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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Medusa

The medusa is a D&D monster ripped from real world mythology, a feared villain who can turn your character into stone with a glance.

Medusas don't get used too much, so I decided to dig around and see what cool ideas are out there waiting to be used. I went through all the D&D products I could and pulled out any interesting medusa-related material that I came upon.

AD&D 1st Edition Monster Manual

Here's what we learn:
  • Medusas dwell in dark caves.
  • They're lawful evil.
  • Their gaze turns creatures to stone unless the victim can succeed on a saving throw vs petrification.
  • "If an opponent averts his eyes, the medusa rushes up so that its asp-like head growth can bite at the victim."
  • Here's where it gets really brutal. If you are bit by one of the hair-snakes, you must save vs. poison or die!
  • If a medusa's gaze is reflected back at it, the creature will turn to stone.
  • They speak the medusa language as well as common.
  • They can see into the astral and ethereal planes. Their stone gaze is effective on those planes. Some cruel DM out there probably did some pretty messed up stuff with this.
  • The body of a medusa is "quite shapely and human."
  • The face of a medusa is horrid. Her snaky hair writhes and she has glaring, red-rimmed eyes.
AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual
The Monstrous Manual has two versions of a medusa: a medusa and a greater medusa.

Medusa: Lots more details:
  • Snakes are up to one foot long.
  • "It will use its attractive body to lure males nearer while staying in the shadows."
  • They kept it. It's still save or die if you are bitten by a snake.
  • "It retains its petrifying gaze after death." The heads decay within a month and lose the ability.
  • Their homes are full of flickering shadows.
  • They keep some statues, shatter others.
  • No mirrors in her lair.
  • Reflections in water or polished stone have no effect on a medusa.
  • Medusas are infrequently driven to mate with humanoid males. This results in the male's death.
  • After mating, it lays 2-6 eggs that hatch in 8 months.
  • Hatchlings are baby girls with stubby green tentacles. They are revolting to look at, but they cannot petrify with their gaze until adolescence. At age two, their serpent hair comes alive and gains the lethal poisonous bite.
Greater Medusa: Not too much detail on this one:
  • They have serpentine bodies in place of a lower torso and legs.
  • They are 10-20 feet long.
  • They are covered in fine scales.
  • They use bows and poisoned arrows.
  • Their blood is so poisonous that even after one has been killed, touching its body still requires a save vs poison.

Maedar: There have been a few tabs at making a male medusa. The maedar are the most prominent:
  • They do not have petrifying gaze.
  • Muscular, hairless humanoids.
  • Can turn to stone to flesh with their touch.
  • Can walk through stone.
  • Immune to petrify/poison/hold monster/slow spells.
  • Only 1% of medusa eggs are maedar. 25% are male medusae! All others are humans who die at the sight of their mother.
Glyptars: This is where it gets weird:
  • A glyptar is a rock crystal animated by the spirit of a maedar. When a maedar has foreknowledge of it death, it can transfer its life force into the rocks.
  • Their spirits are trapped within gemstones such as feldspar and amethyst.
  • If removed intact from the ground, its spirit can animate the crystal and anything inorganic attached to it. If it is set into the eye of a stone statue, its life force animates it as a golem!
  • If a glyptar is set into the pommel of a sword, it can be animated to strike as if it were wielded by the living maedar.
D&D 3rd Edition Monster Manual

They had a hard time letting go of the "well-proportioned body" thing: "Though at first glance this creature appears to be a well-proportioned human, a closer look reveals a hideous face crowned with a mass of writhing, hissing snakes instead of hair, eyes glowing a deep, feral red, and scaly, earth-colored skin."

