From the Armitage Files: Five Points and Beyond

**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**

**Extra-Special Spoiler Warning**

The basic spine for this investigation is outlined in The Armitage Files book. The adventure below doesn’t follow it exactly – with the improvised structure of the game, there’s really no way it can – but the report below can be pretty spoilerific as to the broad strokes. So, think carefully before reading this one.

**Seriously, Dude, You Have Been Warned**

Last Friday night was the latest session of my Armitage Files campaign. A previous session had got bumped ((Thanks to my inability to read a calendar. Sorry, gang.)), so it had been longer than I liked between sessions – especially in the middle of an investigation. It was also a short session ((I was in the middle of a work crunch that required me to work through the long weekend. That meant an early end to the evening, as I needed sleep before going back in to the office on Saturday.)), but we managed to wrap up this particular line of inquiry.

I’ve left the Extra-Special Spoiler Warning at the start of this post, but frankly, the investigation went in a pretty different direction than the original spine. There may still be a few little spoilers, but the overall events nicely avoid the scenes as spelled out in the book. What I’m saying is that this post is pretty safe from that kind of spoiler. but I like to err on the side of non-spoilage.

So, we picked up the game with the players doing a recap of the last session ((Here’s a little trick I like to pull with doing a recap: I ask, “Who needs a recap?” This generally leads to one or more of the players saying, “I do!” I then get the group to provide the recap via Socratic method: “Do you remember where you are?” “Why did you go talk to him?” “And what happened then?” I jump in with little hints here and there, and correct any significant errors of fact (but not those of perception or interpretation), but generally let the group – including those who needed the recap – generate the recap themselves. This has a few advantages: I don’t have to start the game giving the group an info-dump, the resulting recap is based on the group’s perception rather than GM viewpoint, and it gets the players’ heads into the game in an easy, immersive way.)), and then talked about what they were going to do. The consensus seemed to be that they wanted to head out to Five Points and track down the pedlar who had sold Gudzun the Buer coin bank, but first they wanted to check out the other two files taken from Gudzun’s office to see if the people they pointed at were still alive.

A little creative investigation, shadowing, and impersonation revealed that they were alive. Roxy, in her Mary Matthews persona, managed to speak with one of them, who was somewhat reticent to discuss his financial affairs with a stranger, but who did not seem to be in any real danger. Along the way, I had Solis, the keeper of the Buer coin bank, make a few 0-point Stability checks without telling him the results. Whenever he failed, he put a coin into the bank without noticing. When he succeeded, he resisted putting a coin into the coin bank. When he rolled a six, he caught himself about to put a coin into the bank. Sense Trouble checks for the others gave them a chance notice this.

Well, he managed to put a few coins into the bank before he finally caught himself. He then stuck the bank in the trunk of the car they had rented, but I had him make another Stability check, which he failed, so he absent-mindedly put the bank back into his coat pocket, and the fun continued. When Moon finally caught him at this, they again locked the statue in the trunk – cue another 0-point Stability test and Sense Trouble test.

That sorted out ((So they thought, anyway.)), they headed downtown to Five Points.

Man. Talk about babes in the woods.

Okay, Roxy, though wealthy, is very acquainted with the dark underside of society. She knows how to behave, how to blend, and so on. Moon, on the other hand, was waving around money, and Solis sounded like Prince Phillip talking to coal miners. Soon enough, they track down the bar ((Well, essentially a bar. It’s a dirty basement room with a door laid on saw horses that sells what amounts to turpentine with a lemon dipped in it.))  where the pedlar in question drinks, and Roxy manages to flirt the location of the man – right upstairs in the flop-house, as it turns out – they’re looking for. And then it’s time to pay for drinks, and Moon finds that his wallet has been lifted. Solis pays the barman a dollar – about ten times the cost of the drinks – from a wallet suspiciously short of cash that is tucked into the same pocket as the Buer coin bank.

Anyway, they cornered Old Joe, the pedlar, in his little room, but guns got drawn, and coin banks got brandished, and then Moon punched Solis, and Roxy pistol whipped Solis ((To be fair, they were trying to get him to stop feeding the coin bank and to put it down.)), and Old Joe done a runner, but he left his pedlar’s pack behind.

In the aftermath, Moon wrapped his jacket around the coin bank, emptied the pedlar’s pack ((Just junk in it.)), and stuffed the bundle inside. They hadn’t got any real information from Old Joe, beyond the fact that he seemed frightened of the bank, but they had decided the thing was too dangerous to just leave lying around. So, they decided to find a foundry and melt it down.

On their way out of Five Points, however, they were accosted by a gang of thugs who didn’t take kindly to these swells coming onto their turf and stealing from one of their own. They demanded that Moon return Old Joe’s pack, which he did, and the investigators were allowed to leave.

And then it was out to a foundry in New Jersey, where a bit of a bribe and a cover story got Roxy and Moon inside to toss the bank into the crucible and see it melted down. Solis, deemed to be unreliable around the bank, was left with the car. While the others were inside, Old Joe showed up, looking less like Old Joe and more like the man who had offered Solis a box in his dreams. This man offered to make amends for harming Solis unintentionally, offering him The Tears of Azathoth in payment of his debt.

Solis didn’t trust him, so declined, and said that there was no debt. Old Joe told him he was very generous, then had his nightgaunts tear the roof of the car open and carry Solis off into the night.

I was torn, here; on the one hand, I want to make things risky and scary in the game, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to just arbitrarily kill Solis. So, I decided they were taking him off to Five Points to tear him apart at that famous intersection and thus gain magical power for Old Joe. That gave them several minutes’ flying time, which incidentally gave Solis a few attempts to escape. He managed to kick free over the river, and swim safely to shore.

He made it back to the hotel about the same time as Roxy and Moon, who had to walk out to the highway and hitch a ride in, because their car was mysteriously shredded. They got a little more sleep, wherein Solis once again dreamed of Old Joe. This time, Old Joe offered a simple bargain – they would agree not to pursue each other, and that would be it. Solis wheedled and tried for more information about Tears, but was unwilling to offer anything in exchange, so he got nothing. Until he agreed to the bargain, that is. Then, Old Joe told him, as a gift, “It was written here.”

Now if Solis only knew what that meant.

That’s where we left it. This line of investigation is closed, and I’m waiting to see where the game goes next.

Now that we’re four documents in, I’m also starting to keep a Win/Lose/Wash score for the party, with an eye to having it inform the overarching development of the story, and feed into the endgame. I don’t know what the endgame is going to look like, yet, but this will help me shape it.

What’s the score? Well, I’m not going to say. It might give away more of the backstory than I’m comfortable with to get into this in public. If my players start thinking about it in those terms, it could change the dynamic of the game in a way that I don’t want. I’d prefer to keep the objective investigation into the documents, not trying to rack up Wins. Racking up Wins is part of the investigation, but I only count things as a Win if the party both defeats the threat and understands what was happening. Losses are when they fail to stop the threat, even if they mitigate it and understand what was going on. Washes occur when they stop the threat but really have no idea what was going on.

