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I'm running Tomb of Annihilation and

the party has recently gone to Nangalore and they encountered Zalkore,

a medusa. They killed her and one of the players wanted to take her head and I allowed it.

Later on, they had a random encounter and the same player said he wanted to use the head of the medusa to try to turn the goblins to stone.

Are there any rules on this or is this a DM choice?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Paul This seems like an attempt to answer the question partially. Note that comments are temporary notes for managing/improving the question only, and anything not for those purposes will likely be deleted. Please place such information in an answer instead of a comment. Here's a reference on our policy: Should users refrain from answers (or partial answers) in comments? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 8 '18 at 12:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Would it be possible to rewrite this question a little so that people who are currently running ToA don't get spoilers? \$\endgroup\$ – Shadow May 9 '18 at 4:29
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Generally, no

There is no ruling of any kind in any official 5E material as far as I'm aware.

With what is given in the description of Petrifying Gaze, I'd rule that the head must be preserved and/or magically prepared in a way that would make it more than just a slowly rotting head.

Petrifying Gaze. When a creature that can see the medusa's eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn't incapacitated and can see the creature.

Emphasis mine

Personally, I'd interpret 'not being incapacitated' as a state of being that the head of a dead medusa can't retain on its own.

Regarding her ability to petrify I'd consider it a byproduct of her curse that manifests whilst intently staring at a creature. Regarding arcane preservation/preparation I see no reason why a player shouldn't be able to have the head focus its gaze on a location/creature the wielder wills it to.

To prevent the petrification from being too powerful a tool you could limit the amounts of times the head can be made to focus, lower the DC or even prepend the DC with a mock ranged attack, as focussing someone else's eyes manually upon another creature's eyes.

As suggested in the comments by @Pixelmaster I'll add a brief chunk regarding the itemization of the head. I'll be referring to the

Flesh To Stone, a 6th level spell, would be the closest equivalent to Petrifying Gaze for players. The closest RAW item dealing a comparable status would be the rare Wand of Paralysis (Dmg P211), which has 7 charges and paralyzes a single Creature for one minute. If you wanted to you could base the stats of the head on the wand like so:

Medusian Stare

Preserved Head, Rare

This head has (2-5) charges. While holding it, you can use an action to expend (1/2) of its charges to cause the head to briefly animate and stare deeply into the eyes of a creature of your choosing, forcing it to pass a DC (12-14) Con save. If the saving throw fails by (5-7) or more, the creature is instantly petrified.

Otherwise, a creature that fails the save begins to turn to stone and is restrained. The restrained creature must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn, becoming petrified on a failure or ending the effect on a success. The petrification lasts until the creature is freed by the greater restoration spell or other magic.

Alternatively you can expend (3/4) charges to have the head target all creatures in a (15-20) foot cone in a direction you point the head.

If all charges are expended or the Medusa's head sees itself reflected on a polished surface within (20-30) feet of it and in an area of bright light, roll a d20. On a (1-4) the medusa's head is, due to its curse, affected by its own gaze, destroying itself in the process.

The head regains 1d4 expended charges daily at dawn.

Note that the number of charges and their expenditure are deliberately vague. While a Wand of Flesh to Stone would be a rare item like the Wand of Paralysis their respective Spell versions are quite far apart. As far as I see the Wand of Paralysis is based on Hold Person, a 2nd Level spell, only the want targets Con instead of Wis. Giving a higher level spell less, or maybe even just one use per day may be the way to go.

Another thing to keep in mind would be that preparing the head for use should be a journey of its own, a little sidequest to discover some lost knowledge the character needs to force a spark of life back into the eyes of the medusa. You could also have the character roll several times through the creation of the item and have the Charges and DC based on how well they do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Furthermore, being dead would generally be taken to prevent the medusa from being able to "see the [target] creature". \$\endgroup\$ – aroth May 8 '18 at 11:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that the only reason Medusa's head worked that way for Perseus was because she was a unique being and it was decreed by the god that cursed her. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth May 8 '18 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the important thing here is, if the players really want to use the trick they should need to spend resources to obtain what seems like a fairly powerful magic item, and then it should have limits so they can't just try to petrify everything. D&D can benefit quite a bit from avoiding "No" in favor of "Yes, but..." \$\endgroup\$ – Kamil Drakari May 8 '18 at 12:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Consequence: Do all medusa heads become a magic item able to cast 6th level spells without attunement, then? I would suggest making them disposable- no recharge at dawn, if you allow this. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 May 9 '18 at 9:58
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By the rules, this doesn't work.

Petrifying Gaze is an ability the Medusa has; being dead, she cannot use her abilities anymore. It also specifically states that the ability doesn't work if the Medusa is incapacitated.

That said, if you think it's cool, you could certainly allow it. It worked for the original in the myths.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And suddenly the party has a infinite use wand of area petrification. It will be abused. Caveat Emptor \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin May 9 '18 at 1:40
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No

When a creature that can see the medusa's eyes starts its turn within 30 ft. of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn't Incapacitated and can see the creature.

I don't know about you, but being headless seems like you'd be Incapacitated. In addition, this is a decision she has to make herself, which she can't do if she is dead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The etymology of incapacitated is approximately “headless,” for the record. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 8 '18 at 12:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan: Hey, she's bodyless not headless... \$\endgroup\$ – R.. May 9 '18 at 18:29
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A dead Medusa has no actions, and thus cannot cast petrification.

However, in interest of aiding your players with their novel solution, I think any mechanism by which they might give the Medusa an action could be used to engage her petrification. Perhaps an Animate Dead spell, or even a healing potion (since she is so recently dead). It's up to you whether this non-consensual gaze attack has a wide cone of effect that might affect the players, and whether the snakes get a bite attack.

In any case, it is super necromantic to carry a head around doing magic with it, and would probably have alignment penalties associated with it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The medusa isn’t casting any sort of petrification spell. It’s Petrifying Gaze ability doesn’t require an action to use. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey May 8 '18 at 12:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, 5e doesn't really have 'alignment penalties'. Was this answer supposed to be for a different edition? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 8 '18 at 12:56

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