Passwords and Passphrases

Pancake batter powered by nitrous oxide.

Yeah, I did a double take when I read that line too. It’s from an article in the New York Times: “A Trickier Stage for Alton Brown”, Wednesday, September 28, 2016, the Food section (section D), with “The Cookbook Issue” for a header on each page, page D1, continued on page D11.

What does this have to do with 5th Edition D&D and Cormyr? Not much I’m afraid, save to remind you that when you’re not gaming you should be cooking. Like all the time. And if you don’t know how, then you should be learning how to cook.

You can thank me later.


1. So, passwords and passphrases. Not as in a line of characters, or even a string of text with spaces, that are keyed in to gain access to a locked computer. I’m talking the mundane spoken kind, as in your character is challenged by a guard who says something like, “Who goes there?” And your character better say the correct response the guard is looking for (aka the password or passphrase). If not its swords out and slay your character time.

2. This is the sort of thing where if PCs aren’t prepared they can either try to boldly act official and roleplay their way through the encounter–which is a good thing–or they can be silly and mocking and just attack the guard. And so far as killing the guy who does not in fact have a key to the door the PCs want to get through is concerned, this isn’t much help to the continuance of an adventure. (The door is opened by someone else on the other side, who’s waiting to hear the correct sequence of knocks, for example, by the just-now-stabbed-and-bleeding-to-death-on-the-ground door guard).

3. Thus, prepare your PCs, Dear Reader/DM. However you do it, make sure you show your PCs that people in power use passwords and phrases to limit access to important places, to gain access to such themselves, and to grant access to others.

4. Knowing the right words can get the PCs into all kinds of places in Cormyr, and the wider Realms. In some cases merely knowing the right words allows one to unlock vaults filled with magic items of terrible power, and so marks someone as being important and not to be messed with in the eyes of guards who stand watch.

5. If you haven’t given the Rogue PC in the party a chance to skulk around, then this is a good reason to get him to hide, lurk, and listen in important places like the Royal Court in Suzail, and the Royal Palace just next door. Same goes for the spellcaster PC if she has eavesdropping spells she hasn’t used.

6. War Wizards, important courtiers, Highknights, Purple Dragon officers and more all use spoken passwords and passphrases in Cormyr, and every last noble house and established guild has their own set of passwords and phrases they use, so smart PCs can have a lot of fun figuring out how to successfully overhear such and use it to their advantage or gain.

7. This is one of those things where a DM doesn’t have to throw it in the PC’s faces. Simply mentioning it on the side during downtime–a throwaway line like, “On your way back to the inn, as you pass around the back of the temple to Tymora after buying potions for the party, you overhear a temple priest standing in the lee of a rear entrance to the temple. He is admonishing a lay member of the temple for failing to remember the words of entrance.”

8. If the PC keeps on walking, cool. Sally forth to adventure and all that.  If not, or if they at least state they try to listen to what’s being said, then the PCs have a chance to hear the priest say, “As you know, the challenge phrase is, ‘In darkness I cannot see.'” Then the priest says, “Next time you must reply as follows to gain entrance to the temple at night, ‘The moon and the stars in the water.'” *  …and at some point in the future if the PCs have a pressing need to gain access to this particular temple of Tymora (of which there are three in Cormyr, FYI), then they have a way in. Maybe something bad is about to go down inside the temple that only the PCs know about and can stop. Or maybe a PC is in dire need of healing that the PCs can’t cast themselves–happens all the time.

9. At some point a group of PCs in Cormyr will have to go to the Royal Court in Suzail to pay the fee for an adventuring charter. This was something I ignored to the maximum in my campaigns until it hit me like a brick that one of the design intentions behind adventuring charters (which all PCs in an adventuring party active in Cormyrmust acquire at some point once they start gaining levels, on pain of other adventurers being free to arrest them for a reward if they don’t comply with Crown law) is to put curious, greedy, and brave to the point of foolishness PCs right in the middle of the labyrinthine expanse of the Royal Court, with all its attendants and functionaries, schemes and plots, lurking dangers, secret doors, back passageways, walls behind walls behind walls, magical portals and more. It’s a baked in excuse to visit.

10. Anyway, once PCs are in the Royal Court, they stand a good chance of hearing passwords and pass phrases because they’re being used everywhere. For example an old series phrase and counter phrase out of Volo’s Guide to Cormyr goes:

  • The challenge phrase: “Black Sword”
  • The reply: “Meets green shield”
  • The counter reply (so you know that the person you’re dealing with–in this case a Wizard of War–is legit too): “To make red war.”


* I modified a line from Lee Child’s short story “High Heat” to make this passphrase up. After all, this stuff doesn’t appear in my mind whole cloth and ready to be written down. If you want to write good, then you have to read good.


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