A Doppelganger's Dilemma

Copyright R.J. Hansen © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"The fear of childhood stories of doppelgangers stealing children by looking like their parents had now became horrifying reality."

Mortise scratched the last entries into the prison log with his quill, it had been a long day and the flow of the drunken and disorderly had not ceased until late that night. Satisfied that all was in order he put down his quill, closed the lid of the ink well and shut the large worn leather bound book that was chained to his desk. Mortise leaned back in his chair and stretched his aching muscles; the thought of a hot bath and meal brought a rare smile upon his wrinkled face. Suddenly there was a brisk rapping of knuckles on the front door to the jail house and Mortise scowled. "Bah!" He yelled in frustration and banged his fists on the desk. "Can't it wait till morning!" but the rapping continued. Mortise groaned as he lifted himself from the chair and hobbled over to the door. Peering out through the small hatch in the door he saw a lone figure at the threshold, and at the sight of the royal guard's crest he unbolted the door and swung it open.

Mortise bowed respectfully and said, "What brings you here my lord at this late hour?"

General Sorlac of the king's guard replied with an air of arrogance "I have business with a prisoner that is to be executed tomorrow." Mortise was tired and dared to say, "Could it not wait till the morning my lord?" and then added, "The axe won't fall until noon"

Sorlac looked down upon Mortise like an insect; his elaborate armour glinted in the light. "You will take me to him now Jail Keep." he stated resting his hand upon the hilt of his dagger.

"Yes my lord." Mortise quickly responded and rushed to get his keys to the door that led to the lower levels. "Who is it that you wish to speak to my lord?"

"Fernos the Flea." Sorlac said. Mortise's hand froze as he was about to place the key in the lock. "Ah...yes, very well my lord" Mortise said hesitantly, and thrust in the key and unlocked the door.

Fernos was miserable. The smell of unwashed bodies, excrement and vomit was overwhelming within the confines of the dungeons. The cold stone floor he slept on was a harsh reality from the soft mattresses and feather down pillows he was accustomed to before he was captured, tried and sentenced to death. Fernos paced the small confines of his cell figuring out a way to escape; after all he was well known to weasel out of tight situations, but deep down he knew his luck had run out. It was just several hours before he would face the axeman and the jeers of the onlookers as they watched his head be detached from his shoulders; this last thought made him slump to the filth ridden floor in hopelessness. Fernos noticed flickering torchlight coming from under his cell door and the distinct sound of the door being unlocked and the bolt grating from its holdings. As the door opened the light made his eyes water and the voice of Mortise barked, "On your feet scum! You've got company!" Fernos rose to his feet confused, he squinted and saw an armoured figure towering behind Mortise.

"Put shackles on him" Sorlac commanded." He will come with me." Mortise was shocked and said, "I'm not permitted to do that my lor..." he was struck across the face by the back of Sorlacs hand and nearly sent to the floor. "You will do as I say, and do not disobey me again!" Sorlac reprimanded. Mortise hastily put shackles on Fernos' wrists and attached a metal collar with a chain that was held in Sorlacs' tight grip. Fernos was then ordered up the stairs and into the upper jail house. As they entered the jail house, Mortise rubbing his jaw bowed and humbly asked, "Should I send for an escort my lord?"

"No, that will not be necessary." He replied haughtily, and motioned Fernos towards the front entrance.

"My lord!" Mortise said, and Sorlac spun on his heels and glared with nostrils flaring at Mortise.

"What!"

"You..you have forgotten to sign the...the log book, my lord." Mortise said fearfully, he held up the quill with his eyes averted from Sorlacs' menacing visage. Sorlac swiftly moved forward and Mortise flinched ready for another blow but instead the quill was snatched from his hands, "Where?" Sorlac snapped, and Mortise opened the book and pointed. Sorlac scratched his name fiercely and threw the quill at Mortise and marched Fernos out the door. As Mortise watched the door close behind them, he slumped back into his chair and cursed Sorlac with all the profanity he knew.

