Reading the Beholder's stat block I noticed that the Eye Rays it can fire are randomly determined. Do I roll for them before I choose a target so I still have a say as to which PC is affected by what ray? Or do I pick a target and randomly determine which ray it's gonna hit said PC?

The description of the Beholder does mention that the Beholder carves out tunnels using its disintegrate ray, so I guess it has control over which ray is going to go off next. This makes me lean towards the notion that I should roll the rays the Beholder is allotted on its turn and then make a decision on which ray to use on which PC.

Thanks in advance.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, the tunnel-carving is a vestige from earlier editions (when the rules supported it quite easily) and it's possible that they didn't fully think it through for 5e specifically but just left that bit in. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 3:47

4 Answers 4


"Eye Rays. The beholder shoots three of the following magical eye rays at random (reroll duplicates), choosing one to three targets it can see within 120 feet of it"

It's funny what they did with the beholder. In the 4e, it could choose the targets and eyes on its turn but not on each player's turn, when it would attack them with a random eye.

From what I understand, at random, and since it's not a recharge power, I'd say the beholder is trying to focus some of its enemies while there are always rays going around in the dungeon room. The beholder is dangerous because it can always attack its enemies from any angle, but sometimes, its death ray is on the back of its head (each eye has a different spell, not more than one) and it can't use it against the fighter on its left or against the sorcerer in front of it. It will use its closest eye in that particular split second during battle, which is represented by dice roll (remember the characters are always moving during combat, looking around, repositioning and all that). That's why it's so random. I'd choose the targets first, as normally is done when you make an attack roll, and then roll a d10 to know what eye the Beholder is using.

You have to agree with me that, if you choose the targets after you know what eyes to use, the logic behind the way the beholder behaves and the fact it attacks with random rays falls apart and, besides, if you get 3 death rays in a row and use it against the same target over and over, it doesn't really feel random at all.

Beholders were always kinda unpredictable and I think the way described above applies to that idea very well.

Break it down with how a turn works

If you wanna go word by word, purely rules-wise, then just remember how a turn works.

First, you declare what you're about to do.

  1. Beholder decides to use its eye-rays.

Then you see how your action works. In case of an attack action, you make the attack roll, in case of a spell, you choose the AoE or, in case of the beholder rays, you roll to check what kind of ray it has available in that turn.

  1. Beholder rolls its dice and it gets disintegrate, death ray and sleep ray.

Then, it chooses the target.

  1. It decides to use the three of them on the same wizard.


I find it rough. It makes the beholder way more dangerous. But it gets closer to the 4e version (when the beholder could always choose 2 rays on its turn). The beholder can always choose its targets anyways (3 each turn, plus the ones of its legendary actions), and on the top of that, it is able to choose always the same target to be disintegrated? That sounds like too much.

You could use both ways, really, by rolling the dice after choosing the targets to make the combat easier; then, if you think your players are more than capable of facing the beholder, roll the dice before choosing the targets.


A beholder chooses its targets after its rays

Volo's Guide to Monsters has a large section dedicated to beholders, including their battle tactics. Using eye rays in battle is covered on page 10:

Use Eye Rays to Best Effect

A beholder can fire multiple eye rays on its turn, and it might use all of them in succession on its most dangerous foe. ...

A beholder can shift its targets after its first or second rays. For example, if a beholder intends to shoot charm, slowing and sleep rays at a ranger, and the ranger succumbs to the charm, the beholder could use its remaining rays against other targets.

This clearly indicates that the beholder is able to choose its targets after it has selected its eye rays.

As for how to choose targets, remember that beholders are devious tacticians with genius-level intellects. To quote Volo's Guide to Monsters again (page 10, Battle Tactics),

A beholder analyzes its opponents, makes note of armor, weapons, and tactics, and adjusts its strategy to eliminate the most dangerous threats as quickly as possible.

Playing by the book, if the beholder decides that the wizard is the greatest threat in the room and it rolls death ray, disintegration ray and sleep ray, it totally can use all three on the wizard (changing targets if it eliminates the wizard before firing all three eye rays). The randomness of the beholder comes from not knowing which eye rays the beholder will use at any given time.

Can this be rough on your players? Yes, although it's only as harsh as you choose to be. Like any combat, you can always re-balance the encounter on the fly by adjusting how optimal the NPC's tactics are. If you roll death ray, disintegration ray and sleep ray, while the beholder could use those to kill the wizard in one round, it might also determine that to be overkill and might want to try that damage on the barbarian instead (who is also a pretty dangerous threat), especially since the beholder doesn't know when it might get those rays again. And why vaporise the wizard when it can just lock them down with its antimagic cone? The decision on who to zap with what eye rays ultimately rests with the DM. If you prefer random selection or selecting before the eye rays are chosen, that's up to you, but the rules permit you to choose the targets after the eye rays.

What about carving tunnels?

Volo's Guide to Monsters also addresses this in the following section, 'Outside Combat' (page 11).

As described in the Monster Manual, a beholder's use of its eye rays in combat is random, governed by die rolls instead of by choice. This rule is an abstraction, designed to keep the beholder's opponents unsure of what rays will be coming next (and, not incidentally, to prevent the monster from using its most lethal eye rays at every opportunity). The rule also makes the creature easier to run.

In the safety of its lair, outside the view of any would-be enemies, a beholder can use any of its eye rays whenever it wants to. Many of them serve as tools.


Well, if you are in control of the beholder, then you are the DM so whatever you decide is correct.

If I were you, I would do it the way you suggest for the following reasons:

  1. Almost every other creature knows what options are available to it in terms of attacks, breath weapons, spells etc before they choose their targets.
  2. It sounds similar to other random use skills (like breath weapons): a Dragon knows its breath weapon has reset - it makes no sense for it to misfire.

I would manage their rays like wizards manage their Lightning Bolt or similar spells: as the DM you choose.

In most cases you know what is happening in a fight and the creature is generally going to attack the closest PC (especially if not too smart, so that would not automatically apply to dragons, for instance.)

However, when I happen to say it's using its ray and roll a die and then notice I did not yet mention who was the target, I will often roll another die to determine who is the target so I do not privilege the team one way or the other. The die rules out... My main concern here is that the die may be a hit on the wizard, but not on the cleric or the fighter. So just you as a DM, deciding after you know that... is possibly dangerous (unless you want to make it safe to them and choose the cleric, or make it deadly and choose the wizard.)

If you use figurines or something of the sort, it often makes that easier. The target would certainly be someone around the beholder and the figurines do answer that question.


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