Really, it’s just a tool for me to judge how dark things become, and to keep track of loose ends that can come back to haunt the investigators. Winning more investigations doesn’t mean the characters will “Win” the campaign – it just means that conditions during the endgame will be different, with different pieces on the board.

Anyway, that’s for further down the road. We’ll see how it goes.

From the Armitage Files: Bad Dreams in the Big Apple

**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**


**Extra-Special Spoiler Warning**

The basic spine for this investigation is outlined in The Armitage Files book. The adventure below doesn’t follow it exactly – with the improvised structure of the game, there’s really no way it can – but the report below can be pretty spoilerific as to the broad strokes. So, think carefully before reading this one.

**Seriously, Dude, You Have Been Warned**

Saturday night, we got back to The Armitage Files. It was the start of a new investigation, and after the little trick I pulled last session, wherein Aaron Moon got a brief glimpse of The Tears of Azathoth, the group decided to follow up what they could on that elusive tome. They had a new set of documents to wade through for clues, as well ((Document Four, for those of you playing along at home.)), so they wound up with a number of references to the book.

I was wracking my brain, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the tome in question: which version did I want to use, did I want to get it into their hands now, what did it contain, where was it, all that sort of stuff. Flipping through the book for inspiration, I found that one of the sample scenario spines dealt with trying to get the book, and had an interesting side element involved, as well. I read it over a couple of times, thought about it for a day or so, and decided that I would use the basics of that spine ((With a few little tweaks, of course.)) for this investigation.

We started the game with our plucky (but increasingly nervous) heroes latching on to the idea that the book was probably still in the MU library, but lost or misfiled or concealed. They talked with several of the members of the Armitage group who were mentioned by name in the documents as having something to say about the book, but didn’t get a lot of traction. None of them remembered it, until they got to Rice, who thought he had recalled Llanfer (the librarian) mentioning it to him.

The investigators were already somewhat suspicious of Llanfer, because he seemed reluctant to let them paw through the rare book collection unsupervised, so the fact that Rice seemed to be giving him the lie really roused their suspicion. The explanation to this whole bit is under the spoiler tag:

In actuality, I’m going with the idea from the book that Tears of Azathoth exists only in potentia at this point, and that the more it gets talked about and thought about – and the closer the stars come to aligning – the more others will remember it, and the more real it becomes. So, Rice was one of the last people to be asked about the book, and thus had a vague memory of someone mentioning it to him. Of course, I may change my mind about this as play progresses.

There was some discussion about breaking into the library to search for Tears without interruption ((Which prompted one player to say, “You realize we’ve descended to the level of the Whatley clan, right?”)), but they decided to actually ask for permission first. With Armitage’s blessing, the group was given leave to search the rare book collection at MU. I used this opportunity to show why Llanfer was so reluctant to let the unwashed masses ((Yes, Moon is very mindful of the proper way to store and handle books, but really, he’s a tradesman, not a true collector. 😉 ))run rampant through his books – the security procedures, the care in handling, the specific storage requirements for rare books, and so on. By the end of the search – which did not turn up the book – everyone had a better idea about what the rare book collection was about.

So, they pulled a name reference out of the file – Wolfe-Dietrich Gudzun, who is listed as a “late fortune-teller and embezzler,” and started looking for him ((Actually, now that I think about it, Roxy was working on this from the start, while Moon and Solis went snooping around the library. She also sent a telegram to Austin Kittrell, recuperating in Europe, telling him to look for the book. The response was less than agreeable.)). She tracked down a reference to him operating a spiritualist scam in Kingsport about a year and a half previous, when he vanished from the jail cell after being arrested for fraud.

This sounded promising, but further investigation into his mysterious disappearance uncovered a pretty mundane explanation: the mob had threatened him if he didn’t share the proceeds of his scam, and got him arrested to make their point. Gudzun bribed a sergeant to unlock the door and look the other way while he scampered off to New York and a new identity.

They tracked him, now with the name Wallace Goodson, to New York City, where he was working as an accountant. Bearding him in his den, as it were, they managed to reassure him that they weren’t here to hurt him or to muscle in on his current scam ((Said scam involved moving a lot of money in and out of his clients’ accounts to create the expectation for these sorts of transfers at the bank and rudimentary, ponzi-like reallocation of funds, showing each client that the short-term loans always produced a nice profit. Meantime, he was dosing himself with household cleansers to appear sicker and sicker. That way, when he faked his death and all the money disappeared into his pockets, no one would come looking.)), he relaxed and spoke very frankly with them. Unfortunately, he could offer no information about the Tears.

During the conversation, though, he got steadily more agitated and distracted, until he finally dug a quarter out of his pocket and stuck it into a strange, bronze coin bank on his deck. Immediately, he calmed down, and was able to focus again.

Moon took a good look at the statue, and I showed the group this picture, while giving Moon a rundown on what his Occult skill told him about Buer, the demon represented there. Solis’s Medical skill told him the behaviour they had witnessed was similar to morphia addicts needing a fix. When questioned about the bank, Goodson was again quite forthcoming, telling them he had bought it from a street peddler in Five Points ((Okay. This is New York City, in a Cthulhu game. I fully intended to use Red Hook as the setting for the peddler bit, but Michael, one of the players, immediately started talking about how the adventure was going to end up in Red Hook as soon as I mentioned NYC, so I changed it on the fly to Five Points. Screw you, Michael.)).

Not getting any solid lead on Tears, the group left, planning to keep an eye on Goodson – Roxy was pretty sure that they had spooked him and that he’d bee cutting and running now. On the other hand, they didn’t want to spook him any more than they already had, so they gave him a little distance, going for supper before beginning surveillance.

And, of course, they lost him during that time.

So, Moon and Solis decided to break into his office – Roxy, the skilled burglar, was watching Goodson’s home in Greenwitch Village. The burglary was ham-handed and unsubtle, but effective. They found that three files had been taken from his office, along with the Buer bank.

Roxy, meanwhile, was caught up in another vision of the watery, giant city that she’s been haunted by. She regained consciousness just as Moon and Solis arrived to join her, and they broke into Goodson’s home. There, they found two of the three files that had been taken from his office, evidence that he’d packed a traveling case in a hurry, and a missing kitchen knife. They knew the name of the client for the file that was still missing, so they looked her up in the telephone book and took a taxi to her home.

Which was surrounded by police. Goodson had broken in and stabbed her to death, but had been shot by police as he tried to open her safe and empty it of valuables. Solis and Roxy talked their way past the police line to examine Goodson’s body, and retrieved the Buer bank. Meanwhile, Moon caught sight of a shadowy figure slipping away down an alley, and gave chase.

