From the Armitage Files: Sacrifice

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**

Last Saturday night was the first Armitage Files game in about two months. I try to run my games with a session every three weeks, but we’re all busy people, and the holiday season tends to be difficult to schedule. So, obviously, it’s been a while, but we’ve got back to it.

In the week leading up to Saturday’s game, I asked the gang what they wanted to investigate this session, so that I would have a chance to do some prep work before the game. At the end of the last session, they had blown up a mine full of… strange creatures, and narrowly escaped the Donlands-Fuschack gang.

The group decided to continue with this investigation, trying to figure out how the fortune teller back in Emigrant fit into all of this. So, I went back to my original notes ((By which I mean my scribbled diagrams. Of course, I had forgotten what all my shorthand meant by this time.)) from the first time they visited Emigrant and fleshed things out so that there was something interesting for them to investigate.

As has become something of a tradition, we got together fairly early in the evening to dine on some very nice Indian food and talk a bit before starting the game. When we were ready to begin, we discovered that Moon was pretty badly hurt from the last session. As we were picking things up pretty much from where we had left off, the investigators decided that, before confronting the evil ((Allegedly.)) fortune teller, they should head back to a big city to let Moon spend some time in the hospital.

While Moon was convalescing ((With a revolver hidden in the hollowed-out Bible by his bedside.)), Roxy and Solis did a little more digging on background for the fortune teller, finding nothing of any use. When Moon was back in fighting trim, they bought a shotgun and some dynamite, and went back to Emigrant.

They parked the car about a quarter mile outside of town, down the railroad tracks so they could follow them back and not get lost if they were in a hurry ((What are the odds of that happening with this group?)). They then crept into town, to the fortune teller’s shop, and broke in to the back.

Their first concern when breaking into her shop – the upstairs of which was also her home – was finding a pair of men’s boots in the mudroom in back. They did a cursory examination of the kitchen and the shop’s back room ((Strangely – to me, anyway – they didn’t actually do any more than peek into the front room of the shop.)), finding nothing of real interest ((Though I think Roxy lifted her Tarot deck. Am I remembering that correctly, folks?)). Solis was able to identify the range of patent medicines on the shelves, and even a fair bit of the herbal remedies, and determined that they were nothing out of the ordinary for a rural practitioner who billed herself as an apothecary.

They crept upstairs, through the little sitting room, and into the bedroom, where they found the fortune teller lying on the bed. This caused a few moments of panic, especially when it looked as if she wasn’t breathing, but just lying fully dressed on top of the bed clothes with her eyes open. Solis finally plucked up the nerve to examine her more closely, and was quite shocked to find that she appeared to be no more than clothes and skin draped over a padded armature.

Everyone got very nervous at that point, and Solis was going to make a closer examination, but at that point, she blinked, and everyone decided to get the hell away from her. Cue the mad scramble down the stairs. They paused to take a closer look in the kitchen, and found that it had no food in it, and no sign of having had food in it any time recent. They poked about a bit, looking for a cellar door ((I don’t know why, but they were obsessed with finding a cellar. It all started with Roxy saying she wanted a peek in the fortune teller’s basement, and it was off and running. She tried explaining that it was just a figure of speech, that she didn’t know if the fortune teller had a basement, but everything seemed to start to revolve around how to get into this non-existent root cellar.)) until Moon realized that, in this style of house, there was probably no cellar. There would, however,  be crawlspaces both under the house and between the first and second floor.

So, of course, everyone ran back outside to look under the house. At this point, I just gave up and went with it.

They got the little wood lattice gate off the entry to the crawlspace and saw a number of oilcloth-wrapped bundles inside. Roxy volunteered to go in a haul one out, and it proved to be a bundle of siding boards. A second bundle turned out to be bricks. The players looked at me curiously for a bit, then said, “I don’t get it. What do these mean?” And I said, “These mean that there were left-over building materials that she’s storing safely in case the house needs repairs. That’s the kind of thing people keep in crawlspaces.”

They tried to figure out if I was lying for a little bit, then shrugged and Solis crawled in to make a better examination of the space. He found a mounded section of the earth floor, and used his knife to try and dig it up. The knife blade went through about an inch or so of loose dirt and then hit a piece of wood.

That’s when the tcho-tchos pushed aside the planks that were hiding their tunnel and leaped on Solis ((For this bit, I took the player into the kitchen, so that the other players were kept in the dark about what was happening.)). There were three of them, and one grabbed each of Solis’s arms, while the third – who had drenched his shirt in poison ((I like tcho-tcho poison. It does whatever I need it to do, and the little guys aren’t afraid to put in on everything!)) – wrapped his arms and legs around Solis’s head. The good doctor struggled gamely, but was pulled into the tunnel and only managed to get out a muffled yelp before the poison shirt rendered him unconscious.

At this point, I had to start juggling scene cuts to give everyone a chance to do stuff and be involved in what was going on. Some of the time-frame got a little skewed, but it worked in play, so I count it as a win. Of course, I can’t remember exactly when I cut between characters, so I’m just going to go character-by-character through their stories.

Moon immediately crawled under the house, and down the tunnel in pursuit of Solis. I decided to give the gang a chance to rescue Solis – in a suitably challenging and cinematic finale – so the tunnel ran under the street down a few buildings to a warehouse. Moon made his way there, shooting the tcho-tcho that had been left to ambush him, and popped up through a trapdoor ((I had briefly considered making this come up in another crawlspace, but that just felt too mean.)) into the warehouse.

Roxy, waiting by the fortune teller’s house, heard a car on the street and hid. It turned out to be the doctor they had previously met. He came into the back yard and started calling for the characters. This struck Roxy as suspicious enough that she struck the doctor with a brick ((See what I done there?)). Twice. And then stood and watched as he gasped to death on the sidewalk. Then she heard Moon’s gunshot, and ran down the street, finding the warehouse, and picking the lock on the front door to burst into the room.

Solis, meanwhile, had regained consciousness stripped naked and tied to the immense belly of a giant statue of an elephant-headed man. Yep, their old pal Chaugnar Faugn. Surrounding him were a dozen or two tcho-tchos, also naked, except for elephant-like masks. Some of these had the weird, fluid limbs of the things Moon and Roxy had faced down in the mine. Leading them was a large man wearing nothing but a full head mask that was a large version of the little crystal snow-man heads that they had learned was the effect of Chaugnar Faugn’s attention. This happy fellow started cutting on Solis, who managed a heroic Athletics roll to break the ropes tying him to the idol.

Which is when everyone else arrived.

Roxy managed to get the door open just in time to see Moon shoot down one of the kerosene lamps providing light in the building. The high priest ((Of course that’s what he was. Didn’t I mention the full-head mask?)) started chanting to put the flames out, and the tcho-tchos started swarming Moon and Solis. Solis tried to run for the door, but he was still suffering from the hallucinatory effects of the poison. Moon, worried that the high priest was going to put out the flames, threw a stick of dynamite into them.

Moon fully expected to die, along with the tcho-tchos and the priest. He thought it would be a valiant rescue of Solis, sacrificing his life to end this threat and save his friend. Unfortunately, Solis blew his Fleeing roll, and had already been roughed up a fair bit. I checked the damage on a stick of dynamite, and rolled it on the table in front of everyone.

Moon survived. Solis was brought to exactly -12, and was dead.

So were the tcho-tchos and the high priest and the statue and the walls. Roxy was hurt, but she and Moon managed to get Solis’s body back to the car and out of town.

Now, I hadn’t planned on killing anybody that night. In fact, I tend to go out of my way to make sure that there are chances for the PCs to escape and survive – it just means losing, sometimes. That said, this is a horror game, and the mortality of player characters is an important trope. If there’s no chance of losing, there’s no tension and no horror. So, I let the die fall and determine the outcome fairly and openly.

We ended the session a little early. The last thing we did in play was to hold Solis’s funeral. I wanted to make sure that the event was memorable, and to send off a good character with the kind of finale he had earned. I asked ((That’s a lie. I demanded.)) each of the other players to deliver a short, in-character eulogy of Solis, and I provided one by Prof. Armitage to round things out.

Then we called an end to gaming and helped create the new investigator.

Oh, and I told them the outcome of their investigation. Russel Fuschack was killed a few days later trying to rob a bank on his own, without his partner. Half the population of Emigrant, Montana was found dead. Again, the players asked me what that meant, and I just shrugged. I know what it means, but I’m not giving away any information on this one. They may decide to follow it up.

So, that was the first PC death in my Armitage Files game. All-in-all, it worked out, though I’m going to miss Dr. August Solis. He was a fun guy to torment.

From the Armitage Files: Ghost Town

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**

Saturday night, we got together for the first Armitage Files session in more than three months ((Last session was August 12, and this session was November 19. The reason for the long delay was a combination of my Ireland trip and some heavy day-job work upon my return.)). The long gap between sessions meant that I had a very poor idea of what was going on in the game, and my players had even less of an idea. Thankfully, I was able to look at the blog post from the last session and get at least a bit of an idea about what was going on ((The post wasn’t all that detailed, because I was running behind on the posts and needed to catch up, but it was better than nothing.)).