Sorlac looked at Fernos and warned, "If you so much as try to escape I'll cut you down." He had thought of making a run for it but noticed his custodian had wrapped the chian firmly around his wrist, it was not promising, and Sorlac's warning made him think twice. The night air was cool on Fernos' face and the stars he thought never looked so bright. He was glad to be out of the stench and filth of his cell. In the stillness of the night he did not see or hear a soul, and he did not say a word as he was led through the back streets. It was some time before he was commanded to stop at the entrance of a narrow alleyway. Fernos heard something move and he peered into the darkness and was surprised to see a horse saddled and tethered to a post. Sorlac untied the horse and mounted it still clutching the chain, then rode onwards to the main gates; a yank on the chain made the collar bite into Fernos' neck and he quickly picked up his pace.

The guards at the gates snapped to attention as General Sorlac approached. The Sergeant saluted and observed the shackled prisoner with contempt and disgust. "General?" the Sergeant indicated with a questionable glance at Fernos.

"I have personal dealings with this pitiful retch that need to be addressed before I return him to the cess pool where he belongs." Sorlac answered with a cruel smile and then lent closer to the Sergeant and said, "I know a quiet spot where I'll not be disturbed."

"What are you talking about you have no perso..." Fernos began to retort, but a kick to the side of his head by Solac knocked him to the ground. He could taste blood in his mouth. "See what I mean." Fernos vaguely heard Sorlac say, and then laughter from the guards followed. The inner gate opened and Fernos was half dragged before he was able to stand on his feet and keep pace with the horse, which had started in a trot. By the time Sorlac had stopped at a small clearing in the woods, Fernos was exhausted and the pain in his side was unbearable. He dropped to the ground; each gasp for breath was agonizing. His face had swollen from Sorlac's kick and the collar had rubbed his neck raw, and he was tired, hungry and becoming fearful of what was yet to come. He could hear Sorlac rummaging around in the saddle bags and then seeming to find what he was looking for stepped a few paces towards him. "You look as bad as you smell" Sorlac stated, he was holding a bulging sack in one hand.

"What do you want with me?" Fernos asked, his throat was parched and he longed for a drink of water.

"Nothing" Soloc replied.

"You plan to beat me for your own twisted pleasure, don't you?" Fernos struggled to stand. "So this is what you guards call honour?" he stood upright and looked Sorloc in the eye. "I thought as much, you're all a bunch of cowards, can't fight anyone unless they are bound in chains." Fernos was waiting for Solac to react; he had a plan. "You're nothing but a weak snivelling stable boy that runs to his mother!" Fernos taunted, "Come on, fight me like a real man!" At this statement Solac laughed. It was a laugh that was full of humour and it surprised Fernos. This was not what he was expecting. Sorlac continued to laugh and the pitch and tone of his voice changed into that of a female's voice which made Fernos take a step back in uncertainty. Fernos watch as the armoured figure began to shrink in size and form until before him stood a beautiful woman, "Still want me to fight like a man?" the woman asked her teeth gleaming white as she looked at him in amusement. He stumbled, tripped on a tree root and sprawled onto his back. He knew what she was. The fear of childhood stories of doppelgangers stealing children by looking like their parents had now became horrifying reality. He could not move or take his eyes from her. Drawing her dagger from its scabbard she began to cut the leather straps of the elaborate oversized armour, the metal plates thudded to the ground. She then striped off the under garments and stood naked before Fernos, who could not even in his fear suppress a smirk. "You human males are so easy to manipulate" she said bluntly. She opened the sack from the saddle bags and withdrew long pants and a silk shirt and then began to dress. She approached Fernos and unlocked the shackles from his writs and neck and threw the sack at him. "Change." she ordered. Inside the sack Fernos found fresh clothes, apples and some cheese, which he ravenously devoured, hunger overcame his fear. She watched him change his clothes with a peculiar look on her face which made him uncomfortable, and asked "How did you pull it off?"

"Never underestimate a woman, especially if she's a doppelganger." She said, with dignity and confidence. With that she mounted her horse and said, "Coming?" she offered her hand for him to join her. "Where are we going?" he asked suspiciously.

"To someone that wishes your head attached to your shoulders." She replied. "And to the one who will pay the bounty on your head." she thought, as they both rode off under the blanket of night.

A Doppelganger's Dilemma.

By R. J. Hansen.

Some time in a GM's gaming life he or she may have a player that wishes to play a shape shifter as depicted in a movie, comic book or work of literature. As this is the case with one of my players, I have created some guidelines that a GM may wish to implement in his game.

