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The Unspeakable Oath 24 - ARC6007
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/16/2014 06:42:01
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/16/tabletop-review-the-uns-
peakable-oath-issue-24-call-of-cthulhu-delta-green/

Man, I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since issue #23 of The Unspeakable Oath. I love this magazine but I do wish it would come out more regularly. This is only the fifth issue to come out since July 2011, but what gaming magazine DOES come out on a regular basis these days? Pathways and White Dwarf. It’s just the way the industry is these days. Still, ANY time a new issue of The Unspeakable Oath comes out, it is a time for Cthulhu oriented gamers to celebrate as they get a ton of new articles, adventures, story seeds and other fun content for less than ten dollars. Issue #24 gives us fourteen new articles (all for Call of Cthulhu Delta Green to peruse. If you haven’t picked it up yet (AND WHY NOT?), let’s take a look at what awaits you inside…

First up? “The Dread Page of Azathoth,” which always contains some fun wisdom. In this case, it’s about how hard running an adventure or even a full campaign in the Dreamlands can be, especially since it is so different from the usual Mythos bits that are out there. It’s only a page long, but well worth reading.

The next two articles are “Tales of Terror,” which are story seeds with three possible explanations for each. Black Eyed Children is pretty self-explanatory. Children can be pretty creepy to begin with and when a host of them demand entrance into your home for whatever reason, well that just ups the weird factor. Out of the three possibilities presented, the third is by far the best. The first is the usual “blame Nyarlathotep” well everyone seems to run to on occasion. The second is fairly good but also requires the most work from the Keeper to make work. The other “Tales of Terror” is The Hidden Passage and you can pretty much guess what this is about from the title. All three possibilities here are pretty awesome and you can easily make a full-fledged adventure out of each one. In fact, they are so different from each other, you might as well make all three.

After this comes “The Eye of Light and Darkness,” which is always the weakest section in the magazine. These are various reviews of Mythos oriented products. Usually I find this to be the worst part of the magazine because they are reviewing things that have been out for years instead of letting the readers discover new pieces, and because the lowest rating anything ever seems to get is a 7/10, which basically makes these more product placement than actual reviews. Well, they’re getting better. We start off with a review of True Detective which takes up a full page and is extremely timely, especially for TUO. Then it’s followed up with Masks of Nyarlathotep, which has been around since the mid 1990s and the most recent update/errata’d version came out in 1984. So tit for tat. I’d have preferred to see a newer release for Call of Cthulhu here, especially Tales of the Crescent City, Secrets of Tibet or some Achtung! Cthulhu bits. Still, that is made up for by reviews of No Security, which is a series I’ve been raving about for years now. It was also great to see some lesser known non-rpg stuff get reviewed. There are books like Southern Gods and Where’s My Shoggoth? and even a review of the Welcome to Nightvale Podcast/radio drama. Honestly, this is the best “The Eye of Light and Darkness” piece I’ve seen in an issue of TUO in terms of selections. There still isn’t a piece with a score under 7/10 though. Remember, it’s okay to give negative reviews. I do it all the time.

“The Mardler House” is this issue’s big adventure and I’m still not sure how I feel about this. I love the idea of the adventure as it is pretty unique and is designed in such a way that it works best as a slow burn throughout a campaign. You put bits of this adventure into other adventures or the between time Investigators have. Then you unleash the core of the piece allowing players to pick up the pieces and realize they’ve been in this adventure all along and just didn’t know it. The problem is finding a Keeper that can run “The Mardler House” the way the writer intended, or barring that, one that can run this without turning it into a complete disaster. I mean, I’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu for over twenty years now (Oh man, I’m old). I don’t think you can just throw Investigators into this adventure like a lot of published pieces. It works best when characters have history or even live/work out of the house. A lot of the creepiness and revelations about the piece will be lost if you just take the adventure in one large chunk. Unfortunately, this means you need a Keeper that can break “The Mardler House” up into smaller pieces, keep things subtle and keep track of what parts they have thrown at players and what parts they haven’t. So you have to be pretty organized to really make this adventure come to life. I love the characters, plot, background and flow of the whole piece, but I think more Keepers that not will become frustrated trying to run this as it requires a lot more work than most pre-packaged adventures. In the hands of a good and experienced Keeper, “The Mardler House” will be a very memorable experience. Without one, it’s better off read than played.

So I should probably tell you what “The Mardler House” is about. Well, it’s a haunted house, but not really. The ghosts aren’t the usual incorporeal boogeyman you think of when we mention ghosts, especially in Call of Cthulhu. These ghosts are more warped echoes of the past. Shadows of the people but not entirely accurate ones. Of course, the longer players stay in the house, the more they will discover why this is and that inside “The Mardler House” truth and reality are very different things than when you are outside it. Again, this is such a great concept. I’d pick up this issue of The Unspeakable Oath just to read the adventure, but I would think twice about running it unless you (and your friends) are confident in your GM-fu skills.

