I Finally Found a Way to Implement the Doppelganger Gambit

Richards

Legend
For years now, I've always wanted to try the old "a doppelganger infiltrates your party" ploy, but it always seemed problematic. If you take a player off to the side and explain that his PC was just replaced by a doppelganger, the other players know that something is up. If you contact the player ahead of time, you run the risk of him spilling the beans to the other players. But events fell into place recently in my campaign to give this a go, and it went better than expected.

Some quick details about our campaign: I DM for four players - my son, a co-worker, the co-worker's wife, and the co-worker's son. Each player has two PCs, and all eight PCs are part of an Adventurers Guild based out of Greyhawk City. For each adventure, the players decide which of their two PCs they'll run that session.

A recent adventure had the PCs go through a dwarven testing facility, at the end of which each PC was given a free weapon upgrade and an invisible brand on the forehead that marked them as "favored by Moradin" (which would only be visible to lawful good dwarves). My co-worker, running a cleric of Kord named Cal, opted to turn down the reward, since he didn't want to wear the mark of a different god. So everybody went through the same challenges, overcame the same obstacles, and everybody but his PC got an upgrade to their weapon. Since he had refused the reward on role-playing principles, I decided I needed to give him a suitable reward in a subsequent adventure.

So, faced with a potential solo adventure for Cal, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try out my doppelganger infiltration ploy. Here's what I came up with:

  • There's an artifact called the Gauntlet of Kord which grants the wearer three wishes - after he's worn the gauntlet for 24 hours and proven his worth by fighting off any opposition during that time.

  • If the Gauntlet of Kord is ever worn by someone who doesn't worship Kord, a "distress beacon" is sent (in the form of a vision) to a random leader of a Church of Kord, for the express purpose of sending out a single champion to wrest the gauntlet from the nonbeliever.

  • Cal is summoned to his Church, and is told by the High Priest there that he has had a vision of Cal fighting a shadowy enemy for the Gauntlet of Kord on a dark and dismal plane - the Windswept Depths of Pandemonium. Cal had three companions with him in the vision, so the High Priest assumes that Kord will see fit to provide Cal with others to aid him in his quest, despite the fact that church tradition calls for sending but a single champion.

  • Before he's sent on the quest, he's examined with a gem of true seeing, as the church is currently battling a rash of lycanthropy amongst its ranks, as foolish acolytes think that becoming a wereboar is a quick and easy way to increase their strength. Cal's clean of the taint of lycanthropy.

So Cal activates a magic gate in the High Priest's office and is swept off to Pandemonium. Here's where I got creative. Rather than just read everybody boxed text describing what they see, I gave everybody a handout with their own boxed text, tailored to their PC. Cal's was straightforward, while the others were off doing nonadventuring stuff - and thus showed up on Pandemonium with only their "street clothes" and one weapon. The other players were okay with this, as I had explained that this was going to be a "Cal in the spotlight" adventure. One of the PCs was a wizard, and I told her that due to the random, chaotic nature of the plane, the spells prepared in her head were sliding around and getting mixed up, and that for this adventure only she'd be casting spells as a sorcerer does, not as a wizard. She didn't have access to all of her normal spells, either, just a select few - again, I explained this as an effect of Pandemonium, and that Cal's spells - being provided by a deity - were unaffected. (Basically, I was bald-faced lying to my players, as Pandemonium doesn't work that way. But I had the history of our campaign thus far, in which I had previously altered game world facts to suit my own campaign designs, working in my favor. So they bought it.)

Anyway, they meet up in Pandemonium, Cal casts a find the path spell (from a scroll provided by the High Priest) that will show the way to the Gauntlet of Kord, he buffs up some of the other PCs, and they're off. I won't bore you with each encounter (this post is long enough!), but eventually they're in a sealed-off cave (so none of the high winds that plague most of the plane are a factor), only to find that the Gauntlet was claimed by a monk of Kord from another sect of the Church. She's standing over the blue slaad that she took it from. So it looks like Cal's too late...except he chooses to peek at her through the gem of seeing, and sure enough, she's a green slaad - and the blue slaad's not dead, just faking. The PCs fight the slaads, killing the green and chasing off the blue. Cal puts on the Gauntlet of Kord, and instead of telling them of the telepathic messages it sends them, I give each player another handout telling them what visions the gauntlet is sending them.