In the alley, he saw a man with a large duffel bag on his back fleeing. He also met a nightgaunt that almost managed to drag him off to god knows where. He slipped out of its grasp, though, and fled back to the street and the police, and the fleeing man called the creature off.

It being late, our intrepid heroes decided to retire for the night to a hotel and get some sleep in shifts before trying to track down this mysterious peddler the next day. Each of them had a dream that night that struck at their drive:

  • Moon (Thirst For Knowledge) dreamed of a vast stone temple, almost Greek in style, with The Tears of Azathoth sitting on a plinth in the centre. He tried to approach it, but was stopped by a strange man who asked what he’d give for the book. Moon tried to push past him, and woke up in bed with a bloody nose.
  • Solis (Curiosity) dreamed of a strange blue puzzle-box being delivered to the hotel room, and a strange man saying that he could have it, if he was willing to pay. Solis turned his back on the box (and his drive), and woke up very shaken.
  • Roxy (Ennui) dreamed she was in an empty, bare room with a single silver door. She sat there for a while, until she got bored, and then picked the lock to find a long staircase leading down. A strange man started to make a pitch to guide her to a land of incredible wonders, but was interrupted by some deep, resonating, booms far down the stairs. Then water started flowing up them. He looked at Roxy, terrified, and said, “Who else is in your mind?” Cue the tentacles bursting through the floor, grasping them both, and dragging them into the depths. Roxy woke up somewhat disturbed.

And that’s where we left it. They’ve got a number of questions, and some good clues and hints to follow up. I expect to wrap this particular investigation up next session, though there are loose threads that will probably wind their way into future investigations.

Looking forward to next time.

From the Armitage Files: Rot Tal

**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**

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 group ((All four of us.)) 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 time ((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.)), 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 Madness ((They had seen some samples of this in Danforth’s journal.)), 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 Valley ((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.)).

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 Tal ((Rot Tal is not a real place, but if it were, it would be near Lebanon.)) – picked up some supplies ((Which, of course, included dynamite.)), 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 safely ((This is not the default sinister version of the group, but the new idea I came up with in the hour before the game.)). 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.

From the Armitage Files: Union Breaking

**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**

It’s been a while between Armitage Files games for us. Over two months. To be honest, I was starting to worry that disinterest was going to kill the game, which would be a shame, because I’m really enjoying running it. But this past Saturday, everything was in place for us to get back together. I even sent out a tweet about how excited I was to get back to the game.

Shoulda known better, really. Within five minutes of me sending the tweet, I got a call to let me know one of the players couldn’t make it.

But I said, “Screw it! We’re going ahead with the game! If everyone dies, It’s your own fault!”

The other players were glad of that, too ((To be fair to him, the player who couldn’t make it had good reason, and I might have interpreted his attitude as apologetic if he’d been man enough to call me himself, instead of getting his wife to do it for him. 😉 She made it to the game, by the way.)), because they wanted to get back to the game, which had been left in a kind of delicate spot.

The investigators were stinging a little bit after their unsuccessful attempt at finding out what was going on with the APL, and seemed quite fearful of confronting them face-on again. In their discussions, they came to the conclusion that the leader, Fred Jahraus, and perhaps the other members who lived in the rooming house with him, were being possessed ((Or at least controlled.)) by alien entities. They started calling the possessing entities Tourists.

One loose thread they had was Wally Endore, the union organizer that they had previously met at Hutchinson Manufacturing, and whom they had seen visiting the Jahraus house. Rather than face Jahraus himself again without more information, they decided to try and figure out what Endore’s angle was – he had seemed fairly innocuous when they had previously met him.

They found that he had moved out of his previous rooming house in Kingsport, and had to track down the day foreman from the factory to try and find out where he was. Roxy, still sporting a fierce black eye from her encounter with Jahraus, implied that Endore was mixed up with something illegal and people who wouldn’t hesitate to blacken a woman’s eye ((She neglected to mention the fact that her shiner was self-administered. Oops.)). The foreman was appalled, and handed over the address of Endore’s new residence.

They did a little digging on Endore’s background, as well, finding that he was indeed a union organizer with a backing organization ((I jokingly called this organization the Collective for Undoing Labour Tyranny.)), and had been working in other towns and cities to help workers organize. Then they staked out his new digs, finding that it was in a neighbourhood controlled by one of the new gang bosses that had come to fill the void left by Diamond Walsh. To put the topper on this suspicion, they spotted one of the factory workers delivering an armload of APL newsletters to Endore’s rooming house.

They followed this factory worker back to his home, on the far side of the harbour ((Roxy is really starting to dislike being near the sea. It’s the way she can hear whispers in the waves that makes her want to stay away. Otherwise, she might walk out into the surf and vanish.)), near the foreman’s house, which they decided meant that they might have pulled the foreman into something far more deadly than he was ready for.

So, they went to warn the foreman about Endore. He took the news with poor grace, saying that he and some of the boys would go and explain to Endore that he was no longer welcome at the factory. Roxy did her best to talk him out of this plan, but he wouldn’t be dissuaded. The best she could do was convince him to let her pay for a night or two at a hotel for the foreman’s wife and family, just in case things followed him home.

And so we wound up with eight or so big working men, armed with axe handles, pipes, and chains, going to explain to a union organizer that he should leave town while he could. Dr. Solis went up to Endore’s room with the men, while Roxy went around the back of the house to watch in case he tried to make an escape. When Solis entered the room with the workers, he saw that Endore was indeed trying to make an escape. When he saw who had come in, he relaxed and tried to talk some sense to them.

Asking if he could put his shirt on, he pulled a gray-green stone from his valise and showed it to the men, causing them to collapse in shrieking heaps. Dr. Solis managed to avoid looking at the thing, and pulled his revolver, emptying it blindly at Endore. He managed to kill him, causing him to fall out his window into the back garden, near Roxy. Solis also managed to shoot two of his escort, including the foreman.

In the ensuing confusion, Roxy managed to grab the stone and put it in her purse, only looking at it a little bit – long enough to see that it was carved with the same symbol she and Moon had seen on the underside of the bench at the factory. Solis got the injured men back to the foreman’s house, and treated their wounds, while Roxy got another of the workers to fetch a sledge hammer to destroy the stone, still inside her purse. Smashing the stone caused everyone who had seen it to shriek in pain and begin to bleed from their eyes and ears, but they recovered over the next few days.

Endore’s body was not found by the police, which has caused some concern. The characters aren’t sure if he was really dead, or if he’s come back to life, or if he was possessed by a tourist, or if the local thugs just took it upon themselves to make the body disappear to avoid a police investigation in the area ((The thugs had asked, very nicely, that this little exercise in mob justice not leave any corpses around. If they had to take care of it, they might be unhappy.)). Solis and Roxy took the purse, containing the fragments of the stone, back to Miskatonic University to dispose of it in their institutional-sized incinerator.

And that’s when Dr. Llanfer gave them the next set of documents.

