From the Armitage Files: The Death of Aaron Moon

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:

**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**

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.


The Armitage Files book recommends that the name of the dead person be that of the character most likely to be talking with factory workers. Now, my characters are all equally unlikely to be welcomed on a factory floor, so that idea didn’t work well for me. Instead, I decided that the name would be the name of the first character who asked about the name. That idea sort of got derailed, because the first character to express an interest was Roxy Crane, and the rest of that section of the document made it clear that the dead person was male. So, I changed it to the second person to look at things, which turned out to Aaron.

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

*Frogmarched is in the WordPress spellcheck dictionary. WordPress is not. Nor is spellcheck, but that’s most likely because of the neologism of the compound. It likes spell-check just fine*. Back

*As a word geek, these things interest and amuse me. Back

*Arturo Perez-Reverte played with this trope to great and entertaining effect in The Club Dumas. Back

Tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to From the Armitage Files: The Death of Aaron Moon

  1. DrummerDave says:

    So… when you told your players that the files were all part of an overall pacing and that they were on some sort of timeline, how did you approach that? It seems a bit too ‘meta-game’ for my tastes. That, if the players are going to figure out that they’re on the clock to figure this out, that the story needs to somehow to reflect that.

    I’ve just handed over the third document, and the original NELAA thread has just come to an end. But the players feel that they have lots of time because so much of the Files was written so far in future (which they’ve deduced, correctly, from some things that Armitage has referenced), and I’m not driving them to shut down threats actively. Overall, they’re taking time to dig into these threats and it seems fine that the pacing’s slow – I don’t want to put the heat on until it’s truly necessary.

    What percentage of the overall campaign do you figure you’re at? While I just gave them the third document, I think we’re still around 20%, as there is a lot left to dig into. But maybe it’s more like 40% and I’m being overly optimistic?

    Also, how are you handling the Time Sickness?

  2. Rick Neal says:

    DrummerDave, I’ve added spoiler tags to your comment – you’ve touched on some things that my players haven’t got to, yet, or at least haven’t had confirmed. Hope you don’t mind.

    As to telling them that they’re on a clock for the adventures, it was purely metagame. I find that it’s best to set expectations about the kinds of pacing an adventure or campaign is going to have with the players, so that both sides of the screen can focus on building the types of play experience that they can enjoy. Part of the pacing is just the rate of delivery of the documents, but that can lead to a backlog as they search out every last little reference in one document before moving on to another. Another part is raising the stakes as the scenarios progress – the characters in my game started off dealing with an isolated person messing with dangerous stuff, and have moved gradually up the ladder to cults, and have only recently faced serious mythos threats. The rising tension and opposition are a good signal that things are advancing.

    My pacing is not necessarily the right pacing; it’s what I want for my group, and what they’re happy with it. You’re going to have different different pacing needs and desires with different groups and different plotlines, and if letting the characters exhaust each document before moving on works for you guys, then that’s what you should do.

    I figure we’re about 25% through the campaign, but things are taking some unexpected turns, so I can’t be entirely definite.

    I’m going to answer your other question under spoiler tags.

    I think you have to be really careful with the time sickness, especially in Purist mode, like we’re playing, with no way to recover Sanity. The campaign says it targets the character with the lowest Sanity, so it can easily escalate into a death spiral if you overplay it. I try and roll it out about once an investigation, when the character suffering from it is alone and doing something somewhat stressful. I went whole hog with the first one, showing him a vision of a horrible future and letting him lose about five hours, but since then I’ve been doing more subtle things, like letting him complete three hours of research in under half an hour. It’s the subtle things that are really freaking him out.

  3. DrummerDave says:

    Hey – sorry about the spoilerage. I will be more careful in the future.

    Yeah, for the pacing, my group has surprised me with the how slow and methodical they’re willing to be. It’s practically a police procedural sometimes, with them breaking down every single little piece of evidence with exhaustive discussion. I usually love it when my PCs talk extensively about clues, but this gets to be a bit maddening.

    I will continue to follow the progress of your campaign here and match it with my own on YSDC. I like being one of the first people out here running what I feel will end up being a new classic campaign. This breaks so much ground on so many levels, I’m quite interested to see how it plays out.

  4. Rick Neal says:

    Don’t worry about the spoilers. My group is generally pretty good about avoiding them, and keeping player and character knowledge separate. I agree with you about this campaign breaking new ground; among other things, it’s reshaped the way I approach developing adventures for a lot of games.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *