Tabletop Review: The Unspeakable Oath, Issue #23 (Call of Cthulhu)

The Unspeakable Oath #23
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
Page Count: 80
Cost: $9.99 ($5.24 PDF)
Release Date: 08/10/2013
Get it Here:

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 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.



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6 responses to “Tabletop Review: The Unspeakable Oath, Issue #23 (Call of Cthulhu)”

  1. […] it’s hard to find a gaming periodical work with even the best versions in the industry like The Unspeakable Oath or The Rifter not even being able to put their product out on a quarterly basis. Some like Pathways […]

  2. […] happy to see a renaissance of gaming magazine as of late. Sure we lost Kobold Quarterly but with The Unspeakable Oath and Gygax Magazine still in physical form, this side of the industry is far from dead. There are […]

  3. […] in. We had Miskatonic River Press until it shut down. We have Arc Dream Punlishing who puts out The Unspeakable Oath and pieces like The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man. Cubicle 7 puts out their Cthulhu Britannica line. […]

  4. […] if the magazines aren’t actually coming out every three months. We’ve got The Unspeakable Oath and Gygax Magazine for example, but TUO hasn’t come out since August and Gygax #4 is a few […]

  5. […] to find a regularly published gaming magazine these days. The best ones, in terms of quality, like The Unspeakable Oath and Gygax Magazine, are published nowhere near the quarterly schedule promised. Other ones, like […]

  6. […] 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 […]

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