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To Clone, or Not To Clone…That is the Question!

Everyone who has role played as seen them at some point.  Drizzt, Aragorn, or Legolas clones in D&D,  Lestat clones in Vampire, even the occasional terminator clone in some sci fi games.  And, to many experienced gamers, they represent all that is unholy in the role playing community.  However, not all is bad in my opinion, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about why.

Clones are the easy choice for many new players.  They’ve read a few Forgotten Realms books, so their first character is a warrior-type with two swords.  Usually it’s a ranger, but not always.  Some times, the clone is more obvious than others, but it still is what it is.  People who choose to play clone characters have often read a great deal about the characters, and know them pretty well.  They know the background of the character, the motivations, and in many cases even the mannerisms.  I don’t know about you, but that makes the idea of role playing a bit easier for a new player, don’t you think?  By adopting the clone character, the player can focus on developing the skills of a good role player, rather than having to figure it all out on the fly.

However, like any thing else in role playing, this isn’t a “one size fits all” situation.  Clones can often become a crutch.  Sometimes, after their first clone character, the player finds another character to clone, rather than create something new.  Whether this is a problem depends on the GM.  If they GM is OK with it, then who are we to criticize?

For me though, a clone should be a first character only.  The next character can be based on a fictional character, but there should be substantial differences as well.  After that, so long as it’s not a clone and it fits in the world, have fun.  However, it’s important to note that the proverbial Drizzt clone isn’t a bad thing in a D&D game.  Only when it’s used to excess is it a problem.

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August 12, 2008 - Posted by | RPG |

15 Comments »

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Clones are almost never approved by me for experienced players. It’s totally acceptable to have gotten inspired by a fiction character, or use one as the ground-level basis for a character, but after that you should make that character your own. Chances are, as totally rad as you think Rand al’Thor is and how awesome it would be to be the Dragon Reborn yourself, once you make a male spellcaster in a world where such things are uncommon or not normally tolerated, take it your own way. Don’t start going loopy and try to get with 3 chicks at once and look to fight the bad guy equivalent of yourself every so often.

    On the other hand cloning, like you stated, is perfectly natural and acceptable for the first, and I’d even say second, character of a new player. I go so far as to say second, but with this caveat: it must be a clone of a different archetype. If you clone Drizz’t for your first character, don’t then clone Aragorn. Clone Elminster, or heck even Elric or Thomas Covenant. Use it to expand your horizons past a single archetype to become a more well-rounded roleplayer.

    Sometimes though, even the best player will unconciously clone. A good way to see if you are cloning is to take this test. Scoring high is bad. Anything more than about a 10 and you need to start seriously rethinking your character’s history, traits, and personality.

    Comment by Liambic | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  2. It can be fun to clone someone out of the genre though. For example, if you’re playing d20 Modern, play a Bodyguard modelled after Conan, or a detective based on Drizzt who wields two .38s. Maybe your D&D Paladin is a clone of Superman (or even Batman), or your Rogue is a clone of Bruce Willis.

    This can help you to get under the character’s skin more easily, without just feeling like you’re replaying an already existing role.

    Good post.

    Comment by greywulf | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  3. It’s been said somewhere before that there’s nothing original left anymore and that all ideas have already been thought of before.

    That being said, I think all characters, at one point or another have a basis from “clones” to use your term. When I made a character for Exalted, for example, I used “A cross between the Scorpion King and Moses” as my seed idea before I made the character.

    Clones are a way for people to start formulating a character concept, mixing and matching things that they like from characters that they already know of. For first time players, it stops there. For more experienced players, it serves as a skeleton to a more customized character concept.

    Comment by pointyman2000 | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  4. @ pointyman2000: I think that the term clone, in the case Tom presented, is not quite the same thing you are suggesting. To my understanding, or at least how I interpreted it, cloning a character is essentially remaking that character, but with a different name, and maybe a few other different details. You are absolutely right in that every character is a model after another (or combination of) characters from somewhere. Cloning is used in this instance to mean a nearly exact duplicate.

    In your example of the Exalted being a cross between the Scorpion King and Moses, I’m sure your character had personality traits and quirks, as well as game mechanics, that while might be related, were not clones of those characters. And that’s the kind of thing that separates a clone from a not-clone 😀

    Comment by Liambic | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  5. @Liambic: YOu’re absolutely right about my use of the term “clone”.

