Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Yummy Yummy in My Tummy

Patrick Stuart has written an interesting post about tweaking the rules of D&D -- or rather tweaking how you use the rules of D&D -- to encourage a different play style, one that is gentler and more social. One of the things he talks about is food, how the sharing of food is an important social ritual, and how that could be reflected in a game.

(Be warned, I am now about to miss about 98% of the point of Patrick's post.)

That got me thinking about how food is used in role-playing games, or rather how it isn't. Meals and rations appear on equipment lists and you may have one of those GMs that pays attention to whether the player-characters are eating enough, but for the most part it's either a background element or a nuisance, a "starvation counter" that needs to be managed along with how many arrows or torches you have.

It seems a bit of a waste and it would be nice if more were made of food in games, as Patrick suggests.

(It's interesting that what fantasy games have taken from Lord of the Rings is the long walks but not the many, many pages of discussion of what the characters are eating and how it tastes. That's a bit weird.)

I've always been fond of how food is used in Fighting Fantasy, perhaps because I grew up reading-playing the books. There food is presented as a source of healing; if you are stabbed by a GOBLIN then you get better by eating sandwiches. It's an abstraction to the point of nonsense but the silliness is part of the charm. I love the idea of a battered group of adventurers having a picnic and emerging healed of their wounds.

Food-as-healing seems common in computer games, I suppose again because it's a useful abstraction that sort of makes sense, and the immediacy of the idea works well in context. Another seminal influence on my philosophy of games -- ludo-philosophy? -- is Sega's Phantasy Star, which has a science-fantasy setting somewhere between Greek myth and Star Wars, and in which the main healing items are burgers and cola. Again, the absurdity of the idea of adventurers going around a dungeon with a bag full of Big Macs and bottles of Pepsi appeals to me.

A recent and more complex implementation of the idea is Final Fantasy XV, which makes food the most important part of the resting mechanic, and gestures in the vague direction of the social elements Patrick is talking about. Ignis, the party butler -- they never say it, but he's obviously the butler -- cooks a meal for the adventurers every time they rest. Most of his dishes give some sort of bonus to character statistics and if the recipe is a favourite of one of the other party members, there's an added effect for that character. Travelling the world and speaking to people exposes Ignis to new ingredients and tastes that he can add to his notebook, which is a nice way to integrate the characters into the setting and reward exploration.

Almost all of the bonuses are combat related, because that's the sort of game FFXV is, so it doesn't get into the sort of thing Patrick discusses, but the fact that different characters have different favourites is a nice touch -- and one easy to pull into your average D&D game; a d100 table of favourite meals is easy enough to do -- and we are at least treated to a little cut scene each time, with the lads sitting around a camp fire in those flimsy folding fishing chairs, enjoying the meal and each other's company. It's a start, anyway.

Where am I going with all this? I don't know. Perhaps nowhere. I think all I wanted to say is that because of how I started in gaming I have this feeling that food should be more prominent in our games, even if it's just replacing healing potions with meatball subs and packs of Monster Munch, but it would be nice to do something more.


  1. Tales of Vesperia had the option after each battle to make a meal if you wanted. What you could make depended on what ingredients you had and what recipes you knew, and characters got better at making things the more they practiced, and learned new recipes from it.

    I think there were health boosts for that, but I'm not sure, and you still had other healing items you could use instead if you wanted. The funny thing was, there would be little conversation pieces during the game you could watch depending on what you did. My first playthrough I hardly ever bothered to cook, so you'd have these scenes where one of the characters piteously asks if someone is going to cook something, and it's like everyone is being too stubborn to give in. Or if I kept making the same thing, there'd be one with a couple characters complaining about that.

    There were completionist aspects to the cooking to encourage you to do it, but I just liked those little character bits.

    1. That's exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. I've got zero experience with that series of games and I should probably fix that.

      In FFXV if you don't have enough ingredients or you can't be bothered to engage with the sub-system, Ignis can always cook plain toast, which confers almost no benefits to the party. They have gone to a huge effort to create these photo-realistic animations of the various dishes, and they even did one for the toast. It's quite funny.

  2. Lembas. But that said, the Torchbearer RPG has specific effects for hunger and thirst which will impact your character in game. We must play it at some point.

    1. Is that more resource-tracking, or does the game do something interesting with food? Patrick's post suggests sharing meals as a way to earn xp, for example.

  3. Yes! I love this, and the mere thought of having players frantically start eating apples, grilled chicken (where were you storing that??) and finely sliced salmon whenever their health drops low is hilarious - and not much more insane that "drink this red stuff to get better".

    Video games has had this covered throughout the years. I mean, one of the many things I've learned from Streets of Rage is that you can always find perfectly cooked chicken in any trash can - and that it will heal you.

    (I was playing Skyrim the other day, facing some über powerful necromancer that cut my HP in half just by looking at me - and only reason I survived was by eating: 20 tomatoes, 10 gourds, 3 dog (!) meat, 6 servings of potato soup, a bunch of raw venison, some raw salmon, leek, and probably half a horse - and that just a single visit to the inventory.)

    1. Ah yes, Trash Chicken. It's good for you!