So what's the deal with this well-proportioned menace?
  • Medusas prize art objects, fine jewelry, and wealth.
  • Medusas usually use a veil to hide their face.
  • They are found in every climate. Some live in cities and are active in the criminal underworld.
  • They speak common. No reference to the medusa language.
  • Their poison no longer insta-kills. It does a bit of poison damage now.
D&D 4th Edition Monster Manual
Are you ready for male medusas? Let's kick it:
  • Female medusas use their gaze to turn other creatures to stone.
  • "Male medusas use their gaze to poison the minds and bodies of their victims before hacking them to pieces, and their lairs are painted with the blood of fallen prey."
  • Male medusas do not have snake hair, but their blood is more poisonous. Their gaze "ravages the mind and body, leaving its victims dazed, weak and ripe for killing."
  • It is possible to close your eyes while fighting a medusa, but fighting it blindly is rarely a good choice.
  • They desire wealth, power and influence in humanoid societies.
  • A brood of medusas might rule over a terrified populace a a royal family, or one medusa might run an assassins guild.
  • "The blood of a medusa can reverse petrification." Apply a few drops of the blood of a medusa that was killed within the past 24 hours to the lips of a petrified creature and succeed on a DC 20 Heal check.
  • Medusas readily consort with creatures of greater might. They work with yuan-ti and hold them in high regard.
Medusa Archer (Female): A medusa specialist.
  • They have longbows and use poison arrows.
  • Their petrifying gaze affect all within 25 feet and progresses in stages. Slowed, then immobilized, then petrified.
Medusa Warrior (Male): Medusa dudes. Medududes.
  • Fights with 2 poisoned long swords at the same time.
  • Also uses a longbow with poisoned arrows.
  • Venomous gaze - their gaze dazes and weakens, but does not petrify.
Medusa Shroud of Zehir (Female): Some medusas work with the yuan-ti.
  • They can attack and move around without provoking.
  • Snake hair does acid and poison dmg.
  • They have a petrifying gaze like the medusa archer.
Allied Creatures:
  • Basilisks (venom-eye basilisks)
  • Snaketongue zealots
  • Grimlocks
  • Gargoyles
  • Yuan-ti malisons and abominations.
Monster Vault

These updated 4e medusas are "Lithe females with snakes for hair whose glance poison body and mind of powerful males."

Lots of Lore:
  • Medusas are now fey creatures. Some believe they are the cursed descendants of elves. Others think that they are betrayers who willingly bowed to Zehir and helped slaughter an entire city of eladrin. 
  • Some even think that they are the progeny of yuan-ti and basilisk blood, created to be a slave race to the yuan-ti.
  • Scholars theorize that Zehir remade dragonborn or humans into medusas after the Dawn War.
  • All medusas have scaled bodies, forked tongues and snakelike eyes.
  • Males are bald-headed. Females have dozens of poisonous snakes for hair.
  • No female can turn another female to stone, but only special males are immune to their mates petrifying glares.
  • The females rule. The males are hunters, guardians, scouts and mates. Only males immune to petrification can rise above females in medusa society. Such males get special treatment.
  • Medusas think they are destined to rule over other humanoids.
  • Some claim godhood and demand worship, others tout themselves as oracles.
Medusa Bodyguard: These guys have a mind-venom gaze. When someone attacks a medusa, the bodyguard can react and stun the attacker with a cone that harms all enemies in the blast.

Medusa Venom Arrow: Her serpent hair does poison damage and gives -2 to saving throws.
Her poisoned arrows slow you.

Medusa Spirit Charmer: Her spirit charm hits all enemies within 25 feet, and if they do not end their next turn within 10 feet of the medusa, they take 3d6 dmg. Awesome power alert: Swords to Snakes! The target's weapons and implements turn into snakes. This affects a 15 foot cube of people.

Cure for Petrification: "The willing kiss of the medusa that petrified the creature." The medusa might do this to interrogate the victim or just to mess with them.

