Ask any Dungeon Master what the most dangerous thing in a Dungeons & Dragons game is, and I’ll bet the majority will come back to you with “the players.” Players can range in power and abilities more than any monster and will always find the cracks in any system and crawl through. Players will think outside the box more often than not and will work around problems you might think they need to face head on. I can remember playing “Zelda: The Ocarina of Time” forever ago, and the most frustrating encounter was fighting a shadow mirror image of yourself.
That being established, perhaps a DM stuck with how to resolve an evening’s encounter can pull from this resource without worrying about level requirements, CR, or terrain. All one needs is the right setting.
The one drawback to something like this comes down to the same resource: the players. Some players can be very defensive about their characters and may not be open to sharing character information, or they may worry their character concept will somehow be violated or disrespected. This is sensitive ground. Tread carefully. However, with their cooperation and agreement, you could use this sort of encounter with rewarding results.
This encounter will require a little bit of preparation. Players may have private information on their character sheets like alignment or secret flaws. You may be able to get the players to more easily cooperate with the mechanics behind this encounter if you respect that privacy. Therefore, you should gather the players’ character sheets at some point and record publicly known information like ability scores, saves, AC, hit points, hit dice, and a few trademark abilities, attacks or spells. Create an alternate character sheet with this limited information and hold it in store for when you need it. When the time is right, you can spring this almost like a trap. Given the fact that this will use refined versions of the player characters themselves as the “monsters,” this encounter is also unique in that it could apply to any game system or setting.
Suggested level: Any, but be careful to scale any damage as appropriate. Remember,“the most dangerous game” is often “Man”… or in this case, the players.
Description: This encounter can be placed anywhere the DM wishes to imagine, but for the purposes of this encounter, we’ll place it in a dungeon environment. It’s generic enough that a clever DM could place this encounter into another setting like an art gallery, wizard’s inner sanctum, temple, or other appropriate place.
The players will enter a room, perhaps a 30’ cube, with reliefs carved into the walls showing figures in combat. In the very center of the room, hovering above a three-foot-tall podium of carved stone is a gem. This gem silently and slowly spins above the podium as if blown by a breeze unfelt by the player characters. The gem itself is massive, perhaps three inches in diameter and of an opaque black color. Each facet reflects the light of any torches or light spells used by the party, reflecting them about the room and filling the chamber with lights that dance over the carved reliefs.
For those interested in the wall carvings, a successful Intelligence/Investigation (DC:14) will reveal the figures in combat are exact duplicates of each other, right down to whatever weapon, armor, or method of combat.
The podium under which the gem hovers is carved to resemble two faces. One is calm and placid, and the other is very angry.
The gem itself is expertly carved (perhaps the appropriate artisan skill such as Jeweler, or a Guild Artisan or Clan Crafter of jewels, or a Rogue from a Thieves Guild expert in jewel thefts), and shows no physical means of remaining aloft. A successful Arcana check (DC: 12) will indicate some sort of Transmutation is in effect, as will a Detect Magic spell (no DC required). If the Detect Magic is actually cast, it will also reveal that the gem is a source of some sort of Conjuration magic as well.
It’s important to ask how the players are examining or investigating the contents of the room. The reason for this is clear: the second anyone touches the gem in any way (including throwing a bag over it), the next phase of the encounter will begin.
Once anyone touches the gem for any reason, black rays will shoot out and target each person in the room. Every target (player or NPC) will require a successful Charisma saving throw (DC: 17) or have their own shadows rise up to face them.
At this point, the DM will access the abridged character sheets as the “monsters” each face their own duplicate. A player who defeats their own duplicate can assist another player with their duplicate, otherwise risking attacks of opportunity from their own duplicate (and perhaps Sneak Attack in the case of a Rogue’s duplicate) by turning their back on their duplicate to face someone else’s prematurely. Each player’s shadow will always attack their host first and foremost above all other targets, disappearing if or when they defeat their host.
Should all the shadow duplicates be defeated, the gem will transform. It’s opaque black nature will clear, as will the magic suspending the gem in place, and the gem will become a normal and non-magical diamond. The evil magic will have flawed the gem, so despite its size, it will still retain a value of 2,000 gp.
Monsters: The player character shadows. This requires preparation as detailed in the introduction of this encounter.
Treasure: Should they players succeed, they will win a large yet flawed gem of 2,000 gp value.
Complications: Given that the player characters can be their own worst enemies, the concept of defeating the player characters is a real possibility. Also, given how much any player character can do, this encounter will require a lot of preparation on the part of the DM in creating the player character shadows, as a DM will want to trim down the number of spells or abilities to a few key and easy to run abilities that make each player character distinctive yet easier to run.
The players may well walk away from this encounter with an increased respect for their own abilities, and perhaps a newfound understanding of what the DM faces every time they pull out an encounter to challenge the player characters.
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I fell into gaming in the oddest of ways. Coming out of a bad divorce, my mom tried a lot of different things to keep my brother and I busy and out of trouble. It didn’t always work. One thing that I didn’t really want to do, but did because my mom asked, was enroll in Venturers. As an older Scout-type movement, I wasn’t really really for the whole camping-out thing. Canoe trips and clean language were not my forte. Drag racing, BMX and foul language were.
What surprised me though was one change of pace our Scout leader tried. He DMed a game of the original D&D that came out after Chainmail (and even preceedd the Red Box). All the weapons just did 1d6 damage, and the three main demi-humans (Elf, Dwarf and Halfling) were not only races, but classes. There were three alignments (Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic). It was very basic. I played all the way through high school and met a lot of new people through gaming. My expected awkwardness around the opposite sex disappeared when I had one game that was seven girls playing. They, too, never thought that they would do this, and it was a great experiement.
But it got me hooked. I loved gaming, and my passion for it became infectious. Despite hanging with a very rough crowd who typically spent Fridays scoring drugs, getting into fights, and whatnot, I got them all equally hooked on my polyhedral addiction. I DMed guys around my table that had been involved in the fast-living/die young street culture of the 80s, yet they took to D&D like it was second nature. They still talk to me about those days, even when one wore a rival patch on his back to the one I was wearing. We just talked D&D. It was our language.
Dungeons and Dragons opened up a whole new world too. I met lots off oddballs along with some great people. I played games like Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Car Wars, Battletech, lots of GURPS products, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Rolemaster, Champions, Marvel Superheroes, Earth Dawn…the list goes on. There was even a time while I was risiding with a patch on my back and I would show up for Mechwarrior (the clix kind) tournaments. I was the odd man out there.
Gaming lead to me attending a D&D tournament at a local convention, which lead to being introduced to my paintball team, called Black Company (named after the book), which lead to meeting my wife. She was the sister of my 2iC (Second in Command), and I fell in love at first sight.
Gaming lead to me meeting my best friend, who was my best man at my wedding and is the godfather of my youngest daughter.
Life being what it is, there was some drama with my paintball team/D&D group, and we parted ways for a number of years. In that time I tried out two LARP systems, which taught me a lot about public speaking, improvisation, and confidence. There was a silver lining. I didn’t play D&D again for a very long time, though.
Then 5E came out.
I discovered the Adventurer’s League, and made a whole new group of friends. I discovered Acquisitions Incorporated, Dwarven Tavern, and Nerdarchy. I was hooked again.
And now my daughter is playing. I introduced her to 5E and my style of DMing, and we talk in “gamer speak” a lot to each other (much to the shagrin of my wife/her mother…who still doesn’t “get it”). It’s my hope that one day she’ll be behind the screen DMing her kids through an amazing adventure. Time will tell.