Monday, December 21, 2015

More Sprechenhaltestelle

In the last post, many of us were scratching our collective heads over the very cryptic identifiers, roles, and connections of the many NPC's in Merele Rasmussen's original Top Secret mini-setting, Sprechenhaltestelle.

To help untangle this puzzle, I spent some time this weekend making a master roster of all the personnel in the setting, cross-indexed by described role and location day and night (as well as gender and nationality, as noted for their highest language score).

One thing this really highlights is how the module is designed as a mystery for the reader. Most of the street-level locations and personnel appear generally innocent, or with at most some arch foreshadowing; whereas when they appear in the below-street level section key, their dark secrets are revealed. In many cases, particularly for members of Amontillado Alley this runs on some pun on their above-ground role (the printer is a counterfeiter, the butcher a surgeon, the gypsy palm reader a seller of surveillance gear, the cobbler who helps you walk properly procures motor vehicles, etc.). Also, the numerical area codes for this area are usually synchronized from above-to-below ground (I never noticed that before).

The personnel codes are clearly not completely uniform in their usage. Here's the best pattern-making that I could make with them:

Groups in Sprechenhaltestelle
  • A: Amontillado Alley personnel and assistants (mostly)
  • B: Busboy, barber, beautician, butcher (mostly)
  • C: No recognizable pattern?
  • D: Detention (mostly)
  • G: Guards at warehouses
  • S: Surface personnel (some associated with AA)
  • U: Underground personnel (at Pair-A-Dice)
  • W: Waitresses (mostly)
  • X, Y, Z: Civilians not associated with spycraft (leave town at night, no contacts or code phrases)
Individuals in Sprechenhaltestelle
  • L1: Launderer
  • R1: Waiter (?)
  • WS1: Wine steward
  • HC: Hotel cook
  • HD: Hotel dishwasher
  • HSO: Hotel switchboard operator
  • NSO: Nighttime switchboard operator
  • WCS: Wood carving sailor, a.k.a. wino, crazed in sewer. 

Below,  you'll find links to the complete roster that I compiled. Not everything got filled; there are a number of NPC's for whom I could find no description of their role at all in the key (notably: C2, C3, C15, S2, S4, and S120). A few others didn't specify where they spend their nights (S1, HD), and many didn't specify a particular gender. Another thing that could be added here (if I was going to run the adventure) would be random names based on their observed nationality (again, inferred from their best language score; see Top Secret rulebook p. 6, all-caps section: native fluency must be scored highest).

Can you fill in the missing roles for those mystery personnel (perhaps by doing some detective work with the contacts list)? Can you see any pattern for the "C" personnel that I'm missing?

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for this! It helped me make some sense out of some of the networks I was trying to analyze - the Stolen Goods Network, for instance, makes more sense when it is observed that the Gypsy Palm Reader also sells surveillance gear.

    Also, apropos of nothing, I, too, had been working on nationality assignments for the various personnel listed (though for people who had high English, German, AND French scores, I often assumed they were Swiss or Belgian).

    Finally, I'm still trying to puzzle out a pattern for "C" designated personnel, but maybe it stands for "Contact" - that is, someone whose role is primarily to act as a contact in a network of some kind?

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    1. I'm glad you're also looking at this! Your inference about nationality sounds more sophisticated than mine. The "C" code is a real stumper because there's so many of them (it's actually the largest category). My initial guess is they might be mostly "clerks" but I don't think that pans out.

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    2. On further looking, "C" has me totally stumped. It's not "criminal," it's not "contact," it's not... well, hell, I don't know.

      As for language assumptions, here are mine:

      Highest French, Russian, or German, with nothing else particularly close: French, Russian, or West German, respectively.

      Highest German with Russian quite close: East German.

      At least two of German, French, and English all quite close: Belgian or Swiss.

      Highest English with a strong score in another language: English.

      Highest English with no other strong scores: American.

      ;)

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    3. That's great! LOL at the last one, insightful. :-)

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  2. This is interesting stuff, thanks for writing it. I won't lie, this module was opaque to the point of uselessness when I started playing Top Secret in Elementary School. Operation: Rapidstrike and Lady in Distress were a lot easier for us to get into.

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    1. I think it was to ALL of us (and to date I haven't heard anyone say they did anything but run it as a D&D B1 style dungeon crawl massacre). It's interesting to here that the separate publications were different; I never had those, maybe I should pick them up.

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    2. They're more mission than sandbox, and more assault than spying. But they felt pretty James Bond, which is what we wanted anyway.

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  3. Merle Rasmussen is alive and still writing Top Secret material. You should track down his email.

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    1. Yeah, if you read the prior post this started with me pinging him on Facebook, and he very politely replied with some tidbits, but couldn't remember comprehensively over the amount of time that's passed.

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  4. Could C be for 'Crime' or something similar? e.g. 'Crime district', 'Criminal gang' or 'Criminal'.

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  5. To throw gasoline on the embers, has anyone considered: A = Administrators, O = Operators, S = Spies or Agents, and C = Cut-outs. I am finding it amazing and amusing were are having this discussion 35 years after publication. Perhaps what we all need is a 21st Century Espionage RPG (title currently classified) by Rasmussen and edited by Allen Hammack. Then we can discuss a whole other team's development process! Merry Chirstmas, one and all!

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    1. Sprechenhaltestelle is definitely one of those my-cup-runeth-over settings that's bursting with ideas past what the page count normally supports; and I think it's mature in a way that many of us had to become grown-ups before properly understanding it.

      Great idea for a new RPG, I'm sure there are many of us who would be happy to pitch in, make suggestions, or just playtest! :-)

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  6. Merle, you sneaky so-and-so! Merry Christmas!

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  7. I was going through all the synonyms for "waiter" that I could think of or find, and nothing started with an R. Then I (maybe) had an epiphany - could R just be Restaurant?

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    1. That's great! Only thing is that technically the place he works is called the "Cafe" -- but other than that, excellent notion.

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