D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual

Here is the current version of the medusa:
  • They suffer an immortal curse brought on by their vanity.
  • They lurk in the ruins of their former lives, surrounded by the petrified remains of past admirers and would-be heroes.
  • Mortals sometimes make sacrifices to and beg gods, dragons, archmages, demons and devils for beauty, youth, immortality and the adoration of all who behold them. After years of living like a demigod, they are transformed into medusas.
  • Their homes are ruins covered in thorns and creepers, riddled with obstructions and hiding place.
  • The curse: By looking vainly upon its own reflection, it turns to stone as would any living mortal.
  • There are no reflective surfaces in their lairs.
Petrifying Gaze: Con save. Fail by 5 or more, instantly petrified. Fail: Restrained and repeat save at end of next turn. Fail again, become petrified. The petrification lasts until greater restoration or similar magic.

A creature can avert its eyes. It can't see the medusa until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again. If the creature looks at the medusa in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.

OK! Now lets root around for old articles and NPCs.

Dragon Magazine #106 - "Ecology of the Maedar"

Ed Greenwood strikes again! That guy did so much of the heavy lifting when it comes to D&D lore. This article is from the 1st edition days of D&D.

Another name for a maedar is "the stealer through stone".

We get a tale about an illusionist who traveled to the lair of a medusa, tied a mirror across his eyes, and covered himself in his storm cloak. The medusa removed his cowl, looked into the mirror and turned to stone.

The maedar turned her back from stone to flesh. The medusa and the man embraced, and she spoke to him in loving tones.

Here's what we learn about the maedar and medusas:
  • Can turn stone to flesh once every three turns (30 minutes).
  • Maedar can pass through stone like xorns do at their normal movement rate.
  • Medusa treasure hordes contain "a selection of feminine garb that doubles as the medusa's wardrobe."
  • They speak and understand the language of lawful evil, common, and others
  • Medusas produce 1-3 live young every 10 years or so.
  • Medusa offspring become adults in 4-5 years of age.
  • Young are encouraged to strike out on their own.
  • Medusas cannot be truted by their own kind.
Dragon Magazine #296 "Worshipers of the Forbidden"

This is all about people who actually worship a medusa.
  • Snake servants are cultist who revere medusas. They walk a fine line, having to do the medusa's bidding without angering her. They are proxies and middlemen.
  • They set up churches dedicated to the worship of "Shekenster." They mean "Shekinester", who I looked up and will talk about after I finish this section.
  • They corrupt officials, nobles and religious leaders.
  • They are usually rogues.
The cultists accrue special powers as they gain levels:
  • Immunity to the gaze of a medusa.
  • Resistance to poison.
  • Stunning Gaze: They can stun people within 30 feet for 1 round.
  • Immunity to petrification,
  • Medusa Apotheosis: At 5th level, the cultist transforms into an entity more like a medusa. Their skin becomes scaly, eyes become more reptilian, eyelids wither away and are replaced by nictitating membrane. Their eyes never blink again.
  • Those who cease worshiping Shekenster won't lose their medusa apotheosis. They're permanently warped. 
Who is Shekinester? No idea! Google is my friend. It turns out Shekinester is detailed in On Hallowed Ground, an extremely thorough tome that describes every god in D&D and then some.

Shekinester, the Three-Faced Queen: She's god of the nagas. She takes on three different forms.
  • The Weaver: A crone-faced naga who destroys so that creation might come of it.
  • The Empowerer: Bestower of wisdom, asker of riddles.
  • The Preserver: The keeper of light and knowledge, recorder of dead spirits that pass her way.
She lives in the Court of Light, a strange place located in the Outlands.

Ghost Tower of Inverness

The group comes to a clearing, where a robed figure is tending to a garden of roses. "You hear a soft, liquid singing in an unknown tongue with lilting vowels..."

If someone engages her, she turns and lowers her hood. Everyone in the clearing must save or be petrified!

She's got a massive treasure horde in the garden. About 20,000 gold in gems and coins, keoghtom's ointment and bracers of defense.

The Complete Book of Villains

Lady Silith: She's a medusa disguised as an art dealer who creates incredibly lifelike stone statues. Silith always wears a turban and a veil of coins forged into a scaled drape. "She favors silk robes, which accentuate her curvaceous figure, and intricately embroidered cloaks."

