Archives of Candlekeep: Ooze On First
This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Eight on 26th February 2020.
Lennon: Ostron, I need you to sign this purchase order.
Ostron: What’s it for?
Lennon: Cleaning supplies.
Ryu: Why do we need new cleaning supplies?
Lennon: Apparently HR has determined mops are a safety hazard and they’re being abused by certain quasi-members of the staff.
Ryu: Okay, you have to admit it was kind of funny when KayDee broke that slime trail and the Gath duplicate spilled the potion into itself and it was all glowy for a bit before it evaporated.
Ostron: Hang on, this says the replacement cleaning supplies are more oozes!
Lennon: What? where does it say that?
Ostron: Requisition: 4 cubes, gel. 2 jellies, ochre?
Lennon: Darn it! I thought that was for food.
Ryu: Is the oblex lonely or something? It wants more friends?
Ostron: No, the oblex is really good at making friends. Literally.
Ryu: So wait, it’s actually trying to help clean? Won’t more oozes just cover the floor in slime?
Ostron: Not exactly.
Along with actual dragons and Beholders, the gelatinous cube is one of D&D’s signature monsters, in that many people have heard of them even if they aren’t steeped in D&D lore. What some people don’t know is that Gelatinous cubes occupy a larger family of creatures in D&D; oozes.
In general, oozes have two major characteristics; they have no real solid bodies, just semisolid forms, and they’re mostly unintelligent. They are somewhat like oversized single-cell organisms; they instinctively move themselves around and devour things they come across with no real plan or purpose apart from eating.
Oozes are interesting in D&D because of their lack of intelligence. You may have noticed certain spells and abilities specify a target must have an intelligence either greater than 3, or 3 or less. But flipping through the monster manual or volo’s guide shows most intelligence scores are well above that, even in things like dogs and bears. The oozes are usually the reason for the caveat; most of them have intelligences of 1. In terms of roleplay, generally an intelligence score that low is supposed to indicate a lack of sentience; the creature is reacting purely based on biological instincts and has no sense of planning or self preservation. You can’t scare a black pudding away with fire because it literally has no concept of fear. Now it won’t go into the fire because it hurts, but it’ll just keep trying to find a way around it.
The origins and behavior of oozes have changed very little from edition to edition; it’s very difficult to modify the society and motivations of a creature that doesn’t have either. The only major variation of them so far has been what exactly they can dissolve. Focusing on the gelatinous cube in particular, in some editions it dissolves everything other than dense rock, whereas in others it only dissolves organic matter. Fifth edition currently opts for the latter. Another reason it hasn’t changed is probably the running joke that Gelatinous cubes have perfectly evolved to adapt to their environment; being a 10x10x10 foot cube conforms exactly to the dimensions of corridors in most dungeons.
Currently, along with appearance, “what does it eat?” is the major line of demarcation between the basic oozes. Ochre Jellies and Gelatinous Cubes only dissolve squishy bits of creatures, while Grey Oozes and Black Puddings dissolve everything except stone. Currently the grey ooze is the most boring one, having no particular tricks or behavior to make it special.
The Ochre Jellies and Black Puddings make things a little more interesting by having spider climb and also the splitting trick; if either type of ooze is size medium or larger and gets hit with lightning or slashing damage, they split into two smaller oozes. Gelatinous cubes’ claim to fame is that, unless recently fed, they’re basically invisible, requiring a successful DC 15 Perception check to notice they’re there. All of the oozes are good at hiding, mostly because they can fit anywhere even if they aren’t invisible like the cube, but while the individual creatures may be hard to find, evidence of them isn’t, as long as you know what to look for; because they dissolve most material that isn’t actual rock, dungeons or areas with ooze inhabitants will seem remarkably clean, or at least dust-free.
One thing critics have pointed out about the oozes is that they are slow; even the fastest ones are half the speed of most characters, so oozes are not going to feature in a stressful “race to escape” type enounter. More often, an effective use of the oozes has essentially been as traps, setting up situations where characters are unable to escape them or are forced into physical contact, such as replacing the spikes at the bottom of a pit trap with a gelatinous cube.
That’s also how they commonly appear as minions; they don’t wait behind a leader for the command to attack. Instead, they’re penned up somewhere and unleashed as a deterrent when necessary. Or if the bathroom needs a scrub.
The other common feature of the basic oozes is their origin as direct spawn of the demon lord Jubilex. One of the less popular demon lords in the Abyss, Jubilex seems to only care about turning everything into ooze. People, plants, animals, all of it just ooze. Devoted followers of Jubilex can look forward to…being turned into ooze. It’s not a popular cult.
Now if you’re dealing with an ooze that didn’t come directly from Jubilex, things get more interesting. Slithering Trackers don’t sound like oozes based on the name, but they’re created when a hag, lich, or devotee of a vengeance god performs a ritual that sucks all the moisture out of a willing creature’s body. Contrary to expectations, the puddle of moisture then becomes sentient and starts hunting down whatever the subject of its vengeance is. Apart from having a respectable intelligence score and not being something Jubilex cooked up, this ooze doesn’t dissolve people; it literally squeezes the life out of them or just beats them to death.
And finally the new favorite in the Ooze category; the Oblex, or HR as we call it around here. Oblexes are the result of Illithids taking an otherwise normal oozy creature and doing…things to it. The result is an ooze that feeds on memories rather than physical matter, and can use part of its body to create functional replicas from the memories of anyone it’s sufficiently brain-drained. Usually the only clues that someone is a replica are a faint sulphur smell and a slime trail leading back to the oblex that created it. Apart from being one of the newest completely original concept creatures to be added to the game, the Oblex garnered a lot of attention for the roleplay possibilities it’s memory wipe and persona replication abilities present.
Killer DM: Funny you should mention that. We’ll just clean up the oozy tether here …
Lennon: Wait, how are you standing over there when Ryu is standing right here?
Killer DM: Aaand here …
Ostron: I didn’t think the ooze cleaning plan was great anyway.
Killer DM: Aaaaaaaaand here.
Ryu: I hate it when this happens.
Killer DM: Right that was a nice try for an overthought dessert but you’re not taking my mops away. Now to find the real organ donor and the spoony Brit before everyone starts crying about that pool. I still think I give better answers in there anyway.