For quite a while now, I’ve felt like my Serpent’s Skull campaign is in danger of stalling. For ten sessions, the campaign explored the same damned ruins, which didn’t provide a sense of accomplishing anything, and I struggled with keeping things rolling. In general, the third and fourth books of the campaign, The City of Seven Spears and Vaults of Madness leave a lot to be desired. However, at the end of – by the way, here there be SPOILERS – Vaults of Madness, there is something remarkable, which I felt was worth salvaging and if properly executed, could renew flagging interest in the campaign.
The module culminates in the arrival of Ruthazek, the Silverback King of Usaro and Chosen Son of Angazhan in the ruined city of Saventh-Yhi, with his court of all kinds of ape monsters. He wishes to test the PCs and invites them to dine with him. The menu is written by someone who obviously appreciates Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
This is actually a repeated phenomenon in Pathfinder modules. At least Feast of Ravenmoor and Forest of Spirits feature similar scenes. While I would describe them as “postcolonially suspicious” (except for Feast of Ravenmoor, where they’re just hicks), I’ve managed to silence my inner critic because they make for awesome gaming.
Anyway, I felt this was the perfect opportunity to do something that will make the players sit up and pay attention. I decided to cook. Here’s the menu as it is described in the module:
The feast begins with fresh monkey brains and a bloody soup of eyeballs and wild onions. This is followed by raw hippo slab steaks with blood sweat sauce, along with a side of pan-seared botfly larvae glazed in honey. The final course is a rare treat of ice-chilled vegepygmy pulp seasoned with cinnamon and roasted coffee beans. Prodigious amounts of sour plantain wine are served throughout the feast.
Since vegepygmies are out of season and I think there might be some legal issues with the hippo slab steaks, I decided to chuck the menu. Instead, I went with something affordable, legal, and most importantly, unusual and weird.
For the actual content of the session, the module detailed a storytelling contest. I took this idea, and at a friend’s suggestion, applied Laura Bohannan’s “Shakespeare in the Bush” (read it, it’s a classic). The story told by Ruthazek the Gorilla King was a mangled version of Macbeth. I didn’t have as much time to prepare for this as I needed (most of my Saturday, for instance, was spent proofreading State of Play, an upcoming collection of larp articles), and the end result was a bit sloppy. I think I still managed to convey the Gorilla King’s worldview through it, though. Overall, the session was pretty much the heaviest in in-character discussion and roleplaying that I’ve ever had with the group. I deem my experiment a success.
Also, their faces when I brought the bowl to the table and pulled back the tin foil, while saying “I wish you heartily welcome to my table” as the Gorilla King. I played the character as one part Brian Blessed, one part Thulsa Doom and one part Hannibal Lecter. In addition to heart, I chewed quite a bit of scenery. Great session. I ended it with the Gorilla King handing the party the final macguffin (skipping the last dungeon crawl of the module).
Due to popular demand, I will now tell my secret recipe for cooking hearts.
Actually, there’s no secret and it’s pretty damn easy. I’m not what you’d call a remarkable cook. However, I googled “stuffed heart recipe”, found a bunch, read them, and then used them and the contents of my larder as a starting point for my recipe. The cooking times were the big one I wondered about. The heart is the densest muscle in the body and you need to take your time with it. I’d previously used heart in haggis, but never cooked a whole one.
Hearts in Azlant
3 pig hearts
1 l beef stock (Or something like that. I just went with bouillon cubes.)
200 g of bacon
half a garlic bulb
handful of jalapeno
2 tbsp sun-dried tomato in garlic oil (Just something I happened to have lying around and decided to throw in on a lark.)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp basil
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp nutmeg
needle and thread
Wash the hearts thoroughly in cold water, taking care to remove any blood clots. Also, if they’re whole, cut them open. You may also wish to trim away the major blood vessels from within the heart, but leave the tubes up top untouched. They’re pretty much inedible, but they make the hearts look like, well, hearts instead of just any old piece of flesh. You might wish to warm up the oven now. I went with 175°C.
Chop up the onions, bacon and jalapeno. Crush the garlic. Lightly fry it all in a pan. Add the spices, set aside to cool. This is a good moment to boil up the bouillon cubes or warm the beef stock or whatever.
Once the bacon-onion-whatever is cool enough to handle, stuff the hearts with it. I found it easiest to first stuff any snug chambers that were still more or less whole, then sew up the heart halfway through and stuff the “main” chamber. Then, sew the rest of it up. Put them in a bowl, pour in the broth. You can pretty well drown the hearts in it. The cooking time has to be fairly long because of their density, and they dry up easily. It’s a good idea to check on them every hour or so and see that they’re not mummifying. Anyway, slam them in the oven and go do something constructive for about three hours. After the time has elapsed, they should be cooked through and through to a succulent consistency. Remove hearts from the oven, put them on a plate, pour on the red wine sauce. Have a camera ready to capture the shocked expressions of your players. Unfortunately, I did not, but I shall cherish the memory of their faces for a long time.
It was delicious. I also contemplated putting a tin of button mushrooms in the stuffing, but then forgot about it. If I ever make this stuff again, I’ll try that.
Pretty Ordinary Red Wine Sauce
3 dl beef stock (Or something like that. I just went with a bouillon cube.)
1 dl red wine (I used Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon, which is affordable, Chilean, and worked marvellously.)
half an onion (Or one small one, which is what I did. Don’t need the other half lounging about in my fridge.)
2 tbsp sugar
a pinch of rosemary or thyme
if needed, 1.5 tbsp cornflour to use as a thickening agent (I needed it.)
1 tbsp soy sauce
Make the broth. Add the wine, the chopped onion and the rosemary (or thyme – I went with rosemary). Let simmer for about 20 minutes. Sieve away the onion pieces and other crap. Also clean them from the pot before pouring the sauce back in it. If it’s not thick enough, use the cornflour. (Which must first be dissolved in cold water – pouring it in the hot sauce will only get you a lot of white chunks. This has been empirically tested because I couldn’t be arsed to read what it says on the package.) Add the soy.
Pour over hearts.
Also, red wine stains on character sheets just mean you’re playing a better class of game.