I, Tyrant (1996)

Toward’s the very end of TSR’s lifespan, the company launched the Monstrous Arcana line, a multi-product look at several iconic D&D monsters. The idea was to release a detailed sourcebook and then spin three linked adventures out of that material — I like that arrangement a lot! The first subject was the beholder, in the pun-titled sourcebook I, Tyrant (1996 — it also plays on the title of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius).

Within the 96-page book is pretty much everything you could ever want to know about beholders, which is probably a lot, since they’re such bizarre creatures when you stop to think about it. Without hands, how do the do stuff? What are their homes like? This is the “Ecology of” articles from Dragon Magazine taken to their natural, wide-ranging conclusion, and anticipates books like Lords of Madness and Liber Mortis in 3E.

The book also answers questions you didn’t know you had, like: do beholders wear pants? Yes! They do! They have a variety of magical mech-things they can sit in that have arms and legs. I love that. I love it more that one of the options is a hollowed out undead humanoid corpse. Gnarly.

The book isn’t limited to traditional beholders, either, or beholders at all. There are seemingly endless variants, and a handful of new, strange mutations. Accompanying this all is a ton of art, much of it in full-color. This is a swanky book! Arnie Swekel and Randy Post are both standouts — they define this late era of 2E for me.

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