"Every man is his own worst enemy."
This was an encounter I deployed on my party of 6, 5th level characters, though by its nature, it is self-balancing. It was fun and pretty easy to set up and is especially fun on a VTT. I'd also recommend having your party's character sheets accessible in a digital format (such as D&D Beyond or Foundry).
This was my homebrew campaign and set in the Unseelie Feywild, but it could occur anywhere with a Magical Frost theme.
The Mirror Lake
The party have an urgent need to cross a frozen lake. The lake's mirror finish is magical and starts spawning reflections of the party who attack them until they can escape. A chaotic fight that pits the party's own strength against them.
Setup: The lake is vast (hundred's of meters wide), but the magically reflecting area is only in its centre and only activates when the party is in the middle of their crossing. There should be some urgency to the party's travel; crossing a frozen lake will likely be approached with caution, and we need something to drive them to take the risk.
Before they arrive, you can tell the party the lakes name (The Mirror Lake), and a well-travelled path goes around the lakeshore. However, a glacier has formed, cutting off the way around the lake (at least not without a perilous clime).
This encounter uses a large, relatively featureless map. Ideally, it needs to support a 240' diameter ring where the party start in the centre, giving them equal opportunity to advance or retreat and at least three rounds at full spirit to get out of it. This ring is the "Mirror Zone", where the Reflections will spawn. It is undetectable at first, but the edge should be viewable with a suitable perception check after the magic kicks in. (In a VTT, draw yourself a line on the GM layer)
We can assume that the party will treat this ice crossing with caution. We can even ask leading questions like "what precautions are you going to take against falling into freezing water". The point of this is to have them on guard for one kind of danger than have the real threat be something unexpected. It can also be fun to have precautions that they take (like tying the party together with ropes) inhibit them during the fight.
One last point of setup. This encounter works well if there is an NPC with the party. Having them act suboptimally makes it so that the best tactic isn't just "Run away at full speed.".
Monsters: This is where things get interesting.
Reflections are monsters with the same stats as the character they are reflections of, with the following changes.
- They are Constructs with 1 hp and are immune to cold damage.
- They are immune to the conditions Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Paralyzed, Petrified, Poisoned.
- They go on the same initiative as the character they are a reflection of. If one or more reflection is alive at the start of a players turn, randomly determine the order of characters and their reflections.
- They have all the spells and abilities of characters they reflect but can only use Melee Weapon attacks and Grapple until the reflected character uses the ability or spell.
- The reflection is indistinguishable from the reflected character, except 1. They cannot speak, and 2. Their eyes are solid blue ice without iris or pupil.
Away from their duplicate, it is easy to spot a Reflection, but when they are grappling with the person they mirror its much harder (DC 15 Perception check + 2 per additional Reflection with 5')
Any Character that is casting a reflection on the ice creates a Reflection at the start of combat.
At the end of a character's turn, if they cast a reflection on the ice inside the mirror zone, create a new Reflection anywhere within 5ft of where that character had cast its reflection in the ice.
If a character dies, its duplicates automatically steal their voice and now mimic them perfectly (including their eyes). The dead character cannot be resurrected until all of its Reflections have been destroyed. Dead characters cast no reflection on the magical ice.
The Reflections goals are to kill those who they have duplicated and steal their voice, though they are working together and will attack other targets if presented with a good opportunity.
They are trying to be the characters, so use this opportunity to exaggerate any of the characters quirks or personalities. This is especially true of describing how the Reflections die (which will happen a lot) and is an excellent chance for some humour as well as wrenching some hearts ("You put an arrow in the eye of your best friend, who turns to you mouthing the word "Why?" before shattering into a thousand shards of ice.")
Off the Grid
This is one encounter I would NOT run in theatre of the mind. The large number of duplicated characters and general chaos makes for very confusing relative positioning. I'd grade this as easy to pull off in a VTT and doable with sufficient prep in miniatures.
Having copies of each player's character sheet is also a must for this.
It was a lot of fun and quite challenging on very little prep. The difficulty curve is exciting, starting high with lots of threat, dropping as the Reflections are killed off faster than they spawn, then picking up as the new Reflections have stronger range attacks and spells.
Having the players figure out the rules, then work out what's effective (invisibility and magic missile are both very good) was fun. If you want to make it more difficult you can always have multiple Reflections spawn in a turn (This will get VERY dangerous VERY quickly so maybe only if they are all near the edge), or have the ice crack and dangerous terrain effects interfere with a swift egress.
Having an NPC that can get bogged down in a burly brawl of duplicates creates a practical challenge, as it forces the players to choose between killing their duplicates and assisting the struggling characters.
This was definitely fun with a bunch of players new to level 5 discovering how good their abilities were when used against them 😛
Happy to answer any question in the comments.
- Help me make a mirror based encounter
- “Mirror of Life Trapping” makes a great all-purpose “trap” and encounter that works for any group of any level.
- Clones of the PC’s along with Pixie OP fun. Too hard?
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Encounters I Deployed this Week: Crossing the Mirror Lake" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
- Gave my characters a McGuffin that was supposed to deliver them to the next big arc of the story. They now think it is a grenade. HELP.
- The Social Aspect of TTRPGs: DM Investment and Hiatus Guilt
- Transitioning from individual to party format–suggestions?
- Yesterday I Finished a Two-Year Long Homebrew Campaign. AMA and Some Advice/Reflections
- When an offhanded sex joke turns into a three hour somewhat wholesome ordeal
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