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**
About a week ago, we had the penultimate1 session of our Armitage Files. As I was getting ready for the game, I had this idea for the game session – I would start the game five years in the future, after the heroes have failed to stop the great disaster that’s on the way. After all, the game has turned out to be about non-linear time and the possibility of time travel and multiple dimensions. So, that would give them two sessions to figure out some way to reach back in time to undo whatever happened, all the while playing in a post-Cthulhu-apocalyptic world.
Ultimately2, I decided against this. While it struck me as a neat dramatic trick, springing it on the players out of the blue seemed like too much of a hose-job: “Hey, guys, guess what. You failed the campaign, and I’m not even gonna tell you how. Know what you get to do for the last two sessions? Fix it and/or suffer!” They might have let me get away with it, if I had been able to make things cool enough3, but if I had blown it, there wasn’t enough time left in the campaign to correct for the problem. So, after some waffling, I wimped out.
What I decided to do instead was to increase the pressure. I wanted this session to be claustrophobic and tense, with the players losing ground whenever they dithered about anything. I decided that everything they did would lead them back to a the decay and undermining of their reality as the fabric of causality continued to unravel around them. In essence, I wanted the characters to reach the end of the session knowing that, one way or another, things were going to reach a head. They needed to know that, one way or another, everything was going to be decided very soon.
So, I turned the pressure up. It worked; at least, it worked from my end. For the players, well… maybe. See, everything I said in the previous paragraph? That’s all about mood. I wanted to build a mood of desperation and despair. What that means is that – from a player point of view – not a lot really happened. They were placed in fairly reactive roles4, didn’t get a lot of answers, and found themselves faced with a tightening circle of threat.
The reason I’m not sure how well it worked for the players is that a lot of the session involved the characters bickering. More than usual. So, I’m not sure how much of that was the fact that the characters were cracking under the pressure, and how much of it was that the players were frustrated and taking it out in character5. No one seemed terribly put out at the end of the evening, though, so I think I may have judged it right.
What actually happened in the game? Well, a few things, in a kind of mad, jumbled rush.
They went to pay a visit on Prof. Armitage6 at his home, but found the place empty. In the attic, they discovered a crystal snowman7 tucked into a bed and, in the basement, they found a trio of leg bones hidden in the coal. In the midst of examining the leg bones, a freshly awakened Armitage came down into the basement to investigate the noises that had wakened him. Upon investigation, our heroes found that the attic contained only boxes8 – there was no sign of the bedroom with the crystal snowman.
Looking out a window downstairs, they spotted a bonfire in a field out back, surrounded by oddly shaped shadows dancing frenetically to a weird, alien beat. When they called Armitage over to see it, it had vanished. At this point, they started telling everything to Armitage, who heard them out fairly calmly until they revealed that they had come to his house pretty much directly after discovering the bodies of Roxy’s housekeeper and butler, whereupon he essentially called them idiots and fled before whoever was following the investigators could find and kill him.
Not being idiots9, our heroes took their cue from him, and headed out to a little town to hole up until the morning, when they planned to take the fight to Kim Nak in Kingsport. The next day saw a flurry of telegrams, some trips to New York and Boston, and much plotting. They came up with a few interesting tidbits, foremost of which was that Kim Nak came to the US on papers that had a different name: Nar Ho Tep10. That gave them a bit of pause, and they began to rethink they’re head-on rush at Kim Nak because, as I said, they’re not idiots.
Somewhere along the way, they spotted Austin Kittrell on the streets of Kingsport and decided to try and follow him to figure out where he fit in11. Unfortunately, Crosby rolled pretty pathetically on his Shadowing roll, and wound up with Kittrell holding a gun to his head, mocking him a bit, and then prancing off.
I forget exactly where the idea came from – I think I answered some question about a place to overlook the Kingsport harbour with a description of the lighthouse and the nearby house12 on the promontory high above the town – but they became fixed on the idea of climbing up there for some reason. I decided to turn this into an opportunity for further clues and enlightenment about what was really going on – if they asked the right questions.
