Sunday 10 June 2012

Island Encounter: The Weeping Medusa

Location: A small island off the normal trade routes; out of sight of other land.

Possible hooks: Storm blows ship off course; patron hires PCs to look for princess; PCs find clue to location of Johydee's Mask (DMG p158); random encounter while exploring sea area.

Monsters: Four gargoyles (MM p42), one unique medusa (see below).

Special Treasure: Map/clue to Johydee's mask (DM's responsibility, not provided).

Other treasure: 1200sp, gems and jewellery worth ~15,000gp.

Backstory: Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who fell afoul of an evil and jealous stepmother who wanted her natural daughter to inherit the throne. She hated the princess but her own daughter would not co-operate with a plan to kill her, so she "sent her away" alive. She was able to swear that the princess was still alive somewhere and so assuage her daughter's guilt enough to allow it to be outweighed by her greed. The King was charmed so as to not ask too many questions and the search for the princess was half-hearted and trailed off with an official explanation that she must have drowned while swimming in the lake, although she was known as a strong swimmer.

In fact, she was doubly cursed by her stepmother who transformed her into a medusa and laid a spell of confuse languages on her so that she would be unable to explain to anyone that she was not the evil monster that she seemed. She was taken away to a distant and uninhabited pair of islands where she is guarded by four gargoyles (naturally immune to her petrifying gaze) bound to keep her alive on the islands and kill anyone who attempted to rescue her.

The princess's fiancée eventually uncovered clues to her fate and, armed with knowledge of the location of Johydee's mask (which renders gaze attacks harmless) he set out to rescue her. Along the way he was captured by pirates who misinterpreted his map and sailed to the island of the weeping medusa where they met a stony fate. The remains of the pirates' treasure remains mingled in with the wreckage of their ship.

Time frame: The DM must decide on the time that has passed since the above storyline; it should probably be at least a year but could be thirty or forty. Which it is will affect how useful the map is to the players, should they find it. The medusa form is effectively immortal, as are the gargoyles.

Start point: Assuming a voluntary landing, if at night there is a chance (30%) that the medusa is eating and her cooking fire is seen. Otherwise, the island appear fairly bare and uninteresting unless seen from the south east in which case the wrecked pirate ship may attract attention, or from the north when there is a 20% chance in daytime of seeing the medusa herself walking on the shore. Perhaps the PCs have been hired to look for the princess or her prince. Otherwise, there's no specific reason the sight of the islands should cause a landing unless it is a search for supplies.

If a ship looks like it is coming in to land (ie, is approaching and is within a mile or so), at least one of the gargoyles will see it and make the alarm call to alert the others. This sounds something like a huge torrent of water gurgling down a deep drain. Other than this, the gargoyles will make no obvious action until a boat has anchored or beached; preferring to trap the crew on shore where they can rip them limb from limb.

The Medusa
The medusa form is slightly different from the standard AD&D one and more like the mythical one. Firstly, the medusa is unharmed by non-magical weapons of any sort. Secondly, the reflection of her gaze has no effect on her or anything else. However, like the AD&D medusa, she can not fly.

She wears goatskin (her flimsy royal silks having long ago succumbed to the weather and the many sharp edges of the stony island. When she first realised what had happened to her she wore a blindfold so as to not accidentally petrify any would-be rescuer. When the pirates came she quickly realised that they were not trying to rescue her and with the help of the gargoyles she turned them all to stone through fear and frustration. She no longer wears the blindfold but will attempt to keep out of reach of anyone who lands on the island until she can decide what they want. If simply chased and cornered, she will assume the worst and unleash her powers in self-defence.

Her alignment is neutral and her only treasure is a platinum and jade armband which is worth about 8gp if melted down but would fetch a price of 1700gp from a collector interested in what is obviously a ancient and royal jewel.

Beehive Stone Cells
Her home is a stony area near the highest point of the main island ("M")where she has rebuilt the remains of some long-forgotten hermit's cell and put some low stone walls up as a wind break. From a the distance there is no sign of life about these things and they are overgrown with weeds.

Most days, she wanders the northern shore for a while, pondering and weeping over her fate. She is humanoid but with a body that is covered in thick scales (treat as scalemail). She wears a hood to keep her snakes docile and quiet and from behind looks somewhat like the attractive young woman she once was (and still is if transformed back).

Her now-reptilian metabolism means she eats very little and finds it tiring to move about in the cold or at night - 6" move rate.