She lures good-looking people to her lair so that she can turn them to stone. She has hundreds of petrified victims in her main hall, all of which look like they're at a ghastly festival.

Labyrinth of Madness

I will run this one day! I swear it! There's a room with two greater medusas that I really can't say much about without ruining it. Definitely a nasty trap in there.

Dungeon Magazine #25 - A Rose for Talakara

Another medusa in a garden! Her name is Natasha, a medusa who is vain and an expert musician. This one has hedges and roses of many different colors. The medusa grows black roses for the bad guy, Agrovale.

Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium II

Strahd is not the only Dark Lord trapped in a domain of dread. Another is a medusa named Althea who dwells on a small island called Demise. There is a portal on Demise that leads to a labyrinth of white stone (mostly an illusion). Althea lures adventurers in . She picks one adventurer to be her mate. The rest are killed.

Althea's eyes are like black beads. Her mouth a lipless slit that her forked tongue slips in and out of.
She is sensitive to bright light. Her snakes can spit venom up to 10 feet

Book of Vile Darkness

This book details a number of villains who are particularly grotesque. Siddal the medusa is a masochistic "cancer mage." Siddal lives with Gauderis, a half-orc vermin lord in a cave complex. They are working together to create new, deadly diseases. Gauderis is secretly in love with her, and he actually want her to turn him to stone. He thinks it will feel good.

Dungeon Magazine #93 - Statue Gallery

This is a short adventure involving a medusa named Korakaia who dwells in caverns that hold her collection of petrified victims. The idea here is that not all of the statues are actually statues. The medusa has some pretty clever tricks up her sleeve. There's a magic item:

Amulet of Statues: Once per day, you can use this to cast the statue spell on yourself.

Dragon Magazine #355 - Creature Catalogue IV

Maedar show a fierce devotion to their mates. They can "..take their pick among available medusas."

This article pretty much reiterates what is already known, plus this: "Most medusas have no choice but to mate with blinded or blindfolded human males."

Lady of Poison

This is a forgotten realms novel whose main character is actually a half-medusa paladin. Pretty cool!

Dungeon Magazine #194 - Daask

This article details medusas in Eberron. I'm playing in an Eberron campaign and don't want to spoil it for myself, so here's a link that I assume will give you the info you need.

Princes of the Apocalypse

I forgot about this guy! Earth Prophet Marlos Urnrayle is a.. male medusa. He was a vain, good-looking man who got a ring that held a fey spirit that kept him looking good as he aged. One day, it turned him into a medusa.

He runs the earth cult. Makes sense, since he turns people to stone! Marlos likes to keep the stone faces of his victims and destroy the rest.

Out of the Abyss

Neheedra Duskryn: She was a drow priestess of Lolth who planned to turn Blingdenstone into a drow enclave. This was never to be, as the magical pacts she had made to aid her turned her into a medusa. She turned her servants to stone and went mad. She still looks similar to a drow. Her hair-snakes are white.

Tomb of Annihilation

Zalkore: She was once royalty in the city of Omu, but she was forced to leave when she made a pact with an erinyes to become a medusa.

She ended up killing her husband, mistakenly thinking he had betrayed her. Now she sits in the ruins of Nangalore, hallucinating that he's still with her. Weirdly enough, his ghost just might show up depending on what adventurers do when they meet her.


Medusa Island map
Half-Medusa 3e template


cookinjr said...

Seeing the Diterlizzi medusa reminded me that the NRM is having a show of his art:

KindredWolf said...

I would love to see an article like this regarding the Forgotten Realms "Deepspawn"

Timothy Brannan said...

Excellent! Another fine deep dive post.

Lokuzt said...

awesome! and I'm currently listening to the Web DM interview. Good stuff! :)

giacomo robino said...

I love your guides to monsters!

Bronk said...

Whoa, Glyptars seem really cool!