We all know about the Medusa, or at least one version of her, though there are others. She’s the Greek woman with snakes instead of hair who will turn you to stone with just a look. Medusa’s life was one of hardship and getting royally screwed over multiple times by the Greek gods. One of the three Gorgon sisters, her dad was the greek primordial god Phorcys and her mom was Ceto, the primordial sea goddess. Eventually, this happy little life would come crashing down while Medusa was a priestess to Athena.
Poseidon took a fancy to Medusa, seduced her, and proceeded to ravage her in Athena’s temple and breaking Medusa’s vow of chastity to her goddess. When Athena discovered the discretion in her temple, she sought vengeance on poor Medusa, maybe because she couldn’t hurt Poseidon thanks to the other gods protecting him or maybe just because, in Greek mythology, women are constantly getting screwed over. In retaliation, Athena transformed Medusa’s hair into a swarm of snakes, and anyone who gazed at her directly would be turned into stone.
Trying to spend the rest of her days in peace, she lived in solitude on the island of Sarpedon, but alas, it wasn’t to be so. Perseus, given a seemingly impossible task, slew Medusa using his shield as a mirror, using her petrifying gaze against her. He then promptly cut off her head and used it to turn to stone those that conspired against him. Eventually, he would give this head to Athena who would place it on her shield. To top it all of, Medusa remained a priestess of Athena even after death and was restored to life without snakes for hair later on.
No. Appearing: 1-4
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 4
% in Lair: 75%
No. of Attacks: 1 or 2
Damage/Attack: by weapon type and turn to stone
Treasure: Type F
The Medusa is first found in the Dungeons & Dragons Book 2: Monsters & Treasure (1974) in the White Box. Described as a ‘human-type’ monster, there is no mention if all Medusa are female or male, though the artwork provided paints the creature to be female, at least for that depiction. Speaking of artwork, it might be the least frightening image of a Medusa we have ever seen. She looks like she was just woken up from a long nap and can’t figure out why you are bothering her.
Continuing with the description of the Medusae, they also have snakes for their hair, and in this edition those snakes are asps. If you get bit by one of the snakes, you need to make a save against poison or you just drop dead. Of course, if you think that’s bad, you then have to deal with the fact you can’t look them in the eyes. If you do, and they are quite clever at tricking victims to look at them, you then have to roll a saving throw or be turned to stone. Of course, there is no information on how or when the Medusa gets to turn you to stone, just that if you look into its eyes. How often you have to make the save is solely up to the DM as far as we can tell.
In Book VI: Eldritch Wizardry (1976), the Medusa now gets stronger and there is no plane where you are safe. If you are traveling through the ethereal or astral plane, a Medusa’s sight can see you there and it has some additional horrific properties. If you are on the ethereal plane, you turn to an ethereal stone which means no one can appreciate the beautiful stone statue you turn into unless they can see into the ethereal or are on the ethereal plane. Or maybe you like to travel the astral plane when a Medusa sees you, in that case, you just die immediately and you don’t even get to leave behind a cool statue.
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 4 **
Move: 90’ (30’)
Attacks: 1 snakebite + special
Damage: 1-6 + poison
No. Appearing: 1-3 (1-4)
Save As: Fighter: 4
Treasure Type: (V) F
XP value: 175
The Medusa appears throughout Basic and first appears in the Holmes Box Set (1977) before appearing in the Moldvay Basic Box Set (1981), and finally in the BECMI Basic Box Set (1983). The Medusa doesn’t go through too many transformations, just has its basic information updated and clarifies how its gaze attack is supposed to work. One minor change though is that the Holmes Box Set first mentions that most Medusae are female and then the Moldvay Basic Box Set and the BECMI Basic Box Set quickly announce that all Medusae appear as human females. With no more male Medusae, one has to wonder how baby-Medusae are created, but sadly that important part of their ecology is not mentioned.
