rare monsters that can be used together with most monsters in the Monster Manual.
As such, the combats below are more ideas I found interesting than ideas chosen carefully to fit in with the monster. (Unlike most of my combat suggestions)
Combat rating 16
1 Beholder (CR 13)
3 Trolls * (CR 15)
* Let’s see the players defeat trolls without fire magic.
Combat rating 19
1 Beholder [in-lair] (CR 14)
1 Air elemental (CR 5)
1 Earth elemental (CR 5)
1 Fire elemental (CR 5)
1 Water elemental (CR 5)
2 Gorgons (CR 5)
Combat rating 21
1 Beholder (CR 13)
1 Purple worm (CR 13)
1 Roc (CR 11)
Combat rating 22
1 Beholder [in-lair] (CR 14)
4 Cloakers (CR 8)
1 Young red shadow dragon (CR 13)
1 Hydra(CR 8)
How to Use – Combat Encounter (Difficulty 19)
No creature prepares for combat like a beholder. The text in Volo’s talked about beholders as impossibly paranoid, with any scenario thrown at them, no matter how improbable, being something they’ve already contemplated and worked out how to deal with. As such, their lairs should be infamous for their traps (more trap ideas later.) And their throne* room should be the peak.
I would suggest a very simple idea. The room is round, and the entire room functions as a giant trapdoor which the beholder can set off by moving or destroying the lever (Telekinetic ray, disintegration ray, and possibly petrification ray by effecting only the top part and thereby letting the extra weight cause the lever to go down.)
Once triggered, the floor of the room opens up and the players fall into a pit of acid. They’ll be taking acid damage each turn, (not necessarily a large amount of damage, that’s not needed,) and the beholder will use its anti-magic eye to prevent them from using magic to escape. If they seem to be managing to escape anyhow, it can turn its anti-magic eye away and start using its other eye-rays as needed.
(Difficulty 15) If this is harder than you want, have to pit occupy only the center of the room. The room is still circular, and the floor all around the room slants down toward the pit.
There are decorative cannisters in niches around the room (together with other treasure, depending on what you’re willing to give your players) filled with oil, and the beholder can use its disintegration and petrification rays to shatter them (the petrification ray is used to unbalance them, whereupon they fall over and break,) turning the floor into difficult terrain and making players who are there or enter there later need to make DEX saves to avoid falling in.
Its telekinetic ray can be used to throw the players into the pit, and one of its lair actions can make the floor slippery directly.
*For anybody interested, the beholders throne looks like a giant window seat, heavily festooned with elaborately decorated cushions and fabrics. It occupies a large niche in the side of the room, and, depending on the beholder, the floor around it might be piled up with the beholder’s most valuable treasures.
I’m going to give another combat encounter for the beholder, this one taking place outside its lair, but first I want to take the opportunity to discuss pit trap ideas.
Pit Traps – Triggers
Of all types of traps, beholders are going to like pit traps the most. They can ignore them, and the fact that other creatures are caught and killed by them only confirms their superiority complex.
When using traps in D&D, there are two areas to be aware of – the trigger, which is how the players activate the trap (and how they can avoid it completely) and the trap itself, as in what happens if they don’t avoid the trap.
(Not all trap designs use both parts. With some complex traps the game is how they escape the trap after triggering it, and as such the DM just presents the trap as automatically triggered by magic when they enter, with no way to avoid it. Alternatively, some traps are designed to punish the players for triggering it, and as such the effect of triggering it is straight out damage, with the description only being there to make sense in-game of how the damage happens. Both of these are completely legitimate. In this article, however, I am going to be giving both trigger suggestions and running the trap once it activates suggestions.)
When using triggers, it is advisable to place an easy example [that does low damage if triggered] at the beginning of the dungeon. This lets your players know that this dungeon it going to involve traps, and puts them into the mindset of keeping an eye out for them.
It is also useful for a dungeon to focus on a specific type of trap. This makes it easier for the players to know what to look out for, both making it more fair and preventing the game slowing to a crawl as overly caution players carefully examine each step of the way.
Don’t use perception skill checks or passive perception to see if they detect the traps. This removes player agency, the ability of the players to make decisions that affect the gameplay. Where you can use skill checks is to provide them with clues if they successfully make the check. If they fail, they can still find the clues (or at least earn another chance to roll for them) if they tell you where they’re looking and/or what they’re looking for.
And now that we’ve got the introductions out of the way, here are some ideas for pit trap triggers.