We picked things up in Emigrant, Montana, and I let the players decide how to proceed. I knew that I had mentioned the ghost town of Aldridge at some point in the last session, but I couldn’t remember when, and the group didn’t seem to recall it at all. That meant I needed to get them that clue in order to move them on to the core of the mystery. So, when they started doing some research at the local paper, I fed in a story about the last of the inhabitants leaving Aldridge about a year and a half ago ((Maybe I was a bit heavy handed when I added a quote from the chief of the Emigrant police saying that the town was now good for nothing but a hideout for bank robbers. Too much?)). I also seeded in a few other clues that they haven’t followed up, yet, about Fuschacks and the fortune teller ((I don’t know if they’re planning on following these up, but I made note of what they dug up, so that if they decide that’s the way they want to go, I’ve got better notes than last time.)), just to make sure there were enough options for them.

They headed off to Aldridge, a small mining town that dried up when the mining company – who owned the whole town – pulled out after the mine was worked out. It was just a single street with eight or ten buildings on either side, and a few other buildings scattered off the main street around the area. I got to play up the dry, blighted nature of the woods in the area, again reinforcing the sense of dread with real-world description of Montana in the ’30s. The ghost town feel of Aldridge – a town completely abandoned by its residents – accentuated the feeling.

The gang took a very methodical approach to investigating the town. They started at one end of the street, and broke into the back doors ((In case anyone had followed them from Emigrant, they didn’t want their exact location to be readily apparent.)) of each building in turn, searching from top to bottom. By late in the afternoon, they had finished one side, and started to talk about whether or not they would continue with the other side – meaning they would be in Aldridge after dark – or head back to Emigrant for the night – meaning they would never be sure that something hadn’t moved into the buildings they had already checked.

They decided to continue with the investigation and, around sunset, had made it to the company store/bar, where they found a heavy, new padlock on the back door. Roxy made short work of that, and hauled the door open. Solis was the only one who made his Sense Trouble check at that point, so he heard the simple string-and-pulley setup pulling the trigger of the shotgun behind the door, and pushed Roxy and Moon out of the way, taking the blast full in his chest ((Dropped him from full Health into the negatives. Yay!)).

And that’s when I sent in the ninjas ((Ninjas in this game are the Tcho-Tchos.)).

Moon took a poisoned dart in the neck ((Again.)), and Solis got sliced up some more ((Solis had made a Medicine spend the session before – or maybe the one before that, I can’t recall – to have produced three doses of Tcho-Tcho poison antitoxin. They were very glad to have it at this point.)), but they managed to barricade themselves into the back store room, with the Tcho-Tchos on the outside, and started planning. Of course, the Tcho-Tchos were planning, too, and their plan involved some kerosene and matches, so the building was soon on fire.

There followed a mad scramble to the truck, only to find that all four tires had been slashed ((Michael called it, having written down “The truck has been sabotaged” just before they made their dash, and revealing it when they got there. I say, if you’re going to leave the thing sitting where a Tcho-Tcho can reach it, yeah, it’s going to get sabotaged. Doesn’t matter what it is.)). The general consensus at that point was, “Screw it!” so they drove off in it anyway.

It’s a forty-mile drive from Aldridge to Emigrant ((In my world. Dunno about in the real world. Don’t really care.)), and after about ten miles, the tires were gone, and the driving was getting more and more difficult, speeding along rough dirt roads on the rims of the wheels into the dark. The investigators also started getting very nervous about the fact that they hadn’t checked the back of the truck before speeding off.

They pulled over to the side, and checked the back, discovering another elephant-headed Chaugnar Faugn statue hidden in the bundles. As they looked at it, they began to see the effects of Chaugnar Faugn’s attention – crystalline snowmen with conical protuberances appearing here and there. Moon started experiencing time slips again, so Solis blasted the thing with his shotgun, but it didn’t seem to stop the effects. Solis’s crystal shards in his forearm seemed to wake up, and others started feeling the effects ((I went a little easy on the group with this one, not making them make Health checks or inflicting damage. They were already plenty beat up and in a bad place, and I didn’t intend this to be the climax of the session, so I just used the description of what was going on for jazz.)).

Roxy remembered the chant they had used previously to divert Chaugnar Faugn’s attention, and she and moon managed to use it again to stop the effects, but the entropic effects of the Eater of Tomorrows had reduced the truck to a rusted hulk, so they had to walk the rest of the way.

Through the dark.

With a severely wounded Solis.

And a forest fire behind them.

They made it back to town, with the help of the local doctor, and then took off the next morning to Billings to lie low and rest up before coming back. Also, more research, wherein they discovered that the mine in Aldridge seemed to have a missing level in it.

When they got back ((Loaded up with dynamite, of course. Because, in their minds, dynamite solves everything!)), they saw that the whole town was burned, and about a ten-mile radius of the forest. They headed right up to the mine, where the headworks had also burned to the ground. There were a few ropes dangling down into the open shaft, set with conveniently spaced knots, so they figured they had discovered the right spot.

Solis elected to stay above to watch out, while Roxy went down to set the dynamite to collapse the mine opening, and Moon went with her to watch her back. Down in the mine, they ran into some strange creatures that looked like a cross between Tcho-Tchos and frogs ((I don’t want to give away what these are to my players, but for the rest of you, here’s an explanation:


These are my take on the Miri Migri, the amphibious race created by Chaugnar Faugn, who bred with humans to produce Tcho-Tchos. I figured that, since CF was showing up so often in the game, it made sense to delve a little deeper into his specific mythology. The one with crystal extrusions was a sort-of priest, with the crystal structures showing his ties to CF.

)), who tried to stop them. One of them, with weird crystal extrusions, hit Moon with some strange time/dimension distortion again, whereupon Moon got a look at the five-dimensional form of Chaugnar Faugn ((Bastard failed not one Stability check the entire game! What’s up with that?)). They managed to set the charge and escape, though it was a near thing.

Up top, of course, the bank robbers had shown up, and stood  baffled outside the charred ruins of their hideout before spotting Solis up at the mine. The redoubtable Dr. Solis held off the ruffians with a trio of shotguns until Moon and Roxy made it back to the surface, whereupon Roxy yelled that the mine was going to blow at any minute. This, along with Roxy’s spend, got the robbers running back down to the town, followed by our heroes. There was another brief showdown in the main street as Solis barreled through the impromptu car-roadblock the gang set up, and the good guys ran off into the sunset as the collapsed.

And that’s where we left it. I’m going to try and schedule another game before Christmas, to make sure we don’t lose the momentum.

And also because I want to see what happens next.

From the Armitage Files: Emigrant, Montana

Note: I’m really falling behind on my posts. Expect the next few to be somewhat shorter than usual until I catch up, then a big, long one for the Sandboxes post.

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**

After dealing with Carsdale and the SOSI last session, the investigators decided to follow up the connection to the Montana bank robbers in the document. Solis had already done some investigation via telegram, locating three fortune tellers that may be connected with the Fuschack-Donlands gang – one in Billings, one in Bozeman, and one in Emigrant. Seeing as Emigrant was mentioned directly in the last document, they decided to go there, first.

We played a bit with the journey to Emigrant – talking about the money it took to rent a plane to fly into Montana, then the long truck ride to Emigrant, through the sterile, denuded landscape of the state in 1936. I talked about the the barren fields, the heaps of cow carcasses every so often, and the run-down, abandoned-looking farms ((It’s nice when the actual state of the world can be used to enhance the feeling of horror in a game. Well, maybe not nice, but interesting and useful.)), giving the characters the feel that they had very much left behind their familiar stomping grounds.

The town of Emigrant was, I decided very much a remnant of the previous century, looking more like an old west town than what the characters were used to back east. There was a bar and a boarding house and a couple of churches, some houses, and a few businesses, along with a rail spur.

The investigators got rooms at the boarding house, ran into a close-lipped bartender ((He knows which side of the bread the butter’s on. If he talks to outsiders about locals, the locals will stop coming in.)), and went for a walk around town after dark ((Which allowed them to meet the sheriff, who escorted them back to their lodgings. Strangers wandering the street after dark are not wanted in this little town.)). Finally, they plied the gossipy landlady at the boarding house, and found out about the fortune teller, who had a small shop across town.

That night, Moon used the book they took from Carsdale to try and block the dreams of water and monsters from Roxy’s mind. He also suffered another time-slip, with the night seeming to last forever. Eventually, he went to Solis’s room to see if he could wake him. He did, and when Solis opened the door, he saw not Moon, but the yeti-thing that Moon had described to him previously ((When Moon was in Rot Tal, Jahraus showed him that that’s the way people look from outside the normal three dimensions.)) Cue the gunshots, wounding, and Stability checks.

I believe that’s also when the fifth set of documents turned up.

So, next morning, the trio went out to talk to the fortune teller. She denied any connection with Fuschack, but suggested that the nearby ghost town of Aldridge might be a good place for such a gang to hide out. She also told Moon’s fortune, which left him strangely comforted, it seems, despite her rather unsettling pronouncements.