Medusae still have snakes growing out of their head instead of hair, and the snakes can still bite and kill you instantly with their poison if you rolled poorly on your save. Medusae still have their gaze ability, and just the sight of a Medusa is enough to turn a creature to stone. They don’t have to see you, you just immediately must save against being Turn to Stone or you end up as a beautiful statue. Though, you can turn this back on the Medusa and fight with a mirror, trying to angle it so she can see her reflection. If the Medusa sees her reflection she’ll turn to stone, though you can safely look at the reflection of a Medusa and not worry about petrification. Seems like a double standard to us.
Of course, you could still fight a Medusa without looking at them by just closing your eyes or fighting with a blindfold on. If you aren’t brave enough to tempt becoming a statue, you could take a penalty to all your attack rolls, and then the Medusa’s snakes would get a bonus on hitting you, and probably forcing you to roll against poison and eventually dying from the snakes. You’re kind of screwed either way, but at least if you become a statue, no one has to worry about what to do with your body as you are now a lovely art object.
Lucky for the Medusa, this isn’t all the lore they get. In the BECMI Companion Set (1984), it’s revealed that the female-humanoid form we all know and avoid looking at is only the Medusa’s form while on the Material Plane. Medusae are originally from the Plane of Earth, and on that plane, they are far more different in a horrifying way. They are an ugly writhing mass of tentacles attached to a spherical and lumpy body. It has eyestalks and a mouth with way too many teeth. While you can gaze in abject terror at this writhing ball of Cthulu-horror, we recommend running as it can make 10 attacks each round with its tentacles, and every hit means you have a chance of being paralyzed. If you become paralyzed, you are then immediately dragged to its mouth where it then begins munching down on dinner while the rest of the tentacles kill off your comrades.
No. Appearing: 1-3
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 6
% in Lair: 50%
Treasure Type: P, Q (X10), X, Y
No. of Attacks: 1
Special Attacks: Gaze turns to stone + poison
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Psionic Ability: Nil
The Medusa is introduced in the Monster Manual (1977) and we get a bit more information on their ecology as well as better information on how exactly their gazes work. It is not specified whether all Medusae are female, and it simply describes them as quite shapely and human-like with a twisted face and hair of writhing snakes. They also have glaring red eyes, so it’s not too difficult to tell if the person you are talking to is trying to stare into your eyes, not because they love you, but because they want a new statue to place in their garden.
They are still quite tricky creatures as they attempt to beguile others to look into their eyes, and they have to be. Only creatures that are within 30 feet of them can be turned to stone, so they need to make sure no one runs away from them. Of course, if you realize what’s going on and try to avert your gaze, a Medusa will run up and attack with their hair, striking out at you until you look in their eyes or die from poison.
If you want to find a Medusa, they can often be found in dark caves and rarely venture forth unless they need sustenance. With a horrific and twisted face like theirs, they probably can’t just pop down to the local market but must hunt for their food and sustenance without turning the prey into stone. We can’t imagine how many stone rabbits they probably have in their lair.
Little else is revealed about the Medusa until Dragon #106 (February 1986) in the article The Ecology of the Maedar written by Ed Greenwood. In this short story, we learn about the Maedar, the male version of a Medusa, and how they function as the yin to the Medusa’s yang. Depicted as a large bald human-man that is completely hairless and very muscular, they are the protectors of their lair and treasure pile. They hit hard with their fists, battering through and capable of killing a 1st level character in a single swing. While they are brutes, their true power lies in being able to turn stone back into flesh and if their mate, a Medusa, turns herself into stone, they’ll be there to transform them back and protect their home from adventurers looking to steal their treasure. Another great ability the Maedar has is the ability to pass through stone as if they were a xorn, which is one of the ways they move through their lair, blocking the exit if a group of adventurers tries to steal their treasure.
The Maedar and the Medusa mate for life and live together in marital bliss. When they decide to start a family, they will produce 1-3 young every 10 years, but kick them out of their cavern once they are considered mature at the age of 5. If the Maedar is killed, the Medusa will go on the hunt for another mate. If the Medusa is killed, the Maedar goes on an epic journey of vengeance and revenge, tracking down those responsible for killing his lost mate, even if it kills him.
