Encounter of the Week: Medusa’s Marble Menagerie

This week’s encounter is Medusa’s Marble Menagerie, an exploration encounter with opportunities for combat and roleplaying, depending on the players’ actions. Most adventurers know to be on guard when they spot extremely lifelike statues, but they have to guess what sort of creature could have created them. A medusa? A basilisk? Even a gorgon or a cockatrice? Turns out, it could be all of them.

A medusa lurks in the ruins of a once-regal countryside villa. She was once a woman named Philomela, and her story bears similarities to the tale of the first woman to bear the name of Medusa. Players interested in a deep roleplaying experience will find that her story is a tale of tragedy, and that she is a “monster” worth understanding and helping, despite her bitterness and outward aggression. On the other hand, players interested in pure exploration and combat will find Medusa and her menagerie of petrifying creatures a collection of truly terrifying foes.

Exploration Encounter: Medusa’s Marble Menagerie

This exploration encounter lets characters explore vast gardens filled with petrifying creatures, searching for treasure and perhaps encountering Medusa herself. This exploration encounter includes combat encounters suitable for 7th-level characters.

The dilapidated ruins of a magnificent villa stand atop a hill, surrounded by an expanse of forested wilderness. This wilderness was once a sprawling garden, filled with splendid statuaries and a menagerie of exotic beasts. The villa itself was owned by Philomela the Beloved, a star of the stage renowned for her radiant beauty, her skill as a performer of both songs and poetic theater, and—perhaps most of all—for her commanding offstage persona.

Every week, Philomela would throw lavish parties in her villa’s garden, flaunting her wealth to her hundreds of similarly wealthy guests by displaying dozens of exotic animals, deific marble statues, and splendid water features. Her prestige won her many friends, just as many false friends, and several dangerous enemies. While Philomela was largely able to protect herself from those who wished her harm by simply hiring bodyguards, she gained one enemy who would not be deterred by mortal hands. His name was Graz’zt.

Graz’zt, Demon Lord of hedonism, lust, and debauchery, desired Philomela for himself. The night of one of Philomela’s grand parties, he exerted his control over one man in the crowd. Hundreds of socialites and celebrities had gathered in Philomela’s estate, gawking at her menagerie of unusual beasts and laughing in her vast gardens. A knife forged in the coldest flames of the Abyss materialized in the hands of one of the men in the crowd, and he single-mindedly left the garden and climbed the stairs towards his hostess’s boudoir.

The man burst into Philomela’s private solar with a glazed, desirous, and murderous look in his eye. Graz’zt had not dominated his mind, he had merely demanded that the man act upon his worst, basest instincts. When the man saw Philomela, he raised the knife Graz’zt had given him and lunged at her. Unarmed and off-guard, she defended herself valiantly, but the man managed to plunge his demonic knife cleanly into her heart. Graz’zt had hoped to swoop in and steal her soul for himself, but the conniving Demon Lord was stymied by the intervention of another, greater power. In her dying moments, Philomela’s soul had become the battleground for powers far greater than she knew; Waukeen, goddess of wealth and freedom laid first claim to Philomela’s free spirit. A furious Graz’zt twisted Philomela’s fate in that instant, and placed a terrible curse upon her: she would be immortal, and her beauty would never fade, but all who gazed upon her would turn to stone.

When Philomela awoke, her assailant was dead. Or rather, he stood before her as a marble statue. She looked down at her hands and saw in horror that her skin had taken on a scaly, green-gray pallor. She ran outside and found that her grand party had ended in tragedy; all of her exotic animals had fallen under Graz’zt’s foul curse as well, and they were transformed into monstrous cockatrice, basilisks, and gorgons. Even the guests had suffered, for the animals had transformed them into hideously lifelike marble statues.

Decades have passed since that tragic night. No longer are great festivals or masquerades thrown at Philomela’s crumbling villa, and the wilderness has long reclaimed the gardens. But within the overgrown gardens roam countless creatures. Petrifying beasts. Marble statues animated by restless spirits. The medusa Philomela herself. And even the demonic agents of Graz’zt, who still seek a way to subvert Waukeen’s intervention and claim the medusa’s soul for their patient master.

Encounter Summary

Characters may search the overgrown gardens for treasure, or seek out the ruined villa at its center. As characters explore, they can make a number of choices and checks that may result in them finding treasure, encountering monsters who wish to kill them, or both.

