Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Gastronomy

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic this month? Things necessary to take your D&D campaign from “eh, fantasy” to “kick ass.” And who doesn’t want that?]

G is for Gastronomy. Nope, I am not talking about cannibalism again…we dealt with that back in Letter E.

It may seem like a little thing…hell, it might seem totally irrelevant to the task at hand…but incorporating food into your D&D game can really give a boost to the overall gaming experience, in a way that no “super slick” combat rules ever will.

I mean, first off, let’s face facts here: no matter how “cool” your combat system is, you really can’t compete with the other “combat simulation mediums” available (including both actual sport…like fencing, paint ball, martial arts…and virtual sport, i.e. video games). In the end, the important thing for combat is that A) it models fights adequately, and B) it doesn’t get in the way of the rest of game play.

ROLE-PLAYING offers a more holistic experience than that of the “combat simulation;” you get to pretend to be an adventurer in a fantasy world, and all that living in a fantasy life entails.

And even heroes need to eat sometimes.

Anyone who’s read Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories knows that food can be fun…especially food in a fantasy setting. But like other non-mechanical (i.e. game mechanics) parts of the imaginary world, it’s easy to neglect food and its place in the game.

Now before I go any further, I am NOT advocating DMs detail each meal or force players to describe their table manners, or roll dice to open that tin of biscuits with a dagger. As with ALL these suggestions, I am saying this should be included in MODERATION. I’m just saying CONSIDER it…don’t neglect it.

Now, continuing on…

Old school TSR modules are really good about playing the “food card.”Usually limited to ONCE PER ADVENTURE there is often an encounter that involves a menu of food items to sample from. The Keep on the Borderlands provides one of the best, with the simple tavern menu providing a real chance for CHARACTER ENGAGEMENT and PLAYER INTERACTION…with each other and with the game environment.

I’ve written before about B2 before and what a wonderful introduction it is to the D&D game. I have almost always used it for brand-spanking new players. Yelling out your name to the gate guard is kind of hokey to most folks, but once they’re directed to the tavern and get a glimpse of the menu, players start picturing/visualizing the game world (not to mention they get their first glimpse of the gold piece-based economy).

Of course, some players of a more matter-o-fact mind disregard the scene: “is there any mechanical advantage to taking the duck over the beef?” they ask. To which the proper reply is “no…but the duck looks delicious, basting in its own juices with the meat falling off the bone.” Usually, at least one player will start enjoying himself with an imaginary meal (usually the dude who didn’t spend ALL their starting cash on crossbows and plate armor), and then the nonchalant players have no choice but to join in the fun…or look like total drips eating porridge and drinking water.

At least, that’s always been my experience.

Other modules stick the food right encounters in as part of the adventure: Castle Amber (X2) has a “ghost feast” where the food has actual magical effects on the eaters. Master of the Desert Nomads (X4) has a whole Bedouin feast, richly and lovingly detailed. Oasis of the White Palm (I4) has a similar Bedouin feast at which important clues are gained. Against the Cult of the Reptile God (N1) has a play on the B2 tavern menu with characters being knocked-out and shanghaied by the evil cultists.

And there are other things to eat and drink in these adventures: magic apples (UK1: The Crystal Cave), magic mushrooms (A4: Dungeons of the Slave Lords), booze and wine that gets you totally hammered (whether you’re characters are low level or high…see B1 and G1 both, if I remember correctly).

But even without magical effects or debilitating intoxication, food has a place in the game. Having the characters sit down to a meal besides “cold rations in the dark…again” should be a moment of entertainment and engagement for the players. Think of those poor suckers on the Survivor reality TV show. They spend weeks in primitive conditions to be occasionally rewarded with REAL food and pampering…and you can see just how much joy and comfort they get in a hamburger or peanut butter sandwich after nothing but coconut and fish for 30 days. The PC adventurers should feel much the same if they happen upon a feast in the Underdark…after two weeks of Lambas bread and carefully rationed water, are you kidding me? EATING…and eating WELL…should be high on the priority list for any party of adventurers.

Lord knows all that marching burns a lot of calories.
: )


  1. But, you missed the menu from the Inn of the Welcome Wench in T1 Village of Hommlet!

    "Food and drink at the Welcome Wench are higher than usual because it is the only inn for many miles, the place is renowned and its food better than average, and the area is prosperous. Choice venison, mutton, poached salmon, trout stuffed with specially prepared mixtures, goose roasted to a golden brown, pork, steaming sausages, steak and kidney pie with mushrooms or truffles, squab stuffed pheasant, and boiled crayfish in drawn butter are just a few of the epicurian delights which are expected and sewed here. The locally brewed ale and beer is supplemented by brews from other places, and wine, mead and brandy
    from all over the Flanaess make their way to the boards of the Welcome Wench."

  2. There is/was a great pdf of WFRP tavern menu items somewhere online, but #&@ if I can find it. You can get ideas from here too:

  3. You know, I never really taken any thought to this but you have a good point. Food is important and while I don't create or play many games, I do write scripts for my movies and such so I'll have to keep in mind that the characters have to eat too, or else, maybe they won't be convincing to an audience.

    The Madlab Post

  4. I totally read that as "Master of the Dessert Nomads"... ;-)

    Thanks for the non-horrific entry!

  5. @ Anthony: MOST old TSR modules have some sort of eating/food component. I couldn't list ALL of 'em!
    ; )

    @ Nicole: Thanks!

    @ Josh: You're welcome! You might want to skip Monday's post.
    ; )