Posted by : David Guyll October 21, 2013

One thing that I have been critical of with Next, aside from virtually everything involving mechanics, is the flavor, which I guess means pretty much everything. Normally it is the Wandering Monsters column that tries to pitch confusing, contradictory, and/or boring backstories, but today Legends & Lore takes over with the medusa.

The Greek Medusa was a beautiful woman who was cursed by Athena for the "crime" of being raped in one of her temples by another god. Her hair was transformed into snakes, her gaze turned anyone that saw it to stone (no save), and in at least one version of the story she is eventually beheaded by Perseus.

In both 2nd and 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons the medusa is by default not a unique creature, but a female-only race that mates with humanoid males to produce offspring. Unless you count their save-or-die gaze attack (which I do not) there is nothing interesting about them: they are hateful, live in caves, and depending on the Dungeon Master utilizing them might inexplicably leave statues around to make sure adventuring parties know exactly what to expect.

4th Edition kept them as a race but provided several unconfirmed origin stories; cursed elven worshippers of Zehir, a yaun-ti slave race created from mingling other yaun-ti and basilisks, or humans or dragonborn corrupted by Zehir. There is also a bit of flavor content tying them with yaun-ti, which makes sense what with all the mention of Zehir. As an added bonus they get some actually decent combat mechanics.

You have got the gamut of evil monster that pretty much lives in caves and exists to be killed, and a variety of stories to pick, modify, combine, and/or ignore, so what does Next do with all of this flavor content?

Since the backstory of an ugly humanoid monster that is always evil was not compelling enough, they decided to add more depth by having them be created from a curse. That is actually surprising in a good way, since it is not only not just what was done before, but it also sounds a lot better than a snake-haired woman that dupes men into heading back to her cave.

Really the only problem is that the curse makes absolutely no sense at all:

"Medusas are created by a curse whereby a human trades a decade of great beauty and personal magnetism for an eternity of a visage so wretched that it turns onlookers to stone."

I guess that this was the best that they could come up with? What is surprising in a bad way is that more than a few of the comments on the page think that this is in anyway interesting or even reasonable. Ten years of beauty for an eternity of snakes and murder-eyes? How does it work? Do you pray to a god of horrible bargains? What does the being that fulfills these curses have to gain? Why is the curse and period of time so oddly specific? Like, what if I just need a few points of Charisma? Where do snakes fit into the whole theme?

You know what makes more sense and still retains everything good about the concept? Having the curse be levied by the gods as punishment for vanity. I am not even necessarily talking about those that dare to compare themselves (or be unfortunately compared to) to a god of beauty, though that is certainly an obvious use. Anyone that is excessively vain could be a potential target, particularly those that use their looks to deceive people, which plays with the snake theme.

With this origin they can still be in positions of power, especially if they were rich beforehand), but whether the curse is placed on bad people that deserve it or innocent people unaware of the ramifications of their boasts (or the boasts of others), it will help rationalize their hatred and possibly make them sympathetic villains.

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