That’s where we left things for the evening. I believe the plan is to go check out Aldridge next, but I may be misremembering. Oh, well. I’ll find out soon enough.



From the Armitage Files: Desperation

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**

Last Saturday was the latest installment of my Armitage Files game. We picked up pretty much right where we had left off the previous session, with the investigators returning from Rot Tal to Arkham. The group had told me – via e-mail between sessions – that they intended to continue to investigate Edwin Carsdale and the Society of Syncretic Inquirey, but they hadn’t provided any real specifics about how they intended to do that, so I started things off by asking them what they had planned.

Solis wanted to look into the possible connections between Carsdale and the Donlands-Fuschack gang of bank robbers out in Montana ((This is one of the threads mentioned in the source document.)), and the fortune teller they apparently consult. So, he sent off a telegram to a contact in Billings, and got the names of three fortune tellers that had licenses and registered places of business in Montana ((I’m not sure if they still intend to follow up on this after this session.)).

Moon took some time to get his insurance money and start setting up his new shop. He was visited by Carsdale, whom the group believed was responsible for the firebombing of Moon’s old shop. Moon decided to play it cagey, and blamed the firebombing on anti-Semitic sentiments in the community. Carsdale seemed shocked to hear this ((Though according to Moon’s Assess Honesty, he was actually more amused.)), and, as a show of support, asked Moon to find him three rare books ((One of them a mythos tome, which he added to the list to see how Moon would react.)). It became pretty obvious to both that they were dancing around each other ((Moon had no interpersonal skills to counter Carsdale’s Assess Honesty. This prompted the quote of the game: “Fuck! I need some fucking people skills!”)), but neither was going to give the other the satisfaction of breaking character first.

Roxy, meanwhile, left town, assumed a new identity, and went to Kingsport to follow around Frost, one of the other members of SOSI who seemed to be in the inner circle with Carsdale. After about a week of this, she got bored, and decided to make something happen. She sent Frost a vague and threatening note, alleging that she knew something Carsdale was keeping secret. Well, Frost showed it to Carsdale, and mentioned that he had seen Roxy Crane in Kingsport ((Roxy is great at being sneaky, but a sucky roll is a sucky roll.)). Carsdale thanked him, and decided to take action.

A few evenings later, Roxy was attacked in her home by… something ((Okay, it was a dimensional shambler.)). She couldn’t see all of it, only the horrid mix of ape-like arms and insect appendages that seemed to reach out of thin air, from all around her, to try and grab her. She tried to run, she tried to shoot it, and almost managed to get away, but I got lucky right at the end. It grabbed her, and yanked her out of reality.

At this point, I left Roxy’s player wondering if she was dead, and moved on to the other players, who had been listening to this little encounter open-mouthed and wide-eyed. It was somewhat similar to when I had had the nightgaunts snatch Solis, but a little harsher, and I wanted everyone to be uncertain about her fate ((It worked well. Sandy even started working out a new character to continue the game.)) for a while. Especially because I was unsure about it, too.

So, I mentioned to the others that their characters hadn’t heard from Roxy in a couple of days. They jumped at this opportunity to go to her rescue, tracking her to Kingsport and the rooming house where she had been staying. There, they found some strange gouges on the floor and one of the door frames, and an investigation of her belongings showed her pistol had been fired twice. Unsure how to proceed, they recruited Roxy’s driver ((Roxy is a rich girl who got rich through crime – her own, and her family’s. Her driver has some useful skills.)) to help them kidnap ((I teased the gang about how well their kidnapping of Kittrell had gone for them, but they pointed out, quite rightly, that I had started it this time by kidnapping Roxy. Fair enough.)) Frost to interrogate him.

In an abandoned gas station on an old country road, Moon and Solis used a combination of Intimidation and Reassurance to good-cop-bad-cop Frost, who admitted that he had tipped off Carsdale, and that Carsdale was leading a few members of the group in certain experiments having to do with gaining access to higher spatial and temporal dimensions. He even claimed to have a page from one of Carsdale’s journals ((This was a document I threw together by snatching selected passages from Dreams in the Witch House, working in a Mandelbrot image (rotated to look kind of like a snowman), and a mention of strange crystals and joint pain. I produced it as a hand-out for the group.)) that described some of the effects of the experiments. He turned it over to the investigators in return for his life and the life of his wife.

Now convinced that Carsdale had Roxy – or at least knew what had happened to her – they decided to go snatch Carsdale and get him to tell them what he knew. At this point, I switched back to Roxy, to tell her how she was dragged through a different dimension (description drawn from Dreams in the Witch House) by a creature that was hard to describe because she was looking at it from all angles at once, but it seemed to have some hominid features, and some insectoid features, and four limbs ((Which was at odds with the number of limbs that had reached through to grab her. She figured that it must have reached through from different higher directions with the same limb.)), and that it was propelling her somehow through the void. It dumped her out on a cold stone floor in front of Carsdale, who was gesturing with a strange knife. Before she could do much more than lift her head up, Carsdale left the room and locked it from the outside.

I jumped back to Roxy a few times in the rest of the evening, usually to make her make a Stability or Health check, as her days of captivity in a cold, damp basement took their toll on her. I had a bit of a countdown going – in X number of days ((I’m not going to tell the players how many, but it was close!)), Carsdale was going to come back and sacrifice her. The group didn’t know that, however; they just knew that she was slowly dying and going mad. Especially after she found the strange crystals on the floor of the room where she was being kept.

Meantime, her compatriots tracked down Carsdale at his Boston home and went to pay him a visit. They surprised him, and tried to tackle him, tie him up, and take him somewhere quiet to beat information out of him. Unfortunately, Carsdale did not co-operate, and somehow caused Solis’s hand to knot up and atrophy ((Okay, it was the Shrivelling spell.)) before they managed to knock him unconscious. They tied him up and gagged him, and Solis searched his rooms, finding no trace of Roxy.

What he did find was a key marked Farm, and a deed to a farm outside of the city. Going with the classics, they rolled Carsdale up in a carpet ((Actually, if I recall, it was a blanket, but whatever.)) and hauled him down to the car. Then off they went into the wilds of rural Massachusetts.

At the farm, they found Roxy in a cellar room, nearly dead of thirst – she’d been there for three days. They also found a small laboratory, a selection of strange tools, a scrapbook collecting accounts of encounters with higher dimensions, and this happy little statue, along with the tiny crystals they had encountered before at Monument creek. This was too much for Moon, and he took Carsdale down into the cellar and shot him in the head. Then, after the big Stability check for committing cold-blooded murder and violating one of his Pillars of Sanity, he was pretty much catatonic.

Roxy was also pretty much out of the picture, being in poor shape both physically and mentally after her ordeal, so Solis bundled them both into the car, set fire to the farmhouse, and went to investigate the barn. He found a few small pallet beds set up in one stall, near a small firepit with a spit across it. And a swarm of flies in a stall farther back that he didn’t want to investigate. So, he just tossed a stick of dynamite into the firepit, and they got the hell out of there as the explosion brought down the old, rickety barn.

That was where we left things. They have essentially killed the SOSI, but they still have the weird link to the bank robbers in Montana if they want to follow up on that. Otherwise, they’ve got several other leads in their documents to pursue. We’ll have to see what they go after next.

One other thing to mention: there has been some talk amongst the group about how they’re going to have to start collecting some of the evil tomes they come across, rather than just burning them. To that end, I created a new tome for them to find this game, and they did. I think they plan on keeping it. Here’s the write-up I gave them:

A Discussion of Higher Dimensions

This book is a collection of thirty-four diary sections and other handwritten documents bound into a quarto book. Some of the pages are folded to fit within the bindings, and some are attached to larger pages with binding tape along one edge, allowing smaller pages to be anchored into the book. Each of the entries is the first-hand account of an experience wherein the writer perceived some aspect of higher dimensions, non-linear time, or the distortion of space.

Each entry is marked with a code number – no key is given as to what the number means – and is annotated with extensive marginalia, discussing possible scientific explanations for the events described in the main text. These notes are in a variety of handwritings, and each section ends with several  pages wherein the marginalia is developed and expounded upon, providing an extensive historical and scientific analysis of the event. There are ten pages between each entry, and from two to eight of these are filled with this summary and analysis.

Skimming the book provides 2 dedicated pool points for Anthropology, History, Physics, or Occult when dealing with the idea of higher dimensions or nonlinear time.

Poring over the tome provides +1 to your Cthulhu Mythos, or +2 if you have already experienced any of the phenomena the papers talk about. It also provides 3 points of Magic potential.


