Disclaimer: This blog post wasn’t sponsored. I’m just a fan.
THE HUMBLE STREET VENDOR IS HERE
That’s the tantalizing promise of the RPG food supplement, Gourmet Street: Fantasy Street Food Adventuring. To wit, it describes itself as a “bizarre, street-food laden fantasy setting for the world’s most popular role-playing game”, providing you with random generators for all manners of food-stuffs and drink-stuffs in your campaign.
But Anthony, I hear you shouting through the coronavirus-laden void between us, it’s also only a 20-page zine. How much of a fantasy street food adventuring can be fit into such a smol space anyway?
Yeah, that’s what this review is for mang.
According to my PDF reader, this is an 5.75”x 8.75” Zine, and as mentioned before it’s 20 pages long including the covers, so not quite A5 but very very close.
The layout varies from spreads where text is added in boxes superimposed on artwork, as shown below, to a traditional two-column layout, to a more clustered “whatever-will-fit-on-the-page” layout for random tables, to a single-column layout that then wraps around artwork.
I never had any issue with reading the text, and honestly the aesthetic is very fitting for a zine, but personally I would have preferred a more consistent layout just due to the low page-count. There’s this sense of organized chaos in having so many layout formats across the zine that won’t be for everyone. Though in fairness, that also very much is the indie zine aesthetic.
A good metric to use: if you look at Dungeon Crawl Classics layout and feel at home there, Gourmet Street has the same “indie developer meets evocative artwork” vibe. It’ll be cozy feels all round.
If you look at Dungeon Crawl Classics and feel soul-wracking pain at the spillover text and the inconsistent layout choices, this zine may take nibble at your soul, too.
I should also note that the layout is very much optimized for printing rather than as a PDF. The two-page spread I showed above actually won’t load for you with most PDF readers, because they aren’t “facing pages” the way the PDF is generated. The left half of the picture will be the “right page” to one of the random tables, rather than the “left page” or a two-page spread.
The PDF version of the zine also loads remarkably slowly considering it’s all black-and-white, making it irksome to reference when I was scrolling through it.
As a note to the authors: I’m not sure if you can change your downloads after publication, but if the art assets aren’t scanned in, I think a fully white-page version would go a huge ways towards fixing the problem – the textured pages take up a lot of resources for lite PDF readers.
These 20 pages are chock-full of content. To cover it all: Gourmet Street provides you with a quick note on its inspirations: Chef’s Table, Street Food Asia, The Mind of a Chef, Salt Fat Acid Heat, all of which are promising for a street food supplement. If you finish reading the supplement and want more, definitely check those out!
It follows this up with a What’s on the Menu? D100 table that covers Specials, Beverages, and Condiments available at each street food vendor as well as a table for individual stalls, generating in a single roll the each vendor’s name, stall name, reputation as far as quality goes, and their regulars.
The zine goes on to lay out the four primary movers and shakers of this mini-setting – the Nuevo Gastro Alchemists, the Classicists, the Vinegar Knights, and the Brewer’s Bloc. Each faction has amazing artwork representing their head chef (well, okay, the Classicists are anarchists so their artwork is just of a bunch of angry members of their constituency), along with an insignia of the faction and a column of play ideas for the enterprising GM.
I will say that I wish there were a zipped file comprising of each of the four faction insignia (you can see two of them above). They would be useful to print out as handouts in an investigative campaign, as ways to spice up a character sheet, as map labels on Roll20, or all manner of other fun uses. If I ever ran this supplement, I would definitely try to extract the insignia using Photoshop or something for that exact purpose.
Five unique “Food Creatures” are laid out next, my personal favorite being the Gloop!™, little dollops of flavor-absorbing gelatin that exist to be eaten. The Gloop!™ remind me of the Ameglian Major Cows out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, except because they are little Gloops!™ they are inherently more flexible, tonally. You could easily make them super cute or super creepy with a little adjustment in how you narrated them.
BUT THERE’S MORE. The zine ends with a collection of 1D10 procedurally generated cookbook titles, a list of magic items that might be found in the setting, and a sort of hybrid adventure/mini-game that can be played in Gourmet Street. The adventure consists of just a setting-appropriate chase procedure, so if you’re looking for a module or great intrigue, you won’t find it here. What you will find however is actually a very solid protocol for running your own chase scenes that aren’t set in Gourmet Street. The format given is remarkably portable to any other system of streets, tunnels, or buildings.
If the layout isn’t my favorite thing, I’m happy to say that the content is excellent. The two-page spread above is easily the most indulgent use of space within the zine – every other page is jam-packed with text, and all of it is clearly written to be maximally useful for your gaming table.
A NOTE TO MY 5E AUDIENCE
Just a short section to the portion of my reader base that primarily runs 5th Edition D&D. If you buy this supplement because of my review, I’m aware that you might be somewhat shocked at the lack of, for lack of a better term, paragraphs. There aren’t these effusive prosaic descriptions of the Gourmet Street setting, and if you’re primarily used to Wizards of the Coast campaign settings, this might throw you for a bit of a loop.
I promise this isn’t a prank! Haha.
My recommendation is this: go through the tables at the beginning of the zine, and just begin rolling up food stalls. Each time you roll one up, think to yourself how that stall would actually run in play – whether you’d use a squeaky voice or a low one, whether the NPC is going to be part of your narrative or just a one-off vendor.
By the time you’ve rolled up your sixth vendor, I hope that you will have the beginnings of a setting you’re more personally invested in than any Wizards of the Coast module you’ve run, because that’s what OSR campaign settings are, often. They’re heavily thematic procedurally generated regions of your world. The random tables are 90% of a campaign setting, at times. Paragraphs are just “fluff”. They’re fun and can help a GM get into a setting, perhaps, but rapidly lose relevance when your players are actually rolling dice and talking in funny voices.
Once you’ve made a ton of vendors, start linking them to the four factions, making each linkage intentional and thought out. Once that’s done try doing a solo demo of the chase rules. I think it’s likely that at that point the setting will come alive for you. :3
THE CONTENT (CONTINUED)
Because I’ve worked in a few restaurant bars, I actually sent screenshots of the What’s On the Menu? tables to our kitchen staff in some of the places I’ve worked to see what they thought, along with a link to an online dice roller for them to “test it out”. All of them were really intrigued, perhaps the most promising response being “If this is what this whole tabletop RPG thing is about, count me in when quarantine is over!”
There are a lot of charmingly insightful entries on the random table – the Questionable Kebab, Sausage??, and Sonuvabitch Stew, for example, got a chuckle whenever they came up on the dice. There’s also a good mix of real-enough culinary terms with fantasy jargon: Sahagin Liver Ceviche, Owlbear Jowl Tacos, and Steamed Goose Tree Barnacles offer a good sampling of what I mean, and were the respective favorites of three of my co-workers.
As a bartender I was really impressed with the beverage options – these are options that most of my customers wouldn’t recognize, and they span the breadth of our real world’s cultures: pisco, pomace wine, ouzo, sangria, pulque. The food and drink will prompt your more gastronomically inclined players to whip out their smartphones, looking for a place nearby where they can try these things in real life.
COMMENTS FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY
Below are some paraphrased comments from my co-workers, which I thought were worth including. None of them have ever played a tabletop RPG before.
“This would make me ask so many questions at the table. What is a Flumph? How is it prepared? Can we make this dish ourselves? Are these served hot or cold?”
“I really want to know what Olm Sump Water is. I can’t even tell if that’s a real or fantasy thing.”
“Do you know what pulque is? You don’t? Oh man, that brings me back…you gotta go try it, Anthony.”
“LOL some of this fantasy stuff is great. Seagull wine, haha, what’s that? Something that cannibalistic bird people drink? What? It’s real? Oh. Nonononononononononono-”
15/15 Calabrian Chiles.
Buy it. Use it. Make your own riffs off of this delightful little pamphlet.
The om-nom-nomming shall unite us all.