Tabletop Review: The Unspeakable Oath, Issue #24 (Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green)

The Unspeakable Oath, Issue #24
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
Cost: $5.99 (PDF)/$9.99 (Physical)
Page Count: 74
Release Date: 07/09/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

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.

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