by Orion Holcomb
The Slayer's Guide to Medusas
Published by Mongoose Publishing
Written by Ian Sturrock
Illustrated by Anthea Dilly (cover), David Griffith, Marcio Fiorito, & Matt Morrow
32 b & w pages
The Slayer's Guide to Medusas, like the other volumes in the
series, is a d20 supplement intended to add background and flesh out the
information found in the Monster Manual. Unlike the other
Slayers Guides, the topic of medusas doesn't immediately make its
potential known, as most gamers have only ever seen them portrayed in .
Players and GMs alike may be caught off guard by the unique twists the
book applies, turning a classic-but-obvious creature once again into a
force to be reckoned with.
Know Your Snake Women
The medusa has been a part of Western culture since Greek times. Medusa was
the name of one of three sisters, the only mortal one, who the hero Perseus
beheads in the myth. In the story, Medusa is described as much more dragonlike, with
wings and huge teeth, but the modern mythical medusas we're familiar with are a race of
perfectly shaped human females -- only with reptilian scaly skin and snakes
instead of hair, and able to turn things into stone with their gaze.
The Guide's introduction reminds us that medusas can easily become an obvious and
worn out enemy, but that there are many more possibilities for members of
this race. The physiology section details their origin, dietary
requirements, life cycle and reproduction. The section on medusa
society goes into detail on how members of this race interact with other
medusas, and with other races. It also goes into their mindset, their view of
the world, and their religion such as it is (they don't tend to be very
religious). The section on habitat reminds us that medusa are as versatile
as humans, can live anywhere and fit into any niche, and they prefer
several lairs, where their considerable treasure can be stored. These
sections provide a necessary background to a race few GMs make use of, and
give several other interesting variations on the "Perseus vs Medusa in the
ruins" scenario. Some details are left vague, as they are based on facts gathered by "'scholars' who have
not so much seen a medusa, let alone studied one." Makes for more
interesting reading, but I would rather have concrete facts in a book like
this. Some of the medusa society section seems wordy and repetitive, but
still contains useful information.
The section on medusa combat reminds us how intelligent and cunning they
can be. For example, medusas are intelligent enough to use
sledgehammers to eliminate evidence of folks turned to stone. They
prefer to be the aggressors in combat, to ensure things go according to
plan, and attempt to flee if conditions are not favorable. The section
on role-playing introduces two prestige classes for medusas: the guiser,
who specializes in blending in with humans, and the serpentine, who have
a close affinity to reptiles. Special medusa feats are also introduced
here, including a few that make it difficult to avoid her gaze. These
sections give medusas a much wider variety and should make our heroes
far less certain that a hand mirror will save them.
The two pages of scenario hooks and ideas provide GMs with inspiration,
and while some ideas are obvious, there is enough variety to spark the
imagination. The section detailing a medusa lair, "Sfiney's Gang,"
offers details on the primary lair of a covey of three medusas who are
involved in a major city's underground. The maps are good
illustrations, but they have no scale or compass. The three medusas
have such a well-planned defense that they are likely to escape, after
destroying their treasure. Their three other lairs are not detailed at
all, which makes it difficult to run as a complete adventure. It
also seems like just uncovering the truth (or a lead at least) about
these three art thieving sisters would take substantial adventuring
effort. This sounds like something to build a campaign around, in the
shady subsurface of a city of your choice.
The artwork and boxed text sections are well done, serving to both
enhance the mood of the Guide and break up the main text flow.
Several artists contribute to the book, each with a different impression
of the species. The fiction tidbits are light and fun, and offer many
additional ideas on how medusas can be intelligent, cunning, and
variable. Overall, the book is well laid out and organized.
As a whole, I strongly recommend the Slayer's Guide to Medusas.
This supplement takes a misused or seldom used race, and
makes them far more useful, flexible, and interesting as foes. The
sample lair may not see action, but still provides ideas for a GM.
Despite the danger, medusas are worth a second look.