How To Train Your Ooze – A Guide for Dungeon Masters and Ambitious Adventurers
Adventurer, you find yourself in a corridor. Surprisingly clean cobble stone paves the floor, and the brickwork around you shines with a slightly dull glimmer. In the distance, only darkness as far as your torch allows for you to see. Roll a perception check.
As you do, your eyes catch sight of something in the distance. A sword, bones, a shield – all hang in limbo in front of your eyes. As it draws closer, the only thing you hear is a dull squelching sound. As it draws closer you reach forward, and as you do, your arm gets caught in a clear plasma. At first it is confusing, oddly cool and temperate, but then you feel it – a slight burning followed by a prickle that intensifies. You decide to withdraw your arm as the burning begins to hurt…but you can’t. If anything, as you struggle more, you feel yourself get pulled in. Your whole body begins to feel like you are on fire, and (panicking) the last thing you see, as your torch extinguishes, is the tips of your fingers as they begin to dissolve.
Oozes have been a staple in the Dungeons and Dragons world for well over 40 years. The gelatinous messes are known for leaving liquefied goo where once adventurers stood and have haunted many a dungeon over the past few decades.
The Gelatinous Cube is well-known in the D&D universe. From the description above, you may realise that that was talking about a Gelatinous Cube from the outset. What is lesser known however is that there are no less than five different types of Ooze in the D&D world.
Today, in this article, will be looking at a few of those in more detail. What are oozes exactly? What is it that makes them such formidable foes? And, what is it that makes each type unique?
Looking at the Dungeons and Dragons Ooze
I have to admit that, thick as they are, I have a soft spot for the ooze in D&D. In many ways they are the ideal apex predator, perfectly adapted to what they do best. What is more, and what a lot of players don’t realise, is that oozes not only come as five different types, but five different personalities. Each comes after the player in its own unique way.
The mythology of Oozes is actually quite interesting. the idea is that they are individual fragments of the demon lord Jubilex. As such he is a part of them, and they are a part of him. With that connection, Jubilex can apparently make Oozes more intelligent. Whether this mythology is part of your Dungeons and Dragons world is up to you…assuming you are the DM…otherwise consult with the DM.
The Natural Environment of the Ooze
That being said, the different types of ooze (within D&D 5E at least) do share a few things in common. Generally speaking, they are their best in underground, dark locations. By that we are talking about a dungeon, the Underdark, Undermountain, or anywhere that has a warm and humid environment. Essentially, if you could grow penicillin there – it’s a good environment for an ooze.
Acidity of the Ooze
Oozes also tend to be acidic in nature. How acidic they are, and how they burn things, does depend on the type of ooze – for instance, the Black Pudding can destroy anything made of metal, wood, or organic material. The ol’ faithful Gelatinous Cube only destroys organic material, so will pick bones clean but will leave armour floating in their insides. A Grey Ooze can eat through two inches of metal plating. The Ochre Jelly is the odd one out, as they aren’t corrosive, but they do tend to have a few scary traits of their own.
If you are questioning why that is only four types, then you have come to the right place. There is a fifth type of Ooze, one that we will definitely explore in more detail in a bit, but that is the Psychic Grey Ooze. Yes, you read that right – Psychic Grey Ooze.
The Intelligence of the D&D Ooze
You see, Psychic Grey Oozes are the ooze that break the rule with the second common traits of oozes – they tend to be really stupid. In essence, the D&D Ooze runs on a kind of animal instinct, and shambles along cleaning dungeon corridors.
What this does is make Oozes the perfect pet of the untidy dungeon overlord, and likewise (weirdly) it makes Gelatinous Cubes a kind-of living safe as it hoovers up coins or loot. Ochre Jelly is even stranger in its own right as they thrive on a pack mentality. They are the Borg and you will be assimilated, with your own uniqueness being added to its own. Painful stuff.
Oozes, however, have an intelligence that is exceedingly low. In fact, in most cases it is only 1, giving them a -5 modifier on intelligence checks. This makes them easy to outwit, as they rely on perception to make any real sense of the world around them. Ochre Jelly has an intelligence of 2, which could be considered good in some circles. I mean, it is a 100% increase on the Gray Ooze, Black Pudding, or Gelatinous Cube, but it is still really poor.
