From the Armitage Files: The End

**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 night was the final installment of my Armitage Files campaign. After nearly two-and-a-half years and twenty-three sessions, we reached the end of our story and the investigators faced their final challenge.

I think it ended well.

We picked things up in the moment after the last session ended, with our intrepid1 heroes opening the conference room door to find Cyrus Llanfer transformed into one of the crystal snowmen that mark the attention of Chaugnar Faugn. That threw everyone into high gear, and also some confusion. At some point along here, Crosby put together some pieces he had read about Nyarlathotep2 and realized that Kim Nak was probably a mask of Nyarlathotep, heralding the arrival of something bigger and more terrible – Chaugnar Faugn. Finally, a very stressed-out Moon got everyone moving by dint of being angrier than anyone else in the room – he grabbed Dyer to take them to see Danforth up at the asylum, because Roxy thought he might have an idea or two to share, and the rest of the Armitage group were sent to scrounge up whatever information they could find about what was going on or where Armitage himself was.

Now, I hadn’t expected the group to call on Danforth, but he seemed a good vector to start delivering the information the characters needed to clarify what was going on, so I was okay with that. They took Dyer’s car – and Dyer – because they didn’t think they could get permission to see Danforth otherwise, but when they arrived at the asylum, all the people in it had been turned to the crystal snowmen. By the time they had made it to Danforth’s room, Dyer was starting to crystallize3. He gave his notebook to Moon, and Moon shot him in the head to put him out of his misery.

Danforth was still alive; in fact, besides the characters, he was the only one in the asylum who was. His room was rimed with frost, and he was in restraints on the bed, but he seemed lucid and willing to co-operate. Crosby freed him, and Danforth grabbed something wrapped in a pillowcase from under the bed that he said would help protect them. Back in the car, Moon and Danforth had a little crazy-talk session4 that provided a little more insight into the nature of Chaugnar Faugn, how Nyarlathotep was preparing the way, and what might be done about it. He remembered the song they had used to cure Solis of his crystalline infection, and decided that that might be something they could use to buy a little time.

The next stop was Moon’s bookshop, where he had arranged to meet members of the Armitage Group who had gone to loot the rare book room at MU now that Llanfer was dead. Of course, the tcho-tchos knew all about the bookshop, so when our heroes arrived, they found a pile of professorial corpses and a sink full of burning books. They salvaged what they could from the sink and scarpered.

There followed a kind of muddied debate about what needed to be done next. They finally decided that they needed to get some audio equipment from the university – they settled on the cone-style megaphones, because they didn’t know if they’d be able to haul a generator for electronic amplification to wherever they needed to sing the song. That was the sticking point for them: they didn’t know where the song should be sung. As a creature outside of and only impinging on normal space-time, Chaugnar Faugn would only truly be vulnerable to the song at a specific place and time.

See, my thought for this5 was that the song should be sung at the Monument Creek dig where the first idol was unearthed. But Roxy suggested the Kingsport lighthouse they had visited last session, I changed my mind and made that the place/time. After all, it was already unstuck in time and space, and that had to put it “closer” to Chaugnar Faugn. Moon suggested the Monument Creek site, Roxy suggested the lighthouse, and they were stuck – not enough information to make an informed decision. They’ve learned enough of the system, though, that they knew what to do if they didn’t have enough information: go find some more. Moon pulled out his once-per-game ability as an Antiquarian to say that he had a book that should help them6 back at the shop, so they detoured to the shop, on high alert for tcho-tchos and other bad things.

In the shop, they found Austin Kittrell, sitting at Moon’s desk, reading the book he had come for. I tried for a little bit of banter, but Roxy was having none of that, and shot Kittrell a couple of times. It didn’t have the desired effect; he just took it and smiled. Moon grabbed the book from him, but then got backhanded across the room7 and knocked unconscious. Danforth lifted his hands and started chanting in a strange language, and the air got colder around him, so Crosby and Roxy grabbed the book and the unconscious Moon and started dragging him from the shop. The last thing they saw of Kittrell, he was punching his fist through Danforth’s chest. Danforth continued chanting, though without sound now that his lungs were mainly missing.

Crosby made it out of the shop with Moon, but Roxy slipped on the now-icy floor, and fell far enough behind to hear a wet explosion and a whistling cry of “Tekeli-li!”8 from the back room, then she was out and running to the car. They got in and tore away, Moon madly reading the recovered book9 and Crosby reading the salvaged books from the sink.

Eventually, they got the idea that they needed to get to the lighthouse and sing the song to stall Chaugnar Faugn’s arrival. They made their way back to Kingsport, and hauled Moon up the headland10, past the now-silent cabin, and to the huge pile of bones overlooking the pristine sea. Down below, small, dark figures frolicked in the water, and a twenty-foot tall crystal elephant snowman stood beside the bone pile.

I ran the song as a magical ritual, with no opposition just to simplify things. I decided they needed to get a total of 30 on their rolls, each roll representing a half-hour or so of singing time. After each roll, the characters had to make Health checks to keep singing, or have their voice give out. I put in a couple of trigger points where things would start happening – at 10, Roxy noticed that there was something huge making it’s way through the sea towards the headland11. At 20, the giant crystal idol woke up and started moving towards the investigators. At this point, Moon lost enough Stability to move him into the Blasted category, and he decided that, in his madness, he would sacrifice himself to the elder god in hopes of distracting it long enough for his companions to finish the song. I liked this idea, and gave him free rein. He said that, because he had seen outside the normal dimensions before, and because now he was insane, he could unfold his own timeline back to the first time he had killed a man – as a boy in Russia – and get Chaugnar Faugn to focus on him. I said okay, but took it a bit further, weaving it into a moment of extradimensional perception for all the characters, as they got to see Moon’s yeti-like multidimensional form consumed by a wall of probosces, eyes, mouths, and other organs.