From the Armitage Files: What Are You Willing To Do?

**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**

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 longer ((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.)), but to move on to the American Preservation League.

That came in Thursday, so I spent Friday night putting together the situation for the session ((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.)), 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 state ((Michael’s doing a good job of making Moon a dangerously paranoid character.)), 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 man ((I tried to play him as a combination of Rain Man and Bob Newhart, which was an interesting kind of challenge.)), 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 neighbourhood ((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.)). 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.

And waited.

And waited.

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 him ((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.)).

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 pad ((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?)). 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 deal ((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.)), 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.

From the Armitage Files: Sideshow

**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**

I was faced with a bit of a game quandary last week. I really wanted to keep the momentum going after the great time the group had doing the city creation for Feints & Gambits by having the character creation session follow close on its heels. The date of November 13 got bandied about, but I had an Armitage Files game scheduled for that night. And given that the last time we got together for Armitage Files, we playtested The Big Hoodoo ((Short, non-spoilery review: you will want this adventure when it’s released.)) which, though fun, meant that we had been away from the ongoing Armitage Files storyline longer than I liked.

We came up with a compromise: Feints & Gambits character creation Saturday night, Armitage Files Sunday afternoon. As a thank-you for my Armitage players being willing to move the game, I also made dinner ((Lamb stew and soda bread. Did I mention I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Ireland lately?)) for the crew.

But the whole week was pretty crazy, and I had next to no time to prep for the game. Add to that the fact that I didn’t really know what the players wanted to pursue after the last adventure until Saturday afternoon, and even then they sent me two possibilities, and I was really feeling the time crunch. So, after everyone left on Saturday night and I had the stew in the slow cooker for the next day, I threw together a quick outline for one of the possibilities. In the morning, I threw together an outline for the other.

Now, this is far less prep than I usually do for a game. Even with the improvisational nature of this campaign, I really like having a solid outline ready when the game starts, even if I change it or abandon it during play. But no time for that; I was going in half-blind.

I want to talk about a couple of spoilery things – not necessarily for other campaigns, but my players probably shouldn’t read what I’ve hidden behind the tags here ((Yeah, Michael, that means you. I know how much you love it when I do this.)).


Okay, I really wanted to throw in a completely mundane bit this session. The group has been dealing with nothing but supernatural threats since the game started, and I really wanted to mix it up, because that way, they will wonder about other stuff. And it’s always an interesting change of pace. So, the outlines I bashed together for the two things they were interested in following up – the strong men at the carnival and the American Preservation League – were both completely non-mystical, though no less dangerous.

I also wanted them to come away from this with a win. The last few sessions have been very downbeat, with the players feeling like they’re not making enough of a difference, and even losing ground. While that may be in keeping with a Lovecraft story, it’ll kill a roleplaying game pretty quickly. So, I had things set up to resolve pretty easily if the characters grabbed the right threads, probably in a single session.

With those ideas in mind, we hit the ground running. The group used their various investigative abilities to track down the correct carnival and where it was heading next: a little town Bliss Corner, Massachusetts ((I know, I know, it’s not really a town, it’s a part of Dartmouth. But the name sort of leaped off the map at me, and I had to use it.)). They loaded themselves into a train and went down to check things out.

They arrived in town a few days before the carnival did, and scouted out the fairground and the town itself. Roxy passed herself off as a photographer doing a feature on carnivals – photographing the fairgrounds before arrival, during setup, during the carnival, during teardown, and after it departed. That got her close while the locals hired by the advance crew were cleaning out the weeds and tall grass, but the roustabouts wouldn’t let her on the lot during setup, for fear of accidents ((So they said, anyway. The group immediately suspected ulterior motives.)).

On the first night of the carnival, they paid their quarters, and went in to see the sights. I drew a lot of the description for the carnival from the excellent HBO TV series Carnivàle ((Which I’ve always thought would be a good setting for a DFRPG campaign. Or Unknown Armies. Yeah, that’d work.)), talking about the various games, a few rides, the sideshow tent, and the hootchie show in the back. They had a good time wandering the grounds, sampling the food, and riding the Ferris wheel. They spotted one of the roustabouts who seemed to be following them, and Roxy got a good picture of him from the Ferris wheel before they went to check out the sideshow tent.

Now, they had figured that this was the heart of the mystery, because that’s what it said in the documents, but I felt it was time to start them questioning assumptions about the accuracy of Armitage’s notes. So, they got in without any problem, and saw the contortionist, the fat woman, the sword-swallower/blockhead, the duelling strong men, and the half-human boy. This last one really creeped them out, and they figured that this was the weirdness that they would need to investigate and understand.

When the show was over, they were hustled out into the midway again, and the roustabout who had been following them knocked Roxy down and stole her camera. Moon and Solis gave chase, but Solis fell behind quickly, and the roustabout shouted, “Hey, Rube!” to get the rest of the carnies to get moon off his back ((There was some fun roleplaying here as Moon mistakenly assumed that Rube was the name of the big guy who had knocked him down, and kept calling him that. Considering that Rube is a derogatory term among carnies of the time, it kept making everyone angrier at Moon.)). The men were ejected forcibly from the fairground, and Roxy followed under her own power, sans camera.

Now more convinced than ever that there was something going on there, our heroes crept back in the middle of the night as the fair was shutting down, and hid in the trees and hedgerows lining the fairground, spying on the carnies after hours. They witnessed a meeting where the trouble they had stirred up was discussed, and the roustabout who had stolen the camera – Mitch was his name – was pretty soundly bawled out by the barker. The half-human boy, now dressed and pretty articulate after his beast-man show, suggested smashing the camera to satisfy Mitch’s worries about a picture and dumping it outside the fairground in case the police came looking for it. If things got tense, the carnival would pull up stakes early and head on to the next stop.

Everyone agreed to that, and it was done. Roxy, suspecting a trap, snuck back in the early hours of dawn to retrieve the camera from where it was dumped. She had made a Photography spend to get the picture of Mitch, so I figured that meant she would still be able to recover it, which she did. A Cop Talk spend revealed that Mitch was actually Garland Mitchell, last surviving member of the Red Clay gang of bank robbers, on the run from the feds.

That’s where we wrapped it up for the evening. Now the players have a couple of weeks to figure out what to do next, and so do I. I had expected to wrap this up in a single session, but now I have the time to expand the adventure and flesh some things out.

From the Armitage Files: The Fate of Wallace Hutchinson

**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.

In addition, this post in particular has some spoilers for the Pagan Publishing adventure Realm of Shadows.

**You Have Been Warned**

Saturday night was the latest installment of our Armitage Files campaign.

