This slender, attractive woman has strangely glowing eyes and a full head of hissing snakes for hair.
Str 10, Dex 15, Con 18, Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 15
Environment temperate marshes and underground
Treasure double (dagger, masterwork longbow with 20 arrows, other treasure)
Medusas are human-like creatures with snakes instead of hair. At distances of 30 feet or more, a medusa can easily pass for a beautiful woman if she wears something to cover her serpentine locks—when wearing clothing that conceals her head and face, she can be mistaken for a human at even closer distances. Medusas use lies and disguises that conceal their faces to get close enough to opponents to use their petrifying gaze, though they like playing with their prey and may fire arrows from a distance to lead enemies into traps. Some enjoy creating intricate decorations out of their victims, using their petrified remains as accents to their swampy lairs, but most medusas take care to hide the evidence of their previous conflicts so that new foes won’t have advance warning of their presence.
Used to concealing themselves, medusas in cities are usually rogues, while those in the wilderness often pass themselves off as rangers or trackers. The most notorious and legendary medusas, though, are those who take levels as bards or clerics. Charismatic and intelligent, urban medusas are often involved with thieves’ guilds or other aspects of the criminal underworld. Medusas may form alliances with blind creatures or intelligent undead, both of which are immune to their stony gaze. Spellcasting medusas often serve as oracles or prophets, usually dwelling in remote locations of legendary power or infamous history. Such oracle medusas take great delight in their roles, and if presented with the proper gifts and flattery, the secrets they offer can be quite helpful. Of course, the lairs of such potent creatures are liberally decorated with statues of those who have offended them, so the seeker of knowledge is well advised to tred carefully during such meetings.
All known medusas are female. Rarely, a medusa may decide to keep a male humanoid as a mate, usually with the help of elixirs of love or similar magic, and is always careful to not petrify her prisoner—at least until she grows tired of his company.
The ultimate outcasts, medusas are hated, loathed, and feared by members of every race vulnerable to their abilities. At a distance, a medusa resembles a shapely woman with supple skin that ranges from alabaster to ebony and sparkling eyes as hard as diamonds. However, the reality of the deceptive being becomes all too apparent as one nears her, for one discovers that the beautiful woman’s hair is actually composed of dozens of writhing serpents, and her captivating gaze is capable of turning the casual onlooker to stone. Medusas’ horrific visages and destructive powers mark them as monsters in most cultures, and their status as exiles drives them to despise their persecutors in return. While not innately evil, medusas are driven to pursue their dark desires out of spite, scornful of those who shun them for their curse. It is no wonder that medusas as a rule do not pursue more wholesome endeavors, for they are confined to the outskirts of society, forced to victimize innocents and formulate underhanded schemes in order to simply get by. Unfortunately, for most medusas, simply getting by isn’t nearly enough.
Medusas are avaricious, lustful, and driven by the need for vengeance. They make their lairs far from the societies that shun them, preferring to adopt as their homes either labyrinthine cave systems or neglected structures in remote marshes and jungles, and often construct underground passages that link both such realms in order to bolster their mobility. Though they reside in places of squalor, medusas take pride in how they ornament their abodes, filling each room with resplendent jewels, masterfully crafted works of pottery, and unique pieces of beautiful art. To acquire such decorations, a medusa will sometimes journey to nearby settlements with a veil drawn over her eyes and a hood over her hair, seducing vendors and private collectors alike with her charming wiles or stealing the items while they have their backs turned. When a medusa has a target with particularly desirable wares in a vulnerable position, she may unleash her petrifying gaze, turning her victim to stone and allowing her to plunder his goods at her whim. Of course, the medusa is sure to dispose of the evidence of her crime-destroying her newly created statue and hiding the rubble-lest the surrounding populace become aware of her presence.