The analysis at the end of each section summarizes and distills the basic elements of the primary source in detailed scientific and occult terms. Of the thirty-four entries, nine provide enough detail that, in conjunction with other entries, the following spells can be derived:

  • Recipe for a Tincture to Effect a Temporal Dissociation (Compound Liao)
  • Meditative Principles to Expand Dimensional Awareness (Dho-Hna Formula)
  • Recipe for a Compound to Effect Dimensional Revelation (Powder of Ibn-Ghazi)
  • Speculations on the Causal Collapse of Living Subjects (Shrivelling)
  • Measures to Prevent Psychogogic Invasion (Sign of Koth)
  • Account of the Address of Higher-Order Predator Forms (Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler)
  • Mental Collapse of Higher Dimensions into N-Space (Angles of Tagh Clatur)
  • Some Thoughts Toward Three-Dimensional Travel via Higher Dimensions (Create Hyperspace Gate)
  • Fragments of Rite Dedicated to Primitive Crossroads Deities (Call/Dismiss Yog-Sothoth)

It’s a pretty powerful, meaty volume in a very specific field of inquiry. But that field happens to be one that’s come up repeatedly in the game, and has become one of the central themes of the game. I’ve put in a bunch of spells, though the one most likely to use them (Moon) has already suffered some real blows to his Sanity, so it’ll be tricky. This may be a real leg up to the group, or it may be just enough rope to hang them. We’ll have to see how it goes.

I’m betting it goes badly.



Cthulhu Purist How-To

Graham Walmsley launched a preorder for his book Stealing Cthulhu over on Indiegogo, which is the UK version of Kickstarter. I got in on it, and just finished reading the .pdf version of the book.

I like it a lot.

It’s Graham’s ((Is it all right if I call you Graham? Thanks.)) guide to creating Lovecraftian scenarios for roleplaying games. Now, I bought it to use with Trail of Cthulhu, specifically my Armitage Files campaign, but it’s stat-free, and easily applicable to any gaming system where you want to run the types of adventures it describes. The advice is about how to build the right kind of scenario, and how to tell stories that reflect the ideas within the more purist H.P. Lovecraft stories.

This is important to understand. Stealing Cthulhu focuses on what Trail of Cthulhu calls the Purist mode of gaming. Things are bleak, horrific, deadly, and maddening, and you count it as a win if you run away successfully from the monster at the end of the story. You can’t actually win in Purist mode. You can only survive ((And often not even that.)). The stories that inspire this book are things like The Colour Out of Space, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Whisperer in Darkness,  The Shadow Out of Time, At the Mountains of Madness, and, of course, The Call of Cthulhu.

Graham is a perfect person to talk about constructing this style of scenario. He’s written a quartet of Purist scenarios for Trail of Cthulhu, published by Pelgrane Press. I haven’t read them all ((Because a friend of mine is going to run a couple of them, so I’m being a good player and keeping my nose out of them.)), but the ones I have read are solid, scary, and original. So, I’m going to trust his take on the subject matter.

But you do need to know what you’re getting into. This type of scenario is not going to suit all players; some people want more heroic escapism in their games. They want a chance to defeat the bad guy and triumph. If you’re looking for advice for that type of game, while there is some applicable advice in this book, you should probably look elsewhere. This is all about the joys of going mad while being shredded by something with too many mouths and dimensions.

Now, in addition to his advice, he also passed the book around to Gareth Hanrahan, Ken Hite, and Jason Morningstar, three other folks with mad Cthulhu cred, and had them annotate it for him. So, you get Graham’s take on things, coupled with a very knowledgeable peanut gallery tossing in their opinions. It makes for a good read.

Now, in talking about a book like this, it’s hard to keep from just paraphrasing bits of advice from it, so I’m going to talk about it at a pretty high level. If you want more details, go buy the book ((If the ideas I’ve outlined above sound at all interesting, you really should just go buy the book.)).

The main advice in the book is to steal from Lovecraft, but to then twist it to make it fresh again. Now, that doesn’t sound like something you need a whole book to say, but it’s the discussion behind that simple statement that make up the meat of the book. Graham talks about what it is useful to steal – creatures, scenarios, locations, patterns, and descriptions – and how to twist them to make them seem new without sacrificing the Lovecraftian bleakness and horror of the original. To do that, he ((And his annotators, as well.)) talks a great deal about what each of the things discussed mean: what they symbolize, what makes them horrific, and how to strip them for parts. It also talks about how to work in things that gamers like but that don’t often show up in Lovecraft’s Purist stories – things like gunfights, actual mysteries and investigation, magic use, and cultists.

This section leads off the book, right after the introduction, and makes up a little less than half the page count. It is filled with examples and references, and is a thoughtful discussion of how all the moving parts of a story fit together to produce the effect you’re looking for.  Graham points out not only what works, but some common pitfalls to avoid. The tone is somewhat scholarly, which is kind of fitting for a Cthulhu resource, and is offset by the more chatty tone of the annotations ((And kudos to Graham for keeping in the stroppy, argumentative ones. I enjoyed the contrasting ideas presented, and think it ultimately reinforced your theses.)).

The next section of the book cherry-picks some of the best elements of the mythos and shows how to ring them through the changes described in the first part of the book. It’s not exhaustive ((I was sad to see Ghoul left off the list, though the reason for that is explained in the Afterword, and I accept it.)) – there are only fifteen entries – but it illustrates the ideas in the book wonderfully. More than that, you wind up with the skeletons for two or three different scenarios for each entry, ready for you to flesh out and add the stats from your favourite system.

Graham finishes off the book with three appendices: Miscellany, where he lists the notes that don’t fit anywhere else in the book; Bibliography, which again is not exhaustive but very focused; and Cthulhu Dark, his rules-light system for running Lovecraftian roleplaying games.

Final assessment? The book is very focused on producing one type of play experience. That’s not to say that it’s not useful if you don’t want to create the kind of adventure where your investigators die horribly in the ancient catacomb of a bizarre church, but that you will find less useful stuff if you’re trying to do something more heroic. I don’t think this is a bad thing, any more than I think a hammer is a bad tool because it doesn’t tighten screws well. The book sets out to do a very specific thing, and succeeds in doing it very well. But with so many games trying to encompass a multitude of play styles, it’s important to know that Stealing Cthulhu doesn’t follow that path. Buying it with the wrong expectations will lead to disappointment.

I do have one little niggle. I’m hoping the .pdf version I’ve got is going to get another editing pass before it heads to print. There are a couple of typos, and some missing or inaccurate footnote references in it that I’d like to see cleaned up. In general, though, the text is pretty clean.


I have just had a brief exchange with Graham Walmsley. He informs me that there are hidden things in the book, and the typos I have noticed may be part of that. So, it looks like my little niggle, cited above, may just be me not getting the hidden stuff. I shall have to reread with an eye to that.

Thanks, Graham!

If you like the stark, eerie horror of Purist Lovecraftian games, this is the book for you. The advice is useful, and the scenario skeletons littered throughout the text are a gold mine of ideas, assuming you don’t just lift them outright and hang some stats on them. If you want to run a Purist Lovecraft game, in any system, this book will fill you with joy and your players with dread.

Which is how it should be.


From the Armitage Files: Burning Curiosity

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**

In between the last session and this session, my players discussed what they were going to investigate next. They decided to go looking into the Society for Syncretic Inquiry, and its possible connection to the Fuschack-Donlands gang of bank robbers. Some initial research led them to discover that Wilfrid Wakeling ((No relation to Wilbur Whately at all. Promise.)), the previous head of the society had died about a year and a half previously, six months or so after a stroke caused him to turn over leadership of the society to Edwin Carsdale. They decided to see if they could get someone inside the society to investigate.

They started their investigation into Carsdale and the society by climbing back up on one of their favourite hobby-horses: trying to use it as an excuse to get into the rare book collection at the MU library. The document mentioned that Wakeling had visited the collection from time to time, and they wanted to see a record of what books he had examined. Llanfer informed him that such information could not be released without permission of the collection’s curator – Dr. Armitage.

Now, there’s been a bit of friction developing between Armitage’s group and the investigators ((Except for Dyer, really. Dyer is going out of his way to be as helpful as he feels he can, because of the way they did the right thing way back in the beginning.)). This is mainly because the investigators keep coming to them for information, but not sharing any in return, and then looking affronted when the Armitage group is less-than-forthcoming. To be fair to the investigators, the initial set-up with the group was that they were supposed to investigate the things in the documents independently. This has morphed, in their memories, into them not being allowed to tell the Armitage group – especially Armitage himself – anything about what they’re doing.

Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve always hated games where, to solve a mystery, all you needed to do was get the info-dump from the right NPC contact. But the fact that the investigators keep going to them for help ((Maybe having Dyer help them was a mistake, sending mixed messages, so they think that they just need the right approach. Which is kind-of true, but probably not in the way they think.)) means that they keep running into that friction, and are beginning to disdain the members of the Armitage group.

When they wouldn’t give Armitage any idea of who they were investigating, or what they hoped to find, Armitage (again) turned down their request to see the records of who had access to the special collection, and what they looked at. This led to more conversation amongst the investigators about the possibility of breaking into the library to get access to this information. I’m pretty sure they’re just looking for an excuse to break in, so that Moon – and possibly Solis – can get their hands on some of the nastier tomes. This desire twists all avenues of investigation around to involving the library. Maybe I should just break down and give them access ((This does open up all sorts of possible avenues for bringing in other threads, and tying them together. Hmmm…)).

Roxy did manage to get some information from Freeborn (and convert him into a contact for future use) in return for helping to finance his studies, including patronizing another expedition to Australia ((Ah, the flexibility of a Credit Rating of 7…)). Unfortunately, he didn’t know much, but he was able to give the basics of the Society: academics who meet to discuss cross-disciplinary pursuit of knowledge, breaking free of the silos of their own specialties.

