The Unspeakable Oath #1

Here’s the first issue of Pagan Publishing’s The Unspeakable Oath (December, 1990). It was written almost entirely by John Tynes, editor, owner and publisher (who has since gone on to have a colorful career in games of all sorts). It sets the template for TUOs to come — deep thinking on Call of Cthulhu mechanics, some silliness, some scenarios, some reviews, a quiet but ongoing preoccupation with The King in Yellow. The magazine took inspiration for its name from a Keith Herber scenario in Cthulhu Now — a spell central to the story was called the Unspeakable Promise, but Tynes kept accidentally calling it the Unspeakable Oath. That scenario, which is not Herber’s finest work, would later figure into the larger Delta Green mythology as well.

The magazine immediately caused a stir and became a must-read for Call of Cthulhu aficionados. Folks at Chaosium were aware of it, some contributed in future issues. It became a kind of second, underground Call of Cthulhu. Chaosium maintained the mainstream, PG-13 brand while Pagan Publishing embraced darker, R-rated material. For the first eight issues, Blair Reynolds’ disturbing cover art set the tone. Inside, the maturity level oscillated page to page, but that didn’t matter much. Unspeakable Oath was exciting, and it promised great things.

Odd thing: Issue One of an important magazine is almost always the hardest to find (and most expensive) but that isn’t actually the case with TUO. Because of the immediate success of the magazine, the first issue got reprinted a couple times. Not so for number two and three, though, which I have never seen on the second hand market.

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