Dungeons & Dragons Online

They are never satisfied with who they are wearing – History of the Doppelganger

Look upon the many faces of the doppelganger on Dump Stat

The Doppelganger is every paranoid adventurer’s worst nightmare come true. These creatures have the natural ability to shape themselves to look like anyone they please, even imitating mannerisms and memories. While a Doppelganger could use their power for good, we would urge you to not count on that. They are depicted as greedy creatures by nature, and the best defense you have against them is to be common and poor. A Doppelganger is always looking to assume the persona of someone that can allow them to live a life of wealth and luxury for as long as possible. So let’s dive into the Doppelganger, and while we won’t solve the mystery of is Katy Perry actually Zooey Deschanel’s doppelganger or vice versa, we will provide you with some insights on how to detect them.

 

OD&D

No. Appearing: 3-12

Armor Class: 5

Move: 9

Hit Dice: 4

% in Lair: 25%

No. of Attacks: 1

Damage/Attack: 1-12 plus special

Treasure: E

Found in the Greyhawk Supplement (1975), the Doppleganger is given a brief description with little revealed about their abilities. Being mutable in form makes it sound like the Doppleganger is made of clay, which makes sense as they can shape themselves. Weirdly enough, there are some restrictions to this transformation that aren’t specifically pointed out.

It is implied that they can only transform themselves so long as they are observing the person they want to shape themselves into. That can be pretty limiting since they don’t have a ‘library’ of forms they can choose from but are restricted to only creatures that they can currently see. There is no range listed on the ability for a Doppleganger to observe you, so maybe they can transform a few dozen to a few hundred feet away from you. Or perhaps they inhabit the sewers beneath the city streets and are peering up at you from their hiding spots. In addition to the observation limitation, it specifies person and, since this is Original Dungeons & Dragons, this would typically mean just humans not dwarves, elves, or any other sapient creature.

Now, once a Doppleganger has decided you have a nice body and they would like it, they will transform into you, while observing you, and then attack. They prefer attacking by surprise and will try to single you out so they can remove you from the picture and take over your role. While they don’t gain any of your memories, mannerisms, or the like; they’ll still try to act like you and lead your party astray. We can only assume that because they typically appear in groups of 3 to 12, they’ll try and lead your party into an ambush where the entire party is replaced by fellow Dopplegangers.

If you are caught in an ambush and survive the first attacks, a few things to keep in mind. They can’t be affected by charm or sleep spells, so don’t even try it. In fact, you should probably ignore magic altogether as they are fairly magic-resistant and make saving throws against all forms of magic as if they were 10th-level fighters. If you do happen to fall to the Doppleganger, at least you can rest easy knowing that your replacement won’t tarnish your talents and abilities as they are pretty competent fighters and deliver up to 12 points of damage every time they make an attack. Your party might even prefer the new you, that is, until they are replaced.

 

Basic D&D

Armor Class: 5

Hit Dice: 4*

Move: 90’ (30’)

Attacks: 1

Damage: 1-12

No. Appearing: 1-6

Save As: Fighter: 10

Morale: 10

Treasure Type: E

Alignment: Chaotic

The Doppleganger appears in the Holmes Box Set (1977), Moldvay Basic Set (1981), and BECMI Basic Rules (1983). We still must ponder the true form of this twisted shapechanger as they are just described as intelligent and evil. Of course, describing a creature as appearing evil isn’t exactly helpful but we at least know that they are man-sized, and… that’s about it for a physical description. We do know they have an original form, as they revert to it upon being killed, but sadly no description of what such a form looks like.

Much of the information on the Doppleganger carries over what is already established in the Original Dungeons & Dragons, but we can squeeze just a bit more from it. They are highly dangerous, with a drive to do evil and commit murder. They are even quite intelligent about it as they like to set up ambushes for a single target they have been observing, replace them quietly, and then join a large group of adventurers and then kill them at an opportune time. Typically this is while the party is fighting an already dangerous monster, making the fight that much more deadly as an ally suddenly turns on them.