Now we have three “Shotgun Scenarios” for Delta Green. A Shotgun Scenario are short little adventures that can be played in a single session or expanded into a more detailed adventure if the Keeper so wishes. It’s also worth noting that these are for the OLD version of Delta Green and not the new one currently in playtesting. These adventures could easily be converted for those of you with the alpha version of the game.

First up is, “Agent Purple’s Green Box Blues,” which is a fairly complicated affair where agents from A-Cell have to help the last survivor of P-Cell, Agent Purple. Agent Purple need the Investigators help in taking down a gang known as the White Snakes, which appears to be a front for a much larger, more insidious group. Of course, the reality of the adventure is VERY different, and the players will be thrown a very realistic but entirely unexpected curveball. “Holding Cell” is for a single character and it has them descending into an underground room containing five very different items. There they await orders which can lead to one of three different endings (Keeper’s Choice), all of which are pretty dark yet entertaining. Finally we have “Secret Shopper” where a small mom and pop bookseller goes nuts and decides to enact revenge on a large chain bookstore, via Cthlhuoid means of course. All three of these are fantastic and even if you don’t play Delta Green, these can fit into a regular modern era Call of Cthulhu campaign with only a little work. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

“The Cult of A” is the feature article for this issue and it’s bound to be a controversial one. It’s about eating disorders, specifically anorexia, and a Mythos cult that exists around it. While some people will no doubt be offended by the article turning a mental illness like this into CoC fodder, I don’t have a problem with it. After all, every other mental illness from hoarding to agoraphobia makes it into the game, so why not an eating disorder? Besides, it’s not saying that every sufferer from this disease gets turned into a mythos style cultist but rather that the Cult of A preys on these people the same way the Needle Men prey on doctors.

“The Cult of A” is exceptionally detailed and I think it might be the most comprehensive article to ever appear in an issue of The Unspeakable Oath. It takes up a whopping twelve pages and discusses the nature of the cult, how its members tend to only affect themselves as compared to other Mythos cults whose actions affect everyone, and how the cult has made exceptionally work of the Internet, especially forums. You get to see how someone joins the cult and what eventually happens to them, along with various manifestations of A. There are even a few new spells and tomes to add to your game. I can’t express how well done “The Cult of A” is and how much I think you should read it for a very outside the box and original take on a Mythos cult. That said, I do realize that eating disorders are more of a trigger for some people than say, mi-go or nightmares caused by psychic emanations from things beyond our imaginations, but the piece is not done with any disrespect or mockery to those that suffer from anorexia. If you think you’ll be offended or squicked out by this article, don’t read it. I don’t read every article in Bloomberg Buisnessweek or Organic Gardening. The rest of TUO #24 is excellent enough that you can still enjoy it even if anorexia is a sore spot for you.

Our next article is “The Chosen of Eihort,” which introduces a new creepy antagonist for characters to encounter. It’s pretty gross, but befitting Eihort as we know it. After this we have a third “Tale of Terror,” but I’m not sure why this is off on its own instead of with the other two. This one, entitled Smuggling is meant for Delta Green and it is about a cargo box filled with human remains. Why? That’s up to you. Pick one of the three possibilities as always. I personally found #1 to be the best. Sometimes the mundane choice is the best choice.

This issue’s “Directives From A-Cell” for Delta Green is about smaller conspiracies and more mundane investigators. Going off of the popularity of True Detective, the piece talks about how sometimes federal agencies and Delta Green itself don’t need to be involved in an adventure, especially with smaller cases like a single strange death or a weird house. Usually these will be handed by run of the mill local cops and these protagonists will do their best to make the evidence around them fit a more plausible real world scenario rather than something like ghouls or shan being the cause of local disturbances. This is not that they refuse to believe these things exists, but rather that they have no encountered them, so they are extremely unlikely to make huge jumps in logic like that. The article then discusses what a campaign of nothing but local cops would look and feel like and how very different it would be from the standard Delta Green campaign. It’s a well written article but I have to admit, almost every adventure or campaign of Call of Cthulhu I’ve ever played in or ran has started with characters who were unaware of Mythos creatures, so I’m surprised that this is almost an alien/foreign concept to the author.

Our penultimate article in this issue of The Unspeakable Oath is a “Mysterious Manuscript” piece. This is all about a macabre bible whose author has hidden bits of the Necronomicon within it in the form of codes, ciphers and artwork. It’s an interesting idea and I love the background for the book. However I’m not sure how many people will actually find a use for the Simeon Bible and/or bother to craft an adventure around it.

