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 (in print and electronic formats).
deadlines for TUO 25
- QUERY LETTERS FOR FEATURES: Monday, 9 JAN 2017
- FIRST DRAFTS: Monday, 16 JAN 2017
- FINAL DRAFTS: Monday, 6 FEB 2017
what we need for TUO 25
- Reviews, especially reviews of Call of Cthulhu Seventh Edition and its supplements from Chaosium and their licensees, and other recent Cthulhu Mythos RPG products. (We do not publish reviews of Arc Dream Publishing or Pagan Publishing products.) See “The Eye of Light and Darkness,” below, for guidelines. Remember, a review for the Oath cannot have been published anywhere else.
- Micro-fiction. This is very hard to do right, so we always need more. See “Message in a Bottle,” below, for guidelines.
- A Tale of Terror (see below for guidelines), preferably set in the 1920s or 1930s.
- A feature article (see below for guidelines) specifically for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, about 4,000 words.
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. Today there are many Cthulhu Mythos RPGs, and we’ll publish material for any of them. We most frequently feature Call of Cthulhu (under our license with Chaosium, Call of Cthulhu submissions must be for their current—7th—edition of the game), Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu, and Arc Dream Publishing’s Delta Green.
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 terrifying and terrific, we want it.
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. 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.
- Each review should be about 400 or 500 words, but they might go a little shorter or a little longer if they really need to.
- Each review must include a rating in “Phobias” from one to ten: 1–3, not worth purchasing; 4–6, an average item with notable flaws, worth buying at 6; 7–10, degrees of excellence.
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.
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 5,000 to 10,000 words long. We’re happy to run a shorter scenario, as long as it is playable and great. We sometimes run longer scenarios, but one needs to be awfully good for us to dedicate that much space.
- We are interested in all settings and time periods. Be sure to fully utilize the setting and cement your story in its atmosphere and history.
- We are particularly interested in strong stories with strong characters. No stereotypical mega-villains, please. 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.
- When it comes to Mythos entities, artifacts, and magic, keep the scope small and tightly focused. Don’t add a new element if you haven’t yet explored the repercussions of previous horrors.
- Scenario submissions should include rough maps (our artists will make them look good) and stats for important NPCs and all creatures. Stats should be in the standard stat-block format for the game.
FEATURE ARTICLES. We have printed articles on a variety of topics, ranging from 1920s asylums to the Mythos fiction of Lin Carter to weapons 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. Avoid footnotes if at all possible.
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 harder time getting us to publish your material.
Second, because we love Mythos gaming, the Oath is dedicated to making Mythos roleplaying games better. We want material that’s great. Every submission should offer something new and intriguing, and should be perfected as well as you can manage.
PLAYTEST FIRST: 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. 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.
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.
EDITORIAL PROCESS: 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. You can make the requested revisions, approve editor’s revisions, persuade the editor that the revisions are not necessary; or withdraw your article altogether if you prefer. If you turn in the revisions late, we might be able to run the article in a later issue, but there’s no guarantee.
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 use freelance art for the cover painting and for interior illustrations and maps. Illustrations are typically tied directly to the issue’s articles, so we typically solicit illustrations 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 with you.
For most standard short articles — Tales of Terror, Mysterious Manuscripts, Arcane Artifacts, reviews in the Eye of Light and Darkness — we pay a flat $25 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 five 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 9,000-word article and we publish 5,000 words of it, you get paid for the 5,000 words.
For cover art (full-page, color), we pay $250.
For interior art, we pay $25 for each illustration. These are usually half-page or quarter-page sketches or maps, black and white.
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 receive two copies of the printed issue, and an electronic copy (in PDF), at no cost.
We pay within 90 days of the printed publication of the issue in which your article or artwork appears. (We usually pay much faster than that.)
For your work to be published in The Unspeakable Oath, you must agree to these terms.
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.
You grant the publisher of The Unspeakable Oath first publication rights, which means the work has not been published 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, but they’re rare.
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, in a book compilation, 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 translation published by another publisher. These reprint and subsidiary rights are included in your initial payment and will not incur any further fee.
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 are telling us that you agree to the terms laid out herein. So read it and make sure you agree.
To submit a written article, contact the editor.
To be considered for cover or interior illustration work, contact the art director.