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In 2e Planescape material and the Monster Mythology accessory, the beholder gods are listed as chaotic evil. The Great Mother has a realm in the Abyss, and Monster Mythology specifically notes her antipathy to lawful opponents. However, I can't find any reference to beholders ever being chaotic evil.

There are other oddities I've come across that can simply be attributed to differences in approach through the editions - for instance, the mind flayer gods using arcane magic rather than pure psionics - but this one is particularly curious because beholders are lawful evil in all editions, and the chaotic evil alignment is not corrected in 3rd edition. The Faiths and Pantheons appendix lists the Great Mother as chaotic evil, and Player's Guide to Faerun still places her in a largely chaotic plane.

Does anyone have any insight as to how this happened? Whether it's intentional or accidental, it's a weird feature that I would like to better understand.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ And fun thing is, forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Beholder lists them beholders as Lawful in all editions... \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jan 28 at 14:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Well, Drow society was described (hierarchy and rules) as more Lawful than Chaotic in earlier editions even with them all being CE individually, never sat right with me. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jan 28 at 14:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ What sort of answer are you asking for? It currently reads like it is asking for designer (/writer) reasons, which are off topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 28 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Molot OK, then the FR wiki is imcomplete, or rather, is only focusing on AD&D 1e and later, perhaps. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 28 at 14:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this question is off topic. Either there are published documents discussing this or there aren't. But answerers should probably not try and speculate on the why otherwise this will become opinion-based. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 28 at 14:41
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It's a mystery, but the contradiction is noted in D&D canon.

Beholders were originally chaotic in the Greyhawk supplement (1975), but many creature alignments changed when AD&D introduced the two-axis system in 1977. They are lawful evil in the 1st edition Monster Manual, the 2nd edition Monstrous Compendium Volume 1, the D&D 3.0 and 3.5 Monster Manual, and the 5e Monster Manual. In short, they've practically always been lawful evil.

However, in the Basic D&D product line, which never adopted the two-axis alignment system, they remained chaotic. For example, they appear as chaotic in the D&D Companion Rules (1984). This provides one possible influence.

The earliest reference I can find to the Beholder deity Great Mother is Monster Mythology (1992), p. 70, where she is described as chaotic evil, and her worshipers are chaotic evil beholders. This is almost certainly an error introduced by the book's author Carl Sargent, as beholders were already lawful evil at this point.

However, the Great Mother's alignment has never been corrected or changed in D&D canon. Her chaotic evil alignment and her home in the abyss are described in Planescape Campaign Setting (1994) and Planes of Chaos. The Planewalker's Handbook (1996), p. 14, even repeats the incorrect assumption that beholders must be chaotic:

It's also home to a number of powers, particularly those worshiped by chaotic monsters like bugbears, beholders, lizard men, and drow elves.

I, Tyrant (1996), finally notes the contradiction, in a quote attributed to a character named Ronassic of Sigil on page 21:

The beholders' devotion to their deities presents the most fascinating irony in all of beholder scholarship. If my research is correct, these creatures worship beings whose very natures radically challenge the beholder species' self understanding. This fundamental difference between worshipper and deity may account for a large portion of beholder behavior.

The same page notes, without making oblique statement on alignment, that the Great Mother, unlike actual beholders, is "totally devoid of any logic". Most beholders appear unaware of the fact that their deity is utterly chaotic, and those that discover it begin to go insane. The beholders assume that the Great Mother knows all knowledge, but she mostly ignores her followers, and only communicates by incoherent babbling.

I, Tyrant goes on to say that the Great Mother and Gzemnid are chaotic evil, but retcons that their beholder followers need not be, which explains away the inconsistency introduced by Monster Mythology.

D&D 3rd edition's Lords of Madness describes that Great Mother is not a true deity, but an ancient, ageless entity of deity-level power. Various such entities exist in D&D lore, including possibly the Great Old Ones and Sigil's Lady of Pain. This would mean that she isn't reliant on the worship of beholders for her power or survival, and this perhaps concurs with the claim in Lords of Madness that beholders almost never become clerics, although they do live in devotion to that entity, with each beholder arrogantly believing that they are the true ideal representation of her creation.

In short, the real-world reason for the beholders having an opposing alignment to their deity is not well defined, and very plausibly an error which established itself in lore. The lore reason is a little better defined, and it is that beholders are so insane, arrogant, have so little contact with their deity that most are ignorant of her true alignment.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Come to think of it, a significant part of beholder psychology and culture is believing themselves superior to all other beings, so the concept of beholders worshipping deities is actually pretty weird. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jan 28 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would caution that describing Sigil’s Lady of Pain as “an [...] entity of deity-level power” is perhaps misleading—the implications are that the Lady of Pain’s power exceeds that of mere deities by a large margin. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 28 at 22:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Almost certainly, according to the end of Die Vecna Die, where she basically re-orders all of reality with a few words. Dragon #359, p.28-29, has some interesting speculation regarding entities more ancient than the gods, some of whom are depicted as more powerful than deities or beyond the reach of deities entirely. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Jan 28 at 23:10

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