Activity Cycle: Any
Intelligence: Very (11-12)
Treasure: P, Q(x10), X, Y
Alignment: Lawful evil
No. Appearing: 1-3
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 6
No. of Attacks: 1
Special Attacks: Petrification, Poison
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Nil
Size: M (6’-7’)
Morale: Elite (13-14)
XP Value: 2,000
The Medusa appears in the Monstrous Compendium – Volume 1 (1989) and is later reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993) with the return of the Maedar. It is immediately pointed out that all Medusae are female humanoids and they are all seductresses with a head full of snakes, trying to lure unsuspecting victims in close. This is probably why they live in the cellar of long-forgotten castles and houses, setting up their lair with dim light so that the shadows play tricks on the eyes. A dead give away that something is amiss is the presence of unnatural life-like statues, which is probably why the creature will destroy many of them. If you are pretty enough, you may find a place in her topiary garden, consisting of molds, underground fauna, and statues of dead heroes perfectly crafted as if from actual living heroes.
A Medusa appears as an attractive female and will wear a hood over its head to hide its horrific visage, the writhing snakes for hair, and to lure in adventurers close enough for them to get turned to stone as soon as they see her eyes from 30 feet away. We can only assume that they spend hours every day adjusting everything just so in case they have a visitor, practicing their lines and trying on different outfits to see which one is the most likely to seduce their visitors.
If you do happen upon a Medusa and look into her eyes, you get to save against being turned to stone and if you fail, you get to become stone. If you are a smart adventurer and wear a blindfold, well the Medusa is happy enough to charge forward to let her snakes bite you, and it’s another save or die scenario where if you don’t save, you die. If you are especially hardy, then a Medusa will just take out her bow and shoot you from a distance until you die. Nothing like trying to avert your eyes, dodge being bitten by a swarm of snakes, and avoid getting an arrow to the knee to liven up one’s day.
The Greater Medusa is introduced, but they bear little resemblance to the normal snake-haired lady. This creature makes up only a tenth of the total Medusae population and has a serpent's upper and lower body. Covered completely in scales, these creatures are not going to be tricking anyone into getting up close and personal with them. This is why they are skilled archers, using poison arrows when you try to attack them from a distance. When your melee fighters get up close, they should be cautious, as even their blood is poisonous enough to kill them if it splashes on them.
In the Monstrous Manual, the Maedar finally shows up and we not only get the creature that Ed Greenwood wrote about before but now a new way they can live on in death. They are still the Medusae primary partner, but a Medusa can also mate with a human male if need be to produce a few squirming snakelets. This goes very poorly for humans, as they usually die afterward but it allows the Medusa to lay up to six eggs. If a Medusa gets busy with a Maedar, weirdly enough the eggs produce human infants instead of more Medusae and there is a 25% chance that the clutch will be male. Of that 25%, there is only a 1% chance that a male child will be a Maedar, which isn’t great odds when you are trying to continue your species. As for the rest of their children, the mother-Medusa will just petrify them, which makes their childhood rather difficult.
Along with the Maedar is the Glyptar, a weird rock crystal that houses the Maedar’s spirit and life force. If a Maedar is aware they are going to die soon, they can send their life force into the stone where it travels until it hits a pocket of gems like amethyst, rubies, or any others. If it hits that pocket of crystal, its soul becomes imprisoned in it and can no longer leave. It’s not all bad though, for if hundreds of years later, after the Maedar has grown mad, these gems are found and used to decorate a statue, sword, or jewelry, the Maedar can control those objects like an animating force. This is quite handy if you happen to know about the Glyptar and how to get some as you can animate your statues, get a powerful sword made using Glyptar gems, or anything else you want a mad Maedar to animate, so long as it is inorganic like stone or metal.
In the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium – Volume II: Children of the Night (1993), a Medusa, by the name of Althea, shows up and she lives on a small island called Demise. On that island is a large temple she has made her home and it features a labyrinth of stone and magic that can make creatures get lost for days at a time as she slowly stalks them through her lair. Althea is a bit unique in that her snake hair doesn’t just rely on biting to release poison, but she can also spray that venom at all creatures within 10 feet of her. You can make a save against it, but if you fail, you are permanently blinded as the venom splashes into your eyes.
