The Armitage Files

armitage-225x300[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

The world as we know it has come to an end. The feared rise of the Old Ones has come to pass. Niarlathotep, Shub-Nigurath, Cthulhu… they are real and they’re here. It is to late now.

Thankfully not all is lost. Professor Armitage, risking limb and sanity has managed to acquire a time travel spell. By performing dangerous and sanity draining rituals in a world that has no lost love for humanity, he has managed to send back a few hand written documents that will allow you to thwart the events that brought doom upon our world.

If you can unravel the mysteries written in the notes and survive the investigation, that is.

I will go the point: This is a masterpiece. Not because the adventure is astonishingly good and attractive, but because the thinking behind the book, the perfect sandbox layout and the second to none writing is as good as it gets. This is Robin D. Laws at his best.

Usually I start my reviews with what I didn’t like. I will do the same now: I found three typos. One of them was as serious as spelling Toc instead of ToC. When Cthulhu hears you guys have not capitalised the initial to its name, you’re going to be in SO much trouble!

Now for the rest.

The layout.

Pelgrane Press is managing to produce very good books. The pages are in very comfortable to read three columns, separated by lines, with a very clear font, plenty of padding, line separation and kerning that allows for great readability. The images are just the right amount and in the right places. The monochrome look has been very carefully looked after so the images don’t loose detail where is needed (something most companies should take notes on!) and the theme of the images are absolutely perfect with the setting.

The files themselves are excellent. The hand-writing matches the mood of Armitage at the time of writing them. At the times when the poor professor is under a greater deal of stress, the scribbles become more chaotic, more insane than when Armitage is writing earlier in the procedures. The files do manage to convey a sense of dread, madness, despair and urgency that will spread around your players before they even notice it. You will want to get the PDF of this book as well as the printed copy. Giving your players printed copies of these papers is pretty much a must.

Could the layout and the art-work be improved? Sure!

Does it need it? No. Jerome Huguenin does a great job of both the artwork and the layout of the book, and Sarah Wroot’s has managed to empathise with the mood of Professor Armitage as close as it could e expected

The contents

In the first pages of this book, Laws starts with a lesson on sandbox playing and adventuring, and some very valuable lessons on how to improvise with your players, as well as how to insert new elements in a campaign, how to get ideas from your players and amend and improve your adventure as you go along, and a very long etcetera of techniques that will take your gaming experience a lot further and make it more intense. As an added bonus, those techniques can be applied to any game and setting, not just Trail of Cthulhu, so this would be a good investment for any gamer and GM.

The second part of this book describes the characters mentioned in the Armitage Files, and there is plenty to choose from. Close to forty characters, in fact, most of them with a really net illustration. To make this even more comprehensive, each character is provided with three description. Sinister, Innocuous and Stalwart. Each description gives you motivations, life history and plot hooks for your campaign. It doesn’t stop there, though, as alternative names, ages and descriptions are also given.

Get passed the NPCs and you will find the same treatment given to a huge plethora of organisations the players can interact with. Again the same three descriptions are provided. As you can imagine, the choices are pretty amazing.

Locations are described next, but this time they’re given as readouts for the players. The idea behind is to give the players a feeling for the atmosphere of the places they’ll visit. With a Neutral and a Sinister description of each place the keeper can choose what suits the adventure better, or even change it in the course of the campaign to suit the mood of the game at any given time.

The last section before the files are introduced, a range of tomes and artefacts are presented to the reader. Once more the choice is widened by providing Major and Minor levels of power.

armitagedoc[1]Lastly, we get to the meaty second half of the book, where one can access the files Armitage sends back in time to the investigators. Both the hand written pages and transcripts are there for ease of use, and let me tell you they’re a touch of genius.

I must admit until I got to the files, the book just felt like a compilation of people, places and items without much purposes. Then one reads the first file and things start to fall into place within minutes. The reason for the places becomes clear. The purpose of the locations becomes clear. The reason for the items becomes clear.

Suddenly you start to get a picture of your adventure. You start to get ideas, hooks, links, reasons, excuses, twists… and while reading the different files one realises how damn good Robin D. Laws truly is. The change in mood, the increasing or decreasing insanity levels, the mention of the different elements of the campaign; everything is perfectly choreographed in a very intricate and incredibly well thought ballet of hints and situations that suddenly start make sense as a whole.

It adds a level of difficulty, though. This adventure is not for the uninitiated. The sandbox structure of this book makes establishing plots more complicated, with twists and changes very prone to happen. Although help is provided to structure the adventure, it would be a waste to just lay a plot and follow it from A to B and missing on the great amount of information supplied here.

If you’re not an experienced GM, I would suggest playing a few games of something a bit lighter, such as Fiasco, before embarking on this task. However once you get to grips with how to run and play a sandbox campaign, you will be only so glad you bought this book and made the effort.

I really cannot recommend this book enough. Even if you’re not a Trail of Cthulhu fan, everything in this book is so transferable to other games that it will be a great asset and source of information to any investigative or horror game you choose.

A well deserved 5 out of 5 for The Armitage Files.

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