The Armitage FilesÂ 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 final installment of my Armitage Files campaign. After nearly two-and-a-half years and twenty-three sessions, we reached the end of our story and the investigators faced their final challenge.
I think it ended well.
We picked things up in the moment after the last session ended, with our intrepid ((And significantly battered, by this point.)) heroes opening the conference room door to find Cyrus Llanfer transformed into one of the crystal snowmen that mark the attention of Chaugnar Faugn. That threw everyone into high gear, and also some confusion. At some point along here, Crosby put together some pieces he had read about Nyarlathotep ((That is, he used his Cthulhu Mythos skill to find out about Nyarlathotep.)) and realized that Kim Nak was probably a mask of Nyarlathotep, heralding the arrival of something bigger and more terrible – Chaugnar Faugn. Finally, a very stressed-out Moon got everyone moving by dint of being angrier than anyone else in the room – he grabbed Dyer to take them to see Danforth up at the asylum, because Roxy thought he might have an idea or two to share, and the rest of the Armitage group were sent to scrounge up whatever information they could find about what was going on or where Armitage himself was.
Now, I hadn’t expected the group to call on Danforth, but he seemed a good vector to start delivering the information the characters needed to clarify what was going on, so I was okay with that. They took Dyer’s car – and Dyer – because they didn’t think they could get permission to see Danforth otherwise, but when they arrived at the asylum, all the people in it had been turned to the crystal snowmen. By the time they had made it to Danforth’s room, Dyer was starting to crystallize ((Confession time. I always try and remove anyone the characters can count on to save their bacon in the last act. Why? Because I think that the stars of the show, especially at the climax, should be the player characters. If it’s someone else who figures out the way to save the world, or who hands them the item they need, or whatever, then the PCs are relegated to simple plot devices, rather than the prime movers of the story. I mean, if the Armitage Group got back together with the investigators and said, “Right. Here are the steps to thwart Chaugnar Faugn. Do them in order, and everything will be fine,” it would be a pretty sucky ending, right? So, I let NPCs perform little services – provide some information, get them somewhere, deliver a clue – then clean them off the board so that the character only have themselves to rely on. They get to be the heroes.)). He gave his notebook to Moon, and Moon shot him in the head to put him out of his misery.
Danforth was still alive; in fact, besides the characters, he was the only one in the asylum who was. His room was rimed with frost, and he was in restraints on the bed, but he seemed lucid and willing to co-operate. Crosby freed him, and Danforth grabbed something wrapped in a pillowcase from under the bed that he said would help protect them. Back in the car, Moon and Danforth had a little crazy-talk session ((That is, Moon used some of his Cthulhu Mythos. They’re not holding anything back, this session; they’re leaving it all out on the field.)) that provided a little more insight into the nature of Chaugnar Faugn, how Nyarlathotep was preparing the way, and what might be done about it. He remembered the song they had used to cure Solis of his crystalline infection, and decided that that might be something they could use to buy a little time.
The next stop was Moon’s bookshop, where he had arranged to meet members of the Armitage Group who had gone to loot the rare book room at MU now that Llanfer was dead. Of course, the tcho-tchos knew all about the bookshop, so when our heroes arrived, they found a pile of professorial corpses and a sink full of burning books. They salvaged what they could from the sink and scarpered.
There followed a kind of muddied debate about what needed to be done next. They finally decided that they needed to get some audio equipment from the university – they settled on the cone-style megaphones, because they didn’t know if they’d be able to haul a generator for electronic amplification to wherever they needed to sing the song. That was the sticking point for them: they didn’t know where the song should be sung. As a creature outside of and only impinging on normal space-time, Chaugnar Faugn would only truly be vulnerable to the song at a specific place and time.
See, my thought for this ((To be clear, I had no plan coming into this session except one: I knew what one action would end the threat. Everything else that happened was me responding to character action, trying to provide them with the information they needed and keep the pressure on them. So, when they brought up the song, I thought that sounded like a good idea, and it became one of the things they needed to do.)) was that the song should be sung at the Monument Creek dig where the first idol was unearthed. But Roxy suggested the Kingsport lighthouse they had visited last session, I changed my mind and made that the place/time. After all, it was already unstuck in time and space, and that had to put it “closer” to Chaugnar Faugn. Moon suggested the Monument Creek site, Roxy suggested the lighthouse, and they were stuck – not enough information to make an informed decision. They’ve learned enough of the system, though, that they knew what to do if they didn’t have enough information: go find some more. Moon pulled out his once-per-game ability as an Antiquarian to say that he had a book that should help them ((He tried to say that he just had the information, but I held him to the rules that said he had an informational item back at the shop.)) back at the shop, so they detoured to the shop, on high alert for tcho-tchos and other bad things.
