Welcome back to the Libris Monstrum! Last time, I talked about nagas and their rich history within the myths of the real world. The incarnations of naga have remained pretty stable over the years, at least within D&D, but we will get back to naga later. Tonight, I want to talk about something that doesn't come from the real world: the mimic!
Why talk about the mimic? Because you asked me to, and you voted on it! The mimic is a classic monster and virtually every person who has played more than one game of Dungeons & Dragons knows what it is. It is a creature that sits on a list of iconic monsters encountered at the table, alongside beholders and gelatinous cubes. Some of you were curious as to why to include them as an underutilized monster, so common as they are. Well, the mimic isn't so common.
Man-Eating Treasure Chests
The mimic is seen quite often in lower level dungeon crawls to trick players and punish them for blindly opening, or attempting to open, random treasure chests. But do we ever see them after that? Sometimes we do when we start new games, have forgotten our lessons, or take part in classic adventures, but not often enough. And certainly we are nearly guaranteed to see them as chests. It is, after all, the classic look. In fact, it is so classic its an entire trope with these types of creatures showing up in video games and other artistic works outside of D&D.
Mimics are capable of so much more than that, though. Early on it was decided that those wizards who held many valuable items, and made their homes in strange dungeons, needed something to protect their hoards. Why not a magical shapeshifting treasure chest that eats people? They have been able to transform into a lot more, anything made of stone and wood at least: door frames, short walls, statues, bookshelves, all the common dungeon decor. Aside this ability is the ability to secrete a glue that holds attackers firm to them, making the kill all the more easy. Of course don't forget that there are smaller ones, smarter than their killer cousins. These can be fed and befriended, even speaking to those who have pleased them. Just look at some of the images below by Vempirick on Deviantart for some terrifying ideas.
Similar Ideas Or Different Species?
OK so the mimic doesn't corner the market pretending to be something it isn't. Of course, I know these aren't the same thing as the mimic, often very different, but the idea is fun to think about. It also benefits you, the game, and the poor mimic if you change it up once in a while. Wouldn't it be something if they treat a cloaker like a cloaker when it is really a mimic!?
So, let's look at some of those creatures now. The cloaker is as good a place as any to start, and a great one to be sure. Hanging up on a rack, alongside many other cloakers, the cloaker looks just like the rest. Some nice buttons and some bone clasps, or are they? Nope they are extra eyes and terrible claws and this thing will eat you as soon as you try to put it on. Oh, and they can fly. If you want to be even more devious just use the trapper, a creature that molds to the floor it is on, becoming the floor. Walk on it and you will become food. Or the piercer. One of those stalagmites looks odd, maybe loose? You don't understand the truth until it lets go stabbing you from above and hoping to kill you outright!
The grey ooze is another fantastic classic! Sure oozes suck in all their forms, but the grey ooze is fun for its ability to look like stone. Fill a whole in a wall with the ooze or create a small half wall with a few of them. Your players never know what hit them. My favorite, though, is the one that doesn't live in dungeons, but in the woods. The wolf-in-sheeps-clothing is an awesomely odd and fun creature. While it looks like a tree stump with a small wounded animal atop it, it is actually a horrible carnivore. Heroic characters can never resist the urge to help a small creature, especially when there is a druid. When they discover that its a woodland anglerfish, well you players may never trust you again.
Not all not-quite-treasure-chests are mimics. Some of them are a lot more fun. Take the Luggage for example. This creature is from the Discworld series and is unmistakable unique. It is, essentially, a combination treasure chest, bag of holding, and batman-butler. It's determination and ability is amazing, but it is no true mimic. Similarly, the next two things are incapable of shapeshifting, but they do act as other objects and are likely to try to eat you. The Bag of Devouring is my favorite cursed item. It acts as a bag of holding, most of the time anyway. When it isn't, it is eating your stuff...or you. There is always a chance that the bag eats something you have put into it and can never retrieve it again. Of course, it could just try to pull you inside as you try to retrieve an item. While not as terrible, the Monster book of Monsters from the world of Harry Potter is a book equally likely to eat you. If you know how to treat it, you will be able to read from the text, but it is still a dangerous creature.
Dungeons, The Mimic, & You
A lot of this entry to the Libris Monstrum hasn't, technically. Unlike other entries, the mimic doesn't have a culture. In fact, its major lacking feature is the tendency to use it as a chest and forget about it. So how can we get the mimic to come back to the table? First off, I believe we need to consider the second, more intelligent species to be quite a useful device. Perhaps an old familiar or just the secret leader of a dungeon, the mimic would be difficult to find if it didn't want to be.
Then, of course, a mimic can eat and grow and eat and grow. There are two ways to make a great dungeon from that fact. First off, if it is reproductively active (which is just through fission!), then a dungeon might end up being full of the creatures. Every time goblins, treasure hunters, bears, or anything else moves in they just get eaten. This would leave an eerily empty dungeon, not only clean but with plenty of loot!
On the other hand, we could say the mimic does NOT reproduce. Or, at least, not a lot. We could have a dungeon with one small section controlled by one or a couple, extra large mimics. Imagine a high level party, already having overcome the trouble of mimics and dragons, only to find a mimic the size of a bed or a desk or even bigger! It would be surprising to say the least and quite dangerous. Any of these options utilize the mimic in a much broader and fuller sense than it generally gets.
I suggest you take it and go crazy, get creative. That is how we can stop the mimic from being so under utilized while still being so well known.