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 GMâ€™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 notes1 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 evil2 fortune teller, they should head back to a big city to let Moon spend some time in the hospital.
While Moon was convalescing3, 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 hurry4. 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 room5, finding nothing of real interest6. 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 door7 until Moon realized that, in this style of house, there was probably no cellar. There would, however,Â 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 Solis8. There were three of them, and one grabbed each of Solis’s arms, while the third – who had drenched his shirt in poison9 – 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 trapdoor10 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 brick11. 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 priest12 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 asked13 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.
- By which I mean my scribbled diagrams. Of course, I had forgotten what all my shorthand meant by this time.
- With a revolver hidden in the hollowed-out Bible by his bedside.
- What are the odds of that happening with this group?
- Strangely – to me, anyway – they didn’t actually do any more than peek into the front room of the shop.
- Though I think Roxy lifted her Tarot deck. Am I remembering that correctly, folks?
- 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.
- For this bit, I took the player into the kitchen, so that the other players were kept in the dark about what was happening.
- 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!
- I had briefly considered making this come up in another crawlspace, but that just felt too mean.
- See what I done there?
- Of course that’s what he was. Didn’t I mention the full-head mask?
- That’s a lie. I demanded.