So, up they climbed, and the mist thickened around them. When they reached the house, it turned out to be an old log cabin rather than the larger Victorian mansion they had seen from below. The occupant came out, armed with a gun, and asked them who they were, but the investigators had been through so much crap in the past few days that, rather than answer the question, they threatened the fellow with their own weapons. Gunfire may or may not have ensued13, and the cabin vanished, so the intrepid climbers pushed on to the headland. There, they found a huge – and I mean huge, twelve feet tall, easily twenty feet across – pile of bones about where the lighthouse should have been. Looking down from that height, they saw that the site of the town was just wilderness. Then Kim Nak’s voice came out of the mists to taunt them.
There’s something a little gauche14 about having Nyarlathotep tease your investigators, but I was at a bit of a dead end15 with trying to get information into the hands of the players, so I wanted to drop some clues and this seemed like my last chance to try and give them a few options and insights into what’s going on16. I did my best, and think that they picked up on the important points.
The main thing they took away was the most important: Chaugnar Faugn, who is the self-aware facet of temporal entropy, is turning his attention to the world in this time and place because of the way time is being twisted out of linear order. Whether this is opening gaps that he can seep through into our reality, or the twisting of time is part of his attention and manifests him as it occurs is unclear17, but the effect is that potentiality of existence is being drained away, consumed by (or subsumed into) Chaugnar Faughn, leaving behind the crystal snowmen that look like elephantine humanoids.
It was around this time that the investigators decided they needed more help if they were to put this to bed, so they scurried back down the headland and zipped off back to Arkham to kick the collective butts of the Armitage Group and get them to pony up with some information and/or magic and/or guns. As they drove through the streets of Kingsport, they noticed few people but several of the large, human-sized crystal snowmen on the sidewalks.
Back in Arkham, a few of the Armitage Group assembled to hear out the investigators. Moon told them, essentially, that enough was enough and that he wanted everyone involved in this whole mess assembled that evening to answer some questions and plan an approach to the problem. He stressed that Armitage had better be one of the people in the room, and that there was no room for anyone to be playing silly buggers.
At which point, they heard a clatter outside the conference room where they were meeting. Opening the door, they saw Cyrus Llanfer had dropped a serving tray, complete with decanter and glasses.
Because a crystal snowman was bursting out of his flesh.
Tune in next time for the end of the campaign. What’s gonna happen? I dunno! But it should be horrific!
- So, because we’re getting close to the end of this and the Feints & Gambits campaign, I wanted to know if there were more words in the ultimate – penultimate sequence. Turns out there are: ultimate, penultimate, antepenultimate, pre-antepenultimate. Apparently, after four, they decided that it just got silly. That’s right. After four. ‘Cause antepenultimate and pre-antepenultimate aren’t silly. At all. [↩]
- There’s that word again. [↩]
- If you make things cool enough for the players, you can get away with anything in a game. [↩]
- Yes, I let them decide what they were doing, but then I’d throw something at them that derailed them and demanded a response. So, yeah, that meant that most of their actions were reactions. [↩]
- I’m hoping it was more the first thing. [↩]
- In keeping with the Armitage Group’s somewhat stodgy academic style, they’ve been asked to steer clear of Armitage so as not to risk giving him information that might allow him to fake the documents that have been appearing. [↩]
- The evidence of Chaugnar Faughn’s attention, they have found. [↩]
- And a dressmaker’s dummy, as all attics are required to contain. [↩]
- Well, not complete idiots, anyway. [↩]
- Yeah, that’s kinda blatant and heavy-handed, sure. But it’s the end of the campaign, and at this point, the revelations are coming fast and furious. And each revelation just leads the group to realize that they’re in even deeper trouble than they had thought. [↩]
- Insert jokes about drugging and torturing him some more. [↩]
- Drawing on a couple of HPL’s Kingsport stories: The Strange High House in the Mist andThe White Ship. [↩]
- Which way are you betting? [↩]
- Heh. [↩]
- I had had two possible options for delivering information in mind when the gang climbed the promontory, but both got bypassed. What were they?
Oh, well. [↩]
- Whatisgoing on? Well, I’ve figured it out, subject to change based on the actions of the characters, but I’m not going to say anything yet. I’ll write about it in the final post on this campaign. [↩]
- And really, it’s irrelevant. [↩]