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I'm running a custom RPG (based on the universe of Boktai, an old GBA game) with a group of six players.

We are pretty far into the campaign and the players are getting pretty close to face the final boss, who is an invoker-type wizard. He previously unleashed ghouls and cockatrixes, and I thought about him summoning copies of the player characters as foes.

The problem is, if I am the one in control of the six copies, I think I can easily defeat my players as I can coordinate more complex strategies than six independent players can on their own. Conversely, I don't want the clones to have a "dumb AI" and be too easy to beat.

Details about these clones and the fight

  1. I have created the clones with the exact same characteristics, hit points etc... (death at 0 hit points)
  2. I want the players to discover the strengths and weaknesses of each other, as they don't communicate, and even hide part of their spell/techniques roster to the other players.
  3. The game uses standard d100 rolls, and 6 characteristics: Melee, Aim, Parry, Dodge, Magic, Perception)
  4. Each player has a different stronger characteristic.

How do I balance the fight? My criteria for balancing are:

  1. Make it thrilling for my players, so that they feel the danger.
  2. Not give the impression that the game is rigged in their favor.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Feb 7 '18 at 19:36
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If you're using dice, this is a roughly 50-50 fight

With the same statistics and abilities, and randomness in the form of Dice, cards, or something else, you have a roughly 50% chance of a TPK, and nearly guaranteed at least one player will die. This is probably way above the normal encounter guidelines for any system to consider a "Deadly" encounter.

If the invoker participates in the fight, it's almost assuredly a TPK

If the invoker isn't doing this as a stalling technique to flee, or in hubris because he thinks his clones will win, this encounter will mop the floor with them.

Additionally, this raises a verisimilitude concern: if the clones are identical in strength and the Invoker flees, why didn't he simply stay, since he would nearly guarantee he would have the upper hand and be victorious.

For these reasons, you should make the clones easier to defeat than the players, whether the Invoker flees or not.

You will have better macro tactics, they will have better micro tactics

You will have full map knowledge, be able to make all the mirror-PCs act in a well orchestrated and coordinated strategy, while knowing all the weaknesses of the players. This will weight things in your favour.

They will not immediately know these are 100% identical clones, nor will have the map knowledge.. But they will have much more intimate and familiar knowledge with their own characters and their team. By now they should have developed successful tactics for their characters and team. This might weight things a bit more in favour of the players.

If you want for it to be a fight to the death where anyone could win this is fine, but if not...

Solution 1: The clones are imperfect copies

The clones could simply be highly similar based on what the invoker thinks he knows about them. Perhaps remove a few abilities, stat points, or powers, and reduce the HP somewhat to weight things in the players favour.

In a similar vein, simply giving the clones half the HP, cutting any daily abilities and having the Invoker also participate in the fight could make for a very challenging encounter. This depends heavily on how difficult the Invoker would be for the party however.

This should let the PCs have more options and resources to survive the fight, but it can still be very brutal and challenging mirror match.

Solution 2: There is a way to short circuit the fight

Perhaps attacking the invoker directly will cause him to lose concentration on the clones, making one vanish. Maybe the clones are summoned by various totems or wards that can be destroyed by the players, fizzling a clone. Maybe the players can use a Banishment spell to instantly destroy one of the clones on a failed save.

This would allow the players to swing the numbers into their favour without having to fully defeat a summon, swinging the advantage again to the players.

Note that, if you do go this route, be sure to telegraph these mechanics to the players in multiple ways, because the stakes are very high, and if they don't figure it out they will likely die.

Solution 3: Break this into multiple encounters

Either the players come across a subset of their clones and a few other minions as they approach the Invoker's lair, or the Invoker cannot summon all the Clones at once, but rather over the course of 2-3 rounds.

If you have small subset fights, you can theme them strongly to the cloned PC's present. Maybe you have an encounter for each Clone (or a pair), with a group of minions, and a battle arena that fits their play style. This would be great for highlighting each Character as you go as well.

If the Invoker must summon them slower, the PCs have a chance to focus fire the clones or Invoker down before the encounter hits critical mass.

