One would be right to question whether an in-depth review of Feast of Legends is merited over a year after its publication. After all, it was just a marketing and promotional gambit that met middling initial success and was quickly forgotten amid half-hearted cries of ‘silence, brand.’ But perhaps Feast does deserve further examination for a few reasons, the plainest being that it was the first attempt in a long time by a truly mainstream brand to occupy the space and attentions of the TTRPG community.
This represents a formerly unfathomable situation—a major fast food corporation pandering to us. In essence, we have guests. What sort of hosts would we be to ignore this friendly intrusion? What would it say of our manners if we were to deny Feast of Legends the sort of deep and substantive review we’d grant to White Wolf or Kobold Press?
Feast of Legends is a stripped down war-game/lite dungeon dive turn-based TTRPG with a large variety of minigames. The game was designed by Matt Keck and Tony Marin “and others,” assumedly at VMLY&R (a marketing firm). Most notably, it features a limited selection of artwork by the brilliant and accomplished Alex Lopez (readers might recall Lopez’s work on the Pathfinder: Goblins! comic book covers or his Marvel heroes portraits, more on Mr. Lopez later). It utilizes an event based player character level progression, three main character types divided into 4-5 ‘Orders’, each based off of a Wendy’s menu item. This persistent reference to the Wendy’s menu will become a stifling factor as the included adventure proceeds. Gameplay is simplified to a one-page explanation of combat actions, resting, and extreme roll results. The ‘Adventuring’ section includes a brief explanation of the Game Master’s role and then a couple pages of items. This is followed by a page of “Buffs” and “Debuffs” which has been covered extensively on social media and in other publications. Suffice to say, you ought to skip page 10 of Feast of Legends unless you’re particularly keen on terrible dietary advice. The rest of the rulebook is devoted to pre-filled character sheets (which are appreciated but oddly placed) and the included adventure, “Rise from the Deep Freeze.” Without the included adventure, Feast of Legends weighs in at about 23 pages, pretty standard for an RPG-lite. Notably it lacks any examples of play, but it is fairly obvious that this book is intended for players somewhat familiar with D&D5e and a youth of the game’s minimum recommended age of 13 would have no trouble figuring it out assuming they have watched an RPG stream or two.
Before the book transitions to the much larger adventure section, its major issues start to show. This book is very repetitive. Skills are copy/pasted from one Order to another, largely because many of the Orders are nearly identical for no reason other than to get another menu item referenced in the game. It isn’t as though players have expectations for this game—there aren’t iconic or literary character classes causing role overlaps similar to, say, Fighter and Ranger. Skills are the only major gameplay differentiation between Orders; characters only get one or two per level (there are only five levels). Much like the fast food that the Orders are based upon, Orders such as the Dave’s Double and the Double Stack are almost completely interchangeable. In one particularly egregious case, the A Quick Bite skill appears in at least four different Orders’ skill sets. A Quick Bite is a trash healing cantrip that heals a d4 (almost a total waste considering the characters’ 12+1d12/lvl hp pools). It is further replicated by the most common item in the game, the Nugget. Late-night Craving (grants an attack buff at night) is a similarly bad and repetitive skill that appears across three orders. The included adventure includes one mention of nighttime combat in the description for a creature that attacks during a daytime battle. It’s unclear why these skills are included at all, if anything they simply plug the holes left by missed character development opportunities. Fresh, Never Frozen is another skill that is repeated across multiple Orders, however it does serve the mechanical purpose of granting frontline characters resistance to late-game damage dealers. (Be prepared to see “fresh, never frozen” repeated ad nauseam though the rest of the book as the phrase appears at least fifteen times.)Wasted space and repetition aside, is the game system actually fun? Sort of, but not uniquely so. It is roughly as fun as a more forgiving D&D without dynamic battle maps or a proper magic system due to the fact that it essentially is D&D, mechanically speaking. Therefore any added charm in this game would need to come from the fast food cultural references and the Wendy’s branding, and this is largely a matter of taste. Suffice to say that I associate Wendy’s branding more strongly with the litter choking America’s streets than good times or enjoyable food, so that aspect of the game didn’t appeal to me personally. “Rise from the Deep Freeze” fills out the rest of Feast of Legends’s remaining 72 pages. This 6 chapter adventure includes 12 monsters (along with a handful of leveled-up variants), 3 dungeons, a handful of towns, and several mini-games. “Rise from the Deep Freeze” chronicles the party’s quest to stop the Ice Jester from freezing the beef of the nation of Freshtovia. The campaign is set in the realm of Beef’s Keep which is populated primarily by parody characters inspired by people from Wendy’s marketing and the mascots of competing restaurant chains. For the purposes of this review, I read the adventure cover-to-cover twice and attempted research on every proper name referenced. Hyper-reliance on implied parody is one of the major ways the material (or lack thereof) in this campaign fails. The majority of characters mentioned have no art and very minimal description associated with them. For example, a midboss named The Grumble appears in the first dungeon. One might assume that The Grumble is supposed to play off of The Grimace, but the beast is neither described nor illustrated. Its stat block is no help either, because the creature is faster than average and uses a tongue attack–not what I think of when I think of the purple McDonald’s mascot.
