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 latest episode in my Armitage Files game. This story was the one I had the most trouble with sorting out from the material in the files. I was worried about staying true to what the documents said, but also working things in a manner that made sense, considering the larger things going on in the background.
Am I being cryptic? Kind of. See, while I put that spoiler warning up at the top of this post, that’s there so that others playing the game will realize that reading the post might give things away. But I really don’t want to reveal any of the metaplot to my players, even inadvertently. And I know at least two of them read my blog.
So, by way of explanation, I’m going to present a theory that my players have come up with, and show how it makes things difficult. I’m not saying their theory is correct; I’m not saying it’s not. It just happens to fit some of the pieces they’ve uncovered, and it can be used to illustrate what I’m talking about.
The players think the mysterious documents the Armitage Group have received are being sent back in time from the future, though they don’t know exactly from when, and they don’t who is sending them. This, they say, explains why the writing is admittedly that of Henry Armitage, but no one remembers the incidents or investigations mentioned in them.
Let’s assume that’s true. If the documents talk about, say, a mysterious item being transported in a truck to the hospital, and the players decide to follow that particular clue up, I need to figure out when the incident happens, what leads up to it, and what stage things are at right now. And if I want the characters to get involved and the players to enjoy themselves, I have to figure out something cool and interesting to be going on right now that also makes sense given what the documents say is going to happen in the future.
See the kind of thing I’m talking about?
What I’m saying is that it took me a couple of reworkings to get the spine of what’s going on in this particular investigation, and I scrapped a couple of very nice, interesting ideas along the way just because they didn’t fit the metastructure constraints quite properly. Oh, I probably could have got away with a little fudging, but that feels too much like cheating.
But that’s okay. I came up with a final (sort of) version that I was happy with, and it worked pretty well last night.
As a general observation, I am amazed at how easy it’s getting to improvise scenes and clues. I really thought that the investigative structure wouldn’t lend itself well to this style of play, but it actually does. I haven’t gone the whole way to improvisation that they talk about in the book, where the actual secrets behind everything are decided upon during play, but figuring out where to put clues in order to let the characters drive the actual scenes turns out to be very intuitive. And by keeping a list of the investigative skills of each character (or asking to take a look at a sheet every now and then when you need to make a judgment call) makes the rules mostly transparent. The only times I cracked a book last night was looking at a list of the skills or trying to find a particular name.
Enough of me blathering about running the game. Let’s get to what happened in the game.
This session, the characters decided to follow up an account in the second document, talking about a mysterious car and truck delivering a strange item to the hospital, and Temporary Operative Olsen still being on an army base. They located the hospital from a reference to Crown Hill, but the nearest army base they knew of was Fort Devens, 150 miles away. As for Olsen, they had no idea.
Given that they have a doctor, a con woman, and a bookseller who had been bitten badly by a rat-thing in the group, they decided on a combined approach to the hospital, with Aaron Moon checking in to have the nasty wound on his leg examined, and Dr. Solis and his lovely (if vapid) assistant Twyla Petty (again played by wealthy con woman Roxy Crane) asking to examine patient files in order to do a demographic study of illness and injury in rural Massachusetts.
The patient files showed a number of military men being treated for minor injuries over the past couple of weeks, which led Solis and Roxy to dig a little deeper and discover that the army was in the process of clearing ground and laying foundations for a new base out at Monument Creek, about 25 miles from Arkham. With no infirmary in place, the Lieutenant in charge of the work detail made arrangements with the local hospital for treatment of his men.
Aaron had a nasty night. He hadn’t been sleeping well since having to kill the rat-thing a few days ago, compounded with the nasty things he read in The Book of the Voice giving him nightmares. This night was no different, with a dream of waking to find the hospital a ruin around him. Then, when he awoke for real, he somehow lost four and a half hours between looking at the clock beside his bed and walking down the corridor to the nurse’s station.
