Ooze Tactics

After all the time I spent trying to figure out tactics for mummy lords and liches, I’m taking it easy on myself today and talking about oozes—those barely intelligent, probably nonsentient, subterranean amoeboids.

The fifth-edition Monster Manual claims that oozes “have no sense of tactics or self-preservation,” but I can’t buy the second half of that. They may be “drawn to movement and warmth,” but even an amoeba will move away from an electric current. Despite the lore that oozes originated as fragments of the demon lord Juiblex, I’m going to treat them as evolved beings, akin to slime molds—scavengers that exist as part of the subterranean ecosystem.

The MM lists four types of oozes: the gray ooze, the ochre jelly, the black pudding and the gelatinous cube. All of them have several things in common: negligible Intelligence and Charisma (the ochre jelly, with Intelligence 2, is the genius of the bunch), low Dexterity and Wisdom, high Constitution, an acidic pseudopod attack and 60 feet of blindsight. Also, all but the gelatinous cube are Amorphous and can climb walls.

The gray ooze is the weakest and simplest of the four. Its False Appearance allows it to blend in with wet rock, so it’s self-evident that this is where a gray ooze lies in wait for its next meal. (Unlike the other oozes, the gray ooze has a +2 Stealth “skill,” reflecting its camouflage ability.) When a living being comes within 60 feet of it, it senses the being’s presence. If the being is coming toward the ooze, it holds still; if the being moves away from the ooze again, it begins to follow, continuing its slow-motion pursuit for as long as it can do so without having to expose itself (that is, move onto a surface that isn’t wet rock). When it finally comes in reach of a living being, it extends a pseudopod and grabs on.

The idea of a gray ooze forming itself into a big fist and whomping somebody is ridiculous to me, so I prefer to interpret its “bludgeoning” attack as squeezing: when the ooze gets its pseudopod around a PC’s leg, say, it begins to constrict and suck that leg into itself, doing physical and acid damage all the while. It will keep attacking—corroding any metal the target is wearing—until either it takes enough damage to drive it off or destroy it or the PC is completely digested.

By “completely digested,” I don’t just mean the PC is reduced to 0 hp: I mean that it’s dead. An unconscious victim may be presumed to be completely engulfed by the gray ooze, but it isn’t dead yet, only well on its way. Once the gray ooze has engulfed its victim, it moves away from other living beings at its full movement speed, continuing to “attack” the target inside it. Only when the target has either taken overflow damage equal to its maximum hit points or failed three death saving throws is he or she finally dead.

The gray ooze begins with 22 hp, and its predatory behavior is interrupted when it’s reduced to 8 hp or fewer. At this point, it lets go of whatever target it’s attacking and Dashes away (potentially exposing itself to opportunity attacks). Of course, “Dashing,” for an ooze, means traveling a whopping 20 feet, and catching up to it will be no problem at all for a vindictive party. So if there’s a crack it can slither into, it will do so.

The ochre jelly functions in the same manner as the gray ooze, with only two differences. First, since it has Spider Climb, it prefers to hang on ceilings and drop down on its prey. Second, it can be cut or blasted into multiple smaller ochre jellies.

A full-size, undamaged ochre jelly has 45 hp. Suppose it were approached by a chirurgeon with a scalpel, who inflicted the least damage necessary to cut it in two. The Medium Large-size jelly has now been cut into two Small Medium jellies, each with 22 hp, and each of those in turn can be cut into two Small jellies with 10 hp each. (Small jellies can’t be Split.) To force a Medium-size Large jelly to retreat, it has to be reduced to 18 hp or fewer by non-slashing, non-lightning damage; a Small Medium jelly must be reduced to 8 hp or fewer, and a Small jelly, 4 hp or fewer. Like the gray ooze, these Dash away at 20 feet per round; unlike the gray ooze, they go straight up the nearest wall to the ceiling, their instinctive place of safety, if there’s no crevice to flow into.

A black pudding is like a cross between the gray ooze and the ochre jelly—able to corrode weapons and armor like the former and to hang from ceilings and Split like the latter. It will spread itself across the ceiling of a cavern and, rather than drop on its prey, reach down and glom onto it with a sludgy pseudopod. A Large black pudding retreats when it’s reduced to 34 hp or fewer by non-slashing, non-lightning damage; a Medium pudding must be reduced to 16 hp or fewer; and a Small pudding must be reduced to 8 hp or fewer. Cutting a hanging black pudding in half results in one half that falls to the ground and one that remains stuck to the ceiling. The one on the ground will behave like a gray ooze or ochre jelly, remaining in place until it’s absorbed its prey (reduced him or her to 0 hp), then oozing back up the wall with it to finish digesting it in peace. If a black pudding that’s hanging from the ceiling reduces a victim to 0 hp or fewer, it will slurp it right up off the ground.

