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Famously, the gaze of a Medusa's eyes turns hapless adventurers to stone.

However, is this save automatic upon seeing her eyes?

The Medusa's Petrifying Gaze feature says (emphasis mine):

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.

The text states that the Medusa can force the creature to make a save, implying that the Medusa chooses when this effect takes place. Is this how it works, or is the effect automatic?

For a little more background, currently I am running

Tomb of Annihilation, where Zalkoré has her face hidden behind a translucent veil.

The players can clearly see her eyes, but she hasn't yet decided to activate her ability yet, so no petrification saving throws yet. Am I playing this correctly, RAW?

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No, it's up to the Medusa

You've quoted the relevant requirement in that that the Medusa can force the creature to make the saving throw. If the Medusa opts not to, then no saving throw is needed.

Yes, you are playing this correctly.

Your decision to not force the save until you are ready to do so was the right one.

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