Archive for December 8, 2017

Is it a medusa or a sirdusa with nothing left to lose?

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

If you’ve been listening, Dear Reader, you know I’ve casually dropped a siren-medusa hybrid into the ongoing monster/alien of the week conversation in this column, three times I think. Simple rule, now I have to put the lady (Greco-Roman mythology aside, are sirens and medusas always female?) on paper.

The trick is to blend the usage in a game of two disparate attacks that in the hands of most competent GM/DMs are pretty ripped individually. Sirens and medusas are well recorded in mythology and in every game system’s variant of The Monster Manual. A siren that, depending on the source, sings to lure sailors onto dangerous shoals, put them to sleep or, when really threatened, bleed them out through the ears doesn’t usually need to turn the unwary to stone. Similarly, the medusa doesn’t need to do scales warming up a High C licking her lips at the approach of arrogant sailors tied to the mast so tight we worry about bondage injuries. So now that repeating the name, sirdusa, three times forces him or her onto the page how do we blend the two metaphors in the same beast?

First off, Madam (Monsignor?) Sirdusa is fundamentally the product of the evil cloning ranch situated a mere two hours west into the Rockies from South Park. Or to put it into fantasy RPG specific terms, an evil witch/wizard interrupted the experiments with dragon eggs to squeeze out sirdusa. Each of the monsters that hybridize into the sirdusa represent long-tested metaphors that usually takes a serious hero (Perseus, Odysseus, your fifteenth level master of mayhem) to vanquish. A hybrid might be overkill…or not.

You can follow the logic that solid myth metaphors like sirens and medusas don’t change over time because the level of dramatic threat to the protagonist always represents something that the bitchy dude in the peanut gallery across the fire likes. You have to figure that the fire burns orange, the barbecue aroma from the minotaur steaks hangs in the air and the teller tells of Perseus. If the medusa isn’t scary enough said heckler is going to lay in with both barrels. Trust me, get drunk and try to tell a story…your good friends think it’s a holy mission to heckle.

I imagine the heckling like this…“Hey, why don’t you, like, also throw a siren in here right about when…”

If everybody else around that fire thinks the medusa is ripped enough to drive the moral point of Perseus in dramatically interesting ways, the other listeners will shout down Drunk Dave and the medusa stays in the picture without modification. But, if the medusa somehow comes off as weak cheese to the listeners then there will be a siren dropped into the tale. A later storyteller will frown seeing that there is a siren and medusa in the same point in the narrative and blend the two…the mythological way to the sirdusa that apparently never happened.

So if we can assume that the sirdusa only exists in the minds of people like me who just like moshing around with metaphors that don’t actually need much fixing, then we come full circle to a bored-ass witch/wizard invented the new beast just to see what would happen. As I lead you through this progression I can see some fun uses to a monster that you should neither hear nor see. Now that I think about it, the evil cloning ranch in the Rockies wouldn’t touch sirdusa; a lab that specializes in four buttholes on badgers (comedic genius, but of zero practical utility) should pass on sirdusa. Paging Saruman and his Uruk-hai factory?

Blending these metaphors represents an interesting thought experiment. We have the beautiful and dangerous singer archetype stereotyped as a soprano (or at least a mezzo-soprano) opera diva juxtaposed with the epitome of ugly as curse punishment for vanity. Mostly, we assume that the minute the siren leaves the beach to pay taxes and live like an in-lander, she’ll sing on the stage creating some interesting performances to say the least. But, how does the medusa power also fit into this dangerous narrative of the sirdusa? Very carefully says the joke.

In addition to my speculation about ancient listeners to these myths deciding that sirens are sirens and medusa are medusa and never the twain shall meet, if you pay attention the rules built into each metaphor also conflict that will require careful DM/GM tweaking to make work. No matter how the most recent storyteller massages the medusa myth into modern relevance, the medusa is ALWAYS susceptible to her own curse. Mirrors disappear from her lair. But, the siren, especially the one that auditions for the opera needs a makeup mirror to do up her face to play the campaign equivalent of Tosca or Mimi. Oooh! The metaphors begin to explode trying to occupy the same space at the same time!

