Thursday, July 14, 2011

Let's Talk About Unspeakable Oath #18

Yes, I know...I am a few issues behind the curve. Hopefully I will be able to catch up, during or after GenCon.

I have fond memories of the original print run of Unspeakable Oath. I was lucky enough to find the issue introducing Delta Green on a news stand when it came out, and that is what introduced me to Pagan Publishing and books like Golden Dawn and the Delta Green sourcebooks. While I have never been overly enamored with Golden Dawn, it just has too much Arthurian material that borders on the cliched, I have been a fan of Delta Green since that issue, having been lucky enough to run a few of my own DG campaigns over the years.

All of this brings us to Unspeakable Oath number eighteen, which is the triumphant return of the magazine. Arc Dream Publishing, the new home of the works of Pagan Publishing, has had some ups and downs in getting the Pagan Publishing material back into the public eye, but they have managed to overcome these problems and return to producing some of the best material for Call of Cthulhu available. Yes, that might be a little biased, but as someone who has a preference for the contemporary era in my Call of Cthulhu gaming, it's nice to see published material that is as close as the Delta Green material. All we need now is a post 9/11 update, and I think I will be happy with the setting for the rest of my life.

Anyway, about the magazine. The writer's credits features a who's who of some of the best and most knowledgeable Lovecraftian gaming writers outside of Chaosium itself. The list of writers includes Dan Harms, Monte Cook, John Tynes, Matthew Pook, C.A. Sulieman and Shane Ivey. Only the addition of Ken Hite would be able to make those credits better.

I think this quote from Shane Ivey's introduction to the issue sums up a lot of my feelings "It’s true that games with more streamlined character generation and more tightly focused mechanics can make Call of Cthulhu’s decades-old rules and endless list of skills feel a little fusty and crusty. But the game has been around this long because it works. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a game that does what it’s trying to do." Yes, Call of Cthulhu is a game with a pedigree, and it is good to see support for it again.

One of my favorite bits of The Unpeakable Oath has always been the Tales of Terror. These are brief (2-3 page) adventure tidbits that can be dropped into an ongoing campaign where the players are going a little faster than they should be, and they can also be fleshed out into fuller adventures as well. They are nice things to have as a Keeper/GM when you have some players for an hour or two, and nothing to run for them. Calling them adventure seeds would probably be the best description This issue has four Tales of Terror.
  • Mr. Popatov by John Tynes is a creepy bit about puppets that come about from an interview the characters have with an old man.
  • Slight Return by Pat Harrigan is a Delta Green Tale that may have something to do with Tillinghast radiation.
  • The House of Hunger by Monte Cook deals with a house that may be hungry...for Death!
  • The Art Show by Nick Grant deals with a sculptor who's subject matter is not for the squeamish.
All four of these are solid adventure seeds, and except maybe for the Delta Green one, could easily be fit into any of Call of Cthulhu's default eras of play. House of Hunger and The Art Show definitely would work well in either the classic 20s era or the modern era of play. Tynes' Mr. Popatov is timeless and could easily be fit into any era of play, and would make a creepy addition to any Gaslight era campaign. These Tales of Terror are also statless, so you could easily use them in any horror game, Lovecraftian or not.
Tales of Nephren-Ka by James Haughton is a good, strong meat and potatoes article for any Call of Cthulhu Keeper. The tone of this article is set by the piece of Dennis Detwiller art on the first page: a group of faceless Egyptian priests officiating in some manner over a sarcophagus. This is our first tip that Haughton is up to something. Again, the information in this article is useful to Keepers of any era, but to my eye this really stands out as something that could be useful to Victorian era campaigns, that time period when the treasures of Egypt were first being "liberated" and brought to the people of the world. Spinning out of Lovecraft's "The Haunter In The Dark," this article introduces four new Mythos tomes of an Egyptian influence, and three new spells that are also Egyptian. The article rounds out with four story "seeds" of a paragraph each (much shorter than the Tales of Terror and that will require much more work on the part of the Keeper to make usable).

The Chapel of Contemplation by Dan Harms spins out of the classic Call of Cthulhu scenario "The Haunting"/"The Haunted House" that comes from the core rule book, and has been the starting point for many a Call of Cthulhu campaigns over the decades. Billed as "A Cult For Three Eras," this article has a well-fleshed out background and hooks for Gaslight, 20s and Modern era adventures. The Modern era hooks are the best fleshed out of the three, leaving Keepers of the other eras with a bit of extra work to do in order to use this cult in their games. The article is rounded out with a map, some NPCs and three tomes that are important to the Chapel and their beliefs. As the Chapel is the sworn enemy of Starry Wisdom, some of the information sets them as a group to aid the characters in a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" sort of way. This introduces an interesting slippery slope for characters who may, one day, have to turn on their benefactors.

On the weaker side, I found Dog Will Hunt and Black Sunday to be the least inspiring for me, in the way of using the information. Partially, this had to do with the articles being set in the 20s and 30s respectively, eras which do not get a lot of play from me. Dog Will Hunt does have some material that could be used as deep background, and a couple of interesting (and squamous) new spells. Black Sunday, while well-written, just did not leap at me.

Matthew Pook's always interesting reviews and a few new artifacts and tomes round out the issue. While the pieces dedicated to the individual artifacts and tomes do have some interesting things to add of a campaign, I find the ones that are integrated into the backgrounds of the longer articles to be more inspiring to me.

Should you buy this? Yes, definitely. The good things vastly outweigh the bad in this issue of the magazine. The purchase is worth it only for the further information about the Black Pharoh and his cult, and Dan Harm's excellent piece on The Chapel of Contemplation. It shouldn't have taken us thirty years to get a follow up to the "Haunted House" like this. If you like Lovecraftian and/or horror games, there will be material in here that is useful for you.

You can pick up Unspeakable Oath #18 in PDF form from If you purchase it from this link you will also kick a bit of affiliate money towards this blog, which is always nice.