Monday, January 8, 2024

More on Mimics

In response to my post last week, several readers suggested that the now-commonplace image of a mimic as a chest with teeth might have its origins outside of Dungeons & Dragons itself. According to this theory, it was the artwork of Akira Toriyama – best known in the West for his manga, Dragon Ball – for the Japanese video game, Dragon Quest III (1988), that first popularized this image.

Dragon Quest is an immensely successful and influential series of video games in Japan. Its gameplay is heavily inspired by earlier Western computer RPGs, such as Wizardry and Ultima, which were themselves heavily inspired by D&D. Given how many D&D players in the '70s and '80s were also into the growing world of video and computer games, it's not a stretch to suggest that Dragon Quest might well have some effect on their conception of the mimic. The only snag is timing: Dragon Quest III wasn't localized in North America until 1991 (under the title Dragon Warrior III, to avoid confusion with the other DragonQuest).

While we're on the subject of Japanese portrayals of the mimic, I thought it might be worth mentioning the unique version found in Ryoko Kui's manga, Delicious in Dungeon. At its heart a cooking manga – yes, that's a thing – Delicious in Dungeon chronicles an adventuring party as they not only explore a subterranean labyrinth filled with monsters and treasure, but also the meals they can make of monster carcasses. In the manga, a mimic is a kind of crustacean akin to a giant hermit crab:
This take on the mimic isn't a shapeshifter at all, Instead, it uses real chests (and other items) as a hermit crab might use its shell. However, unlike the hermit crab, the mimic's "shell" is intended not as protection but as a lure to entice adventurers to get within range of its large pincers. In my opinion, it's a very clever spin on the iconic monster, one of several to be found in the manga's pages. If you're interested in an imaginative conception of a plausible dungeon ecology, you might consider checking it out.


  1. Denis Loubet drew the Mimic with teeth in the manual for the CRPG Ultima I, so maybe it all started there?

    1. Entirely possible--Ultima and Wizardry were big hits in Japan and inspired Dragon Quest. I never thought the DQ3 mimic had a direct influence on the AD&D 2nd Edition version, due to the timing and the series' general obscurity in the West, but I thought there might be a common ancestor back up the tree.

  2. I will say, I haven't been as rocked by a mimic in a pen & paper game as I have by Dark Soul's mimics, which are VERY much "chest for a head."

    I had a mimic that was a walking, interactive chest for an NPC (I had not heard of The Luggage but same vibe) which had various spellbooks & "art piece" books & The Book of Vile Darkness but also a bunch of baby mimics pretending to be enticing filler texts.

  3. For the curious Delicious in Dungeon (Dungeon Meshi) is now an anime out on Netflix in the US/UK/elsewhere, episodes released weekly.

  4. I'll just leave this right here...

  5. I wrote an adventure in which mimics were tentacular things, sort of like starfish, that inhabited objects in a similar way to hermit crabs; one hid in a pipe organ, one in a carriage, and one inhabited a house. I presented it as a Transformers pastiche so I'm not sure anyone got that they were all mimics.