, and the eyes proper 7. Each eye functioning is a different manner: From 1-4 of the small eyes are able to function at one time.
1: Charm Person Spell
2: Charm Monster Spell
3: Sleep Spell
5: Flesh-Stone Ray
6: Disintegrate Ray
7: Fear Ray
8: Slow Spell
9: Serious Wound Spell
10: Death Ray
11: Anti-Magic Ray
In addition, the Beholders are able to levitate themselves and float slowly about. These monsters are avaricious. They are neutral in nature, although they tend to be chaotic.
1st Edition Beholder
The beholder (eye tyrant, sphere of many eyes) is most frequently found underground, although it infrequently will lair in desolate wildernesses. The globular body of this monster is supported by levitation, and it floats slowly about as it wills. Atop the sphere are 10 eyestalks, while in its central area are a great eleventh eye and a large mouth filled with pointed teeth. The body is protected by a hard chitinous covering. The creature's eyestalks and eyes are also protected, although less well (thus the armor classes of 2 and 7 respectively). Because of its particular nature the beholder is able to withstand the loss of its eyestalks, these members are not computed as part of its hit point damage potential, and lost eyestalks will eventually grow back (1 week per lost member).
2nd Edition Beholder
The beholder is the stuff of nightmares. This creature, also called the sphere of many eyes or the eye tyrant, appears as a large orb dominated by a central eye and a large toothy maw, and has 10 smaller eyes on stalks sprouting from the top of the orb.
Equally deadly are a number of variant creatures known collectively as beholder-kin, including radical and related creatures, and an undead variety. These creatures are related in manners familial and arcane to the “traditional” beholders, and share a number of features, including the deadly magical nature of their eyes.
3.5 Edition Beholder
A beholder is an 8-foot-wide orb dominated by a central eye and a large, toothy maw. Ten smaller eyes on stalks sprout from the top of the orb. Beholders often attack without provocation. Though not powerful physically, they often plow right into groups of opponents to use as many of their eyes as they can. When closing with an enemy, a beholder tries to cause as much disruption and confusion as possible.
4th Edition Beholder
Creatures of abhorrent shape and alien mind, beholders seek dominance over all they survey. The floating horrors enforce their will by firing rays of magic from their eyestalks.
When the unwholesome plane known as the Far Realm comes into tenuous contact with reality, terrible things boil across the boundary. Nightmares form the thunderhead of psychic storms that presage the arrival of warped beings and forces undreamt of by the maddest demon or the vilest devil. Many aberrant creatures stumble upon the world by accident, pushed in like chill wind through a door suddenly opened. Others crash into reality because it is as loathsome to them as their surreal homeland is to all sane natives of the rational planes. Beholders, however, come as conquerors. Each one seeks to claim all in its sight, and beholders see much indeed.
A Further Look at the Beholder
As a final note, for those that may have missed the initial publication, we'd also point you to our gallery and podcast for the beholder art segmentation. Wayne Reynolds created the original piece, below. Jon Schindehette then used it as a model, sending it out to wide array of artists and asking for their interpretation of the image using their own specific art styles. The results that came back were impressive, to say the least—and a fascinating look at how D&D art can be expressed in a variety of ways.
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.