On Thanksgiving, what better topic to cover than food in RPGs?
While I was trying to think of a food-related GMing post, something hit me: In nearly every game I’ve ever run, food has been described in a fair amount of detail. And in books and movies, the food tends to jump out at me.
At least for me, including food in RPGs increases immersion in the game world.
Of course, most campaigns include food on some level: “The meeting takes place in a Japanese restaurant,” or “You eat iron rations for two weeks.” From an immersion standpoint, though, that doesn’t have much of an impact.
Describing some of the dishes at the Japanese restaurant, however, not only grounds the players in the game world, it opens up potential roleplaying opportunities. “Does your character like sushi?” isn’t a common question to ask during character creation, but it could be a lot of fun to answer in play.
In fantasy games, iron rations must really suck. Stale bread, smoked meat and hardtack for two weeks? Getting used to that is part of what adventuring is all about, and being used to it is the hallmark of a seasoned adventurer.
Describing exotic dishes with no modern-day (or even Earth-based) analog can also be an excellent way to highlight the differences between the game world and the real world. Would the Harry Potter series be the same without Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans? Nope — and that difference is part of the series’s charm.
In terms of flavor text (pun very much intended), descriptions of food are a fun way to cut loose. Appearance, smell, texture, taste, etiquette, local traditions — there’s just so much to describe! And the nice thing is that even a little description can go a long way, because food is so often overlooked in games.
The final element may be peculiar to me, and that’s that for some reason, involving food on a slightly more detailed level makes the game more fun, both as a player and as a GM. If it’s not just me, you may find that it has the same effect on your games, too.
Totally agree. I actually pulled a job in Shadowrun where my Knowledge skill Wines mattered — as did my order of steak. (Wine intoxicated the mark, and I had a steak knife to defend myself in an otherwise weaponless situation.)
In a recent scenario I GMed, the characters were forced to eat pickled dinosaur and fruit preserves for over a week. I even included health rolls and a failure effect roll (1-3 painfully constipated, 4-6 explosive diarrhea).
When exploring a strange land or even dining in the same diner, a quick description of the food can add a lot of atmoshere. In my fantasy games, I try to tack a “typical diet” description onto cutures that are likely to be encountered.
And if you’re really insane, you can cook a feast for your gaming session that resembles the type of food the PCs might eat that night.
But then, we love to cook for our gaming runs…
Yes, this is a great area where you can really get into subtler characterization and make the world shine.
Somehow, alcohol is where we usually bring this in– most PCs wind up with a signature drink and the ones who seek out “ogre’s breath” and other potent brews are awfully amusing…
Any sample game-inspired dish lists or recipes to share, Heather?
There was that time the party won a trial-by-combat to see who the lizardmen would treat with, and the lizardmen did the traditional “eat the vanquished” feast… with select portions for the heroes, but without telling them what was for dinner…
And a Heroes Feast is always in line with the deity’s “flavor” – too bad we had a cleric of Grumbar, Lord of Elemental Earth. (“Grubs and mushrooms for breakfast AGAIN?!”)
Aside from that, it’s mostly “flavor text”, and rarely has any real impact on the Big Things in game (plot, etc).
I’ve occasionally put out “themed” snacks for my players.
Plains theme for a session: Dried fruit, flatbread, feta and smoked spicy sauage.
“Iron Rations” were beef jerky (I made my own) and ritz crackers. I did make some hardtack – recipe from my reenactment days – but decided not to give it to my friends.
I also got a real good deal on a box of Cliff bars (organic soy and oat and energy bars that are actually quite tasty) and served them to my friends as “Lembas” bread – Tolkienesque elven rations.
I run a weekly contemporary horror game (Chill). Since it’s on a weeknight, most of us would bring dinner. Over time, this has morphed into thematic food, with everyone bringing a part. Most of the players are also very good cooks.
One of the players, now working on his PhD and not coming each week, but still on the mailing lists, refers to our weekly discussions of what to make as “food porn”.
Thematically appropriate food helps us get in the mood.
(GamerChick) Thematically appropriate food helps us get in the mood.
…which only adds to the aptness of “food porn.” 😉
How thematically appropriate does your group get, GC?