January 16, 2009
Food and the culture surrounding it is probably one of the things least thought about when game designers sit down to create a fictional world. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one popular fantasy world that ever dove into this oft-neglected cultural facet – that of Krynn, the setting of Dragonlance. Even then, it wasn’t until deep into the product run that recipes of Krynn started popping up. Food and culinary culture don’t serve much purpose in a game, generally. It’s hard to write a compelling adventure centering around an exquisite (or godawful) dish. With that said, it is possible – imagine the players being charged by a royal chef (whom they owe a favor to) to collect exotic ingredients for a culinary masterpiece. Perhaps one of those ingredients is meat from some dangerous beast…. even a dragon, if the chef is eccentric enough.
More than that, though, food can provide an occasional dressing for a dungeon or tavern that really helps ground the players in the setting. For example, the smell of heavily roasted meat sizzling over a campfire in the wilderness could draw the players into an ambush, or perhaps into an encounter with an NPC they will later find invaluable. Beverages, too, can help set a mood. A fine, aged wine from the personal stores of a wealthy merchant could be just as welcome a reward for a job well done as a pouch of gold coins… or maybe a thick local brew could provide the players with some unplanned-for entertainment. So the next time you’re designing a dungeon for your players, or perhaps a level or map for a computer game, try including a bit of flavor in the way of culinary culture. You might be surprised by the emotional reaction you get.