From the Armitage Files: Sideshow

**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 was faced with a bit of a game quandary last week. I really wanted to keep the momentum going after the great time the group had doing the city creation for Feints & Gambits by having the character creation session follow close on its heels. The date of November 13 got bandied about, but I had an Armitage Files game scheduled for that night. And given that the last time we got together for Armitage Files, we playtested The Big Hoodoo ((Short, non-spoilery review: you will want this adventure when it’s released.)) which, though fun, meant that we had been away from the ongoing Armitage Files storyline longer than I liked.

We came up with a compromise: Feints & Gambits character creation Saturday night, Armitage Files Sunday afternoon. As a thank-you for my Armitage players being willing to move the game, I also made dinner ((Lamb stew and soda bread. Did I mention I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Ireland lately?)) for the crew.

But the whole week was pretty crazy, and I had next to no time to prep for the game. Add to that the fact that I didn’t really know what the players wanted to pursue after the last adventure until Saturday afternoon, and even then they sent me two possibilities, and I was really feeling the time crunch. So, after everyone left on Saturday night and I had the stew in the slow cooker for the next day, I threw together a quick outline for one of the possibilities. In the morning, I threw together an outline for the other.

Now, this is far less prep than I usually do for a game. Even with the improvisational nature of this campaign, I really like having a solid outline ready when the game starts, even if I change it or abandon it during play. But no time for that; I was going in half-blind.

I want to talk about a couple of spoilery things – not necessarily for other campaigns, but my players probably shouldn’t read what I’ve hidden behind the tags here ((Yeah, Michael, that means you. I know how much you love it when I do this.)).


Okay, I really wanted to throw in a completely mundane bit this session. The group has been dealing with nothing but supernatural threats since the game started, and I really wanted to mix it up, because that way, they will wonder about other stuff. And it’s always an interesting change of pace. So, the outlines I bashed together for the two things they were interested in following up – the strong men at the carnival and the American Preservation League – were both completely non-mystical, though no less dangerous.

I also wanted them to come away from this with a win. The last few sessions have been very downbeat, with the players feeling like they’re not making enough of a difference, and even losing ground. While that may be in keeping with a Lovecraft story, it’ll kill a roleplaying game pretty quickly. So, I had things set up to resolve pretty easily if the characters grabbed the right threads, probably in a single session.

With those ideas in mind, we hit the ground running. The group used their various investigative abilities to track down the correct carnival and where it was heading next: a little town Bliss Corner, Massachusetts ((I know, I know, it’s not really a town, it’s a part of Dartmouth. But the name sort of leaped off the map at me, and I had to use it.)). They loaded themselves into a train and went down to check things out.

They arrived in town a few days before the carnival did, and scouted out the fairground and the town itself. Roxy passed herself off as a photographer doing a feature on carnivals – photographing the fairgrounds before arrival, during setup, during the carnival, during teardown, and after it departed. That got her close while the locals hired by the advance crew were cleaning out the weeds and tall grass, but the roustabouts wouldn’t let her on the lot during setup, for fear of accidents ((So they said, anyway. The group immediately suspected ulterior motives.)).

On the first night of the carnival, they paid their quarters, and went in to see the sights. I drew a lot of the description for the carnival from the excellent HBO TV series Carnivàle ((Which I’ve always thought would be a good setting for a DFRPG campaign. Or Unknown Armies. Yeah, that’d work.)), talking about the various games, a few rides, the sideshow tent, and the hootchie show in the back. They had a good time wandering the grounds, sampling the food, and riding the Ferris wheel. They spotted one of the roustabouts who seemed to be following them, and Roxy got a good picture of him from the Ferris wheel before they went to check out the sideshow tent.

Now, they had figured that this was the heart of the mystery, because that’s what it said in the documents, but I felt it was time to start them questioning assumptions about the accuracy of Armitage’s notes. So, they got in without any problem, and saw the contortionist, the fat woman, the sword-swallower/blockhead, the duelling strong men, and the half-human boy. This last one really creeped them out, and they figured that this was the weirdness that they would need to investigate and understand.

When the show was over, they were hustled out into the midway again, and the roustabout who had been following them knocked Roxy down and stole her camera. Moon and Solis gave chase, but Solis fell behind quickly, and the roustabout shouted, “Hey, Rube!” to get the rest of the carnies to get moon off his back ((There was some fun roleplaying here as Moon mistakenly assumed that Rube was the name of the big guy who had knocked him down, and kept calling him that. Considering that Rube is a derogatory term among carnies of the time, it kept making everyone angrier at Moon.)). The men were ejected forcibly from the fairground, and Roxy followed under her own power, sans camera.

Now more convinced than ever that there was something going on there, our heroes crept back in the middle of the night as the fair was shutting down, and hid in the trees and hedgerows lining the fairground, spying on the carnies after hours. They witnessed a meeting where the trouble they had stirred up was discussed, and the roustabout who had stolen the camera – Mitch was his name – was pretty soundly bawled out by the barker. The half-human boy, now dressed and pretty articulate after his beast-man show, suggested smashing the camera to satisfy Mitch’s worries about a picture and dumping it outside the fairground in case the police came looking for it. If things got tense, the carnival would pull up stakes early and head on to the next stop.

Everyone agreed to that, and it was done. Roxy, suspecting a trap, snuck back in the early hours of dawn to retrieve the camera from where it was dumped. She had made a Photography spend to get the picture of Mitch, so I figured that meant she would still be able to recover it, which she did. A Cop Talk spend revealed that Mitch was actually Garland Mitchell, last surviving member of the Red Clay gang of bank robbers, on the run from the feds.

That’s where we wrapped it up for the evening. Now the players have a couple of weeks to figure out what to do next, and so do I. I had expected to wrap this up in a single session, but now I have the time to expand the adventure and flesh some things out.

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2 Responses to From the Armitage Files: Sideshow

  1. Krisztian Nagy says:

    Hi Rick,

    As of footnore 2, I’m now officially envying your players…

  2. DrummerDave says:

    Aside from a specific encounter with the fortune teller, my party had ‘nothing of consequence’ from the carnival encounter as well. I’ll be interested in where you go from here…

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