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Rebel spy code phrases

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I'm going to be running a clandestine meeting between characters who have never met and I'd like to use the trope of sign/countersign. Here's an example from the TV Tropes page:

Agent D: They said it would rain tomorrow.
The Exterminator: You can't trust the weatherman, not in the summer.
Agent D: It's good it will be autumn soon, then.
The Exterminator: *pfft* It's good it will be fall soon, then.

Writing stuff like this is not my strong suit. Does anyone have some suggestions? The target the PCs will be meeting is the bartender at a cantina that's a front for Rebel activity on the planet.

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1 hour ago, ddbrown30 said:

I'm going to be running a clandestine meeting between characters who have never met and I'd like to use the trope of sign/countersign. Here's an example from the TV Tropes page:

Agent 😧 They said it would rain tomorrow.
The Exterminator: You can't trust the weatherman, not in the summer.
Agent 😧 It's good it will be autumn soon, then.
The Exterminator: *pfft* It's good it will be fall soon, then.

Writing stuff like this is not my strong suit. Does anyone have some suggestions? The target the PCs will be meeting is the bartender at a cantina that's a front for Rebel activity on the planet.

As Ex military (I was Communications), The Sign/Countersign are typically completely unrelated words. To use the Rain example, the countersign might be "dog", or "table", etc. the trick with the sign/countersign is that the challenger might say, "They said it would rain today", at which point the one being challenged must immediately make a statement using the countersign, such as "But the table looks pretty clean." or some such. 

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If they are just introducing themselves as being Rebels, then how about something like:

PC: Have you seen my cousin here lately?

The barman could then have a few different responses, depending on what he needs to convey. 

"Yeah, he said he'd be back soon" - Could mean "sit and wait, someone will be along soon"
"No, and he hasn't paid his tab" - Could mean "it's not safe to talk right now"
"Yeah, but he went for a walk" - Could be an instruction to meet at a different location, which might also have it's own code.
 

 

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Keep in mind that recognition protocols will likely be more complicated that a simple verbal challenge and response system. They may change based on time or location, and may include a garments or accessories, or a specific sequence of actions. For instance, the agents know they are looking for a contact on Tuesday during the lunch-hour headed south on the promenade in black clothes with a black-and-white handbag in the crook of their LEFT arm. They will be listening to music on giant headphones and the time and place dictates the song they are listening to. If the song is wrong, that means abort even if the challenge and response is correct. They also know the contact will display the color blue. They see a Rutian Twi-lek in black knee-boots, low-rider pants, and a halter headed south on the promenade bopping to music with a massive checkered handbag. They approach and she removes the headphones and, correctly, they hear Galactic Funk blasting away. They then initiate the challenge and response sequence.

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13 minutes ago, Vondy said:

Keep in mind that recognition protocols will likely be more complicated that a simple verbal challenge and response system. They may change based on time or location, and may include a garments or accessories, or a specific sequence of actions. For instance, the agents know they are looking for a contact on Tuesday during the lunch-hour headed south on the promenade in black clothes with a black-and-white handbag in the crook of their LEFT arm. They will be listening to music on giant headphones and the time and place dictates the song they are listening to. If the song is wrong, that means abort even if the challenge and response is correct. They also know the contact will display the color blue. They see a Rutian Twi-lek in black knee-boots, low-rider pants, and a halter headed south on the promenade bopping to music with a massive checkered handbag. They approach and she removes the headphones and, correctly, they hear Galactic Funk blasting away. They then initiate the challenge and response sequence.

For sure, but I don't really care much about that. I just want to add a fun, one-off moment to my game that I think my players will enjoy.

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17 hours ago, ddbrown30 said:

I'm going to be running a clandestine meeting between characters who have never met and I'd like to use the trope of sign/countersign. Here's an example from the TV Tropes page:

Agent 😧 They said it would rain tomorrow.
The Exterminator: You can't trust the weatherman, not in the summer.
Agent 😧 It's good it will be autumn soon, then.
The Exterminator: *pfft* It's good it will be fall soon, then.

Writing stuff like this is not my strong suit. Does anyone have some suggestions? The target the PCs will be meeting is the bartender at a cantina that's a front for Rebel activity on the planet.

If it's a big issue, you an always just have them make a Skullduggery roll to pull it off, and you can just say they do the sign/countersign stuff.  The check indicating their ability to do the exchange and make it seem natural.  That way you, the GM, doesn't have to try and be clever when it comes to writing stuff.

But if you insist on doing so, I would probably have it be something that would fit the location, if only to make it easier for you to remember things.  

Since you are setting it in a cantina, I would probably go with having them ask for some very specific type of drink.  For Example:
PC:  Do you have any Alderannian Sunrise Ale?

