This article originally appeared in Pyramid #4
THE UNSPEAKABLE OATHIssues 7, 8 & 9
Published by Pagan Publishing
Edited by John Tynes
Cover Price: $4.00 ($8.00 for the 8-9 double issue)
This is a magazine devoted to Chaosium's (literal) cult classic game, Call of Cthulhu. Although authorized by Chaosium, Pagan Publishing is a completely independent entity. The material Unspeakable Oath prints isn't considered "official" additions to the game, whatever that means.
This is an unbelievably good magazine, of professional quality in every way (with the possible exception of its unpredictable publishing schedule). Most issues are digest size and 80 pages, but Issues 8 and 9 are actually one double-sized, 160-page volume. The next issue (which should be out by now, but if it is I haven't seen it) is supposed to be in standard 8 ½" × 11" magazine format.
Physically, the Oath is impressive. Covers are a beige card stock with stylish (and usually quite grotesque) black-and-white illustrations on both front and back. Interiors use a nice, heavy white paper. Layout is unpretentious and effective, displaying the magazine's striking original art (by Jeff Barber, Dennis Detwiller and Blair Reynolds) to best effect. Even the typography is impressive. The Oath uses a serif font that's just ornate enough to evoke the '30s Gothic ambience of the game without sacrificing readability.
But, of course, all that is secondary to the real meat of the magazine, and that meat is impressive. Tynes and company are very conscious of CoC's status as a game of adult horror, and their magazine makes no concessions to the immature or the squeamish. Although the magazine is never tasteless or gratuitously gory, a good deal of the material is genuinely unsettling, as it should be. Pagan Publishing stands firmly by its adult sensibility, even at the risk of commercial consequences -- issue #7's editorial describes the gratuitous banning of one of Pagan's licensed adventures by TSR at GenCon '92.
The centerpiece of each issue is one or more adventures, which are always up to Chaosium's high standards, with an even darker and more frightening slant than most Chaosium-published scenarios.
There are also plenty of rules variants and GM's advice. In the first category place the ongoing "Cthulhu 5 ½ Resources" series of articles, an impressive attempt to plug some of the holes in the 5th Edition Call of Cthulhu rulebook.
There are all the standard RPG extras -- new monsters, magic items, campaign organizations, all with that special Cthulhu twist. Thomas M. Stratman's "Mysterious Manuscripts" column describes two or three new tomes of forbidden knowledge per issue. One impressive and controversial ongoing feature covers the Randolph Pierce Foundation, a worldwide organization of investigators designed to make it easier for PCs to get together and find strange phenomenon -- a rather touchy problem, given the extremely high mortality rate in most CoC campaigns. When one team member gets eaten by a nasty, where does his replacement come from? The Randolph Pierce Foundation solves that problem. As I said, it's controversial -- there are those who regard it as a betrayal of the spirit of the game to give the investigators any outside support or resources. But this problem is easily solved -- if the foundation offends you, don't use it. But those who can accept the concept will find the detailed description of the foundation highly useful.
Not all of the magazine is gaming related. There's some short Lovecraftian fiction, and a regular review column that covers not only new games and supplements, but also films and books of interest to Lovecraft aficionados. I found the reviews to be generally excellent, although I might wish the reviewers had a bit more sense of humor when it comes to B-grade horror films.
The final assessment on The Unspeakable Oath is simple -- every gamer with an interest in Call of Cthulhu (which means virtually every mature and intelligent gamer) should read this magazine religiously, and that's all there is to it.
For subscription information, write to Pagan Publishing, 403A N. 8th St., Columbia, MO 65201.
-- Chris W. McCubbin
Article publication date: December 1, 1993
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