Naturally it is in the best interest for a doppelganger to duplicate the target to the best of his ability. Such a task is in itself is somewhat difficult. To be able to duplicate a particular humanoid creature, they must first spend a certain amount of time in close proximity to the intended target so as to obtain an accurate representation. The longer one spends time around a person, the more information is gained about that individual's appearance, behaviour and traits. Using this knowledge, the doppelganger will be able to impersonate the target without arousing any suspicion in those who are familiar with the individual. This extraordinary ability, either by magic spell or innate talent, can add many adventure avenues for a GM and his players. It may also inspire them to be creative in overcoming small but important obstacles.

When a doppelganger attempts to successfully duplicate a target, they must first have them described, be shown an image or be in close contact. The better the interaction with the target, the more successful and accurate the duplication will be. Occasionally there will be times when expedience will take precedence over prudence and the skills of the doppelganger will be crucial to the outcome.

So the question is what skills does a doppelganger need to increase his chances?

Apart from the obvious ability of shape changing (whether by spell or Talent) the applicable skills that can be applied to duplication attempts are Acting and Mimicry. The Acting skill will help in duplicating behavioural patterns and the way the target walks and indicates with hands, arms and general body language etc. The Mimicry skill will aid in the mimicking of the voice. This aspect should cover vocal tone, pitch, accent and vocabulary etc. Language can also be one of the greater barriers for a doppelganger and a GM should take note of all aspects of communication. Any discrepancies in language/conversation etc. should be resolved using the RMSS Communication Static Maneuver Table or through consulting the Language Table (for HARP).

For natural doppelgangers, GMs may wish to award a special +20 bonus to all Artistic-Active (RM) and Artistic (HARP) skills that incorporate the voice: this simulates the doppelganger's extraordinary vocal capability.

It should be noted that clothing, weapons, armour and other items are not covered by the doppelganger's ability and must be obtained by normal means. This disadvantage gives a GM more options for adventure plots. A GM may also specify that any wounds sustained by a doppelganger may also be visible on the duplicated target.

Below are some guidelines for studying a target humanoid creature.

Never seen the person (but has had the person described) = -75.
Seen an image of the person (medium to large portrait only) = -50. (*)
Visited person briefly (one hour or less) = -25.
Studied (visited for no less than 24 hours) = -10.
Studied carefully (7 days) = -5.
Lived with person (for at least 6 months) = -1.

(*) The mimicking of the voice and behavioural patterns cannot be performed.

For a Doppelganger to successfully duplicate a target the following steps are applied.

d100 roll (open ended)
+/- Studied target modifications,
+ Character's skill bonus for Acting if applicable,
+ Character's skill bonus for Mimicry if applicable.

For RM, index the final result under the Very Hard Column in the Moving Maneuver Table. If the result is over 100 the duplication is successful.

Failure Result Option 1. A result under 100 indicates the bonus to be applied to the next attempt. For example: if a player rolls and his total only comes to 70 on the MM table, he then has a + 70 bonus to his next attempt. This is to simulate the experience of knowledge by failure. If the maneuver is failed again, then the target must be studied further for at least 24 hours; otherwise the GM may wish to use Failure Option 2.

Failure Result Option 2. A result under 100 indicates that the duplication has some defect. The percentage of failure may be applied as a bonus for those familiar to the individual in recognizing something astray, i.e. if the roll only comes to 70 on the MM table, then those familiar with the target have a + 30 bonus to recognizing that the person is an impostor.

For HARP, the attempt is resolved as an All-or-Nothing Very Hard maneuver (using the lower skill of Acting or Mimicry). If the maneuver is successful, then the duplication has been successful. If the maneuver is unsuccessful, look up the result on the Percentage column and subtract this value from 100, treating the difference as a bonus received by anyone familiar with the target to detect that the duplicate is an impostor. For example, a result of 75 equates to a 70% result on the Percentage column, which leads to a +30 bonus (100-70) to any friends of the target.

RM GMs should note that the Body Shifting and Mind Shifting spell lists from Mentalism Companion will be very useful to budding shapeshifters.

HARP GMs should note that the Changing Ways spell (Mage Sphere) in combination with the Study Target spell is great for shapeshifters. HARP GMs may wish to consider permitting the following additional scaling options for Changing Ways:
Form may be 10% to 24% of caster's normal size: +6PP
Form may be 25% to 49% of caster's normal size: +3PP
Form may be up to 400% of caster's normal size: +3PP
Form may be up to 800% of caster's normal size: +6PP