Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Basilisks are another one of those iconic D&D monsters that hail way back from mythology and folklore.
Originally from Greek mythology, the basilisk is referred to as a kind of serpentine monster related to the gorgons, of which Medusa was a part.
Through the magic of linguistics and translation, the word for basilisk eventually became the word for cockatrice, and now the two monsters are separate.
In either case, the monster could turn you to stone with a glance or with its potent venom.
There is also a legend that Alexander the Great once ordered a mirror be placed in front of his army so that a wandering basilisk would be turned to stone should they happen upon it.
Additionally, even Saint George equipped his shield with a mirror in case he ran into a basilisk while on his adventures.
These were ultimately good moves because, according to the legends, both heroes did in fact meet basilisks who were killed by seeing their reflections.
These traits have survived the centuries and found a home in Dungeons and Dragons where to this day heroes around the world come face to face with this monster and have to contend with its petrifying gaze.
Like all creature guides here at Black Citadel, we will start with a Player’s portion of the guide that will break down the stat block of the basilisk and predict what its tactics will be before telling you how to counter those tactics.
Then, we will wrap up with a DM’s guide that can help you make your next basilisk adventure be unforgettable.
What Is a Basilisk in DnD 5e?
A Basilisk is a medium-sized, CR 3 monstrosity with a unique petrifying gaze attack.
What follows is a player’s guide to basilisks in Dungeons and Dragons 5e. We will start with a breakdown of each portion of the stat block, followed by the basilisk’s preferred tactics and how to counter them.
Medium Monstrosity, Unaligned
- Armor Class: 15 (natural armor)
- Hit Points: 52 (8d8 + 16)
- Speed: 20 ft.
- STR 16 (+3), DEX 8 (-1), CON 15 (+2), INT 2 (-4), WIS 8 (-1), CHA 7 (-2)
- Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 9
- Languages —
- Challenge: 3 (700 XP)
- Proficiency Bonus: +2
Petrifying Gaze. If a creature starts its turn within 30 feet of the basilisk and the two of them can see each other, the basilisk can force the creature to make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw if the basilisk isn’t incapacitated. On a failed save, the creature magically begins to turn to stone and is restrained. It must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn. On a success, the effect ends. On a failure, the creature is petrified until freed by the greater restoration spell or other magic.
A creature that isn’t surprised can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If it does so, it can’t see the basilisk until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again.
If it looks at the basilisk in the meantime, it must immediately make the save. If the basilisk sees its reflection within 30 feet of it in bright light, it mistakes itself for a rival and targets itself with its gaze.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 3) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) poison damage.
Basilisk’s Stat Breakdown
We can see right off the bat that the Basilisk is a medium creature, despite its fearsome reputation. However, do not mistake its lack of size for lack of power. Furthermore, as an Unaligned creature, a basilisk could be a lone specimen in the wild or part of a cohort under the care of a good OR evil NPC.
This monster is slow, but its natural armor makes it a bit hard to hit. The skin on this one is thick. It also has a hefty dose of HP for a CR 3 creature, so this creature will not be a walk in the park to defeat for a Tier-1 party.
Look at all of these vulnerable stats… You know, for a creature that is known for killing with a saving throw, it is itself a bearer of several low saving throws. Even its constitution modifier is a little lackluster for a creature with such a fearsome reputation.
With a Passive Perception of 9, you stand a fair chance of getting the drop on the basilisk or even avoiding it entirely. Ultimately this is a good thing. You don’t want this monster to see you.
The Petrifying Gaze ability is what makes the Basilisk a frightening opponent for Tier-1 adventurers. At lower levels, a DC 12 Constitution save is a bit risky for most characters.
Barbarians and Fighters do have proficiency in Constitution saves, so they stand less of a chance of being turned to stone. That being said, most other classes do not have the bonus to Constitution, and for them, 12 is not a guaranteed pass.
Averting your eyes makes you effectively blinded, so this ability can become a hassle very quickly. There are ways around this issue, however. Scroll down to see how to fight this monster effectively.
It is also worth noting that 4d6 damage should make any Tier-1 player wince.
The Basilisk’s Tactics
Expect this creature to pretend to be asleep in a small room waiting to catch prey with its petrifying gaze.
I imagine a wild basilisk as a supremely lazy predator. It has to wait until you are close to it for its petrifying gaze to work. This means that it will probably sit in an alcove or around a corner and wait for someone to stumble upon it and make eye contact.
Once that happens, it can move up toward its prey and eat chunks off of the petrified creature at its whim.
