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I'm working with a setting involving a secret cult organization.

Now I've read and watched plenty of spy and detective fiction that crack codes and decipher ciphers, not to mention all the ARGs out there, but one thing always bothers me. The hidden messages always seem to be left out to be found by anybody or are shown to the protagonist by an informant. Does anybody know of a good way to have a main character stumble upon these well hidden codes without relying on a Deep-throat type character? It goes without saying that the method should not also make the hidden messages obvious enough for others to find them.

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  • $\begingroup$ By accident, or is the character seeking them out? $\endgroup$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Jun 6 '17 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ It's an interesting question, but probably too story based for Worldbuilding $\endgroup$ – apaul Jun 6 '17 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ @apaul34208 It looks weird that you are answering the question and at the same time comment that it's story based and vote to close it as off-topic. Per the Meta discussion Rules of peer moderation: "Rule 8: Don't answer a question that you voted to close." Why exactly are you doing this? $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Jun 6 '17 at 6:14
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Explore the question of why the code was used in the first place.

If the purpose of the code was to facilitate communication between two people who knew the same things (i.e. knew the code), then it will be hard for anyone to discover the code and break it unless they're in on the secret. You can look at the WWII stories regarding Enigma and Purple to see what stories arise from trying to break these.

In many books, the purpose of the code is to get the attention of the right person after the information has been lost. In these cases, you'll put the message out there in plain sight, but you'll choose an encoding which only the right minded person would think of. This often appears in treasure maps that are designed to lead you to the right place after you had forgotten the secret in the first place.

In both cases, the worldbuilding key to making it believable is culture. Develop the main character in a culture which would support him or her eventually discovering the secret. If it's a person-to-person code, a mathematical background or a detective background would make the discovery more believable. If it's an in-plain-sight code, a person who has been brought up to resonate with the culture that left the code is the key for believability.

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Depends on the nature of your code. Your protagonist could very easily be an archeologist, detective, code monkey or what have you... that is simply looking for something completely unrelated and in their investigation stumbles on to the code because it sticks out.

A large part of investigative work, of any kind, is looking for things that match a particular pattern or stand out from a particular pattern. Deliberate codes tend to fall into both categories.

"Hey that's odd... Oh there's a pattern to this oddity, I better check it out..."

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