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**
Last night was the latest session of my Armitage Files campaign. I had to poke the players a little bit in the downtime to get them to let me know what avenue of investigation they intended to pursue this session; specifically, if they were planning on continuing to look into the carnival, or if they wanted to move on to something else. The upshot of the conversation was that they decided not to bother with the carnival any longer1, but to move on to the American Preservation League.
That came in Thursday, so I spent Friday night putting together the situation for the session2, and Saturday reading over the bits of the documents and campaign book that I needed.
The game started with the usual scrambling about to try and get external confirmation of the stuff in the documents they were working from. As usual, there was none to be had, beyond confirming the existence of the APL and its leader, Fred Jahraus. This part of the investigation brought Moon, who has dropped to 6 Sanity through the adventures and has started drinking heavily, into the office of Dr. Peasley, one of the Armitage group and a psychiatrist. He recognized Moon’s deteriorating mental state3, and advised him to back off for a bit, or at least uses some sleeping pills, which he provided.
The team then joined the APL’s mailing list, under an assumed name, paying their dollar for associate membership, and donating another four dollars for as many back issues of the group’s newsletter as they could. Some analysis of the documents allowed them to map the development of the group, starting with Jahraus and expanding as it got more powerful and wealthy. The doctrines were pretty basic ones for far-right political groups in 1935 – avoiding entanglements in Europe, restricting immigration to northern European ethnic groups, reassigning electoral votes to favour areas with pure populations, things like that. Also interspersed through the documents were strange mandala patterns that seemed to be part of some sort of information system that none of the characters could interpret.
The real weirdness really started when the began following up on the group. The printer who printed the newsletters talked about how Jahraus was odd, but very friendly, even to the black worker in the print shop. The neighbourhood gossip told how Jahraus shared his house with his mother and a number of her former foster-children, many of whom were Asian or Latino, and that they were all members of the APL, as well. When Solis and Moon went to speak with Jahraus in person, they found him to be a very odd man4, and the photos in the house did not back up the stories about the all-male foster siblings of mixed ethnicity. Oh, and while they were staking out the APL house, they spotted Wally Endore, a union organizer they had run into while investigating Moon’s predicted death at the warehouse.
My goal here was to provide them with an overwhelming number of things that didn’t add up, but didn’t quite fit together, either – a barrage of inconsistencies that didn’t paint a new picture. That sounds kind of like cheating, but the thing that I decided was going on behind the scenes did not lend itself well to exposure through secondary sources, which meant that I needed to pique their curiosity enough that they would engage directly with Jahraus and company to get access with clues that would lead them to the actual secrets behind the APL.
And then, just to muddy the waters a little more, I had Austin Kittrell show up at their stake-out pad, disguised as a working-class member of the neighbourhood5. He was quite willing to let himself be searched and questioned, though he kept trying to make the point that he had come to the group in good faith, wanting to share information. And then Roxy drugged him.
She gave him a glass of gin with some of Moon’s sleeping pills dissolved in it. Their plan was basically to take him to a secluded area to intimidate more satisfying answers out of him. This is a great plan in a Leverage game, but in a mainly-Purist Trail of Cthulhu game, I thought it shouldn’t quite have the desired outcome. So, they hauled the drugged Austin out to an abandoned basement that some of Roxy’s more colourful friends knew about, and waited for him to come around.
I reminded them that Peasley had told Moon not to take the pills with alcohol, and they started panicking. Solis checked him out, and found him to have depressed heartrate and respiration – he was essentially slipping into a coma, and probably going to die. Some Medicine spends got him stabilized, and when he finally came around, he was in terrible shape, convinced that the group were going to kill him. Instead of an interrogation, it turned into the group trying to explain why they had done this to him6.
It was a pretty fun scene for me to roleplay, and I think it actually unnerved a couple of the players to look at what they had done, and why. I tried to make the point that the reason they didn’t trust Kittrell was that the first document said not to – they never really questioned that admonition, though they question a great deal of other things about the contents. I also made the point that they don’t really know who wrote the documents, and that the documents themselves state that parts of what’s written is unreliable.
They got Kittrell bundled home to his staff to look after him, and regrouped to decide what to do about the APL.