It might not even want to fight. If the party rounds a corner and the scout is turned to stone, the basilisk already has a meal ready. Why fight for any more?
If the PCs try to take their friends’ statue back with them, then the basilisk might fight to protect its meal, but once it has one victim, it can simply stand back and wait for anyone else to get close.
At that point, the PCs will have to decide to leave their companion or risk being turned to stone themselves. The basilisk will let them leave if that is what they want to do.
A trained basilisk, on the other hand, will probably attack when commanded. The trainer will obviously use the basilisk’s strengths to its advantage, though. They won’t send it to chase you down.
They’ll simply bring it to a negotiating table to ensure fair haggling, or they will let it roam the narrow halls of their mansion’s corridors.
How To Fight a Basilisk in DnD 5e
A fight with one of these is often much easier to avoid than to win. With a passive perception of 9, you can usually sneak right past it. No harm, no foul, no stoned teammates.
Should you find yourself in the open against a basilisk, you can stay out of range and nitpick it to death with ranged attacks.
However, should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of fighting a basilisk in a closed corridor, you need to remember that it can only look at one person at a time. At that point, it’s a numbers game. How much damage can you do before it turns everyone to stone?
If the fighter or the barbarian can keep its attention by drawing aggro or by making intimidation checks, they stand a chance of passing that saving throw.
Other ways to distract the basilisk are with dancing lights, minor illusion, mirror image, or any higher-level illusion spell. If you can direct the basilisk’s gaze in a certain direction, then you can control who, if anyone, needs to make the save. From there, any damage type will work as it has no resistances or immunities.
If you can pull it off, one of the funniest things to do against the basilisk is to make it petrify itself! Illusion spells won’t work for that, though. You will need to pull out a decent-sized mirror or point to reflective ice or glass to make that happen.
A DM’s Guide to Basilisks
Basilisks have a reputation in DnD as party killers for Tier-1 adventurers. It’s a well-earned reputation, to be fair.
However, there are ways to make the basilisk less of a groan-worthy encounter and more like a logical end to an adventure.
Alternatively, you could populate an adventure with loads of basilisks, and depending on how you run it, the PCs could still survive and not once have to clench up in fear. The best part? You can make it feel like it was their own cleverness that got them through.
A Basilisk’s Environment
If you put the basilisk where it will be the most dangerous, such as in the narrow confines of a tunnel, the PCs will have to spend all of their time and energy balancing who draws the basilisk’s gaze attack.
This is a great thing to do for a boss fight: completely occupy the PCs’ entire focus as they juggle teamwork and self-sacrifice.
But what if you could turn the petrifying gaze into a trap that the PCs can manipulate?
Consider putting the basilisk in a room of other basilisks. Perhaps in a stable-like situation, as horses are housed. Make a corridor lined with basilisks in their own stable.
If each basilisk is in its own stable because they are being trained or sold somehow and the PCs are greatly outnumbered by the basilisks, then the best way for them to get through the corridor is to open the doors and let all of the basilisks out of their cages!
We can see in the stat block that the basilisk will turn its gaze on a rival. Therefore, fill the room with rivals, and let the PCs set them on each other. They will be laughing for weeks! And you can make it seem like it was their idea too. As a good DM should.
If you wanted to make basilisks the feature of your next adventure or campaign, consider this setup:
The PCs have to meet a valuable NPC ally. The NPC no-shows during the meeting, and when the PCs finally track them down, they discover the NPC has been turned to stone. In the NPC’s hand is a list of names. One such name, Philander, is circled.
If the PCs do not have a bag of holding, consider giving the NPC one that fell at their feet before they turned to stone. An applicable Intelligence check will reveal that Philander is the name of a local alchemist. The PCs should put the NPC in the bag of holding and then go to Philander the Alchemist.
When they find Philander, they will discover that Philander himself is also petrified behind the counter of his shop. Philander’s apprentice is hiding in the lab.
The apprentice will tell the PCs that a “smelly man” with a big dog came in and argued with the alchemist, who was then turned to stone. It was fairly recently, within the hour. If the PCs hurry and ask around, they might be able to find him.
The PCs follow the trail to the sewers where they witness a human walking a dog take off their hat of disguise to reveal a lizardfolk walking a basilisk.
If the PCs follow, put them through a small dungeon filled with lizardfolk and two basilisks. Defeating or capturing a basilisk and returning it to the alchemist will allow the apprentice to make the salve that cures the petrification.
They can unpetrify the alchemist and their NPC friend and then have the original meeting the NPC the players were supposed to have.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.