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March 14, 2007, 1:20 am

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Mirror Characters


If you are a GM you will frequently find yourself in need of quality allies and enemies for your campaign and find yourself pressed for time.  Any old NPC will often not do.  You want someone with a full conceptions and some history.

If you are a GM you will frequently find yourself in need of quality allies and enemies for your campaign and find yourself pressed for time.  Any old NPC will often not do.  You want someone with a full conceptions and some history.

In a super heroic campaign, the additional mechanics require make “throwing together” an NPC at the last moment much, much, more difficult.  There is an entire layer of mechanics beyond the conventional stats/ skill/ archetype-class bit. It can be quite daunting and one of the reasons many super heroic GMs are very rigid about their “encounters”. 

Yet the solutions presents itself from the comicbook source material:  Mirror characters.  The Squadron Supreme and the Imperial Guard are skewed copies of the Justice League and Legion of Superheroes (of their time). Even though the characters were new, we the fans knew what to expect from them because of the characters they were based upon. 

So you are asking yourself… “SO!?!  What is he ramblling about and how is this applicable to gaming?”

You can mirror characters and use them in your game. By using a character you know well, it saves you time and effort on filling in the blanks and you have a template for the type of powers the character should have.

Mirror characters come in three variations: Reflections, Distored, and Dark. 

Reflection characters are characters based on existing character. You change one or two thing, and you have a brand new character. The Night: An acrobat with a radar sense who is a blind judge by day and a vigilantee for justice at night, basically DareDevil.  Quantum, Blond Mega-Hero from another planet, fighting for truth justice and peace… basically Superman (or the Martian Manhunter) with a different costume and different weakness. Chance, a beautiful red headed mutant probability shifter with an evil villian for a father (speedster) and brother (sonics)... the Scarlet Witch with the serial numbers filed off and stuffed in a new costume.  Captain Dorshan, an experienced bald submarine captain, with a Shakespearian actors English accent, is obviously Captain Picard of STNG fame. 

You should see how this make things much easier.  You know the characters, their skills/ powers/ abilities, and their stories.  Some one else has done all the hard work for you, creating and developing them.  You can adapt ever aspect you need for your game, and ignore the rest of their continuity.  If any questions come up, think about their original’s continuity and make a decision based on it.  These adaptions allow you to ignore the problems you will have if you copy the characters directly. 

Note: Copies are the most blatent mirror characters, you directly rip off the character and slap it in your game.  The problem with copies, besides being lame most of the time, is other players arguing with you about what are the “true” stats/ skills/ level/ class/ etc AND HISTORY of each character copied.  If your players are fans, you will have the old adage, “Get three fans and you will have four opinions”.  Copies character cause problems, where reflections allow you most of the advantages and none of the drawbacks.

Dark mirror characters are just that, they are darker reflections… usually turning heroes into villians (and visa versa). The hero’s conception becomes twisted so he become a villian.  Blaster- political activist, master of tactics with an optical blast- Cyclops. You can adapt the entire x-team if you need villians. The BlackWidow, a female acrobat with the propotional strength of a spider, who does what ever she wants without responsability for her actions- a female spiderman.  Agent Unknown, a female super spy whos Modus Oporandi has to do with wigs and disguises, is Jenifer Gardner’s character on Alias with a different allegance. And this does work in reverse. The Punster, his sanity snaps after being dunked in chemicals to be permanently turned into a clown, and he fights crime with gadgets and a punch line, is a heroic version of the Joker.  His Nemesis is obviously The Bat, a psychotic killer who kills those who offend his sense of justice.   Dark mirror characters work well when you need a villian team in a pinch.

Distorted characters are much like the Amalgom characters, taking one or two heroes and villians and creating a mixed reflection based on both of them.  Or you can take an idea and mash it into an existing character to make a new character.  Imagine SuperMan as a mutant or Namor as an alien. Imagine your favorite detective character in the body of a golem or other animate. Imagine a Flash like character that shoots arrows like Green Arrow. You see where this can be handy, but it is more time consuming as there are more decisions to be made.

While this is primarily a tool used by Super Hero GMs, you can do this for fantasy and other genre characters as well.  I was had pressed for a heroic pirate and crew in a fantasy game, so I pulled the Star Trek Original crew and Came up with Captain Tibereous (handsome womanizing adventurer), Vullan- Logical Half Elven Mage and first officer, Helmsman Su- An Samurai-esk adventurer from far awy, SKA-Ti-  a highlander half orc as master of the sails, and The Bones, the creepy old medic.  With one or two quick decisions, I had a full crew, with a deep history, in a fraction of the time it would of taken for me to do it from scratch.