- For the first one, which is supposed to be easy, put a carpet in an otherwise empty hallway. There is a downward bulge/indent in the center of the carpet where the hole is. Possible clues: If you want to make it even easier, put 1-2 boxes, crates, or vases on the edge of the carpet to hold it up. Another idea: put melee fighters who stay back instead of advancing. [if fired on, they do take cover, but they still can’t advance because of the trap.] To increase difficulty: The carpet’s indent matches the picture on the carpet. Perhaps it depicts a lake or a meadow surrounded by trees. This makes it possible to believe that the indentation is there just to match the picture. Another idea: put archers or spellcasters on the far side. This way they’re in a hurry to reach them and don’t have time to consider the possibility of a trap.
- A pit trap, possibly concealed by another carpet, at the entrance to a hallway. The hallway slopes gently up on the other side of the trap, and ends at a large door. The door is either guarded, or locked and requiring a puzzle to open (I suggest a tangram. You can find any number of them here.) When opened, a large boulder rolls out and the players have to run down the hallway ahead of the boulder to avoid getting crushed. The DC to escape the boulder is low, but if they don’t remember the pit trap then you can assume they didn’t in-game either, although you may have to argue with your players about this. (Ask them if they’re dashing to the end of the tunnel. If they said yes without mentioning the trap, you’re on pretty good ground.) The boulder can theoretically land on top of them in the pit, or come to a stop on top of the pit, making it hard to get out. If you want to be fairer, you can put a treasure on a shelf behind the boulder, which they’ll find if they go back up after dealing with the trap. (If you’re wondering how the beholder accesses this treasure, the answer is by sacrificing a minion.) To increase difficulty: Use both guards and a puzzle.
- A long carpet, with an indent in the first half. Unlike the first carpet, this indent is just an indent in the floor or carpet. Just past the indent, however, there is a much better concealed pit trap, with the carpet over it pulled taunt and only loosely connected to the rest of the carpet, ready to tear if someone steps on it. (Think serrated, like toilet paper is.)
- A large square room. The floor is empty, except for treasure chests or vases with some treasure inside them at the corners of the room. Whether using chests or vases, note that they’re too heavy for one person to pick up. (Note: If you used boxes or vases to hold the carpet up in the first trap, make certain to use something different here.) The chests/vases are partly in the room and partly in small alcoves made for them in the corners of the room [describe as in alcoves which are too small for them. They’re sticking out into the room.] If the players look carefully, they’ll see a line where the floor of the room doesn’t connect to the walls. How it works: the floor of the room is resting on a large beam that runs under it, at the center of the room. So long as the chests/vases remain where they are, they hold the floor in place [this is why they are so heavy.] Once they are removed, and possibly smashed by players looking for valuables, then as long as the chests/vases on the other side of room from where the players are standing are intact then all is well. However, if the players cross the room, then as they reach the far side there is no longer sufficient weight to counterbalance their weight (also, before the top of the chests/vases would be against the top of the alcove and they would thereby stop the floor from rising.) which means the floor will tilt and they will slide into the pit underneath. (If the floor is attached to the center beam, it is likely that the floor will swing back into place once they are no longer on it, making it a lot harder for them to escape. I will note that the remains of the shattered chests/vases will also slide or fall into the pit.)
- A door that is bolted shut on the far side. The floor at the base of the door is somewhat slippery, making it hard to lever strength against the door, but the area is small, so charging the door works (although it will take at least two tries before it opens.) When it does, the area on the far side of the door is also slippery, and moves downward, so the person ramming the door will continue to slide down the tunnel and won’t be able to stop himself. The players remaining outside will have to either follow very slowly or start to slide themselves. Personally, I would use this as the method in which the players arrive in the beholder’s throne room. Clues: They meet a few servants of the beholder outside the door. their knees are shiny. When questioned, they respond that one enters the beholder’s presence on one’s knees as respect, but are too frightened to give proper warning. If they feel the knees, or if they look closely and pass a skill check [investigation] they might identify it (gnomes, rogues, and players with proficiency in tinkerer’s tools might have an easier time identifying it.)
Pit Traps – Variations of
Until here we discussed ways of rigging pit traps so that players fall into them. Now we’ll move on to a discussion of different ways of running pit trap that the players have fallen into.
For the floor at the bottom of the pit (variations of just normal, falling damage and/or spikes):
- The floor is mud, or water. While landing in this trap doesn’t do much, in any, damage, players will be very stuck and unable to move from their spots without help [mud trap,] or will have a hard time escaping with no solid land to build on [water trap.]