For all the praise that Feast of Legends has gotten for its production value, these are the situations where Alex Lopez’s art is really needed. I wonder what it would have cost VMLY&R to commission further artwork from him to illustrate monsters beyond the two end bosses of the game. As it stands, we’re left with missing or cursory descriptions that obfuscate the point. The Freezer Burn, for example, “strikes with the flat, blunt side of its icy fist” and “bites with jagged, icy teeth” (90). Fair enough, but what is a Freezer Burn? Is it some sort of ice goblin? Or perhaps it is more like a skeleton? No further clues are given. It has blunt sides to its icy fists, though. The Birdie the Early Bird parody monster only succeeds in breaking the game and potentially TPKing a party that has forgotten to pack ranged combat solutions, the only time in the adventure such weapons are necessary. The creature lacks any jokes or even reference to the Birdie character’s flight cap and scarf.
Most of the game is severely hampered by bland, derivative, and unhelpful prose. The first dungeon of “Rise of the Deep Freeze” combines puzzles lifted from a handful of classic films/literature with cluttered, badly written rooms. Descriptions such as, “The room to the right is small. Entering really doesn’t amount to anything; there are some twigs…,” abound (41). Later in this dungeon, the ‘one-always-lies-the-other-tells-the-truth’ puzzle is reprised in the most cringe inducing way. The Tea are “two women with otherworldly auras”(42). These two otherwise undescribed characters play out the tired logic puzzle by snapping back and forth to each other and finishing each line with, “and that’s the Tea” (43). This sassy Black lady caricature is derived from the ‘clap back’ persona of the official Wendy’s Twitter account. Picturing an average GM undertaking these roles reminds me of Mike Myers’s intentionally dated Black cultural appropriation jokes in the second Austin Powers film. The second and third dungeons are somewhat better, but shed most of the puzzles for simple combat. The second dungeon features the only good joke in the book. The midboss Mucho Pan (or the Extra Bun) is based off the middle bun of the Big Mac sandwich and has the attack skill Technically a Club. That’s pretty clever.
Keck and Marin are very likely RPG gamers of some variety. I imagine they were fairly excited to develop something fun when the pitch for Feast of Legends was accepted. But the fast-food TTRPG niche was not empty. Ninja Burger, for example, has been around for twenty years and is based on one of the most original and funny premises for a game. Keck and Marin entered this space with a Wendy’s themed Game of Thrones knock-off and attempted to win over the TTRPG scene with old jokes that pale in comparison even to the corporate twitter account on which they are based. Despite that, Alex Lopez’s art might have almost salvaged this project had there been two to three times more of it, strategically placed to make up for the weak, vague writing. But even if the writing had been better, the subject matter remains problematic. So who is Feast of Legends for? Perhaps suburban 14.5-year-olds who haven’t experienced how badly it sucks working someplace like Wendy’s? Mr. Keck and Mr. Marin, if you want to work as creatives in the TTRPG design space, please just do so. You don’t need to attach your work to a vapid corporate brand that enriches a handful of selfish capitalist droolers by mistreating farmers and polluting the world with fast food trash. Your creative tendencies and your love of the community of gaming is obvious, don’t waste your efforts trying to build good will for white bread hawking, anti-labor Molochs. Don’t you have better ideas than watered down D&D with a sandwich logo pasted on it? You have to, right?