To make this most effective, make sure to adapt the characters from a different genre. So Sci-Fi characters are used in fantasy, Mystery book characters in Sci-Fi, and so on.  Imagine the characters like the ones from CSI, developing/ being given powersuits and became superheroes or being the crew of an exploratory vessel. Imagine if a few of the Sopranos developed powers after being exposed to toxic waste.. bidda boom.. bidda bing… super mafiosos… or being the “thieves guild” of your fantasy city.  Your favorite movie bad guys become the powerful nobleman your players are interacting with.  Someone else has done most of the work. You just need to adapt that character to your needs. 

All in all, mirror characters are good tools for the busy GM.

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Comments ( 13 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Ria Hawk
November 26, 2005, 14:36
Don't forget that you can do mirrors of video game and book characters, too, not to mention historical figures.

And you can sometimes get really neat results by crossing the characteristics of two completely different characters.
November 26, 2005, 14:36
I have a character who named Snow Tiger, based on the character Rikimaru from the Tenchu: Stealth Assassins series. The only real difference is that Snow Tiger has a sense of humor, whereas Rikimaru is emotionless.
November 26, 2005, 14:38
Why not have characters who mirror the characters in the party? There are many possibilities:

1. The mirror character is almost exactly like one of the party's characters, except of a higher level. He joins them temporarily and starts to oust the PC from his usual roles (e.g. Dardan is an elf famed amongst his fellow PCs for his bow-skill. Along comes Nadrad his mirror, who is even better. Imagine the jealousy as Nadrad starts to flirt with Dardan's lover, or as the party start to favour Nadrad over Dardan).

2. The mirror character is of the opposite sex and starts to distract the original PC from his duties to the party...

3. The mirror character is younger and less experienced than the original PC and looks up to him as a role model: flattering, but can lead to awkward situations.

Mirror characters of this sort could have any sort of relationship to the PC: maybe a sibling or even twin (long lost?), maybe an old schoolfriend, or maybe just a complete stranger.

Try the short story "William Wilson" by Poe for another perspective: the mirror character as ominous harbinger.
November 26, 2005, 14:38
Mirror characters of another sort are a quick and useful fix.

Young Mirrors: Never throw out player's old character sheets. Use their mechanics and maybe elements of their personalities. File off the identifying marks and serial numbers, and you have a ready made party of lesser adventurers. This includes characters from old campaigns.

Mirror characters: Sometimes the only things that can threaten a PC is another PC. Take a copy of their existing character sheet, strip off any unique or exotic items, and come up with an alternate history version of the PC. Now you have an opponent or ally truly worthy.

Challange Mirror: Take the PC, and augment him one level (or suitabl experience. We had a Ronin in a Japan game who was considered "The Best". Their was an old tired Temple Guardian (Soji) who I based off him, but he was always one ranking better. So he had all the same traits and abilties, plus more. This way there was always someone better than "The Best" even though he seldom showed it.
November 26, 2005, 14:39
Actual copies of an old pc are an integral part of my current story arc. One was identical, even down to attack style, dress, & personality, another was seen wandering about in a near-catatonic daze, a third dead & faceless on a train station platform (recognisable by the distinctive outfit), and a final one (thus far) having taken on a completely different persona & sharing only physical features with the original. The scary part for the current pc's is that the original was a nearly unstoppable martial artist, and far more experienced/powerful than the current crop of characters. At the close of the previous campaign "chapter," this character & her beau went off on an extended romantic cruise around the world. As immortal Elves, this trip may last for months or millenia, and no one has heard from her since she left... until the copies started showing up. I've hinted in previous campaigns that cloning (at least of mortals such as Humans) was possible, and may be found far to the south in the country within which they are currently residing. The pc's also have evidence that at least the first copy was a variety of Undead, and this could explain all of the rest save for the last one encountered.

Mirroring pc's is one of my favourite lazy GM tricks. I started by creating an NPC nemesis for a Deathmask (female assassin in Darkurthe Legends). Deathmask's need to be close to their home base to gain level advancements, so I needed some way to allow her to advance without uprooting the campaign for her roadtrip. Thus the rogue Deathmask was born from the original pc's stats, plus a few levels.

Since then I have created a number or NPC's based upon the pc's they opposed. Some were nearly verbatim from the pc's character sheet, some were created to be dark opposites. One, for example, turned his great intelligence towards technology, whereas his brother (the pc) turned his intelligence towards magic. This particular NPC far outlived the original pc, and became a staple of the Midian game world until his untimely demise.

In addition to these, I have re-used old pc's I created but never used. These recycled pc's are already fully completed, with full mechanics, skills, personality, etc. If I need something a bit more powerful, then I use an old experienced pc of mine. If this character was used previously--or the players would already know of it--then I change the name & possibly (but not often) whatever other minor details are needed to obfuscate the identity. The key here is to remember that this is not the actual pc. It is simply a collection of mechanics, equipment, personality, & history, that you are using as an NPC--if the character is killed, then it's no greater loss than any other NPC's demise.

