Basilisk

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This article is about the creature. For the Imperial Guard artillery piece, see Basilisk Artillery Gun.

A Basilisk is a mythological creature, always described as reptilian and deadly. Its name comes from Greek phrase for "little king," and was considered to be lord of all serpents. The first recorded mention of a basilisk described it as a snake about twelve fingers long (6"-24" long, depending on how you orient your finger), and it was so venomous that it would kill plants just by passing by, and it would kill you just by looking at you. You were supposed to kill it with weasel musk -- I'm not joking.

The modern-day "green basilisk" or "plumed basilisk" is a little lizard that can run across the surface of water like wire-fu ninjas do, or reptile Jesus, or Remo Williams in that movie "American Ninja."

Rejoice not thou, whole Philistia, that the rod of him that struck thee is broken in pieces:
for out of the root of the serpent shall come forth a basilisk, and his seed shall swallow the bird.
-Isiah 14:29

Somewhere along the way, the basilisk's ability to kill with its gaze was "clarified" to mean that anyone who locked eyes with it would be turned to stone (maybe though conflation with Medusa's similar ability), and thus we have the modern image of the basilisk.

It's generally accepted that basilisks are related to cockatrices, which are usually depicted as some hybrid of snake or dragon and chicken; a cockatrice happens when a rooster's egg is hatched under a toad or snake, whilst a basilisk is created by hatching a snake's egg under a hen.

Dungeons & Dragons[edit]

Since a lizard whose mere presence and gaze are deadly makes for a great hazard to adventurers, every edition of Dungeons & Dragons since the beginning has featured basilisks as enemies:

Original D&D "Basic" edition
Move: 60 feet/turn HitDice: 6+1 ArmorClass: 4 TreasureType: F Alignment: neutral Attacks: 1 bite Damage: d10
A rather small reptilian monster, unintelligent, that turns creatures to stone by its glance or its touch. Saving throws applicable. It can be viewed in a mirror without harm. If it sees its own eyes in a mirror it must make a saving throw or be turned to stone!
D&D 3.5 edition
Medium Magical Beast, 6d10+12 HD, -1 Initiative, 20' speed, AC 16 (-1 Dex, +7 natural), Attacks: +6/+8, bite (1d8+3), SAtks: Petrifying Gaze (range 30', save Fort+Cha DC13 or turn to stone), SDef: Darkvision, low-light vision, Saves: +9 Fort +4 Ref +3 Will, S15 D8 Cn15 I2 W12 Ch12, Skills: +7 Listen +7 Spot +4 Hide in dessert, Feats: Alertness, Blindfight, Great Fort, Env: warn desserts, #encountered: 1 or 3-6, ChallengeRating: 5, Alignment: neutral.
A basilisk relies on its gaze attack, biting only when opponents come within reach. Though it has eight legs, its slow metabolism renders it relatively sluggish, so it does not expend energy unnecessarily. Intruders who flee a basilisk rather than fight can expect, at best, a halfhearted pursuit. These creatures tend to spend most of their time lying in wait for prey, which includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and similar creatures.
D&D 4e
Large Natural Beast (reptile), L10 Artillery, L12 Soldier.
Basilisks are predatory reptiles that hunt with a deadly gaze attack. They are not malicious creatures, but their gaze makes them widely feared. A small pack of wild basilisks is called a clutch. Like a wolf pack, a clutch coordinates to hunt and its members live together in a communal den. Tamed basilisks can be found among various humanoids. (PHB1, P26) Two varieties are presented; the more mythologically accurate Venom-Eye (poison gaze) and the more pop-culture accurate Stone-Eye (petrify gaze).
Basilisk Lore: A character knows the following information with a successful Nature check.
DC 15: Basilisks are strangely evolved drakes. As such, they can be domesticated and trained.
DC 20: The venom-eye basilisk's poisonous gaze is empowered by the beast's spirit. The creature itself isn't venomous; consequently, the venom can't be captured and used for other purposes.
DC 25: A stone-eye basilisk's jaws are so strong that it can chew up and devour creatures it has petrified with its gaze.
D&D5e
Medium Monstrosity, Challenge 3.
Poisonous bite and petrifying gaze attacks.
The fluff states that skilled alchemists can distill a de-petrifying tonic from intact gullet of a basilisk, since it secretes such oils as part of the digestion process.

Basilisk Images[edit]

A "basilisk image" or "medusa phrase" is something that will crash a human brain, named for the original basilisk's ability to kill with its gaze. Since it's the "in" thing to think of brains/minds as deterministic machines like computers, the idea of "mindworms" and brain hacking gets kicked around. The term originated from Dave Langford's short story "BLIT", which can be found online at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/blit.htm.

Viewing a basilisk image will get your visual/perceptive cortex to parse an idea so fucked up that it puts the viewer into a catatonic state. These weapons are kept secret for obvious reasons -- depending on your campaign setting, viewing a thumbnail or a selection of a basilisk image could have no effect whatsoever, or it could cause someone to go into seizures.

See Also: Neal Stephenson's novel "Snow Crash," and urban legends about the Brown Note, Monty Python sketch about the funniest/deadliest joke in the world, The SCP Wiki's "memetic kill agents."