During a recent conversation with my gnollish daughters, I was struck with an odd thought. Why are certain creatures or personas from myths and legends cloned when it comes to most roleplaying games? (Told you it was an odd thought!)
Let’s take Medusa for example. In Greek myth, Medusa was one of the three Gorgon sisters who were children of pre-Poseidon marine gods Phorcys and his sister Ceto, two of the children of Gaia, the Earth Mother, and Pontus, the first sea god. Medusa’s sisters were Stheno and Euryale. Apparently Stheno and Euryale were immortal, but Medusa got the short end of the stick and was mortal. Depending on what you read, there are a couple of stories… The trio of Gorgons might have been terrifying female monsters with snakes for hair, fangs, and claws. Or they were beautiful and Medusa said that Athena was jealous of her beauty and the goddess hit her with the ugly stick. Either way, Medusa’s mortality was a bad deal for her, since the Greek hero Perseus removed her head.
So at most, there were three Gorgons (not Medusae). And yet, in every version of Dungeons & Dragons I’ve ever seen, Medusa is a type of monster, not a unique creature. You can read about it here from the d20 SRD online.
The same can be said of the Minotaur. This poor creature was created to punish King Minos of Crete for not killing a special snow-white bull sent from Poseidon. When Minos got the bull, he was supposed to sacrifice it to Poseidon as a show of appreciation for the gift. Of course, pride got in the way and he kept the animal alive. Aphrodite decided to punish Minos by making his wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull and their child was the monster Minotaur – with the body of a man and the head of a bull. Like Medusa, the Minotaur was eventually killed in the Cretan Labyrinth by the Greek hero Theseus.
Unless the Minotaur somehow found love in the Labyrinth and spawned children, there’s little to no chance of a new breed of monsters appearing in a crowd. Again in D&D this has been turned into a type of monster, not a unique individual. You can read the Minotaur stats at the d20 SRD online as well.
I’m sure there’s a reason that these unique creatures from Greek myth were adopted as a new breed of monsters in the first few editions of D&D, but I have no idea what it is. And I’m sure there are others in the role call of classic monsters that have had the same thing happen…
Question: Anybody know the history of why these (and other) classic monsters from D&D were turned into a monster type?
- AD&D Monster Manual part 30 from SAVE OR DIE! (mahney.blogspot.com)
- Which greek god turned Medusa’s once proud locks into ringlets of hissing snakes (wiki.answers.com)
- New Collection: Greek Mythology (davidcamisa.wordpress.com)
- What was the name of the labyrinth where the Minotaur lived (wiki.answers.com)
- Fiend Folio Friday from Savage Swords of Athanor (swordsofathanor.blogspot.com)