From the Armitage Files: Burning Curiosity

**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**

In between the last session and this session, my players discussed what they were going to investigate next. They decided to go looking into the Society for Syncretic Inquiry, and its possible connection to the Fuschack-Donlands gang of bank robbers. Some initial research led them to discover that Wilfrid Wakeling ((No relation to Wilbur Whately at all. Promise.)), the previous head of the society had died about a year and a half previously, six months or so after a stroke caused him to turn over leadership of the society to Edwin Carsdale. They decided to see if they could get someone inside the society to investigate.

They started their investigation into Carsdale and the society by climbing back up on one of their favourite hobby-horses: trying to use it as an excuse to get into the rare book collection at the MU library. The document mentioned that Wakeling had visited the collection from time to time, and they wanted to see a record of what books he had examined. Llanfer informed him that such information could not be released without permission of the collection’s curator – Dr. Armitage.

Now, there’s been a bit of friction developing between Armitage’s group and the investigators ((Except for Dyer, really. Dyer is going out of his way to be as helpful as he feels he can, because of the way they did the right thing way back in the beginning.)). This is mainly because the investigators keep coming to them for information, but not sharing any in return, and then looking affronted when the Armitage group is less-than-forthcoming. To be fair to the investigators, the initial set-up with the group was that they were supposed to investigate the things in the documents independently. This has morphed, in their memories, into them not being allowed to tell the Armitage group – especially Armitage himself – anything about what they’re doing.

Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve always hated games where, to solve a mystery, all you needed to do was get the info-dump from the right NPC contact. But the fact that the investigators keep going to them for help ((Maybe having Dyer help them was a mistake, sending mixed messages, so they think that they just need the right approach. Which is kind-of true, but probably not in the way they think.)) means that they keep running into that friction, and are beginning to disdain the members of the Armitage group.

When they wouldn’t give Armitage any idea of who they were investigating, or what they hoped to find, Armitage (again) turned down their request to see the records of who had access to the special collection, and what they looked at. This led to more conversation amongst the investigators about the possibility of breaking into the library to get access to this information. I’m pretty sure they’re just looking for an excuse to break in, so that Moon – and possibly Solis – can get their hands on some of the nastier tomes. This desire twists all avenues of investigation around to involving the library. Maybe I should just break down and give them access ((This does open up all sorts of possible avenues for bringing in other threads, and tying them together. Hmmm…)).

Roxy did manage to get some information from Freeborn (and convert him into a contact for future use) in return for helping to finance his studies, including patronizing another expedition to Australia ((Ah, the flexibility of a Credit Rating of 7…)). Unfortunately, he didn’t know much, but he was able to give the basics of the Society: academics who meet to discuss cross-disciplinary pursuit of knowledge, breaking free of the silos of their own specialties.

Meantime, Moon did some research on Carsdale, finding out that he was a young Physics professor at Harvard ((Okay, I had a total brain-freeze on this one. I had decided he was from Harvard, but during the game, I could not remember the name of the place! I kept saying, “Oooh, you know, that big one, in Boston.” “Boston College?” “Nope.” “MIT?” “Nope. Damn. What is the name of that place?” And, of course, when I remembered, everyone stared at me incredulously. “You mean you couldn’t remember Harvard? Dude, what’s wrong with your brain?”)), and found one of his more controversial papers on non-linear time. This obviously caught his attention, what with his strange temporal experiences. And Solis took a trip to Boston, hoping to find out information on Wakeling (who was a professor at Boston College) and Carsdale. He found that Wakeling returned home to Suffolk, England, after his stroke, and died there less than a year later. The only new information he got on Carsdale was overheard on the train – two Harvard faculty members discussing him in none-too-flattering terms, referring to him as an ambitious young Turk with radical ideas. Again, this caught the group’s attention.

After a little more discussion, they decided on a two-prong attack. Roxy called Carsdale, and arranged an interview to be considered for joining the Society. She didn’t have the skills listed in the campaign book to gain entry (aside from a high Credit Rating), but she had a few other academic skills, and some Flattery, that she spent instead, while dropping hints about the weird things she’s seen over the past few months. I liked this approach, and it was played well, so decided it would be enough to get her membership.