In the Complete Book of Villains (1994), a Medusa is transformed from a simple monster into a proper villain. Named Lady Silith, this Medusa craves interpersonal relationships with other humanoids, even though she loathes most humanity. She is a highly regarded sculptor, no one knows she is a Medusa and travels from one royal court to another, enjoying dances, fine food, and more. To maintain her identity, she has a blind manservant, who was once a thief that she blinded, and wears a veil of silver coins that hides her face while she collects tapestries, artwork, songs, and more. It’s a fun look at how you can take an ordinary creature and transform them into a true villain by giving them a little bit of background and motivation while staying true to the creature’s innate abilities and description.
Medium Monstrous Humanoid
Hit Dice: 6d8+6 (33 hp)
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares)
Armor Class: 15 (+2 Dex, +3 natural), touch 12, flat-footed 13
Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+6
Attack: Shortbow +8 ranged (1d6/×3) or dagger +8 melee (1d4/19–20) or snakes +8 melee (1d4 plus poison)
Full Attack: Shortbow +8 ranged (1d6/×3) or dagger +8 melee (1d4/19–20) or snakes +8 melee (1d4 plus poison)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Petrifying gaze, poison
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft.
Saves: Fort +30, Ref +7, Will +6
Abilities: Str 10, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 15
Skills: Bluff +9, Diplomacy +4, Disguise +9 (+11 acting), Intimidate +4, Move Silently +8, Spot +8
Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Weapon Finesse
Climate/Terrain: Temperate marshes
Organization: Solitary, covey (2-4)
Challenge Rating: 7
Treasure: Double Standard
Alignment: Usually lawful evil
Advancement: By character class
Level Adjustment: –
The Medusa appears in the Monster Manual (2000 / 2003) and their appearance takes a drastic turn. They have the humanoid form of a female, which the books describe as perfectly proportioned and attractive, but instead of human-like skin, their body is covered in earthen colored scales. One would imagine this would make a Medusa’s attempts to deceive would-be prey a bit more difficult, but it does not as apparently only at 30 feet can you even tell something just isn’t right about them, which is why many of them wear form-fitting gowns and hoods or veils. It must take a great deal of effort to pull this off, especially since they now live in all sorts of locations, including some larger cities.
The Medusae keep their petrifying gaze, and it remains that if you fail a single save you are turned into stone until someone can come along and save you. The range of this effect is still 30 feet, and even if you avert your gaze and move in for melee, you’ll still have to deal with the poisonous snakes trying to bite you. While this isn’t an instant kill poison, it does deal 1d6 damage to your Strength, and if you keep failing your saves against it, it will jump up to 2d6 damage to your Strength. At least it isn’t instadeath, but we can’t imagine that too many fighters are going to fail against the poison and not the petrifying gaze since each requires a Fortitude saving throw and they are fairly low at 14 and 15, respectively.
In the Book of Vile Darknes (2002), there is an example Medusa villain named Siddal. She is a Medusa cancer mage, a nasty prestige class chock full of diseases and infections. She resides in a liar with her accomplice, Gauderis a half-orc vermin lord, where they spend their time in harmony, creating new and nasty diseases. Gauderis has found himself in love with Siddal and longs for the day he might be turned to stone. For now, Siddal has no interest in losing such a useful member of her cult, much to Guaderis’ dismay. He’s planning on drugging her in the future and then looking deep into her eyes, so he might revel in becoming stone. If that isn't love, we aren’t sure what is.
If you’ve been wondering how you could make your own statues and decorate your gardens with statues of adventurers, deer, and rabbits, well then the Savage Species (2003) has you covered. This book provides a huge amount of classes that player characters can take if they want to be more on the wild side, one of those classes is the Medusa. You start at 1st level being a fairly weak Medusa, and you don’t even have a gaze attack yet. Instead, you rely on your hair-snakes to save you with their poison, though you can wield simple weapons or shortbows if you want to hide behind the fighter. Your venom isn’t very powerful just yet as it only drains 1 point of Strength if your prey fails their saving throw. As you grow in Medusa levels, your poison gets stronger and eventually, you can start using your gaze once per day, then three times a day, and by the time you are 10th level, the max level for the Medusa class, you can use it unlimited and your snake venom is at full power.