Solution 4: Make the clones ideals not identical

Instead of making them exact clones, make them ideals of the characters. Take their best aspects, and worst aspects, and exaggerate them. A strong melee fighter, who is a bit dumb, might become a ferocious but nearly braindead melee combatant.

If doing this, you'll still need to use one of the other solutions in tandem to reduce the danger of the encounter. Making the clones have worse overall stats being one of the best meshing strategies. You make their best and worst aspects be obvious, but everything else disappears.

No matter what: Playtest the encounter

If you don't playtest the encounter, you will have no idea whether the encounter will be too difficult for the players, or whether it will be frustrating or just plain unfair feeling.

You can do this solo (playing against yourself) or recruit some other friends not in the campaign to help out to get a good feel of the balance.

Make sure you run it at least 2 or 3 times due to the swinginess of the combat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ditto Fighter might be an interesting variation on Solution 3. \$\endgroup\$ – jpmc26 Jan 27 '18 at 3:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Playtest the encounter. You'd be surprised at how much homebrew doesn't include this step and then complaints are levied when a TPK occurs. \$\endgroup\$ – Sandwich Jan 27 '18 at 7:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 For make the clones ideals not identical. Depending on how the role-play and length of the encounter goes, the PCs will have an opportunity to learn about some of their growth potential (i.e. weaknesses they should eliminate, or develop compensation techniques for). \$\endgroup\$ – Lexible Jan 27 '18 at 22:13
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The copies have a significant disadvantage

This will be dependent on how magic and summoning work in your setting, but since you marked this question as System agnostic I'll be giving some different ways to do this:

  • The copies disappear if the summoner dies/loses concentration: This would be an easy option. Yeah, the copies are strong, but the players don't need to take them head-on, just go for the summoner.

  • The copies disappear if dealt enough damage: This will be system-dependent, but most have a way to keep track of damage and also a way for characters to still survive when dropped under 0 / gone over max. Have your copies not have this last recourse, and there you have a weakness.

  • The copies have a twisted personality that hinders their teamwork: This is in line with the trope: the copies exacerbate the bad qualities of the original. The wizard goes from proud to megalomaniac, the fighter from rash to completely irrational, the thief from independent to backstabber... They have the same skill, but not the same mindset, and as such the group isn't as cohesive as the original or simply cannot work together at all, going as far as to killing each other.

  • The copies have a twisted personality that twists their goals : In line with the previous option, maybe they do work together but act in a way that is tactically disadvantageous. Maybe the copied cleric pacifism makes him unable to deal damage, or the hubris of the fighter makes him want to fight with a hand on their back. Or they simply want to prove how much better than the originals they are that they simply handicap themselves.

  • The copies lack an important power: Maybe the copied priest can't cast divine skills due to no connection to his deity, the copied monk cannot channel her chi since her body is not actually living... This may have the downside of making a specific copy be less relevant than the others, but still accomplishes the goal, and with some careful planning can be spread out so as not to make a copy weaker then the rest.

There are many other options, I actually tried out in different games the first three to various degrees of success. Make sure the players have a way to know the weakness, however, be it by virtue of how your setting works or dropping clues. If they have a weakness the characters don't know how to exploit, they don't really have a weakness.


However, whenever I did or thought about doing this I always had a goal in mind. What is it you want this encounter to mean? If it's just a normal combat encounter, with nothing special to be gained, then I wouldn't bother employing such a convoluted and overused trope. Whenever I actually went along with plans similar to this one, it was with an objective.

One time, I wanted the characters (not players, that's a completely different subject) to realize that they worked right together. So their copies were them with exaggerated traits of personality, and that prevented them from working together. In the end, the characters realized why pushing aside some personal goals for the sake of the party was important (go ahead, call me cheesy, friendship is power).

Another, I just wanted the characters to see how far they've come before the grand finale. They were upset there were many "just born monsters" stronger than them while having overcome no obstacles. So their copies were them minus their experience. They made the mistakes the original characters had made at one point or another throughout the game. They didn't use the well polished tactics they developed throughout the sessions. That let the characters see how their experience set them apart beyond their stats and treasure.