In the shop, they found Austin Kittrell, sitting at Moon’s desk, reading the book he had come for. I tried for a little bit of banter, but Roxy was having none of that, and shot Kittrell a couple of times. It didn’t have the desired effect; he just took it and smiled. Moon grabbed the book from him, but then got backhanded across the room ((Down to -8 Health. Did I mention they came into this already kind of battered and spent?)) and knocked unconscious. Danforth lifted his hands and started chanting in a strange language, and the air got colder around him, so Crosby and Roxy grabbed the book and the unconscious Moon and started dragging him from the shop. The last thing they saw of Kittrell, he was punching his fist through Danforth’s chest. Danforth continued chanting, though without sound now that his lungs were mainly missing.
Crosby made it out of the shop with Moon, but Roxy slipped on the now-icy floor, and fell far enough behind to hear a wet explosion and a whistling cry of “Tekeli-li!” ((Yup. Crazy Danforth summoned a shoggoth, which took out him, Kittrell, the bookshop, and all the buildings and people between the bookshop and the river. I figure, it’s the last session, time to pull out all the stops. I was a little disappointed that none of the characters looked back to see the thing, though.)) from the back room, then she was out and running to the car. They got in and tore away, Moon madly reading the recovered book ((After some First Aid spends to bring him back to consciousness and stop him dying.)) and Crosby reading the salvaged books from the sink.
Eventually, they got the idea that they needed to get to the lighthouse and sing the song to stall Chaugnar Faugn’s arrival. They made their way back to Kingsport, and hauled Moon up the headland ((Health checks all round to keep going in the face of exhaustion and exertion.)), past the now-silent cabin, and to the huge pile of bones overlooking the pristine sea. Down below, small, dark figures frolicked in the water, and a twenty-foot tall crystal elephant snowman stood beside the bone pile.
I ran the song as a magical ritual, with no opposition just to simplify things. I decided they needed to get a total of 30 on their rolls, each roll representing a half-hour or so of singing time. After each roll, the characters had to make Health checks to keep singing, or have their voice give out. I put in a couple of trigger points where things would start happening – at 10, Roxy noticed that there was something huge making it’s way through the sea towards the headland ((She’s been troubled for some time with dreams of a vast being waiting for her beneath the sea.)). At 20, the giant crystal idol woke up and started moving towards the investigators. At this point, Moon lost enough Stability to move him into the Blasted category, and he decided that, in his madness, he would sacrifice himself to the elder god in hopes of distracting it long enough for his companions to finish the song. I liked this idea, and gave him free rein. He said that, because he had seen outside the normal dimensions before, and because now he was insane, he could unfold his own timeline back to the first time he had killed a man – as a boy in Russia – and get Chaugnar Faugn to focus on him. I said okay, but took it a bit further, weaving it into a moment of extradimensional perception for all the characters, as they got to see Moon’s yeti-like multidimensional form consumed by a wall of probosces, eyes, mouths, and other organs.
I thought this was going to be the end of the whole thing, because I couldn’t show them that and not call for some hefty Stability checks, and I refuse to pull punches in a Cthulhu campaign endgame. But Roxy and Crosby made their checks and finished the song, forcing Chaugnar Faugn’s attention away from them. They then set fire to the bones ((Well, to be fair, they threw dynamite into it, but I had the dynamite transform into a torch and ignite the bone-fire.)) and ran away – the flash of the fire drove off whatever was coming through the water to get Roxy, and a white ship sailed in to dock at the top of the headland, but they weren’t having none of that, and just ran like bunnies.