The final article is the usual “Message in a Bottle” one page piece of fiction. I normally don’t care for these, and this issue was no exception. It’s written in the form of emails, text and a RSS feed about two parents and their kid. It’s neither well written nor interesting. A poor way to end the magazine, but this is par for the course with TUO.

Overall, the latest issue of The Unspeakable Oath is a very good one. There’s only one article I really didn’t care for and it’s the same bad fiction that is in every issue. Otherwise the magazine is jam-packed with excellent story seeds, adventures and ideas that will make your Call of Cthulhu or Delta Green campaign all the weirder. The content is top notch and the price tag is low enough to consider this a definite steal and/or bargain. Whether you grab the digital or dead tree edition of The Unspeakable Oath, you won’t be disappointed. Cthulhu fans, pick this up ASAP.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 24 - ARC6007
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Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies
by Martin A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/21/2014 05:05:12
A worthy addition to the Delta Green library! All of the stories are interesting and exciting and add something to the Delta Green universe. More of this, please!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies
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Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/30/2014 06:40:14
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/30/book-review-delta-green-
-tales-from-failed-anatomies-call-of-cthulhu/

Tales From Failed Anatomies is the second Kickstarter Arc Dream Publishing has done for their (Originally Pagan Publishing’s) Delta Green – a modern setting for Call of Cthulhu. The first Kickstarter, Through a Glass, Darkly raised $27,000 from 346 backers. The newest one saw 1,085 backers raised thirty thousand dollars. It also went so far beyond the original goal, that Arc Dream was able to fund a second book, entitled Extraordinary Renditions via the same Kickstarter! That’s pretty impressive. While Extraordinary Renditions will be an anthology by multiple authors, Tales From Failed Anatomies is a collection of (lucky) thirteen short stories by Delta Green Co-Creator Dennis Detwiller along book ended by two pieces from Robin D. Laws. I’ll admit I took part in the Kickstarter primarily to get playtester access to the new upcoming Delta Green RPG that appears to be shedding its Basic Roleplaying roots. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised by Tales From Failed Anatomies. The book was not only top notch from beginning to end but it’s currently the best tabletop related fiction I’ve read this year, displacing Troy Denning’s The Sentinel and Richard Lee Byers’ The Reaver. Of course it might help that I’m a big fan of Delta Green, but as I think you’ll see from this review, Tales From Failed Anatomies is a book you can enjoy if you’re a longtime fan of Delta Green or if this is your first foray into this Call of Cthulhu spin-off.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Tales From Failed Anatomies consists of thirteen lightly connected short stories showcasing the history (and eventual future) of the Delta Green program. The phrase Delta Green isn’t used that often, which is a nice touch. Same with other references to the history of the game setting like MAJESTIC, but for the most part the book’s references to the myriad incarnations of the tabletop game are subtle. The book is exceptionally friendly to newcomers, all though this is partly due to the writing style of these stories, which is both inviting and yet esoteric. This ensures that all readers get a strong sense of what the story is about, while leaving aspects of the bizarre and incomprehensible left to the imagination of whoever is reading. In many ways, I found the stories in Tales From Failed Anatomies to be a mix of European Existentialism and a twisted version of Mexican Magical Realism (American Science Cthuluism?) which will leave the reader with a sense that there are two tales being told with each short story – the general one of a human encountering what its puny insignificant brain was not meant to understand, and another one that is only hinted at because of man’s incapability of properly understand what it unfolding before it. Detwiller’s writing style ensures that readers will find the tales eerie and more in-line with the origins of the Cthulhu Mythos than most modern takes which unfortunately come down to “blowing up Lovecraftian horrors with guns and bombs and other weaponry.” I always find a good Mythos tale to be one that leaves just as much unsaid as is explored in the written word, and each piece in Tales From Failed Anatomies hits the mark in this regard.

The first three stories in the book (“Intelligences,” “The File” and “Night and Water,” are all about the WWI to WWII era. As such, all three focus on Innsmouth and the Deep Ones. Delta Green gets its origins from The Shadow Over Innsmouth after all. Again, you do not have to be familiar with the Delta Green roleplaying game in the slightest to enjoy or appreciate these stories as you get a cursory look at the roots of the organization with this triad of stories. Perhaps because they are the core of what causes Delta Green to be, these three stories take up a full third of the book, but perhaps Dennis just really liked Deep Ones. I know a lot of Mythos authors do! “Intelligences” is many ways is yet another take on The Shadow Over Innsmouth‘s core twist, but it’s done in a very interesting way. “The File” is a wonderful look at Innsmouth from a not-so rank and file government employee’s point of view. While “Intelligences” and “The File” are both heavily centered around the events that went on in Innsmouth, “Night and Water” is only vaguely connected to the Deep Ones and is more a WWII story about Nazis using a hybrid of mad science and occult magics to create…well, something horrible anyway. Still, the Deep One connection has me group it with the other two. These first three stories are tremendous and by the time you are done you’ll have a hard time putting Tales From Failed Anatomies down.