We had left the last game with the characters deciding to go snooping after Wallace Hutchinson, who had come to their attention previously during the Helping Hands investigation, because they had found evidence at one of his warehouses of a potential Cthulhu cult. Their decision had caught me completely off-guard, and I asked their permission to stop the game early so I could prepare some interesting things for the search for Hutchinson ((What can I say? I was tired after running the D&D Game Day at Imagine Games, and not as nimble on my mental feet as I wanted to be for this change in direction. Also, their decision sparked a bit of an idea that I needed to do a little research to pull off the way I wanted to.)).

See, when they suggested going to hunt Hutchinson, a wealthy businessman who had fled the police, somehow I flashed to the Pagan Publishing adventure Realm of Shadows, which is a great little campaign in itself ((Of course, so is everything else by Pagan Publishing. If you like Cthulhu games and you haven’t looked at their stuff, you’re doing yourself a disservice.)). Part of the game takes place down in French Guiana, at a ziggurat full of ghouls, half-ghouls, and their followers and worshipers. It’s a wonderful, nasty denouement for the RoS adventures, and I thought the exotic locale and the ghouls would make a neat departure for our campaign.

I was wrestling to make it fit, though. Sure, it would be easy enough to give the players the clues they needed to send them down there, and run them through a jungle trek and the nasty, ghoul-filled pyramid at the end, but it didn’t really tie all that well into what had gone on before in the investigation of either the warehouse or the Helping Hands. In addition, I’ve been trying not to show too many monsters, keeping them remote, mysterious, and damned frightening for the characters. Throwing them into a hive of ghouls struck me as a little too much, too fast. Besides, the whole adventure is set up as the climax to an ongoing campaign against the ghouls, and is appropriately big and horrific. I wasn’t using it as a campaign climax, and I was worried it was going to overshadow the rest of the campaign.

Then, due to some cancellations ((First, of my new Dresden Files RPG city-building session, then of the Fiasco game I had proposed to replace it.)), I found myself with an extra evening free to work on the prep for the game. After doing some fiddling with it, I had a brainstorm, scrapped the RoS idea, and came up with something that I think worked better.

So, the investigators started by digging around in the public record, looking for properties Hutchinson owned that he might use to hide out. Unfortunately, he’s a rich guy, and there were too many options with not enough information to narrow them down. They talked to the police, with no better luck – the FBI had taken over the case, because it was probable that Hutchinson had crossed state lines. But the cop Roxy talked to did mention that the Hutchinson business lawyers had been able to keep the cops and the feds out of Hutchinson’s business office in Kingsport.

Playing to her strengths, Roxy broke into the offices one night, bribing the cleaning staff to bring her in with them and then forget it ever happened. Moon and Solis stayed outside, Solis watching the front and Moon the back. Roxy was very jumpy about the burglary, still feeling somewhat nervous after what happened the last time the party split up like this ((Deep one vs. gangster, with a birth and a grenade thrown in.)). She cracked Hutchinson’s safe and, among the watches, cash, and business papers, she found a handkerchief-wrapped bundle. She stuck the bundle and the watches into her pockets, put the rest into the cleaning cart, and headed out. For some reason ((Certainly it was nothing I did or said…)), she didn’t trust the elevator, so she put the cart into it and sent it down to the ground floor, while she went down the stairs. At the bottom, the elevator door opened, but the cart was not inside. Freaking out a bit, she ran.

Aaron, meanwhile, was waiting in the back alley, when he started to smell the sea. This was quickly overwhelmed by a pungent stench, and he turned to see a tall, humanoid shape, close to nine feet tall, in the shadows, reaching out toward him. He drew his gun, but the odour was making his eyes water and nose run. The thing closed its strangely shaped hand over Moon’s gun, which he fired. The shot brought the others running, to find him bent over on the ground, eyes and nose streaming, hacking, coughing, and retching. The group identified the creature as similar to the thing Armitage said he had encountered in the library in the latest document, and Solis found the same fibers in Moon’s mucous.

Business documents were lost in the cleaning cart, but Roxy still had the handkerchief-wrapped bundle. It contained a plate of what appeared to be metal, but upon analysis, turned out to be some sort of strange ceramic. It was etched with bizarre symbols, and accompanied by a page of a journal that seemed to translate it ((I spent Saturday morning creating these as hand-outs. Unfortunately, the plate was just printed on cardstock, but it still looked pretty good.)). It hinted at an impending incursion into our reality of Those Outside, presaged by many strange events and conditions orchestrated by the Voice, which was one of the masks of Nyarlathotep. One of the ways the document said you could tell that the end was approaching was by the occurrence of periods of non-standard time, where perception of time and duration become fluid or porous. This really got to Moon, who has been experiencing just such events.

The other things the document told the group was that Hutchinson had been planning to go to a mine in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to learn more from some beings that said they would have to make some changes to him before they could do so.

Somewhere in the midst of that – I forget exactly where – Aaron used his Cthulhu Mythos to get a handle on the thing in the alley ((He is using it a lot, which is really helping him burn through his Sanity.)). I gave him a spiel about Sasquatch, and Skunk-Apes, and Yetis, and how they were tied to the Mi-Go, which didn’t make him very happy, so I felt my job there was done.

Anyway, they packed up and headed off to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the small mining town of Doylestown. They decided on posing as journalists doing a story on Skunk-Apes and other local folklore, with Roxy being the primary journalist, Aaron being the editor, and Solis being the scientific expert. Talking the idea up in the local pub – and buying many drinks for the locals – they managed to get the name of a local who claimed to have actually seen something strange in the woods, as opposed to the normal friend-of-a-friend stories.

They sought this fellow out and, after some Flattery, Reassurance, and outright bribery, he told them the story of going up on a nearby mountain with his dog, and how the dog was vivisected in a few short minutes it was out of his sight, and his glimpse of something he said looked like a giant grasshopper with a rotten pumpkin for a head. Moon identified this as a crude description of a Mi-Go.

A little investigation at the local newspaper turned up a story about the mine being closed in about 1820 and the whole production moved to a neighbouring mountain after a series of caves were discovered and a team of engineers were lost in them. Local folklore said that the original mine was cursed. This seemed like a good target for investigation.

In the mine, they found the caves, and saw that many had ropy, pulsing tubes of some fungal matter running along the walls and ceilings. In one chamber, they found many of these tubes joined by masses of strange fungus that emitted strange smells and colours, while they worked almost like hearts to move bizarre liquids through the hoses. In another, they heard strange buzzing voices persuading a flat, tinny voice that it was time to leave. When they made it to the place they had heard the voices, all they found was the vivisected body of Wallace Hutchinson, along with a number of empty cylinders made of the same substance as the plate they had found, marked with similar symbols. Moon managed to catch sight of some indistinct shapes flying up through a chimney in the chamber carrying one of the cylinders, but the shots he fired at them had no effect.

The group planted the dynamite they had brought to bring down the caves ((Gracious even in defeat, huh?)), and fled the town.

Not sure what they’re planning next, whether they plan to go back to the warehouse and snoop some more, or to move on to something else. Whatever the choose, it should be fun.

