When you tire of Dungeon Rations…

*Side Note*: If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the first in this series: https://medium.com/@melvin_charles_o_dy/economic-dominion-for-the-serious-adventurer-aka-casual-ruler-8e782e4250d8#.55qizkdny

Food in RPGs isn’t a new thing, but most of the time it is treated as nothing more than a resource. In many a tabletop RPG, it is reduced to three metrics: number of uses, weight, and price. True, the abstraction makes things simpler, but it feels like we miss out on one excellent way of getting our heads into the fiction.

Today, I put myself to the task of thinking up some way of including the aspect of food as an immersive factor in role-playing games (esp. tabletop). Since I’ve been reviewing Dungeon World a lot recently, I’ve come up with a system based on DW that enhances the food side of life in the fiction.

For reference, here are the few fundamental food items in DW:
1. “Poor meal for a family”. 1 coin.
2. “Hearty meal for one”. 1 coin.
3. Dungeon Rations. 3 coins, 5 uses, 1 weight.
4. Personal Feast. 10 cn, 1 use, 1 wt.
5. Dwarven Hardtack. 3 cn, 7 uses, 1 wt. Dwarf only.
6. Elven Bread. 10 cn, 7 uses, 1 wt.

Kinda sparse and uninspiring, isn’t it? Life in the dungeon is hard, especially when your next meal isn’t really worth looking forward to (unless you only eat Personal Feasts). When you get back in town, the best you can expect to get is a generic “Hearty Meal” (probably doesn’t come with a toy).

Note that the food choices don’t really have any particular mechanical benefits. True, one may argue in the fiction that a Personal Feast can lift the character’s spirits — but that’s not really something that a player can appreciate without some benefit that they can expect.

If a Dungeon Ration and Personal Feast don’t produce any difference, why spend more coin than necessary? At least Elven Bread packs many more uses for the same price and weight!

Let me change that. Let me give the PCs something to look forward to, and make part of their life in the fiction. I won’t change the basic items. I’ll leave them “baked into” the fiction. Instead, let me propose a system that introduces more choices and also reasons to pick those choices over the default options; specifically, I’m talking about buffs from food items.

*Note: Unless marked as a “ration”, the following items are purchasable only in taverns or similar establishments and are consumed immediately (though within the fiction, things may happen during the course of the meal). Food buffs do not stack and are also generally effective for only half a day or one full day (though time is fiction-driven and not very mechanical in DW). This is to prevent losing too much game balance.*

Tying this in with my previous piece regarding settlement expansion, one could say that these “recipes” may be unlocked upon the settlement reaching certain prosperity levels, or even through quests for the really special ones, but I’ll leave that for later. For now, I’ll divide the food options into three ranks.

Rank 0 — The Fundamentals

This rank contains the unedited food choices from the base DW game. Meh.

Rank 1 — Now We’re Cooking

This is the first of my supplemental food choices. This is where we can put figurative fire in the bellies of our intrepid adventurers.

  1. Dungeon Rations DX: Ration. 10 cn, 6 uses, 2 wt.
    Mechanic: On consumption, roll 1d6. On 1: Strength +1; on 2: Dexterity +1; on 3: Constitution +1; on 4: Intelligence +1; on 5: Wisdom +1; on 6: Charisma +1. This boost lasts for half a day.
    Flavor Text: “The usual shelf-stable portable rations, but with some added goodies to lift your mood and help you take on challenges.”
  2. Daily Special: 2 cn.
    Mechanic: On consumption, roll 1d6. On 1: Strength +1; on 2: Dexterity +1; on 3: Constitution +1; on 4: Intelligence +1; on 5: Wisdom +1; on 6: Charisma +1. Lasts for half a day.
    Flavor Text: “A solid meal made up of whatever the cook felt like making or could be made for cheap from seasonal ingredients.”
  3. Grilled Steak: 3 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Strength. Lasts half a day.
    Flavor Text: “Cutting and chewing this somewhat tough (but tasty) steak is a workout in itself.”
  4. Mushroom Frittata: 3 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Dexterity. Lasts half a day.
    Flavor Text: “Hefty but not heavy in the stomach. A great source of protein that won’t bog you down.”
  5. Chunky Vegetable Soup: 3 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Constitution. Lasts half a day.
    Flavor Text: “Some meat, but mostly veggies. Boosts general resistance to all sorts of ills!”
  6. Pan-seared Fish: 3 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Intelligence. Lasts half a day.
    Flavor Text: “Fish is good for the brain! Makes your thinking sharper and faster.”
  7. Intense Stew: 3 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Wisdom. Lasts half a day.
    Flavor Text: “Almost overwhelmingly flavorful. Enduring its assault is rumored to cause low-grade epiphanies.”
  8. Herb & Spice Quiche: 3 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Charisma. Lasts half a day.
    Flavor Text: “Lots of rich cheese, with a crisp yet delicate crust. Smells amazing — heads turn when one of these is sliced open.”

Rank 2 — Get It While It’s Hot!

