By Julian Kay
In the early days of our hobby, before players learned to yearn for lofty quests, adventurers’ motivation was simple: treasure was what we needed. Using wealth to draw enemies towards a trap is a standard real-world and literary trope, but early fantasy games went a step further, turning the wealth into a monster! And few such monsters are more iconic than the mimic, an ambulatory chest filled with more teeth than treasure.
The mimic’s problem is that it’s become too iconic. The only reason a mimic might surprise your players is that it hasn’t appeared in 13th Age—yet. Even so, describing a treasure chest in too much detail will give the game away and encourage a round of chest-thumping.
And so, this version of the mimic is about more than the trap. If your PCs have grown accustomed to modern sensibilities after opening dozens of normal treasure chests, and you can get the old chest-ambush trick to work, the surprise rules (13A pg. 164) and the mimic’s abilities will give you plenty to chortle about. But our focus is on playing on adventurers’ greed in a different way, providing an encounter that forces them to choose between their well-being and the call of that sweet, sweet loot . . . .
Backstories of a Box
The mimic seems like such a strange concept that it begs for an explanation. Some may feel an answer ruins its surreal appeal, so it’ll be up to you to decide whether you’re interested in one of these possibilities.
- Blame a wizard: The Archmage, the Wizard King, one of their agents—somebody wanted an all-in-one guardian and container. Maybe it was more voracious or fecund than its creator expected, or maybe the mimics outlived the icon that created them. While the surface world eventually eliminates such pests, some mimics found ancient caches and deep caves where they hibernate, slowly digesting any enchanted valuables they can get their maws on.
- Blame a dungeon: Mimics could easily be part of the strange ecology of living dungeons. And if a dungeon has a constant influx of adventurers, it could be a form of adaptation. Or maybe a living dungeon is canny enough to cook up these living traps. Worse, it’s easy to imagine delvers carrying one out, unaware of its tightly “locked” contents until it was too late, leaving the Dragon Empire to deal with the occasional hungry chest.
- Blame a curse: Mimics could be part of a curse laid on a particularly greedy soul, perhaps by the Elf Queen or Diabolist, as an object lesson on the practice of hoarding. If you have the 13th Age Bestiary 2, perhaps those slain by a mimic become coin zombies (13B2 pg. 32). Alternately, it’d be fitting to involve the Gold King (13B2 pg. 112)—perhaps mimics are what’s left of his treasury’s guards, taking on an accursed role as eternal treasure-bearers.
- Blame a demon: A mimic could be another fiend dragged out of hell. This version would titter and scream a lot more as it sinks its teeth into a delver’s arm.
Whatever their origin, one thing we’re going with is that a mimic’s death destroys or digests any treasure they might be holding. GMs may want to inform a character with the appropriate background of that fact once the conflict starts, or keep it as a surprise.
While in hibernation, mimics digest treasure slowly, feeding on the magic, minerals, or both. Over time, some treasure can become runes within a mimic (13A pg. 284), something like pearls forming in oysters. But when they’re active, mimics burn though loot a lot faster, and their dying spasms push their metabolism to boil up whatever they’re holding. Or maybe they’re magical gates to dimensional caches that collapse upon their death. The exact mechanism isn’t too important.
Why get finicky about this timing? If adventurers can just kill mimics and take their loot, they become a novel monster concept, but not a novel encounter. Instead, adventurers will have to choose between seeking treasure and doing damage. Generous GMs might let PCs snatch a piece of loot from the maw of a dying mimic, but the rest of their hoard goes with them.
Beast or Barter?
Mimics may be intelligent, depending on the origin you’ve settled on (or not) and how you want to play them. If they’re just animals, they just want to gobble up anybody who thinks wearing a lot of magic morsels is a great idea.
But an alternative tradition, borrowed from their earliest origins, is for them to be both sapient and talkative. If so, they can offer information on the underworld or dungeons they’re found in exchange for treasure, or offer to trade items in their gullet. Since an item’s worth to a mimic may be based on its momentary value, its material, or just some aspect of its taste (”gotta get them sweet sapphires!”), it’s possible PCs may not even be trading down from a practical perspective. If you’re looking to get a bothersome item out of a PC’s hands, it can be a means to perform equitable exchange both in-character and out-of-character.
Intelligent mimics could offer alternative goals when delving. Perhaps a mimic is willing to ignore the tasty treats PCs are wearing if they’ll help it to a particular delicacy. Maybe it has an ancient grudge with a talking stalagmite. It could yearn for a lost drow song that once echoed through its cave. Either way, you’ll have to decide what a talking box wants.
This voracious chest feeds on enchanted treasure, but humanoids make tasty side dishes.
Double-strength 3rd-level wrecker [ABERRATION]
Trap jaw +8 vs. AC—20 damage
Natural even hit: The mimic grabs the target. While the mimic is grabbing a target, it cannot use trap jaw, but does 10 acid damage to the target each turn they remain grabbed.
Miss: The mimic may make an inexplicable limbs attack as a free action.
C: Inexplicable limbs +8 vs. AC—12 damage, and the target becomes vulnerable until the end of their next turn.
Living trap: When a mimic starts a battle with a surprise attack, the escalation die does not increment to +1 until the start of the second full round. Anybody who suffers a surprise attack from a mimic is vulnerable until the end of their next turn.
Loot-filled innards: The mimic contains a few magical items of the GM’s choice, with the exact number based on the preponderance of magical items in the campaign and the size of your group. Some of these will be runes, but there should be one true magic item in there. Any character can attempt to snatch a piece of loot from inside a mimic’s maw during combat unless the mimic has someone grabbed; this requires a standard action while engaged with the mimic. (GMs should inform them of this option.) If the mimic is grabbing a target, only the grabbed character may attempt to snatch loot from inside the chest. When reaching for mimic loot, the character either rolls a normal save or attempts a DC 20 Dexterity check, their choice! On a success, they retrieve a random item from the creature’s innards. If they fail, the mimic makes a wicked maw attack against them as a free action. Once the mimic is reduced to 0 HP, all treasure it holds is lost.
Greedy glutton: The mimic adds +2 to trap jaw attacks against the foe with the most magic items (if any). If there is a tie, it gets a +1 bonus against all tied foes instead.
Sticky saliva: Any disengage check performed while engaged with a mimic has a -5 penalty.
PD 18 HP 82
13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.