These events disturbed him a great deal and, when his companions returned to the hospital in the morning, they went to look at one of the rooms in the hospital that Aaron had seen in his dream. It was occupied by an elderly woman far gone with senile dementia, and they found no clues as to the source of the dream or the lost time. Still, Aaron agreed to stay in the hospital another night, mainly to give Roxy and Solis time to break into the administration office to look for anything interesting.
They didn’t find anything in the office, but Aaron did find an old grocery sack with the remains of someone’s lunch in it in a trash can near the loading dock. The bag was marked Olsen’s Family Market. And in the morgue, Roxy and Solis found a record of a young private killed by a falling tree, whose postmortem exam revealed strange calciferous tumours on his soft tissues. The body had already been released, so they couldn’t examine it first hand.
The next day, they went to the county office, and found out that the military was indeed building a new base out at Monument Creek, so named because of the neolithic mounds and standing stones near the source of the creek. They decided that they needed to go out and take a look at the base (and maybe the mounds and standing stones), but first went to Olsen’s Family Market to check it out. They spoke to Olaf Olsen, the owner and proprietor, and found him a genial but thoroughly mundane fellow.
So, out to Monument Creek, with camping equipment, firearms, medical kit, tracing paper, charcoal, binoculars, and bird books. They set up camp on a hill overlooking the military base under construction, and were invited down to dine with Lieutenant Bennet, who was in charge of the construction project. There they found out that Fort Devens, which is primarily a recruitment and training base, needed to expand its facilities, and it was decided to open a new base to handle the increased recruitment. Aaron knew that Fort Devens also based three divisions of military intelligence, so he was suspicious. But he also knew that Lt. Bennet’s father had written a book about the native beliefs of the Southwest tribes, so he managed to make a more personal connection with the Lieutenant.
And Roxy was the only woman around for miles.
They also learned that the base had their supplies trucked in from Arkham, which led them to the conclusion that the fresh produce was probably delivered from Olsen’s Family Market.
They retired back to their campsite, determined to head upstream in the morning to check out the standing stones that the creek was named for. Their rest was disturbed, however, by a sergeant sent from the camp asking for Dr. Solis to come see to a medical emergency.
This turned out to be a private who was pale, clammy, and severely disoriented. Dr. Solis’s examination found that he seemed to be suffering from severe anemia, and had a hard lump under his skin near his appendix. The young man responded strangely to Solis’s questions and actions, seeming to answer questions that hadn’t been asked, or answering in the wrong order. Blood drawn looked almost blue, and quite watery.
During the examination, the doctor noticed that one of the man’s ears seemed to be deformed, with some sort of ribbed growth within the cartilage stretching and distending the shape of it. As he watched, the ribs seemed to extend, stretching the skin and cartilage of the ear even further. When he touched it with a probe, the taut skin split.
While the doctor was asking the sergeant for details of when the illness had come on, the man died.
Aaron and Roxy, looking around, found some strange crystals in the mud on the man’s boots – things that looked like tiny, strange snow men, with two faceted spheres attached to each other, and a long, thin spike ending in a weird starburst jutting from the smaller sphere at right angles to the rest of the thing. A small fringe of spikes also ran down each side of the smaller sphere. The largest of the crystals was about twice the size of a grain of rice, and most were significantly smaller.
Talking to the Lieutenant and the dead man’s squadmate, the characters could find no explanation for the strange illness, nor the tiny crystals. The body was removed and would be sent to the hospital for an autopsy the next morning, and the Lieutenant warned about possible infection or influenza in the camp.
And that’s where we left things last night.
This is the first investigation that’s stretched into two nights, which is fine, because now I get to spend a little time fleshing out the back nine, as it were. I asked the players to think about what they’re planning to do next, and to let me know what their thoughts are. Sure, the game works as an improvised scenario, but if I have a couple of weeks to think up cool stuff to slip in when appropriate, why shouldn’t I take advantage of it?
Anyway, another fun game, with some nice creepy in it. Still fairly low-key, but that’s the way I like the horror campaigns. Keep the mythos strange, incomprehensible, and at a distance as long as possible, so it stays frightening.
Next game is scheduled in two weeks’ time. I’m looking forward to it.