Dungeons & Dragons players often have heroic aspirations for their characters. They want their fighters to become generals. They want their wizards to become archmages. They want their thieves to become kingpins. But what about becoming...chefs? Epic chefs that creature magical dishes out of the creatures that they slay? This is the premise behind Dragon Stew, a 5e sourcebook that contains new races, subclasses, magical items and more to add cooking as a central element to Fifth Edition games. Metal Weave Games sent a copy of the complete book for me to review. Did it satisfy or have me reaching for a potion of iron stomach?
Dragon Stew is a 196 page book designed by Antonio Demico featuring art by Demico, April Prime, Becca Hallstedt, Lluis Abdias and Jessica Nguyen. The art is painted, bright and generally in a stylized almost anime style. I tend not to normally be a fan of this kind of art, but the art throughout the book is splendid. It establishes the lighter tone of the material throughout the book and almost feels like the old illustrated Nintendo instruction books. Dragon Stew has the look and feel of an old 8-bit JRPG or a lost Game Boy Advance title.
The book is split into two sections: a player section and a DM section. The player section is full of all the player options. There are harvestborn races that are sentient plants created by being near a magical site such as humanoid trees or vegetables. This section also includes backgrounds like waiters and shop owners which are the items that seem the easiest to be integrated into a D&D campaign that’s not centered around cooking. (I had an idea of a character taking the waiter background and playing it as a riff of the “struggling actor” story where they wait tables at the local tavern in between dungeon runs.)
The subclasses offer a few that might see use outside of a cooking campaign. The Circle of Brew is a decent druidic riff on an alchemist/potion maker type, for example. But there’s something like the War Cook, which takes the idea of the fighter’s Arcane Archer and applies to various cooking utensils as weapons. There are some solid options in here, but a campaign’s flavor (sorry) will be vastly different when a frontline combatant can do an extra 2d6 cold damage with their enchanted ice cream scoop. The dessert familiars that follow are also adorable but it seems like there should be some discussion between player and DM about whether to allow Craboisant as a familiar, no matter how cute the picture is.
The second section focuses on Dungeon Master material, opening with some magic items that continue the food theme. The book then offers two adventures that highlight how a Dragon Stew campaign differs from a typical D&D game. Each adventure is structured like a reality show-style baking competition that not only features the thrill of the usual monster hunt and battle but also the tension of cooking up the monster for a group of judges that will reward the chefs with a prize. Not only are the heroes putting themselves into danger but they’ve also got to deal with rival cooking crews and figuring out what dishes and flavors the judges are into.
That splits the Dragon Stew adventure into three main phases: Investigation, hunting and cooking. The first portion focuses on the chefs doing leg work to find out more about the monster they are hunting for the dish, the other crews they are battling and the likes and dislikes of the judges. The hunting portion features the usual mix of exploration and combat as the chefs head into a location to find the exotic creature they plan to cook up for the final phase. Dragon Stew encourages tension in the hunting phase by pushing players to not take long rests to replenish their spells. If they do, that eats into the time they have to cook the final dish. The cooking phase features a mini game where the players must coordinate different skill rolls to make the dish.
The crews are presented a recipe that plays out like a 4e skill challenge where each success adds points to an overall judge satisfaction score. For the DM, it's as easy as finding a recipe online and assigning different skill DCs and times to each step. It’s a team effort because characters can’t do more than one thing at a time and different steps take different amounts of time. You can’t rely on one character to do everything, because someone has to be watching the stew to make sure it doesn’t bubble over while dicing the onions and peppers for a later part of the dish. There’s a set of character roles called Cooking Classes that can make these rolls easier if you’ve got the right person in the right slot.
While I was satisfied by the overall book, there was one area where I felt it needed improvement. There are two adventures in the book, but little direct Dungeon Master guidance. The adventures show how to model their idea of a campaign well, but I wanted more direct discussion of how to integrate elements from the book in a non-food focused campaign as well as ideas for a full cooking campaign. If it was a page count concern, I would have preferred releasing one of these adventures as a PDF and including more advice for Dungeon Masters. One big area of discussion I would have liked to see more of is how to talk to players who might be squeamish about hunting down monsters and eating them. The general light hearted aesthetic makes this seem like a good campaign idea for kids, but that element might be one that parents find they need to discuss with their kids first.
For D&D groups looking for something new or for groups seeking out a campaign that’s not bogged down by the usual fantasy trends, Dragon Stew might just be something to try.