Stats: AC: 5 (as scale); HD 6 (CL 8); Move 9"; Attacks: 1; Man-sized; +1 or better to hit, poison, gaze petrifies to 3" distance, can see and affect ethereal and astral beings. Total xp: 912
Bite (+poison): 1-4; HP: 27

The Gargoyles
The four gargoyles station themselves at the points marked North, South, East, and West.

They hunt on the small island for the princess when she is hungry (which they can detect as part of the magic that binds them to protect her from harm, including suicide and simply starving herself), catching a goat every now and then and killing it so that she can cook it without it turning to stone.

The gargoyles are evil and delight in smashing the statues that the princess makes, whether they are birds she glances at when they surprise her with their singing or goats that stick their heads into her cell to look for shelter from a storm, or the 154 pirates looking for a fortune.

They can fly reasonably well (class C) and can attack from the air with either their horn (damage 1-4) or claws (1-3/1-3). They will probably initially resort to dropping stones on any boat, to sink it in shallow water, hitting random targets if they are densely packed on deck but mainly hoping to put a hole in the bottom as they did with the pirate boat.

Each stone dropped will do 1-3 hull points (DMG p54) of damage and 6d6 damage should it strike a person on deck (save for no damage; dexterity applies). The gargoyles need 13+ to hit a medium sized ship from their attack height of 60'. If forced to fly higher by defensive fire, then give them -1 to hit per 10'. Remember that they are +1 or better to hit, so normal arrows etc. will not drive them back.

Manoeuvre  class drops from C to D when carrying any load. They can carry the princess in a pinch at class E and a maximum speed of 12", but they are bound to keep her within a furlong (22" in game terms) of the islands' coasts.

One gargoyle will remain with the princess at all times of threat, despite the fact that generally they are over-confident in their immunity to weapons; if the princess ever managed to exceed a furlong from the coast of the island, their binding spell would be broken and they would return to wherever they were summoned from.

Stats: AC: 5; HD: 4+4 (CL 6); Move: 9"/15"; attacks: 4; small (hp<20) or man-sized; +1 or better to hit. Total xp: 761
Claw/Claw/Bite/Horn: 1-3/1-3/1-6/1-4; HP: 28,17, 17, 19

Boat Area
The Pirate Ship
The ship is about 60' long and resembles a Viking longboat with a small poop deck at the rear where a helms man would have used a steering board (on the starboard side, obviously). The ship lays in shallow water with most of the hull visible at low tide. Anyone clambering into it will find the inside overrun with seaweed. Inspection will demonstrate that there are several major holes in the bottom.

The poop deck is in whatever state of decay that suits the time the ship has been here and under it is the remains of the captain's small cabin, no less seaweed and barnacle encrusted than any other part of the ship. A casual glance into this space shows it to contain a few old brass instruments and rotten clothes. A very careful, lit search of this room at low tide will reveal that under marine growth, limpets, and about a foot of water is a 2' tall statue of a sea god made from platinum and gems. Not especially artistic, the statue is worth about 12,000gp (and very heavy - 220lbs) as bullion and gems.

Scattered about the ship are silver pieces from the sailors' personal belonging. There is 1000sp in the boat but some sort of magical process would be needed to get it all, or an almost complete disassembly of the boat itself. Each turn of searching will produce 1d6 sp and has a 10% chance of unearthing a gem or jewel from the following list. Each can only be found once (duplicate rolls are non-finds) and no more than 6 items can be found (the remaining four have washed away):
  1. Azurite - 10gp value
  2. Large carved jade, chipped - 100gp
  3. Large carved coral - 500gp
  4. Gold earrings - 10gp
  5. 1d6 Pearls (100gp each)
  6. 1 Black pearl (500gp)
  7. Wrought gold filigree broach with coral insets - 1,600gp
  8. Gold sword hilt with rubies (no blade) - 3,000gp
  9. Silver drinking goblet with diamond armorial design - 2000gp
  10. Large violet garnet - seems 500gp but when examined by gemsmith or merchant is only 100gp.
There are signs of other treasure such as tapestries and similar material taken from merchant ships but these are rotten and worthless now.

The Pirate Statues
The area around the ship, and within it, is littered with the smashed stone corpses of the men who were killed by the medusa and the gargoyles. As one goes further from the ship these become less frequent but there is still a macabre feeling as one walks about that there has been a mass slaughter and that body parts have been scattered about the landscape (which is, of course, true).

The Cove Area
On the north-west of the main island are two headless statues cowering in a small cove (C), their hands thrown up to protect themselves as they huddled with their backs pressed to the wall. Unnoticed by the gargoyles, these two pirates had attempted to make a break for it with some of their possessions - a small locked chest. Inside there is about 200sp, two gems (an ornimental Rhodochrosite, and a  semi-precious Bloodstone - dice for value as needed) and a map.

