The Culinary Magic Cookbook
#6 of my Top Ten of 2018
This massive book clocks in at 117 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page photography credits/KS-thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page dedication, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 107 pages of content, so let’s take a look! There is one peculiarity you should be aware of: This book does not have the standard dimensions of RPG-books, instead sporting the somewhat landscape-like format that most of my cookbooks have – this makes it work pretty smoothly in the kitchen without adding chaos to the cooking book shelf. It also means that there is a surprising amount of content to be found within the pages of this book – more than the page-count would lead you to believe! My review is primarily based on the hardcover print version of the metric version.
Metric version? Well yeah – there are two different versions of this book, one for imperial measurements, and one for metric measurements. I really appreciate the latter, as I am a European and ounces, gallons, etc. mean nothing to me – I always have to do quick calculations. Same goes for degrees Fahrenheit. Distance measurements I can get behind, but temperature and weight? Compared to the metric system as based on multiples of 10/100/1000s, which make sense and are easy to implement, I just could never get into it. I guess if I had been born and raised in the US, that would have been different. Same goes for degrees Fahrenheit; degrees Celsius are elegant: 0°C? Water freezes. 100°C? Water boils. Simple, efficient, elegant. But I digress – that’s probably just the German in me speaking! What I’m trying to say here in my own convoluted way is this: It’s great to see a roleplaying game company take care of their international customers, allowing us all to choose freely! Grown up with/accustomed to the imperial system? You’re good! Same goes for those accustomed to the metric system.
There is another huge plus here: No matter which version you get in print, the pdf-component actually includes BOTH versions! So, if you’re for example an expat or just are interested in the alternate measurements, the book has you covered! You’ll have your print version with the preferred measurements and both measurement systems in pdf! This is particularly cool if your group contains folks accustomed to either system. Your book is in imperial measurement, but you wanted to lend it to your buddy accustomed to the metric system? No problem, you have the pdf! Many other publishers would have you buy both versions separately – so huge kudos to Flaming Crab Games for doing the right and customer-friendly thing there!
As you could glean from the above, this review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.
So, Culinary Magic was one of my biggest surprises to come out of the criminally underrated “Letters from the Flaming Crab”-series. Culinary magic is a form of everyman’s magic – it does not require taking a new class, it does not require an archetype or learning a complex system. The magic system is based on Craft (culinary), which acts as a catch-all skill for Craft (cooking) and Craft (baking), which is a sensible unification here. The buy-in, nominally, is the Culinary Magic feat, which nets you +2 to Craft (culinary) when preparing mundane meals. You know recipes equal to your skill rank and get new recipes upon gaining a new skill rank. Additionally, you can learn recipes from other cooks, books, etc. In order to learn such a recipe, you must succeed a Craft (culinary) check vs. the meal’s DC + 10. The first time you cook a meal, the price to create it is doubled. If your game is particularly high fantasy and high-powered, it should be noted that the system is robust enough to work with the feat (sans the +2 bonus) simply baked into (haha!) the character options available. Culinary magic will not break your game.
It should be noted that the cookbook does not contain precise temperatures for each dish, but does specify the suggested minimum temperatures provided by the FDA to cook meats – these temperatures are provided in both °F and °C, regardless of version you end up using.
Recipes note the name of the dish, the DC to Craft it, provide descriptions of the dish, ingredients, how many servings the recipe creates (important to determine affected targets and how many folks you can feed), prep & cooking time, costs (as noted in a general rating score, since prices vary from place to place – while “exotic” goods, eating out in really great restaurants, for example, are comparably cheap in the US, I was utterly flabbergasted how expensive fruit, vegetables etc. are! Then, we get the directions to create the dish, followed by the magical benefits the dish offers and the duration of these benefits.
Now, since PFRPG is a game where WBL and the like are important, the general ranking of the meals, we get gold prices for ingredients and servings noted, tables for rare ingredient prices by CR of the entity from which they hail, and the pdf even talks about which meals are available for characters with a Vow of Poverty. A super-handy index with DCs, costs, effects and durations noted is in the back of the book, listing all dishes first by category, and within the categories, alphabetically. From a usage perspective, this is as convenient as it can be. It should also be noted that numerical benefits, if any, often scale and improve depending on how well you did preparing the dish in question, providing increasing degrees of success and retaining the viability of the dishes throughout the levels.
