Cooking With the Cosmos

by Alyssa Amsbaugh

Jiamia #001-A
Seared “Fish” with Cream Sauce

  • 2 Jiamia root vegetables
  • 8 lbs Jiamia mystery meat
  • 1 cup Jiamia seeds
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • Remove skin from Jiamia mystery meat. Sear on medium heat, five minutes each side
  • Julienne Jiamia root vegetables for side dish. Saute on low heat for eight minutes
  • Boil one cup heavy whipping cream on medium heat. Add in finely chopped Jiamia seeds and continue cooking for additional four minutes, stirring frequently
  • Plate seared meat and drizzle with sauce

This is a nightmare. I’m hopelessly lost in a kitchen without holoplatter tech. I’ve had to remind the captain multiple times that I’m blind, and on top of that, I’ve never heard of any of these ingredients before. I don’t have any recipes, or any familiarity with these foods. I don’t even know what planet we’re on—I think Jiamia?

I’ve lost count of how many times I bumped into the counters. Lucky for me, this kitchen is at least equipped with a hot cooktop proximity sensor—it’s definitely saved me from some burns. One of the other kitchen workers had to basically lay all the utensils out in front of me because I couldn’t find anything.

It was embarrassing to be supervised while I was working, especially with how long it took me to get my bearings. The kitchen worker provided me with a meat, and its texture reminds me of fish. The skin was thick and scaly—took forever to get it off. It seared nicely, had almost an herbal smell to it.

Tried to saute some local root vegetables as a side… big mistake. As soon as I cut into one, I was assaulted by a terrible odor. It overwhelmed the kitchen completely. The smell faded a bit as it cooked out, but it lingered in the taste. I whisked up a sauce with some cream and seeds. It added a great earthiness to the dish, but couldn’t save it from the horrible aftertaste.

The crew complained the whole night about the horrible new chef. Nobody really wants to talk to me, so I found my way to my sleeping quarters. Not much to do when you’re a hostage on a rebel ship… I hope I can impress the crew tomorrow, or who knows what they’ll do to me. It’s not like I’m particularly helpful outside the kitchen. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be back in the Embassy kitchen again.

Rating: 0/5

Jiamia #001-B
Jiamia-style Barbecue Prime Ribs

  • 10 lbs pork spare ribs
  • 1 clove fennel
  • 4 lemons, sliced
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp pepper
  • Barbecue sauce
  • 16 stalks asparagus
  • 1 cup federseeds
  • 1 lb blowstome
  • Mix up barbecue sauce recipe
  • Mix up fennel, paprika, and pepper and dry-rub ribs. Place pork spare ribs on oven grill. Make sure flavor diffuser is ON and set to DISPERSE
  • Slice up lemons to quarter-inch thick slices with calchoppers. Top ribs with sliced lemon
  • Cook ribs at 200 C for two hours
  • Lightly roast federseeds at 200 C for ten minutes; sprinkle over ribs
  • Grill asparagus for ten minutes. Drizzle with extra barbecue sauce and roasted lemon juice
  • Remove excess skin from blowstome and cube. Place in jerkinator until dried. Sprinkle atop asparagus

I convinced the kitchen workers that I needed more time to familiarize myself here and that I didn’t need supervision today. They showed me to the food storage room before leaving me to do my job. I know yesterday was a hot mess, but I had a job with the highest-rated Embassy kitchen on Via Lactea. If they let me prove myself, I can show them I know what I’m doing.

The crew was holding out on me… The back room in the refrigerator has a huge stock of kitchen staples from Via Lactea. I was feeling around for some ingredients when I bumped into something hanging from a meat hook. I rubbed my hands over it gingerly and felt the unmistakable bumps of rib bones. Now we’re talking. I wanted to impress, so I went for a classic favorite back in the Embassy kitchen: country-style spare ribs.

I learned that the fish I cooked yesterday is called a blowstome, and it is delicious when dried. I tossed some in the jerkinator just to try it, and it was so good, I had to find a way to use it in the dish. I figured the herbal flavors would work well with some grilled asparagus, and boy, was I right. The barbecue sauce—same recipe as usual, but with some of those seeds on top. They sort of melted into the sauce, added a nice crunch.

The entire crew was beyond thrilled with tonight’s dinner. It was almost like a celebration, which worked in my favor. The whole way back to my room, I heard people fawning over the food, telling me how glad they were that they found a chef like me. Maybe they were just giving me a hard time yesterday because I’m the rookie. Either way, I know I made a good impression this time.

Rating: 5/5, a keeper

Jiamia #001-C
Braised Blowstome with Federcream Sauce

  • 8 lbs blowstome
  • 1 cup federseeds
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 stalks wortweed
  • 1 pumplum
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Remove skin from blowstome. Sear on medium heat, five minutes each side
  • Boil whole stalks wortweed for ten minutes, until softened
  • Dice boiled wortweed and pumplum. Saute on low heat for eight minutes
  • Boil heavy whipping cream on medium heat for two minutes. Add in finely chopped federseeds and continue cooking for additional four minutes, stirring frequently
  • Plate blowstome and top with federcream sauce
  • Drizzle lemon juice over federcream sauce

Welp. Apparently, the stash of kitchen staples I found was their supply of goods from their last raid. You know, the one on the Embassy kitchen on Via Lactea. The one where I was kidnapped. Yeah. I have some regrets. I knew that the Comet Chasers were a gang of pirates, but I didn’t realize they relied so heavily on what they stole.

I got chewed out by Captain Rhiemus for running through the specialties so quickly. I’m new, and blind, so she let me off with a warning, but I won’t be allowed unsupervised in the kitchen for a while. The gang will have to plan another raid sooner than expected.

I guess the ingredients they give me are either foraged or bought on whatever planet the ship happens to be near. Seems a little cheap, but I’ll just have to cook with these for now. One of the crewmates—Fyldenn? Faldar?—told me that boiling the root vegetables before cutting into them neutralizes the odor, so I gave that a go. Worked like a charm! After boiling the wortweed, I seared them up with some fruit called a pumplum. It’s crunchy, and has a refreshing amount of sweetness without being overpowering. The boiled wortweed takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with, so it ended up tasting a lot like the pumplum.

The blowstome was fine from my first recipe, so I remade it, sans the stench. I discovered that acid is what caused the federseed to harden on the spare ribs, so after whipping up a federcream sauce and dressing the seared blowstome, I drizzled the dish with some lemon juice. The sauce completely candied; I didn’t expect it to change so quickly.

Rating: 3/5, the side was hit-or-miss, and the candied sauce turned sticky

Galgade #002-A
Galgade Bark Stew

  • 4 lbs small fowl
  • 3 Galgade vegetables
  • 4 pieces tree bark
  • 8 cups bone broth
  • 1 cup corn
  • Pluck small fowl clean. Cube meat and saute for twelve minutes on medium heat, stirring frequently
  • While meat is cooking, add bone broth to large pot. Heat to a boil
  • Dice vegetables and add to mixture. Add in cooked fowl
  • Chop pieces tree bark into strips and add to mixture
  • Add corn. Cook for additional five minutes, or until vegetables are softened. Salt and pepper to taste

The Comet Chasers pulled off a successful raid on Jiamia, so we had to flee. The gang rummaged up some spare ingredients to hold us over. For now, we’re just outside of Galgade. I think they wanted to unload some cargo here, or something.

But, new planet… new ingredients.

Bragnor was on kitchen duty today, and they gave me some small, plump poultry. The things were covered in tiny feathers, and it took me forever to pluck the bird clean, even with the kitchen helping. The meat smelled of exotic spices, even raw. To avoid over-seasoning it, I decided to make a soup. I added some local vegetables to the broth. I even convinced the first mate to let me break into our specialty supply and add some Via Lactea corn. Who wouldn’t like a chicken corn soup?

They also brought me some meaty tree bark. Thick and chewy, but had a great spice and heat to it. It softened nicely in the soup. Bragnor warned me about adding too much of the bark, but I know what I’m doing. A little spice goes a long way.

The dish was incredibly flavorful—maybe too flavorful. A few crewmates were complaining of stomach aches by the end of the night. I think the dish was a touch too much for them. Guess I need more time to experiment with these new ingredients.

Rating: 3/5, some conflicting flavors

Galgade #002-B
Roasted Stuffed Bulkbill

  • 6 bulkbills, unplucked
  • 4 didia
  • 3 rokarrots
  • 5 slices dried lavash
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 4 tbsp thickener
  • Clean bulkbills and prep to receive stuffing. Remove gizzards and meat from neck. Rinse birds well and pat dry
  • For stuffing, add chopped didia, rokarrots, and dried, crumbled lavash in a bowl. Add hot water and mix together
  • Loosely pack stuffing mix into cavities inside birds and truss legs
  • Layer premium cooking foil atop birds and place in roaster
  • Cook birds for fifteen minutes at 205 C, and then sixty minutes at 175 C. Ensure that flavor diffuser is ON and set to COLLECT
  • In the meantime, prepare the gravy. Chop and liquefy gizzards and bulkbill neck meat. Add tbsp thickener. Add drippings from oven’s flavor diffuser collection chamber and mix until thickened
  • Add mixture to small porcelain bowl and heat in the oven for fifteen minutes at 175 C
  • Remove birds from oven. Plate and dress with gravy

The bark I used yesterday added a great flavor to the food, and is often used on Galgade to make dishes more spicy. The problem? It’s also used as a laxative. Two of the crewmates were extremely sensitive to the bark’s medicinal properties, and have been suffering from food poisoning most of the day.