As mentioned before, there is one type of Ooze that does buck the trend, and that is the Psychic Grey Ooze. The Psychic Grey (which if we abbreviate there sounds like a type of horse) gets its power from developing a psionic ability based on its proximity to other psychic creatures – usually the likes of Mindflayers. As such, Psychic Greys, can have intelligence as high as 6. That is only -2.
Okay, so Oozes don’t rely on their intelligence, but that doesn’t stop them from being formidable foes.
Know Your Ooze
So now we have a rough idea of what Oozes are like as a collective, let’s have a look at what they are like individually. There are five different types, and each have their own way of causing the player pain.
The Gelatinous Cube is the traditional type of Ooze in D&D. Square and slimy, Gelatinous Cubes fill corridors by literally moulding themselves to the walls. They drag themselves through the halls, rippling like slugs, scooping up everything in their way, and dissolving everything organic.
Although transparent, Gelatinous Cubes can often be spotted by the amount of debris floating in them.
There are a couple of things that make the traditional Cube unique – firstly, as mentioned before, they can fill any shape they are in. Other Oozes tend to have a specific shape or completely fluid complexion, meaning they either adapt or stay moving. Gelatinous Cubes can fill a shape perfectly, to the point where, presumably, the space between two Cubes can be considered airtight.
Secondly, Gelatinous Cubes are the only Oozes to be able to completely engulf something. They can shove adventurers around, as well as swallow them whole.
Grey Ooze and Psychic Grey Ooze
I love the concept of Grey Oozes. They are stone that has been turned into an Ooze by pure chaos. Weirdly though, they are still unaligned, which is a little bit of an oversight.
Grey Oozes are more like pools of lava, made out of acidified rock rather than rock of the molten variety. As mentioned before, they come in two varieties – Grey Ooze and Psychic Grey Ooze. Both have the qualities of the non-psychic version, and the Psychic Grey Ooze has the additional abilities of being vaguely sentient.
So, what do Grey Oozes do? Well, Grey Oozes are silent and still predators. When they are not moving they can give a false appearance, and trick adventurers into thinking they are just wet rock or an oil slick.
Likewise, both forms of Grey Ooze are amorphous and can fit into the smallest of spaces. They can, quite literally, ooze through a space that is only one inch wide.
Finally, all types of Grey Ooze can corrode metal. As such, Grey Oozes will leave nothing of a corpse once passing over it, even if the corpse was covered in plate mail.
Where Psychic Gray Oozes vary is, aside from the aforementioned increase in intelligence, they also have a Psychic Crush ability that cannot be avoided. It deals 3D6 damage against a failed saving throw, and half that against a successful one. This makes them ideal low level thugs to more difficult areas.
Named after the breakfast accompaniment of the same ilk, Black Pudding is one of the most vicious types of Ooze in the D&D repertoire. Not only are they highly corrosive, and as amorphous as Grey Oozes, Black Puddings also have a horrible Split ability. When a Black Pudding is hit – it doesn’t die instantly. Instead, each one splits in half. They can then keep being split until considered “tiny” in size.
What really makes a Black Pudding nasty though – what really makes them a danger to adventurers – is another ability they have that they share with Ochre Jelly. Black Puddings can spider climb. Yes…that’s right. They can climb along ceilings as if those ceilings were floors and vice versa.
What this does is make Black Puddings able to ambush other creatures. That, plus their corrosive nature, makes them horrible creatures to come across in a dark alleyway.
By this point we have already explored everything that Oozes can do, and Ochre Jellies have a mix of those abilities. For instance, Ochre Jelly has the spider climb ability. It is amorphous, and it too splits when hit.
Ochre Jellies are different however, although that difference is more behavioural.
You see, an Ochre Jelly is more intelligent than the average Ooze. It will stalk enemies and avoid large groups. This makes it far more dangerous, and open to the possibility of a pack mentality within a larger group of oozes.
Ochre Jellies are not corrosive in the same way as other Oozes, however, they do still digest their prey. This implies that (although it may be reading too much into it) a recently fed Ochre Jelly will not hunt for several hours, if not days, after its last meal.
So, there we have it. I have to admit that I for one find Oozes really interesting. I hope that, after reading this, you too can see them in a new light. No matter the Ooze you are wanting to employ in your dungeon (or are coming up against) it is worth knowing that an Ooze is not an Ooze is not an Ooze. Instead, each is different, and each needs to be treated in their own way.
So, there we have it. Oozes are fast becoming one of my favourite non-intelligent creatures in D&D. What are your favourite creatures to use? Let me know in the comments below.