You will already have realized the main draw here, right? Bingo – this is not simply a gaming supplement! These magical recipes? Well, we actually can make them ourselves! This book blends real life and gaming in the most delicious of ways, providing tangible benefits for…you know, making proper food for the gaming group! Not just eating super fatty fast food and chips. So yeah, if you have someone passionate about cooking in your group, this can be pretty amazing – obviously, magical effects will be in-game only, but yeah, love this.
While I have attempted to get a good overview of how these recipes fare in practice, there is one thing you need to know here: I suffer from a ton of allergies. I can’t eat nuts, apples and a ton of other things, and while I’m not lactose intolerant, my system doesn’t handle cheese or food with copious amounts of milk well, rendering me tired and unable to concentrate properly for days on end. Thus, my examples noted below will focus on foodstuff that doesn’t feature either of those. That being said, I’m a HUGE fan of proper BBQ (and you can’t get good BBQ, or proper Mexican food, for that matter, around here…) and a chili-head. Since a few of the dishes make use of hot sauce, allow me to provide my unsolicited advice:
So, regarding hot sauces, I heartily recommend, depending on your preferred level of heat, the very mild and tropical Blair’s Sweet Death for beginners; for pros, I’d definitely recommend Blair’s “Shot to Hell” and, if you can get your hands on them, any of the 4 limited edition Blair’s FF15, particularly the amazing FF15 Passion. If you’re living in or near Texas, my favorite hot sauce combination ever for meats is to mix the ghost pepper and habanero hot sauces by Black’s BBQ in Lockhart. I’m getting hungry just thinking of them… The combination, at least to my palate, is divine and transcends the sum of its parts. For chilies, I suggest sticking to habaneros or jalapenos (if you’re not that into spicy food) for most dishes; unless you’re really experienced and the dish complements the distinct flavor, I’d suggest being very careful with ghost peppers. As always: Super hot sauces and spices are no laughing matter, and no one should be tricked into eating these.
Not, to make that abundantly clear: Most of the dishes herein do not use hot spices or the like, so don’t be afraid there! The dwarven curry recipe uses ghost peppers, and since hot sauces are either optional or vary greatly in their heat levels, customization is very easy. The book also is relevant to the interests of vegetarians and vegans – there are quite a bunch of recipes that can be enjoyed even by folks that have elected to not consume meat, fish or animal-based products – and for the other dishes, the usual substitution tactics work rather well.
Now, similarly important would be the need to comment on the difficulty of the dishes presented within this book: Even the highest DC culinary magic dishes within these pages do not require special equipment. There is one single dish that probably works best with a deep fryer; other than that, any household kitchen should be able to handle these dishes. Similarly, you don’t have to be a chef to make the meals within this book – the dishes are on the simpler side of things, and the directions regarding prep time and how long it takes to make these end up on the conservative side: I managed to make quite a few of them in a fraction of the time noted, in one instance making a dish that was assumed to be 3 hours of work in half an hour. So yeah, this is, in a way, very much a beginner’s cookbook. None of the dishes within exceed 5 steps required for preparation, and sometimes one of these steps pertains the magical nature of them, and can thus be ignored IRL. Most dishes can be made in 3 simple steps, and the dishes and their recipes can fit comfortably on a single page.
There is another aspect here regarding the food chosen that is rather important: Most of these dishes do not require constant micromanaging. You can either prep them in advance, or prepare them pretty quickly during the smoking/get beer/etc. breaks, if any, at your table. This makes prepping quite a few of these dishes actually really friendly while sitting at the table.
Okay, that being said, this is not a dry reading experience, and there is one aspect that very much requires a degree of experimentation from prospective cooks. You see, this book is very consistent in its conceit of sporting magical recipes from another world, right? It should hence be no surprise that you can’t just shop for kaiju nigiri or cockatrice flesh in your local grocery store. Thus, for us real life persons, we’ll need to substitute a couple of mundane ingredients. This is relevant and of interest for, to note one example, mushrooms and the like – it is obvious that different folks will enjoy different mushrooms, so some experimentation is required here to customize your recipes in real life. That is not a flaw of the book, mind you, and if you’re a novice to cooking, don’t be dissuaded or stumped by it: A lot of my favorite dishes evolved via experimentation, and cooking is an art-form that thrives on creativity and customization, so if one aspect of the dish doesn’t match your tastes, change it! I know, sounds dumb, but as someone who is rather compulsive regarding adherence to formulae and the like, I wish someone had spelled that out for me when I started cooking.