From the Armitage Files: The Death of Aaron Moon

Wrapped up the latest Armitage Files session about half an hour ago. We usually go later than this, but I was tired and my brain was a little worn out by running the Red Box D&D Game Day at Imagine Games this afternoon. That was a fun session, with some great moments, but it ate up a lot of my energy, not to mention my prep time. So, when the game took a turn that I was completely unprepared for, I asked the players if it was all right if we stopped early to give me some time to come up with cool stuff to happen down this unexpected avenue.

Well, not really to come up with the cool stuff: I’ve got some good ideas right off the top of my head, but I want to do a little research into certain actual places and events, as well as to read a couple of Pagan Publishing scenarios that I half-remember and want to crib stuff from.

But before I get into any specifics, I need to say:

**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**

A couple of sessions back, I gave the group the third document. I’ve come to understand that the rate at which the documents are given to the group does more than set the pace by providing (or not providing) more avenues of investigation; it also drives the tension of the story. I made it clear that the documents were going to come at a rate of my choosing, and that things might get very bad for everyone if they didn’t keep up the pace. They would not have time to investigate everything in every document, so they needed to choose carefully what they thought was most important, and figure out where they could have the biggest impact.

Basically, I made it clear that the documents were a countdown.

Anyway, the thread they decided to follow was the death in the factory. The name of the dead person was scribbled out, but with his knowledge of paper and inks, book restorer Aaron Moon was able to clean off the scribbles to read the name of the slain investigator. It was his own.

The following spoiler is safe for my players to read, but players in other campaigns may wish to give it a miss, because it gives away a bit of a secret.


The Armitage Files book recommends that the name of the dead person be that of the character most likely to be talking with factory workers. Now, my characters are all equally unlikely to be welcomed on a factory floor, so that idea didn’t work well for me. Instead, I decided that the name would be the name of the first character who asked about the name. That idea sort of got derailed, because the first character to express an interest was Roxy Crane, and the rest of that section of the document made it clear that the dead person was male. So, I changed it to the second person to look at things, which turned out to Aaron.

That freaked him out a bit*, and he poured on a little more solvent to eat away that section of the document and hide the fact that it said he was dead* on a factory floor somewhere. Dr. Solis decided to give it a try, and he also uncovered Aaron’s name, using his chemistry expertise.

Well, that was enough to really light a fire under everyone, and they started scrambling to find out where this factory was. The one link they had was the name Will Moran, which helped them track down Hutchinson Manufactory, a company in Kingsport that produced machine parts for diesel engines, primarily for ships.

My players are really starting to dread Kingsport.

The name Hutchinson also sounded familiar to them, and they managed to figure out that the company was owned by the missing chairman of the Helping Hands, who was currently sought by the police for questioning about his involvement with the deaths of numerous transients. I did this because I wanted to start weaving some more common threads into the narrative of the game, making things more cohesive and seeing what patterns emerged in the minds of my players.

This is, I think, an important thing to do with this campaign, because it doesn’t have any inherent cohesive storyline. The Keeper and the players have to distill one out of the play sessions. I like this idea, but it’s a bit like paper-making, in my opinion: you need to make sure there are enough threads in the pulp for the final product to hold together. So, I wanted to weave in some older loose ends and overlooked references to see what overarching theme and plot might coalesce.

Our heroes drove out to Kingsport to stake out the factory, and saw labour organizer Wally Endore being frogmarched* off the property. They persuaded them to let them drive him home, and plied him with alcohol while trying to find out if anything odd was going on at the factory. His answer was basically, “You mean, besides being picked up in a saloon car and given bourbon to answer questions about a factory I’ve only been to three times?”

But they did find out that the factory operated 24 hours a day, except that it closed down on Sundays. They dropped Wally off at his boarding house, and decided to send Dr. Solis in undercover as a health inspector worried about disease-carrying rats. His investigation allowed them to update the blueprints Roxy had tracked down for the buildings with what entrances and exits were currently functional, and to generally scout the ground. They returned just before dawn on Sunday to investigate the room where Aaron died/will die.

Nothing in the paperwork or records revealed anything of interest, but Roxy found a thin sheet of veneer tacked to the underside of a workbench. When she pried it open, it revealed a strange symbol that seemed to try and worm its way into her head. In best Cthulhu tradition, she immediately called Aaron over to have a look at it, too. Aaron went a little farther: he copied the symbol down on a bit of notepaper, making it wiggle even more in his head.

Things dragged a little at this point, as the gang kept looking around for more information. I finally remembered to download the Scene sign that WatsonSE told me about after my last post (Thanks, WatsonSE!), printed it out, and waved it at the players.

Back home, Aaron found that the glyph was similar to ones found in certain defaced idols in the sunken ruins of Nan Madol, origin of Ponape Scripture of dark reputation. He decided to use his Cthulhu Mythos to gain more information, along with a 1-point spend, so I told him that the symbol was a representation of Cthulhu’s eye, and was used to draw the attention of the sleeping Old One.

This is leading to a theme that I wanted to emerge in the game, and I’m glad to see it working. See, I’ve been listening to some interesting audiobooks about physics, and one of the things that I’m trying to pull in is the observer effect, twisted to make it more Mythos-cool. I want to avoid having the characters actually encounter any of the big names in person, but I want the idea of attracting the attention of one of the old gods or titans is dangerous in and of itself. I started it with the Chaugner Faugn thing I did a while back, where it was the attention of the thing that was sucking the temporal potentiality from those it paid attention to, and I’m continuing it with this little sigil thing.

Figuring out the nature of the symbol led Aaron right down to the furnace with his little sketch, and he watched until it was ashes. Roxy had defaced the one carved in the factory, as well.

At this point, the group decided that they really needed to track down Hutchinson and see if he was running a factory full of Cthulhu cultists. I had already decided where Hutchinson was, roughly, but I hadn’t done the research I wanted to do to have a solid foundation for improvising this section of the investigation. It’s also offering me an opportunity to either increase or decrease the complexity of what’s going on: I can either make the Hutchinson thread connect to the death of Aaron Moon, simplifying things, or I can make it a different, parallel avenue of investigation, complicating the investigation as the characters have to decide which line to pursue and which clues belong to which mystery*.

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like to be prepared for the improvisation I’m going to have to do. So, because it was getting late, and I was tired and my brain was less than agile, I begged my players’ indulgence, which they graciously granted.

I wrapped up the evening by dropping the other shoe about the glyph: both Aaron and Roxy had disturbing dreams, featuring the ocean, drowned people, and something huge and terrible rising from the depths.

Tomorrow, when I’m a little more on the ball, I’m going to schedule a few more games, so that we can get back to a regular schedule. I’ve missed running this game, and am glad to be back to it.