“Dead, Death, Dying” gives you a look at a scientist forced to examine something horrible brought back from an excursion into the Soviet Union. “Punching” tells the tale of a Delta Green agent who has little to no sanity left and his trip back to Harvard for a class reunion. “The Secrets That No One Knows” is a foray into a more conventional and yet somehow Kafka-esque Mythos story. Everything is spelled out and yet nothing is ever truly said in regards to what is actually happening. I loved it.

“Coming Home” is a look at the horrors and metal issues plaguing many that returned from the Vietnam War and our other excursions into Southeast Asia. In the case of the story’s main character, this is compounded all the more by the pivotal events that shook out Delta Green in 1970. “Coming Home” is perhaps the least accessible to newcomers as there is lot alluded to from the tabletop game that is never expressly mentioned in the short story, but I think newcomers will still be able to enjoy it for what it is and will take the vague mentions the same way they do all the others in the collection – sinister allusions to something not said.

“The Thing in the Pit” is the story of a hapless IRS agent that gets in over his head. What starts off as a routine inquiry into fraud turns out to be far more than he ever expected. It also features what appears to be a husband and wife Shoggoth Lord tandem, which makes for an interesting tale. Usually I hate stories and adventures involving these creatures because they are done so poorly, but “The Thing in the Pit” is the best I’ve seen that uses them. Of course they might not BE Shoggoth Lords as they are never called that, so hey.

“Contingencies” gives us a look at the Russian equivalent of Delta Green, GRU-SV8 and one agent’s hapless foray into a strange machine known only as the Mironov device. This is a wonderful story that really looks at the fallacies of reality. What starts off as a story about mathematical equations ends up becoming a stark look at what existence really is…or is not. It’s a hard story to describe without piling on spoilers, so let’s just say that you never know what is taking place in the core reality of the tale and what is taking place in a splinter version.

“Drowning in Sand” is a look at an old, probably insane scientist and his reflections at MAJESTIC in what may or may not be Area 51. “Philosophy” looks at the “forced retirement” of a long running Delta Green agent. It’s also a look at how underground Delta Green is by this point in time (pretty close to the original release date of the game version).

The last two stories in the book are the weakest and by far my least favorite in the collection. While still entertaining in their own right, they are a bit lackluster compared to what came before them in the collection. I think this is because both stories take place in the near future. One very near (2015) while one in the latter half of the 21st Century (20XX). “Witch Hunt” apparently shows “Delta Green” being exposed to the American public at large and the cover-up that goes into it while “After Math” is the apocalypse of sorts. They definitely are the weakest in the collection and it’s sad to see the collection end on a down turn, but hey, I loved the first eleven stories in the collection, so it had a pretty good run. They can’t all be winners after all, and even if I didn’t care for these two, this was still the most I’ve enjoyed tabletop related fiction this year.

You don’t have to be a Delta Green fan to love Tales From Failed Anatomies. You don’t even have to be familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos at all. Newcomers will walk away from this short story collection wanting to know more about this agency that is almost as shadowy as the things it fights. Perhaps that will lead people to purchasing other Delta Green Fiction, but hopefully it will make them want to try the Delta Green roleplaying game, be it the original version or the new upcoming take. Either way, for $9.99, you’re getting a wonderful short story collection and it’s one you’ll be able to devour regardless of your prior knowledge of the setting. These days most tabletop fiction releases assume you are intimately acquainted with the world and/or characters in the novel and make no attempt to draw in newcomers. That insular style of writing only serves to push casual readers or newcomers away. Thankfully Tales From Failed Anatomies does the exact opposite. Pick it up, even if you’ve never heard of Delta Green before this review. Once you’ve read it, there is a whole wide world of horror for you to explore.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies
by Scott B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/21/2014 05:42:37
Some great, dark short stories that spans the entire lifespan of the Delta Green conspiracy, including a couple from different perspectives.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 18
by Michael D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/21/2014 10:23:20
Unspeakable Oath returns!!!! Huzzah!!!!

If you are a Cthulhu Cultist/GM this magazine consistently delivers high quality. Never a turkey. At least ONE brilliant idea per issue... usually many more.

Scenarios... always exciting, thought provoking, and true to CoC.

If you love CoC, and often find yourself at a loss... try this magazine out.

You will not be disappointed.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 18
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GODLIKE: For King and Country
by Dave T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/15/2013 16:02:47
Excellent scenario, going to run this as soon as possible.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
GODLIKE: For King and Country
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GODLIKE: Night of the Pegasus
by Dave T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/15/2013 15:57:57
A challenging adventure; how do you cope when your allies are more dangerous than your enemy?

