Libris Monstrum #10: Oozes
We have made it to the 10th installment of the Libris Monstrum! Thank you everyone for your comments and votes with regards to the various monsters, both discussed and left behind. As a reminder, the next 10 installments will feature a revisitation of the monsters I have already discussed. This is your chance to tell me what I missed, what I can do better, what I need more of, and what I need less of. Please, if you enjoy or are new to the series, head back through the archives (via searching or the page I will update this weekend) and read them. When you have contact me or leave a comment! For today, you have voted for oozes, though it started to get close at the end there. In a continued effort to push towards the non-game portion we might not cover the classic oozes. Instead I am going to cover real-world analogs and inspirations!
Just Something Creepy About Blobs
Oozes hold their beginnings earlier than the dungeons of fantasy role-playing games. The aptly named movie, The Blob, came out in 1958 and featured a monster that was every bit as terrible as one of the oozes of D&D. Of course that one was weird and gigantic, roamed food-rich lands, and no one believed it to be real until it was too late. Given similar circumstances the challenge of a D&D ooze would certainly be much higher than usual. Before this movie there are even the abandoned servitors of some of the Great Old Ones of Lovecraftian horror: the shoggoths. These are weird even for your average slime monsters, but their amorphous and undulating bodies are the key feature. Over and over again these creatures appear in movies, literature, and games. They have many forms, but most of them involve the inexplicable ability for the creature to find living things to eat, keep moving, keep growing, and not die. They devour and seem nearly invulnerable, only being destroyed through sufficient fire power or the right form of attack. The most frightening part about this is how long and difficult it is to determine anything about a formless mass.
Here is where things begin to get truly terrifying. You see, blobs have always been gross things, something living that takes the form of a substance that most people don’t like. While the blob itself is a creature, it is an embodiment of disgusting semi-fluid things. Molds, sludge, slime from snails, rot. These things are repulsive to most people. To have it ambulatory and hungry is frightening. Especially when you know how difficult some such substances can be to get rid of. Fast forward to modern biological studies on slime molds, which we used to just treat as fungus. These organisms are not fungus, however. They are instead some of the strangest one-celled creatures we know of.
Normally, slime molds just hang out as individuals and eat what they can. In rough times these individuals will congregate. When they do they seem to take on a different form, much like the blobs and oozes of horror entertainment. These colonies gain new abilities that the individuals within just don’t have. Sensitivity to chemical reception, like finding food, becomes significantly increased. They begin to move as a group, slowly rolling over terrain to find the food the colony was unable to detect as individuals. Studies have even shown a kind of collective intelligence. When exposed to certain stimuli, slime molds have been shown to gain intelligence. Well, in a form. They learn and predict environmental factors in order better survive as the colony until conditions are better. When simply separated, the microorganisms will even re-collect into the slime mold form.
This is far too much like the horrors of movies like The Blob for me. Well, at least when I am on the PC side of the screen.
Another take on many oozes is less like slime molds and more like a single creature whose body is a strange semi-liquid blob. Think amoeba, but gigantic. Because these are, often but not always, single celled creatures their form of consumption is very similar to what we see or think of with blob monsters. Like those horrors, they just absorb and digest their food. Everything from amoebas to flatworms to jellyfish are similar, though they have various unique features. There is so little to them, and yet, they are complex and dangerous creatures, even to organisms far larger than they are. Imagine a small blob rolling through the dungeon. It may seem like no big deal, but what if it delivered the sting of a box jelly? If your unfortunate enough to survive, the stings might keep coming and perhaps they swarm you. It would be an unpleasant death. We only have to worry about swimming in certain areas of the ocean at certain times of the year to avoid such terror, but in a fantasy dungeon? Well, lets just say the horrors could float unseen in swarms through humid dungeons.
These are another take on the concept of ooze that actually terrifies me to a certain point. Technology is really advanced and continues to grow every day. The things that were impossible a few decades ago are normal now. Our ideas become even more ambitious and every day makes them more likely to come to fruition. As for oozes, there are two major ways in which I view them. First is the modern blob monster that generally acts as a form of shape changer. Think of the T-1000 or a pool of liquid metal. Even as an unintelligent blob, fluidic metal is a little more frightening. How do you defeat it now? How much would it weigh? These are serious concerns added on top of a ooze when it is made of metal. Add some kind of programming or intelligence, like the T-1000, and we have a horribly powerful opponent. This extreme is a little beyond the concept of ooze for this entry, however.
Instead lets go to the second archetype: the nano-swarm. Have you ever read Crichton? Want nightmares? Go pick up Prey. When you have forgiven me for that suggestion come back. Nanotechnology is growing and growing. Or should I say shrinking and shrinking. All jokes aside, it is remarkable what we can do. Add on top of that our advancements in programmable materials that can re-assume forms no matter what has happened to them, robots that run through basic program sets to maintain seemingly complex behaviors, and increasing artificial intelligences we are closer and closer to having the event of Prey be more science than fiction. Honestly, it is frightening. Like a blob or a slime mold, these things are inexorable devourers. These, however, can be smarter, faster, more adaptable, and easily procreate. You may only need one nano-bot to create a new blob and they may be able to use virtually anything to rebuild the man body. If you’re running a science fiction or science fantasy game, this is the ooze for you!
Next time on Libris Monstrum, we are going to get back to the naga in the first of our re-visitation series. When we eventually get back to oozes we will take a closer look to the oozes of fantasy gaming. Gelatinous cubes, grey slimes, black puddings, and ochre jellies will, of course, all be involved. If there is a certain ooze you want me to look at or some aspect I missed today leave a comment below. If I missed something major in naga those many months ago, tell me! Until then, keep studying your monsters or face your doom in ignorance.