Luckily, if you do suspect someone is a Doppleganger, you have a few options to suss out the truth. None of them are good options, but they are options. First off, Dopplegangers can only shapechange into man-shaped creatures that are 7-feet tall or less. If you have a rather tall buddy that is over 7 feet, fear not for a Doppleganger can’t replace them. Next up, they are immune to sleep and charm spells, so if they ignore your subtle attempts to use that type of magic on them, we suggest you start panicking. Lastly, they are magically resistant, as they save like a 10th-level fighter, so if no one in your group is as good as them at resisting magic, then you know you have a not-so-good problem on your hands. Though we have to caution you with this testing, these shapechangers are quite intelligent and may catch on to what you are doing long before you get to the truth… At that point, they’ll pry end up replacing you with one of their nearby buddies as they travel in groups of up to six.

If you were hoping to connect with the Doppleganger, and perhaps offer some sort of compromise so they don’t steal your body, well you’re out of luck. No real reason is given for why they are interested in murdering and assuming the shape of others, but we guess that the text calling them evil is a good enough reason for them to murder you and steal your identity.

 

AD&D

Frequency: Very rare

No. Appearing: 3-12

Armor Class: 5

Move: 9”

Hit Dice: 4

% in Lair: 20%

Treasure Type: E

No. of Attacks: 1

Damage/Attack: 1-12

Special Attacks: Surprise on a 1-4

Special Defenses: See below

Magic Resistance: See below

Intelligence: Very

Alignment: Neutral

Size: M

Psionic Ability: Nil

The Monster Manual (1977) features the Doppleganger, with much of the information the same as we’ve already discussed. Luckily, we can find a few nuggets of information that can be used to terrorize players. These shapechangers have a mutable form, so they can transform themselves into other humanoid creatures that are between 4- and 8-feet tall, which is great news for halflings, gnomes, and most dwarves as the Doppleganger probably never bothers them. For once, they can walk around safe in the knowledge, at the very least, their bodies can’t be stolen.

Of course, that sense of safety quickly dissipates when such short-statured races look around at their party of humans, elves, and tall humanoids who could easily be a body-snatcher. This paranoia would only grow as they learn that the Doppleganger is adept at disposing of any bodies it leaves behind, ensuring that no one knows the original’s plight. If, for example, a rather paranoid gnome is witness to the Doppleganger transforming into its next victim, the shapechanger gets a chance to attack with surprise by the Dungeon Master rolling a d6. A result between 1 to 4 means that the gnome is surprised and can’t tell the difference between the victim and shapechanger. They are both then easily eliminated as a Doppleganger is back to hanging out in groups of three to twelve.

A fun new twist for the Doppleganger, if stealing your identity isn’t bad enough, is that they now have ESP and can even imitate you with a shockingly high 90% accuracy. ESP allows the Doppleganger the ability to read minds and emotions, making it so they can easily act the part of whoever’s body they took, at least for a little bit. Those pesky charm and sleep spells have no effect and they remain highly resistant to all forms of magic like before. It’s also noted that when a doppelganger assumes your form, your clothing and equipment are what is replicated along with your physical appearance. We suppose that brings an all-new meaning to ‘who are you wearing?’

In Dragon #80, we get an interesting look at the Doppleganger thanks to Fraiser Sherman in The Psychology of the Doppleganger (December 1983). Fraiser Sherman explores the Doppleganger and answers some of the questions we have been thinking about, starting with what exactly are they. They are humans – albeit magically corrupted humans, probably by some crazy wizard who shouldn’t have been allowed to use magic. In the story, a wizard, Alam, and a duke, Nyssan, has captured two Dopplegangers and has dissected one of them, a hard task as their body turns to stone quite quickly when killed, and found that they have almost all the same organs as humans except their mind is slightly morphed and they have no reproductive organs. The Doppleganger can only reproduce when in humanoid form and, baby Dopplegangers, never know what they truly are until they reach maturity as they remain human-looking until then. The captured Doppleganger states that the gods themselves blessed the Dopplegangers to be the ultimate lifeforms, that all humanoids they can transform into are but cattle for the shapechangers to kill and steal their identity whenever they want. Luckily, we also get a bit of an understanding of what they look like while not transformed, which is that of a gray skin humanoid. The skin is soft-looking but tough like leather, with blood-red eyes and a figure with little detail on it.