Rhiemus was a bit upset, but understood I had no way of knowing. I used this as an opportunity to advocate for the ship to invest in holoplatter software for the kitchen. Not only does it warn me of any biological properties an ingredient may possess, but it also helps me to keep track of food while I’m cooking it. My cooking utensils can be catalogued in the program, and I can keep tabs on them with the tracking feature. It would make everyone’s life so much easier… Plus, they’re pirates. I’m sure they’ve got loads of money.

Captain Rhiemus didn’t go for it. Instead, she ordered me to come along to the marketplace to converse with the vendors from here on out. That way, I can learn the ingredients, and figure out what they’re normally used for. Galgade’s poultry is known as a bulkbill, and—get this—their feathers are so small, if you oven-bake it, it just cooks into a wonderful, crispy skin.

I decided to go with a few stuffed birds, filled with fresh roasted vegetables. I crumbled up some dried lavash and mixed it in with the stuffing. They didn’t take very long to bake, and the feathers crisped up nicely, even if the skin did smell slightly burnt. The bulkbill’s internal spices really brought out the flavor in the skin, and it was delicious.

I also made a vegetable puree from some leftover didia and rokarrots, and spread it on some sliced lavash for the sick mates. Pheldonn walked me over to the ship’s medical ward so I could hand-deliver the dish. I apologized profusely for my ignorance, but they were very understanding. They don’t know the foreign foods any better than I do. I should try to spend more time studying new ingredients before I just throw them into a dish. Maybe talking with the locals will help, too. But also, holoplatter tech… just saying.

Rating: 4/5, the roasted bulkbill is delicious, but the stuffing feels like it’s missing something

Innius VI #003-A
Podcrawler Stir Fry

  • 2 stalks wortweed
  • 5 ganban bean pods
  • 5 concroix pods
  • 3 bronroot bulb pods
  • 2 mammaise pods
  • 2 pounds podcrawler meat, de-shelled
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 cups bulkbill broth
  • Boil off wortweed stalks until tender
  • Julienne wortweed and place in grain processor
  • Marinade podcrawlers in quarter cup soy sauce. Remove shells. Rub meat with salt and pepper and cube
  • Sear meat on medium heat for four minutes
  • Add in bulkbill broth, soy sauce, and wortweed rice
  • Peel bronroot bulbs, taking care to remove the stinger. Dice and add to saucepan
  • Peel concroix pods. Remove stems and add florets to saucepan
  • Peel ganban bean pods. Rinse off fibers. Add beans to saucepan
  • Peel mammaise pods. Remove husks, dice, and add to saucepan
  • Saute on low heat for ten minutes

The first mate—Vrinx?—made a request that we stop at this planet cluster. We made a quick stop in Innius VI, and we’ll be leaving for the neighboring planet, Fhorrus. Captain Rhiemus took me with again to the local marketplace. I guess since we’re stocking up on a lot of ingredients, she wanted to make sure I felt familiar enough with the food. Because of the dense atmospheric conditions on Innius VI, everything grows in a pod. EVERYTHING. Meat is less common here, so the locals tend to depend on beans, nuts, and insects for their protein. The planet is great for agriculture, so there are more types of vegetables and fruits than I could have ever imagined in one place.

With so many fresh vegetables, I thought a stir fry would fit the bill, especially since I wasn’t sure how great the protein source would be. I made up some rice by boiling wortweed and putting it through the grain processor. Since it absorbed flavor from the other foods, it would be a perfect substitute.

I was opening some of the different vegetable pods to figure out what I had to work with. Some bushy florets… some bulb vegetables… some cob vegetables… and some beans. Alright, plenty of great ingredients to use. I moved over to my cooking station to start my prep. And then I felt the beans crawling up my arms and screamed.

Yeah, I had opened up a podcrawler nest by mistake. Why do all these pods feel the same! Bragnor helped to contain the podcrawlers as best as they could. The insects were harmless, albeit annoying as they whizzed past my ears. A lot of the kitchen workers are afraid of bugs, so there was a minor panic, but fortunately, nobody went to Rhiemus about it. Once Bragnor had most of them secure in a glass jar, I began to marinade them in some soy sauce. I knew I’d have to get their shells off, but it would be much easier if they were dead first.

The rest of the dish was pretty straight-forward—chop up whatever was in the pods, and put it in the pan. The podcrawlers were… interesting. The meat was fatty and pulpy, but mixed into a stir fry, you hardly noticed. The wortweed took on a lot of flavor from the soy sauce, so I added some bulkbill broth to even it out. Mammaise was sweet and juicy—almost like corn, but with larger and tougher kernels. Concroix was earthy and savory, but it fell apart quickly in the pan.

After dinner was done, I had the kitchen crew help sort the rest of the ingredient pods so that we could avoid future mistakes. This is the first time I’ve been to a planet and left with so many new kinds of foods. It’ll be a lot of work to learn how to cook all this interplanetary cuisine, but I’m up to the challenge.

Rating: 4/5, the flavors were great, but the concroix fell apart and altered the dish’s texture

Fhorrus #004-A
Brunch Burrito

  • 1 mammaise pod, with the husk
  • 2 tbsp food-grade oil
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 2 pickachix eggs
  • ½ cup fhorrus greens
  • 2 strips blowstome jerky
  • Remove husk from mammaise pod and trim. Dredge in flour and oil and fry for five minutes on low heat
  • In a mixing bowl, combine pickachix eggs and chopped blowstome jerky. Place in pan on medium heat and scramble until eggs are fully-cooked
  • Remove mammaise kernels from cob and add to pain. Cook for additional two minutes on low heat
  • Chop stems off fhorrus greens
  • Take mammaise wrap and bake at 175 C for five minutes to dry excess oil
  • Place egg mixture atop wrap. Top with greens. Wrap and preserve for later consumption

Now that the Comet Chasers has its own chef, Captain Rhiemus decided it was time to focus less on raiding for rations. Sure, it’s nice to have some Embassy-issued packed lunches for when the workers are in a hurry. But I have plenty of free time in my day to start making boxed lunches for everyone. Less stealing, more getting by with what we have. It’ll give me a chance to experiment more, and I’m down for that.

To start, I decided on a simple burrito. The husks from the mammaise pod were a good fit for a wrap. I dredged them in a little oil and flour, and started frying them up—just on low heat; I didn’t want them to fall apart.

Fhorrus is a really dry planet, with lots of fields and not a lot of vegetation. They grow some greens, and some grains, but not much else. As such, they focus mostly on raising livestock. I guess they have a good trade agreement with Innius VI—Fhorrus provides the animal products, and Innius VI provides the crops.

I took some pickachix eggs and scrambled them up. Pheldonn marvelled when I cracked open the first egg—apparently, pickachix eggs have three yolks, and very thin egg whites. The eggs tasted extraordinarily creamy, so I grated some raw bronroot over the dish to give it a little something. To my surprise, raw bronroot is tart and citrusy, whereas cooked bronroot tastes a bit metallic. I topped off the eggs with some fhorrus greens. Leafy and a bit dry, but they picked up some moisture from the steaming eggs, and wilted nicely.

Captain Rhiemus was really impressed with my lunch. She sent Vrinx down to the kitchen to help me seal up the burritos and get them to the commissary. We made some small talk for a while, got to know each other. Eventually, he asked for my name. It’ll be nice to have the Comet Chasers call me Corey. They never did that on the Embassy… they insisted they had to call me by my “birth” name. But these guys, they respect me. They’re good people. After we finished bringing the packaged burritos to the commissary, Vrinx pulled me aside before I could head back to the kitchen. He has some sort of secret project he wants my help with, I guess. I’ll find him after dinner tonight and get some more information.

Rating: 4/5, a good ready-to-eat lunch, nothing mind-blowing

Fhorrus #004-B
Echassian Macaroni and Cheese

  • 2 lbs echassian cheese
  • ½ lb echassian butter
  • ¼ cup echassian milk
  • 2 pickachix eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 ½ lb echassian calf meat, muscle removed
  • 1 tbsp dried tardus seed
  • 3 concroix pods
  • On a flat surface, pour out flour, create a well in the middle
  • Crack pickachix eggs and empty their contents into the well on the counter. Mix by hand, pulling in flour gradually
  • Knead dough until dough has smooth surface texture
  • Place in instant pasta pot to form one pound of pasta—bowtie, small shells, or elbow shaped preferred. Use dye as desired. Cook in pasta pot until al dente
  • In a saucepan, mix echassian cheese, echassian butter, and echassian milk. Season with dried ground tardus seed and heat on low until it reaches a thick and creamy consistency
  • Chop echassian calf meat into thin strips, removing the tough muscle where possible. Sear on low heat for five minutes
  • Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in calf meat strips and pasta
  • Open concroix pods and remove stems. Stir in flourets

Bragnor loves pasta, and apparently a lot of the Comet Chasers crew does, too. They went out of her way on Fhorrus to buy me an instant pasta pot so I could make my own pasta. I think she used her own cash to pay for it, too! Well, if these guys want pasta, I won’t let them down. I used some pickachix eggs and flour to make the dough base. The kitchen crew was concerned when I poured the flour onto the countertop—they thought I had misplaced my mixing bowl. Pheldonn even yelled to warn me. But after watching me add the eggs and knead the dough, he started to understand.

I played around with the instant pasta pot. It can make any type of pasta imaginable, and it can even color it with the built-in dye packets. I let Bragnor pick the colors for tonight’s meal, since they were kind enough to buy me the machine. Everyone was fascinated as the pasta pot went to work, cranking out a pound of bowtie-shaped noodles into its cooking chamber. I set the machine to “al-dente” and left to get the rest of the meal ready.

We got in an order of echassian products. They are one of the livestock on Fhorrus, and produce a creamy milk and, surprisingly, a sweet cheese. And—here’s the kicker—they shed their calf muscles on a weekly basis. Their body regenerates, and the old muscle slides off as the new muscle grows. Granted, the meat is very fibrous and sinewy, but it’s an endless supply of meat, if you know how to work with it.

I grabbed some of the echassian cheese and got it melting on a saucepan with some butter and milk. The sauce was bright and sweet, so I went digging around in the boxes of goods from Innius VI to find something else to add. With Pheldonn’s help, I found some pods with seeds usually used for spices. He called them tardus seeds. I dried them out in the dehydrator, ground them up, and sprinkled some into the cheese. It had a certain sharpness to it, and helped balance some of the flavors out.

I knew I had to find a use for this slab of meat, so I asked the kitchen crew if they could cut it and remove some of the excess fibers. I was handed back some stringy strands of meat. They also had a sweet smell to them, but I figured the sauce would blend it nicely. I seared them on low heat, just to make sure they were fully cooked, before adding them into the sauce. They pulled apart into even thinner strands while I was mixing, gave it a nice texture.

I added in the pasta and combined everything together for a first taste. It was quite good, but the sweetness of the meat was contrasting the cheese sauce a bit. I decided to throw in some concroix—its savory flavors would mask the sweet calf meat, and I added it in last so it wouldn’t completely fall apart and get too grainy, like it did in the stir fry. The crew absolutely adored the meal tonight. Rhiemus, herself, was shocked that I was able to make such great food out of the goods we scavenged; she was used to meals like that being a treat after a successful raid. We popped open a bottle of Via Lactea champagne to celebrate, just the officers and myself.

Vrinx did approach me after the festivities died down. Turns out, we stopped at Fhorrus and Innius VI for certain ingredients. He wants me to make a cake for him—it sounds like it’s for a special occasion, so it has to be perfect. I agreed, on the condition that he be the one to help decorate. I don’t think I can do it without my holoplatter kitchen. We shook on it, and he called me by my name and thanked me. I’m not sure what this cake is for, but I’ll do my best.

Rating: 5/5, might be room for improvement with other meats

Fhorrus #004-D
Innius VI Salad

  • 4 Innius VI concroix pods
  • 4 Innius VI bronroot bulb pods
  • 4 Innius VI frifri berry pods
  • 2 tbsp dried ground Innius VI tardus seeds
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ¼ cup processed tybex nectar
  • ¼ cup Via Lactea vinegar
  • ¼ cup food grade oil
  • Open concroix pods. Remove stems
  • Open bronroot bulb pods and remove stingers. Dice up raw bronroot
  • Open frifri berry pods and set aside excess seeds
  • In a mixing bowl, combine tybex nectar, vinegar, oil, tardus seeds, and pepper. Add in frifri berry seeds
  • Combine ingredients together and top with dressing. Preserve for later consumption

I figured a salad would be an easy packaged lunch. Hopefully the sweet and tangy dressing will be a crowd-pleaser. Tybex are another one of the livestock on Fhorrus. They pull pollen from the dry grassy plains, and process it into a nectar inside their bodies. Farmers are able to harvest it once they’ve produced enough, with almost no discomfort to the animals. Fascinating, really, when you compare them to pollinators on Via Lactea, which rely heavily on pollinating flowers.

The rest of the salad was pretty easy to put together. I decided to try one of the frifri berry seeds, and while they’re not any good dried, they’re very flavorful. Tossed them into the salad dressing, and it added a great texture to the salad. Pheldonn helped me box up the salads and took them to the commissary himself. I guess it’s time to start thinking about how to handle this cake. I have until after dinner to figure it out, and then Vrinx and I are going to get to work. There should be plenty of fruits and sweets to work with in the food storage chamber. I know I can whip up something delicious.

Rating: 4/5, it’s a tasty salad, maybe another dressing would fit better

Picclite #005-A
Comet Chaser Carbonara

  • 8 Fhorrus pickachix egg yolks
  • 1 ½ cups Fhorrus echassian milk
  • 1 cup grated Via Lactea Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb spaghetti noodles
  • 2 lbs Galgade bulkbill meat
  • ½ lb Fhorrus echassian calf meat, muscle removed
  • 1 tbsp grated Innius VI bronroot
  • 1 tsp ground currentcorn
  • Prepare spaghetti noodles with the instant pasta pot. Refer to #004-B for pasta dough recipe. Cook on “al-dente”
  • Cube bulkbill meat, leaving feathers on
  • Sear bulkbill meat on medium heat for 8 minutes. Drain juices
  • Prepare echassian calf meat with muscle removed. Sear calf meat on low heat for 4 minutes. Drain juices
  • In a medium bowl, combine pickachix egg yolks with echassian milk and grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well
  • Add spaghetti to large saucepan on medium heat. Add in sauce mixture. Be careful not to overcook sauce, or the eggs will scramble
  • Add in echassian calf meat and bulkbill meat and stir to coat
  • Sprinkle with ground currentcorn and pepper to taste

We’ve come a long way from mystery meat and stinky root vegetables. I’ve been on board the ship for a month now. I decided to celebrate my anniversary by making my favorite food from back on Via Lactea, but with an interplanetary twist on it: chicken carbonara… yum.

We already had most of the ingredients from our past few planets, but we were stopped on Picclite, and I decided to visit the local market with the ship officers. Picclite is a planet of pirates; they don’t export much, or have any focus on agriculture or trade. However, they’ve picked up a lot of goods from their heists. I stocked up on a lot of Via Lactea spices, as well as some new ingredients.

I haven’t had chicken carbonara since my last birthday, so this is the first bit of comfort food I’ve really been looking forward to digging into. I got to use the instant pasta pot again. It has many different sizes and textures of spaghetti, but I went with the traditional thick and smooth noodle. I let Pheldonn pick out the color this time. I was surprised; he picked a color and told me it reminded him of me. I thought it was sweet. I wonder what color it was.

The carbonara sauce was pretty simple. With the creaminess of the pickachix eggs, I barely needed to add any cream, so I substituted with some echassian milk to bind the sauce. I also found some Via Lactea Parmesan cheese, and knew that its sharp and light flavor would be much better than echassian cheese’s fatty sweetness. I’ll always go for the real thing any day.

I decided to go with some seared bulkbill and echassian calf meat for protein sources. The stringiness of the calf meat worked well with the texture of the noodles, and the spiced flavors of the bulkbill cut against the sweetness of the sauce. I added some grated bronroot to balance out the creaminess, and a new ingredient from Picclite: ground currentcorn. It’s like a combination of garlic and oregano, very savory and rich.

I almost like this recipe better than the one I used to use on the Embassy Kitchen. It’s refreshing, exciting, new… It’s been so much fun creating these recipes from the different planets. I thought I was more of a “cookie-cutter” cook, but this expedition has shown me what I’m really capable of. The crew was a huge fan of my food tonight—they liked it even more than my prime ribs. I’m looking forward to seeing what planet we’ll get to next, and what new flavors await.

Rating: 5/5, a keeper

Picclite #005-B
Cosmic Cake

  • 2 pickachix eggs
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup tybex nectar
  • 1 ½ cups echassian butter
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ cup echassian milk
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp okress extract
  • 2 frifri berry pods
  • In a mixing bowl, hand cream half pound of butter with half cup sugar
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together pickachix eggs, half cup tybex nectar, and okress extract
  • Slowly add egg mixture to mixing bowl and stir
  • Add in flour and baking powder and combine. Pour in milk and stir until smooth
  • Open one frifri berry pod and remove excess seeds. Muddle frifri berries and add to batter
  • Spoon batter into prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 175 C
  • Make the frosting. In a mixing bowl, hand cream one pound butter with two cups sugar
  • Open other frifri berry pod and remove excess seeds. Blend frifri berries and tybex nectar and add to frosting
  • Wait for cake to cool completely, and then frost with frosting mix

I got to make a cake tonight. I never was much into baking, but Vrinx helped. He’s a lot of fun in the kitchen; he has NO idea what he’s doing. I made a pretty standard cake mix with pickachix eggs, sugar, flour, and echassian butter and milk. Went with some okress, too—took the blossoms and steeped them for a few minutes, then reduced the water down on low heat until I had a thick extract.

Vrinx told me that the cake had to have frifri berries, so I obliged. I muddled some up to put in the batter, and even put some in a buttercream frosting. I snuck a taste of the batter when Vrinx wasn’t looking—it’s so good. And I’m not big on cake.

After it came out of the oven, Vrinx tried to start frosting right away, and I had to yell at him that it wasn’t ready. Really… and he was supposed to be helping me. Ah well. The final product was wonderful. We aren’t able to have any tonight, but he promised he’d show me what all of this was for tomorrow morning.

I found out today that Picclite is Rhiemus’s planet. She was coming home for her daughter Vaylen’s birthday. That’s what the cake was for. Frifri berries are her favorite, and she loved that cake… more than most ten year-olds love cake.

Vaylen spent her entire birthday begging her mom to take her aboard the ship. At ten years old, she can choose to pursue traditional education at a nearby Embassy school, or take on an apprenticeship. It’s a great way to figure out what you want to do, and I can’t imagine a better way to learn about the universe than by seeing it firsthand. That’s why I took on an apprenticeship at the Embassy kitchen in the first place.

Rhiemus had actually been pondering Vaylen’s request for a while now. Remember when we started making packaged lunches so we wouldn’t have to raid as often? She was trying to get the Comet Chasers to stop raiding altogether, be self-sufficient. A pirate ship isn’t a safe place for her daughter to see the world. But a crew of cosmic adventurers? That’s another story.

She took us all onto the deck, and told us that our days of piracy were over. We’d make ends meet by travelling the galaxy, peddling goods, and taking on odd jobs. In lieu of this career change, she gave everyone on the crew an out, if they desired. Of course, nobody took her up on it. Not even me, their captive cook. For the first time in years, I feel free.

I offered to start up a cooking class to bring in additional revenue. After taking a day to study the ingredients, I could host a class on the ship and show the locals how to make a great meal. I want to save up for that holoplatter tech myself. Rhiemus loved the idea and gave me my first promotion. First Chief of Culinary Science… I like the sound of it.

Each morning, I will get to work in the kitchen with whatever ingredients we have available. Each lunar cycle, more new recipes await. Each planet is a goldmine for new flavors and tastes. I know I was pulled from the Embassy Kitchen before I was ready, but I’m glad I was. I had outgrown them, and didn’t even know it yet. I’m able to be who I was always meant to be: Corey, the Comet Chaser.

Rating: 5/5

An Interview with Logan Bonner

Lead Designer for Pathfinder at Paizo, Inc.

Logan Bonner is an industry veteran. We asked Logan to share some thoughts about his career and his independent expansion for Pathfinder 2nd edition, The Pnoll: An Ancestry. Sita Duncan graciously provided Pnoll art for this piece. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Headshot of Logan Bonner, a white-presenting man wearing glasses and a red t-shirt

Question: Please introduce yourself to our readers, along with some of your contributions to TTRPGs?

LB: Hi! I’m Logan Bonner, currently the Pathfinder Lead Designer at Paizo Inc. I’ve been at Paizo for a while as an editor, developer, and designer, and previously worked full time at Wizards of the Coast in the late 3.5 into 4th Edition era. I’ve also worked on other RPGs: Spectaculars, Mistborn Adventure Game, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and a ton more.

What character class do you most identify with?

Probably the bard. A lot of performance at the game table, studying bizarre things nobody else needs to worry about, and all that.

Tell us a bit about your background, and your journey to get to where you are now in the industry.

I’m originally from Kansas, and got into TTRPGs in college when I was pursuing a Fine Arts degree with an English minor. I got pretty lucky and got a job on D&D from applying cold to an editing job and doing well on the test! After some time there, I did several years of full-time freelance. That was exhausting, and I was happy to take something full time at Paizo. My former coworker Stephen Radney-MacFarland was there at the time, and recommended me for an open editing job. Since then, it’s been mostly Paizo stuff, with the occasional project I can fit in outside of work hours.

Illustration of the Pathfinder pnoll ancestry done by sita duncan. The pnoll carries a bag of supplies and wears a hooded garment.

Tell us about your work at Paizo.

I’m the Pathfinder Lead Designer, meaning I keep a general overview of the rules coming into the game to make sure we’re keeping things in line with the base rules of the game, introducing new concepts at the right time and in the right books, and that sort of thing. Most of my job is putting together new books in the Rulebook line and doing development passes over the text for them.

The pnolls (puh-nols) seem to have been well received! We picked up our copy as soon as it dropped, and they have generated a lot of fan art on social media. Tell us about your work on The pnoll: an Ancestry for Pathfinder 2nd Edition.

The pnolls came out of a conversation about possum people on social media. I ended up drawing a possum person on my iPad, and eventually settled into the idea of turning it into a small, fun thing I could publish.

You included many references to actual Virginia Opossum biology in the supplement. What interesting ‘possum facts’ did you learn in the process?

It’s weird, because so often with concepts based on real-world things like this it’s more important to meet people’s expectations rather than be strictly accurate. So you learn a lot that you don’t necessarily use. Their newborns are peanut-sized and once born need to crawl to the pouch to go inside and find a teat. Not a whole lot of application of that for an adventurer!

Did you come up with the “puh-nol” pronunciation before or after you came up win the brilliant “pnolltimate sacrifice” ability?

I think they came about together. I was probably going back on forth on what wordplay would work depending on the pronunciation. I ended up picking “puh-nol” since it would allow for the roleplaying tidbit of correcting pronunciation, and would also make pnolls and gnolls clearly different since games so often need to convey information verbally.

Proceeds from the pnoll go toward the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, who have done some great work dispersing resources and funds to the Black Trans community and have even joined the congressional fight for the Equality Act. What drew you to support them with your independent work?

Trans rights were under attack at that particular moment, something that’s unfortunately so frequent that I don’t remember who was behind it at that particular moment. I’d seen a friend run a fundraiser for this group shortly before, so I had them in mind.

Plug any projects you are working on now.

Right now we’re finishing up work on Secrets of Magic for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. It’s a very exciting book, with a fun take on rules, lore, and presentation. Looking forward to people seeing it!

Illustration of the Pathfinder pnoll ancestry done by Sita Duncan. The pnoll carries a battleaxe and appears to be screaming “I do crime”

Read more about the Pnolls:

An Interview with Quinn Murphy

Freelance TTRPG Designer and GM

Quinn Murphy is a longtime industry freelancer who is presently emerging as an influential voice in adventure and encounter design. We caught up with Quinn this summer over discord to talk with him about his latest projects and musings. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Alex G. Friedman: Quinn, why don’t you introduce yourself?

Quinn Murphy looks at the camera with headphones around his neck. Quinn is a male-presenting person of color with glasses, wearing a winter coat.

Quinn Murphy: My name is Quinn Murphy, I’m a tech nerd by day and a game designer… Well I would say by night, but really it’s just like, all the time.

AF: Well, you get paid for it, so…

QM: Yeah, right, I do get paid for it. It’s like blurred lines. I feel like I’ve had these two careers so long, they’re always happening simultaneously. My gaming stuff is informed by my tech nerd stuff, and my tech nerd stuff is informed by my gaming. I’ve been doing freelance off and on for a little over a decade now. I’ve been doing roleplaying for like 30 years. I got my kickoff during 4th edition D&D. I wrote a site called At Will, where we specialized in homebrew 4th edition stuff. I did a lot of stuff with skill challenges, which was different from how Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) was doing it. I designed monsters and new rules and different ways to use the 4th edition rules. I transitioned to other games from there.

These days… I took a few years off to deal with a case of “wild life” and have come back in the last like, six or seven months or so and have been working for stuff like the Ultimate Micro RPG book, I had one in there. I’ve been working a lot with Paizo these days, but also recently working with Sig: City of Blades. I wrote the adventures in there, and that’s actually out now, so that’s really exciting. It’s like Planescape meets Blades in the Dark. Jason Pitre had written the game, which was set in an interplanar metropolis. City of Blades is about the underbelly of that big city.

When Dragon went digital, I got published on their blog. I wasn’t in Dragon magazine, but I did get published in Kobold Press a couple times.

My gaming stuff is informed by my tech nerd stuff, and my tech nerd stuff is informed by my gaming.

AF: Yeah, Kobold’s great. They just had the big bestiary come out for 5th edition, great book. Couple ice breakers here: What is your favorite kind of NPC?

QM: I like NPCs that are loveable trouble. Every time the player sees them, they know something’s about to go wrong, but they are really fun, so bring it on. Characters who are problematic but are also loveable.

E:lizabeth Parsons: You can hear your players groaning in the background but also they’re like “Well, we knew this was coming.”

QM: Right, and if you took them away, and have them leave, your players are like “No-no-no, come back!”

AF: What player class would you be?

QM: Like, real life me? Um. I’m gonna be like, I feel like I’m cheating or breaking the fourth wall here, but it has to be Investigator.

AF: Cool.

QM: Because the iconic Investigator’s name is actually Quinn. He’s an older Black gentleman.

EP: That’s not cheating, that’s pretty legit.

QM: But also the Investigator is my favorite class. What I love about the investigator is like, “ah, here’s something.” Its balance is interrogating the fiction.

AF: Page 54 of the APG.

QM: In 2nd edition, the Investigator has some of my favorite mechanics, because they’re very meta. I love it for the reason that some people might hate it. There’s one feat that’s just like, what’s wrong here? “That’s odd.” You walk into a room and you’re like “That’s odd. GM, tell me what’s wrong here.” What’s wrong with this picture, right? And it’s such a great thing. As a GM, I am sorely missing having an Investigator on one of my teams, because I love having that kind of thing to run with.

I love it for the reason that some people might hate it.

I like when players get to interrogate the world and establish fiction; it creates this cool thing where they get to author the world. Because when you ask, “Hey, what’s wrong with this thing?” Well, now, fictionally, I have to explain it to you, and it adds that little detail into the world. Even if it’s like, well, it’s a fine crystal from here, but otherwise harmless. We’ve established bits of the world and it feels a touch more real.

We’ve established bits of the world and it feels a touch more real.

EP: Reminds me of when I was writing my early fiction, you would take it to someone and say “Please read my story!” They would say, “Okay, why is this happening in your world, and why is this happening, and you have to make up something on the fly. And that’s what you’re doing as a GM. You’re establishing that fiction. You can’t just be like “IDK”

QM: You’re allowed to do that. But then it flattens your world. The things I live for as a DM are those moments when both the player and I are kind of surprised. Where they’re like, I’m going to go off the beaten path and go into the brambles. And you’re like, “What is the brambles? Huh. I guess this is in the brambles.” And I find when I’m making stuff up on the fly, and improvising, stuff comes out of my brain that’s even surprising to me. And I’m like, Oh this is great. And we’re all along for the ride. I love that feeling.

Several sets of colored dice and board game cards are seen next to a board, which is on a table next to a laptop.

AF: I first encountered your work in “Archaeology at Aspenthar,” and as a player who played it in Organized Play, boy did that Alchemical Golem whip us. That was a memorable fight. It basically came down to… Everybody was down except my cleric and the party’s ranger. I had to cast “magic weapon” on him. And we had to outmaneuver him. That was great. Tense time.

QM: How did you do on the climb down?

AF: The climb wasn’t so bad, because we were all lighter characters with high Athletics scores. Could have been rough if we had a wizard along.

So how did you pitch that story? What went into writing it?

QM: Sure. Well, with a lot of the Society stuff, they’ll usually have the “frame” for what things they want in it, and you sort of flesh it out, with characters, with the flow. You have a rough outline of it, but you’re sort of sculpting how we’re gonna get there and things like that. That was the first thing I had written with Paizo. I spent a lot of time researching the people of the area, so I could write interesting characters. Then the Alchemical Golem seemed like a really cool monster. Obviously it’s an extremely leveled down Alchemical Golem. But I like monsters that aren’t just mechanically like, I just have a really high Armor Class. That’ll get the job done when you just want to beat players up, but when it’s dealing different conditions, and it’s got all these different points of articulation and interaction…

A sort of a maxim that I have, when I design encounters and monsters, is that I design always for interest first. Challenge is a thing that I almost don’t think about. Especially in Pathfinder 2nd edition, the encounter-building rules are really tight. If you build to budget, you’ll get what it says on the tin. If you want to possibly TPK your party, give them a Severe. If you want to GUARANTEE a TPK, give them an Extreme. That’s it! And so, you build the encounter to taste, then really what you want to do is think: Will they remember this?

A sort of a maxim that I have, when I design encounters and monsters, is that I design always for interest first. Challenge is a thing that I almost don’t think about.

I’ve had challenging encounters that went really lopsided for the players because from the outset they roll a couple of critical hits–incredible damage. With dice, challenge just ebbs and flows. But let’s say all the dice go wrong–will the characters remember the fight? And something like the Alchemical Golem was cool because it has all these chemical weapons, effects it can inflict. The chance that you’re not gonna remember having fought that thing is Zero.

AF: As we’ve demonstrated tonight, yeah!

Soph sits at a laptop in front of a game board. She is dressed as a rogue in cape, bracers, knife, with a white headset. She sits in a forest.

We were going to ask you about chasing interest in encounters, because you were tweeting about that earlier, so I’m glad that’s on your mind.

Moving on to some of the other stuff you’ve got with Paizo…

QM: I contributed to the backmatter for the second Abomination Vaults, the Fleshwarp article. And two monsters in Bestiary 3, Shabti and Sumbreiva. I have a couple other ones I can’t talk about yet. My big thing last year was to do the second volume in the Strength of Thousands AP. I was an author for the second adventure in the adventure path. That was monstrous. Lots of writing.

I never! My largest piece up until then had been about 12,000 words on one assignment. Twelve thousand words! And that was pretty challenging. But doing that AP was about 40,000 words, just the main adventure.

EP: That’s an entire novel!

Really what you want to do is think: Will they remember this?

QM: Yeah! And while you’re doing it, you’re creating monster entries, making maps—you don’t have to go crazy with maps, they have cartographers for that—but the design! You have to work with mechanics and ACs (armor classes). The first parts of it were super challenging, because you’re just trying to make progress. And sometimes, like, in the early part of it, I would think, ‘Okay. I’m gonna go get X amount of words done, right? I’m gonna get 500 words done.’

EP: We’ve all been there.

AF: Yeah.

QM: And I’m gonna get 150 words in and then, “Oh yeah, crap, I need a monster entry. Hmmm. Okay, so, let me go design a monster.” And the monster is maybe 100 words or so, 150 words. But mentally, it’s like you wrote four or five times that. Because you’re trying to juggle numbers, and then that kills your writing for the night. You’re done for the night. So you get out of pace with it.

What was awesome for me was that it forced me to work through it. You know, because I have a day job, it’s not like I could spend all day writing. I have time to spend with my partner, time to spend with my son, right? And so I had to really be strategic about how I was going to use my time and it forced me to develop a really good process for game writing, specifically. I broke down mechanical work. Anytime I got to something mechanical, I’d flag it and put it on a separate list. Cool, that’s a mechanic, pin this thing. And then I would break out narrative writing, and I would build out mechanics in a separate session. So I would do a morning session for like an hour or two and then a night session for an hour or two. I honed my process. I needed to! Because otherwise, I wasn’t gonna get it done. It was like 40,000 words in about three months.

I had to really be strategic about how I was going to use my time and it forced me to develop a really good process for game writing, specifically.

AF&EP: (sounds of sympathy from interviewers)

QM: It was intense, but it was great. I look forward to hopefully doing it again. To apply from the start everything that I learned and do an even better job.

EP: How did that job come about? Did you apply to do that writing or were you commissioned to do it?

QM: I think they asked me to do that one, after I had done some stuff. They were pretty happy with my previous work. And I have a lot of experience in the field before even writing for Paizo. And so they asked me if I wanted to take it on, and I thought, yeah, sure do.

EP: That’s a great opportunity, yeah.

AF: Yeah, that’s a huge honor to be asked to write an entire AP volume.

QM: Yeah, it was a great honor. And you know, for me, it was a great honor to be asked to write for The Strength of Thousands theme set in The Mwangi Expanse. For me personally, it’s the kind of setting—very Afro-centric fantasy setting—that I had been wanting to write for and see from a major publisher for a very long time, and to be asked to write… you know, I didn’t get to write for the main Mwangi Expanse setting book, but writing for the adventure set there was really incredible. So I was really excited about that.

AF: That setting book is said to be really great too, I can’t wait to see that. Particularly in this edition, Paizo has done so much work on making the Mwangi Expanse bigger than just the one Heart of the Jungle expansion we got in 1st edition, and really, like you said, they’ve made an Afro-centric setting for Golarion, which is really cool. Can’t wait for that book. The art that I’ve seen so far has just been great.

QM: Yeah, it’s gorgeous, it’s gonna be so good.

AF: Can we talk a little bit about Bestiary 3?

QM: Sure!

AF: So what can you tell us about your monster design philosophy?

QM: So, recapping first, building for interest instead of challenge, right? Because you don’t control dice, right? What you can control and influence are having things that your players can react to and have fun with. I think the thing that helped me design monsters the best was back in 4th edition D&D days, I had built these things called Worldbreaker monsters. And they were like these big unique legendary monsters.

A stack of role-playing-game dice, lime green and orange. The dice are stacked on a gridlike board in front of a laptop.

AF: Kind of like, kaiju sort of things?

QM: Well, no, the influence there was I was watching someone play World of Warcraft, a raid boss, and at the time I was looking at it, and I was like, I am really, as a tabletop player, really jealous of this raid boss. Because there’s all these like, shifting strategies, right? You’d be fighting the monster and then all of a sudden, boom! The whole scene would change, it would blow everything up; the whole stage that you’re fighting on would change. And so I thought, I’m going to do that in tabletop. So I worked on this concept of making monsters that would sort of trigger and change the scene.

AF: Are you talking about lair actions?

QM: So this was long before lair actions, actually. Technically, I was first!

AF: Okay, that’s cool.

EP: You heard it here first, folks.

QM: Not that anybody at WoTC was paying attention to what I did! But I did do this back in 4th edition, long before 5th. When the monster hit a certain HP level and got bloodied, it would trigger a special action. The first one I did was called Etherkai, and it was a nightmare dragon. When it went into its special mode, it would create these nightmare wells and reach into your nightmares and create nightmare soldiers out of them. Players could interact with the nightmare while they’re fighting. And there are different kinds of skill challenges and all this other stuff that you could do within that mode.

Playtesting that, and releasing it, I would hear stuff like, “Oh my god, we fought Etherkai and he wiped our whole party.” But they would be like: “He wiped our whole party, and it was awesome! It was a great fight.” Because they’d talk about nightmare things coming out, and you hear these tales, and I was like, oh my god! If you’re happy getting wiped out, I think I did a good job there! Thumbs up! I’d also hear ones where people would be like, “Yeah, our party killed it in 3 rounds,” but they thought it was so cool, right? That was sort of what helped shape my maxim. I would hear both ends of the spectrum.

“Oh my god, we fought Etherkai and he wiped our whole party.” But they would be like: “He wiped our whole party, and it was awesome! It was a great fight.”

That was sort of the influence, and one of the things that shaped my thinking was having these points of interaction. It’s one thing to have stats and your armor class. But have a point with your monster where it’s going to do a special thing, and give your players the ability to do something about it.

You can see it in actually quite a few of the APs. There will be boss characters, and they’ll sometimes come with an action that players can take, like for example, try to convince this person. Spend two actions trying to convince this person that they’re wrong. And then you can make a diplomacy check. Pathfinder 2nd edition’s design works really well with this philosophy, because it’s action-based, and since all actions are equal, you’re not trying to spend a move action to talk, or spend a standard action to fight like you would in 1e. Second edition is pretty fluid.

AF: It’s another part of that design philosophy that gets characters away from just doing full attack actions. It’s always wiser to spend a third action doing something interesting, which that kind of design really speaks to.

EP: Writing for memorability and for interest, that to me seems like the throughline to your work.

A stack of role-playing-game dice, dark blue. The dice are stacked on a gridlike board.

AF: Yeah, like having to do skill checks to counteract the nightmare, that’s a story within a fight.

EP: I wanna play that fight. Right now.

QM: I’m a huge shonen nerd. And one of the things I love about shonen manga and anime is the way that… You’ll often hear in tabletop—“I don’t want too much combat in my game, I want more story.” But what I love about shonen is that combat can be story. People will fight for like ten episodes, and like live out half their lives in the middle of one fight, right? It’s laughter, it’s sadness, it’s my past colliding with my future, it’s, “How could you betray me when we were five years old?? Aaaahhh.” Clashing of powers! And it doesn’t need to be that overwrought, but I feel like fights can and should have narrative. Create flow and sense and meaning within it, until the fight’s over.

EP: That dovetails into one of the questions we have here, which is to talk about anime influences in your writing.

AF: You’ve talked before in your social media about how you try to incorporate anime into RPGs. Hyper-emotion?

The major arcs of these stories tend to be about feelers experiencing being vulnerable to the world and actors stepping in on their behalf.

QM: The TL;DR explanation of hyper-emotion is when a cry becomes a punch. The longer explanation is, when you see, especially in shonen anime, there is a style of storytelling where you have a community of two types of people: actors and feelers. Feelers tend to be weaker characters (not always, everybody has some actor and feeler in them). People who, because they are vulnerable to the world, can experience the world and feel it deeply, right? And actors are hardened against the world but are powerful. And the major arcs of these stories tend to be about feelers experiencing being vulnerable to the world and actors stepping in on their behalf, and ultimately sort of climaxing into these moments where an actor, with all the energy of those feelers, has this big eruptive moment, like Goku going, “You can’t hurt my friends anymore!” Or Naruto is legendary for that, “I’m here for my friends!” “How could you betray this person who loves you?” And then they have this big release of power. It’s about finding, mastering, and releasing those emotions that are the true narrative arc underneath all the powers and fighting moves. They’re these narratives of communities.

AF: Jack Berkenstock (interviewed in issue 1) would love that idea. His work includes using RPG play to help people become better emotional communicators.

EP: What was your experience writing for Paizo and writing in the Golarion setting, versus playing it?

QM: Golarion is delightfully weird in a good way—just strange enough to feel real. I feel like the problem with a lot of fantasy worlds is they try so hard to be like, sensible. But as anybody experiencing real life will tell you—the real world is not often that sensible. And when things are a bit weird, you think, okay, I feel at home here.

AF: That’s a cool way to put it.

QM: I’ll just use a Golarion example. Hellknights, right? Hellknights are so dumb they feel real, right? Imagine someone like the Hellknights. “Hey, you know who has really great laws? Devils! Let’s emulate hell!” They have these great tensions, they’re trying to do what they think is right, but it’s like, “Guys, do you understand what you’re doing?” Because they really don’t! I am fascinated by the Hellknights, because that weirdness of them makes them feel cool and like they would exist.

AF: A lot of your comments got me thinking about how weird and yet approachable some of the creatures in the new ancestry guide were. Golarion is one of my favorite settings.

QM: It’s a fantastic setting. My writing for them has hooked me on Golarion, so I use it in my games a lot. Then, when I GM Pathfinder, I love to experiment and try new things. There’s a lot of new stuff that I would never even try to put on a developer for Pathfinder. Especially if you’re doing an official release, you need to keep within bounds. When I GM games, I get to push limits really hard—because it’s not getting published, it’s for my players, and as long as they’re having fun, we’re good.

AF: What projects do you have coming out that you can tell us about? Where can we find the work that you’re most proud of? And where do you want to be found online?

QM: Stuff I am working on right now: I just turned in my first work for Starfinder. I also love Starfinder. I want to be playing and writing more for Starfinder. That’s going to be in a society adventure that’s coming out in a bit. I’ve been working on rules for solo play. It’s really one-on-one play. I made it with my son. I wanted to make it be a simple thing of playing Pathfinder, so I didn’t have to make too many rules. I want to be able to play in AP with just one other player.

My adventures are in Sig: City of Blades. I did three really cool adventures in that. I did some consultant work in Hard Wired Island (a cyberpunk themed TTRPG on

Follow Quinn:
Blog: ThoughtCrimeGames
Twitter: qh_murphy

Advice from Felix: Werebear Woes

It’s time for my advice column! First point of advice this issue, as in every issue, is to please tell everyone you know about the eldritch horrors waiting for you just beyond the veil of sleep. They’re really bad. You should get your friends and practice lucid dreaming together so that you can locate each other in the Astral Expanse and become dream warriors. It’s your only chance to save reality! Anyhoo, enough of that, let’s get to the letter pile…

Hi there Felix,

I was asked to send my “dilemma” over your way.

The Paladin player in the campaign I’m running got bit by a wererat and failed his constitution save and became cursed with wererat lycanthropy. May have been poor planning on my part while following the adventure (it’s my first time DMing). Now he’s loving the immunities, but hates that it’s a rat and evil and is trying to talk me into letting him become a werebear because it’s good aligned.

Now, I’m not completely opposed to the idea, but I have zero intentions on allowing him the immunities and just gifting him the werebear lycanthropy for no reason. He’s already in the process of finding a cure for the wererat lycanthropy and I adjusted the NPC that gave him the info on the cure to actually be a werebear in secret. I was planning on having the final secret ingredient be some of the Paladin’s blood, drawn from the bite of the werebear NPC, causing a weaker werebear lycanthropy curse, but I feel like I need to present some sort of test that the paladin needs to pass I order for the lycanthropy to happen. He wouldn’t know outright about becoming a werebear lycanthrope because it would be a slow onset.

Advice from Felix

You can send letters to Felix the Flumph at

Use “Dear Felix” in the subject line. Ask anything you like, but this column will focus on resolving awkward situations around the gaming table.

Thoughts on what I might be able to present as a test of worthiness for the NPC to decide to pass on the curse? The party has already rescued her before so she knows that he’s not a total arse, but I definitely feel like there needs to be more.

The paladin is lawful neutral, if that matters at all.

Thank you for your consideration,


Hi there SneakAttackJak!

Wow, you and your player really dug yourselves a dungeon-sized hole to crawl your way out of! No worries, I’m here to help. I consulted my brood of friendly flumph game masters (there are thousands of us watching your culture flounder, lol) and they had some THOUGHTS.

First, from a philosophical perspective, we caution you against granting your players a boon when you were trying to provide a challenge. It sounds like you were trying to YES-AND with your player. That’s good! But you might be diverting them from a better time by being too eager to help them with what should be a really fun challenge.

Lycanthropy can be a really fun way to challenge your players at lower levels. It can force players to find help in a situation where they are two or even six levels out of their depth. You’re obviously considering this; having them seek out a werebear NPC is in the right ballpark for how to handle the situation. Yet y’all seem to be getting ahead of yourselves! A LN paladin suddenly confronted with the curse should have to deal with the curse as written. This will vary from edition to edition, but generally speaking, the player should be confronted with the monstrosity of the curse at least a few times. This will challenge the other players at your table to creatively neutralize the paladin-rat as a threat. That’s a lot of fun! It’s in the books for a good reason!

Now, when presenting your player with a way to lift the curse, you want to make it feel like its own sub-quest. Maybe a dryad (who is very dangerous and difficult to find; finding her could be a whole session) will lift the curse in exchange for one of her own curses? The paladin must plant a tree, every week, without fail, for the rest of his life! Should he fail? The wererat curse returns, and the paladin is turned to wood during the day. Sounds harsh, but it’s the sort of curse that could be lifted magically around 8th or 10th level. So it builds character!

But exchanging rat power for bear power? Werebear curses are one of the “secret menu” of pretty good curses to have in roleplaying games (although so is wererat if you play it right).

Every GM I consulted was against giving your player werebear powers as a part of this solution. A paladin should refuse any curse that would influence their alignment.

If your player is more set on becoming a werebear than being a paladin, you could give them the werebear curse in a way similar to your description, but at the cost of their paladin powers. Now they can re-spec and make some interesting character roleplay choices. Just make sure it doesn’t eat into the fun of lifting the initial wererat curse.

Hope that helps!

Download Issue 2 here

A Letter from the Editors upon the Publication of our Second Issue

When we first envisioned what this journal would look like, we dreamed that it would be a place where literature, analysis of tabletop roleplaying games, and fashion could intersect in effective, engaging ways.

Well, we got that in this issue, for sure.

We also gathered an amazing community of people who believe in this project and who want to share their successes, their failures, and their journeys in tabletop roleplaying game culture. Our first issue dropped in March 2021, after two years of hard work — and the reception was mind boggling.

This second issue touches on some deeper challenges. Throughout the 2020-2021 pandemic, folks had to adapt their play styles to accommodate virtual play, since we could no longer safely be in the same room. We learned how to use virtual tabletops like Roll20 and Foundry, and along the way, we learned a little bit more than the practical, too.

Throughout this volume, a theme emerges: Roleplaying games have always offered ways for players to express themselves creatively, but that sense has magnified a hundredfold as we navigated ways of interacting with each other in the virtual world. And some of us have spent the better part of the last year focused on throwing our energy into social justice initiatives and bringing that part of ourselves to the fore.

In short, we’ve all grown a lot.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for letting us borrow some of your brain space at least for a little while.

Stay fashionable,

Elizabeth Parsons

Alex G. Friedman


You’re Invited: Issue 2 Release Party

Issue 2 is H A P P E N I N G. On Monday, September 13, we will be dropping our second issue at 10 a.m. EST. Bookmark this site now and keep an eye out for any sneak previews that may be coming in the next week…

We are planning a virtual release party as well, and YOU’RE INVITED. Come for the fashion, stay for the litmag hype.

Mark your calendars now:

Join us!

September 13, 2021

7 p.m. EST

Editor Liz is hosting the virtual party on her stream. Throw her a follow and keep those notifications on, so you can know when to join the fun!

Chaotic Awkward

Personal Essay by Amanda Kay Oaks

Listen to this piece on YouTube.

Kaye Galondel, a Half-Elf Druid, flicks her wrists to summon vines, which reach out and grasp her foes. Her long auburn hair blows in the wind as she focuses on the spell, holding the enemies at bay while her companions take them out with weapons and offensive spells. As the enemies escape the grasping vines or fall, she changes tactics, releasing concentration in order to shift her body into that of a wolf, snarling into melee combat.

The party victorious, they head to the bar for a night of drinking. Kaye attempts conversation with the locals to gain information, but fumbles her way awkwardly through words. She is a woman of the forest, not accustomed to such conversation.

That, and the woman behind the character just rolled a Natural One. That’s a critical failure, meaning the character not only fails to do what they intended, but fails hard. It’s no coincidence that I chose a druid, with an abysmal charisma score, as my first Dungeons & Dragons character. I’ve been real-life failing charisma checks for as long as I can remember.

“Did you watch DBZ last night?”

I’m eight years old, riding the bus to Fairfield West elementary, and my ears perk up as the boys in front of me chatter excitedly about the latest developments in Dragonball Z’s Cell saga, which I’ve been following religiously as it airs on Cartoon Network. I yearn to chime in, share my feelings about Android 18’s choice to join the heroes, fight alongside them to defeat her former ally, Cell.

I have become obsessed with Android 18, the first strong female character I’d encountered, who could keep up with the boys while also not wearing a skirt and sporting impossibly long, flowing locks that would undeniably be a disadvantage in battle. I tape a printout of her on my Composition notebook alongside the faces of a hundred and one cartoon boys I have crushes on. She stands out, a strong female character in a sea of guys.

The boys on the bus don’t talk about her much. They’re far more interested in Goku, Vegeta, and the goings-on of the men the show primarily focuses on. No matter how much I have to say about these characters or the overlooked Android 18, I can’t make the words come out. I am shy–I can’t count the number of minutes I’ve spent in agonized silence, rehearsing a single phrase in my head in the hopes I can get it to come out my mouth, only to see the conversation skate along past the point where my carefully calculated comment would fit.

This was my childhood: watching shows like Dragonball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh!, listening to the guys on the bus and at lunch and recess, wanting but not knowing how to join in. My composition notebook was a carefully crafted message that screamed “I am a nerd, too!” with its photos of characters from Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragonball Z, X-Men: Evolution, Lord of the Rings, and Digimon. I brought it with me everywhere, setting it in plain view, just hoping someone would do me the favor of striking up a conversation.

I’m just old enough to have spent my younger years without the internet, so I couldn’t log on to forums and find the conversations I wanted until high school, when I started writing fanfiction and learning how the internet can be a beautiful balm to the socially anxious nerds among us.

The thing was, I didn’t meet another girl who liked that stuff until I was older, and even if I was incredibly passionate about nerdy “boy stuff,” I was also undeniably 110% boy crazy. Regardless of what I watched or read, even when romance was the least priority, I found couples to ‘ship, picking up the smallest threads of potential romance and clinging to them. I also spent a lot of time watching shows in which there was nearly always a guy best friend who was secretly in love with the main female protagonist (the plot of many a Disney Channel original movie, not to mention shows like Kim Possible and Lizzie McGuire). As a result, I was terrified to talk to boys, because the cute ones were too cute and the ones that weren’t would almost definitely develop an unrequited crush on me. As far as I could see, it was impossible that I could just have guy friends.

Kaye Siondel, halfling druid, walks alongside her wizard companion, shooting sparks of lightning into the sky to underscore his passionate speech. Boffin is another halfling, though he has disguised himself to appear more menacing than stature would suggest. Still, Kaye felt a little help from the elements would be in order if they planned to sway the crowd in their favor. She is silent, knowing that speech is not her forte, but focuses her energy in the shocking blasts that leave the crowd mesmerized. If they can convince them this lynching is against the favor of their gods, then maybe, just maybe, they can save these innocent people from death.

Thankfully, the dice roll is in her favor. I sit on the couch in a circle of friends, staring down at the mat where our game master (GM) has sketched out the town map. We move our minis along this grid in combat, indicating the allotted movement. For a hobbit like this version of my druidic character, that’s never very far. I’ve been playing with this group for a while now, and Kaye has gotten our party out of a few scrapes here and there, but for all that I’m still learning to play this game. I’ve been listening to a podcast dedicated to this tabletop RPG, Pathfinder, so I feel more confident about the rules, more willing to speak up and suggest outlandish ideas. I’m learning to ask “druid questions,” like “Would you say there’s vegetation in this area?” or “What’s the weather like at this moment?” and loving it.

As I roll the dice to determine the success of Kaye’s next move, I try to imagine what the younger version of me would think if she could see me now.

While I didn’t have much of anyone to talk to at school, at home I’d sit with my kid brother and play videogames on our N64 and PS2. I loved any game where I could swing a sword, do magic, or shoot a bow and arrow, but my special favorite was a little game called Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. I loved it for two reasons. First, the roleplay aspect allowed you to create your own character, meaning there was more than one option for a playable female avatar. I might be dating myself here, but that was hard as hell to come by when I was a young nerdlette. Second, it was one of the few RPGs at that time with a two-player mode, so Josh and I could fight together. While we had fun with him watching me kick butt on solo runs through Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy X, my best memories of growing up with a sibling were undeniably these runs through the dungeons of Baldur’s Gate, my Dark Elf Archer fighting alongside Josh’s human warrior. Little did I know that the game I loved and devoted hours and hours of my adolescence to had a predecessor in the form of tabletop RPGs.

I don’t quite recall when I first learned of the game called Dungeons & Dragons, but from the moment I heard about it, I wanted to play it. It didn’t matter that, as I grew up, this type of activity was increasingly considered ‘uncool.’ I was already a lonely kid who didn’t have a lot of friends, and ‘cool,’ for a chubby girl with glasses who could barely string a sentence together in the presence of classmates, was an option I’d flown right past long ago.

I didn’t know anyone in my day-to-day who played Dungeons & Dragons, so I settled for my RPG video games and my fantasy novels. Eventually, I’d join color guard and make some friends, even occasionally get invited to parties. There, if given the chance to get my hands on a console controller, I came alive. I would gain unprecedented attention as I sat surrounded by the boys, reigning supreme amongst them as the Super Smash Bros champion.

If I’d had even a hint of charisma, I could probably have dated any number of those guys. I knew from the uncomfortable experience of browsing the shelves at Gamestop that I was nerd-boy kryptonite. Between 7th and 8th grade, I’d lost 50 pounds and, freshman year, gotten contacts. I was a walking She’s All That transformation, minus the part of the makeover where I magically also gain confidence.

There were two types of reactions to my presence in Gamestop. The best case scenario was that the guy working there would follow me around, being entirely too helpful and standing entirely too close. I’d read the cases of the latest RPGs and fighter games, steering clear of your Call of Duty and Halo, as I wasn’t very good at first-person shooters and hated to feel like I fit into the “girls aren’t good at video games” stereotypes.

The second type, I loathed. Sometimes, the guys would be combative, quizzing me, daring me to reveal that I was just there to buy something for a sibling or boyfriend, or only interested in Dance, Dance Revolution (a game that, admittedly, had contributed a solid amount of my weight loss). When I did play Halo with my brother or boyfriend, I learned that I had to mute my mic, or stop playing a character with a pink or purple suit–otherwise, a chorus of “Are you a girl?” would blare through the speakers, followed by mocking if I failed to rack up kills.

This gatekeeping made me feel unwelcome and made me worry that I could never, ever find a guy who’d teach me to play Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons. As a girl growing up in the early 2000s, there was a price to being a beginner. That price was mockery. If they had to be angry, I much preferred the rage borne of being “beat by a girl” to the self-righteousness of a guy who knew anything in nerd culture better than I did.

A cartoon depicts a halfling druid and wizard performing a magical speech.
Art by William Moore

In high school, I had a couple of close guy friends who would occasionally play video games with me. Once, I even got invited to a LAN party, where I came close to winning the Super Smash Bros tournament. These were beautiful moments, few and far in between. As my brother and I grew up, we grew apart–he leaned towards the first-person shooters popular amongst his friends, while I hid in the basement playing Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts whenever I could get him to let me use his PS2. Once he got the Xbox, I was able to co-opt the older console, even taking it with me to college where I’d spend lonely hours playing through Kingdom Hearts II much to the confusion of my roommate, who rushed a sorority.

They say you’re supposed to find “your people” in college, yet I didn’t, not really. I made some friends in the Creative Writing and English majors, who’d talk to me about books and writing. My social anxiety still reigned supreme, but I broke through now and again and made a solid, small group of friends by the end of my sophomore year. Yet there was an absence, a gap. I knew that, somewhere, there were the right kind of nerds, playing tabletop RPGs and video games. I even knew where they lived–in the boys only dorm that smelled like sweaty socks and Doritos. But, once again, a gate I couldn’t pass through (or, more truthfully, one I didn’t dare to approach).

I graduated from college in 2014, which was also the year of Gamergate. By this time, I wasn’t playing video games much anymore, since the PS2 in my dorm room had proved too much of a distraction from my studies. Still, I remained engaged at the periphery of gaming conversation, following a few key personalities on Twitter. So, I saw enough vague tweets about this “Gamergate” to pique my interest.

I want to say I was surprised by what I found when I read about Gamergate, but, unfortunately, I was not. That there was a targeted harassment campaign aimed at female developers in the video game industry was nothing shocking to a girl who had on occasion been bullied out of Gamestop or away from a particular game at the party. Guys rallied behind the hashtag #gamergate, writing in opposition to the very same increased diversity of gaming content and representation of gaming identity that I’d been thrilled to experience over the past few years. The proliferation of playable female avatars, among other things, was viewed by some as an attack on traditional gaming culture, bemoaning feminism’s influence on the gaming world.

I didn’t follow Gamergate too closely. For one, I hadn’t played many of the games mentioned in the articles I read, and for another, I didn’t need more reasons to feel uncomfortable in the world I secretly loved. I had avoided World of Warcraft and other games that drew my interest because I was terrified of the multiplayer mode, that I would be asked to interact and collaborate with random internet men who would begin their rallying chorus of “Are you a girl?!” which would, more often than not, turn into sexual harassment or outright bullying. To play “like a girl” was my greatest fear, and I wouldn’t let myself be a beginner even in something I loved. This kept me out of massive multiplayer gaming, and kept me far, far away from the tabletop games like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons that had drawn my secret fascination for years.

Gamergate didn’t scare me so much as it reaffirmed what I already knew. Alongside it, though, was the undeniable wave of actual change. People like Felicia Day wrote TV shows and books centered around the existence of the “female gamer” as a real, valid identity–as real, valid people who could exist in the world as something other than sex object or laughable n00b. I cried listening to Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet, overwhelmed to hear an actual female voice talk about nerd culture from the inside. In spite of Gamergate, in spite of having less and less time to actually game, I was beginning to feel, in some small way, seen.

I hate how people constantly tell you “it gets better” when you grow up with social anxiety. But, in my case at least, it did get better. I graduated from college, moved out of my parents’ house, and started working as a Success Coach for community college students. Here, I found my voice. I couldn’t make myself speak up for me, but somehow, when it wasn’t for me, I could. My AmeriCorps group were built-in friends, who taught me to play beer-pong for the first time and always, always remembered to include me. I hung out with two of the guys, easily accepted as someone who knew about nerd stuff and could hold her own in a deep discussion of anything Marvel.

And then, grad school. A newly-minted, mildly less awkward version of me rolled into my MFA program and found my people. While I was undeniably on the more “basic” end of my fantastic new literary friend group, I finally had a way to let loose all my nerdy tendencies. Harry Potter marathons? Check. Playing Skyrim? Check. In-depth film analysis of all the latest Marvel movies? Check.

At 24, I had finally found a group of people who meshed with me so much that I was finally able to let all sides of my multi-faceted personality run free. I felt safe, and normal, and capable of indulging in nerd culture without feeling like the odd one out.

When a large chunk of these people moved away after the program ended, it broke my heart. The golden age of being among “my people” seemed to have passed, and I would have to settle for occasional board game nights with my boyfriend’s friends. And then, as luck would have it, I received an unexpected text:

Mel gave me your number and said you might be interested in joining a D&D campaign I’m going to run?

Was I, a 27-year-old woman now working full time (and then some) at the university where I’d earned my master’s, interested in finally entering the world of tabletop gaming I’d dreamed of since I was a kid?

Hell yes I was!

Amanda Kay Oaks sits with her back to the camera at a gaming table with all of her nerd friends.

In recent years, I’ve gotten so used to my routine and my typical people that I often forget I even have social anxiety. It just doesn’t come into play much when you’re running on autopilot, interacting with the same people in more or less the same roles more often than not.

The first time I pulled up outside the house where I’d play Pathfinder for the first time, I remembered. I sat in the car looking at my phone, paralyzed by the reality of a social situation I did not know how to navigate.

It was ridiculous. I knew most of these guys at least casually, part of the broader circle of MFA folks I’d gotten to know during school. But somewhere down in my little nerd girl heart, I remembered the scoffing tones of the guys in Gamestop who didn’t believe a girl could play RPG video games. These unknown entities I was about to play with could be anyone. They could be those guys. My social anxiety brain ran into overdrive–I was breaking a cardinal rule of growing up as a nerdy girl. I was about to be a beginner. In public. In front of men. What the actual fuck had I been thinking?

And then one of those guys pulled up and got out of his car and my brain relaxed a fraction. Oh right, I thought, my friends are here. I dug deep, found some courage, and followed him inside the old house, which I’d been in once or twice before. The refrain of oh god, new people didn’t quite shut up as we made introductions. I pulled up the character sheet my friend had made for me and read the stats, calming my mind with the realization that a lot of this stuff was pretty familiar from my old Baldur’s Gate days. Once I went full-nerd-obsessive mode on D&D culture (in other words, like three days later), I would learn that the games I’d grown up playing actually owed their existence to Dungeons & Dragons, the forefather of the modern RPG. All this time I thought I was walking in as a beginner, but I had all this half-forgotten RPG knowledge to light my way.

I did myself a favor designing my first characters, making them quiet, awkward druids who didn’t require much in the way of roleplay out of me. And yet, I soon rediscovered the girl I knew well from the classroom, who had a lot of Opinions and wasn’t afraid to speak them. After that first sesh, I learned about the world of actual play podcasts, and started binge-listening my way through The Glass Cannon Podcast. This gave me a quick and perhaps occasionally obnoxious confidence in my understanding of game mechanics, aided by the fact that I had somehow become part of two campaigns in which I played similar druid characters named Kaye. I knew how to Druid like nobody’s business, and I wasn’t afraid to do it.

In spite of this, my own personal dragon of social anxiety continued to rear its head every single time I drove over there. I would sit in my car, letting the GCP play out, working up the courage to walk through the door, knowing that my fear was utterly irrational and unfounded. The moment I got inside, I knew, I would remember that these were not scary monsters, but in fact, my friends.

It took me a while to figure it out. Why was the social anxiety lingering week after week in spite of the fact that these guys weren’t new to me anymore?

“Guys” here is the key word. Years upon years of social conditioning have made me someone who struggles to feel at ease around men, who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop no matter how much I know it isn’t going to.

The girl sitting on the bus wishing she could join in talking about Dragonball Z never imagined a future where she’d be part of not one, but two groups of tabletop gamers. She never imagined a future where she’d blink and then, suddenly, most of the friends who lived near her were men. And yet, here I am, a 27-year-old whose social calendar is filled, more often than not, with tabletop gaming sessions with two groups of guys I am happy to call my friends.

It’s not that I don’t know, rationally, that I am safe here. I wouldn’t keep coming back for these sessions if I didn’t believe I was welcome there, truly just one of the group. I know it’s okay. It’s just that on some primal level, my brain doesn’t feel like this is my life. Because for most of my childhood, the dominant message was that girls don’t game. That’s why there was only one option in Mario Kart, over-the-top girly Peach, and many more games with no female playable avatar. Hell, even Pokemon games took a while to let you tell Professor Oak if you are “a boy” or “a girl.” And if the looks I got at Gamestop were any indication, the way I’d been brushed aside when I went into a tabletop gaming or comics shop was worse, like this deeper step into nerd territory wasn’t meant, wasn’t allowed, for me. It’s gotten so much better, and yet I’m still working to unlearn that understanding of my place at the table.

Lillian Avarest saunters to the front of the group, a devilish grin on her face. Her bright clothing and carefully made-up face demand attention as she waves her arm in the air, dramatically draws a card from her tarot deck, and reads aloud.

“The odds are in our favor, friends,” she says, inspiring courage in her party as they battle the man who’s come to claim the silver we’ve decided not to give him.

As the battle continues, she reaches into the pocket of her skirts, drawing out one of the coins. “If you want it so badly,” she says, the coin coming to float midair above her palm, “Then take it.” With her mind, she sends the coin flying at the enemy, hitting him square in the center of the forehead, winning the battle.

She takes a jaunty curtsey and grins.

The woman who rolled that Natural 20 smiles, too, learning to be okay with the attention that comes with playing a charismatic Bard. My new character is nothing like me, and lets me step into being someone who commands, demands, and enjoys attention. I’ve written myself a challenge in Lillian, and playing this new character is more fun than I could have ever imagined. I’m getting a taste for what it would be like, to be confident and sure of myself. Maybe I’m learning that in real life, too.

Time and time again, I pack up the purple set of dice I was generously gifted, throw my laptop in its bag, drive all of five minutes to my friend’s house, and coach myself to get out of the car. To walk past the learned discomfort into a space where I know I am, in fact, perfectly welcome. I do this because I’m not a girl anymore. I’m a grown woman, a gamer, a person enjoying a fun time around the gameboard with her friends. I do this because I know that pushing past the lingering discomfort, the sense that I’m doing something I’m not allowed to do, not really, is worth it.

Because I love this game, love stepping into the shoes of characters who can do things I never could. I dream up entire worlds not alone and in my head, like I did as a kid, but in conjunction with a group of friends. We’re imagining out entire scenes, and writing our story together.

A board game table set up with an image of four boats seen from the top.

Amanda Kay Oaks is a Pittsburgh-based writer and wearer of many professional hats. Her essays have appeared in Hoosier Lit, bonfires, Golden Walkman, and others. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Chatham University.

Find her work on Twitter and on Medium, and visit her website at

An Incredibly Brave and Necessary Review of Wendy’s Feast of Legends

Editorial by
Alex G. Friedman

MA, MFA, human rogue 5

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.

“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?”

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.

“Suffice to say that I associate Wendy’s branding more strongly with the litter choking America’s streets than good times or enjoyable food.”

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?