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I am about to grant one of my PCs an item that has properties similar to a Robe of Eyes. I am also planning to introduce some Basilisk-like monsters at some point in the near future. So, I'm trying to resolve how I'm going to handle the Robe of Eyes drawback in relation to the Basilisk's Petrifying Gaze.

Robe of Eyes

The eyes on the robe can't be closed or averted. Although you can close or avert your own eyes, you are never considered to be doing so while wearing this robe.

Basilisk's Petrifying Gaze

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.

It seems very clear to me that a creature wearing the Robe of Eyes cannot avert their eyes to avoid seeing the Basilisk and thus being subject to the saves to avoid becoming Restrained and subsequently Petrified.

What I'm not sure of is exactly how best to let the player avoid this. I want the drawback to be meaningful, but not to completely screw them over.

My thought process is that they could use a free action to remove the robe which would then allow them to avert their eyes. However, I don't think they'd be able to do that quickly enough to avoid the first save. Logically, it seems like seeing something and looking away would be easier than seeing something, looking away, and then taking off a piece of clothing.

Of course, that'd mean there's a decent chance they'd become restrained before they could remove it. Then, if I'm reading the Basilisk correctly, they'd be subject to the second save to avoid becoming petrified on their next turn whether they averted their eyes after that or not.

First, have I read this correctly? Second, how might you resolve this in a way that makes the drawback meaningful, but also doesn't feel like I railroaded the PC into getting petrified?

FWIW, I had considered a DC15 or DC20 DEX ability check to determine whether the PC could take the thing off quickly enough to avoid the save, but I'm not sure if there's a better way.

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If you fail your first save against the basilisk's gaze, the second happens regardless of whether you can still see the basilisk.

Your reading of this rule is correct.

Now on to weightier matters - how do you make this encounter feel fair?

Give them warning signs.

The drawback that the robe of eyes has is quite deliberate and you shouldn't make it trivial to circumvent. What you need to do in this circumstance is offer the player the information necessary so that, if they're paying attention, they know they should probably remove the robe of eyes before they ever see a basilisk.

Luckily this is very easy to write, since monsters that petrify leave obvious signs of their handiwork - petrified people all over the shop! Just make sure that you describe the strange statues they're seeing, and if you want to give your player a particular hint, you could even specifically say something like:

"Towards the mouth of the cave, you see a handful of strange statues, like a band of adventurers getting ready to head in. In fact, [Player], with the robe of eyes you realise you're actually surrounded by strange statues, some so overgrown with moss and vegetation that you didn't recognise the humanoid shape at first - and all of them are looking at the mouth of the cave, whether their bodies are facing toward it or looking back over their shoulders..."

This lets you telegraph that there are petrifying monsters coming up - it reminds the player that they are wearing the robe of eyes - and it gives the very strong clue that it's a gaze attack, not just some grumpy wizard, that's turning things to stone, because all the statues are specifically looking at the same thing. In such an instance, if the player continues wearing the robe of eyes, and strides confidently into the encounter with the basilisks, then they should probably be able to recognise afterwards that they should have known better!

If you need to, you can start foreshadowing even earlier than this. Maybe your party isn't likely to know about basilisks, so they wouldn't (without metagaming) be able to put two and two together at the mouth of the cave - but then it so happens that a bard at the tavern they stayed at the night before was regaling their audience with the legend of the Medusa, so they're primed to know about creatures with a gaze that can turn you to stone. (I'm especially fond of this idea because then you get to subvert their expectations that they're about to stumble across a medusa so they can still be somewhat surprised without their deductions being useless, plus it's funny.)

Let them see the basilisk first.

The Petrifying Gaze only functions if both the basilisk and the target can see each other. If the basilisk cannot see the character, they are not affected by its gaze! If they're aware they need to protect against a gaze attack but haven't yet removed the robe, contriving events such that they see the basilisk before it sees them - perhaps when they first come across the creature it is distracted by something else, consuming a meal, or as a reward for successful stealth if they are attempting to do so - allows the character an opportunity to remove the robe before they can suffer any ill effects.

Make sure they can recover.

If you don't want to deal with a particular character being out of action for a long while if they should happen to be petrified, make sure that the resources are available to cure them afterwards. A scroll or wand (with few charges) of Greater Restoration might just be luckily found in the possessions of a less fortunate adventurer or in the basilisk's lair, if the party aren't able to reverse the condition with their own magic or resources.

It's not actually that likely they'll suffer petrification, even with the robe of eyes.

The DC of the basilisk's gaze is only 12, so your player probably has at least 50:50 odds of passing the save - and they have to fail twice in order to be fully petrified. Though that's within the realms of possibility, so it's still a threat, they'd have to be unlucky to do so, and a reasonable player should be able to recognise that (though it could be understandably frustrating!) Certainly it would be very over the top to describe that encounter as railroading or forcing them to fail.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent feedback! I was indeed planning to foreshadow the presence of the Basilisks in exactly that way. However, without some degree of metagaming (which, honestly, isn't really that big of a deal to me), these particular PCs wouldn't have any reason to recognize those signs as they've never faced a foe with that kind of ability before. Actually - I think what I might do is have some of that hinge upon a Perception and/or History check (one of the party has Stonecunning) upon seeing the statues. If they do well on those, they might get a sense that these were not carved. Cool! Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Prigge Apr 7 '18 at 21:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MattPrigge as per my edit, you can even address that concern with a bit of incidental foreshadowing. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Apr 7 '18 at 22:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any advice that involves "plus it's funny" is amazing advice in my book. This is all excellent. The PC who will probably end up with these items (they're bands/bracelets in my homebrew) is the only one in the party without darkvision and the Basilisks will indeed be in a deep/dark cave. So, even if he knows what's coming, he may still be tempted to keep them on. Should be a good moment of tension. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Prigge Apr 7 '18 at 22:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're curious, this is the item. I'm still noodling it, but that'll probably be what I use. I've nerfed the quasi-truesight, but otherwise is pretty much the same. (many thanks to Alex and Ani for their unwitting support xD) \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Prigge Apr 7 '18 at 22:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ As I read the linked text on basilisk, insofar as it can't see the player ir can't use its gaze. So it would be sufficient to ensure that the player sees basilisk first - and that basilisk's back turned to him, , even if he failed to understand the clue. Additionally it could be possible for basilisk to somehow project slightly into ethereal plane - he could be seen by one wearing robe even through walls.by the \$\endgroup\$ – Gnudiff Apr 18 '18 at 19:20

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