Where Do They Go For More Food?
  • Where Do They Go For More Food?


    Last column I covered food in a macro scale and how it could influence a setting. In this column I am going to discuss the logistics of food for the purposes of worldbuilding. Contemporarily, farms and ranches produce most of our food. Seafood, of course, is harvested from the oceans via fishing ships, but aquaculture is used in the production of sea vegetables, shrimp and some species of fish.




    This may not be the case in a given setting, which may feature magical foods, advanced science-fiction production methods, or some other means of feeding a populace. A good example of an alternate food source comes from the Bible, in the form of manna which was sent from heaven to feed the Israelites during their exile.


    A more macabre example could occur in a science fiction setting with transporter technology. A person enters the booth, and they are scanned, transformed into information, and then reconstructed on the other side with thoughts and memories intact. What if the transporter does not actually get rid of the being at the origin point? What are you going to do with 80 kilograms of high-grade protein aboard a space station?


    This would be a great opportunity to use a ubiquitous fast food chain with its location near a transporter bay to reinforce how cheap life is, and also how dystopic and pragmatic a setting may be. It’s also a great way to surprise your PCs, if one of their previous iterations escapes and shows up to warn them of something. Do they assume it’s a cloning accident, or do they already know how the sausage is made and call a hotline established for cleaning up transporter accidents? Such a setting detail would fit in a blackly humorous game such as Paranoia, or something rather more depressing like “grimdark” cyberpunk.


    Some foods cannot be farmed or ranched. A famous example is silphium, which the Romans called laser. The plant and its resins were famed as a seasoning, medicine and an aphrodisiac. It was so important that the stalk and its seeds have been stamped into ancient coinage. Unfortunately for the silphium plant, it was also impossible to farm, and it eventually went extinct.


    Now imagine a fantasy setting that revolves around rare and exotic ingredients garnered from magical places and creatures. Unicorn milk may require a virgin milkmaid. Cavern truffles might grow only in the depths of dangerous caves, and dragon steaks, well. Given a setting like this, one could even assume the primacy of culinary magic where the GM replaces spell components with spell recipes.


    A potion of healing recast as a plate of Eggs Benedict has the fun knock-on effects of filling a PC’s stomach up (requiring them to wait before they can take another) and forces parties to bring picnic baskets into dungeon crawls. An adventuring party could very well be organized along the lines of Escoffier’s brigade de cuisine, with a head chef fighter, a sous-chef thief, a saucier wizard and a pastry chef cleric.

    Contributed by M.W. Simmes. See her previous worldbuilding article in this series here.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Elf_flambe's Avatar
      Elf_flambe -
      I'm enjoying your series. Keep on asking interesting questions.

      Something that I'm trying to establish in my campaign is an analogy of the Spice Road. Moving exotic spices from where they are grown/produced to where foods are bland, or where the rich enjoy trying new, expensive flavors, involved an extremely long, dangerous chain of various transportation methods and middle men taking their cut. Empires grew and fell along the Road. Fortunes were made and lost (or stolen). Global exploration was in many ways a byproduct of seeking sea routes to replace the arduous overland journey.

      Characters can be caravan guards, sea explorers, or mercenaries for one desert city with an oasis trying to wrest lucrative caravan traffic from a nearby rival. Knowledge and strange beliefs also travel alongside the spices and other goods. Forbidden arcana, worship of sinister gods, new weapons and fighting techniques. Invading armies and restless hordes often follow known routes to new territories. Lots of meaty possibilities!
    1. ScaleyBob's Avatar
      ScaleyBob -
      I've always been fascinated by the practicalities of feeding people in RPGs, especially with huge fantasy metropolises. I doubt my players care, but I like to have some sort of explanation.
      My current setting has both Goblins and Kobolds folded into normal society, and between their Giant Rat, and Mushroom farms in the cities cellars, a certain level of basic food is now provided to the poorest members of society. Provided you want to eat filth raised mushrooms, and giant rat prepared in any number of imaginative ways. It's still rat though.
    1. M.W. Simmes's Avatar
      M.W. Simmes -
      Quote Originally Posted by Elf_flambe View Post
      I'm enjoying your series. Keep on asking interesting questions.

      Something that I'm trying to establish in my campaign is an analogy of the Spice Road. Moving exotic spices from where they are grown/produced to where foods are bland, or where the rich enjoy trying new, expensive flavors, involved an extremely long, dangerous chain of various transportation methods and middle men taking their cut. Empires grew and fell along the Road. Fortunes were made and lost (or stolen). Global exploration was in many ways a byproduct of seeking sea routes to replace the arduous overland journey.

      Characters can be caravan guards, sea explorers, or mercenaries for one desert city with an oasis trying to wrest lucrative caravan traffic from a nearby rival. Knowledge and strange beliefs also travel alongside the spices and other goods. Forbidden arcana, worship of sinister gods, new weapons and fighting techniques. Invading armies and restless hordes often follow known routes to new territories. Lots of meaty possibilities!
      You'll probably also want to look up the colonization of Southeast Asia, especially the backstabbing and such done to gain ports and access to the Moluccas and other Spice Islands, because that will give you a lot of fodder for political campaigns. Be a pirate in that sea full of prize ships? Sure!
    1. John H Reiher's Avatar
      John H Reiher -
      The first thing to consider in a high fantasy setting is whether or not there is practical teleportation or not. If you can set up a gate that let's you port from the lands of Nihoshina to the Empire of Tristen then there is no caravans. I tend to make such things rare and limited to what a person can carry on themselves. Making them hard to build, just means it takes longer to build a 'port network. I rather have the items be things like "waystones" that can only be found in fairly off the beaten tracks areas and can't be moved without breaking the enchantment. And of course the waystone links to another in another useless location that's still in country.

      Then there's how much of the surrounding country side you'd need to be under cultivation. At best, you'd get 1 person's worth of food from 0.5 hectares. At worst, 1.5 hectares. So for a population of 200,000 you'd need at least 100,000 hectares under cultivation and at most 300,000 hectares. Basically 1,000 to 3,000 square kilometers being farmed. When you leave a big city, the party will have to travel through 15 to 25 kilometers of farmland.
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