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Turned to Stone
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

P lease hold your comments about Washington's new laws as I talk about creatures that get you stoned . . . er, turn you to stone.


Classic D&D lore has four creatures with petrification attacks, so one of the tasks I had was to look for ways to differentiate them. Why should a DM use one in preference to another?

Basilisk

Medium Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Medium
Environment: Desert or wastelands

A basilisk is a Medium (7 to 10 feet long) lizardlike creature with eight legs and glowing green eyes. Despite all its legs, it moves slowly thanks to its low metabolism. Its defining characteristic is its gaze—meeting the creature's eyes turns a subject to stone.

Because of its low speed and the importance of surprise to its main offensive ability, the basilisk lies in wait (like an alligator) in bushes or undergrowth. Its dull brown scales and yellowish underbelly give it some camouflage in its favored dry lands. When prey draws near, it emerges from hiding just enough to be noticed—at which point the prey, ideally, meets the basilisk's gaze and turns to stone.

Once it has petrified its prey, a basilisk swallows it whole, distending its jaws like a snake does and using its powerful grinding teeth to break off any protruding parts. It eats for as long as food is available, and then tends to sleep until it needs more food. When it eats its usual prey—small mammals, birds, reptiles, and similar creatures—it rests for perhaps a day before hunting again. When it petrifies a larger creature, it might spend days eating it and then as many days resting afterward.

In the wild, basilisks are generally solitary. During mating seasons (which occur only once every several years) they gather in groups of up to four individuals, but they spend most of this time squabbling and fighting before dispersing again. Basilisks in a group are even more ill-tempered than their usual irascible selves.

A basilisk can be petrified by the gaze of another basilisk or by its own gaze in a very clear reflection. It is generally very good at avoiding the gaze of other basilisks, but not at avoiding its own gaze.

A basilisk can be captured and used as a guard, but it cannot be trained in any meaningful sense of the word. If chained up in an unfurnished room, it makes a splendid guard, and a careful handler can put a hood on it from a safe distance when needed.

A basilisk is smart for a reptile; it has animal intelligence (Intelligence 2).

Cockatrice

Small Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Grassland and forest

The cockatrice is a Small (3 feet tall), fearsome, repulsive-looking creature that combines elements of chicken, lizard, and bat. Its defining characteristic, of course, is that its touch (a successful attack) can turn a creature to stone. Aside from this deadly effect, the creature's beak inflicts only minor wounds. It can see ethereal creatures, and the touch of its beak can even paralyze such creatures.

In contrast to the basilisk, which eats its petrified prey, the petrification ability of a cockatrice is purely defensive. It eats insects, small lizards, and the like, swallowing them whole without petrifying them. Rather than flee from larger creatures, though, it flies at them, pecking at exposed skin.

A cockatrice is no more intelligent than a lizard or chicken (Intelligence 1), and it's as weak as its size suggests. It has an above-average Dexterity score.

Gorgon

Large Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Medium
Environment: Hills, wasteland, or caverns

The gorgon is a Large (6 feet tall at the shoulder, 8 feet long), aggressive beast that looks like a large bull plated with metallic scales. Its defining characteristic is its ability to exhale a cone of gas that can turn creatures caught in the gas to stone. Unlike other petrifying creatures (basilisk, cockatrice, and medusa), a gorgon must choose to use this attack, and it is limited in its use of the ability. (It should have a recharge mechanic similar to a dragon's breath weapon.) Like those creatures, it can perceive and petrify ethereal creatures.

A gorgon is fiercely territorial, and it charges at any creature larger than a hare that intrudes on its lands. It uses its breath weapon in combat primarily against foes it perceives as dangerous. When hunting prey or waiting for its breath weapon to recharge, a gorgon is deadly enough with its goring horns and trampling hooves. No more than four gorgons—one bull and three females (which have the same giant horns as the males)—share a given territory.

An angered gorgon is a relentless and implacable foe. After it enters combat, nothing short of death (its own or that of its enemies) can calm its fury. Domesticating a gorgon is an impossible and likely deadly task.

