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From the 1st Edition Monster Manual:

...and when a living creature passes beneath their position above they will drop upon it in order to kill and devour it.

After they drop, can they attack again, or do they just lie there waiting to get skewered? And how do they get up on the ceiling anyway? The picture in MMI doesn't show any little legs, or a mouth for that matter either.

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3 Answers 3

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In order to attack again a piercer must climb back up the wall and across the ceiling until they're above their target. They're slow—1" movement rating translates to 10 feet per round inside—so unless the PCs are distracted by something else (tip: distract them by something else) the piercer is going to be at their mercy.

In practice this won't be an issue. Piercers are dumb as the rocks they imitate, so they're not terribly selective in their targets. They're much more suited to skewering the occasional passing animal than a chain-wearing fighter. The way piercer encounters usually go is a single set of piercer attacks during a surprise round, after which the players get the satisfaction of revenge for the insult. However, you'll have the satisfaction of seeing the players be cautious about caves from then on.

Later editions show two ways of conceiving of the piercer anatomy. Considering even the publisher didn't know how to make sense of them, you can be confident that you can just make up something that makes sense for your world and it won't be any less bizarre. AD&D 2nd edition had a little face and toothy mouths on their side (with even a hint if tiny hands in the art?!), like some kind of cone-headed muppet that was just all cone-head. 3rd edition had their mouths on the bottom, much more like a mollusc, which suits me better personally. I picture them either with little crabby legs under the edge of the stalactite shell, or they crawl along like a snail. Usually the PCs are too busy exacting retributive justice to care about their locomotion, though.

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They don't have an attack other than the "drop on someone" attack, but they do have a move of 1" which is how they get back up, so they must be able to snail-crawl or whatnot. There's an Ecology of the Piercer article in Dragon#72 that goes into the whys and wherefores. Actually, the article seems to be online here but I'm not sure whether that's legally posted or not... Anyway, the short form is "it's a big ass mollusk that moves around like a snail or whatever."

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That's a copy of the Dragon Magazine Archive cdrom collection released a dozen years ago or so. Most definitely not legal. –  Pat Ludwig Jan 9 '11 at 2:37

Both of the other answers given here cite 2nd edition AD&D, but your question is tagged 1e.

The 1e Monster Manual describes a class of monsters that are merely traps, conceived for Original D&D or within two years of its debut. These trap-beings include the ear seeker, lurker above, mimic, piercer, rot grub, shrieker, and trapper. As the game was originally conceived and played, none of these was a viable creature in an environment; each provided a surprise encounter, which was then swiftly left behind... 'one-liners', if you will. In the 1e mind-set, nobody worried about their heritage, habits, or any other details -- nor should you, if you play 1e.

Certain aquatic listings -- strangle weed, eye (floating), and water weird -- are arguably in the same class. The "goop group" (gelatinous cube, gray ooze, green slime, ochre jelly) could be treated similarly, but are generally more substantial.

As soon as you start asking why & how regarding these 'one-liners' (c.f. the "Ecology of..." magazine articles), you're moving into the 2e mind-set. :)

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+1. I like the "Ecology of…" articles, yet I appreciate the prior styles of play too, even if they can't be reconciled. :) –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 6:57

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