Bartender:  I'm not sure, that's a very rare vintage.

PC:  I know, I'm hoping to sample from the *insert some date like wine vintage people do*.  I've heard it's the best.

Bartender:  I'll see what we have in the storeroom.  Why don't you have a seat over there, and one of my associates will be with you shortly.  

If the meetup is say, at a music event. 

PC: This music is really nice, but I prefer Zleeb-Nani's 3rd Album more.

Contact: Really? That was his album when he went touring the Gloop Flaffle Wann Nyah Nyah system.  It's very experimental.

PC: I know, I just think it was his best work, before he sold out.

Contact: Well, I know one of the roadies that worked with him on that tour, why don't you hang around and I'll see if he can talk to you about what it was like.

 

You get the idea.  Just, have it be some random, normal conversation, that would fit the location, and just make up some ****.    I mean you don't have to be a sports fan, to be at least passably familiar with the way sports fans will talk about sports stuff.   Have it be something similar, but just reskin it for whatever location it is.   Pod racing bar?  Make it be about pod racing, but have some really ridiculously named person or a specific weird track name.   Fighting arena, have it be about some fictional fighter, and what his best fight was.  Like how people will talk about Tyson vs Holyfield and the whole ear biting thing.  but have it be something star warsy, like "Yeah that was the fight were Bleepo Nazz Glorbingo ripped the antenna off of Hoodu Flooka!"    

Sign/Countersign doesn't need to be anything really clandestine.  In fact, the most famous tropes tend to be bad choices, because they sound very suspicious.  I mean, why would anyone walk into a bar, and start talking about "The birds of summer fly at dawn." ?   Anyone nearby would be like "....WTF?!"  and it would defeat the purpose.   But if the context is fitting for the situation, nobody will bat an eye about it.   So just come up with a basic structure.

PC Initiation Phrase:  "Hey do you have this thing, or have you heard of this thing?

Contact:  I don't know if I have that thing, it's kind of rare.   Yeah I've heard of that thing, but it's kind of obscure.   Are you sure that's what you are after?

PC Confirmation Phrase:  Yeah, it's something I am interested in, or have heard of.

Contact:  Let me go confirm if I have that thing, you wait over there.

Just literally do it like an Ad Lib game if you want, and just stick in some random stupid words that sound like Star Wars stuff.  The random word salad I typed above off the top of my head are perfect examples of stuff that sounds totally fitting for SW.   And then just alter it based on the scene.

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1 minute ago, Stethemessiah said:

@KungFuFerret all of your suggestions make me think it would be really fun to completely ad lib a convo woth some random NPC and have the group accidentally contact a rebel cell.

Depending how much slightly daft humour you want in your campaign. 

That could be a Despair result on a skullduggery roll, or maybe just a social roll of some kind.   The PC is just having a chat about pod racing, but they just happen to say something that is the code phrase that a nearby person hears, and they just happen to also randomly say the countersign confirmation line as well.   That would be priceless.   A Monty Python, comedy of errors style session, with the PC party just accidentally being swept up in bigger events, when all they wanted to do was go to a cantina, have some drinks, and watch the race.   

Someone should totally do that.

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57 minutes ago, ddbrown30 said:

For sure, but I don't really care much about that. I just want to add a fun, one-off moment to my game that I think my players will enjoy.

I was more thinking how to incorporate a colorful description for their contact than "making it complicated." My players would enjoy the audacious handbag and Galactic Funk reference, but maybe yours wouldn't. To each their own.

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Tramp's was the most immersive/believable answer (obviously, given his background, but confirming it regardless).

If you want blatant badassery take a page from Mission Impossible: Fallout where the player's answer is a power statement like "I am the storm"

Or, go for absurdist humor if your party would appreciate it.

Or take a deep-cut dive like quoting one of the lyric's in Carrie Fisher's stirring performance

 

which is something I still can't sit through because holy crap cringe.  lol

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As a US Veteran, I can report that Tramp Graphic has explained the process correctly.

The TV Tropes example is a Hollywoodism and is farcical.

If you want to use the actual sign/countersign process the PC's will approach the barkeep and use a specific word in an innocuous phrase that they make up themselves.

If they're talking to the correct bartender he'll respond with a sentence that seamlessly uses the response word.

It's that easy/simple.

But this is just an RPG in a story from a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, so use whatever process makes sense for you and your group.

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I would make the worst spy.  Either I would be nervous that I would miss the code phrase, and therefore give myself away, or else would be oblivious to when the phrase was given, and not respond appropriately.  I've tried using those phrases in games, and find that no one remembers how to respond, or else misses their cues.  So I just handwave, and proceed with "You give the sign to the bartender, and he doesn't respond."  or "When you talk to the bartender, he signals that your contact is in the corner."  I know loses realism, but it also keeps the game moving and avoids confusion.

