Old-timey Dungeons & Dragons is a neverending font of humor, isn’t it? Gary Gygax built worlds for his children and their friends to enjoy, constructed out of the building blocks of fantasy and science fiction tenuously held together with a spackle of sly humor, not-so-sly humor, dad jokes and occasional forays into utter nonsense.
Which, of course, is how you get dungeons that eat people.
To be clear, I don’t mean dungeons whose monstrous inhabitants eat people (though technically this is true); I’m referring specifically to those dungeon denizens whose stock in trade is “looking like part of the dungeon.” The classic, of course, is the mimic – traditionally represented in art as a killer fanged treasure chest, this shapeshifting creature can imitate anything made of wood, and exudes a powerful glue that ensures whosoever gets pranked will meet a digestive demise.
If that were the limit of this particular ecological niche, it would be silly but memorable. Never let it be said, however, that the legion of writers and creatives who followed in Gygax’s wake knew when to stop beating a dead horse. With that in mind, let me take you on a tour through the most insidious interior in all of Dungeons & Dragons. I call it the Friendly Place. All you have to do (yes you, not me, I’m nowhere near that foolish) is open that wooden door there…
• The door is a mimic. It tries to stick to you and eat you.
• The floor is a trapper. It tries to wrap around you, suffocate you, and eat you.
• The stalactites above are piercers. They try to fall on you, impaling you, so that they may eat you.
• The ceiling from which they are suspended? That’s a lurker above. It falls on you, attempting to smother you, so that it may eat you.
• Stalagmites don’t try to fall on you, right? Nah, they just try to grapple you – because that’s a roper, which wants to eat you. I could be wrong, of course, it might be a bi-nou. Which would want to kill you. And eat you.
• Don’t look to any of the walls for support; each of them is a stunjelly. They will paralyze you on contact, at which point they may slowly absorb you with their digestive acids.
• A wooden treasure chest nearby appears to contain some useful items, but is of course another mimic. You know the drill.
• The chest contains a sword, which is a xaver, which wants to eat all your ferrous metals and will cheerfully kill you to get at them.
• You could ward it off with that cloak, but that’s a cloaker, which will attempt to hypnotize you so that it may kill you.
• Perhaps if you disguised yourself with that black hood? Please don’t fall for this, it’s an executioner’s hood and it wants to eat your head.
• Might there be something useful in that purse? If it’s a peltast (and hey, it is!) that something useful is that hand you just put in there and lost forever. Om nom nom.
• Maybe magic will save you! What’s that magical scroll? Why, it’s a palimpsest. It plans to absorb you, and even if it fails it will leave you with severe paper cuts.
• Exhausted from battling all these killer monsters, you sit down on a nearby wooden chair. You should really know not to do that.
• Your clothes are a mess, so you change into a new set of clothing you happened to find. That’s a raiment, a malevolent undead entity, which is going to attempt to strangle you. Oh, but parts of its accessories are a raggamoffyn, a type of magical construct which will attempt to possess you. So that’s different.
• Nude, disarmed, and very tired, you fall down on the nearby bed. It’s a cushion fungus, which attempts to devour you.
• The pillow your hear was resting on? Killer pillow. See name.
• The flannel bedding is a flannel beast, and it’s going to try to kill you.
• The bedsheet? You’d better believe that’s a sheet phantom, an undead entity which will – you guessed it – try to kill you.
• On the bright side, the headboard can’t possibly be a killer pillow, a fungus, or an undead sheet – it’s made of wood.
• Oh crap.
• But hey! It’s not a total loss, you found an adorable doll in the dust under the bed. Of course, the dust bunnies are trosips, which plan to suffocate you when you fall asleep.
• The doll is a doll golem, because who doesn’t make golems out of children’s toys and then program them to kill? So you’ve got that going for you now, which is nice.
• Fine, time to try the other door out of the room. It’s locked, but you have a key. The lock, however, is a lock lurker, a kind of multidimensional scorpion. You’d better believe it’s going to try to kill you.
• Beyond the door is a cavern tunnel. The rock floor is actually a denzelian, which resents you walking on it and tries to kill you.
• To get away from it, you climb up on some rocks. They are actually galeb duhr, and they’re going to take a swing at you.
• You jump and land on a different rock, a large boulder. It’s a bowler, which is going to try to roll over you and crush you to death.
• You get out of the cave and find a nearby pond to drink from. Refreshing water? More like an aballin, which tries to drown you.
• Alright, forget about water, you’ll just rest under the shade of a nearby tree. Of course, that’s a treant, which may take a swing at you.
• How about this stump with a bunny on it? Why, that would be a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, which will try to eat you.
• Fine, this cute little bunny without a stump involved can’t be a threat, can it? What a surprise, it’s actually a julajimus, and wants to eat… well, okay, this one wants to eat children and you’re merely a convenient alternative.
• This other bunny, the one with the horn on its head? Come on, it’s got a horn on its head. You already know this can’t be good. That’s an al-mi’raj, a psionic critter that wants to stab you a little and make your armor explode. It might also fling heavy objects at you or attempt to set you on fire.
• Fine, enough with the bunnies. You see a wooden bridge – but no way are you making that mistake. Take that stone one. Whoops, it’s a spanner, normally friendly as long as you don’t try to cross without permission. Shame you didn’t know that, so now it wants to drown you.
• At long last, you make it into town and finally spot the tavern. You could sure use a drink right now… but the whole building is a house hunter mimic. Yes, the whole building. It tries to kill and eat you.
If you somehow survived that ordeal, congratulations, and enjoy your lifelong paranoia that everything inanimate is lying to you as it plots your imminent demise. Sweet dreams!