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
GODLIKE: Night of the Pegasus
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GODLIKE: Will to Power
by Dave T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/15/2013 15:54:57
All I can say is that Godlike and ALL its official companion books are of the highest standard. Arc Dream Publishing's ORE (One Roll Engine) is a fast and effective system that supports a well thought out alternative history. Will to Power is no exception. From cover to cover it is informative and packed with scenario ideas, intriguing NPCs and new rules and equipment. A must have for Godlike.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
GODLIKE: Will to Power
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Delta Green: The Last Equation
by Stuart D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/22/2013 16:58:20
I've run this game three times for different groups, twice at convention settings.

It's a good introduction to a more modern take on Delta Green than the 1997 Sourcebook, and a very different take on the Mythos.

For the price, you can't beat it for an evening's entertainment.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Delta Green: The Last Equation
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The Unspeakable Oath 19
by Keith (. T. A. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/14/2013 14:05:32
How much fun can it be to thwart evil only to be eaten alive or driven insane for your efforts? As it turns out, quite a bit. Cthulhu fans everywhere rejoice in the return of a quarterly magazine dedicated to their favorite tentacular genre, Unspeakable Oath.

The periodical publication is overloaded with material that takes a while digest. It’s not that the 80+ pages couldn't be read quickly. it’s just that you’ll want to stop ever so often to contemplate ways to work the material into your campaign. WARNING: The Oath is not a light read.

The Oath is back and better than ever. The quarterly is packed with information to spice up your existing Cthulhu game or can be the source of great campaign ideas to start a new adventure in Lovecraftian horror. The contributors' love of the Mythos shows on every content-loaded page. For the money, there’s hardly a better deal for Cthulhu fans.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 19
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The Unspeakable Oath 23
by Keith (. T. A. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/14/2013 13:33:49
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” - The Dread Page of Azathoth

Shane Ivey is the purveyor of horror over at Arc Dream Publishing. He cares about the Mythos and the games run within it. This TUO 23 he picks at the overuse of mundane horror elements when the games should illustrate the cosmic horror present in the Cthulhu Mythos. Thus the beginning to another great installment of The Unspeakable Oath begins.

Following its tradition. TUO presents three one-page adventures called Tales of Terror. Each Tale has three options of how to run it. This quarterly’s offerings include a creepy little girl in a big box store (horrific enough on its own with Mythos), a funeral cut short by resurrection, and investigators being investigated.

If you're looking from something with a little more rotted flesh on it, TOU 23 also includes a 50 pages adventure (yes, 50) called Cold Dead Hand set in Russia. There’s nukes involved so you know it’s gotta be fun. It includes loads of maps, NPCs, critters, and equipment.

Other enjoyably horrific elements include short fiction, book/movie reviews, articles about odd firearms, and a new frightful painting that collects people. But those aren't the only reason to purchase Unspeakable Oath. Shane and his crew are true devotees to the Mythos. It shows on every page so if you love the Universe started by HPL, buy The Unspeakable Oath and revel in an unfair universe.

Remember, Cthulhu and all the other Great Old Ones aren't out to get us. Cthulhu doesn’t care.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 23
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The Unspeakable Oath 23
by Todd S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/23/2013 13:13:04
Awesome product, with amazing content issue after issue. Cold Dead Hand, the adventure in this issue is most deadly.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man: A Dreamlands Campaign for Call of Cthulhu
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/21/2013 06:51:52
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/21/tabletop-review-the-sen-
se-of-sleight-of-hand-man-call-of-cthulhu/

The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is a Call of Cthulhu campaign that takes place in the Dreamlands. It was originally funded by 403 Kickstarter backers and was scheduled for September 2012. Well, things spiraled out of control and what was to be a 128 page book ended up becoming a nearly three hundred page one and was released in July of this year – almost a year late. Personally, I’ll take a book a year late if I’m getting more than DOUBLE THE CONTENT for the money I paid for it, especially when the content is quite good.

Although labeled as a Dreamlands campaign, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is probably more accurately described as a campaign setting. There aren’t any actually adventures in this massive tome. Instead the book highlights a bunch of options for characters to engage in all around the dreamlands. It’s more a collection of plot hooks and story threads than a set of interlinked adventures, but Arc Dream calls it a campaign so just be aware of that fact if you were looking for something more like Masks of Nyarlathotep or Horror on the Orient Express. The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is nothing like your typical Call of Cthulhu campaign, or a campaign for any setting really. It’s closest to the Shadowrun books Catalyst Game Labs puts out where you have twenty or so rough adventure outlines where the DM (or Keeper in this case) has to really flesh things out to make them playable. Now that doesn’t make SoSoHM a bad book – far from it! You just have to be aware that the Keeper has a lot of work ahead of them and must craft the adventures themselves rather than rely on the book for such a thing. As such, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is definitely best in the hands of a VERY experienced Keeper, especially one who has made their own homebrew adventures before.