*Though not as much as it could have – my players were rolling great guns on their Stability tests tonight. Almost made me wonder why I was bothering. Back

*Or would die, if you adhere to their current opinion of what the documents are. Back

*Frogmarched is in the WordPress spellcheck dictionary. WordPress is not. Nor is spellcheck, but that’s most likely because of the neologism of the compound. It likes spell-check just fine*. Back

*As a word geek, these things interest and amuse me. Back

*Arturo Perez-Reverte played with this trope to great and entertaining effect in The Club Dumas. Back

From the Armitage Files: The Blessed Event

We’ve just finished up the latest installment of our Armitage Files campaign about twenty minutes ago. I’m posting this tonight because tomorrow I have to work on writing other stuff – some homework for the excellent D&D 3.5 campaign run by my friend, Clint. Monday is going to be busy getting ready for GenCon, so if I want to get this posted before then, I’ve gotta burn a little midnight oil.

This is also the last Armitage Files game for more than a month, because a couple of my players are heading off to Europe for several weeks.


**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**

We wrapped up the Kingsport Yacht Club storyline tonight, though I don’t think any of the characters really counts the resolution of the situation as a win. Which is good to happen occasionally in a horror game – endings that the characters are ambivalent about are a standard trope of the genre. If they can’t tell whether or not they’ve won, it increases the bleakness of the story, which is fitting for a Cthulhu game.

At the end of the last session, they had put together the idea that Diamond Walsh was being used as a puppet by the Gardiners, a wealthy family that ran the Yacht Club. He was being offered both respectability and a child, in return for his mob connections and being a surrogate father for the Deep One half-breed his wife was carrying. This foetus had been surgically altered in utero by the family doctor, Lynch, to try and make it breed true as a Deep One from birth, rather than having to wait decades for the transformation, making it a sort of Deep One messiah.

To try and get more evidence on what was going on, they broke into the doctor’s home to loot his home office for clues. Good spends with Arcitecture and Streetwise let them find a retired bootlegger on the street who let them in to the rum-running tunnel that connected several of the houses and ran down to the water. They used this to get in to the doctor’s home, where they found evidence that he had indeed been conducting surgeries in his home, rather than at the hospital where he had surgical privileges. They also uncovered a book hidden inside a hollowed-out copy of Gray’s Anatomy.

The book on its own was nothing terribly special – it was a copy of Secret Mysteries of Asia (p106 in Trail of Cthulhu) – but it contained a number of hand-written notepaper pages folded into it, detailing rather unsavoury surgical experiments carried out by the doctor, including a lengthy and detailed accounting of several unnamed pregnancies where prenatal surgery had been conducted on the foetuses, implanting fish organs. Most of the experiments ended in the death of the subject, but one pregnancy was still continuing, according to the notes.

But they didn’t read the notes right away, because they heard someone upstairs, and went quiet to avoid detection. Unfortunately, something heard them – just not the doctor, who had awakened to use the bathroom and then gone back to bed. No, the thing that heard them was hiding in the tunnel when they crept back in, and shot small bone blowgun darts into Solis and Moon as they tried to flee through the low, narrow tunnel back to the house where they had got in. The darts had some sort of hallucinogenic poison on them that laid out both men just after they escaped. Roxy had to get her bootlegger contact to help her carry the unconscious men out to her car, and warned him to take a long vacation. Which saved him from being home that night when his house burned to the ground.

The next little bit convinced me that I need to make up a SCENE card, as suggested in the rules. The group discussed what they should do, finally settling on sending photographs of Lynch’s notes to Walsh with a note telling him where to get in touch with them if they wished to talk about what they meant. Once that was done, though, they started looking around for more clues, when I didn’t have any more to give them through research. We flailed about with that for a bit until I finally said, “Look. There’s no more information here for you. Get on with things.” This is a change in mentality that is difficult for me to get used to, but the idea of the SCENE card to hold up when the characters have found everything there is to find sounds like a much better idea to me know than when I first read it.

But we did get on with things. The gang wound up in Kingsport, with Solis and Moon… assisting Walsh with inquiries, let’s say, while locked in his basement, and Roxy out on the loose trying to keep track of where things were going. They told Walsh that Zora was probably either at the Yacht Club or out on a boat, where her crazy family were about to do something horrid to her and the baby. Walsh sent men to both the club and the harbour, but decided to hang on to Solis and Moon in case they didn’t find anything.

Now, I had the group of men sent to the harbour not report back, thinking that would get people out there to see what happened to them, but it didn’t. Instead, the blunt force trauma to Solis’s and Moon’s heads shook loose the memory of the bootlegger tunnel running down to the water, so I moved the climax of the adventure there.

Roxy followed the next wave of goons from Walsh’s to the doctor’s house, then crept over to the small cliff where she could look down on the tunnel mouth and see what was happening. I told her she saw a number of naked men lit by braziers of burning sulfur, and a very pregnant woman sitting in the water about to give birth. I also told her that there were strange ripples in the water, and glistening hands reaching up from below the surface to help hold Zora still.

Things got a little hectic around then. Zora was screaming in pain, the men were chanting, one of the ripples out in the cove started moving toward Roxy’s perch on the clifftop, and the goons burst out of the tunnel and started shooting everyone down there. Roxy threw a stick of dynamite down, throwing up a wave, and then strange, silvery shapes started coming out of the water to attack the men coming out of the tunnel. Zora got washed out of sight by the dynamite wave, and a Deep One came leaping up the cliff wall right at Roxy. She missed it with a thrown rock, and then it was on her. Her bullet hit, but didn’t seem to do much damage, and then the thing slashed her a couple of times with its claws. Roxy turned and ran, throwing her last stick of dynamite behind her. She missed the creature, but the explosion collapsed the overhanging clifftop, and the thing dropped out of sight.

She hurried back to Walsh’s, and convinced him to go out with the rest of his men to try and save his wife. He left, after threatening to come after Roxy if she had played him false, and gave her the keys to let Solis and Moon out of the cellar. They then set out after the crowd to see what they could do.

It was all over but the shouting by the time they got there. Two more houses on the street were in flames, and the water was littered with bodies. The police and fire wouldn’t let them get any closer, and they had to head home. Newspaper accounts over the next few days told of a gang war that left many dead, including Oliver Gardiner, Dr. Lynch, Walsh, and Zora. The more lurid papers wrote of how Zora seemed to have been torn open from the inside.

So, not a good ending for the home team, but they’re all alive, and can press on with their investigations. Whatever they decide they should be.

From the Armitage Files: Kingsport Yacht Club

**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**

We’re trying to squeeze in two Armitage Files games before I leave for GenCon, because when I get back, two of the three players head off to Europe for about a month, and we won’t get back to a regular schedule until September. Given that this summer has already seen some challenges in scheduling the game, we wanted to get a little momentum built, to make sure the game doesn’t wither and die.

That’s why we got together this afternoon to play, and are planning on doing it again next Saturday night.