I thought this was going to be the end of the whole thing, because I couldn’t show them that and not call for some hefty Stability checks, and I refuse to pull punches in a Cthulhu campaign endgame. But Roxy and Crosby made their checks and finished the song, forcing Chaugnar Faugn’s attention away from them. They then set fire to the bones12 and ran away – the flash of the fire drove off whatever was coming through the water to get Roxy, and a white ship sailed in to dock at the top of the headland, but they weren’t having none of that, and just ran like bunnies.

At this point, the players started acting like it was all over, so I used a reminder that there was still work to be done – I had another packet of papers show up on the car seat. This was a less-than-perfectly successful clue; things ground to a halt as the players read through the papers, looking for the clue that would show them where to go next, when the arrival of the papers was intended to be the clue. I reminded them that, according to their information, all the song had done was buy them some time to fix the real problem. Roxy started to get fixated on the mention of the Nophru-ka tablet in the papers, and started planning to go to New York13, but decided that she needed to find Armitage and stop him from killing Petrovich, also mentioned in the papers.

They also found Danforth’s pillow case in the car, and found inside a floor tile with an elder sign scratched on it. Crosby used his Cthulhu Mythos to figure out what it meant and how useful it could be, and he, too, wound up Blasted. That left Roxy essentially on her own.

She headed back to the university, and found one of the last members of the Armitage Group, Ashley, and got him to tell her about a bolt hole Armitage had set up in the last place anyone would look for him – the ruins of the Whateley farm in Dunwich. She persuaded Ashley to take her up there and distract Armitage while she crept around back with a shotgun. Ashely got Armitage talking, and he expressed genuine puzzlement and horror at what was happening, and no hint that he was deliberately causing it. At this point, Roxy popped up, asked him if he knew a Petrovich, Armitage started to say no, and she cut him in half with a shotgun blast.

This was the key event to end the threat. See, if Armitage died before he sent the documents back in time, then there would be no disruption of linear time to attract the attention of Chaugnar Faugn. The readjustment of time caused most of the big bad things that happened to undo, but being close enough to ground zero of the temporal reconfiguration, Roxy’s brain was shattered.

She found her consciousness floating in extradimensional space, with the voice of Fred Jahraus speaking to her. He offered to take her to live with them, because she had been kind to them. She would be, he explained, a pet. Roxy rejected that, even though Fred told her that her brain was too damaged to hold all of her now. She still decided to go back.

I finished with a quick epilogue. In the new timeline, bookseller Aaron Moon vanished one day, never to be seen again. Roxy Crane was found be her (restored) butler and housekeeper catatonic in bed – they think she suffered a stroke. Malcolm Crosby was hospitalized after a complete mental collapse, and never recovered. And August Solis, MD, still died in an explosion out in Montana.

I am very satisfied with the ending, especially the way each of the characters went out:

  • Moon, paranoid hoarder of information, gave himself to something that was the very epitome of entropy, destroying all he had learned, to buy the time to complete the ritual.
  • Crosby, who had been seeking real mystic knowledge for years, was destroyed and shattered once he found it.
  • Roxy, manipulator extraordinaire, faced the final challenge alone, with no one to help her, and no points to spend on ANYTHING. And then turned down an offer of (kinda) salvation.

It’s been a fun run, gang. As usual, the end of a campaign is a bittersweet thing if it works well. I’m sorry to see it end, but I recognize that ending on a high note is far better than devolving into boredom.

I want to thank a few people for this gaming experience:

  • Robin Laws for designing GUMSHOE andThe Armitage Files campaign.
  • Ken Hite for turning GUMSHOE into Trail of Cthulhu.
  • Simon Rogers at Pelgrane Press for publishing all this great stuff.
  • All you folks who have been following along with the campaign through the two-and-a-half years its been running.

But most of all, I want to thank my players for trusting me to run this kind of improvisational campaign, and going along with some of the weird and crazy ideas I’ve had through the run. Thanks to:

  • Michael as Aaron “Read ‘Em And Burn ‘Em” Moon.
  • Sandy as Roxy “Who Will I Be Today?” Crane.
  • Tom as Dr. August “Bleed On Everything” Solis and Malcolm “I’m Psychic!” Crosby.

It’s been a blast, folks.