The last major mention for Medusae comes in Dragon #355 (May 2007), where we see the return of the Maedar and the Glyptar. Their abilities don’t vary much from the previous edition, though we do get a brief look into the life of them and Medusae. The pair work in tandem to provide food for themselves and any little snake-headed children that might be running around. After the Medusa turns you to stone, the Maedar will punch your now statue form into hundreds of little pieces, transforming you back into flesh as you basically explode in front of your allies.
Maedar are highly valued by Medusae since they are so rare, and especially if they want to have children. Medusae are forced to blind or blindfold humans and mate with them that way if they want children, though often they’ll have fully human children that turn to stone at the sight of a Medusae, apparently, Medusa-fledglings don’t get turned to stone at the sight of their mother, a fact that is brushed past. If a Medusa is lucky and is chosen by a Maedar, chosen because a Maedar gets to freely pick who they want to mate with for life, then their children will always be Medusae with a very rare chance of producing a Maedar in one of their adoring children.
Maedar still retain their ability to send their essence into the stone, and that now they form into gem clusters in the stone instead of being trapped, though there is no clear answer as to how or why they would choose to do so. If they are freed, the gems, which are known as Glyptars, will soar around until they find an object to attach to, where they will then control it like an animated object or golem. It’d be pretty handy to have one of these Glyptar as an ally as they can animate pretty much anything, making it so that actually destroying one must be incredibly frustrating for their enemies as they have to fight sentient rocks, a castle wall, or anything else the Glyptar wishes.
Medusa Archer (Female)
Level 10 Elite Controller
Medium natural humanoid / XP 1,000
Initiative +10 / Senses Perception +13
HP 212; Bloodied 106
AC 26; Fortitude 23, Reflex 24, Will 25
Immune petrification; Resist 10 poison
Saving Throw +2
Action Points 1
Snaky Hair (standard; at-will) ✦ Poison +15 vs. AC; 1d6 + 5 damage, and the target takes ongoing 10 poison damage and takes a –2 penalty to Fortitude defense (save ends both)
Longbow (standard; at-will) ✦ Poison, Weapon Ranged 20/40; +15 vs. AC; 1d10 + 5 damage, and the medusa archer makes a secondary attack against the same target. Secondary Attack: +13 vs. Fortitude; the target takes ongoing 10 poison damage and takes a –2 penalty to Fortitude defense (save ends both).
Petrifying Gaze (standard; at-will) ✦ Gaze Close blast 5; blind creatures are immune; +14 vs. Fortitude; the target is slowed (save ends). First Failed Save: The target is immobilized instead of slowed (save ends). Second Failed Save: The target is petrified (no save).
Alignment Evil / Languages Common
Skills Bluff +16, Diplomacy +16, Intimidate +16, Stealth +15
Str 16 (+8) Dex 21 (+10) Wis 17 (+8) Con 18 (+9) Int 12 (+16) Cha 22 (+11)
Equipment hooded cloak, longbow, quiver of 30 arrows
The 4th edition tends to break with tradition, and the Medusa is no exception where it is found in the Monster Manual (2008). The opening paragraph lets us know there are now male Medusas, which means no more Maedar whose very touch can turn stone to flesh.
Female Medusas still have a beautiful hairdo made of snakes and will use their steely gaze to turn your stone. They are listed as Medusa Archers, and as you might guess, they use poison-tipped arrows. Once the poison weakens their prey, they attempt to use their petrifying gaze to add you to their collection of stone statues, interestingly in this edition, it takes their action to turn someone into stone, it isn’t a constant effect. If you refuse to be poisoned or maybe are blind so you can’t be a statue, they’ll move in close and use their snakes to bring you down.
The male Medusas are known as the Medusa Warrior and these gentlemen use a variety of weapons and abilities. The males lack the pretty snakes and the petrifying gaze, but if you look into their eyes, you’ll see that this gaze is full of venom. With just a look they can deliver poison and psychic damage to their victims, and as this poison weakens you, they come in for the kill with their long sword. It is often said a Medusa’s lair is painted with the blood of fallen prey, so we can only assume they are messy eaters and killers.
