An Alternate Reality Game
What You Need to Know
Summary: A group of spymasters (Handlers) compete to see who can pull off a covert pass of information between two spies (Assets) under enemy surveillance and in full view of the public.
I. Recruitment - 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. It's usually a Saturday afternoon.
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. Couriers may also be assigned as Hunters on other Ops, but it's risky.
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 don't expect to win any ties when the winner is tallied.)
II. Instructions - The week of the Op.
By this point, all Handlers must have selected 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.
On the day of the Op, each Handlers 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.
IV. Debriefing - 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:
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, it 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...
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...
In any case, it's dangerous territory. As a Handler, here are a few ways you could handle it...
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!