 

 

  1. And significantly battered, by this point. []
  2. That is, he used his Cthulhu Mythos skill to find out about Nyarlathotep. []
  3. Confession time. I always try and remove anyone the characters can count on to save their bacon in the last act. Why? Because I think that the stars of the show, especially at the climax, should be the player characters. If it’s someone else who figures out the way to save the world, or who hands them the item they need, or whatever, then the PCs are relegated to simple plot devices, rather than the prime movers of the story. I mean, if the Armitage Group got back together with the investigators and said, “Right. Here are the steps to thwart Chaugnar Faugn. Do them in order, and everything will be fine,” it would be a pretty sucky ending, right? So, I let NPCs perform little services – provide some information, get them somewhere, deliver a clue – then clean them off the board so that the character only have themselves to rely on. They get to be the heroes. []
  4. That is, Moon used some of his Cthulhu Mythos. They’re not holding anything back, this session; they’re leaving it all out on the field. []
  5. To be clear, I had no plan coming into this session except one: I knew what one action would end the threat. Everything else that happened was me responding to character action, trying to provide them with the information they needed and keep the pressure on them. So, when they brought up the song, I thought that sounded like a good idea, and it became one of the things they needed to do. []
  6. He tried to say that he just had the information, but I held him to the rules that said he had an informational item back at the shop. []
  7. Down to -8 Health. Did I mention they came into this already kind of battered and spent? []
  8. Yup. Crazy Danforth summoned a shoggoth, which took out him, Kittrell, the bookshop, and all the buildings and people between the bookshop and the river. I figure, it’s the last session, time to pull out all the stops. I was a little disappointed that none of the characters looked back to see the thing, though. []
  9. After some First Aid spends to bring him back to consciousness and stop him dying. []
  10. Health checks all round to keep going in the face of exhaustion and exertion. []
  11. She’s been troubled for some time with dreams of a vast being waiting for her beneath the sea. []
  12. Well, to be fair, they threw dynamite into it, but I had the dynamite transform into a torch and ignite the bone-fire. []
  13. Which had nothing to do with what was going on. Curse my decision to give out more papers! They were nothing but a distraction! []

From the Armitage Files: Things Fall Apart

**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**

About a week ago, we had the penultimate1 session of our Armitage Files. As I was getting ready for the game, I had this idea for the game session – I would start the game five years in the future, after the heroes have failed to stop the great disaster that’s on the way. After all, the game has turned out to be about non-linear time and the possibility of time travel and multiple dimensions. So, that would give them two sessions to figure out some way to reach back in time to undo whatever happened, all the while playing in a post-Cthulhu-apocalyptic world.

Ultimately2, I decided against this. While it struck me as a neat dramatic trick, springing it on the players out of the blue seemed like too much of a hose-job: “Hey, guys, guess what. You failed the campaign, and I’m not even gonna tell you how. Know what you get to do for the last two sessions? Fix it and/or suffer!” They might have let me get away with it, if I had been able to make things cool enough3, but if I had blown it, there wasn’t enough time left in the campaign to correct for the problem. So, after some waffling, I wimped out.

What I decided to do instead was to increase the pressure. I wanted this session to be claustrophobic and tense, with the players losing ground whenever they dithered about anything. I decided that everything they did would lead them back to a the decay and undermining of their reality as the fabric of causality continued to unravel around them. In essence, I wanted the characters to reach the end of the session knowing that, one way or another, things were going to reach a head. They needed to know that, one way or another, everything was going to be decided very soon.

So, I turned the pressure up. It worked; at least, it worked from my end. For the players, well… maybe. See, everything I said in the previous paragraph? That’s all about mood. I wanted to build a mood of desperation and despair. What that means is that – from a player point of view – not a lot really happened. They were placed in fairly reactive roles4, didn’t get a lot of answers, and found themselves faced with a tightening circle of threat.

The reason I’m not sure how well it worked for the players is that a lot of the session involved the characters bickering. More than usual. So, I’m not sure how much of that was the fact that the characters were cracking under the pressure, and how much of it was that the players were frustrated and taking it out in character5. No one seemed terribly put out at the end of the evening, though, so I think I may have judged it right.

What actually happened in the game? Well, a few things, in a kind of mad, jumbled rush.

They went to pay a visit on Prof. Armitage6 at his home, but found the place empty. In the attic, they discovered a crystal snowman7 tucked into a bed and, in the basement, they found a trio of leg bones hidden in the coal. In the midst of examining the leg bones, a freshly awakened Armitage came down into the basement to investigate the noises that had wakened him. Upon investigation, our heroes found that the attic contained only boxes8 – there was no sign of the bedroom with the crystal snowman.

Looking out a window downstairs, they spotted a bonfire in a field out back, surrounded by oddly shaped shadows dancing frenetically to a weird, alien beat. When they called Armitage over to see it, it had vanished. At this point, they started telling everything to Armitage, who heard them out fairly calmly until they revealed that they had come to his house pretty much directly after discovering the bodies of Roxy’s housekeeper and butler, whereupon he essentially called them idiots and fled before whoever was following the investigators could find and kill him.

Not being idiots9, our heroes took their cue from him, and headed out to a little town to hole up until the morning, when they planned to take the fight to Kim Nak in Kingsport. The next day saw a flurry of telegrams, some trips to New York and Boston, and much plotting. They came up with a few interesting tidbits, foremost of which was that Kim Nak came to the US on papers that had a different name: Nar Ho Tep10. That gave them a bit of pause, and they began to rethink they’re head-on rush at Kim Nak because, as I said, they’re not idiots.

Somewhere along the way, they spotted Austin Kittrell on the streets of Kingsport and decided to try and follow him to figure out where he fit in11. Unfortunately, Crosby rolled pretty pathetically on his Shadowing roll, and wound up with Kittrell holding a gun to his head, mocking him a bit, and then prancing off.

