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Trail of Cthulhu: The Armitage Files
 
$16.95
Average Rating:5.0 / 5
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Armitage Files
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Armitage Files
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/07/2010 14:42:04

When I first heard about “The Armitage Files” I was intrigued at once. The 152-paged softcover book (or PDF) is a campaign for the Trail of Cthulhu written by Robin Laws and published by Pelgrane Press. But it’s definitely different from most campaigns you’ve ever read. The Armitage Files doesn’t consist of fully fledged-out adventures that the Keeper has to run in a certain sequence, but it provides the Keeper with ten mysterious documents, supporting characters, locations and artifacts to run your unique version of this epic campaign. Basically the book provides you with all the tools needed to improvise a whole investigative campaign. Investigative campaign and improvisation? Isn’t that usually contradictory? According to Robin D. Laws it isn’t. And so I gave the review copy I was provided by Pelgrane Press’ Simon Rogers (Thanks again, Simon!) a thorough read to find out, if that claim was true.

The book starts with an introductions that provides the Keeper with some information on what it’s about and how to use it. The files mentioned in the book’s title are ten documents written in the handwriting of Dr. Henry Armitage, . One after the other they mysteriously arrive amidst the effects of his colleagues, but Dr. Armitage has no recollection of ever writing them. And they describe events leading to an apocalypse.

These ten files are provided as handouts in the back of the book that can be copied and given to the players. Alas the documents included in the book are not full-color, but owners of the book can download the full-color versions of the files from the Pelgrane Press site. The handwritten documents contain the clues that should spark the investigator’s curiosity and should enable them to prevent the apocalyptic events hinted at in the files. The first section of the book describe how the Keeper can use these props to run the campaign and how you can use improvisation in a GUMSHOE system game. The advice given can easily applied to any GUMSHOE game (like Esoterrorists or Mutant City Blues) or even any other roleplaying game. In my humble opinion this already warrants the purchase of this book.

The second part of “The Armitage Files” contains descriptions of people, organisations, places and tomes that may play a role in your campaign. The character write-ups are fully modular, so the Keeper can pick and choose his version of any given character, it’s even possible to reuse them. Each character write-up also contains short scenes that can be used if the character is either sinister, innocous or stalwart. The same character can very well be either an innocent, totally oblivious of the unspeakable horrors that threaten mankinds existance or he can be an agent of the Elder Gods himself.

The 42 characters can probably be reused in other campaigns as well, which is another big plus in my book. The descriptions of organizations and places basically follow the same format. Organizations can be either stalwart or sinister and there are neutral and sinister descriptions for each location listed.

The chapter about tomes and magic expands on the tomes that are already listed in the main rulebook and can – like the other parts of the book – be reused for other campaigns as well. Last but not least the book also contains several sample spines that give the Keeper some hints on how the story could unfold. In one case even an example of play is given that should provide the Keeper with a deeper insight on how he can use the material from the book to create a Trail of Cthulhu scenario on the fly.

In a way “The Armitage Files” is much more than a simple campaign setting that provides Keepers with a script for several connected adventures. It’s rather a toolbox that enables any Keeper to not only run an epic campaign focused on the ten mysterious documents but also provides him with an enormous amount of material usuable in any Trail of Cthulhu game and good advice on how to run a game by reacting on the player’s actions instead of following a predetermined script.

“The Armitage Files” is definitely a book anyone interested in running Trail of Cthulhu should own, especially if you want to try something new. But it proves – without a shadow of doubt – that it’s possible to improvise an investigative games if you are open to follow the advice given in the book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Armitage Files
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2010 09:06:53

This book presents an unusual take on an campaign. Its core is a series of mysterious documents which the characters will be tasked to investigate; but the resources provided are very open-ended, chiefly people, organisations and locations with which the characters can interact. The course of events (apart from the actual appearance of the documents) is left up to the Keeper and to the characters themselves. This of course fits nicely into the investigative style of play so ably facilitiated by the Gumshoe game mechanic... but this book is even more innovative than that.

For it is left to the Keeper to determine the meaning of the clues in the documents, to decide which are genuine references to Mythos activity and which are something else - confusion in the author's mind, strange events of other than Mythos origin, red herrings, whatever. This confers tremendous flexibility on the campaign, but also relies heavily on the Keeper not just deciding what is taking place but driving events so as to keep the game exciting and on track. While a daunting prospect, the book goes a long way towards supporting the Keeper with advice on dealing with problems and using the ideas advanced by the players to weave a campaign that will be memorable for all participants. There is a lot of advice on running free-form campaigns which is useful whatever you are running, and a separate chapter specificially on using the Gumshoe system to facilitate them. The key thing is: nothing is 'wrong' even if it is not quite what you originally intended. It is possible to go even further, and openly take ideas proferred by the players but many groups are happier in the belief that their GM knows the solution to the mystery - the GM, of course, may still be prepared to change it when players come up with good twists, but does not have to let on!

These preliminaries done, the next few chapters contain detailed listings of people (each with multiple options to enable you to use them as good guys or villains as you please), organisations (again with alternate write-ups to allow them to be forces for good or for evil), places (which can either be neutral or sinister as appropriate) and a collection of tomes. The places come with 'stock footage' descriptions, a concept introducted in Shadows Over Filmland, where the description is crafted stylistically to envoke the scene. The entries in each category have suggested links to each other, and to the documents as well. It empowers the Keeper to have a battery of resources to hand so wherever the characters wish to go or whatever they want to investigate, there's an appropriate person or place or organisation or book to use. Many will spawn your own ideas for subplots or elements of the main plot as you read through them.

The next section, Scenario Spines, provides some outlines demonstrating how the documents can be used to spawn a whole range of adventures based on what you have decided about them in advance and what the characters choose to do once presented with the document in question. To demonstrate the flexibility of the concept, three different 'spines' basen on the first document are given, as well as sample ones for other documents in the series.

Finally the documents themselves, presented both as facsimile and as transcripts. For convenience, they are also given as a separate full-colour file (complete with bloodstains) that can be downloaded from the Pelgrane Press website, and are included in the download for PDF purchases.

This is a bold and innovative campaign concept, which will require a lot of work on the part of the Keeper; and probably will work best when all participants are experienced role-players willing to think, cooperate and seek imaginative solutions. Well handled, this will prove one of the most memorable campaigns you've ever been involved with!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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