At this point, the players started acting like it was all over, so I used a reminder that there was still work to be done – I had another packet of papers show up on the car seat. This was a less-than-perfectly successful clue; things ground to a halt as the players read through the papers, looking for the clue that would show them where to go next, when the arrival of the papers was intended to be the clue. I reminded them that, according to their information, all the song had done was buy them some time to fix the real problem. Roxy started to get fixated on the mention of the Nophru-ka tablet in the papers, and started planning to go to New York ((Which had nothing to do with what was going on. Curse my decision to give out more papers! They were nothing but a distraction!)), but decided that she needed to find Armitage and stop him from killing Petrovich, also mentioned in the papers.
They also found Danforth’s pillow case in the car, and found inside a floor tile with an elder sign scratched on it. Crosby used his Cthulhu Mythos to figure out what it meant and how useful it could be, and he, too, wound up Blasted. That left Roxy essentially on her own.
She headed back to the university, and found one of the last members of the Armitage Group, Ashley, and got him to tell her about a bolt hole Armitage had set up in the last place anyone would look for him – the ruins of the Whateley farm in Dunwich. She persuaded Ashley to take her up there and distract Armitage while she crept around back with a shotgun. Ashely got Armitage talking, and he expressed genuine puzzlement and horror at what was happening, and no hint that he was deliberately causing it. At this point, Roxy popped up, asked him if he knew a Petrovich, Armitage started to say no, and she cut him in half with a shotgun blast.
This was the key event to end the threat. See, if Armitage died before he sent the documents back in time, then there would be no disruption of linear time to attract the attention of Chaugnar Faugn. The readjustment of time caused most of the big bad things that happened to undo, but being close enough to ground zero of the temporal reconfiguration, Roxy’s brain was shattered.
She found her consciousness floating in extradimensional space, with the voice of Fred Jahraus speaking to her. He offered to take her to live with them, because she had been kind to them. She would be, he explained, a pet. Roxy rejected that, even though Fred told her that her brain was too damaged to hold all of her now. She still decided to go back.
I finished with a quick epilogue. In the new timeline, bookseller Aaron Moon vanished one day, never to be seen again. Roxy Crane was found be her (restored) butler and housekeeper catatonic in bed – they think she suffered a stroke. Malcolm Crosby was hospitalized after a complete mental collapse, and never recovered. And August Solis, MD, still died in an explosion out in Montana.
I am very satisfied with the ending, especially the way each of the characters went out:
- Moon, paranoid hoarder of information, gave himself to something that was the very epitome of entropy, destroying all he had learned, to buy the time to complete the ritual.
- Crosby, who had been seeking real mystic knowledge for years, was destroyed and shattered once he found it.
- Roxy, manipulator extraordinaire, faced the final challenge alone, with no one to help her, and no points to spend on ANYTHING. And then turned down an offer of (kinda) salvation.
It’s been a fun run, gang. As usual, the end of a campaign is a bittersweet thing if it works well. I’m sorry to see it end, but I recognize that ending on a high note is far better than devolving into boredom.
I want to thank a few people for this gaming experience:
- Robin Laws for designing GUMSHOE andThe Armitage Files campaign.
- Ken Hite for turning GUMSHOE intoÂ Trail of Cthulhu.
- Simon Rogers at Pelgrane Press for publishing all this great stuff.
- All you folks who have been following along with the campaign through the two-and-a-half years its been running.
But most of all, I want to thank my players for trusting me to run this kind of improvisational campaign, and going along with some of the weird and crazy ideas I’ve had through the run. Thanks to:
- Michael as Aaron “Read ‘Em And Burn ‘Em” Moon.
- Sandy as Roxy “Who Will I Be Today?” Crane.
- Tom as Dr. August “Bleed On Everything” Solis and Malcolm “I’m Psychic!” Crosby.
It’s been a blast, folks.
This was a truly epic adventure – tahnk you so much for sharing it with us. What do you think you will be playing next?
Glad you enjoyed the reports. We all had a lot of fun with it, and it really showed off the strengths of the GUMSHOE system.
What’s next? Well, I’ve got two sessions to go on the Feints & Gambits Dresden Files campaign, then I’m taking August off for GenCon and finishing up some stuff that I am woefully behind on.
Come September, I’m going to start one or two new games, but shorter campaigns – I’ve done a lot of the long games, and it’s been making me miss out on trying all the cool new systems I’ve found. On the short list for the next games, in no particular order:
Dungeon World or Apocalypse World
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
Night’s Black Agents
I had such a good time with this game, Rick. Thanks for running it!
