The Monster Manual lists two variants of the beholder: the death tyrant, a more powerful, undead variant; and the spectator, a less powerful, not-really-evil variant. Volo’s Guide to Monsters lists three: the death kiss, the gauth and the gazer. Together, these are referred to as “beholder-kin.” All three variants are evil.
The death kiss is the most powerful of the three, though not as powerful as a standard beholder. In lieu of ray-projecting eyestalks, its body is covered with long, waving tentacles that end in spines and toothy mouths. It has the extremely silly feature Lightning Blood (which I can’t even type without laughing ruefully), which inflicts lightning damage against any opponent that strikes it with a piercing or slashing weapon. That’s right: Its blood is electrically charged. This is ridiculous even for an aberration. I mean, I can almost buy the flavor text explanation, “A death kiss survives solely on ingested blood, which it uses to generate electrical energy inside its body,” with the usual suspension of disbelief that Dungeons and Dragons demands, but to suggest that the death kiss’s blood itself is what carries the stored electrical charge, and not some other organ in the death kiss’s body . . . whatever, man, I can’t even with this. You hit it, you get shocked. That’s what it says.
All right . . . extra-high Strength, extra-high Constitution, merely above-average Dexterity, so this is a melee-fighting brute we’re looking at. Average Intelligence, slightly above-average Wisdom: unsophisticated tactics but somewhat selective about its targets and not reckless. Proficiency in Perception, of course; immunity to lightning damage, of course; immune to the prone condition, of course, because it hovers.
Here’s the important part: Its tentacle attacks grapple and restrain. This is important not because a restrained target attacks with disadvantage, while attacks against a restrained target have advantage—the usual reason—but because the death kiss can use its Blood Drain feature against an opponent it’s grappled. It has a Multiattack that includes three tentacle attacks, and it can substitute Blood Drain for any of these, once per grappled opponent.
The combination is obvious: With a free tentacle, it swipes at an enemy. If it hits the enemy, it grapples it. If it has an enemy grappled, it follows up with Blood Drain, which not only damages the enemy but also heals the death kiss.
With no ranged attack, the death kiss has to close to melee range with its opponents; however, its reach is 20 feet, so it can still hover well out of its opponents’ reach while it flails at them with its tentacles. Having it hover about 10 feet off the ground is optimal, as long as none of its opponents wields a polearm: this lets it reach two squares or hexes away on a 1-inch-equals-5-feet map grid. If any opponent has a polearm, it hovers 15 feet up instead and can strike opponents only in adjacent squares or hexes. (At 20 feet of altitude, it can reach only creatures directly below it.)
The death kiss is a compulsive hunter, but one without stealth; it relies on overpowering its prey. It can attack multiple opponents at once, but I’m not sure it will, necessarily. I think the modus operandi of a predatory creature is more likely to involve attacking one victim and sucking it dry as quickly as possible. Also, the death kiss is capable of sizing up opponents. Therefore, I’d say, it’s going to try to pick off the weakest member of the herd first, although if it can’t get at the weakest, it’ll settle for the weakest within its movement range. It will then attack that target with one tentacle; if that tentacle strikes and grapples, it will use Blood Drain next, then finally attack with another tentacle. Each time it hits with a new tentacle, it will use Blood Drain an additional time. Once it has three tentacles wrapped around a victim, it will use its entire Multiattack for three uses of Blood Drain.
That’s assuming that no other opponent engages it in melee—or comes within reach of it. Consider how opportunity attacks work: Whenever a creature is about to exit another creature’s reach, the latter gets an opportunity attack. The death kiss’s reach is 20 feet! Thus, an opponent could easily move into and out of a death kiss’s reach without realizing it, and when this happens, the death kiss will use its reaction to lash out with another tentacle. (It’s got 10 of them.) If it hits, that’s another victim grappled. When the death kiss has multiple opponents grappled, it will divide its uses of Blood Drain between them—the more tentacles around an enemy, the more blood drained.
The death kiss can fly with a grappled opponent in its grip, at its base speed if the opponent is Small, half speed if it’s Medium, Large or Huge. So if no enemy is within reach of its tentacles, but one is taking potshots at it with a ranged weapon, it will move—toward that enemy, hoping to smack him or her down, if the death kiss is unwounded or lightly wounded (reduced to 113 hp or more), away from that enemy if moderately wounded (reduced to between 65 and 112 hp). If seriously wounded (reduced to 64 hp or fewer), it will release its prey and Dash (action) away.
The gauth is a weird little mini-beholder with the Stunning Gaze and Death Throes features and a unique Eye Ray, the Devour Magic Ray. In most respects, it behaves the same way a standard beholder would; however, its Intelligence and Wisdom are both lower, so while it can still hatch schemes and assess its enemies’ weaknesses with reasonable accuracy, it’s not an all-knowing mastermind.
The Death Throes feature simply does damage to every creature within 10 feet when the gauth is slain. This doesn’t influence its tactics in any way. Stunning Gaze, however, is superior to the beholder’s Anti-Magic Cone in that it doesn’t inhibit the gauth’s Eye Rays—in this respect, it’s more like the death tyrant’s Negative Energy Cone. Consequently, the gauth won’t be shy about using it, and it takes effect at the beginning of every enemy creature’s turn, unless that enemy has averted his or her eyes. (Of course, if you’re averting your eyes from an enemy, you have disadvantage when you try to attack it.)
The Devour Magic Ray affects magic items, not players with magical ability. It also doesn’t “devour” magic (except from charged items, such as wands) so much as it suppresses it. That is, if the gauth uses its Devour Magic Ray against a paladin wielding a flame tongue sword, the enchantment isn’t stripped from the sword permanently—it’s merely neutralized until the start of the gauth’s next turn. You don’t have to tell his player that, though! “One of the creature’s eye stalks swivels to gaze at you, and the flames emanating from Purgator sputter out. You feel it go heavy in your hand, as if it were no longer guiding your blows.” Let that player go to pieces until the sword roars back to life in the following round.
The other difference between a gauth and a standard beholder is that the gauth is less territorial and more survival-oriented. It absolutely will flee if seriously injured (reduced to 26 hp or fewer), and it’s smart enough to Disengage (action) before Dashing away.
Gazers are tiny, truculent micro-beholders usually found in a cluster around a full-size beholder, though they’re sometimes found on their own. They are proficient in the Stealth skill, so they may hide among the darker recesses of their master beholder’s lair. They have few hit points and very little Strength, so they’ll stay as far from enemies as they can (up to their Eye Rays’ maximum range of 60 feet) and take potshots from the shadows. If approached, they’ll move away to a safe distance, using the Dash action if necessary, though usually they should be able to retreat, then use their Eye Rays again. They’re not smart enough to Disengage or even Dodge. They have the Aggressive feature, but given how totally unsuited to melee combat they are, they’ll use this only if they must in order to get within 60 feet of a target. They absolutely will flee, using the Dash action, if reduced to 5 hp or fewer.
Next: new NPCs.