Meantime, Moon did some research on Carsdale, finding out that he was a young Physics professor at Harvard ((Okay, I had a total brain-freeze on this one. I had decided he was from Harvard, but during the game, I could not remember the name of the place! I kept saying, “Oooh, you know, that big one, in Boston.” “Boston College?” “Nope.” “MIT?” “Nope. Damn. What is the name of that place?” And, of course, when I remembered, everyone stared at me incredulously. “You mean you couldn’t remember Harvard? Dude, what’s wrong with your brain?”)), and found one of his more controversial papers on non-linear time. This obviously caught his attention, what with his strange temporal experiences. And Solis took a trip to Boston, hoping to find out information on Wakeling (who was a professor at Boston College) and Carsdale. He found that Wakeling returned home to Suffolk, England, after his stroke, and died there less than a year later. The only new information he got on Carsdale was overheard on the train – two Harvard faculty members discussing him in none-too-flattering terms, referring to him as an ambitious young Turk with radical ideas. Again, this caught the group’s attention.

After a little more discussion, they decided on a two-prong attack. Roxy called Carsdale, and arranged an interview to be considered for joining the Society. She didn’t have the skills listed in the campaign book to gain entry (aside from a high Credit Rating), but she had a few other academic skills, and some Flattery, that she spent instead, while dropping hints about the weird things she’s seen over the past few months. I liked this approach, and it was played well, so decided it would be enough to get her membership.

Moon, meanwhile, had pitched me an idea to use Art History to uncover some way to intersect with the ideas in Carsdale’s papers. I thought for a bit, and said sure, if he wanted to make a spend, he could put together some stuff on Bach’s reversible fugues ((This is totally made up. At least, as far as I know.)) and some of the abstract painters that could be presented as musical and visual expressions of non-linear time. He used his Antiquarian special ability to have some of these examples in his bookshop, and went to the restaurant where Roxy was being interviewed by the Society and “happened to run in to” Carsdale there. Moon pitched his idea, which intrigued Carsdale enough to want to speak to him privately the next day.

Roxy’s interview with the Society went fairly well – she got invited to join. She also noticed that there seemed to be an inner circle; certainly, Carsdale and two others perked their ears up at some of the more blatant hints of mythos stuff. I don’t think she’s quite decided what that means, though.

Next day, Carsdale came to visit Moon. He was impressed by the pieces Moon showed him and played for him, and asked Moon to look over the next paper on the subject of non-linear time he was preparing to publish. He didn’t want to tell Moon what it was about, preferring to see if Moon could figure out his thesis, despite the advanced math. Moon promised to read it and provide feedback, and Carsdale took his leave. As he did so, the room seemed to shift and flatten strangely to Moon, and Carsdale seemed to grow into a tall, angular humanoid with strangely-articulated limbs, covered in an array of fine, waving tendrils almost like fur.

This was the same kind of thing Moon had seen a couple of times before, including when the visitors in Rot Tal had moved him outside of the normal spatial dimensions. The vision only lasted a second or two, but it made Moon suspect that Carsdale was somehow capable of manipulating his perception of time. After Carsdale left – “coincidentally” running into Dr. Solis coming to pick up some obscure and suggestive books – Moon skimmed over the paper, which seemed to suggest that, by acting in dimensions higher than the standard three spatial on single temporal, one could produce effects that looked miraculous. In short, acting in higher dimensions could produce magic.

Roxy had joined the boys by this time, and they spent some time talking about what they should do next. And that’s when I had a trio of Tch-Tchos show up and throw a Molotov cocktail through the front window of the bookstore downstairs.

There resulted a mad scramble – Solis and Roxy trying to put the fire out and Moon, with a better ((I just mistyped “better” as “bitter.” Both work in this context.)) understanding of how fast old, dry books will burn, worked on salvaging the most valuable and portable of items and then hightailing it out the back way. Solis and Roxy got the point and followed. Right into the Tcho-Tcho ambush.

Kris knives and blow guns proved to be no match for three pistols, though at the end of the fight, both Roxy and Solis were poisoned and fast on the way to losing consciousness. They dumped the Tcho-Tcho bodies in the trash cans behind the store, and Moon drove them to the hospital while I kept calling for Health checks as their muscles cramped, they started vomiting, and rapidly approached death. Samples of the darts allowed the doctors at the hospital to find an antivenin that saved their lives.

Before I go on with the story, I want to make a little aside about what I did here. I – very heavy-handedly, and without consulting the player – trashed something that was very important to the player. I took away the bookseller’s bookshop. This is an incredibly risky thing to do in the game, and I wasn’t sure that I should. On the one hand, it was the appropriate thing to happen, given what I know about the plot that the players don’t, and it provides a nice personal hook for Moon in all this. On the other hand, it’s kind of a dick move. I wouldn’t do it in many situations, and even when I thought I could, I would tend to avoid it.

But I did it here. I hit both the character and the player hard with this one. Why did I choose to do that? Well, mainly because I knew this player. I know that Michael likes the downward spiral for his characters, and I know he trusts me to not completely screw him over ((Well, he does now. There was a time in the early days of our gaming when we’d really pick on each others’ characters, so much so that others in the groups commented on it. The weird thing is that neither of us did it deliberately, and neither of us noticed we were doing it to the other, only that the other was doing it to us. We’ve worked past that, now. Mostly. 😉 )). I also made it pretty clear during the game that he had insurance, and enough of a base stock, to get another shop up and running in pretty short order, so that it was a temporary thing that had happened. If he wanted it to be, that is.

Anyway, I just wanted to note that I understand how this tactic could have blown up in my face. I judged it wouldn’t – this time – and I think I was right.

So. Back at the hospital, things calmed down. Solis made an attempt to examine the bodies of the Tcho-Tchos the next day, but some of his comments roused the suspicions of the police officer investigating the case, and he didn’t get the chance. Instead, he got to do some fancy back-pedaling and duck out the door.

Everyone was pretty beat up, by then – this had been a really hard session on Stability, what with one thing ((Lots of tests.)) and another ((Some bad, bad rolls.)). The group decided to get out of town for a few days and, because it was around a month since they left the visitors at Rot Tal, they went back to see if they left as promised.

They did. Around noon on the appointed day ((I had toyed with the idea of having them miss the whole thing because of the difference in the way the two races understand time, but then figured that would be pointless. Why set it up if I don’t have it pay off? And I wanted it to pay off in a specific way, this time.)), the inhabitants of Rot Tal gathered together in the village square, and… something happened.

Now, at this stage in the game, each of the characters has something strange going on, mentally speaking. Moon has strange time-jumps in perception, Roxy has visions of undersea cities populated by nameless things, and Solis is starting to have recurring visions of a puzzlebox that makes him very uneasy. The agitation of the higher dimensions caused by the rescue of the visitors sent each of the investigators into their personal visions:

  • Moon was back at home, eating breakfast in his kitchen, when he looked up to see himself standing in the doorway, pointing a gun at him. He drew his own gun and fired just as the other Moon also fired, and was hit in the arm. He came to on the grassy hill above Rot Tal with a bullet in his arm ((No one has yet asked how this could happen now that the bookshop has burned down, and I think that’s interesting.)).
  • Roxy had the vision of leading a procession of things up to an altar stone before a huge building. On the altar were many sacrifices – men, women, and children. The things Roxy was leading lifted her up onto the stone and slaughtered the sacrifices, and all the blood flowed to Roxy’s feet and up her legs. She raised her arms, and the colossal doors in the building before her started to open. Then she, too woke up on the grassy hillside.
  • Solis found himself once again in the strange temple with the puzzlebox on a plinth in front of him. This time, his curiosity got the better of him, and he started to play with it, trying to solve it. It changed shape as he worked it, from a rectangular box to a cube, and also changed colour from dark blue to a deep blue-green. Then he awoke on the hillside.

When the investigators looked down into the town below them, they saw that everyone had collapsed in the street. They went down and managed to revive Fred Jahraus, who took some time to figure out how to speak again. It was fun to play up Fred learning again how to use his body for a little while, but I got tired of doing it long before the players got tired of watching my contortions, so I jumped to a summary of how the visitors were now gone, having taken some few willing human minds with them. These included Jahraus’s mother. In return for the hospitality of the human bodies, the folks of Rot Tal were apparently left with a town that they owned and a large amount of money.

The investigators helped get everyone into shelter and fed while they relearned to be in charge of their own bodies and minds, and I gave them a Stability award for seeing that some things keep their promises, and that people can be good to each other ((I needed an excuse to give them some Stability back, or they would be useless in the next part of the investigation.)).

That’s when one of the players mentioned that the visitors were more like rats leaving a sinking ship: “Bye bye, now! Thanks for the hospitality! Good luck with the forthcoming apocalypse!” I’m pleased with the way some themes – like non-linear time and higher dimensions – are recurring in interesting ways through the game. It’s helping me solidify some of my thoughts about the endgame for the campaign, and giving me useful threads to weave into the ongoing narrative.