Of course, there can never be a happy ending in these stories as the only living shapechanger makes a deal with its captors, promising to kill a rival duke and help Nyssan avoid paying taxes.

 

2e

Climate/Terrain: Any

Frequency: Very rare

Organization: Tribal

Activity Cycle: Any

Diet: Omnivore

Intelligence: Very (11-12)

Treasure: E

Alignment: Neutral

No. Appearing: 3-12

Armor Class: 5

Movement: 9

Hit Dice: 4

THAC0: 17

No. of Attacks: 1

Damage/Attack: 1-12

Special Attacks: Surprise

Special Defenses: See below

Magic Resistance: See Below

Size: M

Morale: Elite (13)

XP Value: 420

Appearing in the Monstrous Compendium Volume 2 (1989) and later reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993), the Doppelganger remains a parasite on the world at large. Like many of the best creatures, the Doppelganger was rumored to be created by an evil wizard or twisted lesser god. We are sure it has occurred to you by now that these shape-changing body-snatchers would make the best spy for any covert operation, and they are often employed by thieves’ guilds, evil wizards, assassins, and more. This probably lends a bit of credit to a wizard who created such creatures, probably because they didn’t want to pay as much in taxes and decided to place a king they preferred on the throne without having to get into a war.

It is possible to come across a Doppelganger in its true form out in the wilds or the depths of a dungeon, as in most civilized areas they are going to have the form of their latest victim. They are bipedal and appear similar to most humanoid, though their bodies are covered in a thick, hairless gray hide with strange orb-like eyes. Of course, you’re much more likely to realize you’ve encountered a Doppelganger too late, either because they are killing you or they have gone into your bank account and emptied it.

As we’ve seen from the previous editions, Doppelgangers aren’t solitary creatures but live and travel in packs of three to twelve. All Doppelgangers belong to a single tribe but are separated into workgroups. While they may work alone on occasion, these creatures like to put their collective big brains together and work to take over a large family or band of travelers. They pick these forms because they abhor hard work and physical labor and will avoid taking on the guise of a peasant or anyone who has to do manual work for a living. Any well-to-do humanoid is highly preferred, though they’ll take over an adventurer if they have enough treasure on them. You see, a Doppelganger is as greedy as they are spineless. So, while they could take on anyone’s guise, they are only looking for those who are relaxing in leisure.

If just a single type of Doppelganger is getting tiresome for you and your paranoid table, we present to you a whole new level of paranoia. While the Doppleganger Plant, found in Monstrous Compendium Appendix I – Creatures of Dread (1991), isn’t technically a Doppelganger, we can forgive its shortcomings as they are something far worse. This creature is a large plant that can use a psychic-like attack to take control of sleeping or unconscious creatures within 1 mile of it. The victim’s soul is then taken away from them, to reside within a pod on the plant for the plant to feed on, and the victim, now known as a Podling, goes out into the world in search of more victims to bring back to the Doppleganger Plant. The Podling is the controlled creature, though there is nothing to betray that they are working for the Doppleganger Plant except for the fact that they are really excited to show off their new plant to anyone that will listen to them.

The next Doppleganger is a great one and appears in the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume 2 (1995), and is literally called a Greater Doppleganger, though another name for them is mirrorkin. They are cousins to Doppelgangers, but are smarter, have stronger ESP, have two attacks instead of just one, and are far more dangerous as they can imitate another creature with 100% accuracy. This is thanks, in part, to the fact that they absorb the brain of any person whose brain it eats, allowing them to blend in seamlessly into their new body and environment. Unfortunately for them, they are still allergic to labor and only focus on the rich and powerful, meaning that they are constantly in the spotlight and their actions are being watched. This means that most Doppelgangers, even the great ones, only have a few short months at most before they are found out and are then run out or killed.

