Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/07/15/tabletop-review-the-unspeakable-oath-20/
I’m a long time Call of Cthulhu fan. I still own a ton of materials ranging from the original boxed set Chaosium put out to the green leather bound 20th Anniversary Edition of the game (Soon to be complimented by the 30th Edition). Yet I’ve never picked up an issue of The Unspeakable Oath until now. Hell, I’d never even heard of it. However, the second I saw the cover to The Unspeakable Oath #20, showing only the back of a grizzled Investigator with a Tommy Gun in one hand and a pistol in the other, I opened up my heart to the possibility that Arc Dream Publishing might be putting out a high quality periodical on the Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green titles, the same way TSR and Paizo once put out Dungeon and Dragon – two magazines I still own every issue of.
There are seven sections to The Unspeakable Oath, each with one to three articles in it. Below is a list of each section, the articles they contain and my thoughts on each:
The Dread Page of Azazoth -This two page column talks about the controversy that inevitably arises over combat in the Cthulhu Mythos based RPG. We’re no strangers to that at Diehard GameFAN ourselves as we all universally crucified the video game Dark Corners of the Earth for doing things like killing Father Dagon with a rocket launcher and other things that would make Lovecraft weep. Yet, at the same time, we all love games like Persona 2: Eternal Punishment where you can get Hastur to ally with you by reading The King in Yellow and where the last boss battle is against Nyarlathotep themselves. How is that not a paradox? For the same reason given by author Shane Ivey in this article: It’s all in the handling and portrayal of it. In the case of Dark Corners of the Earth, it’s all Deep One killing, all the time and it utterly spits in the face of what the Mythos is all about. In the case of Eternal Punishment, it’s a magical/spiritual battle with Nyarlathotep, as is the entire story of the game, so it goes down a lot easier. This is a great little opener to the magazine and an excellent reminder that some game do need to be heavy with the violence, while others need little to none at all. The only downside is a typo or two (“The players may have one a single skirmish, but does the other side even know there’s a war?”)
The Eye of Light & Darkness -eight pages of mini product reviews by various reviewers. I really hate when magazines split up an article across a magazine, so that alone turned me off this. However, the reviewer looks at a CD, four Chaosium books, three indie published adventures, and a DVD set. That’s nine reviewable items over eight pages, which really doesn’t do justice to any of the products in question. As well, one reviewer consistently makes errors in his reviews, such as repeatedly calling the product Halloween Horror, “Halloween Terror.” If you can’t get the name of what you are reviewing correctly, how can anyone take the review OR the reviewer seriously? This issue is compounded all the more when you realize he’s the one that has written five of the nine mini reviews. I’m also trying to figure out why there are reviews of non-RPGs in here. The CD and DVD reviews shouldn’t be included at all. Many of the reviews are also of pretty old products – some going as far back as 2005. There has to be products that are more timely than this, right? In truth, this is a section to outright ignore because it favors quantity with a decided lack of quality. Sadly it’s also twelve percent of the magazine.
Directives From A-Cell -This four page column is mainly about bringing the timeline and world mythos of Delta Green into the 21st century. I definitely remember my first edition of Delta Green and a lot of it would have to be adapted for how dramatically the world has changed since then. I’m just surprised it has taken them this long to do it. It’s the problem that comes with doing a “real world modern era” RPG I suppose. It’s a nice little column that speaks heavily about a gaming universe’s canon and how it’s hard to have a collective canon when every gaming group is different and has different materials and experiences under their belt. Even more importantly, he brings up the elephant in the room that many Mythos creatures gained their names from the CoC RPG and that Lovecraftian scholars actually debate over whether this is acceptable, canonical and whether those names should be used in Mythos fiction. Also, there’s some subtle V:TM bashing. Hee hee hee.
Tales of Terror
The Plot Thickens -This is a one page article about how to leave a plot thread dangling to tie one adventure into another. In this case it is a document with the names of prominent members of the community with either a cross or a triangle by their names. The article than gives three possibilities for what it means and lets you, the GM, run while fleshing out an adventure based off this simple hook.
The Eye of Daoloth – This little artifact reminded me of Greyhawk’s “Eye of Vecna” when I first started reading this, but it’s hard NOT to think of that whenever you hear of a mystical “eye artifact. In truth this eye is quite different and thankfully isn’t something you insert into your own face. It is however, an artifact that might be way too hard for all but the most experienced CoC players to deal with and I can’t see it being used by too many people. Neat idea and concept, but not so much fun to actually use.
The Arm in the Green Box – This is an artifact for a Delta Green Campaign. It’s your “typical” reanimated limb. Nothing more, nothing less.
The Monongahela Carver Cipher – This is an interesting article as it’s a combination of a mini scenario, some very specific game mechanics and a specific unique book to be used in a Call of Cthulhu game. This is a very unique and outside the box way of creating/using a Cthulhu Mythos manuscript. Very clever and creative.
Assassins – This nineteen page article is very similar to the sort of thing I write for Massive Online Gamer magazine. It’s a long, detailed and mostly (save for the Cthulhu and gaming bits) historically accurate. It’s a bit of a dry read, but it’s something that can work really well with Cthulhu: Dark Ages or a more Middle Eastern oriented campaign. The downside is that the article really does only focus on Middle Eastern assassins. This makes sense due to the word’s Arabic origins, but it could have touched on other cultures as well. Or the fact Shakespeare coined the English version of the word.
She Just Couldn’t Stay Away (No, No) – This is a short adventure set in modern times for Call of Cthulhu. It’s eleven pages long and it’s a truly brilliant plot. It’s basically Groundhog Day but insidiously evil and a hording crazy cat lady instead of Bill Murray. I will say just the first page of the adventure made me go pet my rabbits in thanks that nothing like what happens to poor Penny could ever happen to them. This is a great adventure and it really dabbles into issues many GMs (or writers) come across with time travel, regardless of the game being played. I really loved this scenario and it alone is worth the asking price of the issue. Also, all proceeds go to the Cleveland Animal Protection League. What’s not to love about that?
Let’s Learn Aklo! – This particular adventure is for Delta Green It’s six pages long . Like the CoC adventure that proceeded it, LLA involves time travel but it’s FAR more violent and a little too disjointed for my liking. The crux of the story along with the potential for paradox means that this adventure is best left in the hands of a VERY experienced GM. The conclusion and why/how the story hook occurs is also unsatisfying.
Message in a Bottle
Dying Sunlight – well it’s Dying Sunlight in the table of contents, but Signs is the title of the actual piece. Either way it’s rubbish. It’s a horrible trite little piece that reads like it was written by a person that talks to themselves and no one else. That’s the best way I can describe it. Remember the Vampire: The Masquerade kid that all the other V:TM’ers wanted to be up. This is that kid if they were in written form.
Overall, aside from a few formatting and spelling issues, I enjoyed The Unspeakable Oath #20. If it was up to me I’d scrap the poorly done mini reviews and put in some more gaming materials (such as another adventure) or short story, but that’s just me. The highlights were definitely the CoC adventure and the short but poignant Dread Page of Azazoth column. All in all, this was a good read and I’m sure I’ll be back next quarter with the review of issue #21. It reminded me a lot of when I was a little kid flipping through an old Dragon magazine. The Unspeakable Oath is a quarterly magazine devoted to tabletop games that revolve around or are based on the Cthulhu Mythos. You can learn more about it here. It comes in print, PDF, for Apple products and the Amazon Kindle.