So, next time, the group is – I think – back to pursuing the Society of Syncretic Inquiry, to see if and how Carsdale is connected to the firebombing of the book shop and the mythos in general. I wonder what they’ll find.


From the Armitage Files: Five Points and Beyond

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**

**Extra-Special Spoiler Warning**

The basic spine for this investigation is outlined in The Armitage Files book. The adventure below doesn’t follow it exactly – with the improvised structure of the game, there’s really no way it can – but the report below can be pretty spoilerific as to the broad strokes. So, think carefully before reading this one.

**Seriously, Dude, You Have Been Warned**

Last Friday night was the latest session of my Armitage Files campaign. A previous session had got bumped ((Thanks to my inability to read a calendar. Sorry, gang.)), so it had been longer than I liked between sessions – especially in the middle of an investigation. It was also a short session ((I was in the middle of a work crunch that required me to work through the long weekend. That meant an early end to the evening, as I needed sleep before going back in to the office on Saturday.)), but we managed to wrap up this particular line of inquiry.

I’ve left the Extra-Special Spoiler Warning at the start of this post, but frankly, the investigation went in a pretty different direction than the original spine. There may still be a few little spoilers, but the overall events nicely avoid the scenes as spelled out in the book. What I’m saying is that this post is pretty safe from that kind of spoiler. but I like to err on the side of non-spoilage.

So, we picked up the game with the players doing a recap of the last session ((Here’s a little trick I like to pull with doing a recap: I ask, “Who needs a recap?” This generally leads to one or more of the players saying, “I do!” I then get the group to provide the recap via Socratic method: “Do you remember where you are?” “Why did you go talk to him?” “And what happened then?” I jump in with little hints here and there, and correct any significant errors of fact (but not those of perception or interpretation), but generally let the group – including those who needed the recap – generate the recap themselves. This has a few advantages: I don’t have to start the game giving the group an info-dump, the resulting recap is based on the group’s perception rather than GM viewpoint, and it gets the players’ heads into the game in an easy, immersive way.)), and then talked about what they were going to do. The consensus seemed to be that they wanted to head out to Five Points and track down the pedlar who had sold Gudzun the Buer coin bank, but first they wanted to check out the other two files taken from Gudzun’s office to see if the people they pointed at were still alive.

A little creative investigation, shadowing, and impersonation revealed that they were alive. Roxy, in her Mary Matthews persona, managed to speak with one of them, who was somewhat reticent to discuss his financial affairs with a stranger, but who did not seem to be in any real danger. Along the way, I had Solis, the keeper of the Buer coin bank, make a few 0-point Stability checks without telling him the results. Whenever he failed, he put a coin into the bank without noticing. When he succeeded, he resisted putting a coin into the coin bank. When he rolled a six, he caught himself about to put a coin into the bank. Sense Trouble checks for the others gave them a chance notice this.

Well, he managed to put a few coins into the bank before he finally caught himself. He then stuck the bank in the trunk of the car they had rented, but I had him make another Stability check, which he failed, so he absent-mindedly put the bank back into his coat pocket, and the fun continued. When Moon finally caught him at this, they again locked the statue in the trunk – cue another 0-point Stability test and Sense Trouble test.

That sorted out ((So they thought, anyway.)), they headed downtown to Five Points.

Man. Talk about babes in the woods.

Okay, Roxy, though wealthy, is very acquainted with the dark underside of society. She knows how to behave, how to blend, and so on. Moon, on the other hand, was waving around money, and Solis sounded like Prince Phillip talking to coal miners. Soon enough, they track down the bar ((Well, essentially a bar. It’s a dirty basement room with a door laid on saw horses that sells what amounts to turpentine with a lemon dipped in it.))  where the pedlar in question drinks, and Roxy manages to flirt the location of the man – right upstairs in the flop-house, as it turns out – they’re looking for. And then it’s time to pay for drinks, and Moon finds that his wallet has been lifted. Solis pays the barman a dollar – about ten times the cost of the drinks – from a wallet suspiciously short of cash that is tucked into the same pocket as the Buer coin bank.

Anyway, they cornered Old Joe, the pedlar, in his little room, but guns got drawn, and coin banks got brandished, and then Moon punched Solis, and Roxy pistol whipped Solis ((To be fair, they were trying to get him to stop feeding the coin bank and to put it down.)), and Old Joe done a runner, but he left his pedlar’s pack behind.

In the aftermath, Moon wrapped his jacket around the coin bank, emptied the pedlar’s pack ((Just junk in it.)), and stuffed the bundle inside. They hadn’t got any real information from Old Joe, beyond the fact that he seemed frightened of the bank, but they had decided the thing was too dangerous to just leave lying around. So, they decided to find a foundry and melt it down.

On their way out of Five Points, however, they were accosted by a gang of thugs who didn’t take kindly to these swells coming onto their turf and stealing from one of their own. They demanded that Moon return Old Joe’s pack, which he did, and the investigators were allowed to leave.

And then it was out to a foundry in New Jersey, where a bit of a bribe and a cover story got Roxy and Moon inside to toss the bank into the crucible and see it melted down. Solis, deemed to be unreliable around the bank, was left with the car. While the others were inside, Old Joe showed up, looking less like Old Joe and more like the man who had offered Solis a box in his dreams. This man offered to make amends for harming Solis unintentionally, offering him The Tears of Azathoth in payment of his debt.

Solis didn’t trust him, so declined, and said that there was no debt. Old Joe told him he was very generous, then had his nightgaunts tear the roof of the car open and carry Solis off into the night.

I was torn, here; on the one hand, I want to make things risky and scary in the game, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to just arbitrarily kill Solis. So, I decided they were taking him off to Five Points to tear him apart at that famous intersection and thus gain magical power for Old Joe. That gave them several minutes’ flying time, which incidentally gave Solis a few attempts to escape. He managed to kick free over the river, and swim safely to shore.

He made it back to the hotel about the same time as Roxy and Moon, who had to walk out to the highway and hitch a ride in, because their car was mysteriously shredded. They got a little more sleep, wherein Solis once again dreamed of Old Joe. This time, Old Joe offered a simple bargain – they would agree not to pursue each other, and that would be it. Solis wheedled and tried for more information about Tears, but was unwilling to offer anything in exchange, so he got nothing. Until he agreed to the bargain, that is. Then, Old Joe told him, as a gift, “It was written here.”

Now if Solis only knew what that meant.

That’s where we left it. This line of investigation is closed, and I’m waiting to see where the game goes next.

Now that we’re four documents in, I’m also starting to keep a Win/Lose/Wash score for the party, with an eye to having it inform the overarching development of the story, and feed into the endgame. I don’t know what the endgame is going to look like, yet, but this will help me shape it.

What’s the score? Well, I’m not going to say. It might give away more of the backstory than I’m comfortable with to get into this in public. If my players start thinking about it in those terms, it could change the dynamic of the game in a way that I don’t want. I’d prefer to keep the objective investigation into the documents, not trying to rack up Wins. Racking up Wins is part of the investigation, but I only count things as a Win if the party both defeats the threat and understands what was happening. Losses are when they fail to stop the threat, even if they mitigate it and understand what was going on. Washes occur when they stop the threat but really have no idea what was going on.

Really, it’s just a tool for me to judge how dark things become, and to keep track of loose ends that can come back to haunt the investigators. Winning more investigations doesn’t mean the characters will “Win” the campaign – it just means that conditions during the endgame will be different, with different pieces on the board.

Anyway, that’s for further down the road. We’ll see how it goes.

From the Armitage Files: Bad Dreams in the Big Apple

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**


**Extra-Special Spoiler Warning**

The basic spine for this investigation is outlined in The Armitage Files book. The adventure below doesn’t follow it exactly – with the improvised structure of the game, there’s really no way it can – but the report below can be pretty spoilerific as to the broad strokes. So, think carefully before reading this one.

**Seriously, Dude, You Have Been Warned**

Saturday night, we got back to The Armitage Files. It was the start of a new investigation, and after the little trick I pulled last session, wherein Aaron Moon got a brief glimpse of The Tears of Azathoth, the group decided to follow up what they could on that elusive tome. They had a new set of documents to wade through for clues, as well ((Document Four, for those of you playing along at home.)), so they wound up with a number of references to the book.

I was wracking my brain, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the tome in question: which version did I want to use, did I want to get it into their hands now, what did it contain, where was it, all that sort of stuff. Flipping through the book for inspiration, I found that one of the sample scenario spines dealt with trying to get the book, and had an interesting side element involved, as well. I read it over a couple of times, thought about it for a day or so, and decided that I would use the basics of that spine ((With a few little tweaks, of course.)) for this investigation.

We started the game with our plucky (but increasingly nervous) heroes latching on to the idea that the book was probably still in the MU library, but lost or misfiled or concealed. They talked with several of the members of the Armitage group who were mentioned by name in the documents as having something to say about the book, but didn’t get a lot of traction. None of them remembered it, until they got to Rice, who thought he had recalled Llanfer (the librarian) mentioning it to him.