Moon, meanwhile, had pitched me an idea to use Art History to uncover some way to intersect with the ideas in Carsdale’s papers. I thought for a bit, and said sure, if he wanted to make a spend, he could put together some stuff on Bach’s reversible fugues ((This is totally made up. At least, as far as I know.)) and some of the abstract painters that could be presented as musical and visual expressions of non-linear time. He used his Antiquarian special ability to have some of these examples in his bookshop, and went to the restaurant where Roxy was being interviewed by the Society and “happened to run in to” Carsdale there. Moon pitched his idea, which intrigued Carsdale enough to want to speak to him privately the next day.

Roxy’s interview with the Society went fairly well – she got invited to join. She also noticed that there seemed to be an inner circle; certainly, Carsdale and two others perked their ears up at some of the more blatant hints of mythos stuff. I don’t think she’s quite decided what that means, though.

Next day, Carsdale came to visit Moon. He was impressed by the pieces Moon showed him and played for him, and asked Moon to look over the next paper on the subject of non-linear time he was preparing to publish. He didn’t want to tell Moon what it was about, preferring to see if Moon could figure out his thesis, despite the advanced math. Moon promised to read it and provide feedback, and Carsdale took his leave. As he did so, the room seemed to shift and flatten strangely to Moon, and Carsdale seemed to grow into a tall, angular humanoid with strangely-articulated limbs, covered in an array of fine, waving tendrils almost like fur.

This was the same kind of thing Moon had seen a couple of times before, including when the visitors in Rot Tal had moved him outside of the normal spatial dimensions. The vision only lasted a second or two, but it made Moon suspect that Carsdale was somehow capable of manipulating his perception of time. After Carsdale left – “coincidentally” running into Dr. Solis coming to pick up some obscure and suggestive books – Moon skimmed over the paper, which seemed to suggest that, by acting in dimensions higher than the standard three spatial on single temporal, one could produce effects that looked miraculous. In short, acting in higher dimensions could produce magic.

Roxy had joined the boys by this time, and they spent some time talking about what they should do next. And that’s when I had a trio of Tch-Tchos show up and throw a Molotov cocktail through the front window of the bookstore downstairs.

There resulted a mad scramble – Solis and Roxy trying to put the fire out and Moon, with a better ((I just mistyped “better” as “bitter.” Both work in this context.)) understanding of how fast old, dry books will burn, worked on salvaging the most valuable and portable of items and then hightailing it out the back way. Solis and Roxy got the point and followed. Right into the Tcho-Tcho ambush.

Kris knives and blow guns proved to be no match for three pistols, though at the end of the fight, both Roxy and Solis were poisoned and fast on the way to losing consciousness. They dumped the Tcho-Tcho bodies in the trash cans behind the store, and Moon drove them to the hospital while I kept calling for Health checks as their muscles cramped, they started vomiting, and rapidly approached death. Samples of the darts allowed the doctors at the hospital to find an antivenin that saved their lives.

Before I go on with the story, I want to make a little aside about what I did here. I – very heavy-handedly, and without consulting the player – trashed something that was very important to the player. I took away the bookseller’s bookshop. This is an incredibly risky thing to do in the game, and I wasn’t sure that I should. On the one hand, it was the appropriate thing to happen, given what I know about the plot that the players don’t, and it provides a nice personal hook for Moon in all this. On the other hand, it’s kind of a dick move. I wouldn’t do it in many situations, and even when I thought I could, I would tend to avoid it.

But I did it here. I hit both the character and the player hard with this one. Why did I choose to do that? Well, mainly because I knew this player. I know that Michael likes the downward spiral for his characters, and I know he trusts me to not completely screw him over ((Well, he does now. There was a time in the early days of our gaming when we’d really pick on each others’ characters, so much so that others in the groups commented on it. The weird thing is that neither of us did it deliberately, and neither of us noticed we were doing it to the other, only that the other was doing it to us. We’ve worked past that, now. Mostly. 😉 )). I also made it pretty clear during the game that he had insurance, and enough of a base stock, to get another shop up and running in pretty short order, so that it was a temporary thing that had happened. If he wanted it to be, that is.

