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The evolution of the mimic

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The "chest monster" that first appeared as a vexing inconvenience for greedy adventurers has become a staple of fantasy gaming everywhere. In this article we journey backwards through time to find out where the aggravating chests with mouths came from.

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1st edition Mimic
1st edition Mimic Wizards of the Coast

1st edition Mimic

The mimic might have originally had its origins in Philip K. Dick's short story, "The Colony," published in 1953:

The plot centers on an expedition to an uncharted planet, on which the dominant, predatory life form is capable of precise mimicry of human technology.

You can read the full story here.

Spoiler alert: It doesn't end well for the crew, who gets so desperate that they strip naked. This is also probably why the story hasn't been made into a film. It was made into an excellent radio play however.

2nd Edition Mimic
2nd Edition Mimic Wizards of the Coast

2nd Edition Mimic

The mimic debuted in the first edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, as a very angry chest:

The mimic's 1st edition illustration never better resembled its most famous disguise: an enticing treasure chest, raising its pseudopod against the thief trying to pick its lock. Although shown in the guise of a chest (and appearing as such in module A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords), the original description stated -- "Mimics pose as stonework, doors, chests, or any other item or substance they can imitate." So mimics were never restricted to wooden objects: "They are able to perfectly mimic stone or wood."

There were two types, the big dumb ones and the intelligent smaller ones who were willing to negotiate for treasure. The big ones are what made adventurers paranoid enough that they wouldn't open chests without first poking and prodding them from a distance.

3rd Edition Mimic
3rd Edition Mimic Wizards of the Coast

3rd Edition Mimic

The mimic came to be known under a different name, as TVTropes explains:

A Chest Monster is an enemy or hazard that has disguised itself to look like something positive: a power-up, an ally, a Save Point, or — in the archetypical example — a treasure chest. They are frequently called "mimics" for this reason, and are generally stronger (sometimes much stronger) in battle than the surrounding Mooks in the area. Sometimes they are ordinary chests with a monster locked inside. It may or may not be possible to escape from a Chest Monster once it's been disturbed — you either defeat it, or die trying.

By the time the mimic showed up in third edition, the small/large differentiation was eliminated in favor of the larger version. Who wants to fight a small mimic anyway?

Mockingbeast
Mockingbeast Michael Tresca

Mockingbeast

Miniatures of mimics are rare, at least partially because mimics can be anything.  But the form they're best known for -- a chest -- only recently became a staple of the miniature world.  Wizard of the Coast never produced one, but Reaper did, known as the Mockingbeast:

The mockingbeast isn't just revealing itself, it's leaping to attack by extruding a foot beneath it. Little beady eyes glare mischievously from the top. Fangs bristle from the top and bottom of the open chest that forms its mouth, and a tongue swirls inside. This is an old sculpt too, a medium-sized figure harkening back in the days when there were two types of mimics.

That's right kids, there were once two types of mimics: smart ones who would negotiate and big dumb ones that would just try to eat you. They were differentiated chiefly by size, with the smaller ones being the smarter of the two. This also made the bigger mimics far less successful, as they had an overwhelming tendency to masquerade as chests no matter how large they were -- which is enough to make most adventurers poke the 10-foot wide chest with a stick.

You can purchase this miniature at Amazon.

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