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One of my players got the (fun) idea that her character could be able to smell the difference between a doppelganger copy and the real person.

She's a shifter, so in theory she has an excellent sense of smell. (Or so I've been ruling. I don't know if that's RAW).

Are there any written rules that say what a doppelganger smells like? (And if that's any different than the copied person?) While we're playing D&D 5E, content from other editions would be welcome.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Pretty excellent. >;) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 12 '15 at 4:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments aren't for discussion - only for improving the question. Post answers in answers please. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jan 15 '16 at 16:57
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Fun idea

It is a fun idea. I don't think it would work.

I have an even more fun idea: don't tell the player it won't work - let her think it can and have lots of fun when she fingers the innocent.

Rules

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.

Interestingly, "polymorph" is not defined anywhere in the rules. It only gets its definition from the local context "... into a Small or Medium humanoid ..." and "... each form ..." and normal English usage "having, assuming, or passing through many or various forms, stages, or the like." The fact that there are spells that use the word does not inform the usage here except in a general way - the doppelganger is not using a polymorph spell; it is using the Shapechanger ability.

Doppelgangers are devious shapeshifters that take on the appearance of other humanoids, throwing off pursuit or luring victims to their doom with misdirection and disguise.

"Appearance" means several things, the most relevant being "the state, condition, manner, or style in which a person or object appears; outward look or aspect" - there is no indication that this is limited to visual appearance only: the doppelganger changes its visual, aural, tactile, and chemical appearance (i.e. what it smells and tastes like).

A doppelganger's adopted form allows it to blend into almost any group or community, but its transformation doesn't impart languages, mannerisms, memory, or personality.

So here is what it doesn't do: by inference, it gets everything else.

They assume attractive male forms and seduce women, leaving them to raise their progeny.

You don't get much closer to someone than this - presumably they smell good enough to mate with.

Rationale

The doppelganger is a species that has evolved to blend in with any small or medium humanoid species to thrive and reproduce. It can do this so effectively that it can engage in sexual activity without the other party suspecting.

Some of these humanoid species have great senses of smell (e.g. orcs, goblins) some of them keep dogs or other domestic animals with great senses of smell.

If a doppelganger doesn't smell like a member of the species its impersonating; it will be found out.

Acquired Smells

GMJoe wrote in a comment:

I agree with this answer as far as it goes, but because a doppleganger's shape-shifting doesn't impart mannerisms, memory, or personality, it wouldn't necessarily include scents that are a byproduct of those things; So, if a character was in the habit of using a particular perfume, or of playing with their collection of dogs, or of walking through the tanner's district on the way home from work, or eating large amounts of curry, the doppleganger may well smell different - though, only to the extent that the original might smell different after an unusual day.

Since comments don't last and this is a really good point I have added it in.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this answer as far as it goes, but because a doppleganger's shape-shifting doesn't impart mannerisms, memory, or personality, it wouldn't necessarily include scents that are a byproduct of those things; So, if a character was in the habit of using a particular perfume, or of playing with their collection of dogs, or of walking through the tanner's district on the way home from work, or eating large amounts of curry, the doppleganger may well smell different - though, only to the extent that the original might smell different after an unusual day. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Oct 12 '15 at 4:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe I would say, if you assume smell is part of appearance, that the doppelganger would smell like the person at the time it copied them (if it smelt them first). So if they were wearing perfume, the doppelganger would smell perfumed whenever they took that form. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Oct 12 '15 at 5:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus: But... how would the doppelganger replicate the smell when the form they are assuming may not have any means to produce said smell? Or, as a parallel, how would they get the "oily" hands of a mechanic when a human cannot produce this substance? \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Oct 12 '15 at 9:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. One solution would be that on taking that form they initially have as much oil on their hands as the mechanic does at the time she is copied, but don't generate any more as it naturally wears away or if the copy washes its hands. And that the copy has as much perfume on it as the original did, but if the perfume is such that he needs to regularly re-apply it to maintain the effect, then it will also soon wear off the copy. For another example, if the original was soaking wet at time of copying, is the copy wet (a) indefinitely, (b) initially but dries in the sun, or (c) never? :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Oct 12 '15 at 11:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SteveJessop: I was wondering if I could setup a perfume factory based on doppelgangers generating the stuff. Some perfumes being extremely costly to create, I see ways to make money! \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Oct 12 '15 at 11:59
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It is logical to assume that a doppelganger cannot produce anything which is not an intrinsic part of the small or medium humanoid that it shapeshifts into. If this were not the case then there would be no reason the doppelganger could not shapeshift into anything at all whether humanoid or not, whether organic or not. In other words a doppelganger, if it could produce clothing could simply shapeshift into a suit of clothes. It is also telling that the doppelganger does not attain the attributes of the creature it has polymorphed into. If it has polymorphied into an orc it does not gain the strength of an orc, if it has polymorphed into an elf it does not gain the dexterity of an elf. It is not just the mental attributes which are not replicated. The fact that the doppelgangers Attributes do not change, would seem to indicate that it really is just the visual presentation of the creature it is polymorphed into that is achieved and this would mean that there is no reason for the smell of the creature in its natural state to be achieved also. The word appearance is concerned with the visual aspect. Furthermore the visual aspect of the creature alone, not its equipment nor any exogenous substance applied to it. If a doppelganger copied someone who was suffering from poisoning, or an illness they would have the appearance of unwellness but would not be poisoned or sick. If they copy someone covered in grease they would look greasy but, this would not be real grease and therefore would not wash off.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any citations backing up your claims here? The way you describe a doppleganger's polymorph is very different from how I run it, and I'm curious to know if you have rules text to back up your interpretation. Also, I'd suggest breaking your answer up into paragraphs to improve readability. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Jan 15 '16 at 18:28

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