Vapor curled from the cast iron pot. Thick, yellow-spiced stew rolling slow within. Peppery; laden with rich, scented oils. A ladle plunged through, came up bearing chunks of meat and cheese-laden potatoes.
"Came good," sniffed the bristly, thick-necked cook, filling a wooden bowl. He passed it to his right, to a woman clad in Ward Ranger's thick woolens. She paused to inhale the creamy aroma before passing it away, wistful, likewise to the right. Each of the band of six received their share this way, passed hot bowls, then steel spoons, to gloved hands.
Each Ranger, cloak and woolen uniform pulled tight 'gainst the cold of their dark, moorland campsite, each brief untucked his or her chin to nod thanks.
"Thank the knockers for food," muttered one. "Bloody starving. S'pecially after patrol."
"And that shit with the bear." Said another, beetling bushy brows. "Ta, Captain."
The cook nodded. "M' pleasure." He turned through the steam. "Tap out them dampers for me, Pushkin."
"Ye." Pushkin, a squat Ranger with broad cheeks, tugged off his gloves, knelt by the fire's deep, hot ashes. He twitched some aside, careful, located a clutch of grey lumps like rocks within. Six, each pocked and crusty grey. Gently, he tapped them, smiled as each rang hollow. "Dampers is ready."
"Jammy,"* approved the cook. "Pass 'em out."
The dampers went round like a lot of featherweight rocks. Eager, the Rangers held bowls on knees, cracked dusty fingertips into ashen lumps. Within the grey crust split steaming, spongy crumb, filled with big bubbles and bits of thyme. Warm, crusty bread.
They tore strips off the dampers, and with them, sopping, spooned stew into eager mouths. A lot of nodding and slurping ensued.
"This is some serious gourmet shite," said Pushkin, swallowing.
"Quite," said the Lieutenant, identifiable by brass fir cones on her lapel. She wiped cheese and crumbs from her lip. "A promotion for the Stew Captain, I say."
A chorus of "hear! hear!" mumbled wetly into five bowls. The Stew Captain nodded, gracious. "Aye, now. Thank the Munitions Office. Finally got us a good live cheddar."
"I bloody love cheddar," said the Lieutenant, tipping her bowl.
"Forget the cheddar," said a white-scruffed Ranger. "This ham!" he exclaimed. "Ain't no barking mutton." **
"Quite," said the Lieutenant. "Damn good ham. Can't believe you got this off the Office."
The Stew Captain's mouth lifted briefly from his own bowl, slurped, mumbled. "Ta. But it ain't ham."
A few Rangers paused. "You mad?" said Pushkin.
"Nah. Just ain't ham," shrugged the cook.
"The shite you mean it ain't ham?" said the white-bearded man, scowling.
The Lieutentant squinted. "You didn't buy horseflesh off anyone at the last camp, did you, Captain?"
Brows knitted in exaggerated offence; the Stew Captain waved a hand. "Didn't buy nothin'. Picked it up at last camp." He paused. The Rangers looked askance.
"What is it, then?" said the Lieutenant.
"'S bear meat," said the Captain, grinning. "Jolly kid at camp was a butcher's son. Took some cuts off the beast for me."
The Rangers deflated somewhat. "Oh, that's fine, then." A few shrugged, took a few more bites. The Stew Captain smiled.
"Wait," said Pushkin, pondering. "I've had bear. Didn't taste like ham, then."
They paused again. Soup dribbled from spoons and parted lips. "What's bear meant to taste like?" said White-beard, squinting.
"Heard said," mused the Stew Captain. "Bear tastes like what bear last ate."
"And, if I'm remembering," said Pushkin. "This bear last ate…"
"Couple'a farmers and their kids," said the Stew Captain.
Someone wretched. "Bloody hell," said the Lieutenant, turning pale. Pushkin began belching wetly, bent over. A bowl spattered into the fire. The Stew Captain laughed raucously.
"The shite's so funny?" said White-beard. The Rangers stared, horrified.
"Och. Ye should see yer faces," said the cook, red with mirth. He tugged at his collar, wheezing. "It's ham. I'm jus' pullin' yer dicks."