A medusa’s diet reflects her environment; one who spends most of her time dwelling in her marshy lair will make her meals out of the other denizens of the swamp, preferring the raw meat of crocodiles, giant frogs, and boggards. Since their appetites are largely carnivorous, medusas often become experts at stealthily hunting down their prey and killing it from afar so as not to petrify their meal before it can be consumed. A medusa’s stony gaze doesn’t discriminate, and neither birds nor vermin are immune to her curse. Thus, for a marsh-dwelling medusa, any bugs that may have acted as pollinators and seed-bearers are often accidentally turned to dust and gravel, and though medusas are fond of wine and fresh fruit, most must travel away from their lairs in order to acquire such luxuries, the plant life having become neglected by the because of their accursed presence. While it is partly true that medusas have an affinity for lonely and bleak places far from those who despise them, this is primarily so because medusas create bleakness and desolation wherever they linger, and even if they establish new homes, it is not long before bleakness and desolation follow them once more.
While many medusas reside in distant swamp lairs, some opt to move into the dark underbellies of the societies that hate them, if only to be closer to the objects of their own depredations. Such medusas often hone their archery skills in the wild before utilizing them in urban areas, turning their mastery of the hunt into viable careers as rogues or assassins. Others pursue the arcane or divine arts, acting as oracles and seers for those bold enough to pay for such fickle beings’ services. Customers who pay adequate homage to a fortunetelling medusa are often rewarded with valuable advice, while those who either overtly or inadvertently insult such monstrous sages quickly find themselves among the numerous statues of previous insolent customers decorating the medusa’s parlor.
Medusas can mate with any race capable of propagation with humans, though their children are always female and always carry their mother’s curse. A medusa typically chooses the finest breeding stock for her pleasures and for reproduction, manipulating her subjects with trickery and disguise while driving them into poverty with her incessant desires for expensive material goods. The hereditary curse of medusas is outwardly reflected in their gaze and hair, but less well known is that within every medusa’s chest beats a heart made of literal and figurative stone. As hard as rock yet as contractile as any human heart, a medusa’s heart is made up of an ever-renewing, mystic precipitate, which the blood of the creature constantly erodes and replenishes as it pulses through. Within it is said to be some lingering trace of the immortal, a chemical that extends medusas’ lifespans beyond those of even elves.
A medusa is often solitary as a byproduct of her powers, since few allies can survive around her for long, but among those who can withstand their damning gaze, medusas are quite fond of organizing heists and planning other illicit activities. Medusas often find it difficult to work together, as individuals tend to have very particular ideas about how best to accomplish their goals; even if they agree on what those goals are, a medusa is rarely willing to submit to the authority of another, as each feels she should be in control. A particularly strong medusa may be able to recruit others to her cause and enforce a strict hierarchy and chain of command, and a cadre of medusas working in concert is truly a terrifying thing; it is far more common, however, for a single medusa to establish a network of spies and minions of other, lesser races to work for her.
Medusas who dwell in ancient ruins-especially those who fancy themselves clerics or other channelers of the divine-often ally with intelligent undead or animate skeleton and zombie servants, as beings of unlife are immune to their lapidifying gaze. For similar reasons, medusas with a more academic bent may delve into ancient secrets that allow them to control constructs that patrol and protect their lairs. Still others form oracular cults, doling out prophecies and encouraging their monstrous petitioners to wholly blind themselves and rely on their supernatural senses, forcing their subjects to wear hoods or blindfolds, or burning incense from banks of censers and hanging thuribles so as to conceal their faces amid the haze.
Medusas who choose to make their homes far from the realms of civilization have little reason to hide their collections of petrified victims, and may place them in artistic arrangements around their lairs to intimidate intruders or those they’ve lured to such desolate places. More cautious medusas, especially those whose homes aren’t especially far from outposts or urban centers, meticulously dispose of petrified remains in deep pits, pools, and bogs, or bury them under sand and soil to avoid alerting explorers to the danger. Even so, clever adventurers might notice the peculiar absence of vermin and small animals that normally crawl about the warm, damp environs medusas typically reside in, and even a tiny bee made of stone can be a dead giveaway of a medusa’s presence.