Encounter Start

It may help if the characters know at least some of the backstory of this location: it was once the garden of a wealthy performer, but tragedy befell her. Her garden and estate have been overgrown, but treasure and danger lurk within it. When the characters find themselves at the edge of the Gardens of Philomela, read or paraphrase the following:

Before you lies a vast expanse of gnarled trees and thorny thickets. Just a few feet in front of you are the legs of a stone bench poking out of a massive rose bush. This wilderness looks less like an ancient forest and more like a garden that has been unattended for decades. Looming above the overgrown garden is a dilapidated mansion sitting atop a craggy hill.

When the characters enter the garden, ask if they intend to explore the outskirts or head straight for the mansion atop the hill. If they explore the outskirts of the garden, they don’t need to make any checks to avoid getting lost or finding a specific landmark, since they’re wandering without purpose. Roll 1d6 on the Exploration Encounters table below now, and every time the party decides to continue wandering after an encounter. Each encounter takes place approximately 10 minutes apart.

Skill Challenge: Navigating towards the Villa

If they are trying to navigate directly towards the hill, one character in the party must make a DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) check. Note if the check was a success or a failure, but regardless of whether or not the check succeeds or fails, roll 1d10 on the Exploration Encounters table below now. After every encounter rolled with a d10, one character in party must make a DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) check if they intend to keep heading towards the villa, and then roll 1d10 for another encounter. Each encounter takes place approximately 10 minutes apart. The party reaches the villa after earning three successes, but if they accrue three failures first, they become lost and find themselves at the edge of the overgrown garden, with their total successes reduced to 0.

Once the party becomes lost once, they have advantage on all Wisdom (Survival) checks made to navigate toward the villa, since they are likely retreading old ground.

Exploration Encounters

While exploring the overgrown Gardens of Philomela, the characters will encounter strange sights and creatures. If they are exploring the outskirts of the garden, roll 1d6 on the table below for every 10 minutes the party spends wandering. If they are navigating towards Philomela’s crumbling mansion, roll 1d10 on the table below for every 10 minutes they spend traveling.

Exploration Encounters

1d6/1d10

Encounter

1

Inanimate statues

2

Cockatrice flock

3

Basilisk pack

4

Roaming gorgon

5

Restless statues

6

Unguarded treasure

7

Demon spies

8

Gorgon herd

9

Stalking Demons

10

Coin of Waukeen

Inanimate Statues. The party finds 1d6 eerily lifelike statues with expressions of absolute terror etched upon their faces. They stand in an open clearing, but are overgrown with creeper vines. One of them holds an item in its stony grip; roll once on Magic Item Table B.

Cockatrice Flock. While wandering through a thick patch of trees, the party is suddenly attacked by a flock of 10 cockatrice. The thick trees grants all creatures three-quarters cover against ranged attacks. The cockatrice carry no treasure.

Basilisk Pack. A group of 4 basilisks lurk near a 20-foot-diameter reflecting pool that is completely choked by algae. If the pool is cleared, all basilisks within 10 feet of the pool see their own reflection. They only make this mistake once before getting wise. The golden jewelry from long-since devoured party guests sits in their gullets; each basilisk has 10d6 gp worth of jewelry in its gut.

Roaming Gorgon. A single gorgon prowls an overgrown hedge maze. The trees overhead are so thick that no natural light can penetrate this area.

Restless Statues. In an open clearing, the party finds a trio of lifelike marble statues frozen in expressions of howling rage and torment. The restless souls of these petrified party guests still linger within these statues. When a living creature gets within 10 feet of one of the statues, all three animate and attack in a frenzy until all living creatures they can detect are slain. These statues use helmed horror statistics; they are immune to the spell transmute rock instead of heat metal. These statues are each adorned with 500 gp worth of jewelry.

Unguarded Treasure. Six basilisk corpses surround four petrified adventurers. Each adventurer holds a magic item randomly determined from Magic Item Table F.

Gorgon Herd. This section of garden is devoid of statues and has been trampled completely flat. The ground then begins to rumble as a herd of 10 rampaging gorgons run by. 1d4–1 gorgons stop to smell the air, making a Wisdom (Perception) check to search for nearby prey as the rest run past. After this encounter, the characters automatically succeed on their next Wisdom (Survival) check made within the garden.