I forget exactly where the idea came from – I think I answered some question about a place to overlook the Kingsport harbour with a description of the lighthouse and the nearby house12 on the promontory high above the town – but they became fixed on the idea of climbing up there for some reason. I decided to turn this into an opportunity for further clues and enlightenment about what was really going on – if they asked the right questions.

So, up they climbed, and the mist thickened around them. When they reached the house, it turned out to be an old log cabin rather than the larger Victorian mansion they had seen from below. The occupant came out, armed with a gun, and asked them who they were, but the investigators had been through so much crap in the past few days that, rather than answer the question, they threatened the fellow with their own weapons. Gunfire may or may not have ensued13, and the cabin vanished, so the intrepid climbers pushed on to the headland. There, they found a huge – and I mean huge, twelve feet tall, easily twenty feet across – pile of bones about where the lighthouse should have been. Looking down from that height, they saw that the site of the town was just wilderness. Then Kim Nak’s voice came out of the mists to taunt them.

There’s something a little gauche14 about having Nyarlathotep tease your investigators, but I was at a bit of a dead end15 with trying to get information into the hands of the players, so I wanted to drop some clues and this seemed like my last chance to try and give them a few options and insights into what’s going on16. I did my best, and think that they picked up on the important points.

The main thing they took away was the most important: Chaugnar Faugn, who is the self-aware facet of temporal entropy, is turning his attention to the world in this time and place because of the way time is being twisted out of linear order. Whether this is opening gaps that he can seep through into our reality, or the twisting of time is part of his attention and manifests him as it occurs is unclear17, but the effect is that potentiality of existence is being drained away, consumed by (or subsumed into) Chaugnar Faughn, leaving behind the crystal snowmen that look like elephantine humanoids.

It was around this time that the investigators decided they needed more help if they were to put this to bed, so they scurried back down the headland and zipped off back to Arkham to kick the collective butts of the Armitage Group and get them to pony up with some information and/or magic and/or guns. As they drove through the streets of Kingsport, they noticed few people but several of the large, human-sized crystal snowmen on the sidewalks.

Back in Arkham, a few of the Armitage Group assembled to hear out the investigators. Moon told them, essentially, that enough was enough and that he wanted everyone involved in this whole mess assembled that evening to answer some questions and plan an approach to the problem. He stressed that Armitage had better be one of the people in the room, and that there was no room for anyone to be playing silly buggers.

At which point, they heard a clatter outside the conference room where they were meeting. Opening the door, they saw Cyrus Llanfer had dropped a serving tray, complete with decanter and glasses.

Because a crystal snowman was bursting out of his flesh.

Aaaaaaand… SCENE!

Tune in next time for the end of the campaign. What’s gonna happen? I dunno! But it should be horrific!

 

 

  1. So, because we’re getting close to the end of this and the Feints & Gambits campaign, I wanted to know if there were more words in the ultimate – penultimate sequence. Turns out there are: ultimate, penultimate, antepenultimate, pre-antepenultimate. Apparently, after four, they decided that it just got silly. That’s right. After four. ‘Cause antepenultimate and pre-antepenultimate aren’t silly. At all. []
  2. There’s that word again. []
  3. If you make things cool enough for the players, you can get away with anything in a game. []
  4. Yes, I let them decide what they were doing, but then I’d throw something at them that derailed them and demanded a response. So, yeah, that meant that most of their actions were reactions. []
  5. I’m hoping it was more the first thing. []
  6. In keeping with the Armitage Group’s somewhat stodgy academic style, they’ve been asked to steer clear of Armitage so as not to risk giving him information that might allow him to fake the documents that have been appearing. []
  7. The evidence of Chaugnar Faughn’s attention, they have found. []
  8. And a dressmaker’s dummy, as all attics are required to contain. []
  9. Well, not complete idiots, anyway. []
  10. Yeah, that’s kinda blatant and heavy-handed, sure. But it’s the end of the campaign, and at this point, the revelations are coming fast and furious. And each revelation just leads the group to realize that they’re in even deeper trouble than they had thought. []
  11. Insert jokes about drugging and torturing him some more. []
  12. Drawing on a couple of HPL’s Kingsport stories: The Strange High House in the Mist andThe White Ship. []
  13. Which way are you betting? []
  14. Heh. []
  15. I had had two possible options for delivering information in mind when the gang climbed the promontory, but both got bypassed. What were they?

    Show ▼

    Oh, well. []

  16. Whatisgoing on? Well, I’ve figured it out, subject to change based on the actions of the characters, but I’m not going to say anything yet. I’ll write about it in the final post on this campaign. []
  17. And really, it’s irrelevant. []

From the Armitage Files: Playing Defence

Bonus Warning

I try to keep this blog pretty inoffensive in terms of language and imagery. This session of The Armitage Files, though, took a bit of a surprising turn into a dark place. It was a wonderful bit of roleplaying on Sandy’s part that really stands out, and I’m going to talk about it below, but I warn you, it’s strong stuff. To give you the option not having those pictures in your head, I’m going to put the relevant section behind spoiler tags.

Read at Your Own Risk

**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**

Well, my players did not get back to me before the last session of The Armitage Files to let me know what they wanted to investigate, so that turned the evening into Opposition Action Time! I wanted to hit each of the characters separately, so I came up with a good threat for each of them, and went to town.

Aaron Moon, alone in his bookshop, had a disorienting moment of seeing his body from outside himself, and felt something trying to push its way into his consciousness. Being a paranoid who had read a lot of occult – and a few mythos – books, he immediately decided that something was trying to possess him1, and ran to the basement, where a rather high-difficulty Preparedness roll revealed that he had a protective circle of salt2 laid out on the bare floor. When that didn’t seem to work, he wracked his brain3 to figure something else out, and wound up carving a protective sigil into the flesh of his chest. This allowed him to hold off the possession attempt, and he hurried over to Roxy’s place to warn her about the attack. On his way out, he noticed that there were tiny crystals scattered along the trail he had taken from the shop down to the basement.

Roxy Crane, meanwhile, had been out trying to track down a lead on the mysterious Kim Nak, and spreading word that Charlie had been killed and there might be a reward for anyone who could help find the responsible culprits4. She was met on the street by Austin Kittrell5, who seemed quite chipper and eager to speak with her. He offered to buy her supper at a local club, and they retired there. In the midst of their conversation, with Kittrell dropping hints and asking leading questions showing that he had some knowledge of the kinds of things going on, he showed Roxy a drawing, asking if she recognized it. It was a quick, crude sketch of the crystal snowman that the gang has come to identify with Chaugnar Faugn. She confirmed that she recognized it, and asked him to destroy it, which he did. Then he asked her if she recognized another drawing, and showed her the symbol that had infected her mind in the Kingsport warehouse way back here.

Roxy had been dealing with strange, watery dreams ever since, and seeing the symbol again knocked her right into one of them, where she was swimming down into the depths, where a light awaited her, escorted by strange fish-frog-men. In this dream, I kicked in a little more horror6, I told her that her swimming was hampered somewhat by her advanced state of pregnancy. She fought off the lure of the depths and swam up to the surface instead, to find that a vast, beautiful and terrifying city was rising out of the sea.

Show ▼

She awoke, bloody and without coat, shoes, or handbag, in an alley in the predominantly black section of Arkham. It took some doing to find a bar where she could make a phone call to have her cousin come and get her.

Malcolm Crosby7 was headed over to Moon’s shop to do some research, seeing if he could learn more about tcho-tchos and/or Kim Nak, when he felt a little sting in his neck. Having heard the tales of the investigators’ run-ins with tcho-tchos and their poisoned weapons, he ran as fast as he could8 to a busy street to hail a cab. He had intended to have it take him to Moon’s shop, but when the player was reminded that they no longer had any tcho-tcho antidote and no one to make more, he changed his mind and went to the hospital. He made it there before passing out, and was able to give the dart to the doctor to help make the antidote.

Once everyone was back and safe, they repaired to Moon’s shop to work out a plan9. Some research and Cthulhu Mythos led them to make some connections between Chaugnar Faugn and some recent thought experiments by Danish theoretical physicists, implying that the attention of the Eater of Tomorrows collapsed the waveform of a person’s life and future into one of absolute entropy, thus killing the person, and extruding part of the Eater into the three observable dimensions as the crystalline snow men that they had witnessed before. They also discovered that tcho-tchos were the degenerate descendants of the miri-nigri, amphibious creatures created by Chaugnar Faugn in the ancient past.

The things that attracted Chaugnar Faugn’s attention included ritual sacrifices and worship, but it was also drawn by incidents of non-linear time, and that it increased the occurrence of such incidents as it collapsed possibilities into entropy, and surviving possibilities tended to expand into extremely improbable quantum events in the possibility vacuum thus created10. This led to some speculation about Moon’s irregular temporal perception and visions, and through there to the idea that the documents, coming as they seem to from the future, might be the cause of the very catastrophe they try to prevent.

And that’s when they started thinking that they needed to kill Armitage to prevent him ever sending the documents.

After some discussion, they decided that killing Armitage would be Plan B, with Plan A being to run away and hide for a bit, then come after Kim Nak with everything they had. To that end, Crosby decided to read A Discussion of Higher Dimensions, the single tome that they haven’t destroyed11, and that they obtained from Edwin Carsdale’s farm.

When they went to Roxy’s place to pick up her luggage and some money, they found that Roxy’s husband and wife butler/housekeeper team were dead in their bed12, their blood turned to a brittle, rusty solid in their veins.

And that’s where we left the game. I figure two more sessions to wrap things up.

  1. He was right about that. It was the Mind Exchange spell. []
  2. Here’s the way the exchange went.

    Moon: Okay. With my Occult skill, do I know what things can prevent possession? Like, a circle of salt, or silver, or things like that?

    Me: According to Occult, all that kind of stuff works, as does prayer, crosses, and other symbols.

    Moon: Great. I want to make a Preparedness roll to have a circle of salt in the basement.

    Me: Hmmm. I’m gonna set the difficulty of that one at 8. It’s kind of a weird request, and it’s very specific to this unexpected attack.

    Moon: Okay. I’ll spend some points, and I succeed!

    There follows a few rounds of repeated possession attempts as Moon staggers down to the basement and collapses into the circle of salt.

    Moon: There! Does the circle of salt help?

    Me: Nope. Not even a little bit.