A medusa living among humans and their ilk must be an expert at disguise or stealth, and keep her visage constantly hidden behind a veil or beneath a low-hanging hood. Such social medusas excel at creating elaborate networks of unassociated cells, each unaware of the activities and objectives of the others. A medusa usually uses different disguises with each sect of her organization to ensure that the uncovering of one will not lead to discovery of another, as well as to keep her true nature and identity hidden. While loath to sacrifice followers for no reason, medusas are ruthless in expunging those who fail to advance their objectives or who prove incompetent. Medusas can often be found as the leaders of thieves’ guilds, smuggling rings, slave trafficking operations, or any other exploitive enterprise. Labyrinthine lairs in sewers or decayed slums are often the favored homes of urban-dwelling medusas, but many ambitious individuals take an entirely different tack, infiltrating the upper echelons of society through seduction, blackmail, or outright assassination. Some may steal the identity of reclusive, elderly, or sickly patricians or members of such wealthy families, living in opulence under the stony gaze of victims petrified in their own homes before smashing the evidence and moving onto another set of prey.
Medusas make excellent foes for PCs in both urban and wilderness campaigns. The snake-haired monsters can be found behind closed doors in the corrupt parts of vast metropolises as well as in the abandoned ruins of forts and citadels in boggy swamps, and how medusas intersect with both environs can create an interesting dynamic for PCs used to simply exploring one or the other. Tracking down the criminal mastermind behind a massive slave-trading operation can take an unexpected twist when the leader’s home contains a secret entrance to a vast underground network of interwoven cave systems. Likewise, treasure hunters exploring the apparently empty lair of a temporarily absent medusa would be surprised to find a tunnel full of the petrified remains of countless victims leading to the slum district of a nearby town, and such events can create interesting roleplaying opportunities in addition to combat encounters.
Medusas in the wild are often the hunter rather than the hunted, and PCs who find themselves in the territory of a medusa may discover their error all too quickly when an arrow narrowly misses an adventurer’s throat. Such medusas typically attack intruders they believe are getting too close to their lairs, though a particularly tactical medusa may instead set up her home to attract such intrusions, utilizing various preset traps as well as the ledges, catwalks, balconies, trenches, and pits that dot the environment. A medusa typically allows PCs to get just close enough for her to use her gaze while staying out of melee combat. Medusas with class levels will often focus on Acrobatics or Climb (or acquire magical equipment to enhance these skills) to render these strategies more effective, and when getting close enough to petrify foes is not a wise choice, they rely on their longbows to subdue ranged opponents before moving in to deal with the rest.
Medusas make excellent foes for the end of low- to mid-level adventures, and can be given class levels to enhance their prowess in combat even further. As they typically guard huge treasure troves of wealth and lore, the items an adventuring party finds upon destroying a medusa can double as strong plot hooks, as the PCs might need to return a powerful artifact to its proper resting ground in order to prevent further chaos, or might find a treasure map signifying further plunder to be found in a distant region. Thanks to both the range of possibilities granted by their greed, as well as their mid-range CR, medusas make for excellent transitional monsters when a GM wants to shift a campaign in an entirely different direction midway through a party’s adventuring career.
In a high-level game, multiple medusas attacking simultaneously constitute a legitimate threat, as they are immune to each other’s gazes, while PCs must continue to save every round for every medusa as long as they are within range. Their humanoid forms and ability to blend in with more mundane societies make medusas particularly viable monstrous candidates for adding class levels and developing interesting backstories. Medusas with class levels are excellent high-level opponents, especially as rogues who sneak attack enemies averting their gaze, or as foes with levels in a Charisma-based class such as bard, oracle, sorcerer, or cleric, since their higher ability scores and access to powerful magic items and spells make their Charisma-based gaze weapon even more potent. Even medusas who take levels in fighter, barbarian, or monk can prove powerful, taking PCs by surprise if they expect a less physical opponent.
