A Street Game of
Cold war era spy crap is cool! Dead drops and car tosses, false flags and double agents, cut-outs and provocateurs. This game is one, big excuse to make spy shit happen.
In Tradecraft, a group of spymasters (Handlers) compete to see who can pull off the best covert pass of information between two spies (Assets) under enemy surveillance and in full view of the public. Here's how you do it...
Recruit Your Spies
Up to 1 week before the Op, each Handler recruits a network of spies and sets up the dead drops they'll use for covert communication. This can be done in person, over the phone, even via email or smoke signals. No holds are barred. At this point, all anyone knows about the Op is date, time, and approximate location. Saturday afternoons are usually good.
Handlers will need at least 2 Assets (Couriers) to pass secret messages to each other as part of their Op. They should also recruit at least one Asset (Hunter) to conduct surveillance on each enemy Handler's Op. You can assign an Asset to act as Courier at one Op and Hunter on another, but it can be risky. Being in a hurry makes your Assets conspicuous, as does showing up at more than one Op.
All Assets must be recruited and all dead drops organized prior to the week of the Op. (Exceptions can be made, if all the Handlers agree, but it should count against you in the event of a tie.)
Dead Drop Your Instructions
One week before the Op, all Handlers must select the exact times and locations for the Ops. (Try to keep them within walking distance of each other, in case Assets have to work multiple Ops.) During these five days, each Handler plans their Op and delivers instructions to each of their Assets via dead drop. Assets and Handlers may still communicate about the game via other methods, but an Asset's specific instructions can ONLY be delivered via dead drop.
With their instructions, each Courier must receive one half of a secret message; they will exchange these during the Op. If a Handler needs to deliver any props or concealment devices to an Asset, this must also be done via dead drop.
If an Asset cannot find their dead drop, or if some other problem arises, they may contact their Handler via other methods (phone, email, etc). Handlers may retry their dead drops as many times as necessary, right up to the minute before the Op.
Carry Out Your Op
On the day of the Op, each Handler should share with each other the exact messages that their Couriers will exchange. It is also good practice, though not required, for Handlers to observe the Ops in each other's company.
At the appointed times and places, Couriers will attempt to exchange their messages via some kind of Pass (see below) and Hunters will try to catch them on film. Getting a picture of the Pass is ideal, but Hunters may also submit photos of Assets going to or from the Op. Couriers may photograph Hunters (counter-surveillance), but doing so may blow their cover. It's better to complete an Op unnoticed than to catch a Hunter hunting.
Assuming the Pass is successful, each Courier must photograph themselves with the message they just received and send this to their Handler as soon as possible. (Any photos submitted after midnight on the day of the Op cannot be counted.)
If a Hunter thinks they've identified an enemy Asset, they must submit the evidence to their Handler as soon as possible. (Any photos submitted after midnight on the day of the Op cannot be counted.) Hunters should only turn in a few photos; if you can't identify a likely suspect, you're just fishing.
As soon thereafter as possible, Handlers should exchange whatever photos they receive and identify any Assets who get caught. The winner is determined by the following scale:
- Successful Op, no Assets identified.
- Successful Op, but any Hunter identified.
- Successful Op, but any Courier identified.
- Successful Op, but the Pass was caught on film.
- Unsuccessful Op. You lose.
- Caught cheating. You lose and you suck.
Ties go to the Handler who needed no special exceptions (see above) or, failing that, had the fewest Assets identified. If there's still a tie, everybody wins!
Results can be communicated to Assets via any method, but a Spy's Summit is recommended. Plan for everyone to meet somewhere for debriefing soon after the Op; immediately thereafter, if possible. Think of it as an after party.
Assets don't have to be lone wolves, they can recruit others to assist them in a variety of ways. These accomplices are not Assets and need not receive their instructions via dead drop. In fact, the Handler doesn't even have to know they exist. Potential tasks for a cut-out include...
- Collecting messages from a dead drop.
- Performing the Op for an Asset who's face is too well-known.
- Distracting enemy Hunters by acting as a provocateur.
Handlers may arrange false Ops in an attempt to distract enemy Hunters. The false Op would take place at the same time and place as the real Op, but any messages exchanged must be different from the Op message. (i.e. Handlers may not field two Ops and take credit for whichever one turns out the best.)
Any player who engages in a false Op, whether an Asset or a Cut-Out, is called a "provocateur" They may not participate in the real Op, nor may they act as Hunters during an enemy Op. However, provocateurs get a free pass when it comes to being spotted; any Assets photographed during a false Op are not counted against their Handler. That's kinda the point.
This is an excellent role for players who are well-known to the opposition, as it turns a weakness into a strength. It's also good for busy or unreliable players, since a failure to show up will not endanger the Op.
Assets may be recruited by more than one Handler, or they may choose to approach an enemy Handler on their own. They are now a Double Agent. There are many reasons that this may happen during a Tradecraft game...
- One or both Handlers are attempting to spy on the other.
- One or both Handlers are attempting to spread disinformation.
- The Asset wants to put one over on one or both Handlers.
In any case, it's dangerous territory. As a Handler, here are a few ways you could handle it...
- Intentionally recruit an Asset who's likely to betray you, then feed them disinformation.
- Use the Double Agent as a provocateur, but let them think they're a Courier. Whether or not they're successful at misleading the opposition, there's little chance they'll compromise your real Op.
However, you should discourage Double Agents from intentionally blowing an Op. This leads to cool things NOT happening, and we're all better off when cool things DO happen.
Finally, Handlers are free to accept information from non-Assets who happen to be close to a rival Handler. Friends, relatives, and significant others may all be willing to rat out their loved ones for little or no reason... though they might be slightly more likely to pass you bad intelligence!
Asset - Any player who is recruited by a Handler and receives instructions via a Dead Drop (a spy).
Brush Pass - When two Couriers exchange messages while walking past, or bumping into, each other.
Car Toss - When a Courier drops a message into a stopped vehicle as part of a Pass.
Courier - An Asset who carries out a Pass as part of an Op.
Cut-Out - A player who assists an Asset in any way, but is not themselves an Asset. Cut-Outs are useful for well-known Assets and make excellent provocateurs.
Dead Drop - A concealed location in a public space where a Handler can leave instructions for an Asset.
Double Agent - An Asset who has been recruited by multiple Handlers, usually to spy on one for the other, or to feed one misinformation from the other.
False Flag - A fake Op designed to distract enemy Hunters, carried out by Provocateurs.
Handler - A player who recruits Assets, organizes Dead Drops, and conducts an Op (a.k.a. a spymaster).
Hunter - An Asset who conducts surveillance on an Op.
Op (Operation) - An event where Couriers attempt to pass secret information under surveillance and in view of the public.
Pass - Any time two Couriers exchange messages covertly.
Provocateur - An Asset or Cut-Out who engages in a false Op as a distraction. There is no penalty for having a provocateur identified by the opposition.