Structure-wise, the book begins with a breakfast chapter, then moves on to soups and salads, entrées and sides and then provides recipes for beverages and sides as well as desserts and treats.
Anyways, now, from a game-design perspective, the recipes within have a tough challenge ahead of them: General accessibility means that they could easily negatively impact a setting’s internal balance. Beyond that, there is another thing to consider: As PFRPG is mechanically complex, just another set of numerical bonuses would, ultimately, not provide a particularly exciting incitement to dive into making these dishes, right? Well, the book handles this rather impressively: When applicable, bonuses are tightly codified regarding proper types, so that’s a formal plus. Indeed, the book is precise in its usage of the rules. If we, for example, partake in divine pecan pie, the consumer is shielded by a sanctuary-like effect, though the Will-save is 10 + ½ the cook’s Craft (culinary) skill bonus. Additionally, enemies attacking the consumer take 1d3 points of damage, half of which is fire damage, while the other stems directly from divine power. The pdf avoids falling into the trap of assuming holy damage exists in PFRPG – it doesn’t, but it’s still a thing that a ton of books get wrong, so kudos! If that sounds super powerful for eating a pie (the DC can become really high!), the effect has a duration AND ends when the consumer moves, ensuring that this meal, while useful, will not break your game.
Now, there are other examples for this subdued, but still very much relevant design-paradigm employed here. One of my favorites, the Dragonbane Soup, would be one such example: The ingredients of this vegetarian soup (you can easily make it vegan) are associated with the chromatic dragons, noting the significance of the ingredients and how they relate to the dragons in question. What does it do? It lasts for 3 hours, and the first time someone who has eaten it is targeted by a dragon’s breath weapon, they completely negate that damage! Now, usually I’m a big enemy of flat-out negation, but this makes sense to me: It’s limited by time and duration and can provide a last second save for PCs that may well spell the difference between success and death. Is your group going to battle the big bad dragon in this week’s game? With this book, you can make the food for the game and provide a tangible benefit for your PC buddies as well – and we all know that a properly-played dragon requires that you make use of all tools at your disposal…
Eating a clouded miso mushroom soup can extend your eyes-based sight modes (including the clouded vision oracle’s) by 10 ft. Partaking in Armanthore’s Manticore Chilli (usually eaten with manticore spine chopsticks, obviously!) makes you hit hybrid creatures harder. Oh, and YES, contrary to what one would expect, the rules do clarify in a concise manner what hybrid creatures are for the purpose of this effect. If you’ve eaten a Moonlight Croissant, you’ll get a bonus to saves to resist lycanthropy, and, as a cool aside…you can use them as THROWN WEAPONS versus lycanthropes! Death by croissant! That is frickin’ hilarious!
If these sound like dishes you may know already, what about indlovu omkuhulu phuthu pap, a putu pap recipe that can be preserved for a few days and provides a short burst of 10 minutes alchemical bonus of +2 to Strength. The white porridge made from ground corn and drenched with onions and tomato sauce makes for a surprisingly effective and fun side that can be tweaked and further customized easily – both IRL, and regarding the benefits it conveys in-game! Speaking of modification: Due to my own, previously noted dietary restrictions I couldn’t eat the default Kaldor’s Breakfast Eatzza, which is a breakfast pizza-ish dish, but the recipe did give me all the ideas I needed to make my own version, which turned out to be delicious. Flavorwise, this one alleviates homesickness and thus provides skill-bonuses that help you fit in.
