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Monstrous Arcana: I, Tyrant (2e)
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Monstrous Arcana: I, Tyrant (2e)

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Death lurks in the eyes of the beholder. 

Many are the stories of this creature's ferocity and unbridled power. Now, take a look inside the alien world of one of the most feared monsters in the AD&D game in this visually stunning 96-page accessory. I, Tyrant contains information on all beholders and beholder-kin including: detailed explanations of their deadly eye powers; insight into beholder psychology; an explanation of the creatures' social organizations; new magical items created specifically for beholders; and other useful game information on these deadly denizens of the planes. I, Tyrant also comes with a poster that details in full color many known beholder types.

This lavishly illustrated book is the first in a new series of accessories that focuses on some of the most popular monsters in the game. DMs and players alike will find this Monstrous Arcana accessory highly useful when playing Eye of Pain, Eye of Doom, and Eye to Eye a trilogy of adventures centered around beholders.

Product History

"I, Tyrant" (1996), by Aaron Allston, is the first sourcebook in the Monstrous Arcana series. It was released in June 1996.

About the Name. The name "I, Tyrant" is probably a play on I, Claudius (1934), a classic novel about a Roman emperor. However, it also sounds like "eye tyrant", which is an alternate name for the beholder.

Introducing the Monstrous Arcana. The "Monstrous Arcana" sourcebook was a totally new idea for TSR: a beautiful, coffee-table book that would have twice as many illustrations as the typical TSR supplement. It was intended to focus on a single iconic monster, but to be more than a traditional sourcebook: it would also include captions, sidebars, and tagged illustrations. The book would then be laid out in an attractive and dynamic way, with lots of interior color. The result looked different from anything else that TSR had produced — even given the improved graphic quality of AD&D 2e (1989) and follow-up settings like Dark Sun (1991) and Planescape (1994).

However, the Monstrous Arcana series was more than just sourcebooks. Each sourcebook was to be linked to a trilogy of adventures about the same iconic monster.

A History of Monster Books. The Monstrous Arcana sourcebooks were not the first monster books that TSR produced. TSR had instead entered that space with FOR1: Draconomicon (1990) and a few other books in the "FOR" line.

A History of the Beholder. The beholder is one of the oldest entirely original monsters for the D&D game. Terry Kuntz came up with the basic idea, which Gary Gygax then detailed for publication in Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975). The beholder also appeared on the cover of Greyhawk in an illustration by Greg Bell. The name of the monster may not have been determined at the time, as Bell labeled the beholder as a "sphere of doom" -- though his caption was removed before publication.

The beholder reappeared in AD&D's Monster Manual (1977), alongside the aquatic "Eye of Doom" -- which might have been the first variant of an iconic D&D monster, and was definitely the first of many beholderkin. At the time the connection was not made explicit, as the Monster Manual said, "It is possible that this monster is a relative of the beholder". The spectator appeared next in L1: "The Secret of Bone Hill" (1981) and Monster Manual II (1983).

The beholder's iconic status was obvious by the early '80s when it was the fourth monster to appear in Dragon's classic "Ecology" series of articles -- following the piercer, the catoblepas, and the mimic. Future Realms star Ed Greenwood was the author who penned "The Ecology of the Beholder" for Dragon #76 (August 1983). A year and a half later, Greenwood also wrote "The Ecology of the Eye of the Deep" for Dragon #93 (January 1985). This was the article that really nailed down the connection between the beholder and the eye of the deep:

"Many have speculated that the eye of the deep is related to the beholder, and it is our considered opinion that it is indeed a related species; perhaps both were once the same creature and evolved differently to master then vastly different environments."

Ed Greenwood generally seems to like beholders, so they showed up in the Forgotten Realms too, starting with FR1: "Waterdeep and the North" (1987). However, the beholder's biggest expansion ever came in Spelljammer (1989), which made them a major spacefaring species, and also introduced the "orbus" and "hive mother" variants. A few more varieties appeared in Spelljammer supplements SJA1: "Wildspace" (1990) and SJR1: "Lost Ships" (1990).

"I, Tyrant" author Allston consulted both "Waterdeep and the North" and "Wildspace" when working on this new beholder tome. He also reused material from DMGR4: Monster Mythology (1992) and Labyrinth of Madness (1995). "I, Tyrant" goes on to expand all of this earlier material with new discussions of beholder powers, deities, society, architecture, and more.

Monsters of Note. "I, Tyrant" collects together stats for numerous varieties of beholders, including ones that had previously been exclusive to Athas, the Forgotten Realms, and Wildspace.

Future History. As planned, "I, Tyrant" was followed by three adventures: "Eye of Pain" (1996), "Eye of Doom" (1996), and "Eye to Eye" (1996). Two more Monstrous Arcana series then appeared in the following years: a sahuagin series that began with "The Sea Devils" (1997); and a mind flayer series that began with "The Illithiad" (1998).

Monster sourcebooks became much more popular in the 3e era, but there was never anything quite like the Monster Arcana's coffee-table sourcebooks and linked adventures.

About the Creators. By the time he worked on "I, Tyrant", Allston had been writing for TSR for a full decade. He says that he was quite burned out while working on his final two supplements, The Complete Ninja's Handbook (1995) and "I, Tyrant" (1996). Allston accepted a commission for one more TSR supplement following "I, Tyrant", a Planescape supplement. He ultimately decided that he couldn't finish it … but simultaneously learned that TSR had decided to delay the project on their own.

Allston produced one more major RPG work: Champions Fifth Edition (2002), but in later years he was best known for his Star Wars novels — a field he was well acclaimed in prior to his death in 2014.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

 Customers Who Bought this Title also Purchased
Reviews (3)
Discussions (0)
January 13th, 2015
I found this interesting from a historical standpoint. The layout is very 'non-traditional' for TSR, and breaks a lot of layout and design rules. I had hoped for some specific ideas as to Beholders in the various D&D settings, but this seemed to be [...]
May 27th, 2014
A neat product, with lots of good material on beholders - much of it useful for any game. A must read for anyone who wants to flesh out beholders and their society. Unfortunately, the scan has some quality issues, with distortion along the edges [...]
August 31st, 2006
Vast informative material. Good work overall. The right book for the DM to make a fascinating PC foe even more vivid!<br><br> <b>LIKED</b>: Well balanced. Stand alone information wich the DM could use in all or partially very ea [...]
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File Last Updated:
May 05, 2014
This title was added to our catalog on May 06, 2014.