I'm a snob about a LOT of things. Beer. Christmas music (well, music in general). D&D. Lots of things...I'm a pretty judgy, judgmental guy. But while I am perfectly willing to judge food, I wouldn't call myself a "food snob;" I enjoy food...many, many types of food...and it runs the gamut of comida that's available on this beautiful planet of ours. When I lived in Paraguay, I ate at the capital's most elegant, expensive restaurant every week (my wife and I'd have lunch there Thursdays), and were on chatting terms with the chef/owner. But sometimes you want nothing more than a $5.99 port cheese ball from Fred Meyer and a side of cheap crackers that won't get in the way of that bit of holiday goodness. I've eaten a multi-course meal from a Michelin Star chef in Spain, I've had steak tartar prepared at my table in Paris, and I've enjoyed an entire jar of Tostitos Salso con Queso with a bag of tortilla chips, and savored them all in (near) equal measure.
I've eaten a LOT of breakfasts at the Baranof. Greasy spoon diners are my jam.
There is, of course, terrible food and inedible food and foul tasting food. I've eaten at an IHOP one time, and could not power through more than two bites of their short stack: the pancakes tasted like the batter had been mixed with sawdust. I hate wasting food and I left my plate nearly full. Perhaps it was a bad batch...my friend in Mexico swears by the IHOP breakfast burrito and insists on eating one every time he's in the country (which is less often these days, unfortunately). But life's too short...and the sheer range of eating options to broad...to have yet enticed me back to that particular establishment.
With regard to Dungeons & Dragons, I've blogged before about the importance of including food in one's D&D game. Man, that was a long time ago, and while I stand by what I wrote then, it's not something I've remembered to stay cognizant of, what with all my focus on logistics and world building.
[*sigh* So hard, so hard to be a Dungeon Master. Some weeks Dungeon Expert (or Dungeon Journeyman) is all you can muster]
Anyway, I've been somewhat lax of late in this aspect of running the game in an immersive fashion. And I've recently come into possession of a delightful little item that could act as visceral reminder at my table. My fellow blogger from Canada, Alexis Smolensk, mailed me a copy of his latest product...not a book, but a menu. Allow me to pump up his tires a bit.
There's no denying that this is a pretty strange objet d'art...a truly niche product for a niche hobby. A fantasy menu for a fantasy inn/tavern in a fantasy world. I doubt a 15th century road house (or even one three centuries later) would have provided any such item list to its patrons...literacy wasn't all that high prior to the 18th century. And yet D&D, for all its medieval trappings, doesn't overly trouble itself with such anachronisms, and...
Well, let's just get to it.
Physically (both visually and tactilely) the thing is beautiful. Hard cover wrapped in soft black leather(?) or a reasonable facsimile of, the thing is debossed or incised with "The Jousting Piglet" and the establishment's namesake logo in silver. The interior pages (four total) are lovely and feature about 80 tasty items that one might find (presumably) in a large fantasy eatery. Prices are given in copper pieces, silver pieces, and gold pieces, clearly marking this a game product for use with various versions of D&D all the way back to the original (which only used three coin types).
[more pictures here]
I'll be honest: when Alexis first wrote about his menu project, I was pretty ho-hum regarding the idea. Unlike some DMs, I don't use (or enjoy) "props" in my game. I prefer we keep everything, as much as possible, to the "realms of the imagination." You have your dice and your character sheet, and some paper/pencils for notes...what the hell else do you need? Certainly not costumes and handouts and blah-blah-blah...my job, as a DM, is to keep you engaged in play without resorting to the use of such crutches. Leave that stuff to the Call of Cthulhu "Keepers" who are trying to instill a "mood" or "atmosphere."
