There’s a lot of responsibility riding on a Dungeon Master when teaching new players. You want to create a memorable first experience that provides tales repeated for years to come. Making sure your adventure finishes on a high is key to this experience, and a great boss fight can go a long way.
Unfortunately, with over 300 enemies available in the Monster Manual it can be difficult, especially for new DM’s, to know which ones to pick and which ones to avoid.
That’s where the Medusa comes in.
With a Challenge Rating of 6, it is a great boss monsters to use for new players. As a DM, you probably want to start ramping the difficulty up a bit for players who are just getting to grips with the base mechanics.
But what makes the Medusa such a powerful tool isn’t written in the Monster Manual: It’s that everyone already know what it does.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking this will make it an easy boss and that players will easily overcome it. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Your players already know what this creature does, and so it provides an opportunity for an interesting and engaging adventure from the front doors of the dungeon to the Medusa’s throne room.
Throughout your dungeon you can place small clues that allude to the final boss. Because your players already know of the Medusa, they’ll piece clues together until one of them has that eureka moment and works it all out. There is nothing better as a DM than watching the players all plan and strategise how they will defeat it, which is the result of a job done well.
Medusa’s hate mirrors, or anything else that might allow them to catch their own reflection and succumb to their own curse. Any mirror within it’s lair should be smashed and cast aside, perhaps there is even a locked room full of broken mirrors so that no one would ever go in there. Wells or other sources of water should be drained, so that the she could never possibly catch her own reflection.
The minions you use throughout the lair can also act as a clue to the bosses nature. Creatures that don’t rely on sight such as grimlocks, giant bats and oozes probably won’t give anything away by themselves but combined with the other clues will start to form a picture for the players.
For something a bit more on the nose you could imagine a group of occultists who are blind or blindfolded, then have them cast darkness on the players to even the playing field in a fight.
Penultimately, a creature such as a Xorn who consumes stone aids in the crafting of the the dungeon’s eco system, as the Medusa turns people to stone in order to feed her favourite pet. Litter the Xorn’s nest with half eaten stone arms and legs for some added flavour. Snakes and yuan-ti can also make good minions, their reptilian background grants them immunity from Medusa’s snake-like abilities.
The final, and most obvious clue are statues of previous, less than fortunate travellers who have succumbed to the Medusa’s curse. The closer they get to her the more and more statues they see. Or perhaps she only likes to keep the ones she is proud of, putting them on pedestals for display. Maybe they are only found in her throne room, the sudden realisation of what they are facing washing over your players as all the other clues seem so obvious now just as he voice echoes out from some hidden location.
Putting Death On The Table
Once characters hit level 4, they become able to take a few hits before going down in combat, it’s time to start increasing the difficulty and the perfect time to introduce a Medusa. Her petrifying gaze ability introduces the concept that characters can die quickly and without making any death saves.
It forces them to think outside the box on how they are gong to avoid this deadly ability.
But the beauty of this as a DM is the characters are never really in danger. The Difficulty Class for the petrifying gaze is only 14, so the main characters who will be threatened are the front line melee combatants. They should have a decent constitution and proficiency in the save, giving them roughly a +4 on their save against the ability. This means they only need to roll a 10 to save against the ability, and they need to fail twice to become petrified which is unlikely. The characters with low constitution are probably ranged and will be hanging back out of the 30 foot range. The Medusa can, and should, sneak around the front line to bring them into her range, however, they have to fail twice (or once really badly) to be petrified.
Even if a character is turned to stone this is easily undone in a variety of ways. The most obvious being a greater restoration spell as described in the Monster Manual. It’s believable that the boss keeps a spell scroll in her treasure horde just in case she is ever tricked into seeing her own reflection. As a DM you could also just rule that when the Medusa dies anyone turned to stone in the last minute is freed as the curse hadn’t fully taken hold and now the magic is broken.
Because of these factors, death is never really on the table for your players so it’s unlikely any of them die. However, they don’t have to know that. They will certainly believe they are in mortal and they are one unlucky roll away from needing to make a new character.
So, what are you waiting for?
These are just a couple reasons why the Medusa is a fantastic boss for new players, and I haven’t even touched on the little ways you can customise the monster or give it spells like suggestion to mix things up. But why not give it a shot? See what happens when your players realise what they are about to fight for their lives and craft a wild plan to save them. It’s sure to make a great story.