    @pointyman2000: Liambic hit the nail on the head here. Using a character for inspiration isn’t a bad thing. In truth, there’s some cool characters that have come about because they were inspired by another character. However, inspiration is a far cry from “ripping off”, which is essentially what a clone character is.

    @ greywulf: You’ve got a great point there, one I hadn’t thought of. Honestly, cloning out of genre would shake things up a bit, though in all honesty it would really make the original character more of an inspiration. However, even in a different genre, the clone concept could still be done, and be pretty interesting to watch! Have you done that?

    Comment by Tom | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  6. @Tom, sure. In the examples I gave, I’ve played the Conanesque Tough Hero and the Drizzt-style detective in a gritty Mutants & Masterminds game; both were much fun. No Batman Paladin though. Yet 🙂

    James Bond clones make for interesting D&D Rogues too.

    Comment by greywulf | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  7. Bear in mind that the player may have so enjoyed the character in the book or movie that inspired it that they want to be that character. An Indiana Jones clone running around spouting lines from the movies wouldn’t be that entertaining for anyone, but taking a character and really exploring it via role-playing might have some merit.

    Comment by Anarkeith | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  8. It also depends what you’re cloning from. I’ve had a lot of fun cloning Don Quixote (after making a few tweaks to his personality so the rest of the party doesn’t try to shove him off a cliff in annoyance).

    Comment by Mike Lemmer | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  9. Sometimes you find a player who likes to clone his first character into every other campaign that he plays in as well.

    Comment by Questing GM | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  10. Never played a clone, but a lot of my characters have been inspired by books and movies and such…clones are fine with me as long as the players take the character and make it their own…

    One of our group is starting up a d20 future game fairly soon, so I’ve based my character off of Syd from Children of Men…he’s obscure, but memorable…I’m keeping some of his motivations and mannerisms and the tie to his pot dealer Jasper, but I’m giving him a cybernetic arm…an electrified cybernetic arm…ah, delicious…

    Comment by Reverend Mike | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  11. I’m currently playing Dr. Who as an Eladrin Wizard/Warlock.

    It’s a lot of fun.

    Comment by davethegame | August 12, 2008 | Reply

  12. I prefer avoiding clones; most of the people I’ve seen followed the concepts of the characters they were based on a little too closely, which was particularly annoying in worlds that didn’t work with those mindsets.

    There’s also the fact that it’ll never be the character, and people who try too hard end up with only caricatures. As my writing professor once told me, “If you try to adhere to a living person, you will fail, because that person must be killed.” There’s almost no way to keep a character’s personality perfectly; there’s always something you don’t know, and that something is bound to end up cropping up.

    Using an existing character’s default set of reflexes, though… that I can see.

    Comment by Ravyn | August 13, 2008 | Reply

  13. @ greywulf: Sweet! 😉

    @anarkeith: You’re right. In the case of a beginner though, I don’t see the harm. The problem comes up if it continues.

    @Mike: I, for one, would LOVE to have seen that! 😉

    @Questing DM: I haven’t come across that one myself, but I can DEFINITELY see the problem there. And, in my mind, that’s as big of a problem as cloning Drizzt every time.

    @Reverend Mike: Inspiration is always a good thing. Like I said earlier, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it sounds like exactly what you do.

    @Dave: Yet another concept I’d love to see played! Lemme guess…your wand is the sonic screwdriver? 😉

    @Ravyn: You’re right. Clones often come out as caricatures of the characters. Of course, they can also develop their own distinct voice and eventually be something other than a clone. And, as greywulf, Dave, and Mike pointed out, there can be some unusual concepts found in cloning a character 😉

    I’d also like to welcome everyone who has commented for the first time! This has been, so far, my most commented topic! WOOHOO!

    Comment by Tom | August 13, 2008 | Reply

  14. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery isn’t it?

    In any event, I encourage my “new” players to model their first 1-3 characters after their literary/movie heroes. I’ve had Drizzts, Conans, Bruenors, Robin hoods, even a charlemagne. These are, as you put, “crutches”. One thing about crutches though, they are useful as hell when you need them.

    The imagination bone in today’s youth needs more exercise. Too many video games and summer blockbusters are doing the thinking for them.

    Comment by Donny_the_DM | August 13, 2008 | Reply

  15. @Donny: I don’t know that I’d actually encourage clones, but using film and literary characters as a basis is always a good idea with a new player.

    You’re right about the imagination bone though 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 13, 2008 | Reply


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