Basilisks, what are they and how to use them in your DnD game.
“All who behold its eyes, fall dead upon the spot”- Pliny the Elder’s Natural History
Basilisk from 5e Monster Manual
Looks and behavior
Eight thick legs, a strong tail, a back full of spikes. Most of them have colors between the grey and orange range but other colors of the rainbow have been spotted as well. These monstrosities have a jaw strong enough to bite through stone and bones.
On average they are around 12 feet (3.5 meter) long. But their most notable feature are the eyes. Glowing with a pale green light it could be the last thing a person sees before he’s turned to stone?
The basilisk is a clumsy but cunning monster using underground caves, overgrown forests or just the desert sand to hide itself. When a prey comes close enough he relies on his powerful magical gaze, sometimes it even hisses to draw adventures towards him. By instinct they will avoid creatures without eyes or with a high magical power.
Basilisks are not highly social creatures, typically gathering only in small groups of three to five adults sharing a cave. Adult males are typically solitary hunters and opt to instead dig a burrow large enough for themselves and a potential mate. Larger colonies are not unheard of, and if conditions permit large broods in excess of 20+ adults can inhabit large cave systems.
Basilisk by Brynn Metheney
Smaller and more agile in build than their common cousins. These creatures are slightly weaker and may be found in swamps, marshes, or river deltas. Their gaze paralyzes prey rather than petrify, and they drag their prey below water to drown the helpless victim.
Known locally as “Sand Fangs”, this rare subspecies that has a radically different diet. It lies in ambush under the desert sands where it emerges to ambush prey with its gaze. It then sucks the fluids from the victim’s rocky body using two special fangs on its upper jaw. Once drained of fluids the corpse then breaks down into sand.
Crimson basilisk are subterranean carnivores with a voracious appetite that is only whetted when they get the thing they desire most, blood. They have an even more horrifying way of killing their prey. Instead of turning them into stone they start bleeding from the eyes, ear, nose and mouth. Once they smell blood they go into a frenzy, the only thing on their mind is kill kill kill.
Adventurers that are looking for a new pet might find the basilisk interesting. Intelligence wise they are about the same as a dog. The only downside is their aggressive temper which makes them almost impossible to train. Instead of capturing an adult one they are better of looking for a basilisk egg and start training them as soon as they hatch.
When you are lucky enough to survive a basilisk fight you are well of collection their eyes, hide, bone and fangs since they are believed to hold magical powers useful for potent petrification magic and can fetch a high price if you fight a buyer.
Dungeon masters toolkit
Low Tier (levels 1-4):
A local wizard/alchemist is looking for a set of basilisk eyes to brew a powerful potion. He is offering a fine reward and rumors say there are some basilisk roaming in the cave system in the south.
For a low tier party a basilisk can be a deadly foe. By knowing what they are looking for they can prepare themselves. If they don’t, well then they deserve to die.
Mid Tier (levels 5-10):
As the party is plowing through the mushy swamp, the 2 player with the lowest constitution hear a “Kssst” sound. If they look up they need to make a constitution saving throw against the basilisks paralyzing gaze. Roll for initiative.
For this encounter I used the swamp variant. You can always change the environment. Use normal ones in caves. Desert ones in… the desert. What makes it a bit more fun in the swamp is that they get dragged under water and if you are wearing heavy armor it can be hard to get out without help. Depending on how hard you want to make it for your players and how many of them got stunned you can add an extra basilisk in the second round.
High Tier (levels 11-16):
Recently a blind monk has appeared in town. He offers a map to a dragons lair if a hero can defeat him and his two basilisks. So far four challengers have been turned to stone and crushed by his strong fists.
For the monk you can use the martial arts adept from Volo’s guide or make a lvl 10 monk. If the PC is turned to stone the monk will smash his statue so he can’t be restored. The monk is not lying about the map. His monastery has been destroyed by a powerful dragon and he seeks allies to reclaim his mountain temple.
Most parties have at least one fighter who loves to duel, so this is an interesting option for those.
Epic Tier (levels 17-20):
As the hero’s enter the dragons lair they notice the first room is guarded. 13 basilisks are roaming this area. The only way to reach the dragon’s lair is through this room.
Players have a choice here. Do we fight and risk detection and lose resources or do we fight an other way through. Invisibility, flying or something else creative. If they don’t kill them they have to pass them again on the way back. In every case it will burn some of their resources.
Next time you use a dragon’s lair, use basilisks. Its sure is a hell of a lot better than the classic kobolds they have encountered a thousand times before.
So that’s all for the basilisk, enjoy! You can find more encounter compendium here.
Ecology of the basilisk
Basilisks – Forgotten Realms Wikia
Basilisk – Wikipedia
Monster Manual p 24 Basilisk