The Islands
The two islands are dry and scrubby, with just about enough in the way of trees to provide shelter and food for a few dozen goats of varying ages. There are a few seasonal springs and the old monastic/hermitage collection of beehive cells where the princess currently resides has a small pond outside carved into the stone of the hillside which generally contains water all year around (boil before drinking). The landscape itself is unvarying scrub, olive trees, and cacti, so the maps just show elevation. The lightest yellow band on the attached maps show the range of the tides and the other colours show height in steps of 30'. The gargoyles at their stations have a horizon of about 7 miles (assuming an Earth-like world).
Medusa's "Lair" area

As well as eating the goats, the princess has also taken up fishing but even though she tries to land and kill the fish with her eyes closed there are a fair number of stone fish in little piles around the beaches.

At low tide, the smaller island can be reached by wading across in water waist-deep for an adult male human.

The Pirate's Map
This is a suggestion based on what I rolled up from the DMG; change it to something that fits if it is unsuitable but the map should lead to a guarded treasure of at least 45,000gp value in a monster's lair 30-40 miles away:

The map shows the islands of the medusa and some land to the east with a point marked on a mountain. There is text in a language which should correspond in your campaign to what Latin was in the 17th century on Earth - a language widely used by the educated but not commonly spoken any more. An accurate translation of this indicates that the islands are to be the second port of call after visiting the "Master of Gold Dragons" in his stronghold with the gift of "the statue" in return for the loan of the Mask of Johydee. This guardian is in fact an old gold dragon in human form, living the life (and with the abilities) of an 8th level monk with the standard followers for his level. His monastery-fortress contains his dragon treasure as well as the famous artefact. He is lawful good and his aim is to keep the mask away from those who would do evil with it. He is known to sometimes loan it out for short periods to those who are of his own alignment and who show a appropriate levels of sacrifice (ie, bring him something to add to his hoard); the price varies depending on how worthy he deems the cause. Monks of 8th level or higher will recognize him for what he is and treat him as separate from the normal hierarchy (ie, he doesn't count as the local 8th level monk who must be defeated in combat).

The map merely mentions "Master Gin-ti" as those using it knew who he was and makes no mention of his true nature (which they did not know) or even the monastery as such. The point of the map was to show the medusa islands, a fact which along with a bad translation doomed the pirates who captured it.

That's the situation at the start of the encounter. The main thing the DM needs to decide upon is how long it is since the pirates landed and were killed. If it was, say, 40 years ago, then even if the princess is somehow rescued it is unlikely to have much effect in the campaign as those who might have supported her will be dead. If it was just last year, then there is the potential for all sorts of political shenanigans in the wake of her story being revealed in whatever country you decide to place her background.

Likewise, names are left to the DM to decide based on personal style/setting.

A soft-hearted DM may find that the seemingly lost prince charming is an intact statue in the captain's cabin of a bound and blindfolded prisoner who might be restored to flesh and blood. Or not, as the case may be.

The main treasure is intentionally difficult to find and even if found it will be a burden rather than a reward until it can be disposed of properly. It is left to the DM to decide if anyone is looking for this statue which is probably looted from a temple somewhere.

This was an experiment in putting a simple encounter up on the blog; as usual I've written much more than I planned and the maps are a bit disappointing and a lot less detailed than they would be if I drew them with a pencil on paper. I've used a one-mile hex and a couble of one-furlong hexes (the two smaller sizes in my imperial Campaign Map Book) and if you print the latter out on an A3 page then they should be directly usable as one hex translates directly to 1 inch for movement, ranges etc. Using a few bits of Lego as markers for where gargoyles and PCs are should be easy enough.

The encounter is not meant to be a "scenario" as such, just something to throw in as an encounter at sea. There's not nearly enough happening on  the islands to take up a full play session, but the implications of what the players find may lead on to other things.


  1. Good stuff. Not sure about the medusa-princess fishing and herding goats, but that is always a problem I have had with supernatural creatures [i.e. what do they do with their down time?].

  2. Well, I wasn't thinking of her herding the goats as such; in fact I was imagining the goats mostly sticking to the small island and keeping out of her way. Mostly, though, I was assuming that she was spending most of her down time weeping and the stone fish were a nice little detail. Players can come up with interesting uses for things like that that you never imagine when placing them.

  3. This is simple, charming, and clever. I like it!

    1. You should write cover blurbs for books :)