I could think of many others objectives you could have for this encounter, like simply showing them how strong their characters could really be or whatever, but you need to have yours clear. If you know what you want your players and their characters to get out of the encounter, it's easier to decide what their copies' shortcomings are.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ On the point of "the copies lack an important power"... I think that's the most important point, really. Even if you manage to make a perfect clone of the characters... you cannot clone their knowledge or experiences, so the clones won't have connections to dieties or other beings of immense power (which means no clerics, no warlocks), and the clones won't have spent time learning spells (which means no wizards, no eldritch knights, no spellcasting rangers/paladins). Essentially, these clones could only be melee or ranged-weapon fighters, provided weapons are 'summoned'/available at all. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Jan 26 '18 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Combine that fact with the fact that these clones will not have 10+ levels worth of unit cohesion and experience working to each others' strengths, and this should actually be a cakewalk for the party, assuming the rolls aren't completely in favor of the clones. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Jan 26 '18 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the copies lacking character specific attributes, That was going to be my answer but you've construed the point pretty well. \$\endgroup\$ – Sandwich Jan 27 '18 at 7:35
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I see several inherent problems with cloning a party. Don't get me wrong, the psychological value would be awesome. And it may create battlefield confusion and force the party to keep their battle line tight. But:

  • As far as game mechanics, you would have 5 independently thinking players, against a DM controlling 5 character sheets. This would be inherently imbalanced, nevermind the fact that the DM controls rule interpretations. She would have to be very careful not to "rig the game" to steamroll the players.
  • If the clones are highly autonomous, problem: Cloning does not necessarily (DM's fiat) clone the training, experience, mutual trust and CRM that they have developed over many adventures and that makes them effective fighters. Can a clone trust?
  • If the clones are not highly autonomous, the controlling wizard has some serious problems.
    • he has no earthly idea how to wield a polearm.
    • The wizard, especially a loner type, may not have any experience managing a unit of troops effectively, especially with an array of disparate skills.
    • he will have very severe pilot-workload issues during a fight, simply because there is so much going on in the battle for him to respond to - 5 minds against one. He may arrogantly underestimate this workload, as his practice sessions are staged. If the party were smart, they could "game" this by surging their activities; everyone make an attack simultaneously and he won't be able to direct his attention to every clone at once, meaning some are fairly nonresponsive and attacks get through. Rinse wash repeat until he's down to 2 clones - he can manage that, but now it's 5 on 2.
    • his workload issues will become much more severe if you can also attack the wizard himself, because defending attacks against himself must be highest priority, or he auto-loses.

So simply put, balance the fight by making the clones kinda suck. You could have a lot of fun with this.

For instance, have the fighter try to fight with the polearm, get disgusted and step back from the fight to grab the wizard's dagger.

For extra irony and amusement, have them make the newbie mistakes the players made early in the campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "have them make the newbie mistakes the players made early in the campaign." - awesome \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jan 26 '18 at 18:24
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The way I see it - without knowing details about how your RPG works balancing-wise etc. - you have the following options (I'll be using D&D 5e terms when giving examples - just translate that into your respective game):

  • make the clones significantly less powerful than their PC counterparts:
    • this should be obvious - if the clones are at the exact same power level as your players, then the clones alone, without the actual boss, would probably wipe the party, since as you said - being a collective, they can act way more strategically.
    • that being said, how strong the clones are precisely depends on what the boss himself can do. Does he summon the clones and then just sit back and relax? Or is he, after summoning the clones, still powerful enough to wipe the floor with 2-3 of the PCs?
      Depending on what the answer to that question is, you should scale the hitpoints accordingly, as well as potentially the AC and attack and damage bonuses of the clones. Limiting access to spells or class features, especially high-level ones, is also viable.
  • Don't spawn all the clones at once:
    • if the wizard spawns one clone per turn, maybe with the occasional turn in between where he doesn't summon a clone and does something else, then your players have a significantly higher chance of defeating him. Scaling the clones stats should not or only insignificantly necessary.
  • Give the clones unique weaknesses that are based off the PCs flaws. For example, a dumb strength-based berserker could get even dumber so that the PCs can lure him into a trap or something like that. This is particularly interesting because it gives the PCs a chance to reflect their own weaknesses, although you might find it tricky to find appropriate flaws for each character.
  • Use environmental effects or non-player-characters to aid in the fight - for example, the spell that cloned the players might have been so powerful that his previous summons suddenly turned against the wizard. Or a random group of other adventurers coincidentally decided to mess with that particular wizard at the same time that the PCs did. Your imagination is the limit :)

At the end, I would highly recommend playing through the encounter once or twice, just to make sure it's roughly balanced.