[he says in his most snide sounding voice]
But there's a bit more to this menu than meets the eye (and it does wow the eyeballs). The price list, for one thing. Those who follow the Tao's blog knows that Alexis has designed an entire system of trade and pricing for his world, considering supply and demand and travel, all based in real world resources in order model a fantasy economy that makes sense and is closer to actual/factual. I don't doubt that much of the pricing here has come out of his own rates (as well as his years of experience in the restaurant business) and this kind of information can be useful in breaking down the resources in a given area (and relative value of said resources). Far from just a simple "prop," this can be a valuable play aid in world building.
Of course, it would be difficult to believe that even a fantasy restaurant would have such a wide array of items in its pantry. Sea turtle soup only became a "thing" in Europe after the species was imported from the West Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and who knows when items like sauerkraut and caviar became popular menu choices in regions west of the Rhine? But here's the thing: nothing compels you to use EVERY item on the menu. Perhaps the Jousting Piglet is run by a wizard who can teleport all over the globe for his groceries...but the menu could just as easily be used for the Red Dwarf Tavern or the Inn of the Welcome Wench with the admonition to "ignore everything in the Kettle and Hearth sections that aren't pork" (or whatever).
The menu likewise acts as suggestions for adventure (and treasure). Ye Old Wikipedia tells me that six pounds of turtle is a good dinner portion, and that green sea turtles weigh anywhere from 150 - 400+ pounds when mature (some up to 600#). If the turtle soup is 16 g.p. per portion, that ends up being a lot of treasure for each such critter caught and hauled back to port! Likewise, if a half-jigger of absinthe is worth 13 g.p. at the tavern, what's the value of a bottle of the stuff (hint: a fifth bottle would hold about 17 shots)? How much for a cask of pear cider when the price of a goblet is 5 s.p.? These are things you can throw into your adventure sites, rather than sacks of coins. Why drop a box of 3,000 copper pieces when you could have two kegs of "lordly stout" (29 c.p. per stein) instead?
And here you thought the menu was just a gimmick.
The variety of items...meats, vegetables, breads, drinks, desserts, and dishes...is pretty astounding, each with a lovingly detailed description of its preparation. Everything here looks delicious. My daughter, reading through the menu, wants to go to the restaurant..."Can we please, PLEASE go to this place?" I have had to explain (multiple times now) that it's not a real restaurant, and that I'm a little short on silver and gold pieces. This has not gone over well. She'd really like eat the food described in the menu.
And, I admit, I feel much the same...remember: I enjoy eating. Some of this stuff just makes the mouth water; for example:
Jousted perch (5 s.p.)Our specialty: choice perch newly caught, stuffed with anchovy, lobster & bread crumbs, roasted over a slow fire until moist, crisp and delicious
Roast fillet of veal (11 s.p.)boned, skewered & bound, roasted above gentle coals, basted continuously; served with butter & bacon sauce
Mussels & potatoes (15 s.p.)fresh plucked from the sea, boiled in their own liquor then sauteed, served with brown-fried potatoes, tomato and lemon slices
Pumpernickel loaf (7 c.p.)traditional Mackburg rye bread with farm brown colour & earthy aroma, reminiscent of dark chocolate & coffee
Man, I could go for a good loaf of pumpernickel and a side of their brown gravy (4 c.p.) along with a tankard of their roasted ale (13 c.p.)...that's a pretty good snack for two silver, though some might prefer the freshly churned butter ("compliments of our dear cow Beatrice") for one s.p. more than the gravy.
My son thinks the menu is pretty cool, and feels it would find good use at his gaming table (he's DM'ing AD&D these days). For him, he sees it as a useful tool to help put his players (all kids) in the right frame of mind for the game, and give them a good idea of the D&D world in which the characters reside. "Very medieval," he says, "Very neat."
The menu is a nice little luxury item for the DM that is otherwise "set" with the required complement of rule books, dice, and cooperative players. It's a niche product, but not an un-useful one. It IS a bit spendy (especially considering shipping from Canada), but for folks who have the extra cash, it's not a bad piece to aid in deepening and enriching one's campaign setting. And folks who do like (and use) props at the table will find this one pretty fantastic and...dare I say...flavorful.
Cheers to all.