Anyway, I just wanted to note that I understand how this tactic could have blown up in my face. I judged it wouldn’t – this time – and I think I was right.

So. Back at the hospital, things calmed down. Solis made an attempt to examine the bodies of the Tcho-Tchos the next day, but some of his comments roused the suspicions of the police officer investigating the case, and he didn’t get the chance. Instead, he got to do some fancy back-pedaling and duck out the door.

Everyone was pretty beat up, by then – this had been a really hard session on Stability, what with one thing ((Lots of tests.)) and another ((Some bad, bad rolls.)). The group decided to get out of town for a few days and, because it was around a month since they left the visitors at Rot Tal, they went back to see if they left as promised.

They did. Around noon on the appointed day ((I had toyed with the idea of having them miss the whole thing because of the difference in the way the two races understand time, but then figured that would be pointless. Why set it up if I don’t have it pay off? And I wanted it to pay off in a specific way, this time.)), the inhabitants of Rot Tal gathered together in the village square, and… something happened.

Now, at this stage in the game, each of the characters has something strange going on, mentally speaking. Moon has strange time-jumps in perception, Roxy has visions of undersea cities populated by nameless things, and Solis is starting to have recurring visions of a puzzlebox that makes him very uneasy. The agitation of the higher dimensions caused by the rescue of the visitors sent each of the investigators into their personal visions:

  • Moon was back at home, eating breakfast in his kitchen, when he looked up to see himself standing in the doorway, pointing a gun at him. He drew his own gun and fired just as the other Moon also fired, and was hit in the arm. He came to on the grassy hill above Rot Tal with a bullet in his arm ((No one has yet asked how this could happen now that the bookshop has burned down, and I think that’s interesting.)).
  • Roxy had the vision of leading a procession of things up to an altar stone before a huge building. On the altar were many sacrifices – men, women, and children. The things Roxy was leading lifted her up onto the stone and slaughtered the sacrifices, and all the blood flowed to Roxy’s feet and up her legs. She raised her arms, and the colossal doors in the building before her started to open. Then she, too woke up on the grassy hillside.
  • Solis found himself once again in the strange temple with the puzzlebox on a plinth in front of him. This time, his curiosity got the better of him, and he started to play with it, trying to solve it. It changed shape as he worked it, from a rectangular box to a cube, and also changed colour from dark blue to a deep blue-green. Then he awoke on the hillside.

When the investigators looked down into the town below them, they saw that everyone had collapsed in the street. They went down and managed to revive Fred Jahraus, who took some time to figure out how to speak again. It was fun to play up Fred learning again how to use his body for a little while, but I got tired of doing it long before the players got tired of watching my contortions, so I jumped to a summary of how the visitors were now gone, having taken some few willing human minds with them. These included Jahraus’s mother. In return for the hospitality of the human bodies, the folks of Rot Tal were apparently left with a town that they owned and a large amount of money.

The investigators helped get everyone into shelter and fed while they relearned to be in charge of their own bodies and minds, and I gave them a Stability award for seeing that some things keep their promises, and that people can be good to each other ((I needed an excuse to give them some Stability back, or they would be useless in the next part of the investigation.)).

That’s when one of the players mentioned that the visitors were more like rats leaving a sinking ship: “Bye bye, now! Thanks for the hospitality! Good luck with the forthcoming apocalypse!” I’m pleased with the way some themes – like non-linear time and higher dimensions – are recurring in interesting ways through the game. It’s helping me solidify some of my thoughts about the endgame for the campaign, and giving me useful threads to weave into the ongoing narrative.

So, next time, the group is – I think – back to pursuing the Society of Syncretic Inquiry, to see if and how Carsdale is connected to the firebombing of the book shop and the mythos in general. I wonder what they’ll find.


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