- Have the bottom of the trap be crawling with snakes, scorpions, or flesh-eating insects [I suggest beetles.] [Use swarm statistics, and use a large number of swarms.] Or put ankhegs in the pit.
- Use wooden spikes, so many of them that the players can’t move around in the pit without impaling themselves. If they smash them, they’ll discover that the insides are filled with poison or acid. (If they use fire magic, they’ll have lit a bonfire under themselves, and they’ll have only themselves to blame.)
For the top of the pit, to prevent them from climbing out (in addition to the lid and the boulder that I mentioned under triggers):
- Have the sides greased, so they can’t climb them even with spider climb.
- Have an overhand, as in the pit is wider that the entrance on top is. For even more difficulty, place spikes around the top.
- Have the stone at the sides of the pit be in poor repair, so that as they climb stones come loose under them. This requires that the pit be a lot deeper than it is wide, if not the players can simply make a pile of the stones and use it to climb out.
- Add a lever on the wall of the pit, high up, toward the top. When they pull the lever, it causes the bottom of the pit to open up, causing them to full again, into a second pit that was under the first. This works best when the pit is covered, as the players are looking for a way to remove the cover and are more inclined to try the lever. (Although the pit with a cover is already a hard pit, and if they pull the lever it will become even harder.)
Traps Against Other Beholders
Since the main enemy of all beholders is another beholder, it only makes sense that a beholder will have several traps set up against an invading beholder. These traps have no use in a D&D game, and I wouldn’t put them into your dungeon as they will just confuse the players, but I thought I’d include them for those who are interested.
- At the end of a hallway, behind a tapestry or an illusion, there is one or more heavy siege crossbows. They are pulled back in a firing position, and only a magical force is keeping the string pulled back so that the crossbow[s] don’t fire. When the invading beholder’s anti-magic eye ray falls on the crossbow, it will negate the magic and the crossbow[s] will fire. [Note: the hallway needs to be long enough and/or narrow enough that the eye ray can’t reach it until the beholder is already in the hallway.]
- A room with a lot of light in it. When a minion outside the room pulls a lever, mirrors drop into place along the walls, reflecting the light back and forth and causing the room to grow so bright that anyone in the room is forced to close their eyes. A beholder with its eyes closed is completely defenseless. Add in a weight dropping from the ceiling to complete the trap.
- Swarms, kept in boxes or baskets until needed, preferably attacking from several directions at once.
- Gas, possibly invisible, that causes eyes to sting and water.
- A room that isn’t actually connected to the rooms around it [except with plaster at the doorways, for disguise.] The room is held aloft by a thick steel cable [think of it like an elevator car. As the invading beholder enters, the beholder who owns the dungeon uses its disintegration ray to cut the cable, causing the entire room, with its occupant, the plunge down to the bottom of the very deep pit that is cut out underneath the room. (While this trap is technically usable against PCs, they will have no way to detect it or to escape it afterwards. This makes it not usable against PCs.)
For a combat encounter outside of its lair, try out this scenario where the lever, beholder is attacking a city.
The city has a person or object of great importance. (If it’s an object, it can even be something the players recovered in a past mission.) Now the beholder, possibly goaded by a greater enemy, has raised a small army of monsters and is attacking the city. They’ve gotten past the walls, possibly through treachery, but the city guard is still fighting in the streets, although they are being pushed back steadily. The players have to fight their way through the chaos and reach the center to defend it before it’s too late.
This is more a set of encounters than a single encounter. I would suggest 1-2 large fights, and another 1-2 small fights (the type where the enemies have no chance against the PCs.) At random times during the battle (although probably not more than once in the same battle) the beholder will float over from a nearby street.
On that turn, most or all of the players spellcasters will be hit with the anti-magic beam. This means that the players will have to readjust their strategy on the fly, and that their ongoing spells are made much weaker. After that first turn, the beholder will move on (overseeing the entire battle means he can’t spend too much time in one place) hitting them with his eye rays before disappearing from their sight that same turn (city streets aren’t all that wide, especially in medieval times.)
(It is possible that after he’s done this once or twice, the players will ready spellcasting actions to hit him as soon as he goes away. You might want to vary the beholder’s moves a little, either having him unexpectedly remain for an extra round before moving off or closing his central eye and hitting them with his eye rays before moving off (and thereby having his attack come before theirs, if they specified that they were readying their actions to hit him when he moves off.) I would use a variation for either the third battle, or for the second and if so possibly also the fourth.)
After these first fight, you’ll do a climaxing fight where they confront the beholder and a selection of his minions at the center of the city, possibly right outside the palace.