The hook for The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is that all the player characters are down on their luck opium addicts. The person who supplies their opium has decided to get their payment by hook or by crook and ends up sending the PCs to the Dreamlands. Unlike most cases where an Investigator’s dream self has been transported and keeps the same stats throughout, in this campaign the bodies and souls of the characters are merged, transported to the Dreamlands and implanted in human cadavers. Thus players will more than likely have very different physical stats in the Dreamlands than they had on earth and could even end up as a different gender. Character creation is also a little different where players will have higher than normal POW and lower that usual starting SAN. They will also gain extra skill and attribute points too. With all this extra buffing for the Investigators and the overwhelming amount of magic and magical items the players can get their hands on in this campaign, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man almost feels like a D&D-esque Monty Haul campaign at times. It’s not a bad thing and all these little changes add up to make this campaign really stand out, even from other Dreamlands releases for Call of Cthulhu. Some purists may poo-poo the higher stat characters and the sheer glut of magical power a character can amass in this campaign but others will get a kick out of it. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience for this tome.

There is so much content in The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man, it’s all but impossible to talk about it all. The campaign covers every major location, denizen and race Lovecraft ever wrote about in the Dreamlands. You’ll encounter everyone from Randolph Carter to aspects of Nyarlathotep. In fact, the crux of the campaign is defeating the Crawling Chaos (or at least his minions and machinations) and finally finding a way back to Earth. However, that will take many play sessions for that climatic ending to occur, if it ever does. The book is extremely open ended and there is no set order for events to occur save for the initial setup in an opium den. In some ways this resembles a sandbox or open world video game, which is awesome for the players to experience, but it means the Keeper has copious amounts of work to do to make the campaign flow smoothly. The keeper will have to constantly be taken notes in regards to where the players have been, who they have met, what events have unfolded and the like. The vast majority of people who like to run Call of Cthulhu games, even gigantic published adventures may find the layout and format of The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man to chaotic and/or daunting to even try and properly run for their players. For example, The Ten Thousand Steps that lead to the Underworld and the start of events there are brought up on page 44, but then are not mentioned again until page 72. So the layout and order in which things are written could have used some tightening. In some ways, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man feels like it was edited for grammar and diction, but not for flow. Again, this is one of just MANY examples of how Keepers will have to take notes and spend a dozen, if not dozens of hours taking notes and writing down how best to make this campaign flow. Otherwise it will just fall apart and leave everyone who encounters it with a bad taste in their mouth. Please don’t think this is me poo-poo’ing the book. Rather, this is a warning of how labor intensive The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man will be. Again, this is less an adventure or even a campaign as it is a campaign setting with a set beginning and end, but nothing but hooks and possibilities in between. It’s going to take a VERY specific Keeper to make this work, but for those that play The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man under them, the end result will be a very fun, memorable and awesome gaming experience.

With a current price tag of less than twenty dollars, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is well worth picking up, even if you don’t bother to ever play. It’s simply a fun (but sometimes dry or even dull) read and is an obvious labour of love that showcases how awesome the Dreamlands can be. This one purchase will provide enough adventures for your Call of Cthulhu players to last them months or even over a year depending on how much they explore the “landscape.” It’s definitely not for everyone and for many Keepers, the work you have to put in won’t be worth the return you get, but for a very dedicated and detailed Keeper, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is arguably the best tabletop release to ever showcase this lesser used Cthulhu Mythos setting.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man: A Dreamlands Campaign for Call of Cthulhu
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Better Angels
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/16/2013 06:37:28
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/16/tabletop-review-better--
angels/

Written by Greg Stolze, Better Angels is the newest game from Arc Dream Publishing and uses the One Role Engine or O.R.E for short. I am, unquestionably, a fan of superheroes and the comic book genre in general so this game is right up my alley. If it has a cape and a fancy leotard, then there is a good chance I have read it. This type of idea has always held a place in my heart. The battle of Good vs. Evil, the mighty powers and city-smashing brawls have added spark to my imagination for as long as I can remember. Of course there was also the desire to play the black hearted villain, and the idea of being the foil to the hero always intrigued me.

Better Angels is definitely not a game based around constantly doing the “right thing” or living a life of Truth and Liberty. It is a game about dealing with your inner demon (literally) while exploring the limits of your ill-gotten powers. As one begins to read this PDF they are greeted by a several page story that begins to give you a feel for the setting. This part is followed up by a description of real world EVIL versus the over-the-top EEEVIL of Better Angels.