The greatest threat to all pc's is other pc's. If you cannot enlist someone in the group (or another group), then reuse their own old characters against them as fully-fleshed NPC's. While it's just as easy for me (if not more so) to drop in an undefeatably powerful NPC as a common shopkeep or peasant, such is not enjoyable for the players or myself. It's a much greater challenge for all involved if the foe is completely within the confines of the rules, created & experienced legitimately, and played to the fullest extent. The players won't know what hit them.

Another option is a sort of reverse mirror. In that same Darkurthe game mentioned previously, there was a powerful & mysterious mage who, though he occassionally proved helpful, often opposed the party--his true aims were never theirs to discover. I later created a much younger & less-powerful version to be a companion NPC to the party & sidekick of one of the pc's. (This was the acutal mage when he was younger; I had a time-jump major story arc planned but the game stopped before then due to scheduling conflicts.)
November 26, 2005, 14:39
Mirror Worlds.

Actually, I frequently use historical analogs as templates for my game worlds/ regions. "This area is like Feudal Japan, except the population is larger and they are all Orcenti", "They are like African Plainsmen." or "They are like Ancient Greeks: philosphical, athletic, and very item poor, except they are Centaurs" is a very common short cut I use when describing things in my world. If gives the players a handle on the grouping, that allows them to fill in the blanks that I have not described. I add a few qualifiers for what is "different". That way we get a better fit for the world with least effort

This idea takes that a step farther. Rather than using reality as a shortcut, we use it as the basis for what everything is. We model our fantasy directly on the reality. In some ways, it is a mirror character expanded to the world. You take something real (or fleshed out) and you just change the little things to make something new for your game.

Here is an example: I took reality and created a fantasy to match it.

The Line and Magical Cold War

Someone invents a super fireball spell that can be cast by a mage of a moderate skill level (lets say 5th). These fireballs can be lobbed indirectly and for large distances. If one can scry a great distance, one can lob a fireball there accurately. Once you have a mage that can do it, your country is at a huge advantage. Thus some quick rounds of spying and research, now many countries have it.

Now you have people, on the firing line, prepared to cast these spells, preparing to cast counter spells, maintaing the scrying defense, and trying to scry through them, and new mages or scholars developing new spells for The Line.

Of course, the spy business will move into full swing, as everyone will want to know who can do what, who there Mage Line is and where they are, where they are stationed (are they being moved... do they have teleport spells ready to move into range?), and all the data on their research and current spells. There will be extractions of personel who have been pressed into service. There will be spying on the government to see what their mood is.

Eventually someone will invent magic items to shoot these super fireballs.

You can see where this all goes. We have created The Cold War, (especially if there are two main powers who have this... and they have allies associated with them), in a fantasy setting. If you need a plot or a running line of history, simply dip into the history a bit...
Voted RuthieA
November 26, 2005, 17:55
I really like this idea. I have actually done something like this for the villains a role-playing game(kind of, hard to explain) with my best friend, except the mirror characters were dark versions of the characters from an opposite dark dimension (much like in the star trek episodes). A very good idea.
Voted Siren no Orakio
March 14, 2007, 0:21
Bump. El-useful.
Voted axlerowes
October 14, 2010, 14:51

I find it hard to see how this can be that useful, it is just a fluffing up of nothing.   "Make villain a superman, or make your mayor behave like Miss Havisham. " It would be better or more useful generate a list of archetypes, that states clearly root motivations and physical features.   Furthermore, as an article it tackles no topic and presents no thesis or idea.    

Voted Dossta
December 7, 2010, 15:22

I particularly liked this article.  Although not very original, it is extremely useable -- especially when you take into account the comments.  Unless I was doing a deliberate "mirrored" reality like Kinslayer, however, I would stay away from direct copies.  At best, my players will start having unpleasant deja vu and at worst they will feel like they're playing the same campaign over and over again . . .

Voted valadaar
May 14, 2014, 8:36
I think this is a reminder rather than a new concept. This is an excellent way to generate new NPCs, though to avoid it being 'cheezy' you need to file off the serial numbers well.

Voted Kassy
June 10, 2014, 10:31
Only voted


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Great Magic and Ruination

       By: rickster

With a huge number of sacrificial victims, another realm long ago secretly bound a Prince of the land spirits, Iorstonn by name, thus ensuring the fertility, and improving the magical defences, of their realm. But binding that Prince to one spot has disrupted the weather and magical patterns (ley lines?) over half the continent. Things have become bad enough that a coalition has been formed to rectify the situation, once divinations have established the cause.

Your party is one of the teams assembled to do the rectification: find the binding object and steal it ("so that we can destroy it here in our realm, of course"...*) or destroy it over there. Presumably the Prince will be grateful to his rescuers and angry at the binders, but with a greater spirit like Iorstonn one can never be sure: such beings are "tricksy".

* Of course, the rulers of our realm might want to control Iorstonn for their own ends...

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