In 1950, policemen in Philadelphia chased down an object they say came right out of the sky. Upon closer inspection, they found a jelly-like substance that “gave off a purplish glow, almost a mist, that looked as though it contained crystals.”
Some reports even claimed that it seemed to vibrate or pulse, and that it even attempted to scale a nearby light pole. One of the officers was brave enough to touch the thing which then dissolved leaving nothing but an odorless but sticky residue in its wake.
Eight years later, The Blob would slide its way onto the silver screen; a movie about a purplish gelatinous mass that dissolved others instead of evaporating itself!
It’s no coincidence then that the 1974 release of Dungeons and Dragons made great use of malicious slimes and oozes.
There’s Always Room for Oozes
Oozes are fairly well-known entities in Dungeons and Dragons, so luring folks into an encounter with an exposed ooze can be tricky. They’re slower than your average PC, so many will just give them a wide berth and move on.
But according to the Monster Manual, black puddings, gray oozes, and ochre jellies can all move through spaces as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing–so it could conceivably fit into spaces even tighter than that! No one is going to pay much attention to the natural cracks in the cave walls, which can give you all the opening you need to put an ooze in hot pursuit of an unsuspecting party.
Ochre jellies and black puddings also have Spider Climb, so death from above is a good option too!
And I’m going to rock the boat when it comes to the gelatinous cube a bit here but…don’t get too hung up on the cube part! It is more like Jello than a LEGO brick.
While I don’t think it can find homes in the tiny crevices like its cousins, I do think that it could be found sweeping the naturally formed tunnels of a cave system that on paper don’t allow for its 10ft by 10ft as-written mass.
D&D Oozes: Shoot for Surprise
Oozes should always, always, always be a surprise encounter if at all possible (barring Perception checks, of course). If they’re not holding completely still in the hopes that the PCs will just walk right into them, they’re on the silent hunt!
While most oozes move slower than your typical PC, they can make slow but steady advances on a party while the party is engaged in combat or lingering about. Oozes want to be where the bodies are, so it makes total sense that they’d show up at the site of a deadly conflict…or go for an Engulf attempt during a Rest!
When Are Oozes At Their Scariest?
Gelatinous cubes are scariest at dead ends. If you can maneuver a gelatinous cube between the party and the only means of escape, all it has to do it move forward and Engulf. At lower levels, the DC 12 Dexterity save to avoid getting Engulfed and the DC 12 Strength save to either pull yourself out or pull a trapped friend out might not be a gimme…and the damage it deals scales fast: 3d6 on the initial Engulf and 6d6 if the creature is still trapped inside on the cube’s next turn.
Plus, it can hold your standard party of four Medium creatures with ease!
Black puddings and gray oozes are scariest when the party has no magical melee weapons and limited range capabilities. Their resistances and immunities make them great resource depleters! They don’t have to be the star of the show, but a bout with one of these guys before a larger battle can have casters low on spells and melee fighters with minuses to their hits.
And don’t forget about the Split reaction for black puddings and ochre jellies! It’s like pouring water on a mogwai, man! HP goes down, sure, but their Pseudopod attacks do not diminish in the least and their frequency doubles with each Split! If that isn’t scary, I don’t know what is.
The other important way to keep oozes scary: The gooey details. What remains are floating in their bodies? How can you describe the Corrode Metal effect of the gray ooze or the Corrosive Form effect of the black pudding to raise the fear factor? How might different sound effects be used to enhance the encounter?
And don’t miss that the gray ooze slithers like a snake instead of advancing like a slug! That detail alone can throw the PCs for a loop.
D&D Ooze Encounter Ideas
- The PCs discover that one of the tunnels in the goblin cave is immaculately clean. This is definitely not the handiwork of its known residents. Sharp eyes notice that the cleanliness ends abruptly 30ft further down the tunnel. (Gelatinous cube)
- The party stumbles across a chamber that is strewn with bodies in various states of decay. No weapons, metal armor, or coins can be found. Quivers are full of arrow shafts, but conspicuously missing all arrowheads. (Gray ooze)
- The light of their torches shows that they’ve reached a dead end. Time to turn around. As they make their way back the way they came, one of their boots strikes the ground with a splorch. Weird…there weren’t any muddy areas on the floor on the way in here… (Gray ooze if on stone, ochre jelly if on dirt floors)
- They failed to see the pitfall trap! As their fellow party member disappears from sight, instead of hearing them smack hard ground, they hear glorp. You found the cave denizens’s dual purpose garbage disposal and trap! Now your friend is 20 feet beyond your reach and struggling for air within a gelatinous cube.
- The city’s sewer systems have backed up into the street. The engineers sent down to investigate never returned.
- A local brewer captured a small ochre jelly and let it loose in his basement to keep the rats away from his barley, but its grown too large for him to handle on his own now.
For the month of October, Nerds on Earth brings you short creature features on a handful of monsters from the pages of Dungeons and Dragons. With Halloween on the horizon, we’re turning up the fright factor!
Looking at movies for inspiration and history for spooky lore, we’ll share a few creative encounter ideas to spring on your unsuspecting PCs! With just a little creativity, you can slot these horror-themed encounters into any adventure.
I wanted to start this series of posts off with the oozes primarily because they are lower Challenge Rating (CR) creatures. Are there scarier beasts to throw at your party? Absolutely! And we’ll get to them shortly! But let’s give the lower level PCs something to supercharge their nightmares on the way.
Other Creepy Creature Features: