The Unspeakable Oath is a magazine of Cthulhu Mythos gaming. It’s published by gamers who love the Cthulhu Mythos and who love to see Cthulhu Mythos gaming at its best. TheOath welcomes writing and art from veterans and newcomers alike, but for both veterans and newcomers its standards are high. Read these guidelines thoroughly.
If you haven’t read The Unspeakable Oath before, track down a copy.
We accept submissions for the Oath itself (the magazine in print and electronic formats) and for the website. The terms are a little different for each, so when you send a submission be sure to tell us whether you want us to consider it for the magazine or for the website.
scope and subject
Apart from our review column, the Oath focuses almost exclusively on tabletop roleplaying games. That “almost” means we occasionally run material dealing with other kinds of games, but they’re the exception to the rule. An article about a LARP probably has enough crossover with tabletop roleplaying that it’ll pass muster, if it’s good. An article about a boardgame, a card game, or a videogame needs to be immediately compelling to tabletop roleplayers for us to run it.
In its original run from 1991 to 2001, The Unspeakable Oath focused exclusively on Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, and Call of Cthulhu remains the Oath’s “default” game system today. After all, Call of Cthulhu is the system that’s most widely familiar to Cthulhu Mythos gamers.
But we will consider material that’s specifically for other Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games. However, the article ought to have a clear and compelling reason to be dedicated to that game system in particular. As a rule of thumb, if the article fits only a particular other game system, build it for that game system. But bear in mind, it needs to be twice as good in order to catch the imagination of gamers who don’t use that system.
If the material could really fit any game system—Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Nemesis, etc.—build it for CoC and provide conversion notes that we can make available for download on our website.
We’ll run material on any era of play. Modern day, classic 1920s or 1930s, 1890s, Dark Ages, Wild West, ancient world, far future, whatever you have. If it’s fun and terrific, we want it.
for the magazine: short articles
Each issue of the Oath features many short pieces. These articles need to be punchy and tight. We don’t have room for fluff in the larger articles, of course, but in these short pieces every syllable must guide to reader to sharper, better horror gaming.
ARCANE ARTIFACTS. Strange relics of wizards and other outre entities crop up regularly in scenarios. An Arcane Artifact is an item with a strange/occult/Mythos history and possibly magical powers of some sort. These should be about 500 words. Include the history of the item, a detailed physical description (don’t forget approximate size and weight), where it might be found, what powers it might have, and what role it might play in a scenario.
MYSTERIOUS MANUSCRIPTS. Magical and occult tomes are a mainstay of Cthulhu Mythos gaming. A Mysterious Manuscript is an original occult tome of your creation for use in the game. These should be about 600 words, though up to twice that length is acceptable if it includes new spells, new monsters, and the like. Include information on its publishing history (such as different editions and translations), author, the age of the book, spells in the book, descriptions of new spells or new monsters related to the book, game effects such as Sanity cost, etc. Also include an excerpt from the book, written to reflect the flavor of the work. In the body of the piece, describe the book’s history, its contents (especially specific areas of focus in the text–does it address the Dreamlands, or Deep Ones, or what?), the physical appearance of the book, and what unusual effects it might have on its readers.
TALES OF TERROR. A Tale of Terror is a short scenario idea. These should be about 600 words. The format is to include an enticing and story-like introduction, much as it would be presented (in longer form) to the players. Then, under a heading of “Possibilities,” present 3 different explanations of what is going on. This allows the Keeper to pick and choose, and find ideas for his or her own games. These are fairly simple to write, and depend entirely on your creativity to be effective. Tales of Terror should be short, scary, and to the point.
THE EYE OF LIGHT & DARKNESS (REVIEWS). We are always seeking perceptive and engaging reviews of things that will interest Cthulhu gamers. It may not sound like it, but those two criteria can make for a challenging review: Reviews in the Oath need to be engaging and entertaining, not dry, but they also need to be substantive, not fluffy. And they need to deal with things that the Oath’s readers—fans of Cthulhu Mythos gaming—will find interesting. These should be about 400 words, but they might go a little shorter or a little longer if they really need to. Movies, books, and games in the Lovecraft/horror genre are all appropriate. If you’re interested in reviewing something, contact the editor first. The range of potential review subjects is pretty narrow, and chances are someone else is doing it already—so check and make sure.
FICTION. The only fiction we accept always appears on the last page of the issue, under the heading “Message In A Bottle.” Such works should be no more than 700 words long; nothing longer is accepted. The short-shorts that appear here share a common theme: communication. Communication suggests knowledge, awareness, and discovery, and these are the sorts of things that your story should revolve around. They frequently have a twist ending of some sort, or else simply exude a feeling of discomfort or horror. “Message In A Bottle” is intended to cap off each issue in a disturbing and frightening manner, and is very important to the feel of the magazine. We do not accept short stories other than the regular “Message” feature, and have no plans to use such material. Selection of fiction for this section is at the editor’s discretion and is wholly subjective–if it turns the editor’s crank in some way, it gets printed.
MISCELLANEOUS. New skills, new spells, new monsters, one-paragraph scenario ideas, interesting NPCs, rules additions—something that can be used immediately in a game or that can inspire a new investigation. Such things will appear in a ‘grab-bag’ section or else scattered about each issue. These should be under 300 words.
for the magazine: long articles
We run longer articles in exactly two flavors: Scenarios that can be played as is, and feature articles that explore a particular issue in depth. Remember how we said short articles need to be punchy and tight? That applies to long articles, too, which makes them much harder to write. Each issue of the Oath usually has only two long articles, so they need to be the best material in the issue.
If you have an idea for a long article but you’re not sure whether it’s worth investing the time into writing it, send us a query letter. If we think it sounds worthwhile, we’ll let you know. That does not mean that we’ll actually publish it. We won’t know that until we see the finished product.
SCENARIOS. Each issue of TUO includes one or more game scenarios. These should be about 5,000 to 10,000 words. We sometimes run a scenario that’s longer, but it needs to be awfully good for us to dedicate that much space to it. We are interested in all settings and time periods. If possible, a scenarios should be adaptable to a wide range of time periods. If not, then make an extra effort to fully utilize the time period and cement your story in the atmosphere and history of the time. Scenario submissions should include maps and standard stats for important NPCs and all creatures. We are particularly interested in strong stories with strong characters. No stereotypical mega-villains, please. When it comes to Mythos entities, artifacts, and magic, keep the scope small and tightly focused. Don’t waste time adding a new element if you haven’t yet explored the repercussions of the previous horrors on the characters that the players will encounter. The Mythos is at its most potent when it affects the lives of individuals, and those individuals (whether villains or victims) should be real to the game moderator and the players.
FEATURE ARTICLES. We have printed articles on a variety of topics, ranging from 1920s asylums to the Mythos fiction of Lin Carter to weapon proficiencies to starting campaigns and much more. Articles vary in length, detail, and scope but 5,000 words is a good target. A longer article needs to be loaded with excellence for us to dedicate extra space to it. Article submissions should be thorough, creative, and entertaining. A bibliography, if appropriate, is an excellent addition.
writing for the website
For the website we typically look for short, self-contained articles of 400 to 1,200 words. New characters, new monsters, advice for Keepers or players, super-short scenarios, Tales of Terror, Mysterious Manuscripts, Arcane Artifacts; the field is wide open. We accept longer material if it’s good enough to justify the length.
For the website (unlike the magazine) we’ll also consider material that has been published before, as long as it is not already available online, and we’ll occasionally consider longer fiction pieces.
style and standards
The Unspeakable Oath runs material by new writers and established pros. All Oath contributors and their articles have a few things in common.
First and foremost, we run material by writers who love Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games. That has a couple of implications. First off, we want writers who love gaming. If you’re a Lovecraft afficianado and a brilliant writer but you don’t care about Cthulhu Mythos games, you’re going to have a hard time getting us to publish your material. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it’s unlikely.
Second, because we love Mythos gaming, the Oath is dedicated to making Mythos roleplaying games better. We want material that’s great. We’re looking for articles by experienced, professional writers and by new voices, but every submission should offer something new and intriguing to Mythos games.
Let’s say you wrote a scenario, you’ve run it for your friends, and they said it was the most amazing thing ever. That’s a good sign that we’ll like it for the Oath. It’s no guarantee, but it’s a good sign. Find another group of players and run it for them, and see if they agree about how amazing it is. Get their feedback. Improve and correct it. Then send it to us and we’ll be happy to take a look. But if you never bothered to actually run your scenario for anybody, or you didn’t bother to get feedback on ways to improve it, please don’t waste our time by sending it to us and asking us to read it.
The same applies for shorter material, such as Mysterious Manuscripts and Arcane Artifacts. Before you send it to us, see how it works in play. See what your players do when they encounter it. After the game, find out what they thought about it. Adjust your write-up accordingly. Don’t just send us your first thoughts without putting them into play.
Once an article has been accepted on a preliminary basis, our editors will probably contact you with questions or suggested revisions, and a deadline by which those revisions must be made and sent to us. The editor might also make revisions and highlight those for your approval or refusal. If you fail to make the requested revisions by that deadline, or approve editor’s revisions, or convince the editor why the revisions are not necessary, the article will be rejected. If you turn in the revisions late, we might be able to run the article in a later issue, but there’s certainly no guarantee. If during this process you change your mind and tell us that you don’t want to publish the article in the Oath, we will remove it from consideration.
Right now you might be thinking that submitting material for the Oath sounds like a lot of work. You’d be right. We want every issue of the Oath to do great things for Cthulhu Mythos gaming. We won’t always succeed, but we’ll try, and that means our standards are pretty draconian.
We use freelance art for both the cover illustration, interior illustrations and website illustrations. Illustrations are typically tied directly to the issue’s articles, however, so we typically offer illustration work to freelancers based on the material that’s already planned for the issue.
If you would like to be considered for illustrations, contact the art director. Send a link to a website with your black-and-white art (for Oath interior illustrations) and to your color art (for Oath cover art). Make sure this link includes only your own work, not that of other artists who share a studio.
payment and rights
For most standard short articles — Tales of Terror, Mysterious Manuscripts, Arcane Artifacts, reviews in the Eye of Light and Darkness — we pay a flat $20 per article.
For a fiction piece that we select for the issue’s Message In a Bottle we pay a flat $100.
For all other articles in the magazine, we pay four cents per word. That’s based on the final word count of the article as it’s published in the Oath after all revisions. If you send us a 50,000-word article and we publish 5,000 words of it, you get paid for the 5,000 words.
For articles that run on the website instead of the magazine we pay a flat $20, regardless of length.
For cover art, we pay $200 for a full-page color illustration.
For interior art, we pay $20 for each illustration.
The exact dimensions and specifications for each piece of art will be communicated by the art director before you begin work. Please do not submit art if you have not received those specifications from the art director.
As a contributor you will also receive two copies of the printed issue, and an electronic copy (in PDF), at no cost.
For the magazine, we pay within 90 days of the printed publication of the issue in which your article or artwork appears. For the website, we pay within 90 days of publication. (In practice we usually pay much faster than that.)
As creator, you retain ownership of whatever work we publish in The Unspeakable Oath. We require fairly extensive publication rights, but you retain all rights not specifically conveyed to the publisher of The Unspeakable Oath.
rights: magazine articles and art
You grant the publisher of The Unspeakable Oath first publication rights, which means the work must not have been published previously in any form. If the article has been posted on your blog or has been published in a book or another magazine, we won’t have first publication and therefore we probably won’t use it. There have been exceptions to this, but they’re rare.
In addition to first publication, you grant us exclusive publication rights in all media for a period of two years after the printed publication of the issue in which your article or artwork appears. After that period, as the owner of the work you may republish the work however you see fit. Again, sometimes we make exceptions for unusual cases.
You grant us unlimited reprint rights in all media. That means we can publish the work in the printed edition of the Oath, in electronic editions, and in other media. You grant us subsidiary publishing rights. That allows us to give permission to another publisher to publish the work; for instance, in a book that’s a compilation of Oath articles, or in a translation published by another publisher. These reprint and subsidiary rights are included in your initial payment and will not incur any further fee.
rights: website articles and art
For website articles, you grant us exclusive electronic publication rights for a period of two years after we publish your article or artwork. After that period, as the owner of the work you may republish the work however you see fit.
rights: a final note
Needless to say—except that it’s not needless; in fact, it’s so important that we must say it explicitly—in order to submit work for publication in The Unspeakable Oath, you must be the owner of the work and you must have the authority to grant all of those rights to the publisher of Oath. If you aren’t and you don’t, then you can’t convey those rights to us. By submitting a piece of work for publication you are asserting that ownership and authority.
how to submit your work
First, read all of this page. All of it. By submitting your work for publication in The Unspeakable Oath you agree to the terms laid out herein. So read it and make sure you agree.
To submit a written article, contact the editor. Be sure to say whether you’re submitting for the magazine or for the website.
To be considered for cover or interior illustration work, contact the art director.