The gelatinous cube is always on the move, and it makes no attempt at stealth or surprise. It’s a juggernaut, like a dungeon Roomba, systematically scouring its area for anything it can digest. I’d go so far as to suggest that it should never take the shape of a cube. The cube shape never made sense, and it only seemed to make sense back in the days when every dungeon was drawn on graph paper, at a scale of 10 feet per quarter inch. I’d like to think we DMs all have enough sense nowadays to draw cavern passages as naturally irregular in width, shape and direction. Instead, the “cube” should be an enormous blob, and suicidally curious PCs who walk right up to one should see it constantly extending and withdrawing creepy little pseudopods to sweep out every irregularity in a cavern wall.

Normally, it moves at less than its full movement rate—say, only 5 feet per round—so that it doesn’t miss a morsel. When it senses living creatures, however, it approaches at full movement speed to a distance of 25 feet, then waits motionless for one round, counting on its Transparency to let it go unnoticed until they come within reach. If they do, it attacks with surprise. If they maintain their distance, and at least one PC is still 25 feet away or closer at the end of that round, it uses its full 15 feet of movement, then its Engulf action—which includes another 15 feet of movement—to absorb its prey. If the creatures move away from it instead, it follows, Dashing if necessary, until either it’s 25 feet from them again or it can no longer catch up.

Unlike the other oozes, the gelatinous cube doesn’t leave once it’s absorbed a victim. It keeps moving forward, Engulfing anyone and everyone in its path. The only thing that will make it reverse direction is reducing it to 33 hp or fewer, whereupon it Dashes away from the PCs. (Woe, then, to any PC who avoided being Engulfed by popping out the back of the cube.)

Next: Nothics.

9 thoughts on “Ooze Tactics

  1. An ochre jelly is not Medium sized, it’s Large. Meaning it can split twice for a total of 4 Small ochre jellies.

  2. Ochre Jelly is IMMUNE to lightning and slashing damage. Functionally, this means that instead of taking either damage type, it splits instead suffering 0 points of damage. So this part is misleading as it cannot sustain damage from slashing or lightning:

    Suppose it were approached by a chirurgeon with a scalpel, who inflicted the least damage necessary to cut it in two.

  3. Alternate take on gelatinous cube shape: the cube digs dungeon corridors to attract prey, complete with faux stonework and extruded furnishings (Investigation and Stonecunning helps here). They are 10′ x 10′ because an adult cube is. They’ve evolved to be that size because adventurers feel most comfortable with those dimensions.

  4. My players won’t tangle with ANY kind of blob. If they see any slimy blob things, they RUN the other way and do not engage.

  5. Is there anywhere in the rules that say oozes dissolve people immediately? It’s a popular depiction, especially since movies like The Blob came out, but the rules in D&D don’t actually say what happens when a creature or character is reduced to 0 HP by an ooze’s acid damage (or other predators’ stomach acid if swallowed)… unless I missed something?

    Also curious that you say a gray ooze digests someone only after taking overflow damage or failing all their death saves… yet the black pudding absorbs someone right at 0 HP. Is that intentional? Does this include the other oozes too? Is this in the rules, or just DM interpretation?

    1. DM interpretation, but it applies to the gray ooze as well (“An unconscious victim may be presumed to be completely engulfed by the gray ooze, but it isn’t dead yet, only well on its way”). Think about it: The ooze is trying to engulf you the whole time, but as long as you’re conscious, you can try to get away from it. When you’re no longer conscious, you can’t stop it.

      1. I think we may be using slightly different terminology, to me, “engulfed” means a creature is fully contained within the ooze’s body/form but still alive, whereas “absorbed” means completely digested, broken down, and distributed throughout the ooze. Or at least it sounds as if you use them interchangeably at points.

        Anyway, what I was referring to was the speed at which a player could expect their character to be lost once reaching 0 HP. If a character at low health is swallowed by a giant toad and then dies inside it, it’s reasonably that the body would linger in its stomach intact long enough for their allies to possibly Revivify them or even Raise Dead (if available), assuming they’re reached before too much time passes.

        But with oozes, digestion is depicted as practically instantaneous. Your character has a body, then six seconds later, there’s no body, no remains, nothing left even for Resurrection (except for the g-cube, which at least leaves bones). Even accepting that oozes are magically corrosive, unlike animal digestive systems, it does seem a bit much that the body is obliterated in a matter of seconds, leaving no chance of rescue even if the ooze is killed — there’s no body *left* to rescue.

        Like with the giant toad example, a previous DM I had did rule that a character who had been killed by an ooze and dead less than a minute still had enough of a body to be Raised or Revivified.

        I suppose I just wish there was a more official ruling somewhere, rather than expecting something different from every DM’s interpretation (yes every official rule is still only a guideline, but I feel some guidance is better than none at all).

        Cheers, and thanks for the speedy reply!

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