It is at this point that, at least for me, problems arise. The most basic precept of the game is the use of Strategies and Tactics that work to represent the internal conflict between the human host and the demonic force that inhabits them. This is where things start to get complicated. While the Strategies and Tactics are not directly tied in with the dice mechanic, it figures in incredibly heavily into the character concept. It is nice to see that the struggle between the demon and human side of the character is emphasized, but it just feels too complicated for me.

The thing one learns as they continue reading, is that the Player is not the one that controls or even creates their demon. During character creation the choices for each characters demon are made by the Player sitting to their immediate left. Once play begins, it is this same Player that controls their friend’s demon.

Now, while this is a great idea in theory, I can’t help but wonder how many problems this could cause in a group. I know from experience that there are players out there that enjoy making things difficult for the others at the table. Aside from that I worry about players who don’t fully understand the interaction rules, or simply don’t care, are not going to get the most out of this game. I understand that this is a group-to-group situation, but I feel that it is important enough to mention.

The mechanics of Better Angels are easy to understand and will be familiar to anyone with experience with this company’s games. These mechanics do a good job of representing chance while still allowing for versatility in actions and consequences. Additionally there is a section that details what should and shouldn’t be rolled on.

The next session goes into great detail about how to use the variety of Strategies and Tactics and how they can be used in different combinations to achieve different effects. This does go a long way towards helping to add further layers to the conflict between the character’s internal struggles. Unfortunately this can make things even more confusing to novice Players and Game Masters.

The list of powers is compact but does an excellent job of detailing what the different demonic abilities are. There are enough of them to create different types of characters which I do believe is an important feature in any game representing super-hero activities.

Admittedly there is more to the game than I have written about. It would be impossible to truly expound on every bit of Better Angels without making this review insanely long. All in all I admire the writer’s work and his obvious love of the genre, but for me it misses the mark. This game, while well represented, will be difficult for many readers to understand and get the “feel” of.

I understand that while this game may not be for everyone it will certainly fill the niche for some. Those who really enjoy in-depth characters, with all manner of repercussions for their actions will find this game enjoyable. Those who want a quick and easy supers-game will be better served to look elsewhere.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Better Angels
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The Unspeakable Oath 23
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/14/2013 06:40:31
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/14/tabletop-review-the-uns-
peakable-oath-issue-23-call-of-cthulhu/

So here we are with another issue of The Unspeakable Oath, my favorite, albeit sporadically published, gaming magazine. It’s getting better though as this is the third issue in a row where we’ve had it published in six month increments. The bad news is that this issue has far less articles than previous ones, but the good news is that at eighty pages, this is the highest page count an issue of The Unspeakable Oath has had in years. Both of these traits are because the issue contains a very long and highly detailed adventure that takes up the majority of the pages. I’m more than fine with that as a) the adventure is exceptional, b) it’s a Delta Green adventure and it’s always nice to see that line still supported and c) you are getting a full length CoC adventure for the cost of two comic books AND extra articles, so I think that’s a pretty fine deal, don’t you? Now let’s take a look at our articles for this issue and show you why any horror roleplaying game fan from Chill to Call of Cthulhu will get their money’s worth out of this magazine.

1. “The Dread Page of Azathoth.” This is Shane Ivey’s Editorial column and in this issue he talks about how too many Call of Cthulhu games are about violence and horror rather than terror. He echoes the words of the original AD&D Ravenloft campaign setting in explaining the difference between horror (gore and revulsion) and terror (fear, the unknown and unknowable) and how he feels Call of Cthulhu should be the latter but too often it turns into the former. I’m in complete agreement with him in that terror, specifically cosmic terror should be the focus of a good Call of Cthulhu adventure and while horror has its place and usefulness, that underlying notion of terror is present in the best and most memorable of adventures. I know I myself am worried about CoC 7e in this same way, especially after perusing and reviewing the Quick Start Rules as it too seems to be taking a focus on a more combat oriented and horror based feel rather than the cosmic terror we really felt in editions 1-5 (and sporadically in 6). This was a great read and a reminder of the difference between something like say, Masks of Nyarlathotep and ugh…Dark Corners of the Earth.

2. “Tale of Terror: Code Adam.” A Tale of Terror is a short one page plot hook with three possible options for fleshing the idea into a full fledged adventure. I always like these because even if I don’t like one of the options, there are always two others that may germinate in my imagination and become something to throw at my Investigators. In this case, I really liked the plot hook but none of the fleshing out options. The first feels more like a short story than an adventure I could do anything with. The second just felt stupid to me and doesn’t really mesh with the encounter and the third is a bit too blasé and it also doesn’t fit with the encounter. It’s an extremely creepy encounter, though, and I really enjoy it, but I’d have to create my own fourth option to truly make it work.

