Basilisk

LucasPuryear
 

Tabletop RPG's have been around for several decades, and each new one seems a close cousin of the last. Sometimes the rules are identical, especially with the open gaming licenses of the last few years, but what makes them different? The setting and flavor text of a game and it's inhabitants can make a big difference to some people. For this article we are going to take a classic monster and see what twists can be made.

The Basilisk has been around since the first century AD, and has gone by several names or been indistinguishable from other monsters. It has been called or connected to the catoblepas (a cow like monster with a death stare) and the cockatrice (same descriptors as the basilisk in reverse). The main constant, and it's main gameplay mechanic is the look of death. One describer in the renaissance gave it's gaze the ability to turn silver into gold.

First way to alter it is simply to change it's appearance, in fact sometimes an art style can drive the way players percieve the game world they are playing in. For this creature we went with a lizard body instead of the normal snake. Chameleons have some cool features for a sight predator, stereoscopic and independant vision, color changing skin, and fused digits for climbing. For extra creepyness and to take out a party of six, we gave him six chameleon eyes that can look at six people in different directions. A dimetrodon or spinosaur type sail with an eye pattern and bright colors for a visual hook. We top it off visually with a rattle tail.

Going with the visual provided, it is easier to come up with ways to vary this creature mechanically from predecessors. What if mechanically the eyes were not it's deadly weapon? What if it had a paralytic saliva on it's tongue, and how would it hit the attack? Distraction is built into this creature all over, from it's dancing eyes to it's noisy tail, he has ways of ambushing a character from plain sight. The color change or the skin can also make it nearly invisible in almost any setting, and the climbing feet can make it deadly at any altitude.

So if the tongue is the weapon and the visuals are so different, how is it still a basilisk? Setting lore and flavor text. When a creature is designed for the setting, the canon characters and histories can be written to fit anything. With the basilisk we have here, his legend was probably spread by a survivor who was missed but only noticed the eyes, leading to the look of death that is prevalent in all basilisk lore. With all of it's pretty little distractions, one would think if it looked you in the eye then you were toast.

So to create an age old creature with a twist is the way to stand out from the crowd just a bit. Using the visuals, mechanics, and flavor you can cook up your own alteration on an old idea. Game on, roll high (or low depending on system), and have fun.