The next stat block is of the Medusa Shroud of Zehir, Zehir being an evil deity of snakes and poisons, who now have nasty fangs to go along with the rest of their snake-like appearance. These creatures are only female and differ from the previous two as they have a Fangs of Death ability that allows them to zip around the battlefield. Do they have actual fangs that give them these special powers? We have no clue. By using this ability, they can hit you a couple of times with their short sword all the while their snakes nip at your face. On top of all that, they still have the petrifying gaze, so you won’t be able to directly look at them and you won’t see them sliding up next to you until it is too late.
Little else is shared about the Medusa, though we do get something unique to this edition. The blood of a Medusa, and it doesn’t seem to matter if they are male or female, can reverse petrification. So if you happened to have a few dead Medusa around, that were killed within the past 24 hours, and have a few statues hanging out with you, you can save them from death. Of course, where you would find dead Medusas and statues of adventurers in one place is beyond us.
Medusas are given three additional stat blocks and some more lore in the Monster Vault (2010). Everyone has an opinion on where the Medusa originated from with the fey claiming that they are cursed elves who took part in slaughtering cities of eladrin. Some scholars think that the diety Zehir, pissed at the dragonborn after failing to conquer the dragons, transmuted the dragonborn into the Medusas. While others say they are the creation of yuan-ti, who mixed their blood with that of the basilisk, to create a loyal slave race. Even today, the Medusa is subservient to the Yuan-ti, and the snakes atop the female’s head bow to the Yuan-ti when they stroll on by. Whatever their origins, the Medusa remain nasty creatures. They retain their humanoid form but are covered in scales, have snake-like eyes, and thin forked tongues. They believe they should rule over all other humanoids, and some even have a god complex, thinking the humanoids they will soon rule should worship them.
As for the new stat blocks, the female Medusa Vemon Arrow and Spirit Charmers still have a mess of snakes for hair and are the dominant sex in this dynamic. The male Medusa Bodyguard males still have those dreamy poisonous eyes and big bald heads. Each of these Medusas have special places in their own Medusa clans and ensuring that the matriarch is safe from outsiders. Because female Medusa can’t turn each other to stone, but they can turn most male Medusa into stone, they see themselves as the dominant sex in their clans. Some, very rare, male Medusa can’t be petrified, which makes them highly sought after in a clan. Often these individuals will rise through the ranks, even surpassing the female Medusa in power.
Medium monstrosity, lawful evil
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 127 (17d8 + 51)
Speed 30 ft.
STR 10 (+0) DEX 15 (+2) CON 16 (+3) INT 12 (+1) WIS 13 (+1) CHA 15 (+2)
Skills Deception +5, Insight +4, Perception +4, Stealth +5
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 14
Challenge 6 (2,300 XP)
Petrifying Gaze. When a creature that can see the medusa's eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn't incapacitated and can see the creature. If the saving th ow fails by 5 or more, the creature is instantly petrified. Otherwise, a creature that fails the save begins to turn to stone and is restrained. > The restrained creature must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn, becoming petrified on a failure or ending the effect on a success. The petrification lasts until the creature is freed by the greater restoration spell or other magic. Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If the creature does so, 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. If the medusa sees itself reflected on a polished surface with in 30 feet of it and in an area of bright light, the medusa is, due to its curse, affected by its own gaze
Multiattack. The medusa makes either three melee attacks – one with its snake hair and two with its shortsword – or two ranged attacks with its longbow.
Snake Hair. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage plus 14 (4d6) poison damage.
Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.
Longbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, range 150/600 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d8 + 2) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) poison damage.
The Medusa appears in the Monster Manual (2014) and it heads back to the loneliness of caverns and ruins, as they once again live alone, their lives full of despair. Both men and women can become Medusas. If you desire to be beautiful, immortal, worshipped by others, or anything else that requires you to be so vain, you would seek out a demon or dragon to grant you such power. This power would eventually become a curse and turn you into a Medusa. Sure, you get to live like a god for a little bit, but eventually, it all goes bad. Because of their hideous looks, they live a solitary life, alienated from the outside world. The only time they get to interact with others is from looters and adventurers who don’t realize that the cave or crumbling building is the home of a Medusa.
