A cluster of tiny lights descended from a dark crevice in the ceiling. These motes cast an eerie glow on the great, alien skull that hung beneath them. -From the journal of Jastus Hollowquill, Explorer of Undermountain
This is a follow up to last weeks ‘Best of the Bestiary’, in which we reviewed the most legendary monster in all of Dungeons and Dragon: the Beholder. If you want to check that out, click the link right here. I’d highly recommend doing so; it was a lot of fun.
Upon first glance, a Death Tyrant may seem less dangerous than the monster that transformed into it. Sure, its a scary skull monster teeming with magical power. But the most dangerous thing about a Beholder is its eyes, and a Death Tyrant doesn’t have those! Surely they’re not as bad as the legendary beast!
Oh what a fool you are.
Lore: To Go Even Further Beyond
On its own, a Beholder is already madness incarnate. A Death Tyrant is worse. They are Beholders who dreamed of a reality in which it alone survived beyond death itself. When they have these dreams, their flesh rots away, and the Beholder dies. In its place is something even more dangerous: a Death Tyrant.
Even in death, these monsters lord themselves over all others. Only now, they don’t just enslave those around them. They’ll spread their undeath and turn their slaves into zombie servants. Wretched corpses that the Death Tyrant will discard at a moments notice. Though they do serve as a great distraction, which allows the Tyrant to maneuver into an advantageous position.
In its new form, the Beholder won’t settle for isolation. Instead, the Death Tyrant will strive for power and wage war against the living. It uses its Eye Rays to kill any poor soul in its path, then turn them into extra forces for its army. If left unchecked, a Death Tyrant can overthrow a city within weeks. From there, it can wage war against a whole country. Furthermore, the world itself.
This could be the basis for a whole campaign! Across the world, a Death Tyrant has ascended too far and threatens the world. The players could try to sneak through the undead country to build up power and kill the Tyrant. Or maybe they could unite the lands of the living and take the war to it!
Sure, it’s a bit cliche. The group of heroes taking the fight against an undead king is one of the oldest tropes in fantasy. But there’s a reason it’s been done so many times that it’s more dead than the Tyrant itself: it’s effective! Sometimes a simple story is the best one! You don’t need to take your players on a complex tale with lots of characters, twists and turns! Sometimes, all you need is to go on a big adventure and slay an evil monster!
Preferably one that isn’t a Dragon. Because that’s just a little too basic.
Design: Something Cliche Made Unique
Let’s be real. Floating skulls are one of the most tired and boring images in the history of fiction. Not fantasy. Fiction in general. With that in mind, you’d think that I’d rank the Death Tyrant lowly in terms of design. But it does enough to make it creative, interesting, and terrifying! However, I still don’t think that it looks any better than the Beholder.
First, the glowing orbs. Within these, the Beholder’s Eye Rays are preserved. Only now, they can’t be sliced off to momentarily weaken the monster! It is a perfect evolution of the Beholder! In undeath, it has managed to trim off one of its few weaknesses!
Next, the skull itself. Just looking at it, you can tell what it used to be. That’s no human skull, nor is it any other monster in the vast worlds of Dungeons and Dragons. If you are even mildly familiar with a Beholder, than you can tell what a Death Tyrant used to be. Even when their flesh melts away, they are instantly recognizable.
Though I guess the one big eye and lack of limbs does sort of give it away.
However, while the design is effective, it is a step down from the monster before it. A Beholder isn’t just iconic because of its stats. The aesthetic is important!
TL;DR: the Death Tyrant is great! But its no Beholder!
Stats: I Am You, But Stronger
There isn’t much to be said here.
A Death Tyrant is the worst nightmare to stealthy attackers, condition afflicting casters, or anyone who can’t consistently hit above a 19. With their high perception, immunity to every condition in the game, and high AC/HP, these guys are absolute tanks. Combine that with their unique Negative Energy Cone ability, which can invisibly prevent a target from healing, then turn it into an undead slave upon death, and you have a beast of a foe.
But that’s not the end of it. Every other ability of the Beholder, including the Eye Rays and Legendary Actions, are preserved in the Death Tyrant. This makes them a decent follow-up for a party that just fought a Beholder.
Hope you players were taking notes the first time around. Because the one you just killed is back, and he’s even stronger than ever! Though not by much.
Close, but no cigar.
Death Tyrants are absolutely excellent in every respect. They are a great evolution of the legendary Beholder in terms of lore, design and abilities. It comes extremely close to being my favorite monster in all of Dungeons and Dragons.
Unfortunately for it, a floating skull, no matter how well executed, cannot hold a candle to the Beholder. A Death Tyrant isn’t anywhere near as iconic as its predecessor. Ask anyone to name a D&D monster, and they’ll likely name the Beholder first.
Or Dragons. If they’ve never played the game before.
With that in mind, let’s put the Death Tyrant on the list of the Best of the Bestiary!
- Death Tyrant
- Animated Armor
- Rug of Smothering
- Flying Sword
Even in a lesser state, anything that is or was a Beholder will still, almost undoubtedly, peak the list. Even if they lose parts of the iconic design, they are still the Best of the Bestiary!
At least for now. That may very well change when we get to the Tarrasque. Or as I like to call him: D&D Godzilla.