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On 12/12/2019 at 9:19 AM, Mark Caliber said:

As a US Veteran, I can report that Tramp Graphic has explained the process correctly.

The TV Tropes example is a Hollywoodism and is farcical.

If you want to use the actual sign/countersign process the PC's will approach the barkeep and use a specific word in an innocuous phrase that they make up themselves.

If they're talking to the correct bartender he'll respond with a sentence that seamlessly uses the response word.

It's that easy/simple.

But this is just an RPG in a story from a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, so use whatever process makes sense for you and your group.

Yeah it always baffles me, the obsession gamers have in general to "make it real", when there is just SO much stuff in Star Wars that tosses "real" out the window, and nobody cares.

Now I'm fine with people adding different gaming layers to their table, whatever is fun, like deciding to make a campaign that's a city builder kind of thing, where everyone is trying to help with resource management, and infrastructure, instead of shooting everything they see.    But I think a question gets overlooked a lot, a question that I use as my litmus for any changes I might make.

"Is this thing I'm adding/changing, going to actually make the game MORE fun, for me and my friends?"

Does anyone other than me the GM, give a crap about life accurate codephrase protocols?  Are the rest of my gaming friends equally clueless about coming up with witty banter like this?  Will they just shrug and move on to the next part of the scene, and just consider this some transitional detail that's ultimately pointless?

If so, maybe I shouldn't use the time/energy to do this, and just go with it Hollywood style.  

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On 12/13/2019 at 10:56 AM, Edgookin said:

I know loses realism

I think the fear of this happening, is one of the single driving forces in gaming, that makes it worse.  People feel obligated to "make it real", as I stated above.  And it just doesn't make any sense. The cherry picking level of "realism" that gamers apply makes things comical.  Who cares if it loses realism? 95% of Star Wars isn't realistic.  Not criticizing you directly, just the idea in general.  

On 12/13/2019 at 10:56 AM, Edgookin said:

but it also keeps the game moving and avoids confusion.

The shining light at the end of the tunnel!  Redemption!! :D   The "reality" of it is, most players aren't going to care or even really notice.  They aren't thinking about that particular detail of the situation, they are instead sitting there thinking "ok so we are in a cantina, we're probably going to meet some smuggler contact, or maybe a rebel informant, and get a quest to go to X Planet and do Y Thing.  Huh? What's that?  Codephrase..oh uh..." *checks notes* "...did we ever write down a codephrase from a previous NPC?  Steve, did you take a note about a codephrase?  No?"  *Looks at GM* "Was I informed about the codephrase before we left the previous NPC's mission brief?  Yes?  Ok, so I give the codephrase."  *goes back to mentally figuring out what's going to be the most likely combat scene up next, possibly in the bar before they even leave*  *thinking to himself* -So there is an elevated stage for the Twi'lek pole dancer, because of course there is, I could maybe climb up there and get an elevated sniping position for whatever thug crew starts a bar brawl.  It will also give me line of sight on both visible entrances, so that's good...-  *While the GM is explaining the information the codephrase provided, kicking himself for worrying about "realistic codephrase protocols" that were entirely ignored by the players*.

So yeah, don't sweat not bothering with realism in magic space science Star Wars.  It will just give you ulcers and waste your time.  Just obey the Rule of Cool/Fun, and you and your players should be fine.  :P  

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Experience tells me that Realism (TM) is overrated and, despite the hue and cry for it, isn't what most gamers are really looking for. Let's be honest: realism isn't much fun. We could spend days going over wound factors and complications, or the bureaucratic structure of intelligence agencies, or the exact composition of modern infantry unites and field doctrine. If I want realism all I have to do is walk out my front door.

The world that really represents what most people want is "verisimilitude." We want the sense that the narrative has enough internal logic that we don't lose our suspension of disbelief. That exists in subjective and highly individuated degrees. A former military person make want the challenge routines to look like the one's they experienced in the military (and that's fine), but those 1) may not reflect intelligence tradecraft (some of what I wrote above is based on declassified Cold War documents), and 2) might not actually be much fun for anyone else.

And, to go out on a limb, that's why we play these games: to have fun. The Rebel Alliance isn't the US Military, NATO, or the CIA and Star Wars was originally a send-up of the old science fiction serials like Flash Gordon. If people want "Hollywood" spy techniques they should go for that. Its not any better or worse that referencing real world experience and knowledge. Both are legitimate. The question that arises, and which we can only answer for ourselves and our tables, is "how much Realism (TM) is actually helpful?" 

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