The investigators were already somewhat suspicious of Llanfer, because he seemed reluctant to let them paw through the rare book collection unsupervised, so the fact that Rice seemed to be giving him the lie really roused their suspicion. The explanation to this whole bit is under the spoiler tag:

In actuality, I’m going with the idea from the book that Tears of Azathoth exists only in potentia at this point, and that the more it gets talked about and thought about – and the closer the stars come to aligning – the more others will remember it, and the more real it becomes. So, Rice was one of the last people to be asked about the book, and thus had a vague memory of someone mentioning it to him. Of course, I may change my mind about this as play progresses.

There was some discussion about breaking into the library to search for Tears without interruption ((Which prompted one player to say, “You realize we’ve descended to the level of the Whatley clan, right?”)), but they decided to actually ask for permission first. With Armitage’s blessing, the group was given leave to search the rare book collection at MU. I used this opportunity to show why Llanfer was so reluctant to let the unwashed masses ((Yes, Moon is very mindful of the proper way to store and handle books, but really, he’s a tradesman, not a true collector. 😉 ))run rampant through his books – the security procedures, the care in handling, the specific storage requirements for rare books, and so on. By the end of the search – which did not turn up the book – everyone had a better idea about what the rare book collection was about.

So, they pulled a name reference out of the file – Wolfe-Dietrich Gudzun, who is listed as a “late fortune-teller and embezzler,” and started looking for him ((Actually, now that I think about it, Roxy was working on this from the start, while Moon and Solis went snooping around the library. She also sent a telegram to Austin Kittrell, recuperating in Europe, telling him to look for the book. The response was less than agreeable.)). She tracked down a reference to him operating a spiritualist scam in Kingsport about a year and a half previous, when he vanished from the jail cell after being arrested for fraud.

This sounded promising, but further investigation into his mysterious disappearance uncovered a pretty mundane explanation: the mob had threatened him if he didn’t share the proceeds of his scam, and got him arrested to make their point. Gudzun bribed a sergeant to unlock the door and look the other way while he scampered off to New York and a new identity.

They tracked him, now with the name Wallace Goodson, to New York City, where he was working as an accountant. Bearding him in his den, as it were, they managed to reassure him that they weren’t here to hurt him or to muscle in on his current scam ((Said scam involved moving a lot of money in and out of his clients’ accounts to create the expectation for these sorts of transfers at the bank and rudimentary, ponzi-like reallocation of funds, showing each client that the short-term loans always produced a nice profit. Meantime, he was dosing himself with household cleansers to appear sicker and sicker. That way, when he faked his death and all the money disappeared into his pockets, no one would come looking.)), he relaxed and spoke very frankly with them. Unfortunately, he could offer no information about the Tears.

During the conversation, though, he got steadily more agitated and distracted, until he finally dug a quarter out of his pocket and stuck it into a strange, bronze coin bank on his deck. Immediately, he calmed down, and was able to focus again.

Moon took a good look at the statue, and I showed the group this picture, while giving Moon a rundown on what his Occult skill told him about Buer, the demon represented there. Solis’s Medical skill told him the behaviour they had witnessed was similar to morphia addicts needing a fix. When questioned about the bank, Goodson was again quite forthcoming, telling them he had bought it from a street peddler in Five Points ((Okay. This is New York City, in a Cthulhu game. I fully intended to use Red Hook as the setting for the peddler bit, but Michael, one of the players, immediately started talking about how the adventure was going to end up in Red Hook as soon as I mentioned NYC, so I changed it on the fly to Five Points. Screw you, Michael.)).

Not getting any solid lead on Tears, the group left, planning to keep an eye on Goodson – Roxy was pretty sure that they had spooked him and that he’d bee cutting and running now. On the other hand, they didn’t want to spook him any more than they already had, so they gave him a little distance, going for supper before beginning surveillance.

And, of course, they lost him during that time.

So, Moon and Solis decided to break into his office – Roxy, the skilled burglar, was watching Goodson’s home in Greenwitch Village. The burglary was ham-handed and unsubtle, but effective. They found that three files had been taken from his office, along with the Buer bank.

Roxy, meanwhile, was caught up in another vision of the watery, giant city that she’s been haunted by. She regained consciousness just as Moon and Solis arrived to join her, and they broke into Goodson’s home. There, they found two of the three files that had been taken from his office, evidence that he’d packed a traveling case in a hurry, and a missing kitchen knife. They knew the name of the client for the file that was still missing, so they looked her up in the telephone book and took a taxi to her home.

Which was surrounded by police. Goodson had broken in and stabbed her to death, but had been shot by police as he tried to open her safe and empty it of valuables. Solis and Roxy talked their way past the police line to examine Goodson’s body, and retrieved the Buer bank. Meanwhile, Moon caught sight of a shadowy figure slipping away down an alley, and gave chase.

In the alley, he saw a man with a large duffel bag on his back fleeing. He also met a nightgaunt that almost managed to drag him off to god knows where. He slipped out of its grasp, though, and fled back to the street and the police, and the fleeing man called the creature off.

It being late, our intrepid heroes decided to retire for the night to a hotel and get some sleep in shifts before trying to track down this mysterious peddler the next day. Each of them had a dream that night that struck at their drive:

  • Moon (Thirst For Knowledge) dreamed of a vast stone temple, almost Greek in style, with The Tears of Azathoth sitting on a plinth in the centre. He tried to approach it, but was stopped by a strange man who asked what he’d give for the book. Moon tried to push past him, and woke up in bed with a bloody nose.
  • Solis (Curiosity) dreamed of a strange blue puzzle-box being delivered to the hotel room, and a strange man saying that he could have it, if he was willing to pay. Solis turned his back on the box (and his drive), and woke up very shaken.
  • Roxy (Ennui) dreamed she was in an empty, bare room with a single silver door. She sat there for a while, until she got bored, and then picked the lock to find a long staircase leading down. A strange man started to make a pitch to guide her to a land of incredible wonders, but was interrupted by some deep, resonating, booms far down the stairs. Then water started flowing up them. He looked at Roxy, terrified, and said, “Who else is in your mind?” Cue the tentacles bursting through the floor, grasping them both, and dragging them into the depths. Roxy woke up somewhat disturbed.

And that’s where we left it. They’ve got a number of questions, and some good clues and hints to follow up. I expect to wrap this particular investigation up next session, though there are loose threads that will probably wind their way into future investigations.

Looking forward to next time.

From the Armitage Files: Rot Tal

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**

Saturday was the latest chapter in my Armitage Files campaign. We started the game early, coupled with some wonderful Indian take-out food. It was the first time in months that the entire group ((All four of us.)) was able to get together for the game, and it was a lot of fun.

I had given the fourth document to the players at the end of the last session, but they decided that they wanted to go back and tie up the loose ends in the APL investigation that had caused them some problems previously. They had avoided going back after them last session because they were down a man, and so followed up some peripheral leads, but thought that they had uncovered some valuable information that might help them this time ((As they concluded through play, they actually hadn’t found anything last session that would help them with this case. It turned out that the connection they thought they had found was the product of their own paranoid fancies.)), so wanted to take another run and Jahraus.

The session turned out to be something of a spotlight session for Aaron Moon, whose Cryptography and Language spends allowed him to decipher the strange mandala-like communications in the APL newsletters. I spun him a riff based on John Dee’s Enochian language, medieval sigildry, the language of the elder things as explored in Beyond the Mountains of Madness ((They had seen some samples of this in Danforth’s journal.)), and a number of other things that came to mind. The image I was trying to convey was that of an alien mindset behind the mandalas; concepts that were translated imperfectly into forms that the investigators were able to perceive, similar to the impression Roxy had got from Fred Jahraus when they had met.

From the GM perspective, it made me look pretty good, as I was able to draw in themes and ideas that I had laid down in previous sessions, right back to the first one. I tend to try and lay pipe, as the book refers to it, pretty heavily in the game, whether I know where the pipe is going or not at the time. That way, I have a wealth of things that I can call back when I need them in the current game, weaving the various sessions into a richer, more coherent story. The trick, of course, is being able to remember all the stuff I seed in the game. Sometimes, I do – I have a pretty good memory for this kind of thing – but sometimes, the players remember it and bring it in, which is even better. I got a mix of that in this session, which worked very well.

The bulk of the messages in the newsletters were pretty simple, calling for those who could read them to gather in Arkham. The latest newsletter carried a couple of different messages, though: a warning about how they had been discovered, and a reference to a red low place in the earth. Solis figured this last was the source of the reference to the Red Hollow Case in the previous document, but they hadn’t been able to locate anything about Red Hollow as a place anywhere nearby. Roxy suggested that the place name might be in a foreign language, and sure enough, they found a small farming village in New Hampshire called Rot Tal, which is German for Red Valley ((This was a bit of a dodge on my part; when I had originally developed this scenario, I had no good idea to attach to Red Hollow, so I dismissed it as a viable clue. Now, coming back to the APL, I found that I needed to re-incorporate it, but didn’t want to invalidate the information I had given the investigators previously. A few minutes with Google Translate gave me Rot Tal.)).