Paying a political rally to invite the APL to speak got the majority of the residents out of the rooming house Jahrous’s mother runs, so Solis and Roxy decided to break in, with Moon keeping a watch in their stake-out pad7. Inside the house, they ran into Mrs. Jahrous, who they frightened somewhat by knocking on the door of her room when the house was locked and otherwise empty. They wedged a chair under her door, then continued searching. They found Fred’s room, which had only one thing of interest: a bookshelf full of diaries, each of them filled with the mandala-like symbols from the newsletters. Roxy grabbed a couple, then they started back down and out of the house. Except the stairs seemed to keep climbing down to the second floor, even when you started on the second floor – they wound up caught in a loop of some sort.
Meanwhile, it was time to mess with Moon a bit. He caught the stench of the thing that had come after him in the alley outside Hutchinson’s offices way back when, and spotted the tall figure of it standing under a streetlight. There was a weird, flickering discontinuity, and it was suddenly standing on the porch of the rooming house he was in, without having changed posture in the slightest. Another flicker, and it disappeared, but the stench was coming from inside the house, now.
So, like any real hero, he jumped out the window.
Inside the Jahraus house, Fred appeared pretty much out of nowhere, confronting the pair of burglars. He told them that his mother had already called the police, and Solis bolted. Fred hit him with some weird energy that caused a bit of his chest muscle to twist up and necrotize, causing him intense pain, but he kept running down and down the same stairs over and over. Roxy, meantime, made a pretty big Assess Honesty spend to see if there was something possessing Fred, and I explained that there wasn’t. Not really. Instead, it seemed that the intelligence that was Fred was having trouble communicating within a frame of reference that others could accept, which led to his weird speech patterns. The fact that he had trouble picking up the social cues from others in this frame of reference led him to seem strangely trusting and feckless, but it was mainly because of a lack of common experience, not because he was in any way simple.
With the sirens getting closer, she kissed Fred, distracting him for a moment, which let Solis make it down to the ground floor. Fred, hearing the police approach, tried to bash his head against the wall to injure himself for when the cops burst in, but Roxy grabbed him to prevent that, and bashed her own face against the wall, tearing her dress, as well.
Moon was face-to-face with the yeti thing, now, retching and coughing from its stench. It held out a hand to him, and gave Moon a bullet covered in blood, then vanished. This freaked him out a great deal8, and he scarpered, still overcome by the smell, before the cops could snag him.
Despite Roxy’s tearful and roughed- up demeanor, the police took her and Solis into custody on the basis of the testimony of the residents of the house. With conflicting stories going around about who had done what to whom, and the fact that Roxy no longer had the diaries she’d tried to steal, our heroes spent the night in a cell and then were charged with criminal trespass, fined, and released.
We called it an evening around then, with the plan being that they’re going to keep pushing after Jahraus, whom they really dislike now.
All in all, it was a very fun evening. There was a lot of neat roleplaying for me to do, and some fun twists to the way things went. Everyone is excited about the next session. Now we’ve just got to schedule it.
- Solis was very interested in finding out what was up with the half-human boy from the freak show, but Moon didn’t want to risk his neck with carnies and bank robbers if there was no supernatural element involved. Roxy was the deciding vote in favour of moving on, because she had… well, let’s call them ethical issues with ratting out a bank robber.
- Using Omnigraffle on my iPad. It’s bastard expensive for an app, but is the only one I’ve found that handles this kind of mindmapping the way I like. And seeing as I use that functionality for all my games, I can kind of justify the expense. It’s very, very nice.
- Michael’s doing a good job of making Moon a dangerously paranoid character.
- I tried to play him as a combination of Rain Man and Bob Newhart, which was an interesting kind of challenge.
- I enjoy tossing Kittrell into the mix every so often. The group distrusts him intensely, for no really good reason, and he makes a good ambiguous foil for them. I’m using him as a sort-of male counterpart to Roxy.
- It was very interesting to me to see this group try to justify the drugging, kidnapping, intended interrogation, and almost death of this man as a reasonable thing to have done to him, and the confusion when he didn’t seem to agree. The game has bred a charming trio of sociopaths.
- Keepers, don’t you love it when the party splits itself? Especially when they leave the character with the lowest Sanity alone somewhere with some responsibility?
- I just checked back through the posts, and can’t believe I didn’t mention this. The previous session, Moon came down to breakfast one day to find himself already seated at the table, eating oatmeal. He drew his pistol and shot at the apparition, which did the same to him and then vanished. After the fact, he found a bullet stuck in the doorframe by where he had been standing, but no sign of the other him, or the bullet he had fired. So, yeah, that’s why that was freaky for him.