Unlike normal Doppelgangers, Greater Dopplegangers must bear their offspring, forcing them to stay in female form for the entire time they are pregnant or they lose their infant. This is a very rare situation, but the only way for them to continue their line. This means that they often have to curb their normal temperaments or else risk being found out while they are unwilling to change shape to escape. Ordinarily, we’d feel bad for them, but chances are they killed someone to take that form, so we find it hard to sympathize too much with them.

 

3e/3.5e

Medium Monstrous Humanoid (Shapechanger)

Hit Dice: 4d8+4 (22 hp)

Initiative: +1

Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares)

Armor Class: 15 (+1 Dex, +4 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 14

Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+5

Attack: Slam +5 melee (1d6+1)

Full Attack: Slam +5 melee (1d6+1)

Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.

Special Attacks: Detect thoughts

Special Qualities: Change shape, darkvision 60 ft., immunity to sleep and charm effects

Saves: Fort +4, Ref +5, Will +6

Abilities: Str 12, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 14, Cha 13

Skills: Bluff +10, Diplomacy +3, Disguise +9 (+11 acting), Intimidate +3, Listen +6, Sense Motive +6, Spot +6

Feats: Dodge, Great Fortitude

Enviroment: Any

Organization: Solitary, pair, or gang (3-6)

Challenge Rating: 3

Treasure: Double Standard

Alignment: Usually neutral

Advancement: By character class

Level Adjustment: +4

The Doppelganger makes its appearance in the Monster Manual (2000/2003) and now looks distinctly like an alien from The X-Files or the movie Signs (2002). They are tall and slender, with pale gray flesh and yellow eyes that are shaped like an octopus. Their spindly arms end in long fingers, and they definitely have a very otherworldly look to them. While they might appear to be delicate, they can take a punch, and give one right back.

They are often used as spies and assassinations, but there are some freelancers among them. You’ll often encounter them as solitary creatures, though they still hang out in small groups. They are quite mercenary, looking for a new body to assume that has plenty of riches, living a life of leisure, and more. To help blend in, they can change their shape just like before, but now lack ESP. Instead, they have a detect thoughts ability that is always on and allows them to read the mind of anyone they come across, helping them to better fool people. While they no longer have a blanket 90-100% chance of perfectly imitating a creature, they do get a +10 to deception and a +11 to acting so you probably aren’t going to catch them at too many lies.

It doesn’t take long until the Greater Doppelganger makes its return with the Monsters of Faerun (2001). They are physically more powerful than a typical Doppelganger, which is especially apparent when you compare their Challenge Rating of 12 with the regular shapechanger’s Challenge Rating of 3. The biggest change is that Greater Doppelgangers have a powerful ability known as Consume Identity. Consume is the perfect word, as the creature eats the brain of its victim and thereby becomes a virtual clone of its victim. It knows everything the target did, retains all their memories, and gains all their abilities except for certain cleric and paladin alignment-based powers. These creatures also have the Polymorph Rend ability, which allows them to inflict massive damage on a creature that itself is polymorphed by merely touching them. We guess the Greater Doppelganger doesn’t like the idea of someone else stealing its shapeshifting thunder.

If you have grown so paranoid that you are looking for an escape from the material plane, maybe something on the Ethereal Plane, well we have bad news. The Ethereal Doppelganger, presented in Monster Manual II (2002), is already lurking there in their treasure vault filled with rare magic items. These creatures can jump around the planes, always in search of powerful magic items that they can add to their vaults that they keep on the Ethereal Plane. While they do take the form of other creatures, unlike other Doppelgangers, they actually ask nicely before they take your form. First, an Ethereal Doppelganger figures out what goal it is looking to accomplish, typically to steal a powerful magic item. It then looks around at the people connected to the item and then abducts them, taking them to its vault. Once it calms them down, it asks nicely if it can assume their body’s form, if refused the shapechanger wipes the creature’s mind and puts them back where they found it. If they agree, the creature gets to live in luxury for a few days, weeks, or months, depending on how long it takes, and then they get to go back home at the end of that time with no harm done to them. It’s a pretty cushy gig for them and we are kind of surprised that a lawful evil Doppelganger is willing to go through all this work.

