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**
Saturday was the latest chapter in my Armitage Files campaign. We started the game early, coupled with some wonderful Indian take-out food. It was the first time in months that the entire group1 was able to get together for the game, and it was a lot of fun.
I had given the fourth document to the players at the end of the last session, but they decided that they wanted to go back and tie up the loose ends in the APL investigation that had caused them some problems previously. They had avoided going back after them last session because they were down a man, and so followed up some peripheral leads, but thought that they had uncovered some valuable information that might help them this time2, so wanted to take another run and Jahraus.
The session turned out to be something of a spotlight session for Aaron Moon, whose Cryptography and Language spends allowed him to decipher the strange mandala-like communications in the APL newsletters. I spun him a riff based on John Dee’s Enochian language, medieval sigildry, the language of the elder things as explored in Beyond the Mountains of Madness3, and a number of other things that came to mind. The image I was trying to convey was that of an alien mindset behind the mandalas; concepts that were translated imperfectly into forms that the investigators were able to perceive, similar to the impression Roxy had got from Fred Jahraus when they had met.
From the GM perspective, it made me look pretty good, as I was able to draw in themes and ideas that I had laid down in previous sessions, right back to the first one. I tend to try and lay pipe, as the book refers to it, pretty heavily in the game, whether I know where the pipe is going or not at the time. That way, I have a wealth of things that I can call back when I need them in the current game, weaving the various sessions into a richer, more coherent story. The trick, of course, is being able to remember all the stuff I seed in the game. Sometimes, I do – I have a pretty good memory for this kind of thing – but sometimes, the players remember it and bring it in, which is even better. I got a mix of that in this session, which worked very well.
The bulk of the messages in the newsletters were pretty simple, calling for those who could read them to gather in Arkham. The latest newsletter carried a couple of different messages, though: a warning about how they had been discovered, and a reference to a red low place in the earth. Solis figured this last was the source of the reference to the Red Hollow Case in the previous document, but they hadn’t been able to locate anything about Red Hollow as a place anywhere nearby. Roxy suggested that the place name might be in a foreign language, and sure enough, they found a small farming village in New Hampshire called Rot Tal, which is German for Red Valley4.
I wound up doing a bit of scrambling getting ready for this session, because I changed my mind about what the spine of the story was going to be about an hour before the game was due to start. I had been using the default sinister version of the APL previously, but I had an idea that would allow me to advance more of a through-line for the overall campaign. So, about an hour before the game began, I tossed what I had prepared and rebuilt the scenario around my new idea.
Keep that in mind. I scrambled to rebuild an entirely new scenario in the hour before the game.
Our intrepid investigators made their way to Lebanon, New Hampshire – the nearest town to Rot Tal5 – picked up some supplies6, and went to lurk in the trees above the little farming village with high-powered binoculars. They saw that a lot of the homes, farms, and businesses had been abandoned – this is the Great Depression, after all – but that there still seemed to be some people walking the streets.
On the second day, they saw Fred Jahraus, his mother, and several of his “foster brothers” move into a few of the bigger houses on the main street. They decided to watch that night and the next day to see what happened, going down snoop the next night if nothing more interesting had come up. And so, they settled in, and I got ready to run my big set-piece for this scenario, with the Jahraus group calling their brother ghouls up to cleanse the town of humans, so the rest of the ghoul nation could gather safely7. It was going to be big, and bloody, and horrific, and would show the dangers of procrastination to the investigators.
And then Aaron Moon pointed out that the only people who had committed any crimes in this entire investigation into the APL were the investigators. What if the APL weren’t bad guys?
Now, I was kind of caught flat-footed by this,and was prepared to dismiss it out of hand. But then I thought, “Y’know, he’s right.” I’ve been wonking on about how the investigators are turning into sociopaths. Did I want to discourage or reward efforts to move away from that? On the other hand, I had this whole new scenario that I’d put together in an hour! Did I want to just toss that out?
That’s not a really good reason to dismiss player input though, and I know it. A bigger reason was that the whole ghoul massacre thing was more in keeping with the overall themes and storylines of the campaign. But I didn’t want to just dismiss the idea of a peaceful resolution out of hand.
So, I copped out, and threw the decision to the dice. I got the player to pick low or high, then I rolled a die behind my screen to see which option I was going to go with. He picked high, I rolled high, and I threw out the scenario for the second time that evening and started from scratch.
The denouement of the scenario was Moon going, alone and unarmed, into town to speak with Jahraus. They had a sort-of conversation, where Jahraus told Moon that he and his fellows were awaiting rescue, which should be coming in a month and, while there was some risk, no harm was intended. He tried to explain things clearly, but apparently couldn’t express some of the concepts in human thought and language. I drew a lot of inspiration for this section of the scenario from this marvelous clip of Carl Sagan explaining the fourth dimension, complete with Jahraus showing Moon the fourth dimension and almost breaking his brain.
I threw in a number of hints about the throughlines of the campaign, though I’m not sure how many of them were picked up by the players, and had a lot of fun roleplaying Fred Jahraus again. One thing that I did make pretty clear was that, while Jahraus and his fellows intended no harm, not causing harm was not their top priority.
Some tidbits that Moon brought back from his little fourth-dimensional head trip included the fact that, in that perspective, Jahraus and company looked like swarms of strangely coloured bumblebees, and that humans look like tall, strangely jointed creatures with probabilities and potentials boiling off them like fur. He is concerned that the Jahraus things are the moebius wasps that the first document warned them about, and that the yeti-thing that gave him the bullet is, in fact, his future self.
The investigators decided that they would leave Rot Tal for now, coming back near the end of the month to see what happened and try to minimize any harm done by the rescue. It was near the end of the evening, so I wrapped things up with two small scenes to keep the creep factor going. First of all, Moon came down to his kitchen to find a book sitting on his table that matched the descriptions of The Tears of Azathoth that he had heard rumours about. Before he could gather the necessary alcohol and firearms to sit down and read it, it vanished. And Roxy found that her bedroom showed signs of someone having gone through it. A search uncovered a flat stone wrapped in soft leather between the mattress and spring of her bed. She smashed it without looking at it, and got Dr. Solis to help her dispose of it, just like they did with the previous stone.
Next session starts a new investigation. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be.
- All four of us.
- As they concluded through play, they actually hadn’t found anything last session that would help them with this case. It turned out that the connection they thought they had found was the product of their own paranoid fancies.
- They had seen some samples of this in Danforth’s journal.
- This was a bit of a dodge on my part; when I had originally developed this scenario, I had no good idea to attach to Red Hollow, so I dismissed it as a viable clue. Now, coming back to the APL, I found that I needed to re-incorporate it, but didn’t want to invalidate the information I had given the investigators previously. A few minutes with Google Translate gave me Rot Tal.
- Rot Tal is not a real place, but if it were, it would be near Lebanon.
- Which, of course, included dynamite.
- This is not the default sinister version of the group, but the new idea I came up with in the hour before the game.