"Bastard," said the Lieutenant. She threw a spoon at him.
"Should better put him down for a de-motion, Leftenant," said Pushkin, clutching his belly. "On account of endangering me supper. S'got too much power."
Glaring, the Rangers resumed eating. The damper had near gone. Some ladeled up seconds.
"Tha's true, innit," mused the cook. "Stew Cap'n's an officership with plenty too much power." He chewed, idly. The Rangers were quiet.
"Could make ye eat horseflesh, dogmeat, manflesh. An' so long as I cook it good.…"
He winked. "Ye'd never be the wiser."
Since the mustering of the first army, the assemblage of the first crew, the convocation of the first cutter-band, working folk have needed feeding.
And ever since there have been hungry compatriots, there have necessarily been folk to feed them: Stew captains. Members of a role ancient and integral to martial tradition. No company, crew, nor band is complete without such a culinary quartermaster. A preparer, guardian, and distributor of the stewpot’s precious contents.
The stew captain's role is prolific. In national armies, they are non-commissioned officers drawn from the ranks of a nation's respective quartermastery or munitions corps. Every squad has one or two. They are accountable for the store, acquisition, preparation, and dispensation of comestibles amongst their fellows. Likewise, mercenaries, ships' crews, and cutter bands hold a similar tradition, hiring or assigning a member or more for the specific and all-important task of feeding the rest.
Particularly among cutter parties is the stew captain a treasured role. A cook can be forgiven all other labors, so long as he can lug a pot of stew, keep it hot, and furnish stocks of fresh bread and meat when the party sets down a weary rest. It is a beloved role, for hot food is oft the best of the sparse comforts available in bleak places and blackened tombs. To cutters, a fellow who can cook is best as any who can shoot or fray. A welcome companion. Whereas an ex-quartermaster, a real stew captain trained in armies' ways of feed and provision, is deemed a more pleasant venturing-mate than even a knight.
Indeed, it is a stew captain's skills which make them so treasured out of all venturing professions. For while many enough can hold a pike or scout a cursed gorge, few can mend heart and limb with a mushroom pie and a draught of well-chosen beer.
Be it prowess at spit roasts, fryups, baking, or literal stew, it is skill at cooking that entitles a culinary officer. The cooking system by which this skill is represented, as it appears in the Incunabuli System playtest, is detailed below.
A meal is successfully prepared via a Cooking roll. ***
A successful roll creates a proper meal. A failure destroys 1d6 portions. A roll of 1 resulting in failure destroys all.
Certain items and conditions provide a bonus to Cooking rolls:
Spices, provided they complement ingredients, may provide a bonus not exceeding +3. Certain ingredients may inflict a malus on the cooking test, due to consistency or flavor. Spices may counteract this malus.
Meals require a minimum of three ingredients. Water does not count. One portion of each ingredient is required per creature to be fed. Additional ingredients upgrade the quality of the meal by one point.
To prepare a meal, the cook must have an appropriate container or containers (pot, skillet, pan, spit) large enough to hold all portions. Any food cooked that doesn’t fit in or has no container applies -3 to the roll.
Additionally, hot meals stave off the effects of cold. They provide a character +1 to their next cold resistance-related roll made.
This post came about as a result of the Stew Captain sort (read: character kit) in the Incunabuli playtest. A character which, which some playtesting, ended up so powerful and flavorful it deserved further canonization.
The above cooking system is in part inspired by something similar by Occultesque, which I highly suggest you read. It is by now a somewhat-polished subsystem, having been repeatedly used and approved by the IRL stew captain among my players: A professional cook.
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* To Firls, anything good is "jam." Likewise, "jammy." This may be indicative of Northerners' long-standing enjoyment of preserves.
** "Barking mutton," as in mutton that at one point barked, is slang for meat so mysterious and poor as to possibly be houndsflesh.
*** Skill rolls in the Incunabuli playtest are made via d12, which is rolled in an attempt to score 10 or more. Added skills and bonuses increase a roll's chances of totalling 10, thus increasing chances of success. Skill range from 0 to 12.