(Gronan of Simmerya was my first ever D&D character in Gary Gygax’ “Greyhawk” game. I use the name as my handle on several gaming forums.)
GRONAN REVIEWS: Dungeon Chef by RPGPundit (Available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG, $2.99)
Fantasy RPG supplement, 14 pages.
SUMMARY: Buy this, for Crom’s sake!
Ah, RPGPundit. People have one of three reactions to that name; “love him,” “hate him,” or “who?” But never mind that now.
Ever have one of your player characters say, “Gee, what happens if I chow down on this Neo-Otyugh pancreas?” Well, me neither, but if any of them ever do, Dungeon Chef is just what you need. Essentially, Dungeon Chef is all about what happens if PCs eat various monster bits; some effects are helpful, and some are harmful, and some are just strange.
BAD: There isn’t a single reference in Dungeon Chef to Sigurd gaining the ability to understand birdsong after drinking Fafnir’s blood, or eating Fafnir’s heart to gain the gift of prophecy. Considering this tale dates back to the 13th century, it’s kind of a blatant omission.
MEH: I don’t really care for the style of the cover art, but that’s a matter of taste and isn’t important.
GOOD: Pretty much the whole thing.
I have long found that it’s easier to grab an idea and develop it, change it, or run with it than to come up with good ideas from a tabula rasa. Dungeon Chef is a great resource for just that reason; even if you don’t 100% like or agree with everything, it’s a handy pile of ideas that you can run with. “Be it through necessity, curiosity, or stupidity, PCs will put things in their mouths.”
One thing Pundit does NOT do is belabor the obvious. For instance, eating a giant crab would be just like eating a crab, only more so. Therefore, it’s not even mentioned in Dungeon Chef. Ordinary animals, or giant versions of ordinary animals, are like eating ordinary animals. I don’t think this needs to be spelled out. (By the way, here’s a fun tip: According to my brother, scorpion tastes like crab. So, after you kill that giant scorpion, have your genie conjure up a big pot of boiling water and some melted butter.) (Scorpions are sold for food by Thai street vendors, and perhaps others.)
Dungeon Chef starts with a brief discussion of alignment; essentially, if you’re Lawful Good, you may want to think carefully before eating a sentient creature.
Then there is a nice section on food poisoning and how it affects characters, including a very, VERY nice discussion of some actual herbal remedies. The part about horehound will be useful for a lot more than just PCs who never learned not to put random crap in their mouths.
Finally there are several tables on effects of eating various critters. The tables break down in a way I don’t quite understand; “Astral Creatures,” “Far-Realm Creatures,” “Outsiders/Chaos-Beings,” for instance. Others are more straightforward; “Fungi,” “Slimes,” Trolls, etc. I suspect that these labels might have something to do with 5th Edition D&D, because I know Pundit was in on that project, but I can’t swear to it.
In my opinion, the best part of the list of tables is the last one, labeled “WTF is this?” So when your PCs slay your custom-designed Nameless Horror From Beyond Space And Time and, for some unfathomable reason decide to slice it open, grab some random green wobbly bit, roast it, and eat it, you have a handy table to consult.
But the truth is, that doesn’t really matter. There are a bunch of tables with a bunch of effects, some good and some bad. Take those tables and use them as is, or mix them up, or take the effects and rearrange them, or whatever. As I said above, I see this as less of a definitive set of rules than as an inspiration.
My very favorite part of this whole product, though, is that the author has done a pretty damn good job of capturing the vibe of the early years of D&D. The effects in this supplement range from the mundane to the dangerous to the downright bizarre; from “edible, no other effect” to “heal 1d6 points” to “save vs. poison or die” to “all the character’s teeth fall out.” And it contains the “lady or the tiger” aspect as well; “eat this and either gain +1 to an attribute or -1 to an attribute.” This is just the sort of wild and wooly vibe that the old games run by Arneson and Gygax themselves used to have, and that alone makes this supplement worthwhile.
The best way to use Dungeon Chef – at least in my opinion – is not to simply present it to the players as a set of rules, but to incorporate it into your world without telling them. So they attack a bugbear camp where they’re roasting a giant frog, and the bugbears go leaping away. Or some friendly tribe promises to heal them, and feeds them a slab of something that they can’t identify, and it heals them. Et cetera. Just use the suggestions in Dungeon Chef and sprinkle them around here and there until your players start to get the idea “Hey, maybe eating random things is a good idea!” At that point your work is done, and, as my friend Chirine Bakal says on TheRPGsite, “Hijinks ensue.”
In this day and age, the simple fact is that three bucks is pocket change. I live in a small prairie town in South Dakota, and even here its $4 for a decent pint of beer. For the number of ideas and amount of inspiration provided by Dungeon Chef, it’s one of the most cost-effective supplements you can buy. No, it’s not an adventure module, but honestly, if you can’t take the ideas in this little booklet and run with them, it’s time to hang up your dice.