3. “The Eye of Light and Darkness.” This is the one section I always have had issue with in the past, mainly because this review compilation either features things too old for a review or the reviews are too brief to be of any value. The good news is that a) the reviews are very long and detailed this time and b) they even reviewed a brand new product in Yellow Dawn 2.5 which wasn’t even officially out by the time this issue of TUO came out. Very well done here. At the same time, they review, say, Miskatonic, a game most adventure game sites covered a year ago and the movie House of Black Wings which is over three years old. These pages could have been better used for reviewing brand new products or even previewing recent or upcoming releases. Arc Dream just released The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man and as this is an Arc Dream publication as well, they could have easily reviewed or previewed it to help spread the word and maybe even sell a few copies. Still, the review section gets better with each passing issue in terms of quality and timeliness of the products looked at, and that’s what counts.

4. “Cold Dead Hand.” This is your only adventure for the issue but it’s a mammoth one and a truly excellent choice as well. Players will be taking on the role of a Soviet Special Forces unit the day after Mikhail Gorbachev was forcibly removed from power. No, Gorby wasn’t attacked by the servants of a Great Old One, nor was he a servant himself. Instead this time of chaos and upheaval in the USSR is used by a group of dissidents to take over a Perimeter locations in Siberia from which nuclear weapons can be launched. The Investigators are sent in the midst of a massive blizzard to take back the location, turn the “Dead Hand” site off and prevent a potential nuclear war from breaking out. Sound exciting, right? Well it is. It doesn’t sound very Lovecraftian though, does it? Well, the core plot premise I’ve given you here isn’t, but this is Delta Green after all, so rest assured cosmic forces beyond out understanding do play a part in the happenings. This adventure is as fun to read as it is to play through and I love the slow burn from just a Top Secret style adventure into full blown Mythos madness. This adventure alone is well worth the cover price and the fact you get all the other great articles on top of it is just eldritch gravy.

5. “Building an Elder God.” These are some alternate head and body parts for the print and play card game of the same name. I didn’t really care for the game and these pieces are only useful if you buy the game from sites like DrivethruRPG.com. I can say that the pieces included here don’t print very well and graphically they’re not very good so this is really the only “article” in this issue I didn’t care for.

6. “Tale of Terror: The Funeral.” This is another one page story seed with three possible options for a Keeper to run with. In this case, the PCs are attending a funeral where the corpse sits up and begins talking. Apparently he wasn’t actually dead! I loved all three options although the third is by far my favorite and the one that you could feasibly get several adventures worth of fun out of. There is a lot of potential to be had with this one.

7. “Tale of Terror: The Watchers.” I didn’t care for this one as much. Basically the Investigators are being shadowed, but by who…or what? The first one can be fun if used as a minor plot thread laced throughout several adventures, I just flat out didn’t care for the second and the third can be either awesome or a train wreck, depending on the keeper. This “Tale of Terror” is still a good one; just not AS good as “The Funeral.”

8. “Unconventional Firearms.” Well, this article is a bit ironic considering the editorial that started this issue off, but it’s quite well written too. It gives examples of disguised weapons, ranging from the classic sword cane to a fountain pen gun, improved weaponry and even select pocket firearms including a derringer the size of a quarter. You get a nice little chart listing all the weapons too. It’s a fun read, but also a reminder that too many players focus on weaponry instead of deduction and induction.

9. “Directives From A-Cell: Directive 110: The Bear is Back.” This issue’s A-Cell article is a follow-up to the “Cold Dead Hand” adventure we looked at earlier. Basically it’s an update of the GRU-SV8 organization and how it would be changed since communism fell and leaders like Yeltsin and later Putin came into power. It’s a fun read and highlights some pretty dramatic changes in the organization while also modernizing bits of Delta Green for the current era. For those still playing Delta Green, this is a wonderful read.

10. “The Last Self Portrait of Larissa Dolkhov.” What a truly wonderful little piece. While the subject of the article, a sentient painting feels more Chambers than Lovecraft, this is a truly excellent idea that is not only creepy, but perfect for a solo adventure between a Keeper and a player for when you can’t get an entire party together.

11. “Message In a Bottle: Beasts.” This is the cursory one page short story than ends every issue of The Unspeakable Oath. I’ve yet to find one enjoyable and this was no exception. I’d rather see the page go to an article about gaming. I can get bad fiction anywhere. It’s the age of the Internet after all.

All in all, issue #23 of The Unspeakable Oath is another wonderful read and well worth the asking price. If you’re a fan of horror tabletop gaming and especially Call of Cthulhu, then you really should be picking these magazines up. Better yet, Arc Dream Publushing is currently doing a subscription drive for the magazine. If you subscribe you not only get the issues of The Unspeakable Oath at a discount, but you’ll also get freebies like short stories and exclusive adventures. Now a great deal has somehow become even better. Crazy. So yes, I’m a big fan of The Unspeakable Oath and I’m hoping we get to see issue #24 before the end of the year.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 23
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