Allow me, first, to thank the publisher/editor (Shane Ivey of Arc Dream) for gifting a copy of this hardcopy magazine for the purposes of this review. I had purchased the PDF but I do like paper more than PDF. Thank you very much, your continued generosity is appreciated.
Yet another fine offering comes our way with the Unspeakable Oath – the Platinum standard for BRP Call of Cthulhu role playing experience. If you are on need of thrills and chills whilst losing your mind to vast cosmic horror then look no further – the Unspeakable Oath is here.
It is hard to review a magazine, for there is always an assortment of good and bad. However, what stands out with Unspeakable Oath is that near always it is consistently very good to excellent; and issue number 20 is no exception to the rule. Is that the editors take a hard line and really vet the product or it is it that Cthulhu attracts a more mature reader – hence more sophisticated readership or it that it is rooted in a literary genre. I don’t know but somehow Pagan has always set the gold standard for Cthulhu BRP gaming by consistently hitting all those notes. Chaosium, it seems sometimes, lapses into “Monster Play” – good enough for a game like Chill RPG but given the sophistication and its ability to handle topics in a mature and thoughtful that Pagan exhibits – Chaosium could learn much even with a magazine release.
Nevertheless, what if anything made Unspeakable Oath special (other than the fantastic art profiled below)? I think it is the degree of research (even if it turns out this article is pseudo facts – it shows a dedication to aligning the world with the Mythos) that went into an article on Assassins. Or just the creep factors in an adventure like The Monongahela Carver Cipher (where a bizarre set of murders are linked to a cipher carved into the victims’ bodies). This magazine is chock full of ideas to stimulate and spook your players out – plus give lots of helpful reviews and links of products – out there. So without a further ado – here is a detailed breakdown review.
The Dread Page of Azathoth
Normally, editorial comments are something that people pass over. As with my previous review of Unspeakable Oaths, this should not be done. For there is not only helpful gaming advice but also just a thoughtful reflection on the state of the game itself, this instalment is no different, this issue’s mediation is a reflection on the place of violent confrontation in Call of Cthulhu RPG. Cthulhu games that rely upon gunplay usual do not end up well – however, what this article advocates is a balance, albeit with the knowledge that the scales are tipped always in favour of the monsters…
Tale of Terror: The Plot Thickens
A Tale of Terror is a basic adventure setup (no maps or detailed NPCs) in which the premise is set up and then it is up to the Keeper to choose between 1-6 possible alternative resolutions. This one is particularly clever with its possible solutions to the puzzle. Players discover a list of names, once they have eliminated the threat with a pair of strange symbols – what does it mean. Keepers can use this as interregnum or have it spawn off and be part of a larger campaign. So much potential for fun and evil doing contained within this one.
The Eye of Light & Darkness
Reviews of newish products. Always fun to read reviews, don’t you think?
Scenario: She Just Couldn't Stay Away (No, No)
A clever little Delta Green/Cthulhu Now scenario involving time travel and a dead cat, not sure if this scenario is designed for amusement (albeit the sadist amusement that only a Keeper can enjoy) or that it is something more serious and solemn for the scenario can go both ways. Interesting NPCs and good descriptions help make this scenario – a winner. The dichotomy between dark humour and the sanity blowing revelation at the end appeals to me, as a Keeper but I don’t know how much a player would enjoy it. However, as the scenario is fairly complicated, might need a few re-reads to get it right.
Mysterious Manuscript: The Monongahela Carver Cipher
This is by far my favourite article in the magazine. In which the manuscript is a cipher carved onto murder victims’ bodies and is an excellent example of how the Unspeakable Oath can handle mature subject matters and make them truly horrific without need of getting into the gore. Plus, immediately my mind wandered off and began how to base a mini-campaign set in two time lines around this scenario thus allow for a creation of a campaign around a rather simple but elegant concept.
Arcane Artifact: The Eye of Daoloth
Not big on having magical artefacts in my Call of Cthulhu games, so this was one of the weaker ones. If I would employ arcane artefacts, it would be the guise of something very banal and this one reeked too much like Eye of Vecna to me. But, if your campaign employs magical devices, then you would probably like this – it is really a matter of style.
An excellent “factual” on the historical assassins of the Middle East, well written and well researched – where myth and history can intersect and only at the end bringing in Lovecraft and the Mythos. For there is nothing that I dislike more in some Call of Cthulhu products is to link everything back to the Mythos, I rather use the Mythos as the taint upon humanity’s soul. And, this article gives both sides – Assassins as adversaries or as allies. I get a feeling that is used a pulp game but, it also provides enough specifics and information that make it something that could be grounded in a historical campaign.
Scenario: Let's Learn Aklo! A closed timelike curveball for Delta Green
Nice little scenario involving time travel (again) but this one is more confusing than the first even the potential is greater for fun. It was more reminiscent of The Laundry rather than how I imagine Delta Green scenarios to be played out. Maybe, I am missing something, as I have yet to read Eyes Only – what is nice about this scenario is that while it is quite horrific, there is no big reveal, so it slowly tangles in your mind long after your have read it. Notwithstanding, probably, because of the same reason (time travel scenarios tend to have lots of twisty turny timey winey stuff) cited in the above scenario, it will a couple of re-readings by the Keeper.
The Arm in the Green Box: An Arcane Artifact for Delta Green
I also really liked this one, as it was a thoughtful play on the classic animated arm scenario. I am not a big fan of zombies but that does not mean that I cannot appreciate when inanimate objects suddenly come to life. I would tweak this scenario to have the team be part of FEMA or similar agency called in to investigate but tweaking is what is what you need to do – these are just ideas to spur the imagination…and spur it did.
Delta Green: Directives from A-Cell - Directive 107: Firing the Canon
A very good discussion of the role and place of canon and why there is no such thing in Delta Green. Gave some insights into what is going to appear or not appear in Delta Green Mk II but sadly denying juicy bits. Also dropped hints on Bumps in the Night but did not do any big reveals…makes me want to review more Pagan stuff right now.
Message in a Bottle: Signs
This is by way of a conclusion. An evocative mood piece…that did absolutely nothing for me. Maybe, I should have paid more attention to semiotics but there is wisdom here but dammed if I could pull it out. Maybe as well, I was just tired (although re-reading the next day did not help either).
From the shocking cover (although, it is more disturbing than frightening in the conventional sense) to the myriad illustrations inside – the art is the high standard the one has come to expect from a Pagan product. The art even at simplest blows away all the competition save Pelgrane – Chaosium, if you are reading please give some of these artists some work – the quality of your products has been steadily slipping into mediocrity – art like found here would do much to revitalize the Chaosium brand.
Maybe, this review has been too harsh and hard on Chaosium – they are the people who ushered in this wonderful game and continue to support it. Nevertheless, I am finding the brand is being revitalized more from the work on the margins whether it is small presses (like Pagan, Miskatonic River Press, Three Fourteen Games) or just in discussion forums like Yog Sothoth.com or the Delta Green mailing list. As a fan, I have to ask why Chaosium is not really listening? – The monographs were meant as an injection of new ideas and a laboratory of sorts but with the exception of Cthulhu Invictus (good product, lousy illustrations, although rooted not in the real world of Rome rather a world of Roman mythology – its greatest drawback but also possibly an asset). Book Publishing for sure is a difficult task but when others are doing it right – why not devolve more resources to them?