Beholder (Dungeons & Dragons)

My Beholder Hatrack

Recently, my D&D character helped kill a Beholder. A small one. We did what adventurers do, looting its treasure and making off with its prisoners, and I paused for a moment. Properly stuffed, that beholder would make a lovely hatrack in my character’s foyer. Because he has a foyer in the small house he shares with his wife. I asked if anyone else wanted the body, but no one did. They couldn’t carry it with them. That was when I figured out something important.

I run two D&D games and play in one, working with a total of 16 players. Not one of them has a home or a place where they live. Not one of them owns anything they can’t carry on their backs, and if they got something they couldn’t carry, they’d have nowhere to put it (beyond extradimensional storage, which barely counts as a place). Realizing that, I got up and looked around my apartment.

Beholder (Dungeons & Dragons)I have a lot of books, on shelves I’ve had since I was a kid. Literature, textbooks, language, fiction, even a stack of extra books that are doubles for me to give away. I have a couch. A keyboard. A huge computer rig and a small studio space. I have all the random things humans accumulate over thirty years of being alive. Things that belonged to family members, things I’ve borrowed from friends. I own dishes. I think I might even have a salad spinner somewhere. I have all kinds of hobby objects, from my guitars to my D&D minis. Old gifts from people, souvenirs from trips, art from my nieces, and I’m not exactly a hoarder (except of books). It’s just that as you go through life, you accumulate things. Some of them are important to you, some of them aren’t, but they’re all things that you have.

Unless you’re an adventurer. Some adventurers keep and own things like that, usually small keepsakes, never an armoire or anything. The odd one has a place to put it, but after some thought, I realized that the lion’s share of PCs that I’ve GMed haven’t had any kind of permanent residence, and often the only heirlooms they have come in the forms of swords, armor, and objects of power.

Now some of this is just due to the nature of the beast. Adventuring as a career is best suited to transient people, and it’s hard to have a caravan when you have to leave it in the woods where there are monsters, bandits, and the occasional rift to another plane. It’s the kind of game people are looking for, wandering the earth and solving other people’s problems like a five person version of David Carradine if David Carradine could turn into a bear and juggle fireballs. But I think there are some side-effects to the wandering lifestyle.

1. There is no safe space

When you’re used to a certain level of personal danger, it can really help to have a home. A place you know is safe, where you can retreat and recharge your batteries. A batcave, a fortress of solitude, a lovely house in the country. Anything. But when everything you own is on your back, all you have are places you visit. Any or all of them could be compromised, and you can never quite trust that you’re safe, or that your things are. How many adventurers leave their kit in their rooms at the inn? How many of them sleep in their armor? Every character who wears armor in all of my games sleeps in it, and barely ever takes it off. There’s nowhere they could safely leave it. The gear in question is usually worth a great deal, and its loss would impact them considerably, so much that they can’t bear to risk it.

2. No meaningful relationships

Wanderers have a hard time forming deep and meaningful relationships with otherwise sedentary people. It’s an age old issue. The line about never having anything or anyone you can’t walk away from becomes far more poignant when one person has already accepted that walking away is inevitable. But meaningful relationships are a big part of what make games interesting. They’re what make it not boring onc ethe group gets bored of beating things up and taking their pants.

3. Fear of commitment

A transient lifestyle leads to a fear of a lot of different kinds of commitment. Partly because having stuff means having stuff that can be threatened or taken away. Relationships can hold them hostage, homes can keep them tied down, and treasure should be invested immediately in bigger swords and shinier pants before it can be lost. It’s a vicious cycle, really. Wanting to stay moving keeps PCs from investing, and the less they invest in an area or in characters, the less reason they have to.

I don’t think this is a necessary process, or even entirely a bad thing depending on the style of game you want. But I’ve been thinking about what the differences between being a person and being a plate-clad longsword delivery system. the things you own, the relationships you have, the friends and family that make you who you are. Maybe it’s the holiday spirit creeping in to my coal black heart. What would your PCs do with a beholder hatrack?

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3 comments

  1. Jessey says:

    One player in one of my past groups would have made a puppet out of it. Stored that puppet in his bag of holding and spent the first round of any combat with a beholder, or beholder-kin taunting it with the puppet (and occasionally bringing it out at Inns to creep out/impress the locals)… He was a strange one. But that brings us right back to your observation, he wouldn’t have even collected the beholder puppet (or, in our game’s case, the several young-dragon-skull-puppets) if it wasn’t for the bag of holding letting him carry it around.

    I’ve seen other PCs with “keepsake collectables” that they gather from the corpses of powerful, difficult to defeat foes as treasures. You know, the kind of thing a proud-of-themself hunter might hang on the wall. What do they collected? Teeth. And they store them in extra-dimensional storage!

    So, as I sit here, in the back of my mind working on a wizard for an upcoming 13th Age game, I am grateful for your musing. I’m going to build this right into the character, and bring to the forefront of his personality and internal struggles the emotional toil of the nomadic adventurer’s lifestyle. And maybe, if he’s lucky, as he spends more time with equally displaced adventures and they seek whatever empty fortune drives the quest of the rag-tag band forward, he’ll find a home on the road and discover attachment he never wanted in the friendship and camaraderie of the group. The real question, though, is why did he choose this lifestyle in the first place, and what is it that he’s always moving away from? It’s not his contradictory views about the metaphysics of magic, because a wizard of his talent would be welcome in most any academy, and some would even welcome the new perspective afforded by a robust competitor theory. No, that’s just his explanation for his travelling, the answer to ‘why this life’ given to passerby and barkeeps; “I travel because I don’t fit in”. The real reason is more personal.

    Thanks for the musing!

    • Jim says:

      Happy to help, Jessey. I’d love to hear about your 13th Age experience, too. I’m hoping to read it over the holidays, but I’m not sure when I’ll really get a chance to play it.
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  2. […] wrote a little while ago about how PCs tend to avoid attachments and be serial loners, and part of that comes from the notion that anyone they grow too attached to will eventually be […]

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