This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Thirty-eight on 14th October 2020.
Ryu: Okay, we’re back from the market and…um…
Ostron: Here, this is your stack.
Lennon: What did you do to my stash of Post-it notes?
Ostron: I used them. Which I have to apologize because originally I assumed buying 50,000 Post-its was a waste, but now we actually need them, so…
Ryu: Need them for what? The common room looks like a bad wallpaper job.
Ostron: We have a mimic infestation.
Lennon: Ugh, how did that happen?
Ostron: I don’t know, I assumed someone looted something and it was a particularly clever mimic.
Ryu: Wait, how do you have a clever mimic? Don’t they just sit and wait until something comes by and then they munch it with the gigantic teeth?
Lennon: Actually they don’t have teeth, usually.
Ryu: But I’ve seen pictures!
Ostron: Okay clearly we need some reeducation here. Pull up a chair.
Ostron: Right, the ones with the sticky notes are safe.
Lennon: Okay, here goes.
By this point most people are familiar with the old joke:
An adventurer walks into a tavern, sees the bartender polishing a huge windlass crossbow and asks “what’s the crossbow for?”
“Mimics,” the bartender responds.
The adventurer laughs, the bartender laughs, the table laughs, they shoot the table, everything’s great.
Mimics are another D&D monster that has become popular enough that it’s partially infiltrated general pop culture, though not to the same level things like Mindflayers have. However, when you look into mimics there’s a lot of things people think they know about mimics that aren’t actually true.
Mimics have been around since the very beginning of D&D, and they’re one of the creatures that has evolved quite a bit in temperament and capability. In first edition, for example, Mimics were only able to impersonate objects constructed of stone or wood, and it wasn’t until an article written by Ed Greenwood several years after the game debuted that more information about the creature was revealed, such as the fact that in its natural form the mimic is essentially an ooze; it’s form is amorphous and it’s skin is pebbly and gray, much like the stone it often copies.
Another thing many people are unaware of is that some mimics are intelligent. It can actually be most mimics depending on which edition’s lore you’re consulting. Now most people think of mimics as mindless impersonators that just start killing and eating the first creatures that come across it but there are breeds of mimics that are completely sapient, capable of holding conversations with people, and can be bribed with food to provide information. The names for each type of mimic change for each edition too. For example in 1st edition, the “Common mimic” was the sapient one, and the “killer mimic” was the mindless eating kind, whereas by 4th edition, regular mimics were mindless eating machines, and the rarer “Impersonator mimics” were the kind that could talk.
Another common misconception about mimics is due to the artwork, and possibly due to a British author. Most depictions of mimics in art show a treasure chest with a very toothy mouth where the opening of the lid would be, sometimes with a long, thick tongue. The tongue is right, but the teeth are not; as we mentioned, mimics are actually closest to oozes in nature; they envelop and dissolve their prey to eat it. They trap the prey by use of a very powerful adhesive their body excretes, which is actually how they get around as well, and then they beat their prey to death with pseudopods. The teeth art started to show up in second edition, which is also a few years after one Terry Pratchett published a fantasy book featuring an intelligent clothes chest that ran around eating pretty much anything that offended it, and that chest did have teeth. Pratchett was the best-selling British fantasy author in the world until this woman named Rowling came along, so it’s possible that had some influence.
The origin of mimics also has some contradictory information but a lot of it dovetails into the same end result, as long as you ignore 4th edition, which a lot of people do anyway. Mimics are said to be the result of wizards intentionally experimenting with oozes to use them as guards for their towers, castles, lairs, or whatever the latest fashion in wizard domiciles happens to be. Sometimes the sources claim it was one wizard who did it and the mimics just multiplied from there, while others say that creating mimics was a bit of a fad for wizards at some point in history and then it got out of hand as if they were a bunch of living tomagotchi pets.
For the sake of completeness, we should mention that 4th edition made them creatures originating in the far realm who ended up on the material plane “just cause.” 5th edition, to date, hasn’t said anything explicit about their origins either way, though they are given the “monstrosity” creature type, which usually applies to creatures created through magic, like the owlbear, rather than far realm refugees that usually get labeled as aberrations.
Regardless of their origin, Mimics have no problem spreading because they reproduce asexually, though it’s unclear what conditions have to be true for that to happen. The intelligent mimics can work together in some cases and share territory, but the mindless ones are just like animals and will mostly work alone. They are usually found underground or in areas with low light. The reason is another thing that’s muddled depending on the source; in some cases it’s because it’s easier for them to hide and relocate after a kill, in other cases it’s because they have an actual aversion to light & sunlight, though that was mostly in earlier editions and doesn’t seem to be a factor anymore.
Other than those details, most of what people know about mimics is in line with reality; they impersonate objects they think creatures or adventurers will try to investigate, trap their prey, kill, and eat them. As mentioned before they used to be limited to stone and wood but in recent incarnations they can imitate any object made of “natural materials” and since plastic isn’t usually a thing in D&D that leaves a lot to be paranoid about.
One thing that was explicitly spelled out until recent editions was size. While mimics can basically impersonate anything, they can’t defy physics, so whatever they’re copying was limited to things with a volume of 150 cubic feet, or about 4 and a quarter cubic meters for you non-Americans. So they can’t impersonate a full-size wagon, but a door, chest, desk, or chair is well within their wheelhouse. Also, they almost always impersonate inanimate objects and can’t copy living creatures. The only exception seems to be the Impersonator Mimic from 4th edition, but that was 4th edition so people don’t pay attention to it.
Of course, that’s common mimics. Crazy, evil designers have at times come up with mimics that have extra abilities, such as the space mimic from Ostron’s favorite setting that can survive in vacuum for a while. There are also greater mimics that apparently reside in Undermountain and occupy 350 cubic feet or just over 9 cubic meters, which is large enough to copy an entire room. Those mimics are the intelligent variety and skilled enough to copy furniture and objects in a room too. Then there are the house-hunter mimics. I’ll let you figure out what they impersonate. Here’s a hint; the “house hunter” part refers to what they eat, not what they do.
Regardless of their size or their intelligence, Mimics are the go-to source for instilling paranoia and caution in adventurers everywhere.
Lennon: Speaking of paranoia, how many wands do you usually wear on your hips?
Lennon: Not three?
Ostron: Nope, why? Oh… oh no… I don’t want to look, just get it off of me
Ryu: Don’t worry, I can do this. Just put on one hat…
Killer DM: … and take one of Ryu’s daggers and…
(brief mortal scream)
Killer DM (yelling): Gath, darling, do be a dear and come down here, and bring a diamond with you. You’re going to need it!
Killer DM (normal voice): Now, you run along to the scrying pool — Ryu will be with you shortly. Normally I’d want to tag along, but right now I have some kidneys to extract…