THis has been a blast to read through. I wish my own Armitage adventure had been able to continue a bit longerâ€”maybe I’ll try running it again sometime soon. Thanks for the steady stream of reports, they’ve been chillingly entertaining.
Stopping by years later (perhaps I slipped through time?) to say thanks for the writeups. I’ve been fascinated by The Armitage Files, but couldn’t figure out how to weave them into an actual, y’know, *game* – and your writeup helped me see how it can be done.
Echoing what Joshua said: many thanks for this great campaign log. This was such a superb read, I read it through in just one sitting.
It’s sad that most of the links to images of things you showed the players are lost to the bit rot entropy progression that engulfs all things on the Internet with time.
I’m curious, almost a decade on now, how do you and your players look back at this campaign?
Well, thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the campaign logs. And yeah, it’s sub-optimal that some of the links have vanished in the aether.
I found your question about looking back on the campaign interesting, so I sent it out to my players for comment. I’ve got my own stuff to say, but want to let them talk about it first.
“This was one of the most riveting CoC games I ever have ever played. The Armitage Files comes up often in our conversations about past game campaigns.
“One of my favourite exchanges was deciding if Roxy was rich enough to own a plane. You asked if I had the Pilot skill (I didn’t), and therefore couldn’t fly, and I replied ‘But my pilot does’. We got the flight to Montana.
“There were a lot of consequences based on our choices. I think it influenced our roleplaying empathy – and certainly my ability to think fast as a grifter. It was also possibly the only character (other than Amelia) that I was okay with letting die in game.”
“Casting my memory back, I remember a lot of this campaign but in fractured, sometimes nightmarish sequence somewhat like a fever dream…
“It had a lot of stand out horror moments. I particularly remember a scene outside a farmhouse where one of my characters and another PC were about to have our own existential horror moment looking down the barrel of a shotgun.
“There was good suspense and it was a game experience not like a lot of other systems I’ve played. A good balance of suspense and nihilism with quite a bizarre but appropriate ending.
“At times it was hard to track exactly what was going on in the background but I imagine that’s exactly how a lot of H.P. Lovecraft’s protagonists would have felt.
“A good, dark time for all :)”
“The campaign seems to long ago…
“It was a great campaign – the kind that grabs you and won’t let go. Aaron Moon will always be one of my favourite characters, and the game is one we still talk about.
“I think it worked so well because:
” – The players (well at least the other two…) really got into the characters and role-playing them.
” – Rick was really prepared for the sessions – which is hard to do in a campaign like this as it is much more sandbox than railroad – he had to do a lot of improv and make quick decisions.
” – It is a strong, well crafted adventure, albeit challenging for the storyteller and the players.
“One thing to note is that I didn’t feel a huge sense of horror, but I do remember feeling almost constant dread and a massive amount of stress – I often experienced shaky hands and a heavy weight on my chest during the session. I think HPL would have been proud.”
And from me:
One of the reasons I wanted to run this game was that I was in a rut. I’d gotten very set on GMing in a certain style, one that really depended on a lot of advance prep work and planning. I had lost the free-wheeling, improvised, seat-of-the-pants aesthetic that I used to really enjoy in gaming. This kind of campaign seemed to be a way to see if I still had the chops for that sort of play.
The fact that the game worked restored my faith in my GMing instincts, and really boosted my confidence to try other types of game. It is the reason I took the chance and started running stuff like the Powered by the Apocalypse games and the Cortex games, and stuff like that.
It also made me realize I didn’t want to run any more 30s-era Cthulhu games. The Lovecraftian tropes in that setting weren’t fresh to me – or to my players – any more. I did my best, but deep ones aren’t the horrific alien horrors they once were. Now, they’re monsters as familiar as zombies or werewolves, and have lost whatever cachet of alien newness they once possessed. When the first step in any adventure is for the characters to stop by the hardware store for dynamite, it’s pretty clear the focus is not on investigation or horror any longer. You’re playing Aliens instead of Alien.
So, that’s the legacy of this campaign in my group. My players have said some pretty nice things about the game, and that makes me happy. We all look back on it fondly.