Yesterday, I posted a live game recap from a long-time Jumpers player. In the recap, one of the JMs pulled a neat trick: having a PC meet an alternate version of the same PC... two different characters created by the same player. While it can be confusing, and I don't recommend allowing multiple versions of the same PC in all circumstances, it can make for some great roleplaying. Today, I wanted to discuss this, as well as a few other ways in which a JM can spice up their session with unusual or unexpected NPCs.
1) PC meets Good NPC doppleganger: this is the situation I described above, in which a PC meets some alternate version of themselves. This can be done one of two ways: doppelganger as PC, and doppleganger as NPC.
The easiest of these two is meeting an NPC version of the player, because this NPC doesn't need to follow any rules about who they are, skills, personality, etc. They are simply a physical form used to embody the personality of an NPC in the Jump. However, using a player as an NPC can create very interesting dynamics that can be manipulated by the JM. For instance, the players will, of course, make assumptions about the NPC because of the similarity in appearance to the PC version, even if they have no history in common. A savvy JM can use differences like this to their advantage when storyteller, using what the players know about a PC to create some tension: if the player is married, maybe the NPC's spouse is dead; if the player knows Aikido, maybe the NPC is a Jujitsu expert. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to make it something interesting that will impact the way the players interact with the NPC.
Another way the Good NPC can be used by the JM is as a guide to Jumpers who are early in their careers. Much like the recap from yesterday, a familiar face was used to explain to the new Jumpers what was happening, and what they should do next. This 'deus ex' mechanism, however, should be used sparingly; forcing the PCs to discover their predicament is always more satisfying. But, in a pinch, using the Good NPC is the ideal way to get new PCs into the game quickly and easily.
2) PC meets Good PC doppelganger: unlike meeting an NPC version of a player, meeting an alternate PC has a few inherent issues; the first issue, and the most difficult to deal with, is coping with different histories for different versions of a PC. Here, we aren't dealing with some NPC that the JM has created - each of these PCs has been played in some number of Jumps, and so has a unique experience in the world of Jumpers. The biggest hurdle in dealing with this setup is making sure the player understands that the PCs have only experienced their Jumps. It seems obvious, but I have had to say to a number of players, "That wasn't this PC, it was the other one." For a JM, it can be very difficult to keep track of which PC did what, especially when it involves Jumps the JM didn't run - this is why note taking by the player is important. Make sure that any player who wants to run multiple versions of their PC is tracking every Jump in a Jump Log. Otherwise, it could become very confusing for everyone involved.
The second issue with meeting the alternate PC is who will do the roleplaying? In my opinion, this should be the responsibility of the player who is associated with both PCs. If the JM wants to run the alternate version of the PC, they should simply make it an NPC - this should be done in any situation in which the alternate PC is going to have a significant impact on the story or interaction with the environment. Otherwise, let the player play both - the conversations get interesting fast.
3) PC meets Evil doppelganger: this situation is ideal when the NPC version of the player seems very similar to the standard PC, but is actually hiding more devious intentions. While this type of NPC could be used as a recurring villain, I prefer to use the NPC as a Grenade, and then (possibly) as a Troll.
The Grenade is an Evil version of an NPC that seems normal in everyway possible, until they do something horrible. Typically, this horrible act should seem to come out of the blue, should be without reason, and should be thoroughly horrifying. As an example, I ran a Jump in which I was playing an NPC version of myself (I did this a good deal, as we didn't have a ton of returning players, so I used my PC as a link between the different groups that would play). Unbeknownst to the other players, however, this particular version of me was wholly evil, and had it out for another member of the party. When the other party member needed to run an errand away from the group, my NPC said he would tag along. No one thought anything of it, and when the two were alone in a stairwell, the evil version of my PC shot the other PC in the back of the head. Since I was running the game, I knew the shot PC would be fine, and I actually used it to implant some cool cybernetics. But, I was sure to make the situation as creepy as possible, and gave the PC a few mental scars for good measure.
Is this spiteful? No, I wouldn't say it is. I was sure that this act was performed on a PC being run by a player who would not be offended. My player was cool with it (he relished the chance to add a neat psychosis to his character), but other players might not be so keen. Make sure, if you do use a device like this, that the player will be alright with you messing with their character. Otherwise, you will get nothing but resentment and anger in return. But, since he was, it gave me a chance to add spice to the game that can't easily be worked into other systems.
The Grenade, in turn, can be used more than once... if this is done, the NPC becomes a Troll. After a while, players won't know whether or not the NPC is good or evil, and it gives the JM opportunity to really add some tension to the party dynamic. Even if the NPC is NEVER Evil after the first or second Evil NPC appearance, the player's will constantly debate about the trustworthiness of the NPC. While this shouldn't be used too often as a motivator or plot device, as it can easily bog down a game, it is the perfect way to add some energy and discussion to a party that may be a bit short on personal interactions.
The variations on these doppelganger interactions are myriad: take a good NPC that all players know and put them in danger to build instant empathy; let players believe a doppelganger NPC is good for a few Jumps, only revealing their evil intentions for maximum dramatic effect; or, use the good NPC as simply a future-version of one of the PCs in the party, warning of some upcoming danger. With Jumpers, the freedom afforded the JM is present in every aspect of the game - so, make changes to your NPCs, your locations, the rules... heck, even the laws of physics! Make this game yours in whatever way you choose. If that means attacking the party with a zombie version of themselves, do it... just be sure to tell us about it!
Have fun, and play games,