Little changes for their abilities, male and female Medusa alike get snake hair to attack with, and the poison they inject just deals hit point damage, which is lucky for front line fighters who enjoy not dying instantly or having their strength reduced to nothing. Their petrifying gaze works instantly, so now anyone who starts their turn within 30 feet of the Medusa must decide if they keep looking at them or if they should avert their gaze, making it harder to fight the Medusa, but easier to not become a statue. If you do decide to look at a Medusa, you get to make a saving throw and if you roll awful, you immediately turn to stone. If you fail, but not horribly so, you get a second chance to roll again, and if you fail that one, you turn to stone. It’s a kinder process with a better chance of not being a statue, but for low-level characters, you might be trying to pass off the gnome wizard as a garden gnome.
The Medusa appears in a few adventures like in Princes of the Apocolypse (2015), where a human found a ring with a fey spirit inside. The spirit kept him young and good looking until it didn’t, upon which time he turned into a Medusa. So, as any good man changed into Medusa would do, he started a cult to Ogremoch, the Prince of Evil Earth.
In Out of the Abyss (2015), a drow priestess was turned into a Medusa after her failed attempts to turn a town into a drow village. No cult for our priestess, as she went crazy and began turning everyone she met into stone. She transformed so many creatures into stone statues that she attracted Ogremoch’s attention and could animate her victims. After her, there was a Medusa in Tomb of Annihilation (2017), Zaklore who landed somewhere between starting a cult and going insane, killing her husband, and now sits alone in sorrow and grief in Nangalore. She is highly distraught and regularly consumes hallucinogenic plants so that she can remember the face of her dead lover who she still loves even after years of being exiled. We are starting to notice a pattern for Medusa in 5e, either you start a cult and then go mad, or you go mad and then start a cult.
The Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica (2018) introduces the Undercity Medusa. Medusas are called gorgons in Ravinca, in an obvious nod to the Greek mythology they are based on, which is about time. These gorgons have to concentrate on changing you to stone, so friendly or surprised creatures are safe. They are involved with the golgari swarm and wield a good amount of influence within the guilds. They appear similar to Medusa, but the Undercity Medusas feature tentacles for their hair and scaly claws for hands. Despite their depowered gaze attacks, they are still formidable as they have access to innate magic and are known for their stealth and deadliness if they can surprise their victims.
It’s in the Mythic Odysseys of Theros (2020) that the Medusa is shown a bit of respect as a powerful and fearsome creature not to be trifled with. Pharika, the God of affliction, will many times take the form of a female Medusa. Mother of the Medusas, she provided them with secrets from her immeasurable knowledge and told them to hide these secrets worldwide. It turns out the Medusas were horrible secret keepers, hoarding them and trading their knowledge for all sorts of goodies. Angry gods make vengeful gods, and Pharika cursed them so that if they saw their own reflection, death would ensue.
The Medusas in Mythic Odysseys of Theros aren’t your typical Medusa and are more like the Greater Medusa from past editions. They have a serpentine lower body and can use it to constrict their prey as they use their snake hair to bite and poison their victims. Of course, while you are stuck in their grasp, you might as well gaze into their beautiful eyes and find out what all the fuss with being a statue is really about. Of course, we recommend sacrificing the fighter and just running away at that point, they always wanted a statue for their heroics anyway.
From Greek mythology to the adventures of Theros, the Medusa has been turning creatures to stone since 500 BC. Whether you fight blindfolded or fight blindly, we recommend always bringing a mirror with you, whether to check your own devilish-good looks in the mirror or to save you from a Medusa waiting to make eyes with you.
- Opening combat with stone-cursed enemies? Opportunity attack opener? Just a normal surprise attack? Or both?
- Questions about hypnotic gaze…
- Pride in how the players defeated the boss (Tomb of Annihilation Spoilers)
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Cursed by their vanity, they turn creatures to stone with a look – Lore & History of the Medusa" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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