She’s a stone cold killer. She’s the Medusa.
Everybody should know this particular monster. Whether you enjoy greek myth or media based on greek myth, you probably have heard about Medusa at least once or twice. I call her Medusa, by the way, because in the myth she was a person and that was her name. She was a scaled woman with snakes for hair, and her vanity and egotism caused her to be cursed with a sight that would cause all who met her eyes to be turned to stone.
In Dungeons & Dragons, there are just creatures called Medusa, not a single Medusa.
The Medusa from Dungeons & Dragons is easily one of my favorite monsters to control. They’re equal parts easy to foreshadow and harrowing to fight, which means that the players will know what they’re about to come across, and they will dread it. It’s easy to theme the encounter as a horror movie, with the Medusa chasing the party down, or as dynamic discussion with dramatic introductions and attempts not to insult for fear of petrification.
For instance, the Medusa isn’t just a monster, the Medusa is a creature with intelligence and plans and a home. While an Owlbear or a Bulette is a wild animal with only a few desires, the Medusa uses weapons and tactics when she fights, and uses logic and wisdom when she discusses things or makes decisions.
The lair of a Medusa is usually in a place with a large amount of stone. This could mean a large forest atop a mountain, or a valley deep inside the earth. One inspiration for how incredible and otherworldly you can make a Medusa’s lair is exemplified in Zak Sabbath’s Maze of the Blue Medusa. In MoTBM, the titular Medusa designed her maze by petrifying dozens of creatures and carving the walls and floors from their stone bodies, which is metal as fuck.
Medusa may work with and live with various snake folk or snake-like creatures, but this is not a law nor is it a rule. Medusa in general really shift from person to person, and you can make them as unique as you like, while keeping the flavor of the race involved. I would keep them away from colder locations though, as they’re still part snake.
A common feature of all Medusa are their lairs being littered with the petrified remains of intruders of all kinds. Want to make a Medusa look strong? Have a petrified Ogre or Minotaur mid swing. Or even a small horde of Orcs or Goblins. Communicate to the players that this battle won’t be about brute strength, but rather clever tactics and intense preparation.
The Medusa may just want to be left alone. In a case like this, have her warn the players several times with statues of past victims and signs in various languages. Have her unarmed and relaxing. Then, if the players continue to ignore the warnings, drop a prepared trap or a pet onto them. The Medusa would have multiple lines of defense if she did not wish to be bothered.
A Medusa that likes to hunt would be a different story. She roams the countryside, leaving entire towns of stone in her wake, breeding Basilisks and Cockatrices to follow her every whim and command. This type of Medusa is battle-hardened, and uses weaponry and armor. She is going to be a rough fight, and is not so elegant as to dress up. She might even cover her face and reveal it quickly in order to start the fight off with an advantage.
Potions, Wondrous Items, and other Magic Items are not affected by the Medusa’s gaze. This means she would have easy pickings from her previous “guests,” and present even more of a challenge than previously thought.
A Medusa may only be CR 6, but she truly does have the ability to become a force to be reckoned with.
Aforementioned Magic Items would be the key reward in defeating a Medusa. While Magic Items are not turned to stone, any gold or valuables nonmagical in nature would be petrified along with their owners. Of course you could heal them with Greater Restoration, but then you would just need to fight them to gain their goods. That’s up to you.
Alchemy could greatly benefit from the blood, scales, eyes, or hair of a Medusa, and other valuables on site could be Basilisk or Cockatrice eggs. These can be used for cooking, black market trading, or bounties.
If you’re feeling particularly Greek, you could even allow the head of the Medusa to be cut off and used as a magical item that petrifies all who look upon its visage. That would be mighty powerful though, so perhaps it needs to be kept alive by pickling it in the blood of a Basilisk.
The taste in the air around a Medusa is one of wet mold. Medusa love their caves, and a nice wet cave produces a ton of fuzzy fungus in a myriad of colors. This is so powerful and potent that the taste and the smell of the air mix and mesh and you just can’t really tell the difference between the two anymore.
The sight of the Medusa depends on the type you’re dealing with. A warrior and master of tactics would keep her lair dark, so only she could see. The type of Medusa that is more worried about keeping their lonely life and not dealing with people will fill their lair with obvious threats.
The sounds of a Medusa are many: The slight hissing of her hair, the light rattles of vicious reptiles as they sniff out new dangers. The sound of a person screaming and suddenly drying out their voice, as their lungs turn to stone before their face does. The crunching and cracking of stone strained by its own weight.
The feeling of being turned to stone is quite like going numb. Suddenly you can’t feel your feet. You can’t feel your shins, you can’t feel your thighs, your stomach, andthen your organs fail and slowly, ever so slowly, you get heavier and less able to move, and you just feel this immense pressure and then suddenly you’re gone. It happens in an instant, but feels like an eternity.
The Medusa, whether you go for a full force of battle or a sad and lonely creature, will be an exciting and memorable event for any party. It will inform their combat prowess and test their teamwork to the highest degree.
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Image Sources: Wizards of the Coast
Roll 1d20 on the following table to see which poor creature was turned to stone!
1: A large and very angry Owlbear.
2: A Carrion Crawler that attempted to gnaw on a petrified person.
3: A Satyr that is in the middle of using the bathroom, right there in the cave.
4: An entire group of Kobolds, running away and perfectly captured in fear.
5: A lone Hydra’s head, laying on the ground.
6: A Merfolk that haswas been hollowed out and used for a fountain.
7: A Devil striking a goofy pose.
8: A single Beholder’s eye on a stake. Huge and smooth, like garnet, or marble.
9: An Air Elemental that became a large crystal.
10: A floating Banshee, mid scream.
11: A determined Paladin, holding his shield aloft.
12: A shocked Monkey, locked upside down.
13: A long line of Modron, frozen mid-march.
14: A solid block of stone that once was a Gelatinous Cube.
15: Several zombies surrounding something that is no longer there.
16: A Vampire, mid hiss.
17: A mask, laying on the ground, somehow turned to stone.
18: A Whale hanging from the ceiling.
19: A massive Spider.
20: A small boy holding an otherworldly device .