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As Randomorph has already noted, a perfectly balanced fight between two parties with the exact same traits and abilities should result in a 50% chance of the PCs losing (and, presumably, being killed). Assuming that's not what you want, you'll need to give the clones some significant weakness, or perhaps several.

However, those weaknesses need not be mechanical.

In particular, you write in your question that:

I want the players to discover the strengths and weaknesses of each other, as they don't communicate, and even hide part of their spell/techniques roster to the other players.

That's a known weakness of your players, and you want to highlight it, so why not give the clones the same weakness, but in an exaggerated form?

Instead of playing the clones as a coordinated team, have each of them completely ignore each other, or even actively try to shove each other aside. If your PCs have any area-of-effect attacks, have the clones use them indiscriminately, even if their supposed allies are also in the target area. And definitely don't have the tougher clone characters do anything to protect squishier members of their not-really-a-team. Indeed, if things start looking risky, some of them might even decide to run away and abandon their supposed teammates.

If you wanted, you could even have the clones start actively fighting each other, but that might be taking it a bit too far — at least unless a natural excuse for it presents itself.


Taking this idea a bit further, you should also consider having the clones be ignorant of the PCs' abilities. Sure, you know what the PCs can do, but if they don't immediately recognize the clones as copies of themselves, why should the clones be any wiser? That way, if your players do realize what's going on, that should give them an edge as they'll know exactly what their opponents can do — but to fully exploit it, they'll have to share their knowledge with each other.

Basically, my suggestion is that, instead of playing the clones as a better team than your players are, deliberately play them as a worse team. That should provide the same contrast that you're looking for, while giving your PCs a better chance of survival and victory.

Even so, just as Randomorph also noted in their answer, you should definitely playtest this scenario in advance and see how it works out. You should also be prepared to think on your feet and adjust the difficulty of the fight on the run if need be. Played straight, this is still an absolutely deadly encounter, and there's no shame in fudging your side's tactics a bit to make it survivable. If your players just happen to be working extraordinarily badly as a team, your clones may just have to find ways to be even worse.

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I recently did something similar. Instead of full clones they were copies of a fragment of the soul. I gave them the general abilities and had them fight well, but they all had a flat health and no matter what ability they cast, the damage was a flat amount of necrotic. So an exploding fireball was still a low hit. Why? Because the clones hadn't expended spell slots, gotten stacks of exhaustion from raging, etc. The clones used a decent strategy, but also tried to hit their copy. If you were hit by your copy you had to make saving throws or suffer temporary penalties.

When rolling dice, you have a 50% chance to beat an evenly matched opponent. The strategy and versatility of the party is what gives them the edge. If you copy that versatility with the goal being to optimize the strategy, the clones will probably win.

If this is your goal, however, to show them how well they could work together if they tried, then I would suggest doing it without consequences. Maybe this battle is really a spell that is causing them to fight a projection of themselves, not a clone. The difference? They are really in a trance designed to delay them so that the big baddie can prepare something. Once the party dies, or maybe when they finally kill the first/second/third copy, they break the spell. That way you can show them how good they could be without killing them.

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I'm looking at this from an old-school wargaming type perspective than an RPG one; there, having the 'generals' being able to co-ordinate actions rather too unrealistically is an old problem.

So, what I suggest you do is to make some short tactical rules to cover this encounter. One simple approach would be to have written orders to generate the baseline dumb AI, and to allocate yourself a certain number of command points per round to amend them.

If you are going to balance this to be roughly even, I would suggest you have a plan for the PC's losing that doesn't end your campaign prematurely. However, that wasn't really what you were asking.

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Do it in stages

Number each player (1-6) and roll a six-sided die. Fist two players rolled are the characters the Wizard will summon. Do this in stage until all copies are defeated.

Also, decide before whether the copies can or can't leave behind loot.

PS- If you prefer, you can do the copies in sets of three, to make it more challenging.

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