We had finished off the Monument Creek storyline last session, and the characters were taking a couple of weeks to rest up after the beating they took on that little outing. As is my usual practice, I asked the group to let me know about a week in advance what reference they were planning on following up next. They decided to look into the Kingsport Yacht Club, because the Captain from last session was heading to Kingsport Harbour with the idol when they blew him up. And the Yacht Club was near the harbour, so…

Now, I cheated a little bit on the prep for this one. I had already decided that the group was going to receive the next document this session, so I wanted to tie in a few extra threads to the storyline for the Yacht Club, because it’s probably going to be the last one from these documents that gets investigated. Maybe not, but I think the pressure of a new document, with new hints, is going to get the group fired up about some of those. That meant that I wanted to draw in a few of the things that had featured peripherally in the earlier investigations, specifically Austin Kittrell and Diamond Walsh.

That seemed like it was tailor-made for stealing one of the spines from the Scenario Spines chapter of The Armitage Files, which I did, choosing The Dweller Within. I tweaked it from the basic structure to better suit what my group are starting to show as their play style, did up a few sets of stats for various things along the way, and away we went.

Their first step was to try and infiltrate the Kingsport Yacht Club by having Dr. Solis pose as Arthur Matthews, a recent widower returned from South America with a daughter (Roxy, starring as Mary Matthews) who wanted him to meet the right people and start getting involved in the local society circles, so that he’ll stop paying so much attention to her life. Roxy’s high Credit Rating meant that she knew the names of several people who were members, including Austin Kittrell, a wealthy party-boy (and collector of strange documents) with whom she’d had some minor dealings previously. He knew her too well, though, so she and Solis went to Samuel Hepburn, a lawyer who didn’t know her as well, and prevailed up on him to put Arthur Matthews forward for membership.

Why Dr. Solis? Well, Roxy is a woman, and Aaron is Jewish, so neither would have a chance of getting in. Welcome to 1935.

On the night of the membership drive, Aaron went along with the pair, disguised as their chauffeur. While Solis and Roxy were hobnobbing with the other members, prospective members, and their families, Aaron was hanging out with the staff below stairs, trying to pick up some gossip. The character, unfortunately, doesn’t have a lot of skill in that area, but his roleplaying and the things he paid attention to got him some solid information. For example, among the waiters, cooks, maids, and drivers, there was a pair of goons in bad suits sitting by themselves with a bottle of whiskey. Aaron decided to see what he could get out of them by pulling out a deck of cards (with dirty pictures on them) and gambling with them for some whiskey. Over the course of the evening, as he lost a fair bit of money to them, he found out they were Walsh’s men – the gangster who had been transporting the idol for the Captain in the last investigation. He also found out that Walsh was married to Zora Gardiner, daughter of Oliver Gardiner, and president of the Yacht Club. The men were bemoaning the fact that, ever since the wedding, Walsh had been getting soft, and was now trying to get respectable by joining the Yacht Club.

Aaron also caught sight of a small figure – possibly a child – hiding in the bushes when he went to check on the car at one point, but didn’t get a good look at it, nor did he follow it into the shrubbery.

At the party, Solis and Roxy met the Gardiners, Walsh and his very pregnant wife Zora, and Dr. Lynch, the club secretary. They found that Gardiner had a fondness for local history, especially that of the native peoples, and that the club library – the province of Dr. Lynch – contained many books on local and maritime history. Other than that, and a strange encounter between Austin Kittrell and the disguised Roxy, everything went very well, and our heroes retired at the end of the evening with every expectation that Arthur Matthews would soon be receiving an invitation to join.

Over the next few days, they did a little more research on the Gardiners, and on Walsh and the Yacht Club. Their digging turned up the origins of the extended Gardiner clan in Merry Mount, in the early days of Puritan settlement, where they made good money at fishing. A Cthulhu Mythos use reminded Aaron of a passage from The Book of the Voice, which spoke of how the pre-European inhabitants of Merry Mount (called Mounte Dagonne by the early French explorers) had worshiped an ancient sea-god, and were said to have interbred with the children of this god.

Further research turned up a pattern of stillbirths, miscarriages, and deaths in childbirth among the extended Gardiner clan over the past year. All of the physicians of record were listed as Dr. Lynch, which struck them as odd, because they knew Dr. Lynch was a surgeon, not a GP or OB/GYN. At this point, Aaron’s player was getting very nervous about things, so he spent a Cthulhu Mythos point, and recalled hints he had seen in old books about how the offspring of the sea-god’s children would be vulnerable and mortal for the first two-score years of their lives, until they shed their mortal form and returned to the realm of their god. Some of the men who had made pacts with these creatures had sought various ways to force this transformation in utero, eliminating the vulnerable period of the god’s grandchildren. He recalled how pregnant Walsh’s wife – Gardiner’s daughter – was, and how in two days, there would be a spring tide, a time of power for Dagon.

Some quick checking confirmed that Walsh, a forty-year-old gangster, had no children, which was so unusual as to strain credulity. The investigators came to the conclusion that Gardiner was getting control of Walsh and his business using the promise of a child and respectability. Checking with the police revealed that Gardiner’s enemies and business rivals had a habit of disasters; disasters that someone like Walsh could easily arrange. A check of Lynch’s past showed that his father had also been a member of the Yacht Club – along with Kittrell’s father – and that Lynch had been a battlefield surgeon in the Great War before traveling extensively in Europe and Asia, finally returning to Kingsport six years previously.

And so our heroes wound up arguing over the corpse of a stillborn child in a graveyard at midnight.

They had all agreed that they needed to examine a body to confirm their guesses but, when they had finally unearthed the tiny coffin (suffering some nice Stability tests), Aaron refused to allow the others to take the body from the graveyard and desecrate it farther. They had a quiet, desperate argument there in the dark before Solis finally went under the blanket with sad little body and a flashlight.

Cue Stability check, with extra Sanity loss.

He found that the body was fairly decomposed, but the limbs seemed to be a little too long and spindly, and the webbing between the fingers and toes was still fairly pronounced – unusual in a foetus at six or seven months, but not all that strange. What bothered him most were the signs that the thing had undergone surgery in utero – there were healed scars over its abdomen and torso. That and the tiny, needle teeth in its mouth.

They  reburied the body and left the graveyard, badly shaken, and unsure what to do about the situation, knowing that they have two days before something is likely to happen to Zora Gardiner and the child she’s carrying.

And that’s where we left it.

Next game is this coming Saturday, and that should put paid to this scenario, though I think they’re going to have some tough choices to make about how they settle things.

Oh, and I dropped the next document on them, while Aaron was working on the research and Roxy was talking to the Kingsport Police. Cyrus Llanfer brought it to Dr. Solis, saying that he had found it inside the Necronomicon, which he periodically checks to make sure that, for instance, no half-breed wizard from Dunwich makes off with it.

So they’ve got that to think about, too. I’m interested to see what they come up with.