    Moon: Bastard! []

  3. And Cthulhu Mythos. []
  4. She assumed Kim Nak was behind it, but with the overthrow of godfather Elio Marcuzzo, it could have been someone in the new mob hierarchy. []
  5. Last seen way back here, where he didn’t fare too well. []
  6. Drawing a bit on Alan Moore’s Neonomicon. []
  7. I forgot to mention something from last session. Along with the Tears of Azathoth, the gang found a red lacquered box that buzzed in the warehouse. Remembering the warnings about Moebius wasps and the dangers of opening the Red Box from the early documents they had read, our heroes decided to destroy it, burning it in Moon’s furnace. When they tossed it into the fire, it buzzed louder and the metal puzzle clasp that held it shut began to work itself open. Crosby reached into the fire and held the box closed until the buzzing stopped and the whole box was aflame, burning his hand terribly in the process. []
  8. Taking a few more blow-gun darts in the process. []
  9. Also, an objective. []
  10. This is, of course, all crap that I made up, trying to blend my feeble understanding of higher-dimensional physics and quantum theory with horrific ideas from the neighbourhood of the Cthulhu mythos. I think it sounds suitably plausible – certainly plausible enough for a Cthulhu game. []
  11. Yet. []
  12. Why am I picking on Roxy’s servants? Simple. She’s the only character that has created any NPCs around her – friends, family, servants, whatever. The other two tend to be brooding loners. []

From the Armitage Files: Azathoth Weeps

**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**

I’m really behind on this update for the Armitage Files campaign1. What’s finally prodded me to write the damned thing is the fact that the next session is this Saturday, and the players deserve a recap. It’s gonna be a quick one, though.

The game picked up pretty much where the last session left off, with the investigators deciding to go check out what the junk dealer had told them about a big bible he had sold to a local pastor. The gang was suspicious of that2, so they figured they’d pay him a visit and see if the bible was a valuable book that the linguist, Lars Fargerberg, might have been kidnapped for. The upshot of the investigation was that no, it was just a nice, old family bible that the pastor used to replace the water-damaged one he had been using.

I messed up a bit, at this point. See, the new character in the game is a parapsychologist, and his player asked me if he could make an Occult spend in the church to see if he could sense any psychic emanations or auras. I blinked at him a bit and said, “Sure.” Then I proceeded to spin a completely false psychic impression for him based on his character’s current emotional state – as played by the player. So, his nervousness and apprehension after starting to glimpse the horrible truth behind the world made him feel that there was some dark, evil stain on the church, a horrible foreboding that hinted at destruction and death.

He lapped it up. And he tried using the ability a couple more times during the adventure. Each time, I asked him for an Occult spend, and then lied to him about what he was sensing.

Why would I do such a thing? Isn’t it a huge dick move?

Yeah, it kinda is3. In my defense, it was the result of differing expectations of the metaphysics of the game. I was operating on the assumption that the player shared the standard understanding of in-game supernatural powers: it all stems from horrible mythos sources, and you only get access to it through reading mind-shattering tomes. So, when he asked to take a psychic reading on the church, I just assumed it was a roleplaying thing – he was playing Crosby as believing that he had these psychic powers.

Well, as the evening went on, it became more and more obvious to me that the player wasn’t operating on my assumptions. He figured that, since I had let him do what he had asked for, it was real information his character was getting. When I finally made that connection in my head, I told him what was going on, and apologized for screwing him over. I then talked about how the supernatural stuff usually works on Cthulhu games, and how I was sticking with that for my game. So, we sorted it out.

Anyway.

After no clues turned up at the church, and they exhausted all the investigation they could do about the red herring church psychic miasma4, the gang decided to go see the main crime boss in Kingsport: Elio Marcuzzo. Fargerberg had owed some money to the Marcuzzo family, so our heroes figured that they might have something to do with his disappearance. With Roxy’s criminal connections, it was pretty quick work to arrange a meeting, and Marcuzzo and company pointed5 to an Asian crime syndicate operating around the docks. They also told Roxy a little bit about Kim Nak6, who was sort of a bogeyman enforcer for the gang, reputed to use demon-possessed children to do his dirty work.

A little more investigation led the intrepid sleuths to a warehouse down by the docks. The doors were locked, and I think I put a couple little booby-traps in place7, but the place had no tcho-tchos or criminals or, indeed, any creatures in it. A safe in an upstairs office had a strange book in it – the much-sought-after Tears of Azathoth.

Moon almost convulsed with ecstasy at having finally got his hands on the book. They grabbed it and burned the warehouse down8 before running back to their hotel. At the hotel, they found that they hadn’t got away clean, after all: Roxy’s faithful driver, Charlie, had been killed and left in the car for them to find9. They abandoned that car, stole another one, and fled back to Arkham.

There followed much soul-searching and debate over what to do with Tears. Initial investigation showed that it was a very dangerous book10, and they finally decided to burn it. As soon as they had made that decision, the book vanished11.

And that’s where we left the game.

We are now on the last few stages of the campaign. I have three more sessions scheduled for the game, and plan to have things wrapped up by the end of June. We may wind up ending the game one session sooner or later, but I’m betting on three to bring things to a close. It’s been a tremendously fun game to run, and has really helped me stretch my GMing improvisation muscles. I’m going to be sorry to see it go.

But I’m eager to run something else, too.