Demon Spies. A group of 3 quasit spies of Graz’zt hop around in the form of toads at the side of an algae-choked reflecting pool. If the characters ignore the toads, the quasits change shape and take the form of bats which try to stealthily trail the characters. If all the characters fail a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check and fail to notice their pursuers, their next encounter is guaranteed to be the Stalking Demons encounter. If the characters reach the villa before rolling another encounter, the Stalking Demons attack when they encounter the medusa.

Stalking Demons. Every few years or so, a group of Graz’zt’s servants stalk this garden and the grounds of the villa, in an attempt to find Philomela and kill her, in hopes of smuggling her soul past Waukeen’s watchful gaze and to Graz’zt’s side. These 4 shadow demons flit between the shadows of tall trees or marble pillars, waiting to ambush any enemies of Graz’zt. One of these shadow demons bears a random magic item from Magic Item Table G.

Coin of Waukeen. The characters find a single shining gold coin on the ground. It has no minting date, and bears the face of a goddess on one side. Any creature that holds it is immune to being petrified, and if the coin is pressed against the stone flesh of a petrified creature, the coin vanishes and the creature is no longer petrified. Additionally, if pressed against the flesh of a medusa, the coin vanishes and she is transformed back into her humanoid form.

A creature who picks up the coin hears a brassy, feminine voice on the wind, which whispers, “I am Waukeen, and I bestow upon you my blessing. Let this charm protect you from the curse of stone, and may it save another from her own fell curse. By my divine decree, do not permit the dark prince to claim the lady of this house.”

Reaching the Villa

Characters that successfully navigate the overgrown garden reach the crumbling walls of the villa itself. The main courtyard is a rectangle 100 feet wide and 50 feet long; a mossy cobblestone path leads straight from one end of the courtyard to the main gates of the mansion. On either side of the path are two 30-foot-diameter reflecting pools, both of which are choked with algae.

The doors of the mansion have long since fallen of their hinges, but the arch of the doorway remains. Characters that succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check spot the medusa Philomela lurking in the shadows of the arch. If she is noticed, she lurks in the shadows and hisses, “There is no more beauty or splendor here, only pain. Turn back before you meet a foolish end.”

If the characters approach her with hostility, she commands her two guard basilisks to charge out from the manor’s dilapidated entrance hall and attack, while she languidly gazes upon the battlefield from the doorway. She approaches closer if no characters are within 30 feet of her.

Philomela has no fear of death; she hates the curse she has been placed under, and would greet death as a welcome reprieve. Nevertheless, she does not have an active death wish, and fights viciously when beset.

If the characters approach her peacefully, she hides in the shadows and asks why they have come here, and what they want. She does not know why she has been cursed with this fate; she explains her story, but is only dimly aware of Graz’zt or Waukeen’s role in her transformation. She describes her transformation to the best of her ability, saying that she felt as though she was being torn asunder by a giant, six-fingered prince and a kind, beautiful woman surrounded by a golden glow.

Medusa’s End

If Philomela is killed, the character see a 9-foot-tall, humanoid shadow emerge from the darkness of the house and put a massive, six-fingered hand around her body. The shape looks up and smiles, then disappears, taking the body with him. He leaves behind a suit of demon armor in the medusa’s place as a token of gratitude.

If Philomela is saved by a character using the Coin of Waukeen, she transforms into a six-foot-tall woman with red hair. She reacts with utter shock and tearful gratitude. She is completely disoriented after her harrowing time as a medusa, and only manages to asks the party to take her away from this place before passing out from the strain. Once she recovers, she offers to accompany the characters to the nearest major city, where she promises each of them a 5,000 gp prize for saving her life. Philomela is a bard with a Charisma of 20 (+5), and may even become a patron of the characters for future adventures.  


Did you like this adventure? You can pick up more adventures I've written on the DMs Guild, such as The Temple of Shattered Minds, a suspenseful eldritch mystery with a mind flayer villain (for 3rd level characters). My most recent adventure is in Dragon Heist: Forgotten Tales, a book by the Guild Adepts which gives you a new beginning, middle, and end to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. It's the perfect way to give this adventure even more replay value! My new beginning is a great way to introduce a campaign focused on either the drow or devil cult factions causing trouble in Waterdeep. Check out all of my other adventures on the DMs Guild, too!

Also, for more free encounters, take a look at the other encounters in the Encounter of the Week series!


James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of  Worlds Apartand a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their feline adventurers Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.

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