My way around this conundrum is to create a kind of emotional progression that includes a modest amount of shape-shifting to hide the snakes in one’s hair. Most of the time the sirdusa might behave more like a siren. He/she sings and prances on the stage allowing a highly developed sense of smell to pick out a worthy victim sitting in the front row. The sirdusa makes eye contact singing directly to Lunch. Upon a failed Wisdom Check, money changes hands with the stage manager to arrange the meeting backstage. The remaining question becomes…serve Lunch with barbecue sauce or green salsa?

The adventure party hired by a mysterious benefactor to clean up the danger at the opera will likely send in a decoy. They think it’s only a siren and come armed for siren: wax, cotton or just a deaf guy. Back in his/her dressing room, the lure song doesn’t work and the beast worries. Then the sleep song doesn’t work. Things escalate to the bleeding ears song.

Here we see the basic point of blending the medusa and siren metaphors. A regular siren at this point should feel a grave fear of death where either she dies or drops to knees to beg for mercy. But, the sirdusa has one last card to play, he/she grows the snakes and now we’re rolling Constitution Checks to save against Stone Gaze. A last frak you upon smart-alecky adventurers who can’t explain about their players’ reading ahead in The Monster Manual.

The DM/GM will, of course, have to rule about the makeup mirror in said dressing room. Perhaps the sirdusa can survive looking in the mirror for the moments it takes to wipe out the adventurers? Perhaps she breaks the mirror during the fight before revealing her medusa heritage? Certainly, he/she is okay with mirrors when in siren mode, or the whole encounter blows up into the stupid zone.

I have other metaphors for the sirdusa. Some will highlight medusa over siren. The stereotypical narrative here says a mousy but still attractive sculptor that sings part-time in the church choir happy to assist others glorifying in song from the top bench. Perhaps she uses her Stone Gaze, especially if the DM/GM rules for the sirdusa being able to reverse the effects at will, either to capture/study motion or food storage in the absence of refrigeration?

Additionally, the sirdusa mentioned above could be given a backstory where he or she has been beat down by mean people angry that he/she sings instead of leaving the beach paying taxes and living like an in-lander. She has come to believe that her voice isn’t good enough and is happy to sing from the top bench where the backup sopranos warble. Another character enters to change this depressed outlook with encouragement, the best clothes he/she will ever wear and an audition for The Flying Dutchman. I don’t recommend this tack; pay attention, the above sentences pitch as The Jazz Singer meets Pretty Woman…a protagonist’s story. Scary, deadly creatures that have stories like this cease to be monsters…putting them beyond the purview of this Monster of the Week post.

Hopefully, you’ve been paying attention to my careful use of pronouns in this post. I’ve written she for siren and medusa, but he/she for the sirdusa. Two thousand five hundred years later, it’s all about providing DM/GMs and writers the cognitive tools to make everything old seem new again putting an individual stamp on things. The sirdusa is a good place to go gender-neutral where Greco-Roman storytellers would feel shock at the liberties taken.

Inside the game mechanics, Monsignor Sirdusa is easy to come by. The assumption that the sirdusa is almost a nuclear weapon monster and wouldn’t arise naturally but for that heckler across the fire easily leads us to some kind of pseudo-magical recombinant DNA explanation. X Chromosome Essence of Siren crossed with X Chromosome Essence of Medusa needs X or Y Chromosome Essence of Unwary Traveler as a catalyst. BOOM! Male sirdusa.

But, it does lead us to a few changes in the dangerous singer metaphor. Does Monsignor Sirdusa sing tenor? Does he sing baritone? Or do we scrap the opera metaphor and go with rock star? We have to ask these questions because leading (or merely significant) male opera parts seem evenly divided between tenors and baritones and rock stars can sing any range as long as going shirtless makes ladies scream. As always, individual mayhem will vary.

And now we come to the remaining afterthought for the sirdusa, game stats. Who wants to ruin an oddball essay about mixing monster metaphors handed down from Antiquity with boring things like hit dice, attack tables and armor class? But, it is officially a post about RPG monsters; I’ll keep it simple. Read both Siren and Medusa in your version of The Monster Manual and do a simple mean averaging on the stats and abilities. And maybe goose him/her up just a little bit on hit dice out of respect to me because now that I’ve gone to the trouble of inventing The Seductive Sirdusa, don’t kill them off too quickly.

As always, your mayhem will vary. Have at it!