One thing we’ve learned over the years is that hungry gamers are grumpy gamers. We’ve also learned that a good food experience makes for a better night than an utterly forgettable one.
Food for Thought is a series where we talk about food at the table.
Making food fit your game
We’ve all been there at some point, wishing to be immersed in our characters and then suddenly jarred by the bag of cheetos. Food that is thematically appropriate is talked about in a number of different game books, listing drinks, snacks or even full meals that may help get your players into the swing of things.
But using food as a prop at games can be difficult, especially with dietary restrictions. There are plenty of recipes that you can dig up that will suit the game you are running from cyberpunk future food to down to earth medieval pub fare. This week’s Food for Thought, however, is going to focus on how you can use food within your game to enhance the experience, regardless of the kind of food.
Finaira: That’s it. I’m cutting you off!
So there was this larp. It was set in the 1800s and we were all magicians with the ability to turn our powers into magical items of various kinds. Smiths could craft weapons and armor, glass workers could create one-use magical beads and wards and so on. Me and a friend were playing mages from the Brewer’s guild.
The venue we were at did not allow alcohol sales unless they were the ones doing the serving (perfectly reasonable), so that meant that we had access to water, tea, and powdered drinks but nothing actually alcoholic. Instead of shuffling out guild behaviour to the side, we took over the bar in the venue, grabbed the glasses, the tea and the powdered drinks and brought in some fancy bottles.
We put iced tea in some, fruit punch in others, then we arranged them across the bar as wines and liquors. We then spent the entire game running about serving drinks. And of course using magic on our patrons. It was a very productive evening of secrets and politicking.
But why was it so successful? Simple. We used drinks as props and the rest of the players accepted that they represented alcohol (or not, as requested). And watching two people mix up a phony drink helped set the stage that this was a place to chat, relax and swap stories.
Some tips on doing this yourself are simple. Bring a bunch of fruit juices that are various colours, especially wine. Apple juice is a good white wine, fruit punch a good red. You can even bring white or purple grape juice. Bring iced tea (or make your own) for whiskeys and rums. Hot tea is also good, especially if you sell it as hot totties. A small handful of herbs (like chamomile) can harmlessly be sprinkled across a drink for a magical “powder” without affecting the flavour. But stay away from the savory herbs! Those can quickly ruin a drink.
And the best suggestion? Mix things. Get a carafe of water and set it next to your work station. Mix some potent iced tea with water and it’ll look like you’re mixing a proper drink.
Of course, the final tip is that if you can bring in and serve an appropriate beverage, whether alcoholic or not, do so. It helps frame the setting and lets players play around in the concept.
Kim: Hey, you got some food? You wanna share? I’ll hop on one leg! Look, I’m hoppin’!
Food can be used as a prop to bring some extra life to your character and this is especially true at LARPs. Let me give you some examples:
In a Werewolf: the Apocalypse LARP, a Bone Gnawer (the scruffy, mongrel scavengers) brought a chicken to the game. He sat in a corner, tearing the thing apart with his hands and offering it to others of higher rank or those he respected. By the end of the night, he was covered in grease and chicken bits and, if you’d been paying attention, you could have learned his feelings about other werewolves of the area.
I’ve used Mike and Ike candies in metal tea containers (with the labels removed) as pills and drugs in a game of devils, demons and the humans that have been corrupted by them. An astonishingly large pile of icing sugar was used to represent cocaine.
Dark red juice makes a good blood substitute for a vampire game.
A table with basic cold cuts, cheeses, crackers and other simple foods makes it more believable that a group of people are meeting in another’s home and that hospitality is being offered.
There are a few things you ought to remember if you’re going to use food as a prop, however. First, check to see if the game site allows food. If you’re playing in a tabletop game, this probably won’t be a problem but some sites have rules about what food you can bring in or what rooms you can have food. Second, check about allergies. For a tabletop game, this is easier as the group is smaller but LARPs are trickier. I’d suggest just staying away from foods that cause the more common allergies, such as nuts. Third, be aware of the mess you might be making. The player of the Bone Gnawer example was careful not to make a mess around him and to clean up what mess did occur. In much the same way, you’ll need to know what kind of mess might occur and to be sure to clean it up afterwards. Fruit juice on a white carpet might not be wine or blood, but it still stains.
Words from the peanut gallery
Have you ever used food as a prop for a character? Has food ever been used to enhance a scene at a LARP or a tabletop game? Tell us about it!