Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Kinda New Look at Mr. Doppelganger

Ah, the doppelganger, one of my favorite critters in the Monster Manual. A nasty enemy who can create gobs of paranoia within the party. I took the time to flesh out their abilities and psychology for an adventure Dwayne and I wrote. There is nothing earth shattering or reinventing going on here, just my extrapolation on well known abilities and then I throw in a little of my own flavor to make it a more unique experience when my players encounter them. That was my intent at least. And maybe there will be something you can use in your campaign. The stats are arbitrary numbers and I used a system neutral approach to present the rules.

Doppelgangers are a feared race because they can alter their form to match any humanoid creature within 50% of their mass. Their transformation power is nearly instantaneous. Coupled with their frightening ability to read minds makes them a threat to every civilized race. Doppelgangers can send information, both verbal and images, instantly. Their range limit for full communication is 500 yards, but can deliver pieces of non-verbal information up to 1000 yards. Doppelgangers cannot be contacted while sleeping or critically injured.

A person needs to be in sight for a doppelganger to read their mind. When a doppelganger attempts to read the mind of a player, a contest between the player’s intelligence (and any bonuses or penalties that the DM sees fit) vs. the doppelgangers skill level should be rolled. If the player wins he will know someone is prying into his thoughts and can make a resist roll. A resist roll is the same as above. Detecting the attempt will not give the player insight into who tried to read his mind unless a critical success is rolled.

In combat doppelgangers use their mind reading to their advantage. They can anticipate attacks and coordinate with other doppelgangers. This gives them a bonus +2 to hit and defense.

Doppelgangers prefer to stalk their victim before killing. They gather as much information as they can before taking the place of their target. They work in small groups to assist one another and to minimize detection. All doppelgangers are skilled at digging and camouflaging the graves of their victims. Doppelgangers feel no remorse when they kill. They kill to survive, as a hunter kills a deer.

Alcohol cripples a doppelganger’s mind reading and shape shifting ability. It acts as a poison in their system, causing extreme pain. In such a state they are unable to focus on the form they have taken and shift between their original form and other forms taken in the past. Alcohol blocks their mind reading and sending ability. Even after the alcohol has left their system they are disoriented for a few days. Because of this weakness and the need to blend into communities doppelgangers have become experts in pretending to drink and be drunk. A player that actively observes the behavior of a doppelganger can make an intelligence roll to detect its deception.

Doppelgangers work together to improve the situation of the group. They travel in groups of twelve or less fearing more would make them easier to detect. And all doppelgangers are aware that if they are discovered they would be slaughtered.


  1. What prevents doppelgangers from essentially wiping out civilization and humanity? What is their predator, for lack of a better word? The way I would play these guys, I could do an instant TPK, based on the powers. The thing about doppelgangers is that they are so fearsome, that I need a balance, an achilles heel, otherwise we'd all be cattle for them.

  2. Like commoners defending against witches: a witch hunt involves widespread suspicion, testing, and finally lynching. But out there in the wilderness, below the ground, Doppelgangers rule.

  3. @Alex - I think that's kinda my point though - doppelgangers should rule everywhere. If I get the majority of the aboveworld population to kill themselves due to paranoia and suspicion, I'll just eat the rest. Easy kill. The analogy to deer hunting is apropos - if Mankind is the deer, we would be far more primitive and second class.

    That's the problem I had with most super-species like illithid too. At what point do you just handwave it? I know I can do it, but I have to build in some circuit breaker - like sunlight vs. vampires - what causes doppelgangers to not quite make it over the hump and just take over everywhere?

  4. BTW, Tim, if the discussion here is beyond scope - I don't want to fill your comments page with my ramblings - I'd be happy to make a post of my own thoughts on doppelgangers/illithids.

  5. @otherwise we'd all be cattle for them.

    Maybe it is Fantasy version of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers and just the early days. ;)

    Movie cliches aside, it would nice to have a option where they work like how Tim described and plausibly be a long term part of the campaign's background.

    Perhaps they have a really low birthrate. Because like the Illithids they are not really from "here". While they are as fearsome as presented they just don't get out of control as there is never a great number of them.

  6. @At what point do you just handwave it?

    Granted just about any explanation will fall apart if pushed too far. However in my Majestic Wilderland the way I figure it is that Mankind has the advantage of being one of the smarter sentient races AND a high birthrate.

    Orc for example have a even higher birthrate however their lower than average intelligence and other personality traits hinders their ability to compete with Man.

    Nearly all uber races can be handwaved by low birthrates. However the problem comes when they can actually "inflect" or create more of their own kind, like vampire, werewolves, etc. In that case you really need some type of weakness or it would plausibly get out of control.

    If dopplegander sp

  7. Tim, I posted my thoughts on my blog, thanks for the cool ideas and discussion so far. I've pointed to your post/blog in my entry. :)


  8. Chgowiz feel free to fill up my comment section any time. I appreciate any insight you have and comments you share here. And thanks for the publicity on your blog. I was going to post my reply in the comment section, but decided to do a second part to the blog.

    Alex my answer will be in my second half. Thanks for the comment.