This article originally appeared in the November/December 2016 issue.
There’s been some interest expressed in the menu I used in the “Second Scions’ Society” game at TravCon13 so for those who’d like to attempt to recreate something similar here are some background notes.
The adventure itself began with some high level noble dilettantes – second sons or daughters of Counts/Countesses – having a banquet together. The idea in game terms was to allow them to introduce themselves, settle into their roles and tell a short anecdote of some sort. As I wrote the section of Referee’s notes some months before, I thought it might be fun to actually produce a menu for the banquet, but I resisted the temptation thinking it wasn’t directly needed and I had several other things which were much more vital (from learning to run a combat session to designing a starship and so on). However, as I slowly ticked off all the more important jobs, the idea of a menu had stayed swilling around in the back of my mind. Initially, I’d thought it would be a massively complex thing with a large number of choices and huge numbers of invented foodstuffs. Then sanity set in and I realized it would be much more straightforward to have a set menu but go for something along the lines of the French meals I’ve encountered with multiple courses. This led to the thought of producing the menu in French as a way of making it seem much posher for my nobles. Which then led to the thought of – rather than inventing a lot of supposedly Traveller foodstuffs such as roast Kian – simply making the items on the menu very ordinary foods. Anything but posh, but described in a ‘high’ style.
However, I still wanted to have something of a science-fiction feel about it, and at some point in the middle of one sleepless night, I had the thought that it would be quite fun to actually serve something up during the game to the players. Obviously it would have to be ‘simple’ and for some reason grated hazelnuts (it was around Christmas time) soaked in rum came to mind. It was then that I thought: instead of having a cheese board, why not have several things and posit some extremely exotic and rare (in Core Sector) Vargr foodstuffs served up after the other courses? In keeping with the French theme it could be something along the lines of renowned ‘Vargr merd’ (knocking an ‘e’ off to keep it decent!) that dilettante nobles pay a huge sum of money for. Of course I had to think of at least a couple of other things to go on the board as well. Eventually I settled on grating some chili chocolate and grating some salt liquorice. Grating it all to make it look a bit different; the chili and the salt to give it something of an ‘alien’ (and particularly Vargr) feel even if the basic food item could be identified.
My in-game rationalisation was that the Vargr finish up their meals with a selection of delicacies that in the Vargr extents would be as common as cheese and have as many, if not more, varieties. In that usual chaotic way, the varieties would say much about the part of the Extents the particular stuff came from, different groups would have a taste for different types, and even the charisma of the host could be affected by the kind or the quality or the variety of merd that is served up. Vargr of course would simply lick a paw and dip it in rather than bother with such niceties as cutlery. Presumably Vargr merd might become known in the Imperium, become a luxury import, and Core dilettantes have a fad of paying huge sums to ship the stuff across the sectors. This neatly explained the very small quantities.)
A work colleague who is something of a gastronome agreed to help as my French is not up to much and we were now into the week before TravCon. She had soon produced the delight that is shown below. As she has a role-playing son she was also very patient and understanding about the whole project! (Thank you Lynn.)
I didn’t think that the items, once grated/chopped/soaked/etc. would last very well, so having saved some hazelnuts from Christmas and having had Lynn source some chocolate and liquorice of the right kind, I packed it all up for TravCon along with a bottle of rum, a cheese grater and a plain wooden chopping board.
In an interval between games I raced up to my room and started grating. One lesson I learned is that it takes a lot longer than I had imagined – especially with soft liquorice which might have been better chopped with a sharp knife. However, it wasn’t long before I had a small chopping board with three heaps of very odd looking food on it. Smuggling that down to the gaming room, hiding it in a large box, and nabbing spoons from the hotel, I was ready to go. If somewhat nervous.
As the PCs sat down to the banquet, I handed out a menu to each player and let them make of it what they would. Some (perhaps overwhelmed by the amount of hand-outs they’d already had to plough through) gave it short shrift, some took a look but couldn’t get past the French, and some looked it at quickly, then looked again, and then started looking in detail. As titters began to erupt the others paid more attention and finally the game was up. One player – well done, Tom – got to the end and said “so we finish up with dog $#!+”. Yes, that’s about the size of it.
We got on with the scene – the chef recommending certain dishes and offering something illegal on the side. With my best waiter manners (and some white gloves) I served up a bottle of white wine just to help things along, but when we arrived at the last course, I reached into the box behind me and pulled out the chopping board. All the hassle was (just about) worth it to watch the players faces as they realized that it wasn’t merely a joke on the menu, they really had some Vargr merd being served up to them. (See the third photo in the After Action Report or Freelance Traveller, no.42, June 2013).
After some initial wariness (and a warning to anyone who suffered from nut allergies!), they gave it a go and had some fun identifying exactly what it was. It seemed to be a success and it certainly made the banquet a very memorable scene even before the story telling which was a highlight.
Editor’s note: The menu as the players saw it is shown to the right below; as it may not be readable, the text is reproduced to the left below. A non-graphical reproduction of the menu, in the original font, can be found on page 55 of Freelance Traveller, November/December 2016)
Crostini avec les haricots blancs aux tomates
Œufs à l’Indienne
Consomme de volaille
Doigts des poisson sur la lit de riz
Saucisson et pommes de terre écrémées
Tarte à la mélasse avec crème Anglaise
And for those whose restaurant French needs a modicum of help, the other posh nosh the nobility were eating at their banquet: beans on toast, curried eggs, chicken soup, fish fingers on a bed of rice (the author’s only culinary capability), sausage and mash, pink grapefruit and treacle tart. For those who don’t know the culture, these are all – with the exception of the fish fingers on rice which was my own personal injoke – very common-or-garden, working class dare I say, dishes here in the UK. No wonder the Swiss call us Brits kulinarischer tiefflieger. (Literally: culinary lowflyers, perhaps ‘Culinary Philistines’ would be a fair translation.)
Recipe: Vargr Merd
half a dozen hazelnuts
2 or 3 ‘sticks’ of salt liquorice
¼ bar of chili chocolate
3 serving spoons of rum (or a half filled egg cup)
Crack open the hazelnuts and soak the nuts overnight in the rum; grate or finely chop. Alternatively – if time or rum is in short supply – grate the hazelnuts and drizzle the rum over them. The broken shells can be retained as a serving decoration if desired.
Grate the chili chocolate – different effects can be produced with the different sides of a multi-function grater.
Grate the liquorice, or, if too soft, very finely chop.
Arrange the nuts, chocolate and liquorice in attractive piles on a wooden chopping board. Add other brown or black finely chopped foodstuffs of exotic taste as desired.
Serve in the centre of the table with teaspoons for Imperial delicacy or licked fingers for the true Vargr experience.