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-size jelly has now been cut into two Small jellies, each with 22 hp. (Small jellies can’t be Split.) To force a Medium-size jelly to retreat, it has to be reduced to 18 hp or fewer by non-slashing, non-lightning damage; a Small jelly must be reduced to 8 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—and it’s Large. 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.)