Monster Monday #15: Doppelgänger
Updated: Mar 4
For this week's Monster Monday poll, I put forward another four star signs for inspiration and this week the winner was Gemini, the twin sign! I knew almost immediately what I was going to do as the concept of the Evil Twin is an intriguing one found throughout history. As such, my mind was immediately drawn to this idea, and in turn, the Doppelgänger or Twin Stranger. So what is a Doppelgänger? Originally a German word, it literally translates to 'double walker' and usually refers to a look-alike, or double, of a living person. Often seen as a supernatural phenomenon, most instances of this are seen as bad luck or a sign of doom and it is here that the idea of the Evil Twin really shines - a creature that looks exactly like another but is the 'bad' version of that person.
The idea of some kind of 'spirit double' dates back to Egyptian mythology in the form of a Ka. They believed that the soul was split into many parts and the Ka, meaning 'double', was tangible and shared the same memories and feelings as the person it belonged to. Norse mythology refers to a Vardøger as a spirit with the subject's voice, smell, and general appearance preceding them to a location and causing witnesses to believe that they have already seen them before - the opposite of the phenomena 'déjà vu'. Finnish folklore has another name for this spirit - an Etiäinen. The idea of this creature being associated with misfortune is found in Irish folklore, called a Fetch. To see one is to see the looming death of its subject. The Ankou, found in Breton, Cornish, Welsh and some French folklore, is similar and seen to be the personification of death.
Another legendary creature that this concept brings to mind is that of the Changeling. Also referred to as an Auf or Oaf, this creature is believed to be a fairy, that is identical to and left in place of a child, in order to live their lives in its stead while the fairies whisk the original child away to their realm. This creature is found throughout European folklore though is particularly prevalent in Scottish and Irish myth. The Korrigan of Breton folklore is particularly fond of stealing children and replacing them with Changelings. Not only does this speak to the 'body double' of the Doppelgänger, it also creates a very sinister variant of the Evil Twin.
In modern media, this trope is very prevalent. The Clone (a more modern, scientifically-based interpretation of a Doppelgänger) is often employed as a tool to present this trope, for example in Stephen King's book The Outsider the antagonist uses the DNA of individuals to create copies that will kill people, or within the film Us in which a family confront perfect replicas of themselves. In Cardcaptor Sakura the Mirror card spends an episode imitating the titular character and causing trouble all over town, while in Twin Peaks, a character also confronts they very own Evil Twin. If you are fond of the idea of a Changeling, then check out the film Labyrinth in which a young girl wishes that her brother would 'go away' and the Goblin King grants her wish.
So let us have a little look at some stat blocks and various alternatives to get these creatures into your game. Starting with Wizards Of The Coast...
The Doppelganger (Basic Rules, page 124) is actually its own stat block!
When looking at the true form of a creature that can make itself look however it wants, I did not really know what to expect but I like the look of this! It is a CR 3 Monstrosity which I think makes a lot of sense, as this creature's real strength comes from the ability Shapechanger which allows it to Polymorph into any small or medium humanoid that it likes. As well as having some very stealth-based abilities such as Ambusher or Surprise Attack, it can also Read Thoughts! I love the idea of such a creature luring away a player in the guise of someone else and then taking them by surprise and attacking!
My next suggestion will be a Changeling (Eberron: Rising From The Last War, page 317).
At a CR 1/2 and as a Humanoid, this may not seem like anything too special, but I would argue that it could be a fun low-level encounter! Similarly to the Doppelganger, it can Change Appearance to resemble another Medium Humanoid! I also really like the inclusion of Unsettling Visage, I think this is actually a really nice ability for this creature to have and plays in well with its sinister foretelling of doom! There are definitely some great options for a group of these creatures to be causing havoc or infiltrating something important and the party have to fight them, though the interest probably comes from the RP of discovering them than the combat encounter itself.
Though a little different in its approach, I really love the Rakshasa (Basic Rules, page 341) as an option too!
This doesn't really resemble anything that we might look for in a Doppelgänger with its similarity to a tiger, but stat block wise, this CR 13 Fiend has some excellent abilities that play well into the theme, are a higher tier combat encounter, and a lot of the lore surrounding them speaks of their fondness of pretending to be other people. The Innate Spellcasting is what gives them their disguise ability, as they can cast Disguise Self at will (I might even consider giving them Alter Self at a reduced number of uses to challenge your perceptive players a little more). The rest of the spells available are based a lot around charming and suggesting those that cannot resist their charm. Being a Fiend, this is the one that most fits in with the 'Evil' in Evil Twin.
Though Kobold Press didn't really yield much, I did find a couple of fun Doppelgänger options in Dragonix's Monster Manual Expanded - the CR 9 Doppelganger Assassin (page 76) that has some great rogue abilities such as Assassinate, Cunning Action and Evasion as well as the ability to access Sneak Attack! At CR 10, the Doppelganger Dark Whisperer is also presented, being given some Spellcasting, Psychic Blades, and a fun feature named Dark Whispers! I also liked looking at Legendary Bestiary for some interesting extra features for the Doppelganger (page 27) that allow it to Bamboozle, Sneak or Blend In.
Stat blocks are fun but sometimes its even better to imagine the story around them. This is where the following plot hooks come in!
The party arrive in town and, despite having never visited, are met with open hostility. They are reminded that in their recent visit they caused a lot of trouble for the town and are shocked to realise that they have been impersonated.
A man enlists the aid of the party. He is convinced that his baby has been replaced by a child that resembles perfectly but is not his child. The baby's mother suspects nothing. He asks that they investigate a nearby rumoured fairy portal.
A PC keeps having dreams that they are a twin. Their counterpart is identical to them and the expression on their face is one of a deranged, dangerous smile.
A young boy has recently been acting very oddly - being aggressive, breaking things around the house, stealing food etc. He protests that it isn't him and that his 'evil twin' is responsible.
A young woman approaches the party mournfully. She woke up one day with many memories of her life, but upon returning to the home she remembered being hers, found someone else living their happily with her face. She seeks a way to start afresh and become her own person.
II hope you enjoyed this small insight into the world of shapeshifting Doppelgängers. Have you ever come across an Evil Twin trope before? What is you favourite use of it? Let me know!