Although most of the items in this category are basically upgraded versions of the tavern meals above, I’ve included a few rather interesting (but not game-breaking) items that take even more advantage of DW’s freely-extensible system.

  1. Barbecue Plate: 5 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Strength. Lasts for 1 day.
    Flavor Text: “Ribs, brisket, and sausages for good measure. Comes with a side of slaw to keep you regular. Served with your choice of sauce!”
  2. Purifying Hotpot: 5 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Dexterity. Lasts for 1 day.
    Flavor Text: “A balanced mix of meat and greens, cooked in a broth with herbs and spices that clean up your blood. Apothecary-tested and approved!”
  3. Ironbelly Stew: 5 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Constitution. Lasts for 1 day.
    Flavor Text: “Three kinds of meat, 5 kinds of beans, plus assorted vegetables, topped with cheese and an egg. Also comes with your choice of bread or rice.”
  4. Seafood Platter: 5 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Intelligence. Lasts for 1 day.
    Flavor Text: “A feast of fresh fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. Steamed or broiled to perfection. Try it with our special dipping sauce!”
  5. World Salad: 5 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Wisdom. Lasts for 1 day.
    Flavor Text: “Made with ingredients from several regions, and served with dressings inspired by multiple cuisines. Makes you appreciate the variety of cultures.”
  6. Course Dinner: 5 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 Charisma. Lasts for 1 day.
    Flavor Text: “Soup, salad, entree, and dessert. Eating course style allows you to approach and appreciate each dish, as well as the whole experience.”
  7. Jewel Pilaf: 5 cn.
    Mechanic: +1 to random stat (Roll 1d6, standard stat order). PC gains 2 Favors. Favors expire after a day. On any roll, a PC may spend up to 2 Favors. Each favor spent this way adds +1 to the roll.
    Flavor Text: “A rice dish made with diced fungi and vegetables, flavored with oil blessed by the deity of luck. A favorite among the local gamblers.”
  8. Hoarfrost Sundae: 1 cn. May stack on top of a meal effect once.
    Mechanic: PC gains 3 Beat The Heat. Player may spend up to 1 Beat The Heat on any roll against a heat-based attack, trap, or hazard to reduce DMG by 1, or avoid a consequence.
    Flavor Text: “Shaved magical ice, topped with crystallized fruits and syrup.”
  9. Buttermead: 1 cn. May stack on top of a meal effect once.
    Mechanic: PC gains 3 Stave Off Cold. Player may spend up to 1 Stave Off Cold on any roll against a cold-based attack, trap, or hazard to reduce DMG by 1, or avoid a consequence.
    Flavor Text: “A rich, sweet, and silky drink that warms you up! May be served hot or cold.”
  10. Soma Pills: Ration. 20 cn, 10 uses, 1 wt.
    Mechanic: +1 Intelligence or Wisdom (PC choice). Lasts for half a day. 
    Flavor Text: “Mystical pills created using knowledge from ascetics in faraway lands. These allow the user to experience freedom from the feeling of hunger, and heighten mental capacity. They’re no substitute for real food though — do not rely solely on these!”

Starvation and Forage

That last item, Soma Pills, touches on a mechanic that hasn’t been well-defined in the fundamental gameplay of DW: hunger. I thought it would be appropriate to introduce some mechanic that prevents the abuse of these pills, and adds tension and strategic leverage to the game.

My proposition for a hunger system is as follows (note that these affect the modifiers and not raw stats, as per convention of using stat abbreviations): 
1 day hungry (not having eaten anything): -1 STR.
2 days hungry: -1 DEX.
3 days hungry: -1 CON.
4 days hungry: -1 INT.
5 days hungry: -1 WIS.
6 days hungry: -1 CHA.
7 or more days hungry: Player must designate CON or WIS to resist death by starvation. This choice persists until they recover from starvation. Once per day, roll for Last Breath +CON or WIS (whichever was designated). If PC cheats death this way, they get a stacking -1 to the designated stat modifier.

Of course, the starvation thing may be more trouble than it is worth, especially since the GM technically has the power to make food available (i.e. as environmental resources or combat spoils). Although one of the principles of DW GMing is to “Be a fan of the PCs”, allowing the PCs to die from starvation from just plain bad luck can also make the fiction more intense and gripping. In this case, I would suggest letting the dice decide with a 2-step GM move.

GM Move: Food Cache / Edible Objects. Step 1) Once per day, if at least one PC is starving, roll 2d6. On 6-, no food is available. On a 7–9, introduce a food source to the party (describe it), and a challenge, obstacle, or consequence. On 10+, the party may forage without complications. Step 2) Ask a party representative to roll 2d6. On 6-, they are able to forage 1 unit of food. On 7–9, 2 units of foraged food. On 10–12, 3 units of foraged food. One unit of foraged food is enough to allow 1 PC to recover fully from starvation, or allow all members to recover from 2 days of starvation effects. Foraged food not consumed immediately may be converted into a 1 use, 1 wt. Foraged Ration (which has side effects, if introduced as a complication).

So how do you like it? Was this half-baked? Medium on the scale? Or well-done? *PUN PADDLE TIME*

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