Designed for Champions of Ruin, the eye of the Xanathar prestige class offers a unique role for the right individual—one interested in cultivating contacts and completing missions with the help of, and adherence to, one of Faerun’s beholders. This PrC does ask unique requirements of its followers, including the necessity of a prized magic item, the eye of the master, to take advantage of its powerful abilities—yet for those interested in the political intrigue of Waterdeep, this may be but a small cost to pay in exchange for these powers.
In the following article, Wil Upchurch explains his design for the eye of the Xanathar, while the companion article presents the prestige class itself.
The eye of the Xanathar prestige class was originally handed over to R&D for inclusion in Champions of Ruin. It didn’t make the final cut because of space reasons however, so I thought this column would give me an excellent chance to finally present this PrC. The eyes of the Xanathar are loyal assassins and spies that the Xanathar himself entrusts with the guild’s most important secrets (well, he keeps some to himself, to be sure). He gives each of the eleven eyes a powerful artifact of beholder creation that confers some of the eye tyrant’s most feared abilities to his servants.
One of the most important goals for me in the creation of Champions of Ruin was to really make the evil organizations of the Realms come alive for the player characters. We’ve all been able to create and run some memorable NPC villains over the years, but what was it like to be a Zhentarim flunky or a priest of the Cult of the Dragon? I didn’t want to leave Waterdeep out of the mix; after all, it is my second-favorite city in the Realms (Silverymoon being my first love). I can hardly think of running a Waterdeep campaign without the PCs getting mixed up with the Xanathar’s Guild at some point, so that seemed like the best place to look for an opportunity to spice up an evil Waterdhavian PC. And was I ever right!
I’ve always been a bit of a vanilla DM, never looking too hard at the ultra-weird for my games, so I wanted to stretch my wings a bit as a designer and see what I could do. A player character that could grow beholder tentacles out of his head was just on the other side of weird, and I felt pleasingly out of my element and ready for the challenge.
From Concept to Execution
Anyone interested in becoming an eye of the Xanathar was clearly a fan of beholders to begin with, so I knew it would have to do more than emulate some of the beholder’s powers… it would have to make the character actually beholder-like. I didn’t want to give everything away at first, so I decided to hold off on giving the character a tentacle with eye rays. I started the prestige class off with a unique magic item called the eye of the master, something of the Xanathar’s own design. At first it would be held up to the character’s eye for its powers to function, then later it could attach to the tentacle growing from the character’s head (and then float on its own even later).
The other thing the eye of the Xanathar’s abilities needed to do was emphasize his role as a spy. They must increase his perception as well as enhance his ability to work alone and undercover. I did this primarily with two abilities—send the eye, and perfect sneak attack. Send the eye allows the character’s eye of the master to fly away and send back visual input as if the character was with it. This can be used to keep watch on two places at once or on a scene where discovery would be fatal for the character. Perfect sneak attack helps the character utilize his sneak attack without needing allies to provide flankers.
Finally, portal use was added for both flavor and utility. It grants the eye of the Xanathar the ability to be wherever he needs to be to conduct his master’s business—he has access to portals linking Skullport, Waterdeep, Calimport, and Westgate. This is a great tool for the DM as well, who can use this access to justify creating adventures that span the continent without worrying about how the PCs can juggle such hefty travel requirements.
Becoming an Eye of the Xanathar
Players that like to be sneaky and deal in information and influence rather than simply drawing steel will be attracted to this prestige class (assuming they can get over the idea of growing a tentacle from their head and working for a crafty, cruel master). You know more than everyone around you, and your word carries weight simply by your association with the Xanathar. Here are the prerequisites for becoming an eye of the Xanathar:
The most important requirement for entering this class is a history of excellent service to the Xanathar and his guild. Most Waterdhavian rogues will be able to fill the skill and ability requirements, but if you plan on serving the beholder you must fortify yourself with the proper feats. This not only makes you more resistant to the most damaging attacks of your enemies—such as mind-affecting magic and the poison so often used on assassins and spies by their counterparts—but it helps you resist the harsh testing you will be subjected to by the Xanathar to determine your worthiness to serve.
Playing an Eye of the Xanathar
People who play great eyes of the Xanathar usually keep the following in mind:
Do What You Do Best
Although you have formidable abilities emanating from your eyestalk, you’re most effective when using guile and stealth to confront your enemies. Striking from range or from an unseen location helps you maintain secrecy, and it is often worthwhile to spend days or even weeks arranging a plausible alibi or alternative explanation for the damage and death you cause.
Know Your Limitations
Using your eyestalk is bound to draw lots of attention, so try to achieve your objectives without your enemies ever knowing who you truly are—unless the Xanathar wants you to send them a personal message. Although you can stand on your own better than most rogues, you’re still not going to be able to go toe-to-toe with your most powerful foes.
Have an Attitude of Ruthless Authority
If your identity is discovered, you must turn that to your advantage, and quickly. Act like the weight of the entire guild is behind your every word and action, and most enemies will listen. As unpleasant as your single stalk may be, no one wants to incur the wrath of Faerun’s most notorious beholder lord. Negotiate from a position of strength even when the chips are down, you’ve been captured, or identified as the monstrosity you are.
Some Key Equipment
Eyes of the Xanathar have formidable personal abilities thanks to their eye of the master, but without selective magic of their own, equipment becomes almost as important to their success. As you acquire helpful items throughout your ascent in the guild, keep these things in mind:
Best Not to Be Seen: Occasionally you’ll be tasked to send a very specific and obvious message from the guild, but it’s rare that the Xanathar wants his best agents to be exposed this way. A ring of invisibility is an excellent tool, allowing you to use all your sight-based powers without being seen. On the other hand, a ring of mind shielding guards your identity as well as your glib tongue can. Keeping potions around to aid in a quick escape or cover is also advisable; look into potions of alter self, dimension door, and gaseous form.
Mundane’s as Good as Magic: Just because you have the ability to poison opponents with your eyestalk ray doesn’t mean you’ll always want to. The same goes for your inflict moderate wounds and charm person. You should keep supplies of poison on you at all times, and make sure your ability to deal damage in melee and at range with weaponry is up to par with your comrades. Don’t neglect your weapons!
About the Author
Wil Upchurch is co-author of the acclaimed Midnight campaign setting, and a contributor to the Forgotten Realms and Dungeons & Dragons. There's pretty much nothing he won't write for money, and pretty much nobody who will pay him to do so. So, he spends most of his free time playing Dreamblade and evangelizing Nickel Creek.
©1995-2008 Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All Rights Reserved.