Gorgons are carnivores, eating whatever meat they can acquire, from elk to humanoids. They have animal intelligence (Intelligence 2) but tremendous Strength and Constitution scores.

Medusa

Medium Monstrosity
Alignment: Lawful evil
Level: Medium
Environment: Ruins and any settled lands

A medusa is a horrifying creature that looks much like a human woman—except for the writhing snakes that cover her head like hair. Her eyes are rimmed with red, and meeting her eyes turns a living creature to stone. It uses weapons and the biting attacks of the snakes on its head against creatures that resist petrification.

A medusa that sees its reflection in a mirror or polished metal surface turns to stone, but a reflection in another surface and the gaze of another medusa have no effect.

A medusa is a unique creature, or nearly so. It might be a monster birthed by a mythic "mother of monsters," or it could be a human transformed by a curse. A group of medusas is almost unheard of, and it would have its own unusual origin—perhaps an evil sorcerer performed a terrible ritual over a brood of serpents' eggs so they would all hatch into medusas.

I expect some controversy over that last point. One of the things that we've been thinking a lot about is that we are creating—and facilitating the creation of—fantasy worlds. The monsters of D&D aren't races of aliens in a sci-fi setting. They don't all need to have logical biology.

In the specific case of the medusa, its singularity reflects its origin in legend. I think it also speaks to how most DMs are likely to use the creature. How many are you likely to throw at your PCs over the course of a campaign? Maybe it's more than one, and maybe that's a good reason to think about an unusual origin story for them.

What Do You Think?

So, four monsters to turn you to stone. What do you think?

  How well does the basilisk described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—That’s not a basilisk
2—It has some serious flaws.
3—I can see basilisk from here, but I’m not worried about its gaze.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a basilisk.
5—I have seen the basilisk and been turned to stone.

  How well does the cockatrice described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—That’s not a cockatrice.
2—It has some serious flaws.
3—I can see cockatrice from here.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a basilisk.
5—It has touched me and turned me to stone.

  How well does the gorgon described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—That’s not a gorgon.
2—It has some serious flaws.
3—I can see gorgon from here, but it can’t see me.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a gorgon.
5—I have breathed deep of the gorgon and been turned to stone.

  How well does the medusa described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—That’s not a medusa.
2—It has some serious flaws.
3—I can see medusa from here, but I’m not worried about its gaze.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a medusa.
5—I have seen the medusa and been turned to stone.

  And finally, do you think I’m crazy with the whole “only one medusa” thing?  
No, you’re not crazy. I think you’re dead on.
Not crazy, but I’d rather see medusas as a race.
Maybe a little crazy. You can’t anticipate how DMs will want to use medusas in their games.
Totally crazy. My game needs a race of medusas, and the iconic D&D creature needs a better story than that.
Yes, you’re crazy, and I want to see the maedar too!

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

Cyclops aren’t exactly iconic D&D creatures, but how well does the cyclops described here fit with your sense of the creature?
1—Cyclops don't belong in D&D at all. 21 1.8%
2—This doesn't match my sense of D&D lore. 67 5.9%
3—I can see a cyclops, but not very well. 195 17.0%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a cyclops. 662 57.8%
5—It is a perfect vision. 200 17.5%
Total 1145 100.0%

And how well does the titan described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature of past and current editions?
1—It's a lame attempt to fuse two different stories. 72 6.5%
2—This doesn't match my sense of D&D lore. 72 6.5%
3—I can see a titan, towering above the trees in the distance. 178 16.0%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a titan. 381 34.3%
5—It is nearly divine, like the titans themselves. 409 36.8%
Total 1112 100.0%

And how well does the ettin described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—It makes as much sense as a giant with two heads. 13 1.2%
2—This doesn't match my sense of D&D lore. 30 2.7%
3—I can see ettin from here, but with double vision. 135 12.0%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as an ettin. 628 55.7%
5—Two-headed perfection! 322 28.5%
Total 1128 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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