Game: The Slayer’s Guide to Medusas
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 31st, August 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Popular fantasy roleplaying games have butchered the Medusa myth. She’s no longer the vain beauty who so terribly annoyed the goddess Athena and was cursed as a result.
Medusa has become an entire race. The Slayer’s Guide to Medusas doesn’t try and correct this but it does succeed in making D&D’s version of the Medusas far more tempting to use in your game.
Every Slayer’s Guide has an anatomical view of the creature under inspection on the inside front cover and this time the special attention given to how the snakes attach to the medusa’s head is particularly creepy.
The anatomy moves on to the physiology, looking at the dietary requirements of the strange creature, the life cycle and breeding. We’re told that medusa rarely breeds but when they do they’ll lay eggs which will hatch into other medusas – and that they’re always female. The father’s generally a human male.
Those times when a medusa breeds with some sort of fiend then the result is the same; a clutch of eggs that produce more medusa but it’s from this we might get the term “half-medusa” even though the daughters are plainly full medusa. Sounds a bit like a biology textbook? I suppose that’s the intent.
Much of the actual book is written as an academic treatise from an imagined NPC writing the book. It even goes as far as to compare and contrast the discussions of medusa in the book with other imaginary academic studies on the race.
I rather like the resulting effect; plenty of crunching stuff for medusas, plenty of flavour and lots of room for GMs to pick and choose their favourite bits from the book.
As is typical with the Slayer’s Guide the following chapter examines medusa society, their relationship with other races, mindset and religion. It’s here that the idea of the more bestial medusa in separation for the more civilised and educated medusa is introduced. The concept is further extended when we get to the two prestige classes later on.
Each of the prestige classes is detailed through ten levels and one, the Guiser, takes those medusa who hide among mankind to the extreme and the other, the Serpentine, are those medusa who embrace their snake and reptile inheritance. The Guisers are those medusas with plenty of magical talent (illusions) and a mastery of the disguise skill. I think the Guiser prestige class will make for a great reoccurring villain.
Imagine that the old herbalist at the edge of the town who was so terrible to the characters at the start of the campaign turns out to be a vengeful medusa just in time to terrorise the characters after they’ve picked up a few levels. The Serpentines, on the other hand, utterly reject trying to live with other sentient creatures including their own kind.
The Guisers’ prestige abilities give them ways to try and put their snakes to sleep or delay her petrifying gaze whereas the Serpentines’ powers are on the opposite side of the scale and increase the potency of their snake’s venom or the growth of extra-thick scales. I just like the way the juxtaposition of woman and snake is reflected in the race as a whole as well in each individual.
The Methods of Combat tends to be one of the weaker chapters in the Slayer’s Guides. Typically, the creatures covered aren’t smart enough to develop anything especially cunning.
The medusas tend to flee any combat they don’t immediately dominate and with their petrifying gaze it’s easy to see how they would dominate most combats and rather than killing off the “combat chapter” it introduces elements of tactics and strategy.
I’ve already covered the two prestige classes and these make up the bulk of the “Roleplaying with Medusas” chapter but there’s also a decent collection of scary feats that warrant a mention. If you jump to the back of the book and to the ever-present stat reference list you’ll see how much more dangerous the medusa become if you treat them as a race still due a character class rather than an undecorated monster race.
There’s an especially big scenario in this Slayer’s Guide. Sfiny’s Gang is seven pages long and that’s a fair chunk of the 32-paged book.
The adventures in the Slayer’s Guides do seem to slowly be getting bigger, progressing from more than just a sample village or lair into a lair with a basic encounter wrapped around it. The quality seems to be increasing too; there are three half-page maps with this encounter.
It’s good timing. I think The Slayer’s Guide to Medusas is different enough from most of the other Slayer’s Guides (in terms of the topic if not presentation) to help maintain a bit of enthusiasm for this long-running d20 series.
At the same time, the book is traditionally Slayer’s Guide in nature and will still appeal to those die-hard Slayer’s Guide fans. Still, on the issue of timing, I couldn’t but help notice that the Medusa book came out at the same time as Mongoose’s The Slayer’s Guide to Female Gamers.
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