Medusas are collectors of all forms of wealth, and because of their greedy nature some develop obsessive fixations on particular objects of art and beauty. Medusas prize jewelry, carvings, and other types of artistic possessions, and whenever possible they trade raw coin and gemstones for such works. Even finely crafted but mundane items such as lamps, furniture, and utensils appeal to the aesthetic of medusas, who see the beauty in anything that has been crafted from something raw into something functional and magnificent. Favorite magic items of medusas include all types of magical jewelry (such as necklaces, rings, pendants, crowns, and circlets), figurines of wondrous power, marvelous pigments, rods of splendor, and magical cloaks and robes of ostentatious design-and of course jars of stone salve to help them loot their petrified victims. A medusa may stow gaudy items when she requires stealth, but when she reveals herself she wants every eye drawn to her.
In some ways, the dwelling place of a medusa may be a treasure in and of itself. While medusas are rarely scholars of history and magic, their affinity for beauty extends to a fascinated appreciation for ancient architecture and weathered relics of past civilizations. Whether they sense the faded glory of these artifacts and crumbling edifices or simply enjoy the time-touched patina of the ages surrounding their collections, medusas all share a fascination for the relics of old, and take great pride in collecting them. A medusa’s hoard is often amassed in the most stunning room in her lair, and the chamber is frequently constructed out of carefully rescued and restored architectural features decorated with etchings, mosaics, reliefs, and friezes of all sorts, accented by marvelous idols, icons, statuettes, and figurines. More than a few long-lost secrets of the ancients have been uncovered as a result of piecing together the oddments of a medusa’s horde.
Though most medusas are essentially humanoid in form save for their monstrous locks and unearthly powers, in lands where the serpent-haired beauties are particularly prevalent there occasionally rises to notoriety a different sort of medusa, one with the lower body of a snake instead of legs. These beasts are known as brazen medusas, and their powers are just as potent as the common medusa, save that they have a hardened body of dark bronze scales and an animalistic hunger that is difficult to sate. Though it comes from the womb of an ordinary medusa, a brazen medusa is anomalous, and is usually the result of the mother mating with a particularly powerful individual of monstrous nature. Brazen medusas tend to isolate themselves in the more remote regions of the world, as their monstrous figures make it difficult for them to integrate into civilized societies. They still have the trademark greed of medusas, but they satisfy their compulsions through more primitive acts of hunting and slaughter rather than by amassing wealth, and so many brazen medusas take levels in classes that enhance their ability to stalk and kill, especially fighter, ranger, and rogue.
A brazen medusa is of Large size, and gains two claw attacks and a tail slap attack in addition to her snake bite melee attack. Her tail slap attack can grab enemies, and she has the constrict special attack. In addition, a brazen medusa is immune to poison and gains DR 5/adamantine and magic.
In traditional Greek mythology, it is said that medusa was one of the three monstrous Gorgon sisters produced by the elder deities Phorcys and Ceto. Later, however, the Roman writer Ovid characterized medusa as a lovely priestess of Minerva (the Roman incarnation of Athena), who after consorting with Neptune (Poseidon) was punished by the goddess-her hair was turned into snakes that transformed anyone who gazed upon her to stone.
Slaying medusa, the only mortal Gorgon, was the object of Perseus’s epic quest. Sent on a suicide mission by King Polydectes-who sought to marry Perseus’s mother-Perseus received several gifts from the gods to aid him in his journey, including a mirrored shield he used to avoid looking directly at the monster, an adamantine sword he used to strike off her head, a magic bag to carry it, and a cap of invisibility to enable him to escape medusa’s immortal sisters. On his return journey, Perseus used medusa’s head to petrify the Titan Atlas, slay his rival suitor while pursuing Andromeda, and kill King Polydectes. The drops of blood that spilled from medusa’s head whenever Perseus set it down are thought to have created the corals of the Red Sea as well as the vipers of the Sahara Desert. His mission accomplished, he returned the gods’ gifts and offered medusa’s head to Athena, who mounted it upon her shield, the Aegis.