If you had been yearning to play a Doppelganger, and not because your character died and now you have to help your Dungeon Master lie to the table that you are still 100% fine, then it is now time to celebrate with the release of the Eberron Campaign Setting (2004) and the Monster Manual III (2004). These two books detail the Changeling, a distant descendant from the union of Doppelgangers and humans. The Monster Manual provides information for the Dungeon Master to create Changeling to murder their players, while the players are given information on creating their Changeling character in the Eberron Campaign Setting. Changelings are more limited than Doppelgangers when it comes to shapechanging, and they lack the innate ability to detect thoughts – but they are still dangerous as they can change their appearance to appear like many others. They are often utilized as spies or assassins, with many thinking that they are just as bad as Doppelgangers who go about life thinking that everyone is a plaything for them.

 

4e – Doppelganger Sneak

Level 3 Skirmisher

Medium natural humanoid (shapechanger)

XP 150 Initiative +6 Senses Perception +2

HP 45; Bloodied 22

AC 18; Fortitude 14, Reflex 16, Will 16

Speed 6

Short Sword (standard; at-will) Weapon +8 vs. AC; 1d6 + 3 damage.

Shapeshifter Feint (minor; at-will) +6 vs. Reflex; the doppelganger gains combat advantage against the target until the end of the doppelganger’s next turn.

Combat Advantage The doppelganger sneak deals an extra 1d6 damage against any target it has combat advantage against.

Change Shape (minor; at-will) Polymorph A doppelganger can alter its physical form to take on the appearance of any Medium humanoid, including a unique individual (see Change Shape, page 280).

Alignment Unaligned Languages Common

Skills Bluff +10, Insight +9, Stealth +9

Str 11 (+1) Dex 16 (+4) Wis 12 (+2) Con 13 (+2) Int 10 (+1) Cha 15 (+3)

Equipment short sword

Two Doppelgangers appear together in the Monster Manual (2008), though these aren’t the ones we are used to. Instead of the gangly and lumpy-shaped Doppelgangers of previous editions, the picture we see is definitely of a female-presenting Doppelganger in clothes with a dagger in hand. The text goes on to inform us that Doppelgangers are incapable of replicating clothes, only the physical body of a creature, a much more limited version of events than before.

Doppelgangers still have their shapechanging, but they are no longer just evil shapechangers looking to kill someone to steal their life. Instead, they can have as varied a demeanor as humans and could have a huge variety of reasons to assume someone’s form, even if just for a little bit. Though, that doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that they aren’t all dangerous to go up against. They each have ways to give themselves a boost over their enemies, dealing extra damage with their attacks if they hit you when you are surprised or distracted, and then quickly disappearing if you happen to be a bit stronger than they realized.

It’s not until Monster Vault (2010) do we start getting back into the roots of the Doppelganger and their connection to magic. This book informs us that only certain, powerful Doppelgangers, ever gain the ability to read a creature’s minds – making them some of the most dangerous assassins and spies out there. In fact, it also talks about how some Doppelgangers will spend years in the same form, ingratiating themselves into a community before revealing they were a shapechanger all along, sowing doubt and fear in the community for reasons only known to the Doppelganger.

Changeling is a playable race in this edition, appearing in the Eberron Player’s Guide (2009), and it is referenced that Doppelganger is just another word for them. They even have the same look, outfits, and hairstyles like the Doppelganger in the Monster Manual but we face a small confusion here. The Eberron Campaign Setting (2009), specifically states that Doppelgangers hide in Changeling communities as many don’t pay much attention to yet another shapechanger. The mystery runs deep here, perhaps Changelings are Doppelgangers, or maybe they are currently being infiltrated by Doppelgangers for some nefarious purpose.

 

5e

Medium Monstrosity (shapechanger), neutral

Armor Class 14

Hit Points 52 (8d8+16)

Speed 30 ft.

STR 11 (+0) DEX 18 (+4) CON 14 (+2) INT 11 (+0) WIS 12 (+1) CHA 14 (+2)

Skills Deception +6, Insight +3

Condition Immunities Charmed

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11

Languages Common

Challenge 3 (700 XP)

Shapechanger. The doppelganger can use its action to polymorph into a Small or Medium humanoid it has seen, or back into its true form. Its statistics, other than its size, are the same in each form. Any equipment it is wearing or carrying isn't transformed. It reverts to its true form if it dies.