Serving citrus posset can detect undead, as the liquid meal bubbles when undead are nearby – though consuming it does not convey this benefit. To give you an example regarding the impressive internal consistency of this game, this is justified by the sunlight stored in the citrus fruit used in its creation, which makes sense regarding the in-game logic. As a German, born and raised in Bavaria, I’m a horrible snob regarding pretzels, so I’m probably not the best guy to comment on the merits of the Fairy Ring pretzels – however, I can comment on Mushroom Flowers, which are one of my go-to low-cost dishes when finances are tight: They take me less than 20 minutes to make and are utterly delicious. For filling, my own recommendation for filling is a blend of chanterelles, king oyster mushrooms and smoked, diced bacon, plus any vegetables you fancy. The champignons take on the taste of the more costly mushrooms, the dish is super filling, and the king oyster mushrooms and their herby taste mean that you don’t even need much spices to make the dish amazing!
One of my favorite dishes was contributed by a backer – such dishes note their authors, and the dish would be mushroom and apricot stuffed pheasant, contributed by André Roy. Truly delicious, and interestingly, the effects complement each other: the pheasant itself helps you climb, making you lighter. The stuffing, on the other hand, helps decrease falling damage. The stuffing is btw. its own dish. And yes, the two do note what happens if you eat the whole deal, so yeah, kudos to editors and development for catching even such easily overlooked potentially confusing cases!
What about hot spaghetti that allows you to breathe fire a limited number of times? Or what about a fried, lotus-like onion that is so inspiring, it enhances Perform checks? Really fun: Regarding cocktails, wands of air bubble are noted as ingredients, obviously to add fizz to the drinks, soda-style. It’s little touches like this that make the book feel so concise. What about spider silk noodles? Twisted herb-infused bread? Whiskey Jelly Jar Ohs? There also are fairy cakes that allow for levitations, with the effects contingent of the consumer’s emotional state? The ability to craft fully statted gingerbread golems is cool, and while we’re on the subject manner – what about a gingerbread house trap? Chaos cupcakes have one of 8 different, randomized effects, depending on the flavor – this can make for a fun game that surprises both players and PCs alike! Now, if you do use these flavors yourself, you can thus simulate the PC surprise IRL! Love it.
And yes, since I haven’t noted that before: The book does codify how long it takes to eat, how much you need to eat, and who can benefit from culinary magic.
Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level: The book is exceedingly precise and well-crafted. Layout adheres to a 1-column landscape-ish standard as you’d see in cookbooks, and aesthetics wise, the recipes look like they have been printed on paper, glued into the book, much like you’d expect from a DIY cookbook. From small splotches to alignment of these, the layout manages to provide a captivating and distinct visual identity. Instead of artworks, we get delicious, mouth-watering photographs of the meals. These look like food, mind you, not like the disgusting plastic-like food photography we often see in glossy papers. The pdf versions come fully bookmarked for your convenience, but particularly if you’re planning to use this to cook, you should get the hardcover/print – personally, I get antsy when taking my device into the kitchen, where hot plates, water, etc. await.
Designers Alex Shanks-Abel, J Gray (who also did the layout!), David S. McCrae, Angel “ARMR” Miranda, Kelly Pawlik, Rodney Sloan and Margherita Tramontano, alongside head chefs Luca Basset, Rhiannon Davis, Grimlaf, the High Family, Arvin “Kazefirst” K., Steven Kohn, Richard “Rysky” Lawson, Donavon McClung, Terrence “TERENTIUS” Micheau, Francois Michel, Tina Porter, Joshua and Brigitte Root, André Roy, Jacqueline Vanni Shanks, Solux, and Tenacious Zod, have created an amazing resource.
The Culinary Magic Cookbook is not only a design-wise tight and precise book – its use transcends gaming and the confines of the PFRPG system. Yes, I can convert this book easily to other systems, but that’s not the point – the recipes are easy to make, diverse and sport some real gems. Additionally, the book makes for a great gift for e.g. couples where only one of the two games – it’s, after all, useful beyond gaming. The recipes are really simple and fun to pull off, and yield tasty results. Add to that the fact that both metric and imperial systems are supported, add the surprising internal consistency that never breaks the magical cookbook conceit, and we have a little masterpiece. If you’re a bit of a foody like I am, if you want a change of pace from yet another pile of chips at your table, then check this out. The book is worth its asking price and showcases the passion of the authors. I adore this book and am extremely happy that it exists – it has provided delights beyond gaming, and is an admirable achievement – I hope there will be sequels at one point! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.
You can get this massive cookbook with imperial measurements here on OBS!
You can get the version using the metric system here on OBS!