  1. Lots of reasons, boiling down to me just not doing it when I should have. []
  2. Along with everything else. This is a Cthulhu game, after all. []
  3. Sorry, Tom. []
  4. Sorry, guys. []
  5. Rather obliquely; they’re not stupid, after all, and the investigators have come to the attention of the police on more than one occasion. []
  6. This is, as far as I know, not a real name in any Asian language. I wanted to convey the flavour of an indeterminate south-east Asian culture without drawing directly on any particular one. After all, I’m gonna add tcho-tchos to the mix, and that’s not a nice thing to do to any real culture. []
  7. It was a while ago. I can’t remember for certain. []
  8. Fire. They use it for everything. []
  9. What can I say? It’s a horror game. And sometimes the best way to scare and hurt the players is to mess with their favourite NPCs. []
  10. Though I’m starting to think I’m losing my touch. I don’t think Moon has failed a Stability check in the last three sessions. Gonna have to do something about that. []
  11. There’s a whole reason for this stemming from my interpretation of the write-up for Tears in the campaign book. Show ▼

    []

From the Armitage Files: New Blood

**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 since the last Armitage Files game. Even though I’ve only got three players, getting them together in this recent season of deadlines and illness and travel has been a bit of a challenge. But we managed to get together last Friday night and play1, and it was good to get back to the game.

We opened a little slow – last session, if you recall, one of the characters died, and the opening of this session was introducing the player’s new character to the group. This is always a bit delicate, especially in a game of horror and conspiracy, where the current characters have every reason to distrust newcomers. Fortunately, we had worked out the basics of the approach at the end of the previous session, and my players are all more than willing to meet me half-way to make the game happen2.

The idea was that the new character, a parapsychologist named Malcolm Crosby, had a book that he wanted to sell, and took it to Moon, the bookseller, to handle the sale for him. I asked what the book was, and got a request for a treatise on the weird automata that the gang had found in Emigrant. “Fat chance of that,” I explained, “Pick something else, you cheater.”3 The next request was, I believe, for The Tears of Azathoth, which is a big clue and MacGuffin in the campaign4. Again, I gently advised, “Stop trying to cheat, you cheating bastards!”

I suggested instead that the item in question not be a book, but a collection of letters from the Fox sisters. These would be quite valuable to collectors of spiritualist paraphernalia, and Moon’s expertise in authenticating such items and his contacts in that community would both be useful in getting top dollar for the letters.

There was some good character interaction between Moon and Crosby, and I played a little bit with Moon’s time-perception problem, and Moon called on Roxy to bring him a book he had left at her place with examples of the Fox sisters’ handwriting5, so they managed to all get together in one place a little quicker than I had feared.

Anyway. Moon did his authentication of the Fox letters, and spent a point on it, so I gave him something interesting – I told him that the letters seemed to be partial palimpsests, where portions of the page had been scraped down to remove what had been written there,and then something new had been written on the newly blank sections. He figured that he could recover some of the text that had been scraped off6, but that it would likely be a destructive process, ruining the chance of reselling the letters.

Moon explained this to Crosby, who was more intrigued by what might be hidden in the letters, quickly gave his consent, and Moon went to work. After a few hours7, Moon managed to piece together a few little snippets of text: “hotep,” “little glass snowmen,” “Cho-Cho,” and “ears of azat.” That was enough to get them all fired up8, and Moon and Roxy wound up telling Crosby all about all the weird stuff they’d been doing, and Crosby got all excited and wanted in on the investigations9.

Next day, Roxy went by Miskatonic University to talk to Dyer, with some plan to have Crosby granted faculty status there. Dyer explained that that’s not how things worked, and that MU was unlikely to give a position to a charlatan like a parapsychologist10, so that didn’t work out.

Then it was off to Kingsport11 to try and track down Lars Fargerberg, a linguist who might have a line on The Tears of Azathoth. The document they were following up on led them to a clip joint in a seedy part of town, where Moon and Crosby were rapidly divested of a point of Credit Rating each by the charming hostesses. Roxy, more worldly, found a contact there, and got some information on Fargerberg using a story about Moon having paid for a book from him that he never received.

They found that Fargerberg hadn’t been around lately, but that he had a room in one of the boarding houses nearby, though no one knew which. Roxy went to the police looking for more details, spinning the same story about Moon’s payment for a book, and Moon wound up primary suspect in Fargerberg’s strange disappearance12 and spent a few hours answering questions.

While he was being detained and Roxy was wrangling a lawyer for him, Crosby hit up the newspapers13 and found the original story about Fargerberg’s disappearance, along with his address. With Moon sprung, they went to talk to Fargerberg’s landlady, who told them that she had already cleaned out Fargerberg’s room, and that a junk man had carted off all of the linguist’s books.

They tracked down the junk man, and found that he had several of Fargergerg’s books still, but had sold off about half of them already. He seemed to be holding back some information about who he had sold various things to, but did admit that he had sold a big bible to the pastor of a nearby church, and that’s where the gang decided to head next.

But at that point, Moon’s player was succumbing to his nasty cold, and we called it a night. Hopefully it won’t be another two months before the next session.