Ambusher. The doppelganger has advantage on attack rolls against any creature it has surprised.

Surprise Attack. If the doppelganger surprises a creature and hits it with an attack during the first round of combat, the target takes an extra 10 (3d6) damage from the attack.

Multiattack. The doppelganger makes two melee attacks.

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d6+4) bludgeoning damage.

Read Thoughts. The doppelganger magically reads the surface thoughts of one creature within 60 feet of it. The effect can penetrate barriers, but 3 feet of wood or dirt, 2 feet of stone, 2 inches of metal, or a thin sheet of lead blocks it. While the target is in range, the doppelganger can continue reading its thoughts, as long as the doppelganger's concentration isn't broken (as if concentrating on a spell). While reading the target's mind, the doppelganger has advantage on Wisdom (Insight) and Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, and Persuasion) checks against the target.

The Doppelganger sneaks into the Monster Manual (2014) and brings a bit more of the classic history of these creatures. They appear as tall, gangly blue-skinned creatures with alien features and yellow orbs for eyes. They can assume the shape of any humanoid that is Medium or Small, though it can’t change its equipment or create new equipment as part of this transformation.

They even regain their ability to read minds, though it is quite reduced in power. Before it was non-stop and a constant effect around them, now it requires them to focus on the ability but at least the target of this effect doesn’t get a saving throw to resist the Doppelganger. Unlike in previous editions, this edition goes out of its way to talk about how long it takes for the Doppelganger to fully assume its new form, keeping victims of its powers locked away for weeks or months as it continuously interviews and interrogates them so it can better improve its disguise.

We also learn a little bit about the formative years of a Doppelganger and how they are reared, and it draws upon the information from way back in the 1st edition. Being lazy creatures at heart, the thought of raising a child is beyond daunting. Therefore, Doppelgangers propagate the species by transforming into handsome men and seducing female humanoids, then disappearing into the night before the child is born. Mother and child will know nothing of the young one’s Doppelganger heritage until its teen years. Then, when its true nature manifests, the young Doppelganger will feel a relentless pull to find others like it and join them. Talk about those awkward teenage years when you are trying to find the real you.

The Changeling reappears in this edition with Eberron: Rising From The Last War (2019) where there is no mention of their connection to Doppelgangers. They have the ability to transform their appearance, though like before, they have no way to read someone’s mind unless they pick a class that will give them access to such magic as detect thoughts.

A Doppelganger is a grifter at heart, conning and stealing from other races without worrying about what happens when they get caught, they’ll simply assume a new identity and repeat their usual tactics. They are known for being some of the best spies and assassins, though they rarely take on these roles simply because it is far easier to just kill a noble and live in their home for months until the money dries up or the servants begin to get suspicious that something isn’t right. They are dangerous creatures, perfect for turning naive adventurers into paranoid adventurers.


Past Deep Dives

Creatures: Aboleth / Ankheg / Beholder / Bulette / Chain Devil / Chimera / Couatl / Displacer Beast / Djinni / Dragon Turtle / Dryad / Flumph / Frost Giant / Gelatinous Cube / Ghoul / Giff / Gith / Gnoll / Grell / Harpy / Hell Hound / Hobgoblin / Hook Horror / Invisible Stalker / Kobold / Kraken / Kuo-Toa / Lich / Lizardfolk / Medusa / Mimic / Mind Flayer / Neogi / Nothic / Otyugh / Owlbear / Rakshasa / Redcap / Rust Monster / Sahuagin / Scarecrow / Shadar-Kai / Slaadi / Tabaxi / Tiefling / Umber Hulk / Vampire / Werewolf / Wyvern / Xorn
Class: Barbarian Class / Cleric Class / Wizard Class
Spells: Fireball Spell / Lost Spells / Named Spells / Quest Spells / Wish Spell
Other: The History of Bigby / The History of the Blood War / The History of the Raven Queen / The History of Vecna

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