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.