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If a Rogue is in an alleyway and wants to recruit a group of NPC thieves to rob an enemy, could they use chalk to write a message in Thieves' Cant for anyone who can read it who comes by, or is Thieves' Cant a spoken language only?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you intending the message to be unnoticeable to non-rogues, or simply for it to be non-understandable even if it is noticed? (Are you expecting those that notice it to dismiss it as unimportant/irrelevant, or to recognize it as a coded message that they simply can't understand?) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 5 at 9:11
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Yes, you can write it

You have learned thieves’ cant, a secret mix of dialect, jargon, and code that allows you to hide messages in seemingly normal conversation. It takes four times longer to convey such a message than it does to speak the same idea plainly.

In addition, you understand a set of secret signs and symbols used to convey short, simple messages, such as whether an area is dangerous or the territory of a thieves’ guild, whether loot is nearby, or whether the people in an area are easy marks or will provide a safe house for thieves on the run. (PHB 96)

Going by what is written, the thieves' cant is a mix of dialect, jargon, and code. The latter two could definitely by written and arguably the first (think "color" vs "colour" as a form of written dialect; American vs British English). So you're using actual normal language in code. Your message would just be four times longer than writing it in plain common (or whatever other language of your choice).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That will be very helpful. Thanks \$\endgroup\$ – Blly bob Jan 2 at 22:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hobo signs are a real-world case that seem to match the RPG description. \$\endgroup\$ – chrylis -on strike- Jan 4 at 8:53
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Per the feature description:

During your rogue training you learned thieves’ cant, a secret mix of dialect, jargon, and code that allows you to hide messages in seemingly normal conversation. Only another creature that knows thieves’ cant understands such messages. It takes four times longer to convey such a message than it does to speak the same idea plainly.

In addition, you understand a set of secret signs and symbols used to convey short, simple messages, such as whether an area is dangerous or the territory of a thieves’ guild, whether loot is nearby, or whether the people in an area are easy marks or will provide a safe house for thieves on the run.

So it really depends on your DM and what the message you want to convey.

Generally, Thieves' Cant is a spoken cipher. You can use inflection and innuendo to get a point across whereas the average bystander will only get the face value.

There are symbols and signs you can chalk on the side of the wall to point out where drop points are, beware of the police, etc. Imagine only writing in emoji. It's up the DM to decide if your message is :poop: or :smile:.

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As an additional bit of flavor to add to the answers so far, I have found this video by MonarchsFactory (Dael Kingsmill) quite inspirational for portraying Thieves' Cant in game. Of note, she goes into some detail about what "written" Thieves' Cant might look like. Not strictly official, but as the other answers note, a written version of Thieves' Cant is RAW, but it does leave vague what exactly can be communicated using it, and this video can help a GM better envision what can and can't be communicated, and what it might look like.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, this is good info \$\endgroup\$ – Blly bob Jan 2 at 22:51
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The rules for rogues convey the ability to understand and speak in Thieves Cant AND:

In addition, you understand a set of secret signs and symbols used to convey short, simple messages, such as whether an area is dangerous or the territory of a thieves' guild, whether loot is nearby, or whether the people in an area are easy marks or will provide a safe house for thieves on the run.

The rules are not clear as to whether or not these secret signs and symbols are part of Thieves Cant or a supplemental set of signs but that's not really important to your intent.

If you want to use writing (or signs) to convey hidden meaning instead of spoken word, the rules allow for this. Whether or not that writing is considered "Thieves Cant" is subject to narrative interpretation.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. This will be very usefull \$\endgroup\$ – Blly bob Jan 2 at 22:04
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The description of Thieves Cant describes:

In addition, you understand a set of secret signs and symbols used to convey short, simple messages, such as whether an area is dangerous or the territory of a thieves’ guild, whether loot is nearby, or whether the people in an area are easy marks or will provide a safe house for thieves on the run.

I have always considered this to be describing something akin to hobo signs where you place symbols in locations to convey information other thieves would consider relevant. As such, it wouldn't be unreasonable for there to be a symbol one might place on a location when the proprietor is looking to hire, but it would be unlikely to convey any more information than "hiring thieves" or "hiring assassins" at most. However, this is something you would have to clear with your GM.

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