This, naturally, is where the doppelgangers finally come in. Cal's handout is as expected, providing a history of the gauntlet and how it came to wind up on Pandemonium. The other players, however, got a handout explaining that for this entire adventure, they've been playing doppelgangers who happened to be in the area when Cal gated in. They read his mind, picked an appropriate companion that he'd believe might have been provided by Kord, and assumed their forms. They were from a bloodline of doppelgangers that had been stranded on Pandemonium for centuries, and desperately wanted to go to the "promised land" of the prime material plane, and figured tagging along with a cleric from the prime material plane was a sure way to get there. By the time Cal got the gauntlet, though, they had sifted through his recent memories to the point that they realized popping smack into the middle of a Church of Kord whose members were hunting for shapechangers in their midst wasn't the best plan, but gaining the gauntlet for themselves would allow them to gate to any plane they wanted and still get two additional wishes. Their handouts promised that any XP they gained as doppelgangers could be transferred to the PC of their choice (who would be off having an "offscreen" adventure during this time), and that if they killed Cal they'd get an XP bonus. (I also assured them that the Church of Kord had the means to resurrect Cal should they be successful.)

So, after everyone had time to read their individual handouts, the three other players turned on Cal and tried killing him. The look on Cal's player's face was priceless - he was trying to figure out who was mentally controlling them, and it wasn't until the barbarian doppelganger (they each had class levels - one sorcerer, one barbarian, and one rogue) went blind after attacking Cal (who had a holy aura spell active at the time) that he clued in that they were actually evil creatures. Cal managed to escape the sudden ambush by using a mislead spell to keep them occupied, then sealed them into the cavern and activated the device he was given to return him to his church. Where, I might add, he was greeted - in front of the whole congregation - by an avatar of Kord who slit both their palms, clenched their fists together, and then vanished, leaving Cal with the Kord-blooded template and the awe and admiration of his entire church.

The Gauntlet of Kord was turned over to the High Priest, where it will be venerated as a holy relic.

I was concerned by a couple of things in this setup: first, that the other players would resent having none of their normal gear, but fortunately they were all troopers and took it in stride, knowing it would just be for this one adventure. I was also a bit concerned about how far from the rules I was straying with my doppelgangers, but eventually decided that the fact that doppelgangers impersonating the PCs would have different Base Attack Bonuses, wouldn't actually have the magic bonuses to hit and damage that their "impersonated" weapons would, and so on, could just be ignored for the betterment of the overall goal - having the "doppelganger surprise" scenario that I wanted. (I did give the three doppelgangers their "normal" hit points, explaining it away as an effect of the chaotic nature of Pandemonium, to which Cal was immune due to the protection of his deity.) Finally, I was worried that Cal would use the gem of seeing to notice the doppelgangers before the "big reveal" at the end, but they were standing behind him when he used it to see the green slaad's true form, and again off to the side when he used it to peer at the gauntlet before putting it on.

Anyway, long post, but we had a ball and everyone walked away with having had a great session. (And the "doppelganger XP" even sent one of the other players' PCs up to the next level.) I promised them that I'd only ever pull the "doppelganger" trick once every campaign, because I didn't want to turn my players into nervous paranoids, but truth to tell I don't think they'd necessarily mind a repeat performance.

Johnathan
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
So very nicely done. Near the end of Sagiro's game something similar happened to me, in that the whole group was in on a secret that I didn't know, but that's fairly different. You really pulled this off with panache.
 

masshysteria

Explorer
Nice! This just goes to show how important GM/Player trust is. If the players didn't trust you to show them a good session even after messing with their characters you probably would have never gotten away with the ruse.
 

I thought this was a great post from an awesome session. I'm actually very intrigued by your group now and was wondering if you post in the story hour like PirateCat and some of the others or have thought about doing so?
 

Richards

Legend
No, I don't post campaign sessions in the Story Hour, mostly because I would seldom be able to find the time to keep it up to date. Plus, the various PCs range from 12th- to 16th-level now, so there's simply too much backstory to try to capture after the fact.

Johnathan
 

Fair enough, I wonder if I can convince my group to do something similar with everyone having another character "in the stable" at some point. I've never done that and it sounds pretty interesting and refreshing, could make campaigning more fun for everyone if they get to pick which character to adventure with for different quests. Not sure how it'd work out with my group which has 6 players though.
 

