Refereeing Forgery

— Émile Bayard, 19th century

So the adventurers have decided to forge a document. How, then, to adjudicate this in an OSR or NSR game? A few approaches come to mind:

  • Simply let them do it. If the document in question is uncomplicated and won’t be subject to close scrutiny, then no roll or procedure may be necessary.
  • Call for a die roll. If running Whitehack, for instance, I might call for a trained intelligence roll—or a charisma roll if the adventurers rely more on social engineering than the quality of their forgery.
  • Require the adventurers to hire an expert.

I’m not fully satisfied with any of these approaches, however, so, in the remainder of this post, I’d like to explore a procedure that maximizes creative problem-solving and engagement with the fiction.

The Logistics of Forgery

  • First, the adventurers must acquire a reference; if they aim to forge a decree by the Duchess of Bittermark, they will need to obtain another of the Duchess’ decrees.
  • Next, the adventurers must identify distinctive elements of the document: a wax seal, colored ink, expensive parchment, etc.
  • Finally, the adventurers must replicate these distinctive elements in order to create a convincing forgery.

Determining an Outcome

An all-or-nothing approach could suffice to determine the outcome of the adventurers’ efforts: either they identify and replicate all of the document’s distinctive elements, or their forgery can’t withstand scrutiny. I’d opt for a more flexible approach, though:

  • Procuring a suitable reference grants the adventurers a 1-in-6 chance of creating a convincing forgery.
  • For each distinctive element the adventurers replicate, their odds improve by 1-in-6 or 2-in-6, depending on the importance of the element and the overall complexity of the document.
  • The referee should roll a d6 in secret, perhaps concealing it under a cup until the time comes to reveal its result. This way, the players must commit to the forgery without knowing whether it will bear scrutiny. If the forgery proves inadequate, they won’t know until it’s too late!

An Example

The adventurers seek a silver-furred hart rumored to roam Dornham Wood. Only the Duke of Dornham, his family, and those granted a special license by the warden of the wood may hunt within its bounds. The adventurers have fallen into the warden’s disfavor, so they decide to forge a hunting license.

First, the adventurers pose as deputies of the warden in order to examine a license belonging to a sanctioned hunter. The adventurers observe that the license is drafted on thick parchment in green ink, stamped with a custom woodblock, and infused with the scent of pine needles.

The adventurers surveil the warden’s steward and follow him to the shop where he procures the distinctive parchment and green ink. The adventurers then brew a pine needle tea and apply a small amount to the parchment using a paintbrush. The adventurers attempt to bribe the warden’s chamberlain to create a clay impression of the woodblock stamp, but the chamberlain refuses, as the warden stows the stamp in a locked box. Instead, the adventurers do their best to carve a facsimile of the woodblock stamp.

Inspecting a genuine license grants the adventurers a 1-in-6 chance of creating a convincing forgery. Procuring both the requisite parchment and ink improves their odds by 1-in-6 for each element—2-in-6 total. The pine needle tea innovation improves their odds by an additional 1-in-6. Accessing the original woodblock stamp or creating an exact replica would have improved the adventurers’ odds by 2-in-6, but the GM gives them partial credit: 1-in-6 improved odds. In sum, the adventurers’ efforts merit a 5-in-6 chance of producing a convincing forgery.

40 Distinctive Elements

  1. The sender folds a particular kind of object into each letter—a feather, a pressed flower, a scrap of fabric.
  2. The sender composes their messages on animal hides.
  3. The sender marks each letter with an ink thumbprint.
  4. The sender sews their letters into the lining of couriers’ jackets.
  5. The sender seals their letters with lavender-infused wax.
  6. The sender composes an inane message in plain ink but includes their true message covertly via thermochromic ink.
  7. The sender marks each letter with a lipstick kiss that displays evidence of their distinctive scar.
  8. Each of the sender’s messages forms an acrostic.
  9. The sender ties a colored ribbon around each of their letters. They choose a color based on the letter’s contents.
  10. The sender seals official correspondence within wine bottles from a particular vineyard.
  11. The sender spritzes each of their letters with expensive perfume.
  12. The sender folds each letter into an origami animal unique to its recipient.
  13. The sender composes their messages on thin sheets of bark from a rare species of tree.
  14. The sender includes a specific phrase in each of their messages.
  15. The sender does not write. Instead, they hire couriers who commit the messages to memory.
  16. The sender writes their letters in violet ink they learned to mix from a brotherhood of secretive monks.
  17. The sender seals their letters with two layers of wax in contrasting colors.
  18. The sender’s messages are littered with misspellings.
  19. Along with each of their letters, the sender includes a transcription of a poem from the second volume of an anthology.
  20. The sender references prior correspondence in most of their letters.
  21. The sender composes each letter on parchment that has a distinct scent due to spices mixed into its fibers during production.
  22. The sender composes their messages on human skulls.
  23. The sender writes their letters in indigo ink flecked with gold dust.
  24. The sender is a polyglot who often includes aphorisms from several languages in their letters.
  25. The sender composes their messages on papyrus.
  26. The sender’s official correspondence is printed using a woodblock press.
  27. The sender seals their letters with pine sap that smells of butterscotch.
  28. The sender entrusts delivery of their official correspondence only to knights sworn to their service.
  29. The sender encodes their official messages using a cipher.
  30. The sender seals their letters with sugar—melted, then hardened into a brittle glob.
  31. The sender composes their letters on the leaves of banana trees.
  32. The sender marks their letters by marbling a portion of the paper.
  33. The sender’s official correspondence is printed using lithography.
  34. The sender ends each of their letters with a rhyming couplet.
  35. The sender dips the corners of each of their letters into a concoction that gives them a distinct bitter taste.
  36. The sender composes their messages on scraps of wallpaper from an abandoned palace.
  37. The sender seals each of their letters within a hollow clay cylinder, fired slowly to avoid scorching the message within.
  38. The sender writes the messages to their closest confidants in a dead language.
  39. The sender composes each letter on parchment containing a watermark.
  40. The sender dispatches a notice in advance of any official correspondence, warning of its imminent arrival.

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