Last week I wrote that I would continue discussing setting element mechanics in Croatoan. However, some of what I want to write would spoil secrets for my current players. So… instead I will write about food. Everyone loves food.
In-game, what the PCs eat does not often play much of a role. Eating is presumed to happen off-screen or during downtime, like bathroom breaks. This follows most fiction; television characters do not often eat on-screen. Eating usually isn’t dramatically interesting.
Games that focus on survival and supply are exceptions, although often those games abstract food as units of time or life points. These games use food as a mechanic, and while eating may not be dramatically interesting the prospects of shortage and acquisition can be. If your characters are wandering the desert, how will they get water? If they run low on water, would they be willing to kill for it? Vampire games comprise a similar exception, where the need for blood can be a major source of conflict: by necessity a vampire must commit theft or violence to feed.
But for the most part, PC food is either rations, or some abstract meal that they eat “off-screen.” This is sad, because food is delightful, and can be a part of a PC’s characterization. What is your PC’s favorite food? Least favorite? If you are running a game you might consider giving the PCs some form of bonus for roleplaying desire for or delight at their characters’ favorite foods. Discretionary bonuses exist in many games, such as Inspiration for the current edition of D&D, Hero Points for Mutants & Masterminds, Willpower points for World of Darkness games, Style for Houses of the Blooded, etc. Give one to a PC when she goes through some trouble to get her favorite food, or suffers due to her least favorite food.
Out of game, food is much more important! Tabletop gaming entails a bunch of people gathering at one place for hours at a time. People need to eat. Traditionally this hunger has been sated with Mountain Dew and Cheetos (or Doritos), escalating to pizza deliveries when “real food” is required. If you do go for pizza, spring for extra cheese, as it is usually the most cost-efficient way to add mass to your pizza.
But there are other inexpensive options! Some of them are healthier!
- Zatarain’s Instant Jambalaya (or Gumbo). Get some andouille sausage to go with it, or chicken/turkey/vegetarian sausage if members of your group have dietary restrictions. Product page here.
- This pasta sauce recipe from “The Godfather:”
- Chow mein or lo mein from Chinese restaurants. Usually a single order will feed two players.
- Chili. Buy a few cans, or make your own. Add Trader Joe’s Bacon Cheddar Cheese to make your chili awesome. (Behold this ode to Bacon Cheddar Cheese.).
Snacks are important. Hungry players are cranky players, and some people concentrate better if they have something to snack on. The trouble with the traditional Doritos and Cheetoes is that they get a greasy orange powder on your hands, and from there to dice, pencils, character sheets, and gizmos (like tablets). And they are bad for your health. Carrots with hummus is a much more healthful option. Edamame soybeans are also great, you can find bags of them in the frozen food section. Tortilla chips with actual salsa, or queso dip, may not be much healthier than Doritos but are usually less messy.
One substantial snack food that my players love is buffalo chicken dip. Take 2 (10oz.) cans of shredded chicken, heat in a slow-cooker or crockpot with a (5oz.) bottle of your favorite hot sauce. Add two (8oz.) packages of cream cheese, and heat until they are melted. Throw in a half-cup or so of ranch dressing, and a cup of shredded cheddar cheese. Stir until all is consistent and melted. This dip goes well on many things, such as: pita chips, carrot sticks, hamburgers, and tortillas.
Drinking alcoholic beverages at tabletop games is a time-honored tradition (for players of legal age, of course), and merits its own post. Besides that, there should be water at the table, since snacks are usually salty and players (and especially gamemasters) dry themselves out by talking so much. Mountain Dew and Coke are traditional. You can make a healthier alternative by boiling sugar, lime juice, and water to make limeade, but that does not have the caffeine that players love.
A note on etiquette: if you are not hosting the game, and are visiting the house of another, bring a snack or drink to share. If you are the gamemaster and you are not hosting, you may consider yourself exempt, due to the extra labor that a gamemaster endures.