I wound up doing a bit of scrambling getting ready for this session, because I changed my mind about what the spine of the story was going to be about an hour before the game was due to start. I had been using the default sinister version of the APL previously, but I had an idea that would allow me to advance more of a through-line for the overall campaign. So, about an hour before the game began, I tossed what I had prepared and rebuilt the scenario around my new idea.

Keep that in mind. I scrambled to rebuild an entirely new scenario in the hour before the game.

Our intrepid investigators made their way to Lebanon, New Hampshire – the nearest town to Rot Tal ((Rot Tal is not a real place, but if it were, it would be near Lebanon.)) – picked up some supplies ((Which, of course, included dynamite.)), and went to lurk in the trees above the little farming village with high-powered binoculars. They saw that a lot of the homes, farms, and businesses had been abandoned – this is the Great Depression, after all – but that there still seemed to be some people walking the streets.

On the second day, they saw Fred Jahraus, his mother, and several of his “foster brothers” move into a few of the bigger houses on the main street. They decided to watch that night and the next day to see what happened, going down snoop the next night if nothing more interesting had come up. And so, they settled in, and I got ready to run my big set-piece for this scenario, with the Jahraus group calling their brother ghouls up to cleanse the town of humans, so the rest of the ghoul nation could gather safely ((This is not the default sinister version of the group, but the new idea I came up with in the hour before the game.)). It was going to be big, and bloody, and horrific, and would show the dangers of procrastination to the investigators.

And then Aaron Moon pointed out that the only people who had committed any crimes in this entire investigation into the APL were the investigators. What if the APL weren’t bad guys?

Now, I was kind of caught flat-footed by this,and was prepared to dismiss it out of hand. But then I thought, “Y’know, he’s right.” I’ve been wonking on about how the investigators are turning into sociopaths. Did I want to discourage or reward efforts to move away from that? On the other hand, I had this whole new scenario that I’d put together in an hour! Did I want to just toss that out?

That’s not a really good reason to dismiss player input though, and I know it. A bigger reason was that the whole ghoul massacre thing was more in keeping with the overall themes and storylines of the campaign. But I didn’t want to just dismiss the idea of a peaceful resolution out of hand.

So, I copped out, and threw the decision to the dice. I got the player to pick low or high, then I rolled a die behind my screen to see which option I was going to go with. He picked high, I rolled high, and I threw out the scenario for the second time that evening and started from scratch.

The denouement of the scenario was Moon going, alone and unarmed, into town to speak with Jahraus. They had a sort-of conversation, where Jahraus told Moon that he and his fellows were awaiting rescue, which should be coming in a month and, while there was some risk, no harm was intended. He tried to explain things clearly, but apparently couldn’t express some of the concepts in human thought and language. I drew a lot of inspiration for this section of the scenario from this marvelous clip of Carl Sagan explaining the fourth dimension, complete with Jahraus showing Moon the fourth dimension and almost breaking his brain.

I threw in a number of hints about the throughlines of the campaign, though I’m not sure how many of them were picked up by the players, and had a lot of fun roleplaying Fred Jahraus again. One thing that I did make pretty clear was that, while Jahraus and his fellows intended no harm, not causing harm was not their top priority.

Some tidbits that Moon brought back from his little fourth-dimensional head trip included the fact that, in that perspective, Jahraus and company looked like swarms of strangely coloured bumblebees, and that humans look like tall, strangely jointed creatures with probabilities and potentials boiling off them like fur. He is concerned that the Jahraus things are the moebius wasps that the first document warned them about, and that the yeti-thing that gave him the bullet is, in fact, his future self.

The investigators decided that they would leave Rot Tal for now, coming back near the end of the month to see what happened and try to minimize any harm done by the rescue. It was near the end of the evening, so I wrapped things up with two small scenes to keep the creep factor going. First of all, Moon came down to his kitchen to find a book sitting on his table that matched the descriptions of The Tears of Azathoth that he had heard rumours about. Before he could gather the necessary alcohol and firearms to sit down and read it, it vanished. And Roxy found that her bedroom showed signs of someone having gone through it. A search uncovered a flat stone wrapped in soft leather between the mattress and spring of her bed. She smashed it without looking at it, and got Dr. Solis to help her dispose of it, just like they did with the previous stone.

Next session starts a new investigation. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be.

From the Armitage Files: Union Breaking

**Potential Spoilers**

The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GM’s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.

**You Have Been Warned**

It’s been a while between Armitage Files games for us. Over two months. To be honest, I was starting to worry that disinterest was going to kill the game, which would be a shame, because I’m really enjoying running it. But this past Saturday, everything was in place for us to get back together. I even sent out a tweet about how excited I was to get back to the game.

Shoulda known better, really. Within five minutes of me sending the tweet, I got a call to let me know one of the players couldn’t make it.

But I said, “Screw it! We’re going ahead with the game! If everyone dies, It’s your own fault!”

The other players were glad of that, too ((To be fair to him, the player who couldn’t make it had good reason, and I might have interpreted his attitude as apologetic if he’d been man enough to call me himself, instead of getting his wife to do it for him. 😉 She made it to the game, by the way.)), because they wanted to get back to the game, which had been left in a kind of delicate spot.

The investigators were stinging a little bit after their unsuccessful attempt at finding out what was going on with the APL, and seemed quite fearful of confronting them face-on again. In their discussions, they came to the conclusion that the leader, Fred Jahraus, and perhaps the other members who lived in the rooming house with him, were being possessed ((Or at least controlled.)) by alien entities. They started calling the possessing entities Tourists.

One loose thread they had was Wally Endore, the union organizer that they had previously met at Hutchinson Manufacturing, and whom they had seen visiting the Jahraus house. Rather than face Jahraus himself again without more information, they decided to try and figure out what Endore’s angle was – he had seemed fairly innocuous when they had previously met him.

They found that he had moved out of his previous rooming house in Kingsport, and had to track down the day foreman from the factory to try and find out where he was. Roxy, still sporting a fierce black eye from her encounter with Jahraus, implied that Endore was mixed up with something illegal and people who wouldn’t hesitate to blacken a woman’s eye ((She neglected to mention the fact that her shiner was self-administered. Oops.)). The foreman was appalled, and handed over the address of Endore’s new residence.

They did a little digging on Endore’s background, as well, finding that he was indeed a union organizer with a backing organization ((I jokingly called this organization the Collective for Undoing Labour Tyranny.)), and had been working in other towns and cities to help workers organize. Then they staked out his new digs, finding that it was in a neighbourhood controlled by one of the new gang bosses that had come to fill the void left by Diamond Walsh. To put the topper on this suspicion, they spotted one of the factory workers delivering an armload of APL newsletters to Endore’s rooming house.

They followed this factory worker back to his home, on the far side of the harbour ((Roxy is really starting to dislike being near the sea. It’s the way she can hear whispers in the waves that makes her want to stay away. Otherwise, she might walk out into the surf and vanish.)), near the foreman’s house, which they decided meant that they might have pulled the foreman into something far more deadly than he was ready for.

So, they went to warn the foreman about Endore. He took the news with poor grace, saying that he and some of the boys would go and explain to Endore that he was no longer welcome at the factory. Roxy did her best to talk him out of this plan, but he wouldn’t be dissuaded. The best she could do was convince him to let her pay for a night or two at a hotel for the foreman’s wife and family, just in case things followed him home.

And so we wound up with eight or so big working men, armed with axe handles, pipes, and chains, going to explain to a union organizer that he should leave town while he could. Dr. Solis went up to Endore’s room with the men, while Roxy went around the back of the house to watch in case he tried to make an escape. When Solis entered the room with the workers, he saw that Endore was indeed trying to make an escape. When he saw who had come in, he relaxed and tried to talk some sense to them.

Asking if he could put his shirt on, he pulled a gray-green stone from his valise and showed it to the men, causing them to collapse in shrieking heaps. Dr. Solis managed to avoid looking at the thing, and pulled his revolver, emptying it blindly at Endore. He managed to kill him, causing him to fall out his window into the back garden, near Roxy. Solis also managed to shoot two of his escort, including the foreman.

In the ensuing confusion, Roxy managed to grab the stone and put it in her purse, only looking at it a little bit – long enough to see that it was carved with the same symbol she and Moon had seen on the underside of the bench at the factory. Solis got the injured men back to the foreman’s house, and treated their wounds, while Roxy got another of the workers to fetch a sledge hammer to destroy the stone, still inside her purse. Smashing the stone caused everyone who had seen it to shriek in pain and begin to bleed from their eyes and ears, but they recovered over the next few days.

Endore’s body was not found by the police, which has caused some concern. The characters aren’t sure if he was really dead, or if he’s come back to life, or if he was possessed by a tourist, or if the local thugs just took it upon themselves to make the body disappear to avoid a police investigation in the area ((The thugs had asked, very nicely, that this little exercise in mob justice not leave any corpses around. If they had to take care of it, they might be unhappy.)). Solis and Roxy took the purse, containing the fragments of the stone, back to Miskatonic University to dispose of it in their institutional-sized incinerator.

And that’s when Dr. Llanfer gave them the next set of documents.