  1. Though we ended a little early, thanks to the aforementioned illness. []
  2. Thanks for that, guys! []
  3. Okay, maybe I didn’t put it that way. []
  4. If it wasn’t Tears, then it was another big clue tome. Sometimes, my players think they’re being sneaky. []
  5. A very nice use of the profession’s special ability to have a handy item “in stock,” I thought. []
  6. Using book science! Also, GM fiat. []
  7. Which seemed much longer to Moon, thanks to his distorted temporal perception. []
  8. At this point, I started rapidly skimming the Wikipedia article on the Fox sisters, because I realized that I had just put a big story hook in front of the players without any idea what the actual story was. “All hook and no plot,” as one might say. I had visions of the group going haring off after the secrets of the Fox sisters, and me not having any idea what they might be. Fortunately, they decided to stick to the original plan. []
  9. Moon spent some time – well, quite a bit of time, actually – trying to talk Crosby out of getting involved. Great roleplaying, but man, don’t try so hard to kick the new character out of the party, dude! []
  10. I’m not sure exactly what she wanted to accomplish with this, beyond trying to get the same access to University resources that the late Dr. Solis had. []
  11. Lovely, lovely Kingsport. The gang has had such fun there. []
  12. After all, he was the first person they’d found with a motive, however fake, for wanting something bad to happen to the linguist. []
  13. Quote at this point: “I can’t believe it took us this long to look something up in the newspapers. Isn’t this a Chtulhu game?” []

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 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,  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.

  1. By which I mean my scribbled diagrams. Of course, I had forgotten what all my shorthand meant by this time. []
  2. Allegedly. []
  3. With a revolver hidden in the hollowed-out Bible by his bedside. []
  4. What are the odds of that happening with this group? []
  5. Strangely – to me, anyway – they didn’t actually do any more than peek into the front room of the shop. []
  6. Though I think Roxy lifted her Tarot deck. Am I remembering that correctly, folks? []
  7. 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. []
  8. For this bit, I took the player into the kitchen, so that the other players were kept in the dark about what was happening. []
  9. 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! []
  10. I had briefly considered making this come up in another crawlspace, but that just felt too mean. []
  11. See what I done there? []
  12. Of course that’s what he was. Didn’t I mention the full-head mask? []
  13. That’s a lie. I demanded. []

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 months1. 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 on2.

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 ago3. I also seeded in a few other clues that they haven’t followed up, yet, about Fuschacks and the fortune teller4, 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 doors5 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 chest6.

And that’s when I sent in the ninjas7.

Moon took a poisoned dart in the neck8, and Solis got sliced up some more9, 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 slashed10. 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 Emigrant11, 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 effects12.

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 back13, 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 frogs14, 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 Faugn15. 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.

  1. 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. []
  2. 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. []
  3. 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? []
  4. 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. []
  5. In case anyone had followed them from Emigrant, they didn’t want their exact location to be readily apparent. []
  6. Dropped him from full Health into the negatives. Yay! []
  7. Ninjas in this game are the Tcho-Tchos. []
  8. Again. []
  9. 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. []
  10. 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. []
  11. In my world. Dunno about in the real world. Don’t really care. []
  12. 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. []
  13. Loaded up with dynamite, of course. Because, in their minds, dynamite solves everything! []
  14. I don’t want to give away what these are to my players, but for the rest of you, here’s an explanation:

    Show ▼

    []

  15. Bastard failed not one Stability check the entire game! What’s up with that? []

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 farms1, 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 bartender2, and went for a walk around town after dark3. 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 previously4 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.

 

 

  1. 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. []
  2. He knows which side of the bread the butter’s on. If he talks to outsiders about locals, the locals will stop coming in. []
  3. 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. []
  4. When Moon was in Rot Tal, Jahraus showed him that that’s the way people look from outside the normal three dimensions. []

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 Montana1, 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 Montana2.

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 this3, and, as a show of support, asked Moon to find him three rare books4. It became pretty obvious to both that they were dancing around each other5, 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 Kingsport6. Carsdale thanked him, and decided to take action.

A few evenings later, Roxy was attacked in her home by… something7. 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 fate8 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 driver9 to help them kidnap10 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 journals11 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 limbs12, 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 days13, 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 atrophy14 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 carpet15 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.

Spells

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.

 

 

  1. This is one of the threads mentioned in the source document. []
  2. I’m not sure if they still intend to follow up on this after this session. []
  3. Though according to Moon’s Assess Honesty, he was actually more amused. []
  4. One of them a mythos tome, which he added to the list to see how Moon would react. []
  5. 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!” []
  6. Roxy is great at being sneaky, but a sucky roll is a sucky roll. []
  7. Okay, it was a dimensional shambler. []
  8. It worked well. Sandy even started working out a new character to continue the game. []
  9. Roxy is a rich girl who got rich through crime – her own, and her family’s. Her driver has some useful skills. []
  10. 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. []
  11. 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. []
  12. 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. []
  13. I’m not going to tell the players how many, but it was close! []
  14. Okay, it was the Shrivelling spell. []
  15. Actually, if I recall, it was a blanket, but whatever. []

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’s1 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 survive2. 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 all3, 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 book4.

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, he5 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 annotations6.

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 exhaustive7 – 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.

***Edit***

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.

 

  1. Is it all right if I call you Graham? Thanks. []
  2. And often not even that. []
  3. 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. []
  4. If the ideas I’ve outlined above sound at all interesting, you really should just go buy the book. []
  5. And his annotators, as well. []
  6. And kudos to Graham for keeping in the stroppy, argumentative ones. I enjoyed the contrasting ideas presented, and think it ultimately reinforced your theses. []
  7. I was sad to see Ghoul left off the list, though the reason for that is explained in the Afterword, and I accept it. []