Richards

Legend
Well, I can at least let you know how we ended up with four players, two PCs each if that will help. This current campaign started when my co-worker learned that I had played D&D before (as had he), and asked me to start up a campaign for him and his (at the time) eight-year-old son. So they each rolled up a PC, as did my own (considerably older) son, and we started up a campaign.

Fast forward several months, and the three PCs are now 6th-level. We'd been alternating between playing at my house and my co-worker's house, and his wife was interested in this game that we all spent so much time playing. As she'd never gamed before, we decided to put the three initial PCs "on hold," and we started up again at 1st level, now with four PCs.

That was the new standard until we got this second batch of PCs up to 6th level. Then I used a "Challenge of Champions" adventure as a means of getting all four PCs ushered into the Greyhawk Adventurers Guild, and we assumed that the other (original) three PCs had also entered and placed well enough to be invited in. At that point, having played her first ever PC through six levels, my friend's wife was comfortable enough with the game that we let her roll up a new 6th-level PC so that everybody would have two PCs.

Finally, I decided that all Guild members wear a distinctive Guild ring that allows them to teleport back to their Guild HQ at will, once a day. In addition, if you touch your Guild ring to the ring of someone who's just "binked" back (that's the term we use), you can "lock into their previous coordinates" and teleport to the place they just binked in from. End result: if you're playing an adventure and your PC gets into too much trouble, he can bink back to HQ and you can swap that PC out for your other one. It comes in very handy when you find yourself poisoned without a means of undoing it at the moment, or extremely low on hit points without a healer at hand, or sometimes just to bring in a PC more suited to the task at hand. (Like you find yourselves surrounded by undead - out binks the rogue, and in binks the cleric.)

The Guild rings' limitations are as follows: they can each be used only once per day (either binking in or binking out), and they only work on the prime material plane. As the PCs have gained higher levels (and find themselves on other planes of existence more often), the rings are occasionally useless for an adventure or two. Still, they started out as "crutches" for our two brand-new-to-RPG players (my co-worker's wife and son) - to help them avoid getting their PCs killed in a crisis situation - and have ended up being a very useful addition to the overall feel of the campaign. (We've even had a few PC deaths, and the rings are useful in teleporting the body immediately back to HQ, if they can be activated by another PC, allowing the player to continue playing the session with his or her other PC).

Johnathan
 

Very clever way of introducing RPG to new players, I have to applaud you for originality and getting new players involved with a good idea so that they can learn new classes as well. I think it'd be a fun thing to do even with very seasoned players so that they don't get bored (for example if someone was the last to the group and everyone pressured them into playing the cleric). It sounds like everyone at your table is having a great time with your campaign!
 

Richards

Legend
Here's our current PC lineup, clumped together by player:

Human Cleric of Kord
Human Rogue

Half-Elf Druid
Human "Witch" (reskinned Wizard)

Half-Orc Barbarian
Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric/Sorcerer/Arcane Archer

Elf (former human, reincarnated as an elf) Paladin of Hieroneous
Human Wizard (Conjurer)

Our biggest problem is ensuring we have enough healing for the party when the players choose up who they'll be running each session. The cleric is our highest-level PC, because he gets taken on many more sessions than the rogue. Likewise, the conjurer doesn't like to adventure with the witch, because their roles overlap so much and they leave behind two healers when they each take out their arcane spellcasters.

Sometimes, immediately before we have the party strike out on an adventure we have them go hit the potion shop. :)

Johnathan
 

Richards

Legend
I thought I'd resurrect this thread, because I eventually followed Traveon Wyvernspur's suggestion and started up a Story Hour of my D&D 3.5 campaign. It starts out a little differently than most Story Hours, in that I spend more time discussing the behind-the-scenes decisions in why we were running the campaign the way we did, but eventually it standardizes into actual stories of the adventures played. And today, on the Wing Three Story Hour thread, I caught up to the point where we ran "The Gauntlet of Kord."

Here's the link, for those interested: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?330488-Wing-Three

"The Gauntlet of Kord" is in post #60, if you just want to jump ahead.

Johnathan
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
I'm glad that you resurrected this thread as it I had missed it back then and it's very cool. Congratulations on the way you structured your campaign: plenty of great ideas to steal! :)
 

Jmarso

Adventurer
Oddly enough, despite all the DMing I've done over the years, I don't have a single 'best moment' kind of event that jumps out in my mind. I do remember a couple of such moments as a player, but not as DM.
 

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