Acts of Secrecy

I’ve put together a flair kit for when you don’t necessarily have a shadowy counter-movement, conspiracy, or secret society in mind for your game but your PCs suddenly want to go to the black market or meet the king of thieves. How might members of this order make themselves known to one another in public, or how might they prove their allegiance to gain entrance to an enclave?

Assuming that “secret handshake” or “the password is Swordfish” are boring (because they are) here are three Sign/Counter-Sign tables for use in pretty much any campaign, with some light tweaks here and there.

This first table is for symbols and is somewhat inspired by the old Jesus Fish and a similar table I once put together for pirate flags. Someone would draw a symbol and another would draw a symbol in response. Roll twice on this table, once for Sign and again for Counter-Sign. This can also be used to generate tattoos on the fly.

1. Circle within a circle/Dividing line
2. Sun/Scorpion
3. Fire/Half circle
4. Five lines radiating from one point/Diamond
5. Serpent/Arrow
6. Water/Stone
7. Cloud/Thunderbolt
8. Crescent moon/Hourglass
9. Eye-Male/Eye-Female
10. Hand/Horse written backwards
11. Skull/Holy symbol
12. Oak Tree/Bird
13. Snow/Hammer
14. Letter/Axe
15. Number/Claw mark
16. Arc/Twelve-point star
17. Triangle/Flag symbol of region or kingdom
18. Fish/Wind
19. Sword/Shield
20. 3 Wavy Lines/Quartering lines

The next table is for code phrases. These are often a little more awkward but quite fun because these are the easiest signs to goof on. Assume that many or most of these are forms of maxims in the campaign world, so that a person might accidentally offer the correct Counter-Sign with no foreknowledge. Roll once on this table for the initiating and completing phrases.

1. The twilight wanes/The shadows swell
2. The rains came early/Floods have small beginnings
3. My slave is ill/Sick of heart, sick of limb
4. Swords must remain sharp/Passions, sharper still
5. Wits are weapons/Arguments are armor
6. Five praises to the gods/Praise also the damned, favorites of gods
7. Never run with sabres/It can be lethal to stand and wait
8. Dragons can be friendly/Only when friendship excludes generosity
9. Nobles can afford noble intentions/Beggars must instead beg forgiveness
10. Blood follows blood/Waste follows waste
11. Let wine flow in dark times/And dark beer flow all the time
12. Saints must first repent/Sinners make good vicars
13. A man needs a good chair/A good throne needs a bastard
14. Crows nest at midnight/Magpies nest at noon
15. I have a golden snake to sell/I wish I was you
16. You must cross two rivers/I’ll cross one river twice
17. I’m as strong as ten men/And as honest as a thousand thousand
18. Miracles are all around us/True, you haven’t killed me yet
19. I seek a book on pottery/I have a book on narwhales
20. My wife says I should be king/Her Majesty does you disservice

This final table is for meeting agents in a public forum…players won’t necessarily know who they’re meeting and neither might the agent sent to meet them. By these methods they can quickly distinguish themselves in a crowd only by the correct exchange. There is room for confusion here but I feel less so than the code phrases. Roll twice on this table for Sign and Counter-Sign. Players should feel encouraged to mime the actions (if you’re the type of group who does that kind of thing).

1. 3 taps on side of nose
2. Tug of ear
3. Fist to chest
4. Touching below left eye
5. Hands folded, as if in prayer
6. 6 Clicks of tongue
7. 2 fingers raised
8. Mouth covered, as if coughing
9. Hand closed around own throat
10. Thumb drawn in line down chest
11. Thumb drawn in line across chest
12. Hand held out flat/”paper”
13. Elbow tap
14. Hat brim touch
15. Chicken dance
16. Stick tongue out
17. Nod twice
18. Click heels
19. Crack knuckles
20. Index finger held under nose

With this you can easily add character to a thousand cults, thieves’ guilds, shadow cabinets and secret governments with just a few rolls.


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