Wrapped up the latest Armitage Files session about half an hour ago. We usually go later than this, but I was tired and my brain was a little worn out by running the Red Box D&D Game Day at Imagine Games this afternoon. That was a fun session, with some great moments, but it ate up a lot of my energy, not to mention my prep time. So, when the game took a turn that I was completely unprepared for, I asked the players if it was all right if we stopped early to give me some time to come up with cool stuff to happen down this unexpected avenue.
Well, not really to come up with the cool stuff: I’ve got some good ideas right off the top of my head, but I want to do a little research into certain actual places and events, as well as to read a couple of Pagan Publishing scenarios that I half-remember and want to crib stuff from.
But before I get into any specifics, I need to say:
The Armitage Files is an improvised campaign structure. It uses a number of stock pieces, such as NPCs, organizations, and locations, that are strung together by individual GMs to fit player action. The adventures I create with it may or may not match any other GMâ€™s version of the campaign. That means that reading these posts may or may not offer spoilers for other game groups.
**You Have Been Warned**
A couple of sessions back, I gave the group the third document. I’ve come to understand that the rate at which the documents are given to the group does more than set the pace by providing (or not providing) more avenues of investigation; it also drives the tension of the story. I made it clear that the documents were going to come at a rate of my choosing, and that things might get very bad for everyone if they didn’t keep up the pace. They would not have time to investigate everything in every document, so they needed to choose carefully what they thought was most important, and figure out where they could have the biggest impact.
Basically, I made it clear that the documents were a countdown.
Anyway, the thread they decided to follow was the death in the factory. The name of the dead person was scribbled out, but with his knowledge of paper and inks, book restorer Aaron Moon was able to clean off the scribbles to read the name of the slain investigator. It was his own.
The following spoiler is safe for my players to read, but players in other campaigns may wish to give it a miss, because it gives away a bit of a secret.
That freaked him out a bit*, and he poured on a little more solvent to eat away that section of the document and hide the fact that it said he was dead* on a factory floor somewhere. Dr. Solis decided to give it a try, and he also uncovered Aaron’s name, using his chemistry expertise.
Well, that was enough to really light a fire under everyone, and they started scrambling to find out where this factory was. The one link they had was the name Will Moran, which helped them track down Hutchinson Manufactory, a company in Kingsport that produced machine parts for diesel engines, primarily for ships.
My players are really starting to dread Kingsport.
The name Hutchinson also sounded familiar to them, and they managed to figure out that the company was owned by the missing chairman of the Helping Hands, who was currently sought by the police for questioning about his involvement with the deaths of numerous transients. I did this because I wanted to start weaving some more common threads into the narrative of the game, making things more cohesive and seeing what patterns emerged in the minds of my players.
This is, I think, an important thing to do with this campaign, because it doesn’t have any inherent cohesive storyline. The Keeper and the players have to distill one out of the play sessions. I like this idea, but it’s a bit like paper-making, in my opinion: you need to make sure there are enough threads in the pulp for the final product to hold together. So, I wanted to weave in some older loose ends and overlooked references to see what overarching theme and plot might coalesce.
Our heroes drove out to Kingsport to stake out the factory, and saw labour organizer Wally Endore being frogmarched* off the property. They persuaded them to let them drive him home, and plied him with alcohol while trying to find out if anything odd was going on at the factory. His answer was basically, “You mean, besides being picked up in a saloon car and given bourbon to answer questions about a factory I’ve only been to three times?”
But they did find out that the factory operated 24 hours a day, except that it closed down on Sundays. They dropped Wally off at his boarding house, and decided to send Dr. Solis in undercover as a health inspector worried about disease-carrying rats. His investigation allowed them to update the blueprints Roxy had tracked down for the buildings with what entrances and exits were currently functional, and to generally scout the ground. They returned just before dawn on Sunday to investigate the room where Aaron died/will die.
Nothing in the paperwork or records revealed anything of interest, but Roxy found a thin sheet of veneer tacked to the underside of a workbench. When she pried it open, it revealed a strange symbol that seemed to try and worm its way into her head. In best Cthulhu tradition, she immediately called Aaron over to have a look at it, too. Aaron went a little farther: he copied the symbol down on a bit of notepaper, making it wiggle even more in his head.
Things dragged a little at this point, as the gang kept looking around for more information. I finally remembered to download the Scene sign that WatsonSE told me about after my last post (Thanks, WatsonSE!), printed it out, and waved it at the players.
Back home, Aaron found that the glyph was similar to ones found in certain defaced idols in the sunken ruins of Nan Madol, origin of Ponape Scripture of dark reputation. He decided to use his Cthulhu Mythos to gain more information, along with a 1-point spend, so I told him that the symbol was a representation of Cthulhu’s eye, and was used to draw the attention of the sleeping Old One.
This is leading to a theme that I wanted to emerge in the game, and I’m glad to see it working. See, I’ve been listening to some interesting audiobooks about physics, and one of the things that I’m trying to pull in is the observer effect, twisted to make it more Mythos-cool. I want to avoid having the characters actually encounter any of the big names in person, but I want the idea of attracting the attention of one of the old gods or titans is dangerous in and of itself. I started it with the Chaugner Faugn thing I did a while back, where it was the attention of the thing that was sucking the temporal potentiality from those it paid attention to, and I’m continuing it with this little sigil thing.
Figuring out the nature of the symbol led Aaron right down to the furnace with his little sketch, and he watched until it was ashes. Roxy had defaced the one carved in the factory, as well.
At this point, the group decided that they really needed to track down Hutchinson and see if he was running a factory full of Cthulhu cultists. I had already decided where Hutchinson was, roughly, but I hadn’t done the research I wanted to do to have a solid foundation for improvising this section of the investigation. It’s also offering me an opportunity to either increase or decrease the complexity of what’s going on: I can either make the Hutchinson thread connect to the death of Aaron Moon, simplifying things, or I can make it a different, parallel avenue of investigation, complicating the investigation as the characters have to decide which line to pursue and which clues belong to which mystery*.
But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like to be prepared for the improvisation I’m going to have to do. So, because it was getting late, and I was tired and my brain was less than agile, I begged my players’ indulgence, which they graciously granted.
I wrapped up the evening by dropping the other shoe about the glyph: both Aaron and Roxy had disturbing dreams, featuring the ocean, drowned people, and something huge and terrible rising from the depths.
Tomorrow, when I’m a little more on the ball, I’m going to schedule a few more games, so that we can get back to a regular schedule. I’ve missed running this game, and am glad to be back to it.
*Though not as much as it could have – my players were rolling great guns on their Stability tests tonight. Almost made me wonder why I was bothering. Back
*Or would die, if you adhere to their current opinion of what the documents are. Back
*As a word geek, these things interest and amuse me. Back