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Armitage Files (Trail of Cthulhu) Review

Posted on May 26, 2010 by spikexan

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    The Armitage Files for the Trail of Cthulhu line offers an old idea with a fresh approach. This smart-looking book centers around ten documents (authentic looking pieces ready for handing out to players) and how Keepers can use said documents in a campaign. I call this an old idea because in-game props are a tried and true staple of gaming. Even before LARPing was an acronym, game masters handed out handwritten notes, recorded messages, weapons, or something tangible for their players to enjoy.

    It’s great to have something physical to link the real world to the fictional setting. Right? Those props usually end up not amounting to very much beyond cool memories. In this book, Laws tries to show Keepers how to get serious play from in-game props. He picked an excellent setting to utilize this project. Why? One of the core concepts of Trail of Cthulhu is that clues shouldn’t be missed because of a busted roll. Either multiple clues can lead to the same outcome or a core clue cannot be missed. I’m not a fan of this technique but I understand where they are coming from (I just don’t personally care if my players follow a wrong lead for a couple of sessions. Ah Chaos). This system though will permit multiple players from reading too much into the files and scampering off into an equal number of investigative avenues.

    And there is so much detailed about these documents. One, readers get the actual copy. There is also a typed copy of each in case the insane musings prove illegible. Next, there are chapters on the people, places, and groups with a vested interest in the files. While I’m not crazy about the page layout in the book, I may be in the minority. The documents and their typed versions are at the end of the book. I suppose this makes sense in the “handouts go at the end” mentality, yet having a book full of information about documents one doesn’t get to read until the end is like playtesting a licensed game from the core material itself and possessing not exposure to the playtest files.

    It’s a good looking book that keeps in line with the clever layout from the other Trail of Cthulhu books. I really like how these books end up. They are one of the few cases of computer generated art not disappointing me (odd . . . considering the games are set in the 1920s). It’s all a mystery to me.

    I think fans of Cthulhu’s trails or calls will both appreciate the intense material in this book. Many NPCs are created for Keepers along with cult and locale notes. Despite all the work the book does for Keepers, it does also create a bit more. There is a tremendous amount of information to wade through within these pages. Fans of more action-packed games aren’t going to find much for them with this book as it is 99.99% investigative material. Then again, all the fighting types tend to get weeded out in Cthulhu games.

    My scores for The Armitage Files are:

    Layout: Three out of Five Dice (the information didn’t seem laid out correctly to me)
    Artwork: Four out of Five Dice (modern art feels like the 1920s in a strange, cool way)
    Writing: Four out of Five Dice (Superb writing that draws from an excellent well)
    Overall: Four out of Five Dice (a must-have for Keepers with a flair for props)

    Thanks to Pelgrane Press for my free reviewer’s copy of their game.

    Review by Todd Cash

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    2 Responses to “Armitage Files (Trail of Cthulhu) Review”

    1. Simon Rogers says:

      Thanks for the review.

      A couple of responses. “Following the wrong lead” is absolutely expected and allowed for in GUMSHOE. It’s the excitement of “not finding the book in the library” which is avoided. GUMSHOE does not constrain other avenues of investigation any more than a system where you role for clues, just ensures that there is always an avenue to investigate, unless you decide otherwise..

      I’m not entirely sure where you would put the handouts except at the end, but full colour versions of the handouts are available to purchasers on the Pelgrane website, so printing them out and perusing them along side the book would seem a sensible option for you.

    2. Steve says:

      Isn’t it set in the 1930s rather than 1920s?

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